Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Week Before Christmas...

and Bookivore is in a fair way to losing her mind.

The rush and craziness that accompanies this season sometimes makes it feel almost not worth it -- which is just a shocking, awful thing to admit. I have tried this year to make little oases of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle. One such oasis is advent devotions, something we've always wanted to do, but never seem to have made a priority until this year.

Beyond the obvious spiritual benefits to reading a devotion with your kids, there are benefits on the learning front as well. Check out this quote from Education.com:

"Research shows that reading aloud to children promotes their development of language, vocabulary, even motor skills (as they learn to turn pages). Kids who are read to consistently from an early age don't only learn to read more easily, but they also show better language scores long after kindergarten is a distant memory-- years later in upper elementary school. In fact, the research on reading aloud is so strong, that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently began advising member doctors to prescribe daily reading to young children." (highlighted emphasis mine)

Reading something like a devotional book, particularly one that is meant to be used by a family and is therefore targeted to a wide range of ages, helps children build vocabulary. The questions for discussion provided at the end of the devotional help kids connect prior knowledge with new information, always always always a good thing.

I have looked everywhere for the research article that discusses this but can't find it, so I'm going to report it anyway without factual basis. You can take it with a grain of salt, if that's how you roll. A study I read about 10 years ago found that if a parent reads to a child -- not just kids' books, but anything at all; newspaper, cereal boxes, whatever; the child's perception of reading as an important, desirable activity increased by a nice fat amount (I want to say 30%, but I don't remember the specifics). But, and this is the kicker, if the child's father does the reading, the percentage of increase more than doubled. This is true to a somewhat lesser degree if the child merely sees the parents reading -- it conveys a sense of importance to the act of reading.

If your kids have a man in their lives, make him read to them. Even if it's just the sports scores from the paper or the instructions on how to program the DVR, his input is invaluable. Trade off reading duties with your husband at bedtime (or make it his job completely -- you probably deserve a break anyway).

I know it's like a sound byte that you're sick of hearing, but reading to your kids makes a difference. After the new year I'm going to do a weekly post on specific techniques to help improve reading skills in kids. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beautiful Brown Eyes

Marianne Richmond's Beautiful Brown Eyes is a sweet little book about all the things we see when we look at our children's eyes. In a realistic dialogue between a mother and child, it reaffirms the connection parents have with their little ones, the way we learn to "read" them, their moods and expressions, the way we stalk them with our cameras trying to capture those little faces.

All the eyes in the book are brown and Richmond's artwork, a mixture of paint and collage, is reminiscent of Karen Katz, but softer and more textured. The colors are earthy, muted and homey -- a nice match to the text. If you don't have a brown-eyed child, don't worry: according to Richmond's blog, there will eventually be a Beautiful Blue Eyes as well. This is a nice little bedtime or naptime book, probably for one-, two- or three-year olds.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Potty Train Your Monster

What a cute book. How to Potty Train Your Monster by Kelly DiPucchio takes the potty training concept book and turns it on its head. Instead of a 2-3 year old, the monster must be 200-300 years old. Instead of a smaller potty chair, monsters need huge potty chairs. And of course, monsters don't read books on the potty, they eat them. Naturally, Bookivore appoves of this wholeheartedly.

The artwork by Mike Moon is cartoony and fun, and it does a nice job of treating a sometimes-serious subject in a lighthearted way. If the battle over toilet training has gotten tense at your house (like it sometimes has at mine) this is a good tool for defusing the stress, for you if not for your child.

It sure helped me to remember to lighten up a little and realize I'm going to look back on the potty training years with laughter. Might as well start now.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Devotional Books

This year, as every year, we try to get something faith-related for our children for Christmas. Often, Santa brings these presents to underscore the Christ-centered nature of this holiday. Last year, my two older children got Bibles. This year, we're giving them devotional books.

We do family devotions (kind of sporadically) so I wanted them to have something personal. Something that would stay on their nightstands. Something that they could read alone and meditate on, or read with a parent and talk about. Enter the devos of 2009.

For my 8 year old:

What I like about The One Year Everyday Devotions by Stephen Arterburn and Jesse Florea was that it almost always uses a Bible story for the lesson. Many, many kid's devotionals use a modern story to illustrate the lesson, then they tie that story to a biblical principle. I think this is okay, but I'd rather my kids get really familiar with the Bible itself and what they can learn from it, especially for my 8 year old. Another thing I liked was that this devo uses the New Living Translation for the Bible passages, which is very accessible and understandable for kids. The lessons are a good length and have pithy points that seem more likely to stick with the reader. The writing style is nice -- casual and conversational.

For my sports-crazed 6 year old:

I struggled with a devotional for my 6 year old. I had a hunch he'd be offended by anything that seemed too babyish, but at the same time something like the Arterburn devo is just beyond him. Truthfully, the reading level of Heads Up: Sports Devotions for All-Star Kids by Dave Branon is also beyond him, but I think the subject matter will appeal to him so I'm going to risk it. This devotion (probably more for 9 year olds and up) uses examples of real athletes from a wide range of sports who are living out their Christian faith. There were some nice lessons dealing with things like sharing your faith, and how your behavior can undermine your witness. In addition to the lessons, there are random sports factoids which I think my son will find interesting. We'll be reading this one to him for a year or so, but I think it's one he can grow into.

For my 3 year old:

God's Amazing Creatures and Me by Helen and Paul Haidle says it's for 6-10 year olds, but when I flipped through it at the bookstore, I thought it might appeal to my 3 year old. Some of the lessons are going to go straight over her head, but it has pictures on every page and uses animal characteristics and behavior to illustrate biblical principles, particularly the idea that God has a plan and design for each of us. In one devotion, it describes how a male Emperor penguin incubates its egg on its feet for 60 long days in the freezing cold. Nothing much happens with that egg until the 60th day -- then, there's the baby! Enter the story of Elijah and his perseverance -- what if Elijah had given up because nothing much seemed to be happening? It'll be a stretch for a 3 year old, but I think it's a nice one to grow into.

I want to hasten to say that I went through probably 15 different devotional books looking for ones that would be a good fit for my kids -- for their reading levels, comprehension abilities, and interests. Unless you know the book well, it's probably NOT A GOOD IDEA TO BUY ONLINE. This is one purchase where you need to go to a bookstore (and not Barnes and Noble -- a Christian bookstore so you get a really good selection of devotionals) and spend some time looking through devotionals until you find one that you think your child(ren) will like. And by "spend some time," I mean plan on about 30 minutes or so. If you're not giving it as a surprise, you could take your child(ren) along and let them look, too. I made a list of the most promising ones, then came home and looked them up on one of the Big Two websites to check the target ages and read reviews from others who had purchased them. Then I went back and purchased them.

Why so much care? I want their devotionals to be appealing and inviting, something they look forward to reading with us or by themselves. If we can instill in them this practice now of reading their Bibles and thinking about what they read, it will be something they come back to again and again into adulthood.

Just keepin' our eyes on the prize.