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“There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

The last week of September is banned books week, marked by booksellers and libraries across the United States. As I’ve been looking into information on this week, I’ve found a dizzying number of lists of banned books. Harry Potter tops many recent lists, and so does my recent sob novel Bridge to Terebithia. Gone With the Wind, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men – many of the greatest books of the 20th century have been challenged and banned from schools and libraries.

Those books don’t surprise you? How about The Lorax? Challenged for “criminalizing the foresting industry.” Or Where’s Waldo? Removed from a school library for “nudity” (a tiny picture of a woman lying on a beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top). A Light in the Attic, Little House on the Prairie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – all these wonderful books have faced attempts to ban them from libraries and curriculums. [source here]

As parents, we are gatekeepers to our children’s minds and morals. If you don’t want your child to read a book, don’t have it in the house. If it’s on a required curriculum, ask that your child read an alternate title. Just please don’t try to impose your morality on others.

This week is a great time to talk to your children about banned books. A list of local libraries and merchants with displays can be found here. I’ve talked about this with my children as we’ve looked at the banned books displayed at our library. Reading is a freedom. But along with that freedom comes a responsibility to choose wisely and listen to guidance from parents. I don’t want Drama Girl to read the Gossip Girl books right now, but I’m reading Twilight with her, and heaven knows she’s read an enormous number of the books on the lists. My son has read and enjoyed Phillip Pullman’s books, but he knows the difference between what that author espouses and what we teach at home and in our Church.

This week I think we’ll act like outlaws and read James and the Giant Peach together.

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion…”
– Henry Steel Commager

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So, it’s September. I have a kid in middle school and my older twins in kindergarten and all of a sudden, I feel like I’m LIVING inside my minivan. Between shuttling back and forth to different schools and activities for the kids and going to my own meetings and outings for my twins club, I’m spending a ridiculous amount on gas! The other day at school, I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for final bell and thought to myself, this would be a great time to listen to audiobooks from the library on CD. So now I’ve been perusing my local library’s website, but I’m a little overwhelmed by the huge selection! It seems like I’m into “chick lit”, memoirs, and the occasional mystery. Any book recommendations for me? Have you read something outstanding over the summer that you think I’d like?

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My daughter is almost three and often has more energy than I can handle. I’m constantly struggling to find something that she can do – something that will hold her attention for longer than the 3.865 seconds that she typically spends – so that I can deal with my 8 month old boys. I thought it would be helpful to fellow multiple mommies to have a go-to list of stuff to do that you could whip out like the mother-of-the-year that you are (or in my case, that I wish I had the time/energy/patience to be). If your kids enjoy the beginning activity, I’ll provide more things along a theme. Stuff like related songs, books, snacks – you get the drift. The first theme is rainbows. (Why rainbows first? No idea. It’s just what appealed to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a child of the 80′s, when rainbows, unicorns and the Preppy Handbook reigned supreme.) Anywho…let’s get started.

Core activity: Rainbow hunt.

  • Age appropriateness: 18 months & up
  • Materials needed: Nothing special, just stuff around the house!

Activity: We’re hunting rainbows! Or at least we’re looking for colors in the rainbow. The object of the activity is to have your kids look for objects around the house in each of the colors of the rainbow. When Katie was little, I used to take cups and bowls of several colors and then find little toys that would fit in each of the cups. Then we’d work together to match each thing to its “home.” For example, a blue ball would go into a blue cup, and a yellow ducky from the bath would go into a yellow bowl. Now that she’s older, I take different colors of construction paper and tell her to go find toys that match the colors. You can adapt this to your own kids’ age and interest level. I’ve tried this with kids stuck in chairs waiting for dinner to arrive at a restaurant. Each kid gets a magazine and then has 20 seconds to find as many colored images as they can. Here is Katie’s collection of treasures. She’s pointing to her favorite color (yellow) with her foot.

Note two things, if you will. Number one: I didn’t have purple construction paper in the house. I improvised with a marker. Number two: the foot that so gracefully points to her favorite color is still in pajamas. Today is a family sick day. We are all in our pj’s, including yours truly.

Sing. Here are some songs related to our rainbow theme. I did a simple search on YouTube to find clips of the songs so that you can hear the melodies.

Make. More rainbow-themed activities from other blogs that I found.

Explore. I did a couple of online searches and came up with some cool resources. My dad often sits a grandkid on his lap and does a Google images search for such favorites as helicopters or lions. Then they click through to whatever looks interesting.

Read. I’m a book-a-holic and children’s books are my favorite by far. Here are just a few – some are old favorites and others new ones to enjoy.

Experiment. Here are a couple of “scientific” activities that I found trolling the internet.

  • Fill a spray bottle with water, look at the mist in the sunlight.
  • Create an indoor rainbow with a prism
  • Make a rainbow in the dark

Eat. Fill your kids’ plates with fruits & veggies from a rainbow of colors. And you can use a drop or two of food coloring to turn milk or water into your kids’ favorite colors

  • Red: apples, strawberries
  • Orange: orange, mango
  • Yellow: banana, yellow bell pepper
  • Green: kiwi, celery, grapes
  • Blue: blueberries
  • Purple: grapes, eggplant, plums

Well, that’s all folks! I’m hoping to have a new activity every other Monday. You know, Monday, when you are chock full of energy and resolve that this week the kids are not going to watch so much TV and that you’re actually going to eat a piece of fruit or something that passes as a vegetable at least once every day and that you will, for sure!, get the minivan cleaned. Oh wait. That’s me.

If you have any more bright and colorful rainbow ideas, please add a comment. And if you have an idea for an upcoming theme, I’d love to hear about that too!

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Staving Off Boredom

Dawn asked “I am curious if any of you have come across some good books with information about how to educationally entertain your toddler twins during the day. My guys are 16 months and I would like to find ways to add education into the fun mix. I realize they are always learning with everything we do but honestly I think the three of us are bored. I’m looking for inspiration!”

I hear you, Dawn. I know we’re supposed to be our kids’ best teachers, but sometimes it’s hard to be a one-woman show!

I have found a few fun items along the way that have helped pass the hours, helping me to feel that I was contributing to their budding curiosity and ongoing education. At our house, it’s projects and music. When I was feeling energized and ambitious, we tried out new activities. When I was feeling like I needed energy, we would put on the music.

All of the recommendations here come straight from our own home: tried, tested and twin-approved.

You should be able to find these materials at your local library, which I learned to utilize to a whole new level once the kiddos arrived. Our library system offers online access with a hold system so that you can reserve books from across the network and have them delivered to your local branch. Extremely handy.

We’ll start with books. These are broad-theme books with a range of art and play activities. There are so many idea books out there that are wonderful; these are just a few that I personally found, used and loved.

Toddler Theme Calendar by Totline – 2001
This one is AWESOME. It’s a perpetual calendar with activities for every day of every month of the entire year. I loved that this was already organized for me. I didn’t even have to open a book to find my own ideas – they were laid out already. They have one for preschoolers as well.

Baby Play by Wendy Masi – 2001
We are big fans of Gymboree Play & Music. We started taking our boys when they were 18 months old and only just stopped going after they turned four and started preschool. I love Gymboree! This books lets you bring some Gymboree home. They also have a Toddler Play version as well as new versions published in the last year that I’m sure are wonderful.

Science is Simple by Peggy Ashbrook – 2003
This is a great resource for toddlers and preschoolers. I know it’s got “preschoolers” in its title, but I have always believed in being a little advanced with my guys. The activities in this book are laid out for preschool teachers, so that you can make a whole day’s activity out of making homemade slime. Fun! We’ve tried a few of the activities out of this book with rousing success.

The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner – 2001
A great book! This one is packed full of ideas, games, and activities, from simple to more-effort-needed. Again, there are other versions available for other ages.

The other essential in our house to stave off boredom is music. I cannot stress enough that you do not have to suffer through saccharine children’s music just because you have children. They like what you like, generally. (My boys love to jump around to The White Stripes just as much as they do to anything I have listed out here.) Cheryl had a great review last week of the TwinSpin-Tunes for Twins CD (which I’ve added to my wishlist!). Here are a few others that never fail to get us up and DANCE.

The Backyardigans: Born to Play – 2008
I confess: I LOVE The Backyardigans. When my boys were Tyrone and Pablo last year for Halloween, I made myself a Uniqua costume. (Only one little girl knew who I was – everyone else thought I was Piglet.) I even decorated our mini-van as a backyard for trunk-o-treat, complete with a walk-through interior and a slide out the back. We have nearly all the DVDs and have so far had to live with just two CDs of music from the TV show. Not so any longer. Born to Play is a great CD, full of the wide range of musical styles The Backyardigans is known for. It’s impossible not to dance when you listen. Even if your kids don’t watch the show, you can’t help but enjoy the music.

Ralph’s World: Happy Lemons – 2007
Ralph’s World music is just wonderful. He explores a broad range of musical styles (blues, reggae, swing and zillions more) all within songs that are fun and whimsical. Our favorite is Happy Lemons but there are many more to choose from – they’re all fantastic!

They Might Be Giants: No – 2002
Yes, this is the same They Might Be Giants of “now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople” fame. They have produced some incredible children’s music, have been featured on the Disney channel and much more. This is one of our favorite CDs of all time. The music is quirky and weird with lots of funny stuff that keep my boys laughing. You know it’s good when you end up singing along to it in the car on the way to work. And you’re all the way there before you realize you don’t have any kids with you.

Now that I’ve shared some of my family’s favorites, I would love to hear more about yours! I’m always on the lookout for new books and CDs to share with my boys.

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