Finding Fun Ways to include Literacy: During the Holiday Season

In our house we don’t do the Elf on the Shelf, our elves send activities and trinkets to our doorstep almost every day.  Yesterday, the elves left two blank cards with envelopes, stickers, and pens.  There were also instructions for our kids to write their own letters to Santa.  The kids were really excited!

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It looks like he is really writing

At this age, it is both important and fun for kids to “act out” the different components of literacy.  Here they are able to “write” a letter about something that they are interested in-getting presents!!  My daughter quickly and excitedly took to the task.  She read us her letter as she wrote out the words.  Then, we transcribed what she wrote so she could see what the correct words look like.   We explained how we use certain letters to make words, so Santa can understand what it is that she wants for Christmas.  My son, being only one and a half, only used the stickers.  My daughter and husband helped him write what he wants, or at least what we think that he wants 🙂

My daughter was really concentrating...

My daughter was really concentrating…

We write to communicate and what better way to communicate with someone, than write a letter to someone!  We write a lot of letters in our house.  It is so much fun for my daughter to see that she can tell someone something by changing her spoken words into written words and than they can write her back-how exciting!?!?

Ta-Da!  Her finished product!

Ta-Da! Her finished product (can you tell which side she wrote?)!

We took the letters to Santa’s mailbox, so he could get them just in time for Christmas!  This was a REALLY fun family project!

Mailing Their Letters!

Mailing Their Letters!

Christmas Book Review- Part Two

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“The Christmas Magic” By Lauren Thompson

My daughter just turned three so this is her first Christmas that she is starting to understand.  I am so excited about introducing the beauty and magic of the season.  “The Christmas Magic” fits the bill for books that portray Christmas in a loving, mysterious light.  It is a beautifully written and illustrated (watercolors, maybe?) book.

I picked it up at the library because I liked the cover (am I allowed to say that??).  The cover features Santa wrapped in a blue cloak looking up at the stars.   He has his reindeer by his side and star on his hat.   Inside, Santa has a pointed moustache and is wearing bunny slippers

The Scholastic Website characterizes the text as “quiet” and I completely agree.  The story takes the reader through Santa’s preparations as he waits for the magic of Christmas to arrive.  Santa prepares the gifts for the children “for Santa loved them all.”  I personally prefer the gifts being given to children out of love and not in a threatening manner.

Web Resources:

http://www.scholastic.com/browse/book.jsp?id=1275060 -This is the Scholastic Website that has the interest level listed at Pre-K-2.  It also features a book trailer if you would like to get familiar with the book

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“Auntie Claus” By Elise Primavera

“Auntie Claus” is a fun holiday book featuring a bit of mystery as well.  The story begins in New York City, with the “Kringle” family who is so obsessed with Christmas that they keep “a Christmas tree up all year round.”  The daughter, named Sophie, is the main character.   Sophie grows increasingly suspicious of her Auntie Claus who disappears after Halloween and returns on Valentine’s Day of every year.  She says that she is going on a business trip.  Certain events transpire and Sophie learns a secret about Auntie Claus and learns a lesson about Christmas.

This book is geared toward older children.  I read this one with my daughter and she really liked looking at the pictures, but I do not think that she understood the entire story.  Some of the vocabulary and humor are better suited for elementary-aged children.

Web Resources:

http://www.eliseprimavera.com/books/auntie-claus This is the author’s website.  It features interesting artwork, audio excerpts, and a quiz.  It also gives information on the sequels of “Auntie Claus.”

– Here is an interview with the author, Elise Primavera.

Holiday Book Ideas, Part One

My family started a new tradition last year for the holidays.  Every year, we will buy a brand-new, hardcover holiday book and give it to the kids on Christmas Eve to read that night.  This is great for many reasons. Cheap-o Mom and Dad actually shelled out enough dough for an ACTUAL hardcover, we read together as a family, and the book then can be added to our holiday book bin for next year.  I thought that I would share with you a couple of ideas for different holiday books that you could read with your family or buy as gifts.  There are so many to choose from, so I have broken this post into different parts-Enjoy!

Here are some of the criteria that I look for in Holiday Books.

  • I love the Holiday season!  It is such a special time of the year. Therefore, I think that holiday picture books, in particular, need to be extra special.  I love beautiful and creative books that can be marveled, while in snuggling position in front of a crackling fire (Just so you know, I am well aware of how cheesy this sounds, but don’t care!)
  • I also like feel-good books! It is the holiday season after all!  I love underdogs and heroes and sharing and caring and all that jazz.  I love books about the importance of family, giving to others, and other important life lessons.
  • I like holiday books to hold some sense of tradition.  Now, don’t get me wrong, some aspects can be changed, but it can’t get too crazy
  • I am not a huge fan of “character” Christmas books.  Let me clarify….I may love, love, love, a character, such as Alf (don’t laugh), but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am going to love his book.  It still needs to impress me the same as any other book.

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The first book is entitled “Oh What a Christmas!” by Michael Garland and it is pretty much everything I look for in a good holiday read.   The cover, book, and end pages feature large, vivid, cartoon-y illustrations of elves, animals, and Santa.  I know obviously end pages aren’t the most important part of the book, but so many books skip this step, so I wanted to show my appreciation.  The story starts with Santa on his way to hand out presents on his sleigh with his reindeer.  After a mishap, Santa ends up landing his sleigh in a barn without his reindeer.  Who will help Santa deliver his gifts now???  This book is really cute and has a lot of sound words that will be really fun to read with the kids.  It also features some animal heroes that save the day!  This book is recommended for a fun, beautiful, holiday read.

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The next book is the book that we bought last year.  It is entitled “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore and paintings (yes, paintings) by Eric Puybaret.  This book fits most of my criteria and more.  It tells the traditional story that I am used to of the night before Christmas, however, the paintings are completely modernized in a very interesting way.  At first, I thought that it may be too dark for my liking, but upon further investigation, I fell in love.  I mean the reindeer are so fashionable with their little top hats and green and yellow cloaks!  I think that you could read this book several times and discover something else new and beautiful that you never noticed before.  This book is also special in another way in that it comes with a CD performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary reading the story and other songs.  This book is recommended for a modern twist on a very traditional story, plus the musical narrative is fun.

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I already mentioned this book here, however, I think that it is worth repeating.  This is a beautiful book and would make a great gift.  It shares the story of The Nutcracker that I am familiar with.  There are a few different versions.  I think that the soft-illustrations capture the magic of the story through its attention to detail and changing the point of view of the audience.  I love the side cut out views of the mansion where you can look into all of the different rooms of the house, not just the ones involved in the story.   I highly recommend this book to teach the beauty-and-the-beast-type story of The Nutcracker.

I wanted to mention that part of our new holiday tradition is to buy the next years’ book just after Christmas.  This is nice for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it is WAY cheaper.  We bought the “Oh what a Christmas” book for over half-off at Barnes and Noble.  Second, it seems that no matter what, we are so crazy busy during this time.  It is nice already having this done.  We don’t have to rush the decision.  Happy Holidays!

Getting Ready for The Nutcracker Ballet

This year, just after my daughter turned three, we decided to try adding to our holiday traditions by attending The Nutcracker Ballet.  My daughter loves dancing and music, however, she tends to get scared often (actually VERY often).  I thought that if I overload her with the story of The Nutcracker it would get to a point where she knew what was going to happen, making it less scary.  I decided to share some of the strategies and materials that I used, as well as some that I am planning to do in the future.

Ok, my first step was to go through all of my boxes and boxes of books that I have in my basement from my classroom.  I found an absolute gem that I forgot I bought.  It is called “The Nutcracker” by Susan Jeffers.  You can find it here.  This was by far the best component to our little Nutcracker unit.  This is a beautiful book.  I have a full review here.  My daughter and I fall in love with it!  I can’t even tell you how many times we read it (and it isn’t short by any means).  This started her obsession with the Nutcracker.  She loved him!  Yeah, this just might work out after all!

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Next, I went to the good ol’ trusty library to see what they had for us.  They had a lot of informational books that may be useful in the future or something that I would actually like to look through when I get the chance (HA!).  I do think that maybe next year, these can be books that I would leave in her room and she could look through them herself and see all of the different photographs and drawings that they have in them.  One was by DK Publishing book, entitled, of course, The Nutcracker.  I also picked up Auntie Claus: Home For the Holidays.  I am not familiar with the series at all.  It was a fun book about a little girl who is playing the Sugar Plum fairy in her school play.  Again it was fun to read, I think especially for older kids who may get some of the humor better, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.  I also picked up a few more books, none of which I feel are worth mentioning, either because they were not about the story of the nutcracker, or I just didn’t care for them.

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At the library, I also checked out a couple of CD’s of the music from the show.  I played them in the background of our playtimes and the kids loved them!  Every so often they would just start dancing.  It was so cute.  One of my personal favorites is here.

At this point, my daughter really liked the music and understood a bit about the story.  Next, I wanted to introduce her to the concept of seeing a show in person and I also wanted to show her what a nutcracker was.  On my ipad, I found an app that is FREE (because I am super cheap and refuse to pay for apps) called The Oregon Ballet Theatre Presents The Nutcracker.  It seems to be part of their program that they hand out, but you are able to watch a couple of the performances.  This was really fun, yet a bit confusing for my daughter because one of the ballerinas wasn’t wearing a tutu (how dare she!!).

To take care of the actual Nutcracker, for whatever reason, was a bit more difficult.  I could not think of where to buy one.  I checked a couple stores that I happen to be at anyways and they didn’t have them.  We did venture to one of the large home improvement stores, and viola!  There he was, OUR NUTCRACKER, and all glittered up nonetheless!  We took that bad boy home and put him right on the mantel where he belonged.  I am sure that this time of year and after the holidays you can get great deals on these.  Maybe I will pick up one in a few weeks at a bargain for next year.  Upon further investigation, I found that there are some really funny ones out there!

Ok, so we read our books, listened to our music, and had our own Nutcracker, we were good to go!  My daughter was very excited for the show and she ended up loving it.  She seriously wasn’t scared at all!  It really goes to show the more you can expose and prepare children for certain situations through the trusty pages of books and such, the more prepared and successful they can be!  I use this method all the time with different experiences, such as going to the doctor, starting school, whatever it may be.  I will be sharing more of my ideas and resources on this matter with you, so stayed tuned!

Here is my little girl and some dude going to the show (just kidding, it's my husband!)

Here is my little girl and some dude going to the show (just kidding, it’s my husband!)

Here are some more ideas (I haven’t tried them yet) that I have tucked away for future use regarding The Nutcracker…..

-I’m thinking next year, because my daughter has some knowledge on the subject, we can get crafty!!  Here is a kit that you can buy, where you can paint a nutcracker yourself which would be fun.  I really like these ballerinas from goodideasforyou.com here.

-There are several coloring books and stickers and such out there that may be nice to have around the house.

-I do also believe that next year will include a movie of some sort.  We actually had one from the library, that we never got to, but next year I will probably be checking those out as well.