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Let’s Read Together!

By Susan Mallette

This May’s Earth Keepers Activities looks at collecting rocks, reading together, planning a surprise, giving gifts from the heart and spending time together as a family.

Title The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting
Ages 2 through 8 years old
Summary After 7-year-old Anna secretly teaches Grandma to read, Grandma surprises the family by reading to them on Dad’s birthday.

Science – Collecting Rocks
Anna’s dad is a truck driver. When he returns from his trip, he brings her a pretty speckled rock for her rock collection.

Collecting rocks is a fun thing to do with young children and a great way to learn about rock types and making collections. We use empty plastic coffee cans for our children’s rock collections. When we are out at the park, in our yard or during a family trip, we often look for interesting rocks.

At first the children collected rocks they thought were pretty. Now they often look for specific shapes or types, such as granite or quartz.

After we collect the rocks, it’s always fun to wash them. The color of the rocks becomes more vibrant under water. The children anticipate these rock baths; they make predictions about what color the rocks will turn and always act surprised by the beauty of the rock in water.

Sort rocks according to color, type, which ones can be used to “write,” size, shape or texture. We have used our rock collections to play addition and subtraction games, as counters for board games and even as surfaces for coloring and painting. And don’t forget to let your children’s interest lead you to the library, where you can check out books on identifying rock types.

Language Arts – Writing Stories
When Anna’s father brought her the speckled rock he found in the desert while driving his truck, she started to wonder if she could feel “the desert sun still hot inside the rock.”

Encourage your child to imagine the stories rocks tell. Did a smooth rock spend time in water? Is the jagged rock a tool used a long time ago? Did an elephant walk on the rock you found at the zoo? Is the large rock in the garden a gecko’s favorite spot to sun himself?

Some children might enjoying telling a story about the time they found the rock. My children often reminisce this way: “The flat, black rock is the one Katie found at the farm. … The egg rock, Sarah found in the back yard at our old house. … The red rock, John found when we went to a restaurant with my brother to eat spaghetti.”

Write your child’s rock stories down for him. Take a photograph of the rock to go with the story, or have him draw a picture of the rock. Enjoy reading your rock stories to each other.

Another fun language arts activity to do with rocks is to list descriptive words about a rock. Explain to your child that descriptive words are called adjectives, a name we give to all descriptive words, just like “alphabet” is the name we give to all the letters we use to make words.

You might use adjectives like smooth, rough, red, black, white, marbled, crystal or shiny to describe your rocks. Help your child make a list.

A variation of this activity is to choose five very different rocks. Then list four adjectives for each rock on a single index card (five cards, total). Mix up the index cards and rocks, and see if you can match the adjective list on the index card to the rock the adjectives describe.

Measuring – Math
The family in The Wednesday Surprise hangs streamers together to decorate the dinning room for Dad’s birthday.

Young children will enjoy learning how to measure using streamers and a ruler.

What you need
A ruler
Some crepe paper for streamers

What to do
Explain to your child that a ruler is 12 inches long. Show them the numbers 1 through 12 on the ruler. Explain that each number represents one inch. Later, you might explain the half-inch marks or the centimeter marks, but for beginners it’s best to keep it simple. Let your child lead with her questions, being careful not overwhelm her with too much information, especially if this is her first time using a ruler.

Cut 12 one-inch lengths of crepe paper. Play a game with your child where you call out a number like 6 inches and she has to line six one-inch crepe paper pieces together to make six inches. Have her check with the ruler to make sure her six pieces equal six inches. Then let her call out an inch number to you, and you line up crepe paper pieces and check with the ruler. In this way, you are teaching her not only the size of inches but how to count and check her answers.

Ask your child to find something in the house that is six inches long, or four or three or nine inches long -- maybe a small book or a partially used pencil or a crayon -- and help her measure what she finds. Ask her to predict how many inches long a piece of paper is? A favorite toy? Measure the items with a ruler to see if her prediction is correct.

When your child gets confident at measuring inches, explain that there are 12 inches in one foot, 24 inches in two feet, and so on. Use a tape measure or crepe paper streamers to show children how two or four or six feet looks.

Continue to encourage your child to measure using the ruler or tape measure. Use her new interest to teach counting, addition (How many inches is two inches plus six inches?), measuring, making predictions, checking answers and even subtraction (If your sandwich is four inches and you eat half of it, how many inches is it now?).

Discussion starters
Anna and her family cook a special dinner for Dad’s birthday. What a wonderful tradition to start in your own family! The birthday person might choose the meal, and the rest of the family can work together to cook it. One night a week could be “Family Cooks Together Night,” and each family member can make one part of the meal: Mom makes the vegetables, Dad makes the main course, Brother makes the dessert, Sister makes the salad.

When Anna’s Dad comes home from driving his truck, he brings a rock to her and a bunch of wild flowers to her mother. Have you ever though about giving gifts you found or made as presents? Brainstorm for items you might use from nature or make to give as gifts. Put your list on the refrigerator to remind you to make or find a gift or two to give on holidays or special occasions.

Anna and her grandmother plan for months to give Dad the gift of hearing Grandma read for his birthday. What a wonderful gift Anna gave to her Grandma! Talk about how hard it must have been for Grandma to live her life without being able to read. Imagine Anna’s father growing up and never hearing his mom read a book to him. Before Grandma learned to read, she couldn’t read street signs or store signs or the names of food on packages in the grocery. Besides shopping and driving, what other life activities would be difficult for an adult who couldn’t read?

Natural parenting tip
Anna and her grandmother set aside Wednesday night for reading together. Why not make reading with your child a daily or weekly event? You might read one chapter of a special book to a child each evening before bed, or if a grandparent visits weekly, she might chose one book to read a chapter from each week.

Reading together Is a great family relationship builder. As the stack of books you have read together grows, so do your memories of spending time together as a family. I can’t think of a better way to encourage reading than discovering good books together.

© Susan Mallette

NFO contributor Susan Regan Mallette, a former English teacher, spends her time homeschooling, writing curriculum and homemaking. Read more about Susan.


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