Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in trains (6)


Weekly book shelf, 7/23

I'm way behind, so it's nowhere near 7/23, but it always takes me a bit to catch up after vacation, and I didn't want to skip a week because Calvin read some fun books while we were away, so I'm just posting late.

What Calvin read to himself this week... Lots of really great books this week, and three of them were entirely new to us. They came into the library sale room just before we left and they looked so perfect I bought them! "Hidden Michigan" is a hidden pictures kind of book with illustrated maps of various regions in our state, plus written facts and anectdotes. It was fun for him to read as we were driving from the SE corner of the state to the NW. "Let's Go to Mackinac Island!" is a week long trip with a family of four to the historic island in the Straights of Mackinac. The illustrations are light and airy and the story is realistic and engaging. We didn't actually go to the island, but we saw it from the shore, and Calvin really enjoyed the book.

"Coyote Cry" is an incredibly beautiful book about living with nature. This is probably not a book for very young children; in it a family is struggling to protect their sheep from the coyotes, and when the young boy's puppy goes missing they assume the coyote has eaten him like the sheep. In the end they find that the coyote has stollen the pup to raise herself, possibly because her own young have died. So there is allusion to death, and a lot of instense emotions, but they are handled with maturity and beauty. Calvin loved it and I think it is to become a family favorite. And "All About Trains" is one of Calvin's favorites because he is such a train lover. It is full of information that is accessible to kids, but not watered down, and illustrations that are realistic and interesting.

Things we read together this week... we're still reading the Little House book. It's taking us this long because we just don't go back to it all that often. It might be time to let it go and move on. And because we were out of town all week we packed a couple of old favorites, including the Arabian Nights and The Aeneid, but haven't really started something new yet.

On my shelf this week...I finished the disappointing "The Map of Time" and I think I'll pick up The Time Machine to supplement this week. I am making headway on Proust, too, even though it seriously feels like I'm going nowhere since I decided to re-read the first volume to up my note taking. Oh well.


Weekly book shelf, 7/9

What Calvin read to himself this week...Squanto's Journey was an extension of last week's interest in the history of the U.S. and the books about Thanksgiving and Pilgrims. Honestly I didn't do a good job of working with him on this interest and I'm feeling badly about that. He read the books, he talked to me a bit about them, but my usual m.o. is to ask questions and knead that interest into rising and growing, but this week I just didn't get there. I guess you could call it an off week, but we'll return to Squanto's Journey because it is in our personal library—I chose it originally for it's beautiful images and for its depiction of the Native American story, and I'm still pleased with it, though I think it misses the mark a bit by painting the story in too pretty a light.

The Two Cars is a book we've read before and loved. Calvin got it off the shelf this week because we were going to the auto show on Friday. We are all fond of this book—the illustrations are traditional d'Aulaire, the story is a retake on the tortoise and the hare. Midnght on the Moon is part of Calvin's beloved Magic Tree House Series. And Train Song. It is one of our all time favorites: really a poem with a rolling rhythm, like that of a train going over the track, and the illustrations are rich and calming and beautiful.

What we read out loud this week...

I made a mistake last week. For as long as I can remember I've assumed that The Little House on the Prairie was the first in the Little House series, probably because that's the name I'm most familiar with, so when I said last week that that's what we were reading, I misspoke. We started at the beginning, reading Little House in the Big Woods, I just can't quite get that into my head. Obviously this is my first time reading the series, and I don't think it will go on my favorites list. I know a lot of people love these stories, and I like knowing that they are a true telling of life from that era, but I find the sentences distractingly simplistic. It feels like a list of facts instead of a story, which I suppose makes sense, it's just not what I expected. Calvin clearly finds the information interesting, but he's not as drawn to the book as he has been to others we've read out loud. I'm considering giving this to him as something to read on his own and looking for a different read aloud.

And on my shelf this week...I finished The Women of Brewster Place, by Gloria Naylor, and started rereading Swann's Way, in a newer translation, while taking notes on my new reading blog. If I keep this up there's no way I'll finish In Search of Lost Time by the end of the year. Oh well.


A train, one brick at a time.

Calvin got his first electric train for Christmas. He'd been talking about an "El train with doors that work and people that ride on it" for quite some time. Being that specific but without an actual item in mind could have been the end of that wish list item, but his Gram and Grampa found something near enough to fit the bill. And Lego (plus grandparents) comes to the rescue again. It's the Lego City Passenger Train, and while it's not elevated, it looks like the Chicago El insomuch as it's not a locamotive but a modern inner city train. He was able to assemble it entirely by himself (although we assembled the mechanics) and I love that this gives him a greater understanding of the toy itself. A better connection to it, if you will. In any case he's pretty in love with it.


Making the train costume happen

Last year, after spending some time trying to figure out how to make a train costume and then having Calvin fall in love with a Winnie the Pooh costume at the resale shop, I told Calvin that he could be anything he wanted from then on as long as he could make the costume. About the same time I told me that this year he would return to the train idea, and that he wanted his dad and myself to be signals. As long as we can make it, kid...

This year, as the date neared, I found myself wrestling with ideas and plans. There is nobody else out there making a train costume that isn't Thomas, but I found another mom's costume plans posted on her website and adapted them to fit our own needs. I followed her plans for basic box assembly—starting with a paper box (the same box we used over seven years ago to deliver the decorations to our reception site, and again three years ago to move baby items to the new house), a shoe box of matching width, and (thanks to my mom) two hat boxes.

Calvin helped me shop or search the basement for all the necessary items, and then he helped me use the t-square and pencil to mark the boxes for cutting. We used the hot glue gun to attach the boxes initially, then covered the whole thing with black duct tape; Calvin helped hold the pieces in place while I applied hot glue, and he helped press the black tape into place. The duct tape added stability to the whole ensemble and also made it relatively water-proof just in case.

Calvin picked out black paper plates for wheels and silver and gold poster board for accents. He also picked a picture from his historical trains book for me to use as inspiration. He decided on silver for the wheels and gold for the accents. I cut the accents and wheels after he went to bed (since I'd waited until last minute and wanted the costume done before the costume parade in Dexter the next morning—nothing like last minute). There's nothing like scrapbooking materials for a project of this kind—I used my circle cutter on the wheels, the t-square and my circle punch for the side accents, and the Cricut to cut the fours. Engine, engine number four...

The straps are nylon and I stapled and duct taped them to the inside of the box before applying adhesive backed Velcro at the appropriate sizing for Calvin. The final addition, though, was the smoke stack. The original plans called for a tube but Calvin wanted an old steam engine, which would have had a conical smoke stack in front, so we stopped by our downtown hardware store while we were trick or treating on parade (even without the smoke stack he was a hit on the first dry run) where we found the perfect metal funnel. At home Calvin helped me measure for the location, I used a box cutter to make two diagonal cuts, and I adhered it to the front with hot glue.

You'll remember that he also asked us to be signals, so to round out the ensemble on Halloween night I made a RR sign and a railroad crossing sign which two of his loving entourage (including also his Oma, Opa, and Aunt Ann) carried throughout our neighborhood escapades.

My favorite part of this costume was Calvin's involvement. He picked the costume and he helped make it, which means that when person after person asked him if his mom made it he was able to say, truthfully, "we made it together," and then often went on to explain what each part was made of and how it was assembled. Even the remotely curious were treated to his well spoken explanation.


Crafting—Mr. Rogers' trees

They aren't exactly rocket science, trees made out of construction paper, toilet paper tubes, and green tissue paper, but they are all the rage in our house this week and we have Mr. Roger's to thank for it. I should preface this entire post by saying that we are not TV watchers. Calvin hadn't watched even a minute of TV, aside from catching glimpses of Michigan football games now and again, until December of last year, and then the only reason we suddenly pulled the TV trick out of the bag was because he was sick, sick, sick (and the show we watched, several times, was "Jungles" from the BBC Planet Earth collection—he still loves it). I have several moral and personal objections against most TV shows and the TV culture as a whole and in general we don't watch it, but that's for another post all together. Instead, I'll just quickly say that since its daytime debut in our household back in December, we have watched classic Sesame Street episodes a couple of times a week and various BBC Planet Earth pieces as well, and just this morning we watched Mr. Rogers for the very first time. What a riot.

With Mr. Rogers we took a trip to the recycling plant, then followed the trolley to make-believe town (I'd forgotten all about that), and then we made a craft—trees, to be exact. Calvin seemed to enjoy all of the half hour show (a perfect amount of time), and immediately after he was determined to make his own paper trees so he could have a forest for his train set. We did so, and now he has one.

Paper trees

Supplies: Pen, scissors, tape and/or glue, paper tubes of any kind (we used toilet paper and paper towel tubes), construction paper in your choice of colors, and tissue paper (preferably in green).

Mark construction paper to the size of the tube. Cut paper along marked line. Adhere paper to cardboard tube. If using glue, allow to dry (we put rubber bands around our tubes to keept he paper in place while the glue dried). Latsly, crinkle up the tissue paper, shape it into the top of a tree, and shove a small part of it into the top of the tube. Done! I also used a dab of hot glue to keep the tree tops inside the trunks so that we could have a perpetual summer for our train setting.