Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here Google+

The Giving Tree Dinner Party – The Family Dinner Book Club

The Giving Tree Dinner Party, Family Book Club

I am so thrilled to be joining two fabulous bloggers in celebrating The Family Dinner Book Club this month, and planning a celebration and family discussion of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.   If you don’t know about The Family Book Club this is a great time to find out! On the first day of each month a new book title is announced, and then on the 15th of that month three blogs share ideas about how to create a wonderful book themed family dinner party and book discussion. Jodie from Growing Book By Book shares discussion starters and conversation topics, Daisy from Daisy at Home creates a book themed dinner menu, and this month I have some ideas on how to create some simple decorations, that kids can help create, for your big book party dinner table.


The Giving Tree - Family Dinner Book Club

This book, with its simple text and black line drawings, tells a very sophisticated and deep story about both giving and taking. One of the major themes, that resonates with me very strongly, is of being aware of the consequences of “taking” from nature. Being aware of the consequences of over-consumption (of which I am guilty), doing our best to reuse what we can, reduce our consumption, re-purpose items, and recycle whenever possible are big topics at our house. We are trying to live those practices. I think our The Giving Tree dinner party gave us a great opportunity to practice! Big A., and I decided to use only items we could find at our house to make the decorations for the party. The end results are just a bit “rustic”, but we learned a lot about trying to use what we had, instead of trying to buy all new things.

The Giving Tree Dinner party invitations

The Invitation

What is a party without an invitation? Right now Big A. is loves to deliver the mail. He waits for our mail carrier each afternoon, and loves to go through each piece of mail and deliver it to its appropriate recipient. It is really fun for him, and it helps him to recognize letters and names. For our party invitations, I did the writing, and A. really enjoyed passing out the mail!


If you right click on the above picture, then save it to your computer, the invitation above should be all ready to print at 5×7”. I printed these invitations two to a page. I used some lovely cardstock that we had on hand. You can find some great recycled cardstock at


The Giving Tree Pop-up Table Cards


Pop-up Place Cards

I love all things pop-up, and I am transferring my love of paper engineering to Big A. These cards made a lovely addition to our table, and gave A. a great chance to write each guest’s name. To make things a bit easier, and to add more pictures without things crashing (I love pictorial directions), I have posted the directions for our craft projects on separate pages. Click here to find out how to make these fun pop-up tree place cards.


The Giving Tree - Paper Bag Kindness Tree Centerpiece

The Centerpiece

The other theme from the story that we are trying to incorporate into our family life is that of giving. The tree in the story gave of itself, and giving of ourselves is something that we call all do. I have found that when I take note of when one of my kids does something kind or loving they are more likely to keep trying to be kind. In order to encourage kindness and giving, A. and I created a giving tree centerpiece to highlight our acts of giving (no matter how small). This tree was simple for even a child with motor problems to make, used materials we saved from the recycling bin, and I think it came out looking really interesting and lovely. Every time I see one of the kids doing something kind or giving of himself, I write the act on a small green leaf and hang it on the tree. The kids love the ceremony of having their deed acknowledged, and I am hoping it will encourage even more kindness. I am also encouraging the kids to “catch” their brothers doing something kind. If they report a kindness they get to put the leaf on the tree. For the direction on how to make this tree, click here.


The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled paper tube tree craft

Paper Towel Tube Trees

I thought our giving trees looked a little small and alone on the table, so we decided to create a few more trees to keep our centerpiece company. Again, these were simple to make, the kids can definitely help, and we used recycled or home-found materials. All the boys helped to paint the paper tubes, and A. really enjoyed doing it. He decided to make a hollow tree so animals could live inside it. I love creative thinking!!!!!!! For directions on how to make our Paper Towel Tube Trees click here.


The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Environmentally Friendly Sun Catchers Craft

Tree Sun Catchers

My kids love things that alter the light coming through their playroom. We have strong morning light, and a large window in just the right spot to catch it. We have experimented with many things to catch the light for that window. This activity was one the kids really liked. It took A LOT of trial and error to get the balance of things right on this. I have seen many lovely sun catcher ideas that use melted plastic craft beads, but after consulting with Mr. Mad Scientist, we made a mutual decision that we didn’t want to melt plastic in the oven, or inhale the fumes that would have been released onto the air.   To find out how we made these environmentally friendly sun catcher ornaments from everyday baking supplies click here.


We had so much fun having our The Giving Tree Dinner Party, and I hope some of these ideas will brighten your book discussion dinner table. Please join us in hosting your own Family Book Club Dinner party, and check back at the Family Dinner Book Club site to see the other great parties other families are hosting.  I would love to see your pictures if you try any of these ideas, and I’d love pictures of anything you come up with at your house to celebrate The Giving Tree.

Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)











The Giving Tree Dinner Party – Make Pop-up Table Cards

The Giving Tree Pop-up Table Cards

Pop-up Table Cards

Pop-up Table Cards

I love pop-ups, and I thought these cards would be a great addition to our Giving Tree dinner party.

Family Dinner Book Club - The Givng Tree pop-up cards and The Giving Tree Dinner party invitations

1. If you click on the above photo, and save it to your computer, it should be all ready and formatted to print out to an 8×10″ piece of paper.  I printed these onto cardstock to give them a bit more heft, and to help with the “pop-up.”

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-up table card

2.  After printing the cards out, fold the paper in half so that the tree is on one half, and the blank green section is on the back.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table card

3. Write a name of a dinner party guest in the blank box (felt tip pen seems to work best).

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table card

4.  Then I used the back of a pen (or anything with a hard  edge)  to go around the tree making a heavy indention, making sure to leave the bottom of the trunk intact.  That will stay attached to the card, so the tree will stand up.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table card

5. Now cut out the tree piece, making sure to leave the bottom trunk attached at the bottom.  I used one scissor blade to go over the indented line several times.  First I cut over the indentation on the front, and then I flipped the card over, and used the scissor edge  to cut over the indentation on the back. This worked pretty well to get a good clean cut.  If I had a craft knife, I would have used that!

6.  Pop your tree out toward you.  I put a piece of clear tape on the front where the tree trunk bottom is attached to the card, just to give it a bit more strength.

7. Use clear tape to seal the open sides of the card together.

8.  Cut a piece of cardstock into a rectangle that is about 1″ wide and 4″ long.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table card

9.  Fold the card rectangle into a z shape, so there is a 1/2 ” flap on each end, going into opposite directions.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table cardThe Giving Tree Dinner Party - Make a pop-uo table card

10. Tape one flap of your cardstock z to the back of the tree.  Tape the other flap to the inside of the card behind it.  This will hold your tree up so that it is nice and strong.

11. Display proudly on your table to mark where your guests should sit.


I hope you enjoy these pop-ups as much as we did.


Tracy :-)



Paper Bag Kindness Trees Craft

The Giving Tree - Paper Bag Kindness Tree Centerpiece

These paper bag trees are so easy to make, and I think they turned out really well. The kids really enjoy having them on our table, and every time we see it, it reminds us to be kind. Also, the tree really does encourage kind behaviors (now if I could just get them to replace the tattling too!)

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

To make your own Paper bag tree, you will need…a large paper bag. You will also need a little recycled paper for the bottom, a pair of scissors, and some green construction paper and string for the leaves.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

1.  Put just a little bit of paper into the bag at the bottom. This helps your tree to stand up properly.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

2.  Use scissors to cut slits from the top of the bag about 2/3 of the way down to the bottom. Cut the slits   all around the outside of the bag. You want the slits to be about ½’ to 1’ apart which will create long paper tabs.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

3.  Then put your hand at the base of the bag, and with your other hand twist the middle of the bag (and paper slits) until it creates the trunk that that will hold its shape.  It may need a few good turns.  Use your hands to adjust the paper until the trunk stands on the paper base.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

4.  Now twist each paper tab from its base (near the trunk) until you get to the end.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

5.  Now all you need to do is cut leaf shapes from the green construction paper. A. really enjoyed using a hole punch to create holes on one side of the leaves. Then lace a piece of yarn or string though the hole in the leaf, and tie the string to make a loop. You can now write your acts of kindness and giving on a leaf, and hang it on your kindness tree.

I hope you enjoy this activity! We sure did!

Tracy :-)


Make a Paper Towel Tube Tree Craft

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled paper tube tree craft

We go through many paper towels at our house; too many paper towels. In an attempt to make a graphic representation (for myself more than anyone else) of our paper towel consumption I saved all of our used paper towel rolls for one week. UGH! I thought the least we could do was use the cardboard rolls for a purpose. We made tube trees with them, and they turned out to be a huge hit!

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled tube tree craft, Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

We used this amazing paper that I recently discovered. I am crazy about this paper!!! It is handmade, has the most beautiful feel and texture, and the best things about it are that it is completely green, and supports a great cause. It is called Mr. Ellie Pooh paper. It is made from 50% post consumer paper and 50% sanitized fiber from elephant dung. That’s right, elephant poo.   This paper company is trying to save elephants. I found out that when trees in the elephant habitats are cut down, elephants are often left out in the open, and become very susceptible to hunters. This paper company is using the profits from sales of this paper to teach villagers in Sri Lanka (where many elephants are killed) to make the paper, and to begin to see the elephants as an asset. It is not ridiculously expensive, and it makes wonderful water color and craft paper!!! It takes watercolor just beautifully! Check it out!!! Lets save some trees, water, AND some elephants, and give unemployed people in Sri Lanka a trade they can use to support their families!!!

To make your trees you will need:

Cardboard tubes

Paint and brushes (we used different shades of brown and black), and we used both tempera and liquid watercolor paint

Construction paper (we used Mr. Ellie Pooh paper and painted it with watercolors)


Glue (I used hot glue, but you could use white or craft glue with equally good results.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

1.  Paint (we used tempera) your tubes to look like tree trunks (this will vary a bit depending on the age and skill of the painter) ;-)

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

2.  We then used green liquid watercolor paint to paint our Mr. Ellie Pooh paper, which I think created amazing results, but unpainted or painted green construction paper would work just fine!

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper


3.  When all of the paint was dry, I used scissors to cut 1” slits in the top of the tube.

4.  Then I folded the resulting tabs out. This becomes the seat of your leaves.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper


5.  Make a playdough ball about the size of the palm of your hand, and then squish the ball slightly flat. It should be at least ½’ thick.Stick a tree trunk into the playdough to act as a stand.

6.  Crumple green paper into a ball. If you want a larger tree, you can place a paper ball inside your green ball. We tried all sorts of ways to make our tree toppers.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

7.  Glue your green tree topper ball onto the top of your tree trunk, by putting glue on the tabs of the tube.


The kids really enjoyed making these trees, and have also enjoyed seeing the fruit of their labor on the table. They love to see their artwork displayed in many different ways. It also gave us a great opportunity to talk about paper, how to conserve it, and the resources it takes to make it. I hope it helps us all to remember to make the most of the paper we have, and to not waste this precious resource.

Tracy :-)

Make an Environmentally-Friendly Sun Catcher

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Environmentally Friendly Sun Catchers Craft

My kids love to watch different forms of light, and I have searching for a way to make an environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament that we can hang in our sunny playroom window. I didn’t want to use melted plastic beads due to concerns about the fumes from the melting plastic. So I set to work to create a more environmentally friendly version. I took my idea from some beautiful stained glass sugar cookies that a certain craft maven named Martha created. It all looked so easy!!! Her cookies were so beautiful! I figured if it worked in cookies, melted sugar could be used for the sun catchers too. Well, it took a lot of trial, and a lot of error to find a way to do this, but A., and I figured it out.

You will need:

Bake-able playdough – my favorite recipe follows

Fine colored sugar crystals – like what you would use to decorate sugar cookies (the large sugar crystals won’t melt very well.)

Aluminum foil

Parchment paper

Cookie cutters of different sizes – One of the cutters needs to be small enough to cut a window in a larger shape.

A drinking straw

Modge Podge


1. Make a batch of playdough. For these sun catchers I made trees, so I made the playdough green. I also added peppermint extract that covers up the homemade playdough smell for sensory sensitive kids.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craftThe Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft


2.  Roll the playdough out to about ¼” thickness. You don’t want this too thick.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

3.  Cut shapes out of the playdough with large cookie cutters.

4.  Cut windows out of the larger shapes with a smaller cookie cutter.

5. Use the drinking straw to make a hole in the top of the shape.

6.  Preheat oven to 175 degrees F.

7.  Put playdough cut-outs on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

8.  Put cut-outs in the oven. Bake at 175 degrees for about 15 minutes. You don’t want them to get brown. Turn the oven off, and let it cool completely down. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to dry and harden the playdough.

9.  Don’t let your kids, who think these are cookies, eat them (although it won’t hurt them – I learned this the hard way.  :-)

10.  Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

11.  After the cut-outs are cool (make sure to do them on parchment paper – or you will have a terrible mess), put the colored sugar sprinkles in the cut-out window.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

12.  Put small strips of aluminum foil over the playdough areas to keep them from browning (skip this step if you plan to paint them anyway)

13.  Place cut-outs in the oven.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

Seriously – don’t do this!

14.  This part is tricky!!!!***Turn the light on in the oven if possible. Watch them carefully. Wait for the sugar to start to melt, but you don’t want it to boil. If it boils you will have caramel (again – learned this the hard way). Remove from the oven the minute the sugar melts.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

15.  When the cutouts are completely cool, you can paint them (we used liquid watercolors and it was lovely). Then cover them front and back with Modge Podge so the sugar doesn’t stick to everything. I also added a touch of glitter, because, well, I love it!

16.  Tie a ribbon through the hole, and hang your sun catcher anywhere you need a little sparkle!

We also tried it by baking the cut-out dough shapes to dry and harden, but left the sugar out. Then we used tracing paper and/or colored transparent plastic sheeting to cut out and glue to the back of the sun catcher. These had great results too!


Here is a great bake-able playdough recipe. A. loves the texture, but does not like the smell, so I add different extracts into it, and he loves it. His favorite are vanilla, lemon, and peppermint. The Littles love it too!

Bake-able Play Dough Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
food coloring

  1. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk until completely combined.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for three or four minutes or until the mixture changes consistency, becomes thick, and loses its stickiness.  Dump onto waxed or parchment paper.
  3. Knead the play dough for a few minutes or until smooth.


A and I learned a lot by working to refine our process. It was a great learning experience. I hope you like these as much as we do.


Tracy :-)

Great Picture Books and Activities for Celebrating the 4th of July!

Great books and activities for Celebrating the 4th of July at School4Boys

The 4th of July is just a week away, and I decided to put together a set of books to help us learn a bit more about the holiday, and the history behind it. Big A., is very interested in historical stories if they are told in an interesting way (a bit like his mom), so I wanted to find fun stories that were accessible for my little guys, but also show the meaning and history behind the celebrations.


I also did my best to look for stories that offered many different kinds of diversity. I tried to find stories that featured diversity of setting, ways of celebrating, and of race and ethnicity.


It took a little investigation, but I think I found some good ones…

4th of July Picture Book: The Story of America's Birthday

The Story of America’s Birthday – written by Patricia A. Pingry illustrated by Meredith Johnson

This is a short and simple book that makes the connection between the Declaration of Independence, The American Revolution, and Independence Day celebrations remarkably accessible to preschoolers.


4th of July picture book: Red White and Boom!Red, White, and Boom – written by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by Huy Voun Lee

This fun and gentle text shows diverse and loving families enjoying themselves in all sorts of traditional 4th of July celebrations in sites all over the country.

 4th of July picture book : Betsy RossBetsy Ross – written by Becky White and illustrated by Megan Lloyd

This bright, colorful, and fun text tells the story of Betsy Ross, and the making of the American flag for young children. A “Betsy Ross” star cutting activity ends the book.


4th of July picture books : CelebrationCelebration – written by Jane Resh Thomas and illustrated by Raul Colon

This is the story of one extended family’s 4th of July house party. Full of and familiar family characters, situations, and ways of celebrating that any family can relate to. The illustrations add to family warmth of this book.


4th of July Picture Books: The 4th of July StoryThe 4th of July Story – written by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast

A work of historical fiction, with an emphasis on the history, this book brings the story of our county’s founding to life for kids.


4th of July books: Hats off for the Fourth of JulyHats off for the Fourth of July – written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Gustaf Miller -

This book captures the excitement and fun of a 4th of July Parade in a small Northeastern town with rhyming text and humorous illustrations.


4th of July picture books: The One and Only Declaration of IndependenceThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence – written by Judith St. George and illustrated by Will Hellenbrand

This book is a gem, and it tells the true story of the great challenges and adventures of the historical document that paved the way for the freedoms in this country. As someone who has an interest in American history, there were many things in this book that I did not know, and it reads like an adventure story.


4th of July Picture Books : Hello America

Hello America! – written and illustrated by Martha Day Zschock and illustrated by

This colorful and playful board book for young children follows a baby eagle and his mother on a trip through America’s historic places. The cartoon eagles are fabulous and the Littles love it!!!


4th of July Picture BooksApple Pie 4th of July – written by Janet S. Wong and illustrated by Margaret Chodos Irvine

This is a very different kind of 4th of July story, and it features a first generation Chinese American child whose immigrant parents run a restaurant. This story beautifully captures the cultural difficulties that often face the children of immigrants, and demonstrates that the combining of different cultures is truly what creates American culture.


4th of July Picture Books: America The BeautifulAmerica the Beautiful – poem by Katherine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chriss Gall

America the Beautiful – poem by Katherine Lee Bates and illustrated by Wendell Minor

America the Beautiful – poem by Katherine Lee Bates and illustrated by Robert Sabuda

America the Beautiful – poem by Katherine Lee Bates and illustrated by Neil Waldman

Each of these four books contains the text of the beautiful poem written by Katherine Lee Bates, and which was first published for Independence Day in 1885. This poem, focusing on the beauty of the United States, is illustrated in four very different ways in these four picture books. I find them all beautiful, and all interesting. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I am a sucker for the elaborate paper engineering done in Sabuda’s book. To call it a pop-up seems demeaning, because it is truly amazing. Just one of these books, or the collection of all four together, could encourage a creative family to document their own America The Beautiful in an artistic way.


I’ve also found some really creative and fun holiday projects and activities that we are trying this week…


Here is a fun flag hand print art activity from b-inspired Mama! We are going to try this by cutting out paper hands and painting on them, rather than doing the painting directly on the kids’ hands because Big A. doesn’t want the paint on his hands, and hand painting is a little difficult for me to manage with all three right now.

4th of July crafts - handprint flag painting


Here is a collection of great flag inspired crafts from Kids Activities Blog …

4th of July - American flag crafts for kids


A super cute idea for making red, white and blue t-shirts at home from Cutesy Crafts…

4th of July - cute t-shirt craft


Here is another large collection of fun looking craft ideas from All Kids Network. We are going to try the star guy!

4th of July - crafts


I hope you find a book, or an activity that helps your family enjoy your 4th of July this year.

Happy Reading!


Tracy :-)






Real Dads Read!

#DadsRead, the importance of fathers reading to their kids, dads read books

My husband, Mr. Mad Scientist, is a fantastic and dedicated father.  He has a very demanding job, but he always makes time for his boys.  It is very important for him to build relationships with each of his sons, and that looks different with each child.  The one thing that he does to build strong relationships with all of his children is to read with them.  He has such an amazing reading bond with the kids, and he takes his reading VERY seriously.

When I heard about the #DadsRead campaign that was created by ZooBean and the Good Men Project to highlight the importance of fathers in supporting the literacy development of their children, I knew I had to ask the Mad Scientist to get involved.  I asked him if he would like to participate, and he stayed up (very) late that very night to write out his thoughts about reading with his children.  It was amazing to me that he had given so much thought to his reading, and it brings me practically to tears when I think about how much reading together means to all of my boys (including the big one).

What follows is what he wrote in response to my questions to him about how he felt about reading to his kids, and why it was important that HE read too.  The words, thoughts, and comedy bits are all his.  I hope you enjoy…


If you are a dad like me, you are constantly looking for ways to spend meaningful ‘quality time’ with your kids. But with no time for bear wrestling or building log cabins from Canadian white pine, what’s a busy dad to do? Admittedly, I don’t fish, any power tool in my hands is a dangerous weapon, and I am still waiting to see the Cowboys vs. the Indians compete in the “Summer Classic.” And, after all, how many rounds of “Hi-Ho-Cherrio” can you play before both you and your kids ask, “Is this really fun for the whole family?” The answer, my friend – believe it or not- is READING. I am not talking about flipping through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated or looking at the Surgeon General’s warning label on that bottle of beer. I am talking about BOOKS. Now, before you say reading is for librarians, nerds, home school moms, or Nobel Laureates, I’d like for you to consider my experience.

I am a highly educated male with several advance degrees, which is only important for you to know because I have built my entire career on reading. As a (admittedly introverted) teen, I spent hours alone in my room reading Tolkein, Asimov, and Clarke. As a high school and college student, I dutifully read Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, and Dickens (and secretly enjoyed it). In my professional training, I did nothing but read textbooks and journal publications. Ironically, I am not a terribly proficient reader. My skill with a novel is only slightly better than that with a miter saw or a golf club. But- I love to read. Unfortunately, as a ‘grown up’ with career and family responsibilities, I have little time for recreational adult reading anymore. Also, because of my middle aged, and deteriorating eyesight, whenever I do have time to read a novel, it is usually an eBook on some mobile device at that font setting (I think it is 72) where you get only four words per screen page. (And you can imagine how long it takes to get through a 500-page novel at that rate). The incredibly satisfying solution for me has been recreational reading with my kids; enjoying reading vicariously through children’s literature.

#DadsRead, Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Events, the importance of fathers reading to their kids

Favorites from when Big, Big Brother was a bit younger.

For example, while I have many fond memories of the times that my now 17 year old son and I spent together at little league baseball games, summers at the beach, and pizza/bowling birthday parties, none of those will compare to the evenings that we spent together before bedtime, month after month, reading the Series of Unfortunate Events or Harry Potter novels together in the comfy chair. Now that I have a six-year-old and twin two-year-old boys who are eager to read, I am absolutely giddy at the prospect of being able to do this all over again. To be certain, like all good parenting, reading to your children on a regular basis is an effort, but- good news- it is probably easier than changing a diaper or scraping the mac and cheese off of the dining room floor. Here are a few tips I have for you on how dads can make reading with their kids an enjoyable, daily ‘sporting event.’


#DadsRead Mo Willems fathers read to kids

Mo Willems is a true favorite!

  • Select your material judiciously. If you just grab the latest release from Scholastic Book-of-the-Month club as a read aloud, you (and your kids) are likely to become bored with reading. Personally, I think it will even dull your brain. Spend some late night hours (as I am doing right now) looking for the perfect read- yes, they do exist. Of course, the material you select will depend upon the age and interest of your children, and may be different for each child- because, yes, they really are special snowflakes. Fortunately, compared to even a decade ago, there are a plethora of budding children’s authors who are writing smart and captivating books that resonate with children of all ages.   These books offer subtle, often humorous and visual appeal to the adults that are reading them. At all costs, avoid those books that are based on (i.e. marketed for) commercial franchises (like Disney) or television shows. These are usually the books for which your local library (or this may just be our local library) has hundreds of copies proudly on display, and are featured prominently at school book fairs. These books have immediate, but not long lasting kid-appeal. “Easy / Early Readers” have their place too I guess (so the experts tell me), but unless for some unfortunate reason, you yourself are an easy or early reader, avoid these. Look for award winning books (unlike the Oscars, children’s literary critics seem to know what they are talking about). You can be safe with some real ‘stand out’ authors – Mo Willems, Judith Viorst, Elisha Cooper, Sherri Duskey, and Jonathan London are some of the current favorites for my six-year-old boy. But remember, just because an author hasn’t written a 27-book series doesn’t mean that they haven’t penned a classic.  Even more importantly, find something that will be fun for you and your kids to read. Look for interesting art work, creative but simple narrative, and perhaps- as a bonus- a “don’t hit me over the head with it” simple life lesson. Large, easy to read text (for both me and my kids), is always a plus, even if it is more than four words per page. Lastly, if the book features stickers- run away.
#DadsRead, importance of dads reading to kids, Elisha Cooper

Current Favorites with Big A.


  • Read what you live. Reading with your kids gives you the chance to relate and discuss things that you enjoy together in everyday life with what you are reading. I think professional educators call this “text to self.” Whatever- it makes reading time more fun and engaging, and relatable to what you enjoy (but may not always have time to do) with your kids. My six-year-old and I enjoy a good doughnut once in a while (or maybe more often) and so what more riotous and relevant read than Laurie Keller’s graphic tale of “Arnie the Doughnut” (2003, Harry Holt and Co.). We are in the process of building our own model railroad layout, largely inspired (at least in my mind) by Elisha Cooper’s beautifully illustrated book, “Train” (2013, Scholastic (surprise) ). It doesn’t matter if your (and your kids) real life interests involve sports, pets, music, fishing, or square dancing. With some research, you are sure to find a good piece of children’s fiction that will grab your collective interest. New baby in the house? No problem. There are hundreds of “New Baby in the House” books out there. (Although, as a cautionary note, only a small fraction of them- in my experience and opinion- are worth reading; see my note #1 above). Moving to a new city? We’re not, but Judith Viorst’s “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move” (1995, Antheam) is still one of our favorite reads this month.


  • All the world (or at least the armchair) is a stage.   I will admit that I am a closet thespian. You may be too. It’s OK to admit it; nobody is watching. Reading to your kids gives you a chance to ham it up and fulfill that dream that was once crushed when you weren’t cast for the leading role in your high school musical (no bitterness here). Use character voices and act out suspenseful or humorous narratives. Think of it as Karaoke night, every night, without the five-dollar draft pitchers. Nobody is listening, except your kids, and they will be the most impressed and appreciative audience that you will ever have. More importantly, it will engage them in reading and make the act of reading enjoyable for all. Recite some passages or talk about the book you read the previous night, at the dinner table or while driving in the car. It will impress upon your kids that reading is not just about sitting for 15 minutes in a chair, but that it is pervasive throughout their day-to-day lives.


#DadsRead, the importance of fathers reading to children

The “Boys Book Basket” which is curated entirely by Big A. and Mad Scientist.

  • Your local library. If your house is like mine (and it probably is), you have a precious few moments to spend reading to your kids. You don’t want to spend all of that time hunting for a good book to read, especially if you have to sift through a pile of book-of-the-month coaster books. I now keep a wicker basket next to our favorite comfy chair stocked with our favorite books. (BTW- Just to be clear, iPad, Kindle, and Nook (although Dr. Seuss might think so) are not books). If you can afford to create your own hand-picked selections, that’s great. Otherwise, we interleave our own books with library picks for the month. Keep a supply ready at hand and swap them out every other month or so.


  • Do the math. If you like math and statistics (and I sure do), it will be easy to realize that reading to your kids for just fifteen minutes each day will mean that by the time they reach high school, they will have read a billion books, enough books stacked to reach the moon and back- or something like that. (I said I liked math and statistics; not that I was good at it- see my note about reading above). The point is: if you are invested in reading, if you do the prep work, if you embrace it as if it were a game of golf, if you practice it as a daily ritual like flossing (at least for some of us), you can do so much good for your children in such a small amount of time each day (even if you don’t have time to build that log cabin).


Teach a child to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a child to throw a baseball, and maybe you can get them signed with the majors. Teach a child the love for reading and you ensure a lifetime of personal growth and success no matter what they choose to do. Come on- be a man!


The Sixth Annual Book-A-Day Challenge

Book-A-Day Summer Reading Challenge and Donalyn Miller

I recently read this terrific post (click here to read it), written by Donalyn Miller, on The Nerdy Book Club blog. Donalyn Miller is a teacher/author/reader whom I greatly admire. If truth be told, I have a teacher crush on her.


The post is a call to join her in her sixth annual Book-A-Day Challenge. The premise is very simple, and it is to read a book every day in order to create a pattern of daily reading, to share the titles of good books far and wide, to celebrate your “reading life,” and to maybe make a new reading friend.


Miller’s rules for the challenge (she also says they are guidelines), are simple and come directly from the blog post:

  1. Set your own start and end date.
  2. Read one book each day of “your” summer season.
  3. Any book qualifies
  4. Keep a record of the books you read, and if you want, share them often on a social networking site or a blog. Use the #bookaday hash tag when sharing.


Here is how we will take on the challenge at School4Boys:

  1. We will start today, June 2. Our end date will be August 15th. I picked that date because Big, Big, Brother is moving into his dorm on the 16th. It is going to be an emotional event at the house, and well, that will end the summer for us because we will all be too busy crying to read.
  2. We will record each title in a log. Also, in order to create a visual representation of each family member’s reading, A. and I are going to create a chart by printing out pictures of the covers of the books we read, and then taping them to the wall next to the name of the person who read the books.
  3. A.’s challenge is to both “read” one book (in his own way – which right now is a combination of “reading” the pictures and searching for known sight words), and to listen to one book each day.   BBB will be participating at his own pace, but is a self-motivated reader (hooray!), and The Littles read or are read a gazillion books each day (this is only a slight exaggeration), so they are already participating in their own way.
  4. I will post our favorite book of the day on my social media sites, along with a numerical rating of its quality (1-5), and the name of the family member who is recommending it.


First up on MY professional development “want to read” list is…


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller


The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, by none other than Donalyn Miller. I have had this book on my shelf and my mind for a while now, and I AM going to read it this summer!


I hope that you will join us in our reading adventure this summer! Follow along, or even better yet, share your favorite titles with us!


How about you? How are you approaching summer reading this summer?


Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)


The Big Big Homeschooling Decision – Part II: The Homeschool Epiphany

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

When you make a B I G decision, you really have to give it the proper consideration!

Recently, I wrote a post about finally feeling good about making the decision to homeschool A. long term. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The funny thing is, that I had an epiphany not long ago that made the pieces of my decision fall into place. I cannot express how grateful I am for this piece of mind. Here’s what happened that made me realize we were doing the right thing for him…


A. was bored. I am not worried about the kids being bored. I told him to find something interesting to do. And he did! As the afternoon unfolded, I was just blown away by his creativity, his ingenuity, and how much fun he was having. The best part was that it was 100% self-directed learning fun. I didn’t give him any ideas or suggestions. I didn’t make him continue. It was all him, and he had a blast.


It all started because A. loves donuts. He really loves donuts! His father takes him for donuts at least once a week, and it is a really important bonding time for them. He also likes to watch the employees make the donuts when they go to the donut shop. He decided he wanted to build a working model of a donut shop including a kitchen. He figured out how to do an image search for donut shop kitchens on the iPad by using a few known letter sounds and auto spell. He then selected his favorite picture, set the iPad on the window ledge, and went to work.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

iPad Research


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Gathering supplies!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Slight Setback!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learningng

Customer seating, and donut conveyor system!

He used large soft blocks to build the table areas.


homeschooling, self-directed and child-centered learning

Making the sign!

We worked together to make a donut shop sign. He asked me to write the words, and he drew the picture.


Homeschooling, self-directed learning and child-centered learning

Time to make the donuts!

He used the playhouse as the kitchen.


homeschooling, self-directed learning, child-centered learning

Making donuts is hard work!

He used play dough and silicone donut molds to make the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ding! We bake our donuts here!

He used a wicker basket as an oven to bake the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ready for Business!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Nothing better than donuts and conversation (can I have a coffee with that please?)

His shop was finally ready for business, and I got to be his first customer!


The whole process took over two hours. To say that A. does not typically stay with an activity for a long period of time is an understatement.


As I was watching this whole thing unfold, offering help or suggestions only when asked, it just came to me…This is the kind of learning opportunity I want for him on a regular basis! I want for him to have unstructured time and opportunity for exploration, and for creative play, for making discoveries, for solving problems, and for finding his interests. I want him to feel successful as a learner even though much learning is hard for him. He won’t be able to have unstructured time all day long. He still needs to learn specific skills, and he needs visits with specialized therapists. Learning to read, write, and process visual information are very difficult for A. It will take very specific and individualized instruction for him to learn, and to get better at these things. Homeschooling is working for him, and I want his schooling to work for him. Homeschooling is the right thing for him at this moment, and now, I feel REALLY confident that I am making the right decision for him.

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Getting my shield ready!


All I have to do now is put on my criticism shield, and get ready to fend off the mostly concerned and well-meaning people who think A. should be in “school.” Having true confidence in my decision is going a long way to make that shield stronger!

Happy Learning!

Tracy :-)



The Big, Big Homeschooling Decision!

Making the Decision to Homeschool

Something terrific happened last Friday. I finally started feeling like I had made a good decision about school for A. And that, my friends, is an awesome feeling.


You see I have been thinking about A.’s educational future for the whole year. I tried not to. You see, I wasn’t nearly as worried about this school year. I knew in my heart that A. wasn’t ready to start this year, and I had always figured that we would just put A. in public kindergarten in the fall of 2014. I gave myself permission to not worry about public school vs. homeschooling for the next year until at least January, but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. I started thinking about it in September, and I have been thinking about it A LOT ever since.


Mr. Mad Scientist and I made the decision in early February that we felt continued homeschooling was the way to go. As soon as we saw the kindergarten round-up signs go up around town, we knew we had to decide. Frankly, Mr. Mad Scientist was more secure about homeschooling than I was. Even though we made the decision, I was still waffling until recently. The idea of it just seemed so big, so unconventional, and put so much responsibility on me. Despite my outward confidence, I was fighting doubts that I was up for the full challenge.


Then on Friday it became crystal clear what we should do, and now I can own the decision! We are going to homeschool. If it becomes clear that A. just isn’t learning what he needs to learn at home, we will make different arrangements. We also still hope that A. will attend public high school, and very possibly middle school, but elementary grades will happen at home.


Here were the deciding factors:


  1. We are discovering more about A.s learning challenges, and feel they will not be well addressed in the public school setting.
  2. A. is responding well to me as a teacher.
  3. We are finding good social opportunities outside of school.
  4. A. is truly learning a lot by interacting with his younger brothers.
  5. Homeschooling is proving hectic, and sometimes difficult to manage, but it is working well for A., and it is doable for me.


We are getting both positive and negative feedback from others about our decision, but I’m getting better at tuning out the criticisms (still working on that).


To Be Continued…


I felt it would be too much to explain my homeschooling epiphany in one post, so stay tuned for my epiphany in part II.


Happy Reading!