What Brings Your Family Together?

Our Tree Named Steve is a story about a family who comes together and grows together around a tree in their yard. The parents build the family’s house and leave the tree standing for their family to enjoy. The youngest child isn’t able to pronounce the word “tree” initially, so instead she calls the tree “Steve.” The name sticks and the tree is referred to as Steve for the remainder of the story.

Steve is a constant figure for the family as the children grow up. Through happy times and through tough times, Steve is there.

As I was reading Our Tree Named Steve, I was reminded of the various objects and events in my childhood that brought my family closer together. I lived in five different towns growing up, which always meant changes in houses, schools, friends, etc. However, no matter where we went we had our family dog. This family dog lived for 16 years and was a constant companion for us — no matter where we were living.

My parents also tried to make sure we sat down and had supper together as much as possible. As much as I grumbled about eating together with my family (as I would have rather sat in front of the television), I am thankful for our mealtimes together. It was a consistent event every week that helped us to know what was going on in each other’s lives and get to know one another better. In fact, some of the biggest laughs I had with my parents and my brother growing up were at the supper table!

What brings your family together? Is it a weekly family games night? Do you take a regular family trip to the grocery store? Is it a swing set or a sandbox in the backyard where you can play? Do you have a favourite book that you like to share before bedtime?

Whatever it is, enjoy the things and events in your family that bring you closer together!

Our Tree Named Steve is written by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow.

Summer Cooking: Chocolate and Marshmallows Are All That You Need!

Although that title may not be entirely true, especially if you like fresh vegetables and fruit and want to avoid those pesky things like scurvy or other vitamin deficiencies, they are definitely a staple for campfire treats over the summer!

Each year, my family looks for new summer recipes to try while we’re camping, barbecuing, or just cooking together. My kids are excited to discover something they can help with and add to our summer cookbooks. We experiment and have a great time finding different ingredients, measuring, and, of course, eating our final product.

Capturing the recipes can be just as fun as trying them out. A scrapbook of favourites might go camping with you. You could make a family cookbook by getting everyone in the family to send you their best summer recipes. Adding a picture of each relative would give it a personal touch.

Recipes and food, in general, lend themselves to stories — they tend to stir up memories and are a great way to get people talking about “days of yore.” Written in one of our family cookbooks, my grandmother’s fried chicken recipe starts out with “Go out to the hen house, choose a nice fat bird…”  (I’ll let you finish that). It was a fun (and funny) way to hear about her life and your recipes might just do the same — have fun with it!

Here are some of the recipes we will be adding to our book this year!

 

Chicken and Peach Skewers

You need:

Chicken (cut into cubes)

Bacon (cut in half)

Peaches (cut in 8 wedges)

BBQ sauce

Skewers (soak wooden ones)

 

What to do:

  1. Wrap bacon around chicken pieces and put on skewers. Alternate pieces of meat with peaches.
  2. Brush all with BBQ sauce and cook on the BBQ until chicken is not pink.

 

Banana Boats

You need:

Bananas (sliced lengthwise with peel on, not cut all the way through)

Marshmallows

Chocolate chips

Tinfoil

 

What to do:

  1. Put chocolate chips in the banana.
  2. Push marshmallows in over top of the chocolate chips.
  3. Wrap in tinfoil.
  4. Place on hot coals of a campfire until warm and melted.

Frozen Chocolate Bananas

You need:

Popsicle sticks

Bananas (peeled and cut in half)

Chocolate melting wafers

Toppings like peanuts or sprinkles

 

What to do:

  1. Put the Popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  2. Completely freeze bananas.
  3. Melt the chocolate and dip the bananas in.
  4. Roll in the topping of your choice.
  5. Put back in freezer.

 

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad

You need:

Greens (your choice)

Feta cheese (or goat cheese)

Pecans

Beets (sliced thinly)

Carrots (sliced thinly)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

 

What to do:

  1. Toss the beets and carrots in olive oil and roast in oven (or BBQ) until soft.
  2. Place beets, carrots, feta, pecans, and dressing on greens.

Got Cards?

Sometimes moments of boredom in our lives are expected, as when waiting at the dentist’s office. Other times they come as a surprise (although an unexciting surprise), as when you show up late to the dentist’s office and end up waiting anyways. Adults might be used to this kind of waiting, but children can rarely stand it quietly. They’re going to need something to do, and it will probably fall on the parent to provide it. There aren’t many things you can keep on you at all times just to please your child, but cards — cheap, compact, and endless in their opportunities for fun — work excellently. All you need is a flat surface to play a quick game with your children or let them entertain themselves. To that end, here are some fun ideas for curing boredom with cards:

  • Go Fish is one of the simplest card games out there. All it requires is a basic grasp of numbers and the names of cards. If there are two players, they both draw seven cards from the deck. If there are more than two players, everyone draws five cards. The first player can ask anyone else for a specific card: a six, for example. If the asked person has any sixes, they must be given to the asker and the asker gets another turn. If the asked person does not have a six, the asker is told to “go fish,” and must draw another card from the deck. If this card is a six, the asker can go again, but if not, the game moves on to the next player. The goal is to complete sets of four cards — in this case, four sixes. That set can then be put aside. At the end of the game, the person with the most completed sets wins.
  • Crazy Eights is a small step up from Go Fish, but you will find it very closely resembles Uno. Every player gets eight cards to start. The remaining cards are placed in a deck face down, except for a single card that will be placed face up beside the deck. The first player must play a card that matches either the suit or number of that card (or both). Then the game continues to the next person, who must do the same thing, and so on. If at any time someone cannot play a card, they must draw a card from the deck. If that card can be played, it may be played immediately. Otherwise, the game moves on to the next person. Some cards have special rules attached, however. Twos require the next person to pick up two cards from the deck. Eights allow the player to declare that the next card must be a specific suit of his or her choosing, regardless of the suit of the eight card. The game has been around for a long time, so there are many variations on these rules you can explore on your own. The goal is to be the first person with no more cards.
  • Matching is a much easier card-based task than both of the above. Simply lay all of the cards face down. A player picks up a card, and then another one. If they match, that player gets to keep the cards. If not, the cards must be returned. The key is to remember where previous cards were and pick them up again when you find their matches.
  • Building is another fun thing kids can do with cards. Trying to create a card house that doesn’t fall over will let kids stretch their creativity and problem-solving skills.

And a quick Google search will reveal even more options than that! So, will you finally be able to fend off your child’s boredom? The answer is in the cards. (They say yes.)

Keeping Kids Occupied in the Car

Are we there yet?” “She’s touching me!” “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do!”

Vacation time often means time spent in the car going from here to there. Whether it’s a quick drive to Grandma’s house or a grueling two-day road trip, keeping your passengers occupied while keeping your sanity can seem like a feat in itself!

Who remembers playing the License Plate Game as a child – or even as an adult? Why not try these simple variations or another one of these other games while on the road? All you need is a clipboard, some markers, stickers, a book of stamps, a hairbrush, and a little imagination and pre-planning, and you are on your way!

  1. The Name Game Watch for the letters in everyone’s names. They could come from license plates, billboards, roadside signs, or ads on the trucks whizzing by. First one to find all the letters in their names gets to choose a treat from the Goodie Bag they helped you pack before you headed out on your adventure (this is where the pre-planning comes in!).
  2. Boggle® Auto Style Using the letters from license plates, see how many three-letter (or four- or five-letter depending on their spelling ability) words they can come up with. Give them either a distance or time limit. Now go!
  3. Age Game How about the numbers? Perhaps they can try to write down the ages of all the occupants in the car. For mom and dad they may have to do some adding up of numbers.
  4. I Got it Game Randomly call out numbers and the first person to find it on a license plate gets a point. First to 15 gets to hit the Goodie Bag.
  5. Backseat Bingo Using pre-printed Bingo cards (there’s that pre-planning again) and stickers, be the first one to cover all the numbers on your sheet and shout BINGO! Or change it up and use some road signs they see along the way (construction, speed limit, animals on the road, etc).
  6. Post Office When you stop for gas or a snack along the way, let them pick out a post card. Help them address the card and write a message and then find the nearest post office and mail them (pre-planning, you already have the stamps). When they return home from holidays, they will have pictures of where they have been to add to their Summer Fun Photo Journal.
  7. Radio Roundup Sometimes radio reception isn’t all that great along the way. Or perhaps you just need a break from the scratchy all-talk radio or the blaring pop station. Why not try singing some rhymes or other little ditties and take turns interviewing (here’s where the hairbrush comes in) the Itsy Bitsy Spider or ask The Driver on the Bus why the babies were crying. Imagine the tales they have to tell!

Games can make the time spent in the car seem to go more quickly and everybody has some fun. Just don’t tell them that they have been learning at the same time!

Pick Up a Book and Get Active?

A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? For me, reading a book means finding a comfortable spot to curl up without distractions. How do you get active with something that’s supposed to be relaxing?

All I can say is that it’s a good thing literacy isn’t just about reading a book. It could be about a scavenger hunt with a detailed list to follow, or running a marathon and following the signs. Think about all the rhymes you used as a child skipping (http://www.gameskidsplay.net/jump_rope_ryhmes/) or doing clapping games (http://funclapping.com/). These fun rhymes and songs help build vocabulary and a foundation in language – necessary for future literacy learning.

In my small village, we have an amazing program team that comes up with activities for kids to participate in all summer. The activity this past Monday was based on the television show “Mantracker.” (Here’s the link for those of you like me who have never seen it: http://www.mantracker.ca/)

My kids got a map and a legend for checkpoints their team had to get a flag from.  If our summer programmer – all dressed in camouflage with fake leaves and everything – caught them, they had to give up a flag.

Not only did my kids have fun, but what a great way to engage in a literacy activity around maps and legends! Linking it to the popular show ensured the activity was well attended and the kids knew what to expect.

This summer, when kids are bored or become couch potatoes stuck to an electronic device with the usual excuses of “my friends aren’t home” or “it’s too hot outside” or – you know I could go on and on here – challenge them to find a way to get active in literacy! They could make up their own “mantracker” game, find a skipping rope and rhymes, or put on a scavenger hunt.

The possibilities are endless and limited only by imagination. And you never know. Someone may even enjoy reading a book while bouncing on a trampoline!

Reading, Then and Now

We have started a sort of a competition in our house to see how creative we can be in places to read. We have the basics covered: in bed, on the couch, on the floor, at the kitchen table, etc. But creativity has us thinking outside the box; we have read in a few spots in the yard, on the patio, in hammocks, at the pool, while grocery shopping, at our local coffee shop, and even upside down. It feels like a Dr. Seuss book many of us have read before…

It was always a special feeling when my children would bring a favourite book to me and ask if we could read it. We got extra time for cuddles, and it offered an extended discussion period of the stories we read and what we thought about them. I appreciate that these opportunities have allowed me glimpses of who my children are and who they are becoming.

Although they are all independent readers now, we still enjoy book sharing. Many times a good picture book is just too inviting to be read quietly or alone. Chapter books can still be shared as well: we take turns reading aloud a chapter each. It is one of my favorite times with my kids, as I hear how, as they read, the stories in their minds come to life. There is also something very peaceful about sitting together in a room, each enjoying our own books, just sharing in our presence as we have our own stories unfolding and our own adventures awaiting on each turning page.

Homemade Fun!

On one of our recent rainy days, a couple of the staff at CFL decided to try our hand at making homemade chalk, bubbles, paint, and gak. What initially began as two staff members quickly became three, then four, and finally five. It was hard to resist joining in! We were laughing, talking, mixing, and measuring in the kitchen, hard at work testing recipes, when our new Operations Director walked by. After watching us for a bit he asked, “So, what does this have to do with literacy?”

Well….

Research recognizes that the home environment and parent-child interactions are an important influence on a child’s literacy development.

Positive and meaningful parent and child interactions can lead to enhanced language, literacy, and emotional and cognitive development. (Jacobs p. 193)

So, when you and your child…

  • talk together and make plans for the day
  • read through a recipe book together and decide which recipe to make
  • talk about the ingredients and what they are
  • write a grocery list together and talk about the words you are writing down
  • go to the grocery store and notice the different road signs or count the red cars along the way
  • read your grocery list together to make sure you have everything you need
  • read the recipe together and measure out ingredients and talk about the fun things you will do with your chalk, bubbles, paint, or gak…

…you are providing your child with rich literacy experiences and positive interactions that strengthen family bonds and promote literacy development.

Here is the recipe for homemade watercolour paints we made.  Enjoy!

 

Homemade Watercolour Paints

  • 4 tbsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • Food colouring (liquid or gels)
  • Container to keep your paints in – you could use an ice-cube tray, mini muffin tin, small plastic cups, plastic egg carton, etc.

 

1.  Mix your baking soda and vinegar together and wait for the fizzing to stop. It’s handy if you mix in a container that has a spout.

2.  Add your corn syrup and cornstarch, and mix well until the cornstarch has dissolved.

3.  Pour into your containers.

4.  Add the colours using toothpicks and popsicle sticks, and stir for about a minute to make sure the colour is mixed in.

5.  Let your paints “set up” and dry, which could take up to two days, before using.

 

Some Ideas:

Use your paints to make cards for the people you love!

Make family portraits, then host an art show.

Decorate large sheets of paper for colourful placemats.

 

What kinds of things do you plan on making this summer?

 

Recipe adapted from the following site:

http://happyhooligans.ca/

 

References:

Handbook of Family Literacy ( 2nd ed.)  Edited by Barbara Hanna Wasik

Routledge, New York, 2012.

Rain Rain Go Away!

Rain rain go away, come again another day

If you don’t, that’s OK, I built a blanket fort today!

 

Need something to do with the kids when it rains for days and days on end? Turn your cabin fever into a fun activity!

Supplies needed:

1. Imagination

2. Blankets (the more the better)

3. Furniture (coffee tables, couches, chairs, etc)

4. Rubbermaid totes, cardboard boxes, or recycled materials

5. People of all ages

6. (OPTIONAL) Flashlights, books, and teddy bears!

When I was a kid, we built many, many blanket forts. We learned so much from this activity: how to share, be creative, cooperate, compromise ideas with others, and many other skills. Some of my fondest memories are building forts or tents in the house. We had a large family so we often had boys only and girls only forts and created territories and borders. Our small stuffed animals became soldiers and sentry guards. We even learned how to booby-trap entries when the boys would invade our castle!

As much as I love to help and “take over” when my kids want to build forts, I really enjoy watching them problem solve and create their own masterpieces. It’s a great way to have fun, create memories, and bond with your kids.

What’s your favourite thing to do on a rainy day?

Family Literacy in the Workplace, Does it Work?

Research shows:

  • Adult and workplace literacy programs may be underused because of employee fear or sense of stigma
  • Adults with low literacy skills will often participate in literacy programs to benefit their child. Parents join because the focus is on helping their children, as opposed to their own abilities
  • Family literacy programs have been successfully used as the “hook” or “carrot” to get reluctant workers into training programs
  • Adults retain information and skills picked up in the workplace training to a greater degree when the training materials are related to day-to-day experiences at work, home and communities

Family Literacy in the workplace is about overcoming these barriers, getting employees interested in learning and comfortable with taking training, and creating an intergenerational cycle of achievement.

Parents gain the confidence to reenter the learning system and pursue other training.

Family literacy initiatives in the workplace can make a difference in areas such as recruitment of workers, job satisfaction and retention, promotion and especially providing a pathway into additional training and work related skill development. Encouraging employees to learn at work has implications for key elements of business success especially in the areas of safety and productivity.

One of the Centre’s national projects was conducting research based family literacy workplace pilot projects in Alberta. One pilot was run in Brooks at a large manufacturing plant with an English as a Second language program that had a hard time getting people signed up for training let alone getting the results the business needed.

A family literacy program model called B.O.O.K.S. (Books Offer Our Kids Success) was piloted with 25 participants during the lunch hour. Participants were shown how to expand different children’s books by using a nonfiction book or looking up things on the computer or doing a craft or activity associated with the story.

In the Brooks pilot, discussion of the themes of children’s books led naturally into discussions of work related interests such as job aspirations and workplace safety. Outcomes included enhanced communication in the workplace and enhanced family enjoyment of learning. At the conclusion of the pilot, the company decided to continue B.O.O.K.S. with over 50 employees on a wait list for the next program.

For more information go to http://www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_pr.shtml where you will find downloadable resources on workplace family literacy

What do you think?