In this episode we explore books and ideas to give busy parents a break, help our kids develop independent learning, and end the school year successfully.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
It is April, and I don’t know about you, but this time of the school year as a teacher is really hard because we are just worn out by this time. And it is a tough last few weeks after spring break till the end of the school year. It’s not that we don’t enjoy teaching because we do, and we love our kids, but it’s just, you use so much energy all year long and the kids are getting antsy because it’s spring time and summer’s coming. It takes all our energy just to keep them focused on the schoolwork. And we’re tired to begin with. I thought since many of you are homeschooling right now and maybe you’re homeschooling for the first time, so you’re probably experiencing the same thing. And so I thought it might be fun to look at some books to give us a break. There are some things we can do to still have our kids learning and growing as students and experiencing some great learning opportunities where we can also work in and schedule in some downtime for us as parents and teachers. And I think it’s important to teach children to be independent in their studying and learning as much as possible. And so these are some really excellent ways that we can build in independent learning and self-sufficiency in our children even at a very young age. So first of all, we can do things like if you’re outside, if you make some homemade or buy some store bought sidewalk chalk, this is an excellent way to help your kids practice their letters. Because instead of using their small motor skills, they’re using their large motor skills to make the letters. And when they do that, they remember the formation of the letter even better. Our small motors do not have memory the same as our large motor muscles. So anytime we can get our children to use the large motor muscles, instead of just their small motors, they’re going to learn better. And when I’m teaching writing to children, I always try to have them not turn their wrist, but to use their whole arm when they’re writing. And you can teach a child if you put, even when you’re using paper and pencil, if you put like a wrist support on your child’s hand, where they cannot move their wrist, they naturally will use their shoulder. They’ll use the whole arm to write. And it doesn’t mean their letters are going to be bigger. It’s just that they do not turn their wrist, and they don’t get writer’s cramp that way as well. So that’s one of the things we can do, and they can practice while we’re sitting out there enjoying a moment in the sun or by the pool. And they can be drawing all over the sidewalk around the pool or on our driveway or whatever, wherever we are.
Sustained silent reading is one of our goals as parents and teachers. We want to have a time each day where the child reads silently for a period of time. And when they’re little, that may only be 10 minutes when they’re a little older, it might be half an hour. I always liked to do this with my students, either first thing in the morning, or right after lunch, right after lunch is difficult because some of them want to fall asleep. And so first thing in the morning is sometimes better, but it’s also just equally as handy after you’ve finished. Especially if you’re homeschooling after you’ve finished all your lessons, just to have a time of sustained silent reading. Whenever that is whenever you’ve finished all the lessons for the day, because with homeschooling, usually you can finish much earlier than you can in a traditional school setting, because you’re only dealing with a couple kids instead of a whole classroom of 30 children that take six or seven hours to teach everything you need to teach. But with a homeschool, you can teach it in three, four hours. So then you can have the kids do their silent reading after that, but we want to work up their ability to entertain themselves through reading on their own silently for whatever period of time you feel is appropriate for their age and learning level.
Now, I also found some fabulous books that have activities for the kids that can keep them busy while you’re doing your work, while you’re fixing dinner, whatever it is you need to be prepping or working on. And you need some quiet time. My favorite of all of these is for toddlers and pre-K, I think even kindergarten would work with this one. It is called The Curious Columbus Quiet Book, Montessori toy for toddlers. And this is a fabric book with all kinds of busy activities. And honestly, anything Montessori is fabulous, especially for teaching kids to explore on their own and to be active quietly on their own. That’s one thing I love about the Montessori method is how they teach children to explore and to work individually and to practice important skills. And so this one has practical life skills. You have a page that shows a clock with telling time, brushing your teeth, dressing, but it’s like a paper doll except it’s cloth. And it has several outfits that doll can wear. You have lacing and tying shoes, buckling, putting food on a plate, buttons–all kinds of life activities that children need to learn. This is just a great book, and it’s a soft book. It’s fabric. Any of them like this are great [such as deMoca Quiet Book], but I really like this one. It’s cute and colorful. And I think it will keep a child’s attention for quite a while.
Of course, you can get those wonderful workbooks that are available in all the different stores that have different activities that can keep children busy. I’m going to put one in our show notes, it’s called My Preschool Workbook: Make Learning Fun. It’s 101 games, activities that prepare your child for school. It’s a My Workbooks Book. And this one is by Brittany Lynch. It’s just great for ages three to four, to help them learn to love learning and to prepare for school.
Then there’s one called Busy Books Bible Studies for kids ages 8 to 12. And this book has some great Bible stories and activities that you can just print out or hand out to your child and let them work on those silently while you’re doing whatever you need to do.
Also, I’ve mentioned before that I have a Bible study book that has a lot of activities in it as well. And it’s available on my website and it’s called Heroes of Faith. And the one I have on my website is for David and the scriptures that deal with his life. But it’s also teaching a child how to be a hero of faith and to live out his or her faith. There are many activities within my Bible study as well that you can just copy and give to your children from coloring pages to mazes to word games to activities like writing notes to people and encouraging them. So there’s all kinds of activities. Then of course, there’s some you can do with your children as well, but there’s plenty of activities in there that they can do independently with you. Being able to take some time to do what you need to get done.
There’s a book called Fun and Challenging Mazes for Kids 8 to 12 that is also really good. It’s a very big book. If your child enjoys mazes. And of course there’s other activity books, similar to this for word search, for Sudoku, or crossword puzzles. Any of these are educational, and any of these can keep a child busy and thinking and problem solving while you do what you need to do.
There’s another one that’s also where you find the missing picture [The Big Book of Seek and Find].
And then there’s one that’s just called The Totally Awesome Mazes and Puzzles: Over 200 Brain-Bending Challenges by William Potter. And that one, it looks really interesting and a lot of fun.
Back to the younger child–for your preschoolers–Eric Carle has a book called My First Busy Book. It’s very cute. It has review of numbers and shapes and colors and animals. And it has mirror sun on the front of the book, but this could keep your preschooler happy for a little while, either at their high chair or in their play pen.
Then we have one that’s The Arts and Crafts Busy Book by Trish Kuffner edited by Bruce Lansky. And this book is great. First of all, it helps you for any of your homeschooling where you’re wanting to do arts and crafts with your kids. It tells you what supplies to have, how to set up a room or a space for the kids to work, but then within their activities, there are quite a few that can be independent, where your child can work safely while you’re, you know, dealing with something else. You might not want to leave them completely alone because anytime you’re dealing with arts and crafts, walls can get marked up or stuff can spill, but at least you could be working on your computer while they’re quietly working on some art activity or project. And it would be a great time to give you a little time to get your work done. And for them to be working independently where you don’t have to totally supervise everything that they’re doing, and these activities are appropriate for the very young child up to a little bit older child. So this is a great book.
We have another Activity Book for Kids where you have all the different puzzles, connect, the dots, word, search, coloring pages, picture puzzles, and many more things. It’s by Blue Wave Press. And it’s meant for children ages 6 to 8. It has just a lot of great activities in it. And the pictures are really colorful and pretty and just fun. So I think it’s a great book to keep your kids’ attention.
And the Hidden Pictures Around the World from School Zone. There are so many great, hidden picture books that can keep your child busy for a very long time, especially if they are of the age where they can read [I Spy Books such as I Spy School Days]. There are some books that have a story that goes along with the hidden pictures and they can read. And then look for the hidden pictures. I’ll put a couple of those in the show notes for you to check out.
And then highlights has quite a few activity books. The one I like is The Highlights Book of Things To Do, Discover, Explore, Create, and Do Great Things. And it’s just got some good ideas. It’s a cute book. It’s going to be interesting to keep your kids attention. It’s got some great activities you can do with your kids, as well as some activities that they can do on their own. As long as you help set up the activity and show them how to do it. So that’s another one that could keep your kids busy.
And I love books that teach children to draw. These can also keep children busy for hours. Stencils are also excellent for keeping your kids busy. Creating stamps can also be good, but I think stencils and drawing books are excellent. I love Ed Emberley’s drawing books. He has one, that’s Make a World, and it’s just from transportation and people and animals to create a whole world. There’s one drawing book he has, that’s his Complete Funprint Drawing Book. This is where children use their thumbprints and then make the thumbprints into animals and flowers and different items. And those are really fun. I’ve loved doing those kinds of pictures. I used to just put a piece of butcher paper on the hall wall, and then let my kids go for it. They could do the thumbprints and make pictures. They could draw a mural, whatever we wanted to do that day for whatever we were talking about. It kept them busy without the marking on the walls and without them needing 50,000 pieces of paper, because my kids loved to draw. This gave them a whole length of a hallway to just draw like crazy. That was always something I loved to doing. Another one of Ed Emberley’s: his Drawing Book of Animals. So these are a lot of fun, but there are other books you can look at for learning to draw that are available for kids. But I really like Ed Emberley’s. He breaks it down to the bare minimum for a child to start learning to draw.
And then we have lots of little board books that are lift-the-flap books. I’ve mentioned before Deb Gruelle and her Sleepy Time Colors, which is a lift-the-flap book. And then we have one Toes, Ears and Nose by Marion Dane Bauer and Karen Katz. And it’s a lift-the-flap book. Baby’s Big Busy Book by Karen Katz, and it has mirrors and lift the flaps and touchy feely things. And so it has a lot of things to keep a baby busy safely for a while looking at a book. So these are fun.
So that gives you several different kinds of activities and books you can use depending on whatever age your kids are. Now, if you’re dealing with middle school and high school aged kids, of course you can keep them quiet with video games, if you’re okay with that. But as far as educational activities–sustained silent reading is important at that age, but also giving them a writing prompt and timing them to write a descriptive paragraph using as much imagery as they can or giving them an essay to write in half an hour to an hour–for them to learn to write in a timed situation can be very important for their success as they come to the SAT, ACT tests, as they are doing their college apps, or whatever is coming up in the future. Many times they’re asked to write an essay in a timed setting. And so to work with them, starting with a paragraph, starting with a prompt that they have to refer back to and helping them to stick with that prompt, then that can be an amazing skill, an amazing blessing for them to master that now, when they’re in a safe environment, I always allow them to ask a few questions. So like, if you’re working on something for your office on your computer, while they’re sitting there and working as well, then if they have a question, they can ask that, but they should only ask questions at the beginning. And then when you start the time they should focus on just writing. I would advise starting with a time where they can talk through it and ask questions and you walk through the whole process with them the first time if they haven’t done a timed writing before, and then after that, they can learn, “Okay, I asked the questions and then I get to writing and I focus on the writing.” Helping them to then proofread their own writing when they’re done, after the timer goes off, if necessary, have them proof it again and grade their own writing and see how they think they did, to check the prompt and see if they stayed on target. This will also have them take up more time. So depending what you’re needing to do that will keep them busy a longer time. I do this with any child who’s able to write. So from third grade on up, you can do these kinds of timed exercises. You can do it about, you know, for anything: Time to math exercises, timed, writing exercises. Of course, I was always an English teacher, so the timed writing was my main thing, but I had a whole book when I was homeschooling of Math Minutes activities. And we would time for a minute, and they would do as many of the math problems as they could. And so you could do a similar thing with a 15 minute or 30 minute timed activity to try to keep them on task and to work as quickly as they can. And as methodically as they can and try to beat the clock. And sometimes it’s better for you to do it like that, to try to beat the clock, rather than you have to finish by this time. And we cut you off at that point. But if you give them the challenge to try to beat the clock and still keep an A grade, you know, do 100% on their answers and still beat the clock, then it’s more of a race and more of a game. And you’re helping them to learn, to focus, to do their tasks and stay on task and do their best in a timely manner. So this can be very, very beneficial for them while giving you a break here and there.
And I find too, at the end of the school year, the more creative activities you can do with your kids, the better, the more hands-on, the more outdoor activities, field trips, things like that, that will get them moving. Getting them out of their normal place of studying can help them to keep enthusiasm for the rest of the school year. What we can do to help us to have a minute of peace, to have some time, to get our work done and not feel so stressed as we finish out this school year strong. I think these things can be a wonderful blessing to help us cope with the crunch time of the end of the school year.
This week is Beverly Cleary’s birthday. She would have been 105 years old. A couple of weeks ago, she passed away. So April 12th was her birthday. Any of her books for your little bit older children are good. She only has one picture book that I know of, and it’s an ABC book, but her Beezus and Ramona books, those are her best-known books, but she has a whole bunch of chapter books for young children that are just very engaging and wonderful. I’m sure you’re familiar with them. I mean, what child in America isn’t? But there’s also this book that’s called Just like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary. And it’s written by Vicki Conrad and by David Hohn. I wanted to recommend this book. It’s a very cute book that goes through her whole life and talks about how her mom started a library and how she loved books from the very beginning. And when she didn’t have books to read, she would make up stories as a child. I just love biographies of writers. I think there’s so much fun and so inspiring to show their life story and how they got into the world of writing. Check out her books and especially the biography, Just like Beverly.
For today’s devotional, I want to read an excerpt from Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado. This one is from April 21st “Time Just for God. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often slipped away to other places to be alone so that he could pray.” “How long has it been since you let God have your full attention? I mean, really have all of your attention. How long since you gave him a part of your day without any computers or television or telephones, how long since you just listened for his voice and did nothing else, that’s what Jesus did. He set aside time to spend time with God, just God, if you read about the life of Jesus in the Bible, you’ll see that he made time with God habit. He spent time with God regularly praying and listening. Mark said, ‘Early the next morning, Jesus woke and left the house while it was still dark. He went to a place to be alone and pray.’ (Mark 1:35). Let me ask you a question. If Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior who never sinned thought he needed to take time to pray, wouldn’t we be smart to do the same? Growing in grace: How much time do you give to God? Make a list of all you do in a day. Sleep, eat, study, play with friends. How much time do you spend on each of those things? Now how much time do you give to God? Do you need to make some changes?”
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, reading books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.