Thursday, May 29, 2014

Inspiring Summer Reading - Books and Homemade Toys - Giant Squid Edition

Teaching remedial reading to small groups of elementary, and middle school aged children, at a local private school this last year, has really got me thinking about the ways I've encouraged my own children to read, and enjoy reading.

All of my children have been pretty natural, though not all early, readers. They might not all read constantly, but when they do, whether it's for entertainment, or for information, it's with an enjoyment I didn't encounter in my students at the school.

So, over the course of the summer, I thought I'd share some of our homegrown strategies for encouraging a love of reading.

The first thing that comes to mind is that for the younger children especially, I often try to find ways to connect books to their interests of moment, whether it's through a snack, an activity, or as with the squid pictured at the top of this post - a toy, or more specifically, a homemade toy.

Actually, there's a story behind this particular toy, and since it demonstrates one of the ways we encourage reading - I'll share it.

Out of the blue, the other morning, D (age 11) called from his room, "Mom, how many tentacles does a
squid have?"

The answer is two, in case you were wondering, two extra long tentacles, and eight arms.

Naturally I was curious as to why he was asking. We've been in more of a Lego, and building phase lately, than into marine biology.  It turned out he was building a Zoob squid to play with with his Lego men.  That made sense.

I oohed and awed over D's Zoob creation, but pointed out that it might have been a little big in comparison to the Lego guys.  Unfazed, D informed me it was a kraken.  Needless to say, I was impressed (and my homeschooling heart swelled with joy - if not pride).  It's been a few years since we read 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, so I figured he probably picked the reference up from some video game, or cartoon, but even so - kraken - that's a pretty good word to be able to pull out of your hat.  I knew I was going to have to make the most of it.

D went back to playing, and I started searching out a pattern for a quick, and easy squid toy.  I found a simple, and free, which is always a bonus, crochet pattern from Crafty and Devious for just the sort of young kraken I was looking for.  The pattern was what I wanted, because it was simple enough to make up quickly in the morning while the children were still sleeping.  If you don't crochet, don't worry, the toy is the point, not how it was made.

I modified it slightly to match our discussion by adding adding white crochet (5 sc into a magic ring) circles to go behind the eyes, because squid have very large eyes.

And, I crocheted two extra long, additional arms, adding a sc, hdc, dc, slip stitch to the bottom, to form the tentacles, since D and I had specifically talked about those - besides which they are great for grabbing Lego men.

With my pattern picked, I slipped out to the library to see what they had for a book to go with it.  I would have liked H.P. Newquist's Here There Be Monsters, The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid...

...but it was out, and besides which I think we've checked that one out before.  I settled instead on Sandra Markle's Outside and Inside Giant Squid...

...which turned out to be just perfect, with a quick mention of the legends of the kraken, segueing nicely into a photo illustrated, simple, scientific text on the illusive giant squid - just right for an 11 year old.

Anyway, the next afternoon, with the book checked out, and the kraken crocheted, all I had to do was wait for a good opportunity, when D was occupied elsewhere, to sneak into his room, and set the scene.

At first, after he spotted his surprise he snatched up the toy, and ran off to play, leaving the book behind.  I thought maybe my plan had backfired.  That happens sometimes. But, it wasn't long before I spotted him totally engrossed it's pages.

The time I had put into the project (actually less time than it took to tell you about it) added a weight of value to the book.  It wasn't just a book, but the promise of an adventure - one on which I wasn't his traveling companion, so much as the outfitter for the journey.

It's great to be a homeschooler.


Unknown said...

You taught reading this past year? I am CERTAIN you were the favorite teacher of all the littles!

Allison @ All for the Boys said...

I absolutely love this. This is just how we like to inspire learning and researching. And I had no idea squid only had 2 tentacles. I think we'll research squid now as well.

Ticia said...

It always impresses me the little crocheted toys you make and how quickly you can turn them out.

So, what do you do with all the toys you make? Do you keep them, give them away? It seems like your house might get run over with cute little guys.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Ticia - D always keeps his. We just don't buy a lot of other stuffed animals - and I usually keep our crochet guys small. Giving them away is fun too - but only the ones that don't take a lot of time to make, so I'm not sad if they get torn apart :)

Phyllis said...

Oh,my goodness that crocheted stuffie is SO cute. Could I possibly buy one from you??

Unknown said...

"A promise of an adventure" - love that, the best books often are! Your squid looks amazing by the way :)

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I wonder sometimes if schools are killing love of reading with too many drills and tests. My daughter has lost all interest in non-fiction after a disastrous "non-fiction unit" in the first grade. She is still refusing to read non-fiction unless it's "disguised" as a story (think, You Wouldn't Want to Be...) series. Your squid is adorable, by the way!

Cristy said...

I showed this story to my oldest son. Because of it, we found "Here There Be Monsters" at our library and are reading through it. Then, last night we watched 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a family. (Great movie. If I've seen it, I don't remember it.) My son compared it continually to the book he had read last year. And the kids now know what a kraken is. Thanks for the great ideas.

Cristy said...

I decided to post a blog post because of this post.
Here's my link:

And, again, thank you.

Phyllis said...

Now that I have the squid, I am going to the library to get squid books!

Great gifts for toddlers said...

Some children are more inclined towards physical play while others prefer to work with their hands or learn. I hope this simple guide helps you in choosing a toy for that special child in your life.