Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Start a Kid's Book Club





Why start a book club?

One of my primary goals in raising and educating my children is to instill a love of learning and insatiable curiosity. No activity has fed these goals more than reading, particularly reading aloud.

When we read together, we bond through the adventures and trials of the characters in the novels. We hold our breath when a character we love is in peril and we cheer the dogged determination that an underdog always seems to manifest at just the right moment.

Recent studies show that reading fiction may increase our empathy. Not only do we learn about different cultures and experiences when we read a wide range of fiction, but we actually put ourselves into characters’ shoes and feel what they feel. This translates into deeper social interactions in real life.


We make connections between books and each other.


The benefit with an ongoing book club is that the participants build a common library or characters and world views. I do not think there is a meeting where a character from a previously read book does not come up to compare or clarify a point. Quite simply, our world becomes bigger, the more we read.


How should I do this?

There are as many different ways to run a book club, as there are parents. I am going to share a few of the ones I have been a part of and encourage you to create the experience that will work the best for your family.

Kid run book club

In this book club, the kids pick the book and run the meeting. They might be aided by a parent or two on how to run the meeting or maybe they just come up with their own agenda. My daughter is a part of a kid run book club. To be honest, the kids talk very little about the book and then chat about other things. I think this is fine as it still promotes reading, discussion and friendship.

A parent run kid book club

I run a book club for a handful of homeschool students. For this club, I pick the books. I spend a lot of time researching to find books that are a little different that what the kids might read on their own. My goal is to expose them to new forms of story telling and subject matter that they might not automatically be drawn to. (This is one of the things I like best about my adult book club). I work hard to make sure the books are engaging and exciting. Even if we all suffered though a book (they all got really tired of Helen Keller’s writing style) we push through together and have a share experience that we refer back to again and again.

A family book club

This kind of club might be formal or informal. We read aloud at bedtime (something mild usually) and during a reading time during the day. Sometimes we switch off reading, but usually the task falls to me as the kids eat popcorn or draw. Books on tape fall in this realm too. We love to get into a really juicy book on tape when we have long driving trips.

A themed book club

A book club might be centered on a particular theme. Manga, graphic novels, poetry, historical fiction, survival literature...anything that is an intense interest can be the basis for a book club. And it does not have to be something that goes on forever. What if you just gathered a bunch of kids and offered a 3-month comic book club? The possibilities are endless. 

Where + when should you meet?

You can hold your book club in your home, but I am a big fan on occupying public spaces when working with kids. I think there is something important about kids being seen as engaged and interesting people in the world. I am constantly talking to strangers about kids (and the fact that I am in public with them!) and it seems this is my political action. Kids are citizens!

Plus, it is pretty fun to be in new places. It awakens the mind when discussing material in a new environment. Kids seem both more engaged mentally and better behaved in unfamiliar and new spaces.

Some of my favorite places are:


Coffee shops & restaurants Every kid loves this! Let them get a hot chocolate or tea and settle in. If you want to take a larger group to a coffee shop, just call ahead and ask how that might work. We tend to go during off hours or might reserve the community room if it is available.


Library Our library has a room we can reserve sometimes, but to be honest, I prefer meeting in the children’s department. We push a few tables together and chat away. We are well behaved and keep our voices at a reasonable volume. It is interesting to see other kids come by and curiously looks at us. I feel like we are a big commercial proclaiming that reading is FUN! And hopefully, we spark the interest of other readers to build their own reading community. Additionally, it is not uncommon for me to ask the kids to find some reference books or images (or even a globe) to augment our discussion.


Parks & woodlands

Park yourself under a tree in a blanket and enjoy the outdoors. The benefit of meeting outside is that the group’s noise level should not be a problem. Kids can run around before or after to run off steam and if you have any messy extension projects, this is the place.

How often should you meet? Our group finds it works out to meet once a month. That gives kids plenty of time to find and read the novel. You will have to ask your group and try different schedules to figure out what works for you.


Additional ideas + extensions

These are the type of ideas that turn a regular book reading into a deep learning experience. But, as co-readers, don’t do these because they are “good” for you. No! Do them because they are fun and you are curious. Follow the questions and interests that arise from the text and let curiosity write the map.


Copy work from the book – as we read, I underline and circle beautiful passages that might make it into our copy work, or even just typed up and hung on the wall.


Look up the location on the map – simple and easy


Try a food from the book – we do this always! We have eaten radishes with butter, papaya, breadfruit and more.


Bring any artifact that can be tied to the narrative. Kids love to see and hold something from the culture or time period the book takes place in.


Find a person to interview (grandparent and older neighbors are perfect for this. We are often asking our olders if they remember experiencing something we have learned about).


Tie in a field trip. Is there a museum or ethnic neighborhood that ties in to your book? Visit it together or share the information with the other parents so they can visit as a family.


Watch a related movie or documentary. There is a Facebook Group called Homeschooling with Netflix, which is a great resource for finding worthwhile things to watch in connection with your book.


Check out the author’s website or read more of their books.


Pick a topic that is mentioned in the book and research it further. So many times, new interests and lines of discovery are piqued from book club.





A few favorite books for reading aloud

These are all books that we read and loved. Some are recognizable classics and some you may not have heard of. Just imagine the connections you can build by reading 100’s of books with your kids over their childhood.


1. Little House on the Prairie Series, Laura Ingalls Wilder 

2. The Wind Boy, Ethel Cook Eliot
3. The Dragon of Lonely Island, Rebecca Rupp
4. The Penderwick’s Series, Jeanne Birdsall

5. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan 6. Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr
7. The Doll’s House, Rumer Godden
8. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

9. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum 
10. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
11. The Wolfling, Sterling North
12. Hatchet, Gary Paulson

13. The Mouse of Amherst, Elizabeth Spires
14. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
15. The Doll People Trilogy, Ann Martin
16. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumor Godden 

17. The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit
18. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks 
19. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
20. The Wishing Chair Series, Enid Blyton
21. The Magic, Far Away Tree Series, Enid Blyton 
22. Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, Astrid Lindgren 
23. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannet
24. Gone Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

25. The House Above the Trees, Ethel Cook Eliot
26. Chronicles of Narnia Series, C. S. Lewis
27. Boxcar Children Series, Gertrude Chandler Warner
28. The World of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
29. Stuart Little, E.B. White
30. The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
31. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, E.L. Konigsburg 

32. The Beastly Arms, Patrick Jennings
33. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
34. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
35. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
36. The Magic Tree House Series, Mary Pope Osborne
37. The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
38. When the Circus Came to Town, Laurence Yep
39. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
40. The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
41. The Fudge Series, Judy Blume
42. Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus
43. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

44. George’s Secret Key to the Universe, Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking 
45. Holes, Louis Sachar
46. The Littles, John Peterson
47. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard Atwater

48. The Christmas Doll, Elvira Woodruff
49. All of A Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
50. In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson
51. Behind the Attic Wall, Sylvia Cassedy
52. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate 

53. The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois 
54. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
55. Navigating Early, Clare Vanderpool
56. The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatly Snyder
57. Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
58. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare 

59. Wonder, R.J. Palacio
60. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
61. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
62. Black Radishes, Susan Lynn Meyer

63. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
64. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
65. Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool
66. The Abandoned, Paul Gallico
67. The Master Puppeteer, Katherine Paterson
68. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Rodman Philbrick
69. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
70. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

Resources for finding good books

Amazon searches. Look for one book and follow the trail!


Google searches. Search genre or specific content area and you will find it.

Newberry winners. Print this list out or read it online. I have found many forgotten treasures on this list.


New York Review Kids Books. A wonderful series of reprinted, high quality children’s books. You can find them all on Amazon.


Carol Hurst maintains an excellent website with books grouped into thematic categories.


Mensa for Kids has a reading program with a long list of good books to read. 


Mighty Girl catalogs wonderful book lists for empowering girls. 


Library. Good old fashion browsing sometimes leads to new discoveries


Check out the book origins of your favorite movies.

Ask people for recommendations. In real life or on line, people love to share their favorite and memorable books. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

{wellness challenge} April is National Poetry Month



Come over and join my hopping FB group Mama Scout Laboratory for Creative Living. This month we are turning the space into a virtual poetry slam/workshop space. You need to be there too!

{guest post} :: Jennifer Fischer :: film maker

I asked Jennifer Fischer, my film making friend, to share some words about her current project and crowd funding campaign. I am a supporter and want to help her spread the word about the issues her and her husband are exploring through her socially engaging work. Please consider supporting this project if this issue speaks to you too. 
-Amy




Dead Poets Society was one of our family’s favorite movies growing up. The power of those students standing on their desks and saying “O Captain, My Captain.” The mantra, Carpe Diem, ringing through my mind. My father loved that movie and its message. He had not lived his life by those words, but he deeply wanted his children to live their lives that way, even if it wasn’t always so easy for him (like when your 20 year-old baby girl decides to travel the Middle East by herself for 6 weeks), but I digress…

Carpe Diem -- Seizing the day looks much different for me now than it used to. There was a time when it meant traveling solo around the Middle East or Southeast Asia -- it meant something extreme and exciting.

Now, Carpe Diem often means seizing the opportunity to snuggle up with my boys at the end of the day, seizing a rare date night with my husband, and working like a mad woman into the wee hours of the night to make my next film project a reality.

My husband and I run a small production company. We’re committed to creating stories that sustain our humanity; stories that illuminate dark corners; stories that can create change. And let me tell you, it is not always easy. In fact, quite often it is hard. As a teenager and young adult, I did not imagine that Carpe Diem might mean:

Your children finding you hiding in the bathroom in tears because your latest campaign has launched, but there are some website glitches.

Throwing up three mornings in a row because you are overcome by the fear of failure.

Deep uncertainty about everything!


But, so it is. My latest film project, ‘The wHOLE’ is a gritty dramatic series about race, crime, prison and so much more starting with harsh reality of solitary confinement.

Deeply committed to telling this story with humanity and integrity and in collaboration with individuals who have lived it means we are also deeply committed to the project being an independent production. To fund it, this means inviting others to support our work. It is truly a film for the people, of the people and by the people -- and to make it work we need the people.

This reality is not unique to my circumstance as I seek to live an intentional, meaningful life as an artist while I raise my sons. We all need community. (This is why I value the work that Amy does). We all need to support one another if we are going to live our best lives; if we are going to seize the day.

The best thing I’ve learned in this very challenging process is that not only do we all need each other, we also want to need each other. People want to support the inspiring work of others. People want to see the dreams of others blossoms and to follow that inspiration as they seek their own dreams.

As I’ve reached out to others to support my dream and many have (though we need many more). As I’ve reached out to thank them, they’ve surprised me by thanking me.

They are grateful for the opportunity to join my dream. They are grateful that I’ve shared my work with them. They are grateful to be a part of the embrace of an intentional life, and I find that we both sit there in that beautiful space of gratitude.

Go. Seize the day. State your dream. Move your intentional life forward, and invite others to walk with you as you make your best, intentional life real.


You can learn more about and join my dream at www.seedandspark.com/studio/whole



Friday, March 27, 2015

{its here!} family journal jam 2015!


I had so much fun doing this last summer - we are doing it again! 

With all new prompts and inspirations! 

Plus a new zine full of additional ideas of things kids can do!



The details:

What is this?

This is a summer long journal/art/exploration lab for families. The lab will run from June through July, 2015.
Family Journal Jam will give you a daily jumping off point for exploring and creating a journaling practice with your children. 

As a creative homeschooling mom, many of the ideas for this lab were germinated at my own kitchen table along side my children. By meeting yourself on the page each morning (or evening) you create a mental space for reflection, remembrance and idea incubation. Extending this gift to children when they are young is one of the best gifts you can hand them. 

Kids can write, draw, or dictate to you their reactions to the prompts. Some are meant for personal reflections, some are pure fun and imagination building, and some explore new techniques for expressing ideas with language.

These are not writing and grammar lessons, although I do believe that a consistent practice will yield big improvement in writing by the end of the summer. Plus, what a record and keepsake you will have! 

What do you get when you join?

You will receive:
+ a special Mama Scout Summer Zine in the mail (approximately a week before the lab begins). 

+ weekday journal prompts for the kitchen table (these are short, open ended and meant for both kids and adults) 

+ a vibrant Facebook community where kids can post their work to share and I will link up to additional unique projects from the Mama Scout archives

+ weekly giveaways (because I love real mail and giveaways so much!)

+ suggestions for 2 bigger summer long family projects

+ an optional penpal exchange program



What is this NOT?

This is not a lab full of art journal techniques or tutorials on how to complete narrowly defined projects. My interest in always in the disruption of default thinking and the process of explorations. This extends to children and children's creative work. 

Who is this for?

The short answer is, this is for anyone who will be around kids this summer. 

But really, it is for:

- parents who are seeking ways to integrate their own creative work with their children's

- homeschool parents who want to instill the joy of writing this summer with their kids

- parents of school children who are looking for ways to encourage creative thinking that are not tied to grades or outcomes

- families who want a free form summer with a touchstone routine based in creative expression

- families who want to connect with other families around the world 

- families who are looking for alternatives to classes and camps 

- parents who want to slow down time and get to know their kids on a whole new level

- parents who believe in kids' voices and ideas and right to express themselves

- you and your kids!

Sign up here!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

{review :: It Chooses You by Miranda July}



"I began to feel that I was asking the question just to remind myself that I was in a place where computers didn't really matter, just to prompt my appreciation for this. As if I feared that the scope of what I could feel and imagine was being quietly limited but the world within a world, the internet. The things outside of the web were becoming further from me, and everything inside it seemed piercingly relevant. The blogs of strangers had to be read daily, and people nearby who had no web presence were becoming cartoon like, as if they were missing a dimension."
-Miranda July

It Chooses You by Miranda July is  an engaging book that I devoured in one afternoon. In my labs, I am always extolling the virtues of getting out and talking to strangers. July does this in a quirky project that keeps her busy while she is struggling to finish a film script. Each week, she scans the Penny Saver circular that arrives in the mail. She calls people who are selling stuff through this archaic publication and arranges to meet, interview, and photograph them and their stuff (they are told up front what she is doing and she offers compensation). Of course, she meets a motley mix of characters - some are really creepy and others bear tragically heart breaking wounds. Several of the characters end inform her film and one even ends up acting in it.

I loved this book and her open and curious sensibility. A great, great read of the weirdo mind (like me and you!).

Saturday, February 28, 2015

{Wellness Challenge} March Tidy



I am in the process of combining several of my FB groups under the umbrella group, Mama Scout Laboratory of Creative Living. This group will be a space of encouragement, provocations and prompts, resources, sharing, and monthly wellness challenges. It is free and the people there are nothing short of amazing.

This months challenge is a spring tidy. Each week day I will send out a mini challenge (10 - 30 minutes to complete) to declutter and clean your house. We will keep it fun as we share before & after photos and post the weirdest things we find in the couch cushions/glove box/purse...

Join the group here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

a new start, generosity + a giveaway


I witnessed something amazing this last week. Something that I never asked for or knowingly encouraged. A generosity from the Mama Scout tribe that blew me away and made me realize that I completely underestimated the power WE have (I thought I knew, but I had no idea).

As registrations for Dream Lab were heating up, a few women offered to host giveaways and pay for other women to join the lab. I was so moved by the support and giving of these women. But, apparently I was not the only one.

As the week progressed, I started getting emails and messages from other women who wanted to pay for dream sisters who were not able to afford the lab this year. One after another they came in. They asked specifically to sponsor women who they had come to know online over the last few years. They gifted women who had shared their brave dreams, their BIG leaps of faith and kind support to others. And they all wanted to remain anonymous.

So, I spent time contacting unsuspecting women saying something like, "guess what? you were gifted a spot in Dream Lab by an anonymous woman. Someone who knows the lab will be better because YOU and your voice are in it."

Each recipient was shocked and asked me to pass on to their patron messages of gratefulness and promises to pay it forward. And for many of them, this gift came at just the right time. They might have been struggling with something heavy or feeling world weary.

An act of kindness turns around negativity, yes. But it also enlivens the spirit and encourages the recipient to offer the world something generous. It is exponential and contagious and good. Seeing how this generosity spread like a fire through our group makes me ever determined to figure out how to start sparks of goodness and harness that energy. And to fully stand in the power and support others who seek to do the same.





And on that high note, I am offering a giveaway for a spot in BOTH Dream Lab and Feathering the Nest. Feathering the Nest is one of my favorite online classes (I have done it several times).

Stephanie Perkinson and Leah Kent help participants explore the energy of their space, spruce up with simple makes, and create a home that is a reflection of their values and passions.

It is the perfect companion class to Dream Lab. They work well together and would not compete or overwhelm each other.

To enter this giveaway just leave a comment below telling me what you are dreaming about right now. Make sure that I am able to contact you, which I will do Sunday morning! Good luck!


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