Inspiring Children to be the Best That They Can Be

For: Primary Educators, Parents, and Kids Inspiring Children To Love Learning And Be The Best They Can Be

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reindeer - Not Just Imagined

Time to Explore

     Very large deer can be found far north - think of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland - Iceland and Denmark are sometimes included; part of the area is also referred to as Lapland) and Siberia (Northern Asia - part of Russia).  
      Reindeer are often referred to as caribou.  A reindeer has thick fur and broad hoofs.  It feeds on grasses found beneath the snow in winter.  Both sexes have 'branching' antlers.  It is a source of milk, meat, and leather, but is also used as a pack animal.  

     Reindeer seem to be a perfect choice for pulling Santa's sleigh.

Book Reviews for Kids

   I have always had favorite holiday books that I bring out each year.  The favorites for all generations includes The Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more recently, The Polar Express (among others).  The following selections definitely meet the criteria of sparking the imagination and bringing the true spirit of the season.

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn 
Bergren addresses the question of finding Santa - or God - in Christmas. It is a warm, loving story of Mama Bear taking Little Cub on a journey to find God and see how he gave us Christmas.  They climb mountains, view the northern lights, watch a glacier cracking, sight a beautiful morning star, and discover a tiny flower growing in the snow.  It is a simple, but powerful message that a 3 or 4 year old will enjoy and understand ... and continue to find it inspiring as he or she grows older.  

Patricia Polacco has long been one of my favorite authors, so it is no surprise that she has two very heart-warming stories about Christmas - taken from her own family 'memory' tree.
     An Orange for Frankie features a ten year old boy, the youngest boy of nine siblings, during the depression era. It is a family tradition for Pa to travel for days across Michigan during the holiday season to obtain precious Florida oranges to place on the mantel for Christmas. While he is gone, another tradition of Ma feeding hobos traveling by train past their farm happens - and Frankie gives his beautiful hand-knit sweater to a hobo who has no shirt.  We see kindness, forgiveness, and love demonstrated in this wonderful family remembrance of a Christmas past. (Children as young as 4 would understand the story, but the actual reading level may be closer to 8 and up).

     Welcome Comfort is a beautiful story of an overweight foster child - of this name, who is often teased - finding a 'family-like' friendship with a janitor and his wife. Although he does not believe in Santa Claus,  a magical dream one Christmas eve becomes the inspiration for a 'Santa Claus' transformation years later. This is not your typical 'Christmas' story, but is an excellent read for a more mature audience (8 and up).


  Night Tree by Eve Bunting is a touching story of a family
tradition  that many of us wish we would have embraced. It is Christmas Eve and the family ventures into a forest near by to decorate their 'special' tree with popcorn garlands, apples, oranges, sunflower seeds with honey, and other treats that wildlife habitats enjoy. Then the family settles down on a blanket to have a hot chocolate snack. Although it is not truly a Christmas story, it is one of giving, caring for wildlife, and loving family relationships that bring out the spirit of the season.  (4 years and up) 

In My Backyard

    This is such a wonderful season and I feel guilty that my backyard 'doesn't' reflect the wonder.  No lights, no glamour, but. . . the wildlife still reigns - especially if I remember to fill the bird feeders.
     As I reflect, I wrote down a few thoughts. . .

Holiday Joy

I think of holidays not so long ago,
Of Sleds and skis, and cold wet snow.
Dreams and wishes of Christmases past.
Of wrapped gifts, cookies - the family together at last.

The miles between friends seem to grow every year,
but fond memories bring us bright holiday cheer.
May this spirit and joy fill each of our lives,
bringing peace and love when Christmas arrives.
                                                By Joan Bock

Until next time. . . .

            Be Creative . . . . . Inspire Others . . . . . Enjoy Life



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Searching for Wild Turkeys

Time to Explore

      "Look at those wild turkeys!" said a friend last week.  We were arriving at a country plantation for a tour.  I was reminded of the last time I saw a flock of wild turkeys.  I was with friends in a remote area of Ohio and the question on all of our minds was, "when and where can we see more of them?" They don't normally come near populated areas, so it is exciting when I come upon them.  
     In the coming weeks, turkeys will be front and center, with many classrooms creating 'hand' turkeys.  Here are a few of the fun facts I discovered in my research.

Did you know?   . . .
     that they are 'omnivorous' - ground feeders that will eat most anything.  They love nuts, seeds, berries, and insects.
     that their ideal habitat is a wooded grassland - complete with nut trees to enjoy during the day and to roost in at night.
     that they not only 'gobble', but cluck, purr, yelp, whine, putt, cackle, and 'kee-kee.'
     that Benjamin Franklin rallied to have the turkey as our national bird.
     that turkey hens feed their chicks for a few days after they are hatched, and then they must fend for themselves.
     that the turkey population has grown from 1.3 million in 1973 to over 7 million today - worldwide.  

Book Reviews for Kids

Amber Brown is on the Move by Bruce Coville and Elizabeth Levy
     Paula Danziger's Amber Brown series (Beginning with Amber Brown is Not a Crayon) is now in the capable hands of two good friends who continued the series since her death.  Amber is now in 4th grade and is dealing with divorce and moving issues.  Even more significant for today's audience is her difficulty with focusing (especially during those dreaded test 'exercises').  Early readers (6 - 10) will identify, appreciate, and be entertained with her dilemmas and how she deals with life.  Early readers amy also enjoy, Amber Brown is Tickled Pink.

Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg 
     Summer camp is a great setting for adventure, new relationships, and problem solving.  As Eleanor describes her experiences, she discovers that she can barely remember her fears and discomforts from the beginning days.  It is a light, fun read, particularly geared to girls (early readers 6 - 10).  Also read, Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt  
      This Newbery Honor winner (The Underneath) has written another charming modern folk tale.  She weaves a tale of delightful raccoons recently recruited to be swamp scouts with a warm 'human' 12 year old boy who will win your heart. Throw in the massive furry 'Sugar Man' - plus a profit seeking developer - and you have a regional story filled with drama, heroes, and imagination. (8 - 14 boys and girls)

by Mark Goldblatt  
     This book has a little different slant on bullying written from the perspective of a group of boys who ruled a neighborhood in Queens, New York, in 1969.  The story emerges from a journal that 6th grader, 'Julian', is required to write in lieu of being suspended from school.  Episode after episode will find you chuckling - and surprised - how enterprising and remorseful,  the characters are.  The audience would include fans of the 'wimpy kids' series.  (9 - 13 boys and girls)

       In My Backyard

     My  backyard is in desperate need of rain.  The pond is the lowest ever.  Rain may be on its way!  I would like to close with a 'very' short tribute to the wild turkey.

Ode to Wild Turkeys

 On a calm autumn day in the woodland,

A male turkey struts - oh so grand.

The hens scavenge close to the ground,

Looking for nuts all around.

Wild turkeys waddle and wobble,

Just listen for cackles and gobbles.

Some grace dining room tables,

But most look for food where they're able. 

                                                  By Joan Bock 

Until next time. . . .

Be Creative. . . . Inspire Others  . . . . Enjoy Life

P.S.  Be sure to try for holiday gifts (games) for the whole family.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Revisiting Guinea Pigs

Time to Explore

      In April, I featured my two granddaughters' new guinea pigs.  Reese turned out to be a 'male' . . . and they took precautions "fixed him so he couldn't have babies". . . but soon Hershey was expecting a baby guinea pig.  The family took it in stride, and in fact, got excited about the new addition.

My daughter created quite a haven for them with lots of places to hide. 

     Fast forward. . . .  Hershey had her baby guinea pig and it is adorable.  And . . .  she is expecting another one soon.  (The smaller one in the photo is her first baby.)  
      Reese met a tragic death when two dogs played too rough with him and broke his back.                                                                                 Mama sticks her nose up in the air when my daughter comes into the room, always looking for a treat.  They love carrots, lettuce, and watermelon.  They 'coo' when they are petted.  When Hershey's new baby comes, all are hopeful it remains one 'small' happy family.

Update:  Hershey has 4 new baby guinea pigs!  October, 2013

Book Reviews for Kids

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst  with Lane Smith as illustrator  (Ages  7 - 9)
        Putting this magic author/illustrator team together is perfect for young readers wanting a clever, humorous chapter book.  Readers will love this 'spoiled only child' who is determined to have a brontosaurus for her birthday.  Beyond the twists the story takes, lessons are to be learned on 'how' to go about asking for something you really want.

         The newest offering by this dynamic duo is Lulu Walks the Dogs
After trying other ways of earning money, Lulu turns to walking dogs in her neighborhood although she knows nothing about them.  Once again, we find ourselves actually liking Lulu in spite of her 'spoiled, bossy' personality. Beyond her frustrations with unruly dogs, Lulu must reluctantly turn to Fleishman, a disgustingly perfect boy, for advice.  Once again, sneaking in a life lesson.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate  (Ages 12 and up)  We meet a lonely, caged gorilla living among other mistreated, unforgettable, circus animals.  This story was inspired by a real gorilla who spent 27 years of his life in a cage in Washington state before a public outcry allowed him to relocate to Zoo Atlanta where he lived contentedly as a bit of a celebrity for the remainder of his life, dying in 2012 at the age of 50.  What a wonderful way to introduce children to the importance of treating animals with compassion.  There is humor and emotion in this heartwarming tale.

In My Backyard

 This is the time of year to watch the geese come charging down onto the pond during their annual trek south, say farewell to the hummingbirds, and welcome the cardinals and other local birds who reside with us during the coming months.
    But the highlight in our backyard at the moment is our refurbished gazebo that we have been working on almost since we moved in two years ago.  There are days that I literally move my 'desk' outside.  The days are numbered that we will need the ceiling fan - or even the screens for that matter  - but the dog days of summer will return next year.

Until next time  . . . 

Be Creative!     Inspire Others!     Enjoy Life!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Squirrels - and more

Time to Explore

     Squirrels are everywhere!  Did you know there are more squirrels in the United States than any other mammal?  Most of us are familiar with the gray squirrel, but it is fun to see the variations of color in different parts of the United States.
     The black squirrels in Michigan and Northern Ohio stand out in my mind as being so unique that I have stopped in my tracks when spotting one.


     What a surprise the first time I saw a fox squirrel.  They live on the golf course where I live, and after doing some research, I discovered that they love pine trees - and particularly enjoy pine seeds, nuts, and flowers.  So I guess it is not so surprising to find them here since we live in 'Pine Forest' Country Club.  They are much larger than the gray squirrels. They have black facial masks and white markings on their nose, paws, and ear tips.

Book Reviews for Kids

      With the beginning of school year, I tried to find fun, easy books to help readers back into the learning 'groove'.

Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes   by Eric Litwin

      Pete doesn't let the little things bother him - he just keeps right on singing.   This book is a great book for a  beginning of the school read-aloud, but don’t miss the other wonderful books, I Love my New White ShBes, Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, The Wheels on the Bus, and coming in October, Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses. 
     These books are sure to appeal to the 4 – 7 age set.  They are rhythmic, interactive, and charming. The rhymes can easily be put to music – and kids can relate to everyday objects, like shoes, buttons, and sunglasses.
There is a new I Can Read format – Pete at the Beach, Pete’s Big Lunch, and Pete the Cat Play Ball, which I wasn’t able to preview.  If you go the website, there are videos, an ipod app, activities and more.  

Rabbit and Robot by Cece Bell

     This 'transitional' chapter book is perfect for getting kids out of their ruts and into the wonderful world of chapter books. 
 I smile at the unlikely friendship of a 'uptight, list-making' rabbit and a 'easy-going' robot, but the humor of working out their differences in a silly, enticing way will keep early readers returning.  (Picture a pizza with nuts, bolts, and screws) This book would also work as a prelude to that first sleep over.  Watch for other titles (They are sure to come.)

The Trouble with Chickens,  A J.J. Tully Mystery 
           by Doreen Cronin 

      What do search-and-rescue dogs do when they retire?  Well this one takes on the task of protecting a family of chickens.  It is a plea for help by mom chicken, Moosh, to find two of her missing chickens that begins the saga, but it is the clever clues, plot twists, and one liners that kept me reading.  As a dog lover, it is a natural to consider how dogs think – and how they communicate with other dogs, chickens – and in the second J.J. Tully Mystery, The Legend of Diamond Lil, a possum. Just add a dash of imagination. The hidden humor and clever twists in both stories should be well received by readers of approximately 2nd and 3rd grade level (interest 8 – 12)  I’ll be watching for more J.J. Tully mysteries.

Favorite stories from Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman

       What beginning reader wouldn’t like a horse for a friend?  Become acquainted with Cocoa – and her owner, Cowgirl Kate.  The books are easy to read with several  ‘pretend’ stories in each, always with a happy ending and a chuckle or two.  The books have 4 or 5 chapters with satisfying conclusions, making it possible to put down and pick back up without losing the jest of what is going on. 
     Beginning readers will delight in Cocoa’s childlike antics and Cowgirl Kate’s maternal reactions. There are six books currently with adventure around the bend with Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa. 

Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History  by Sue Stauffacher

     At 18, Tillie Anderson was recognized as the best woman cyclist in the world.  This is the story of how she came to America, became intrigued by bicycles, trained vigorously, redesigned a riding costume, and went on to realize her dream.  The words on each page accompany large pictures, making it friendly to read. 
     When Tillie Anderson came to America, all she had was a needle. So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to find her. The book captures the bicyle craze of the late 1890s’ and tells of an early ‘female’ champion who was recognized by the womans' rights movement.

     For the reader ready for a little more challenging topic, Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass,  The Story Behind an American Friendship,  should fill the bill.   I am just beginning it and enjoying it thoroughly.  I would suggest 10 years and up. 
      It is a carefully researched account of two surprisingly parallel lives and how they intersected at a critical moment in U.S. history. 
     Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were both selftaught, both great readers and believers in the importance of literacy, both men born poor who by their own efforts reached positions of power and prominence--Lincoln as president of the United States and Douglass as the most famous and influential African American of his time. Though their meetings were few and brief, their exchange of ideas helped to end the Civil War, reunite the nation, and abolish slavery

In My Backyard

        If I am in my backyard, Jasmine is likely to be with me.  She is now 9 months old and enjoys the turtles, ducks, geese, and yes, squirrels, as much as I do.  I tried to think of the positive side of squirrels as I wrote poem (yes, they are cute, but destructive).  

 Squirrels - So Much a Part of Our Lives

I saw a grey squirrel out walking,

His bushy big tail was a-bobbing.
One step, a huge jump and a skip. 
He gave that big tail a neat flip.     

He collected pine nuts and red berries,
Burying all he could carry.
Digging holes here and there,
Hoping he would remember where.

He saw a leaf tree nest across the street.
If he took a fantastic high leap,
That nest could be his for keeps.
To capture it was a brave feat.

The ongoing traffic’s a hassle.
He zips through the hustle and bustle.
Two steps, three hops and a skip . . .
 He vaults up the tree - a successful end of his trip.
                                                                                   by Joan Bock

Until next time. . . . 

Be Creative!        Inspire Others!     Enjoy Life!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Historic Shad; Brain Focus Versus Multitasking; Ducklings Galore. . . and More

Time To Explore

      I first found shad on a menu in Virginia several years ago. I haven’t seen it since. . . until this past week.  It was listed as a species found in Claytor Lake State Park, Virginia - where I was visiting.  
      I learned that shad once migrated annually (they spawn in fresh water) up rivers along the Atlantic coast and were a major food for American Indians, early settlers . . . and once saved Washington’s troops from starvation.  Over time, dams blocked their annual migration and their population steadily declined. 
     Currently, fish passages at dams have been created and fish hatcheries are used in an effort to restore these fish.  Maybe someday we will be able to find shad on menus once again. 

Increasing Our Brain Power

     Multitasking. .  is managed by mental executive functions in the brain.  These functions control when and in what order tasks will be performed. Researchers, Meyer, Evans, and Rubinstein, recognize two stages.  The first is goal shifting - we decide to do one thing rather than another.  The second is role activation - we change the roles from a prior task to a new one. This time switching may only be a fraction of a second, but it can make the difference between productivity, quality, - and even safety (as evidenced by the current rate of accidents caused by cell phones).  On a lighter note, our dog, Jasmine, can't complete her 'business' if she is distracted at all.
     We can learn to focus on one task at a time and improve concentration -  by practice.  It is documented that we can get more done, have less stress,  and more energy.  I have included games that I believe can improve our focus and concentration in the following Odyssey Game Connection section.  I also suggest jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Suduko, etc.

The Odyssey Game Connection

Bend-It   (7 and up)  60 puzzle challenges give lots of practice in improving concentration!  Bend and twist hinged pieces into a grid to solve puzzle solution.  $15.50

Katamino   (5 and up)  This multi-award winning puzzle challenges the player to use spatial perception and observation skills to fit oddly shaped colored blocks into a predetermined space. Start out with a small space in which to fit three blocks and increase the level of difficulty by adding more blocks and increasing the space.  It requires sharp focus and concentration - and is a bit addictive.  $34.99

IQ Twist (6 and up)  'Twist' your brain to fit the pieces around pegs to solve this logic game. 120 challenges.  Compact to go where.  $9.99  IQ Links is also available.

Book Reviews for Kids

Blink & Gollie  Best Friends Forever    
             By Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
     Who can forget DiCamillo's first novel, Because of Winn Dixie? This new award winning series is geared to beginning chapter book readers.  Two outrageously funny girls (one tiny, one tall) find plenty of adventures in their own neighborhood.  This is the third of the series, each containing 3 comical stories. The illustrations are clever and the story themes are humorous.  

The Cabin Creek Mysteries  The Phantom of Hidden Horse Ranch #7
        by Kristinia Gregory   (Early Chapter: 2nd - 5th)
     Cabin Creek is a town with many hidden secrets.  Each book oozes danger, peculiar characters, exciting plots, and classic boy appeal as supersleuth cousins, Jeff, David, and Claire solve the mysteries.  The latest of the series finds the cousins at their grandparent's ranch during summer vacation where they discover a thief.

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci  

      Theodora doesn't fly south in the winter - in fact, she never flies.  She swims with a teacup balanced on her head and likes her routine life.  When a new duck, Chad, moves in next door, she finds him messy- and 'odd', but then discovers they like many of the same 'different' things.  Eventually, they accuse one another of being the 'odd' duck.  In the end, discover they like being friends with someone who sees the world a little differently.  

In My Backyard

     It is baby duck season here.  We are blessed that mama is on her second brood, so there are times when the 'adolescents' are on one side of the house, and she is on the other with the babies.  She doesn't run off as she did last year - just kind of waddles off with the babies when she sees Jasmine come out.  
     My sister, Janet, was here last year when mama duck and ten babies made their appearance.  Mama was so nervous that she shooed them away if we stood near the window inside.  How times have changed.  
      Last year we had one lonely duck that stayed at the pond.  It inspired this short poem.

Lonely Little Duck
                                                                                     by Joan Bock

Little brown duck on the pond all alone.
The other ducks have long ago flown.
He dives so far down -
I just hope he won't drown.

But then, up he will pop,
And dart away fast on top.
No others come as he swims away.
But he is here on the very next day.

If he could speak he might say,
I need my mother to show me the way.
Where can she be?  I do not know.
I'm all alone and I miss her so.  

Until next time. . . . 

Be Creative!        Inspire Others!     Enjoy Life!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A New Look at Bluebirds

Time to Explore

      Speed increases our brain power.  We can react quicker when we need immediate action.  We can speed up how we think and focus on the task at hand. We can make 'good' decisions fast.  We can change what we are thinking about and adapt to change quicker.  The following Odyssey Learning Games zero in on increasing reaction speed.

The Odyssey learning Games Connection

Even Steven's Odd (Primary and Up) 
    It's a fast-paced dice rolling race!  There are 40 challenges - with different difficulty levels so many ages can play at one time.  Players place their 6 dice 'quickly' on their holders to match the card challenge and win.  $19.99

Super Circles (8 & up)   $9.99
     Play is simultaneous as players match color and number on cards in their hand with the pile in the middle of the table. Players put down cards as quickly as they can until their draw pile is gone. Thinking HAS to be speedy.

Spot It  (4 & up)   $12.99
     What a phenomenon this game has become!  Someone was clever enough to ensure that ANY 2 cards in the deck have 1 picture match.  There are now many versions - including several NFL versions that Odyssey doesn't carry.  Speed is the key - even if you are playing individually.  Families play it together - anywhere: car, restaurant, etc.  

Book Review for Kids

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Dead by Rebecca Johnson
     With summer right around the corner, there may be 'some' kids out there that really like to read gory stuff.  Now, there is NO SUCH THING as a human zombie, but. . . a fungus can take over an innocent creature's body and make it  a senseless slave. So, if you know a young 'mature' person who enjoys reading about eerie things, try this book. Ages 10 & up

Bully by Patricia Pollaco  
     I am a huge fan of this author and knew it would be extremely well written and realistic.  The setting is either Junior High or High School - and the characters are much stronger - and 'bully' savvy - than those who make our news.  This is a serious topic that does come up and dialogue about it is important. I will be on the look out for appropriate books for younger children - and would appreciate it if you would email me suggestions if you should find one.   

What Bluebirds Do by Pamela Kirby 
     Since this is my 'backyard' topic, I was thrilled to find a well-written story that followed my experience so closely.  You will love learning more about this popular song bird - and some of its unique habits.  One of my favorites is putting 'chick' droppings in tiny bags and taking them far from the nest to keep it clean.  

In My BackYard

    A friend told me he put up a bluebird house in his backyard.  Two weeks later, he told me bluebirds had made a nest and there were 5 eggs.  I laughingly asked if he had put a sign up, 'bluebird house ready for nest'? It seemed strange to me.  I went to see the happy bluebird family - the 5 birds had hatched.  I took the cover off the top and peeked in. They were piled in tightly.  The parents weren't far away and watched with concern.  My friend put mealy worms down for them and we watched while papa bluebird carefully took one to the bird house.  
     The following week, I golfed with a gentleman who 'repaired' and 'cleaned out' the bluebird 'nest boxes' on the golf course.  He inherited the job 11 years ago.  You can go to the North American Bluebird Society website or facebook to learn where 'bluebird nest box trails' are - and the dimensions and instructions for creating your own 'nest box'.  
    Bluebirds appear in late February or March to announce the coming of spring. Watch for a gorgeous blue coat and listen for a short simple warble - alee ay lalo leeo. 

Ode to Bluebirds

                                                                 by Joan Bock

Bluebirds look for a good place to nest.

They find a big yard that they think is the best.

A nest box sits high on a pole.

Papa bird peeks in the hole.

They build their new nest with soft grass.

One by one, mama lays eggs with great class.

Papa sits low on a budding flower spray.

He flutes a sweet song for a sunshinny day.  

Be Creative. . . . Inspire Others. . . . . .Enjoy Life!