30 July, 2010


Heracles, the strongest man ever. King Midas and his golden fingers. Narcissus and his handsome reflection. The nine lovely muses. Perseus and ugly Medusa. Jason and his search for woolen gold. Pandora and her curiosity. Persephone, the reticent queen of the underworld.

There is just something captivating about Greek mythology. I love reading it aloud to my girls as much as they enjoy listening to the tales. The myths are wrought with the adventures, mistakes, consequences, despairs, and joys of the heroes and heroines. But for deities, their emotions are very human. Super-human.

Lucky for us, there are many beautifully illustrated children's books based upon the Greek myths. Reading these versions to your little one is a wonderful way to introduce classic literature to him/her. 

I guess you could say that the myths are LARGER THAN LIFE. Which is what makes them such fun to read together.

Here are some of my favorite illustrated versions for children:
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek MythsPandora The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus (Trophy Picture Books)

26 July, 2010

Park It

Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Do you know that the National Parks in the United States cover more than 84 million acres? That's one heck of a' playroom.

These parks and historical sites are as varied as the landscape of this country. From Dry Tortugas National Park in the warm waters off of the Florida Keys to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in the glacier carved wilderness of Alaska, there is a park for everyone.

These parks are fabulous destinations for a family holiday.  Even if your holiday is a long weekend.

Campsites and lodges are offered within many parks. In the summer, the national park rangers offer programs for families. 

A few years ago, in the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, my family participated in a program that educated kids and parents about the lifestyles of settlers to the area many years ago. My daughter really enjoyed the opportunity to churn the butter. It was hard work!

Visiting a National Park is like pulling up a front row seat to the wonders of nature. The natural wonders of the landscape and fauna are breathtaking as well as are the "inhabitants" of these parks. Your family may meet up with a bear, a wolf, or even an alligator! You can hike, mountain bike, snorkel, or raft down a river. Whatever you do, you will be sure to come face to face with nature.

Fees vary widely throughout the National Park system.  Some parks, such as Yellowstone National Park charge $25 per vehicle and some parks such as Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado/Utah border charge no entrance fee. 

This summer, all of the national parks will be free of charge the weekend of August 14-15, 2010. So, Get Out there!

Click here to find a park near you.

23 July, 2010


 We have participated in dozens of family events over the past few years. I am always amazed at the wide variety of free learning opportunities for parents and kids offered in the local community. 

Each month of the year, my calendar is inked with "family days" (i.e. free) offered by museums, theatres, planetariums, parks, libraries, community centers, shops, and movie theatres.

There are so many, we don't get to most of them. But we try. As a mom friend of mine says, "If it's free, it's for me." 

Yesterday was no exception. My kids and I spent the morning cavorting with giant wheeled insects and doing craft projects. O.K. I admit that does sound a little bit weird. 

But, Sarruga has come to town. Sarruga is a troupe from Barcelona that puts on a techno-show in which the performers wheel around on giant insect puppets. As bizarre as it sounds, the kids couldn't get enough of those guys.
The gargantuan venus fly trap that swung around and opened its jaws atop our heads was a crowd favorite.
The local art museum provided supplies and volunteers so that the kids could create their own "insects" to take home.
The kids were even invited to get up close and touch the insects as the performers explained how they operated them.
I never know what these free family events are going to entail. But, we always learn something. Together. And that's what makes it fun.

I encourage you to attend a "family day" activity in your community. You can usually find information on these days on your town's website. Local newspapers, library bulletin boards, and  parents-in-the-know are great resources too. 

What free events do you enjoy in your community?

16 July, 2010

Letters in the Sand

I don't get any credit for this week's Learning Together activity. My five year old daughter thought it up all by herself this past weekend. 

We were at the beach. Enjoying a super day swimming with the little fishies. My youngest soon scrambled out of the water due to all of those little fish we were swimming with. They were just a bit too close for comfort for her, so she decided to play in the sand. 

Look, Mommy! She exclaimed a few minutes later. I made the word "the". 
So it was. She was using a broken seashell to form words in the moist sand.

I was impressed. In fact, I was downright pleased. Mostly because she is my child that until very recently doesn't even sit through a picture book. She is the active one. Always on the move. Climbing the walls. 

It has been a challenge for me to teach her to read because reading involves a fair amount of sitting down that. Well, this was different. Reading and writing these words was fun. Because playing in the sand was fun. That's why. 

For today's family learning activity, you need a sandy beach and something with which to "write". A seashell, a stick, a finger. Anything works. Next, write words in the sand. Sight words, short vowel words, names, whatever. Ask your child to read the words with you. Encourage your child to write his/her own words. 

Try it. You'll have fun too. You'll "sea"!

09 July, 2010

Sound It Out

We all know the "alphabet song". "A,B,C,D,E,F,G..."Now you're humming it, right? 

Sure, it's a cute song with a catchy tune, but I have one little problem with it. The song does not do a very good job preparing your child to read. Why not? Doesn't reading consist of words and don't words consist of letters.Yes. But...

Letters make sounds. In order to read words, one must produce the sounds that the letters, or combinations of letters, make. For this reason, when teaching young children to read, it is more important to teach the sounds that the letters of the alphabet make rather than their names.

Today's literacy activity is geared toward toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners- or anyone just beginning to learn to read. You will need 31 index cards, a marker, and some old magazines.

First, write one letter of the alphabet on each card. Be sure to write the lower case version of each of the letters. On the back of the card, find a picture that depicts a word containing that letter sound. Write the word underneath the picture and underline the letter corresponding with the letter on the card.

For consonants, find pictures depicting words beginning with that letter.
For example, on the "s" card, you can cut out a picture of a sun.

For the vowels (a,e,i,o,u), you will have 2 cards for each vowel (one for the short sound and one for the long sound). Find pictures depicting words with the letter's sound in the middle of the word. Underline the letter corresponding with the letter on the card.
For example, one "a" card could have a picture of a "cat", and the other "a" card could have a picture of a "game".

When you are finished cutting and pasting, you will have your very own set of "alphabet sound flash cards". To work with your child, show the card and ask him/her to tell you the sound that the letter makes. Show the picture on the back to reinforce the letter sound in the word.

*For older children, creating alphabet sound cards is a good reinforcement activity.

07 July, 2010

Run, Bull, Run

The Festival of San Fermin, better known as the "Running of the Bulls", began yesterday in Pamplona (Iruna),Spain. This centuries old event is held from 6 July through 14 July every year. Each morning, hundreds of runners, six bulls, and six steers run down the narrow streets of Pamplona toward the bullring where a bullfight is held each evening.
The festivities begin here at the Casa Consistorial. The mayor makes an announcement, the crowd sings a song, and a firework called chipunazo is set off to signal the beginning of the week-long festival.
The runners wear white shirts and white pants, tied at the waist with bright red scarves.
The bulls and the runners race down a barricaded path on the narrow streets of the city.
The course ends at the bullring Plaza de Toros.
At the end of the day, most of the runners fare much better than the bulls.

Click here for more information on the Festival of San Fermin.