Tuesday, 1 December 2015

5 Holiday Season Books for the Tween Homeschooler

We have a LOT of books for the Holiday season.  
Most are aimed at younger readers. Which has been fine till this year when my 10 year old found his love of reading and has well and truly moved on from the
 'Holiday Picture Book' stage.

So as a tween (I'm told that at 10 you become a tween LOL), what do you give them to read over the holiday season to get them in the festive spirit?

Well I found 5 good ones and I wanted to share.

1. That Aussie Christmas Book,
 by Andrew Daddo

Honestly this one is hilarious.  I mean the first page mentions poo - in a very grose, very tween boy humourous way.  So it has to be a winner right?  It is illustrated by Terry Denton so those familiar with the 13 Storey Treehouse books will love this one.  

2. The Horrible Histories 
"Horrible Christmas" books,
by Terry Deary and Martin Brown 

We have the first one in the picture and we love it.  It really is a wealth of knowledge and funny at the same time.  For a child who is eager to find the origins behind traditions of the season, then this is perfect.

3. The Angel Tree,
by Daphne Benedis-Grab

My son has started this one and he is liking it.  The book summary is listed as:
"A heartwarming Christmas mystery and friendship story!
Every Christmas in the small town of Pine River, a tree appears in the town square--the Angel Tree. Some people tie wishes to the tree, while others make those wishes come true. Nobody's ever known where the tree comes from, but the mystery has always been part of the tradition's charm.
This year, however, four kids who have been helped--Lucy, Joe, Max, and Cami--are determined to solve the mystery and find out the true identity of the town's guardian angel, so that Pine River can finally thank the person who brought the Angel Tree to their town.
This is a heartwarming Christmas mystery, full of friendship, discovery, and loads of holiday cheer!"

4.  The Truth About Santa,
by Gregory Mone

I've heard great things about this book. For the kids who are growing out of 'Santa' and want to believe a little longer then it's a good read and I think those who have already grown out of Santa can have a bit of fun with this one.  So it's on my wish list.

5. A Christmas Carol,
by Charles Dickens

A classic and a must have for any bookshelf.  I think by the tween age range they are capable of reading this (although some may disagree).  There are picture book versions, abridged versions (check out the Classic Starts series of books for an abridged copy), graphic novels (comic style books) and full novel versions.  

Obviously there are plenty more books on the market for the Holidays but these were a few that we have and that are on our wishlist.  I would love to know your favourite books for the holidays for your tween so please leave me a comment below! 

Season's Greetings and a Blessed Yuletide to you all. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Magic Age For Us Was 10.

When you have a child who struggles to read, who has learning disorders, who is behind all his peers .... well you do what everyone tells you to do.
You try every 'learn to read' method there is.
You push reading at every opportunity.
You encourage.
You praise.
You live and breathe phonics. 
and you don't get very far.

You end up with a child who HATES reading and to be very honest, you end up hating it yourself.

At 7 years old, when we first started homeschooling and I realised how far behind my son was and how bad his reading skills were, I was adamant that my son would learn with my help. 

At 8 years old we were not much further along in our progress.

At 9 I think he was worse as he'd developed such a hate for reading.

I honestly thought we would never get there.  I remember a few mothers (the minority) had said just to relax and leave it. That at around age 10, particularly for boys, something clicks and they will start to read on their own.  I remember reading their comments and thinking no, I can't wait, what if he gets to high school age and still can't read because I waited.  I remember thinking I knew best as my son had learning disorders and surely if that was dealt with then reading would flow.  It didn't.

I should have waited.

I ignored the best piece of advice given to me.  

The one I am going to give now to all those mothers out there who are pushing and rushing to get their kids to read. 

Just wait.

Wait till they are ready.  It does happen!  

Age 10 this year for my boy.  He matured.  He mellowed a little and something clicked. He actually had an interest in a series and wanted to learn to read it.  And wow did he pick it up fast and get into reading in a big way!  In the first 5 months he read 10 chapter books.  That for us was HUGE.  Then he had been given a series of 60 books and decided to read them (or I was giving them away).  Between Mid-July and early November he read ALL 60 BOOKS!  All chapter books with 10 chapters each.  I am still blown away.  In just this past week he has read 6 large novels.  

It happened!  When he was ready.

I look back and think OMG the stress I put on myself and on my poor boy for all those years when we could have been having fun with our school work.  So what if I needed to read every question to him.  I was sitting right next to him anyway.  No teacher is sitting there to see.  No peers are there to notice.  Why was I so pressured into keeping up with others.  I regret not listening to those mothers.  

In the last month, I have seen other mothers of children aged 10-12 who have all of a sudden started reading.  It was so exciting to read of their interest and success.  I realised that just because some of our children take longer to start reading, doesn't mean they will forever be behind. 

So to the mothers of children who are young, who hate reading, who struggle with reading and who you think will never get there ..... chill out.  Stop pushing the reading issue, stop making life all about reading and putting pressure on yourself or your child.  Just step back, let go of the control and make alternative plans (and supports) with your child's learning path until they reach the point where it all just clicks one day.   

Most of you won't, you will do what I did, and then look back and think aaahhhhh yeah! 
I look forward to reading your blog posts when it happens LOL.

 I wonder how many of you find that 10 is the magic age for your child too.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Jack-O-Lantern Fun

Our very 1st attempt at carving a Jack-O-Lantern into a pumpkin went well.
Apart from stabbing myself - but the child went unharmed, so we will call that a success! 

Step 1.
Being 'Newbies' to this activity, we prepared with drawing ideas for faces and then sketched the face onto the pumpkin with a pencil.

Step 2.
Cut the top off.  This isn't easy to actually get the starting point to line with the end LOL.  We were a little wonky but it all worked in the end.

Step 3.
Scoop the Goop!
This is really grose. Well it is when you have sensory issues! We were prepared with a goop bag & bucket and a goop scooper.  
The words that came out of my son's mouth when the top was lifted off was
"oooooooo brains!!!!"

Step 4.
Carving the face.
Sounds really easy. A little tricky trying to follow the pre drawn pencil markings but for a first try it worked well.  Considering I have arthritic hands I think I did ok - till I stabbed myself.  I'm ok though, child is ok so its a WIN!
Once we had the initial shapes cut out, we decided to add teeth.  This involved slicing up the pieces we'd previously cut out and then pushing the sharp end of a toothpick into it.  Obviously the toothpicks were too long so just cut them up. The size that worked best for us was about 1/3 of a toothpick.  Then just push the 'blunt' end of the pick into the flesh of the pumpkin.  This gave us creepy teeth.  We then decided to add eyeballs. Same process as the teeth (cut a shape and attach with a toothpick).

Step 5.
Add the candle to the inside, making sure it's sitting in a flat spot. Light the candle and take a photo because it looks great! 

So that's it!  Our very first Jack-O-Lantern!
I think he looks pretty good if I do say so myself and can only type this with 9 healthy fingers LOL. 


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Halloween Link Up Party!

Let's have a Halloween Party! 

Link up your Halloween Themed Blog Posts here to share.
Get great ideas, make 'new' connections and have a festive Halloween! 

This is my first time hosting a Blog Hop so apologise in advance if there are teething problems.  

We love Halloween and I have recently put together a few blog posts on the topic so thought it was a good idea to start this off and put them all in one place.  You will find the links in the Linky section below. 

5 Fun Halloween Activities

Here are 5 fun Halloween activities to do with your kids.

1. Make a Halloween Wreath. 
Honestly you can do so many different types! We found a pre-made Styrofoam base that was covered with black feathers at the local craft store. At just $6 it was not worth the hassle of starting from scratch LOL.  So we bought a felt Jack-O-Lantern face and some orange ribbons and added them to the feather wreath. Jack-O-Lanterns traditionally were used to ward off evil spirits (to allow the good spirits to come and visit us) so having one on a wreath at the front door is a good thing.  The black feathers remind me of crow feathers. 

2. Turn little mini pumpkins into baby Jack-O-Lanterns without any carving. 
Simply grab a black marker pen, some strong glue and a few googly eyes to add to your mini pumpkins. We ended up with a baby Vampire and a very minion looking Cyclops.  No gooey pumpkin mess and at the end of Halloween simply separate the googly eyes from the pumpkin to re use on next years pumpkins. 

3. Make an Ancestor Tree.  
This is a lovely way to celebrate the day without it needing to be 'commercial'. Historically All Hallows Eve was the night when the veil between the living world and the next was at it's thinnest and our ancestors spirits could come and visit us. It was a night to honour your loved ones who had passed from this life. Tokens (ornaments) were hung from trees to represent them and call them home.

In our house we have used a Jewellery Tree (we are light on sticks in our garden LOL) and it's a perfect size, being about 30cm tall. We then make little paper discs and wrote the names or nicknames of our passed loved ones.  Then we hung them on the tree with little ornament hooks.  You can use lockets,ribbons or crystals (or anything else you come up with).  It's a simple way for children to pay their respects to their ancestors and remember them.

If your children are worried about bad spirits coming to your home by making this tree, simply place a Jack-O-Lantern (see above) at the base of the 'tree' as traditionally they were used to scare away the bad spirits, allowing only the friendly to visit.

4. Make Halloween Treats to Eat.
Have some fun in the kitchen.  Using a basic cookie recipe and some Halloween cookie cutters you will have Halloween Cookies that you may also decide to decorate with icing.
You can melt some chocolate and using a Halloween Silicone mould (we used one designed for ice but it worked great) you have some great little chocolate treats. If you have a Skeleton mould then white chocolate looks more realistic. Then there is the good old cupcake. Easy enough and any recipe will do. You can decorate with some white fondant as a background then add either store bought icing decorations or get creative with a gel icing tube. All are easy and don't require too much effort.

5. Carve a Jack-O-Lantern.  
Ok I have to admit - I have never done this before.  I also have arthritic hands.  The combination has me daunted from the outset.  However we will be giving it a go.  We live in Australia and I fear carving too early - in our hot climate at this time of year will mean a rather smelly, yukky outcome.  So I am waiting till the day to make ours, so I am cheating in this post and adding photos of someone elses efforts!  I will let you all know how we went though, it could be a good laugh. 

There is an excellent "How to" guide that I will be using, on WikiHow.  Click here to view the link.

Or watch this You Tube clip which is very cool: 

Hope you all have a festive Halloween! 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Using Melbourne Cup Day as a Learning Opportunity

Regardless of your views on Australia's 
Melbourne Cup Day,
 'The Race that Stops the Nation'
can prove to be a great learning opportunity.


Here are a list of topics that can be covered (whether they be positive or negative, there are many avenues for discussion): 
  • Horses 
  • Horse Racing
  • Occupations (Jockey, Trainer, Vet etc)
  • Money and Gambling
  • The History of the Race and by extension Australian History
  • 'Legend' stories like Phar Lap (you can even read about this on Skwirk, click here to follow the link)
  • The change in our country and our attitudes over the years
  • Animal Rights, animal cruelty 
  • The Science behind everything from track preparation to the anatomy of a horse
  • The Mathematics involved (Race times and speeds, Odds and Probability, etc) *check out this link to Passy's World of Mathematics for a great unit on Melbourne Cup Mathematics!*
  • Geography of where the Horses come from in the World 

Do we really need to be talking to our kids about this?

Well yes, I think we do.
If our children are not taught about the past, how can they make informed choices about the future?  

My son loves riding horses. He has been riding for 3 years now. He loves the horses and cares about them. He wanted to know all about the Horses that race, what racing entailed, etc.  It was a great opportunity to explain a huge range of topics (both good and not so pleasant). 

As he has gotten older and has developed an interest in History, this year we are taking a Historical look at 'The Race'. We have books to read and we are going back over our Australian History timelines to remember what Australia was like as a country and a colony back when it all started.

Two books that we are reading are:

The Phar Lap Mystery

Archer's Melbourne Cup

We have books like the
Allen Book of Riding 
to read as well which explains all about Horses, how to Ride a Horse etc.  

Along with the books above, we have the following DVD to watch:
Phar Lap - Hero to a Nation

You could use it as a stepping stone for Literature Unit Studies for books like Black Beauty. You will find a great Literature Unit over at
Confessions of a Homeschooler, see this link

Whether you love the Melbourne Cup or hate it, it is a race that takes place in our country for millions to watch. Why not take advantage of that to engage your child in discussion about all the topics I mentioned above and many others.  

If you love it you could incorporate arts and craft activities as well.  Make a 'Fascinator', learn to draw horses, make hobby horses, bake horse shoe shaped biscuits, there is plenty to engage your child. 

If you disagree with the day and Horse Racing, then why not delve into Animal care and protection?  You could take the children and volunteer at a Horse Rescue centre.

The Day is what you make of it, and it really is a good opportunity to teach your child.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

10 Halloween Books to Read

Halloween books can be hard to find.  Well they are where I live!
There are not as many flooding the market like there are with Christmas books. 
 However we have found some that we like and they always get put in the weekly reading basket this time of year. 

Here are ten books (ok more than 10), in no particular order, that you might like for reading this time of year: 

#1 - The Cemetary Dance 
A phonics reader but a good story.

#2 - Bet on It & A Hero's Journey
(Both books are from 'The Book of Life' story)

#3 - Too Ghoul for School Series
School kids and scary things - winning combo.  10 Books in the series.

#4 - Witches and Wizards
This is not a story book, more a reference book with information pages on everything from Magic, Witches, Halloween etc and activity pages. 

These are good sized novels and are about Magic & Animals.

#6 - Frankenstein
We have the Classic Starts series version (pictured here) which is abridged. You can get picture book versions for younger children too.

#7 The Buried Moon
A collection of magical stories including 'The Buried Moon', 'The Council with the Munchkins', 'Do You Believe in Fairies?', 'Shipwreck on Lilliput'.  Not Halloween themed but the stories contain witches and fairies, etc.

#8 - The Witches (by Roald Dahl)

#9 - The Worst Witch Series
Currently a 7 book series about a witch at boarding school.

#10 - The Harry Potter Series
These are a favourite in our house at any time of the year!
and the books that go with the Harry Potter series like: 
The Tales of Beedle the Baird 

There are plenty of others if you use the help of Professor Google, but these are ones we like.  A lot of children like the Goosebumps books and Skulduggery series but my son isn't into those.  There are also a lot more in stores in countries like the USA than there are here in Australia! 

Hope these have given you a few ideas if you are looking for Halloween books.

Friday, 16 October 2015

15 Halloween Movie Favourites for Kids

Here is a list of books and movies that we love this time of the year.  
Technically there are more than 15 movies, but I'm hoping you won't mind.

There are not a heap of movies that are specifically about Halloween, most that are available and that are loved and watched this time of year have elements that remind us of Halloween.  They are either about Magic or Witches, Ghosts or Monsters, Frankenstein or Death and the list goes on.  Many films that are simply classed as being scary make the list of Halloween Classic despite there being no Halloween content.  So when making a list of Halloween favourites, it can actually prove to be a little tricky!  

The ones I have chosen are a mix of Halloween event specific, some about Witches and Wizards, Ghosts, Monsters and Magic.  My son is 10 and these are ones we have watched together.

Cute movie in the "Buddies" franchise that has a Halloween storyline.

The Book of Life is based around the cultural 'Day of the Dead' or 'Dia de Muertos' (Spanish) which is a festival that begins on October 31st and is a celebration of ancestors who have passed. Very similar to the Pagan 'Samhain' celebration which was the foundation modern day Halloween.  I've included this movie as we love it and it's culturally a good 'Halloween' fit.

Not Halloween themed, but certainly gets you a great dose of monsters, vampires and all things spooky.  We are also looking forward to Hotel Transylvania Two coming out later this year.

#4 - Anything 'Casper'!  
Casper the friendly ghost has many movies and cartoon series and all are great family viewing. We have a few cartoon series and a few movies and they always get screen time for Halloween. 

#5 - Dreamworks & Pixar "Halloween Specials" 
like Shrek, Monsters & Toy Story given a Halloween makeover and new mini story.  These usually don't go for very long but are fun to watch anyway. They are all Halloween themed.

A classic Witch movie that I've loved since childhood. 

Great scary-ish kids movie based around Halloween and impending trick or treater danger. My son loves this one.

#8 - The Addams Family  
There is the TV series, two movies (The Addams Family and Addams Family Values) and an animated series. This is good old fashioned stereotypical monster weird family entertainment.  Not Halloween themed but great for getting in character! 

#9 - The Munsters
You can find the TV series DVD's, Munsters Movies and a newer version of the Munsters.
Not Halloween themed but with a Frankenstein type Dad, a Vampire or two, a scary witchy type mum and an odd one out blonde - it fit's my idea of Halloween entertainment.

#10 - The House of Magic
This one is also not Halloween theme specific, but there is a cool creepy old house, lots of Magic and a cat and a creepy bunny - so it makes the list LOL

#11 - The Smurfs
This one has pumpkins on the cover LOL.  The kids love it though.

#12 - Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Everyone loves Sabrina.  We do love watching the Halloween episodes this time of year but there are also multiple animated series and a movie of Sabrina to watch too. 

#13 - The Nightmare before Christmas
This is both Halloween themed and Christmas themed.  With Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween town .... says it all really! 

#14 - Coraline 
Not Halloween specific but definitely creepy and scary, and there is a black cat (that's Halloween-y right? LOL)

#15 - The Harry Potter Series !!!
Saved the best for last of course.
What can I say - Wizards, Witches, Magic, Cauldrons, Owls .... this is Halloween themed without being Halloween themed!  If we want to be technical there is a Halloween dinner scene in the first movie at least LOL.

Obviously there are PLENTY more Halloween movies but these are ones we watch at our house.  I am not a fan of really scary movies or horror movies and there are a lot I feel my son is too young to watch (and also lots for much younger children that we've outgrown), but this is what we like. 

I hope it gives you some ideas when you are looking for some screen time entertainment this Halloween.