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Read Aloud Magic – Ignite a FLAME that becomes a Passion for Lifelong Reading

Flame read aloud, read aloud magic, read aloud to kids

*Warning, the post you are about to read is VERY long, but just may bring a little reading magic to your child’s life!

As parents, caregivers, and teachers we are bombarded with information about the need to read to children every single day. I believe in children needing to be read to like I believe in their need for nutritious food, for shelter, or for warm clothes in the winter. Reading to children is THAT essential. There is so much information about the benefits of reading aloud to children that I don’t need to write about it here. Many other people have already written about it so well. Here are just a few great places to learn more about both the benefits of reading aloud to children, and the research statistics that back up those claims.

Jim Trelease - The Read Aloud Handbook

Jim Trelease is the Grandfather of the read-aloud movement. He has written, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and it is one of the definitive books about reading aloud to children, Mr. Trelease has spent much of his adult life traveling the country trying to convince people of all walks of life to read more great books to children. If I were to recommend just one book about reading aloud to anyone, it would be his book. He also has a website, and lots of good information about the importance of reading aloud.

Reading aloud to kids, flame read alouds, read aloud magic, mem fox

Another great book about reading aloud is Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by the terrific Australian children’s book author Mem Fox.

reading aloud to kids, how to get your child to love reading, flame read alouds, read aloud magic

One more resource that I really love is How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell.  It is filled with fun ideas and activities to pair with books.  She has a website too.

Some more good information from The Children’s Reading Foundation

Even more good stuff from Reading is Fundamental (RIF)


But what I want to write about is how to make the most out of the time you spend reading aloud. It is one of the things that I am especially passionate about, and there are many simple ways that you can take an everyday read-aloud experience and SUPERCHARGE it, so that it has the magical power to draw your child into the life-long love of reading club! I don’t want to scare you. I know that you are overworked and underpaid! Sometimes it is really difficult to even get the reading time in, now I’m telling you to BOOST it up? To do even MORE? Don’t panic! I’m not here to stress you out. I just want to provide you with some information that you can use to make some simple additions to your read-aloud routine that will really make a difference for the children in your life.


I made up an acronym for my read-aloud plan to make it easier to remember. I’m using the term FLAME read-alouds because I want kids to be soooo passionate about books and about reading that they are drawn to them like moths to ….er, well, a flame.


To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
—Victor Hugo


Tracy, I read to kids EVERY day! Why should I go to all of the trouble of creating special read-alouds?

~ Read-alouds are the VERY best teaching opportunities in your trick bag! They are the greatest occasions  you have for enticing a child into the world of reading.

~A child who wants to read will read, a child who reads has the WORLD at his or her fingertips!

~Even when a child has a disability that makes learning to read difficult, if s/he loves books, and loves stories, it will make him or her more likely to put in all of the extra effort needed to learn.


Frederick Douglass reading quote, reading to kids, read aloud magic,

This is one of my favorite places, right outside my favorite bookstore.

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
   —Frederick Douglass

So what does FLAME stand for?:








F is for FUN!

Fun is the first thing you should keep in mind when planning a FLAME read-aloud!

Why fun? Because, if books are not fun, children will not want to hear them, or read them. If they do not read they will not be readers.

Read aloud magic, flame read aloud, babies reading

Don’t these sweet boys look like they are having fun?


A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
—Mark Twain

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift.

—Kate DiCamillo

Read aloud magic, flame read alouds, babies reading

A room full of toys, and this boy wants books!

L is for LOVE

LOVE is perhaps the most important part of a FLAME read-aloud.

~Children learn to love reading when someone they love reads to them. The love transfers!

~Children learn to love reading when the people they love and respect love to read.

The LOVE is contagious!

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
—Emilie Buchwald
I would add any person that children love and care about

real men read, read aloud magic, flame read aloud


read aloud magic, flame read alouds, grandparents read, kids reading

Grammas make lovely READERS too!

reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

This guy likes to choose his own books.


A is for Active!

~Children should be active participants in the read-aloud experience (this includes being actively engaged in making book selections).

~Active is the root word for activity, and I think there can always be an interesting activity for a book that enhances and extends the experience. These special activities make a book memorable, and build the LOVE and the FUN.

reading aloud to kids, flame read aloud, read aloud magic

After reading activities involve children in the entire experience of a story. The best ones deepen understanding, and should be FUN. Because…

M is for Movement and Music!

~Kids need to move. If kids want and need to move, and we don’t let them, they will see read-alouds as restrictive. Restrictive = NOT FUN! Why not build FUN and organized movement into your read-alouds for young children?

~Music is fun, most kids love it, and it is another wonderful way to add activity, engagement and fun into your read-alouds. Music could include sing-alongs, recorded music, songbooks, or instruments.


A book is a device to ignite the imagination.
–Alan Bennett

Make the most of it.

reading to kids, flame read aloud, read aloud magic

E is for Engagement and Entertainment

You want to try to make the book so fun, so engaging, so interesting, and so memorable that kids are completely invested in hearing it. You want them to feel there isn’t anything that they would rather do!

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.
—Jacqueline Kennedy

Did you notice I didn’t mention learning?

But Tracy, What About the Learning?  We need to choose books children can learn from!

boys reading, read aloud, learning from books, flame read alouds

You cannot open a book without learning something

You don’t need to choose books with good morals, good values, good lessons to learn, good vocabulary. Just choose good books! Kids WILL learn from them.
It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own
—Katherine Patterson

Good books are the books that children LOVE!  Don’t worry about learning!  Worry about love!

boys reading, read alouds, flame read alouds, reading together

Only Two Things Truly Determine the Success of a Read–Aloud…
1. The Book

2. The Reader

reading to kids, flame read alouds, read aloud magic

1. Pick a Great Book!

A book with high entertainment value should be:

~a book YOU love, really like or have enthusiasm for.

~ Appropriate for the age, development, interests, and number of children in your audience
~ a story with a strong plot (that begins quickly and moves along with good action), interesting characters, and an engaging problem/solution
~ well illustrated (if illustrated)
And will most likely be one or more of the following:
~ silly
~ funny
~ timely (matches an interest, activity, holiday, situation, etc., that is timely)
~ written with a strong, rhyme, rhythm, cadence, and/or drama

 reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

  1. Read It Well!

This will take reading the book beforehand, and a bit of prep, but it is worth it!

~Make it a performance, but don’t stress. Fluency and effort go a LONG way.

~Look for ways to emphasize cadences, rhythms, sound words, or special words.

~Identify places where you can punch up a text with your voice…
~character voices and vocal sound effects
~changing the volume (both soft and loud)
~focusing on, and changing pacing (fast/slow) as appropriate.


The more you read, the better you get, the more better you get, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
– Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook


So, how do you create a FLAME worthy read aloud?

Why with three easy planning steps of course!

1.Planning for BEFORE you read

 2.Planning for READING

3. Planning for AFTER you read


Setting the Stage – Planning for BEFORE reading

~Choose your book very carefully.

~Make it a great “fit” for your audience.

-What does your audience like? What can they relate to?

~What is going on in the lives of children that you can tie a book to?

-How complex a story can your audience handle?

-Is this a story that will knock their socks off?

~Do a dress rehearsal. Practice the book out loud before you read it to an audience!!! This is a very important step!


A read-aloud is a very special experience, with amazing possibilities. There are many books that are wonderful, but are not the right fit for reading aloud.

reading to kids, read alouds, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

Ready to perform?! Yes, I am dressed like a wizard to read to my son’s preschool class!

Time to READ! Time to Perform!

It really does help to think of it as a performance

~ Use your voice!

~Use your facial expressions.

~Use gestures.

~Use pacing effectively. Use pauses to create drama, suspense, humor, etc.

~Use props when appropriate (puppets, signs, pictures, flannels, etc.)

~Think about how you can encourage your audience to participate (questions, allowing children to call out a predicted word, use hand movements, etc.)

reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds, celebrate a book

AFTER Party – Celebrate the Book!
There is always a cast party; why not throw a book party!

~Find a way to celebrate the book in some way…

~Talk about parts you liked or didn’t like.

~Put the book out for children to explore independently later.

~Extend or enhance the story with fun activities such as cooking, a craft, an art project, read a related book or poem, sing a related song.

~Retell the story with: puppets, flannel board, play mats, dramatic play, photographs, student created video, etc.

have fun with books, read alouds, flame read alouds, book activities

Make the experience ENGAGING and FUN.

I’ve got just one more question for you…

How will you help spark the LOVE of reading for the children in your life?


Cat in the Hat, Seuss, read aloud magic, flame read alouds, reading to kids

A winning performance!


If you are looking for ideas…I have been collecting some great ones.  I have created a list of

“Shining Star” read-aloud books that are all kid tested, and have always been winners with everyone I have read them with.  To check the list out, just click here.   I have also have many boards on Pinterest that are filled with ideas for activities.  Here are some of the boards, with great ideas from all around the web, that might spark and idea or a flame!

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 :-)






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 :-)



A Halloween Treat – The Spooky Box by Mark Gonyea


Tomorrow is Halloween, so I thought it would be a nice time to share a fun book that has become a favorite at School4Boys this week.

The Spooky Box

Written and illustrated by Mark Gonyea

Henry Holt and Co., 2013


What is inside the spooky box? It could be spiders, rats, or evil puppets, but the author/Illustrator won’t tell. YOU, dear reader, will have to just imagine that for yourself.


This book is fun, interactive, and just a little bit spooky. Utilizing just three colors and very simple shapes, the illustrations are bold and graphically stunning. Partnering with those fantastic pictures the text uses a nervous narrator, and the building of tension to tell the story of a box with unknown contents. The book invites reader participation by using sly humor, questions, and the reader’s natural curiosity to make for a rollicking good time of trying to figure out just what is inside the spooky box, and then the ever smaller spooky nesting boxes that are eventually found to be inside. The Spooky Box lends itself naturally to the making of predictions and inferences, creative thinking, and fun reading extensions.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥.5


The Spooky Box has provided a springboard for lots of fun for us at School4Boys.


A. really liked this book, and requested that we read it several times. He was drawn to the cover, amused by the premise, and liked thinking of possibilities for the contents of the box. After finishing this book’s open ending, I asked A. what he thought was in the last spooky box. He said, “ more and more boxes forever and to infinity.”


After our initial reading we decided to make some spooky boxes of our own.   A. had shown interest in Modge Podge while making some Halloween decorations last week. This surprised me because it is goopy and got on his hands, but he wanted to try it again. We decided to decoupage our spooky box. I purchased some nesting papier mache boxes specifically for this activity because it made it easier. You could obviously collect cardboard boxes in different sizes too.


Making Spooky Boxes

Having done this type of activity before, and wanting to improve on my last attempt (don’t ask), I began by covering the large box with black construction paper and Elmer’s glue. This didn’t take long at all. Then I set out black bleeding tissue paper, Modge Podge, and foam brushes. A. was happy to work on this for a while, but soon his hands were getting goopy and discolored, and he was done. I finished the messy tissue paper part, and then when it was dry, he was happy to put the final coat on the project. By using construction paper under the tissue, I only had to cover the box with one layer of tissue and Modge Podge over the top to get good coverage and opaque color.


For the second box we used paint (far less goopy, so A was happy to participate.) I sealed the papier mache box with Modge Podge and let it dry before adding the paint, and I found that this helped cut down on the number of coats of paint that were needed.  Cardboard and papier mache can really suck up the paint!


For the smallest boxes, I loved that A. wanted to make them “happy, not spooky,” so he chose to make them yellow.


After the boxes were dry, we devised some fun uses for them.


For our second reading of the book, I placed some Halloween themed party favors in each of the boxes. As we read the story, and the boxes inside the boxes got smaller I let A. open the boxes one by one and pull a trinket out of each box when appropriate in the story. This was a hit! I didn’t do this on our first reading because I wanted A. to draw his own conclusions about what was in the box on the first go-round.  A. also had fun stacking the boxes in different configurations.  Then he did something that I thought was great (but I am his mom, so I might be biased).  We had put an orange plastic table cloth on the table for our Halloween party pn Sunday.  It was both festive and functional as a table protector during our crafts, so I left it on after the party.  Adam noticed that the boxes on the orange background looked like the cover of the book, so he took some leftover scraps of black tissue and squished them together to make bats, and then recreated the cover illustration.   I love when spontaneous things like that happen!  I am always amazed at what kids come up with on their own if they have the opportunities of time, space, and materials.


Spooky Box collage 2


After reading it was time to play an inferring game. A. has already shown strength in making inferences, so I want to build on that during read-aloud activities. For the game, I found objects of different sizes that would go in the boxes. I created clue sets for each object (a series of four clues moving from broad information to more specific information) and taped them to the appropriate boxes. Then I read the clues one at a time. After each clue I allowed A. to make two predictions about what was in the box. He really enjoyed this activity. So much so, that he wanted to play the game too. So, he then selected secret objects and put them in the boxes. He gave me the clues orally, and really came up with some really good clues. He asked to play the game again tomorrow!


Here are two examples of my clue sets:

I am round.

I grow in the ground

I am orange.

I have a face and a smile.

I am a jack o’ lantern.


I am a toy.

I am made of wood.

I have wheels.

I run on tracks.

I am a train.


You get the idea.


The Spooky Box was a really fun read-aloud book, and it gave us the opportunity to work on comprehension, do crafts (great fine motor work), and have a good time without feeling forced. Not a bad deal!


My friend Jodie at the terrific early literacy blog Growing Book By Book, created a super fun book-themed game to develop inferring skills too.  You can find it by clicking here. 


I hope you check out The Spooky Box and have some fun with it.


Happy Reading!

Tracy  :-)