Guest post by Julie Merberg, founder of Downtown Bookworks
Because good, old-fashioned fun is just that.
As much as I’m looking forward to holing up in our little farmhouse upstate, working my way through my “Best Books of 2013” stack, making soup, snowy walks, and family board games over Christmas break, I’m also dreading the fights I know I’ll have with my kids over screen time. Here are a few of the things we’re planning to do to keep busy, happy, and engaged–without any tech:
Nature Adventures are a biggie, particularly for my 5-year-old. Armed with A WALK IN THE WOODS by Emily Laber-Warren, we will head outside and see what we can see. In the summer, we always bring a basket and make a mission out of collecting and identifying as many different wildflowers or berries as possible. In the winter, we look for animal tracks, gather as many different types of pine cones as we can, look for birds’ nests in naked trees, and generally spot whatever “treasures” we can: bright red winterberries, animal bones, or a hunk of tree bark dotted with woodpecker holes.
Nature Crafts are the perfect sequel to a treasure hunt. I’m busy testing projects for our upcoming PBS KIDS DO-IT-MYSELF CRAFT KIT: STICKS AND STONES. Acorn babies (in a milkweed pod cradle) are one of my favorite projects. Maccabee finds homes for them on the windowsills, the mantle, the dining table…It’s like a bunch of fairies have moved in.
And then there’s owl puke. My 10- and 12-year-olds both studied birds in school and became passionate birders. The colder months can actually be a great time to observe birds: Those that don’t migrate are easily visible, and happy to find birdfeeders full of treats. We will see who shows up to dine, and learn a thing or two about birds in BIRD-ACIOUS by Melissa Stewart. And (possibly best of all), BIRD-ACIOUS comes with an owl pellet–the vomited-up remains of a barn owl’s meal. It takes a good hour to properly dissect an owl pellet, digging out delicate bones and sorting them to determine what kind of creature they belong to. Yes, it’s fun.
Let them eat…whatever they want to make. I’ve already packed THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO COOKBOOK by Matthew Mead and I’m sure we’ll be pulling it out day after day. Because painting with icing = hours of fun, we will definitely make super hero cookies using the logo stencils that come with the book. We’ll have a DIY super hero pizza party using pre-made pizza crusts and cut-up vegetables. And so they won’t think I’m a horrible mother for hiding the iPad, I’ll let the boys make Indoor S’mores as well from THE DO IT MYSELF KIDS’ COOKBOOK by Laurie Wolf.
Everyone loves a fireplace. Since it’s dark by 4:30 but way too early to think about dinner then, we will also be doing a lot of reading by the fire. I’m always looking for books that will appeal to my three youngest boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) since I read to them together every night–and to me, since I’m selfish. Over the last year or so, some of our collective favorites were:
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen captured everyone’s imagination, and continues to spark many discussions of what they would each do to survive in the wild.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction: CHAINS, FORGE, and FEVER were riveting, and made all of the boys very curious about the relevant time periods and events.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio was so moving for all of them–I think they were surprised and delighted to become so emotionally invested in a character.
They’re dog lovers and we adopted our own mutt, but I suspect they would have loved BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo anyhow.
And the cliffhanger chapter endings in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY books by Trenton Lee Stewart meant many late nights to accommodate their demands for “just one more chapter.”
My 14-year-old son is a great source of recommendations, as is James Patterson’s site, readkiddoread.com so we’ll spend some time there making choices for the week.
As long as my kids get outside, do something creative, and use their brains a bit each day, I won’t mind if they watch a movie or 2, or 12 as well.
Juile Merberg is the founder of Downtown Bookworks whose mission is to raise a new generation of book lovers–with every one of their books carefully designed to engage, inspire, and feel good in small hands. Julie began her publishing career 25 years ago as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster–which now handles sales and distribution for Downtown Bookworks. Many years as an editor and then as a packager led her to launch Downtown Bookworks as a book packaging company in 2005. But it was her experience as a mother of 4 boys that compelled her to start a children’s publishing company with the mission of raising a new generation of book lovers. The list reflects her passions–science and nature, crafts, the arts (and her husband’s passion–super heroes). Her in-house focus group helps to insure that every book has major kid appeal and does double-duty–educating while entertaining. Julie lives in Tribeca with her husband and their boys, and spends her weekdays running around downtown between home, work, and the kids’ schools.