Pumpkin Heads

The pumpkin heads have carved their pumpkins for the year.

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We planned, created, cleaned pumpkin guts, and proudly displayed our creations.

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My pumpkin heads took great care in choosing a pumpkin from the grocery store- very proud kids.

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The pumpkins are in order of the kiddo sizes.

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We also dried our pumpkin seeds, ready to plant this spring/ summer.

The next day, Ty wanted to know why we carved pumpkins for Halloween. I had a bit of the story, but knew that I had heard numerous tales over the years. (“over the years” = my oldness)

We searched and came across this story from How Stuff Works. This is roughly the story I have heard, but it seems like a bit of an urban legend too. Plus, I wasn’t sure that it was a kid-appropriate story. This one, from History, ended up being the one I read with the kids.

I Spy With My Little Eye

I Spy With My Little Eye… a grammar game. It will be simple, I promise.

grammarSpyOnce upon a time, my kids frequently played the normal, “I spy with my little eye” game: on the couch, in the car, at restaurants, everywhere. The preschool my older kids attended played this game when learning colors. The older two discarded that game some time ago so it’s been out of circulation at our house.

C.J. is a tad young to play it, but I do goof around with her and the game. She mostly likes it when I sing-song, “I spy…” I do this lots when she needs occupied, like at her sister’s dance class.

Za has dance for fifty llllloooonnnggg  minutes once a week. She loves it and I’m glad she has an activity where she can set goals and thrive. It is, however, truly a growth area for her older brother in his patience arena. He would rather not attend her dance class.

During the warmer weeks, we exhausted playing outside, playing tag, racing cars, walking around the building – anything to make the fifty minutes go a bit faster. October is rainy and cold though, so we are stuck inside.

Ty takes advantage of my phone for some of this time, but of course his mother rarely has a charged battery. Onto our imaginations, when one day, I jokingly started “I spy” with him. He played twice, and shut me down because he is not a baby. Obviously.

(The connection of the “I spy” game and dance class. It is coming, promise).

Desperate moms and bored children call for something, because I jokingly told Ty that I spied a noun.

He named them all: the shoes, people, chairs, ceiling, computer, windows, door, carpet, clock, and on.

Always ready to beat a dead horse, I spied adjectives for these nouns. Then we spied verbs, and adverbs to describe those verbs. And while he definitely would rather play on my phone, Ty did play our new I Spy Grammar Game.

Some guidelines that we established in our “I Spy Grammar Game”:

1. No being mean. We can use adjectives to describe people or things, but they need to be nice ones.

2. Add parts of speech together – a purple noun.

3. Be specific when dealing with verbs. For instance, when his sister bounded out of class, we remarked that she ran and skipped.

This small twist on “I Spy With My Little Eye” did entertain Ty, which in turn made C.J. laugh. Normally she runs to the back room where Za has dance, and tries to spy on her under the door (see the above picture).

I realize that some (I always get emails! Always!!) see my optimism in teaching grammar to the younger generation as unnecessary or a lost cause. I think that parents can incorporate grammar into simple games, simple discussions, and everyday happenings. I hope that this small idea helps!

Holiday Toy Stereotypes

A few toy advertisements arrived in the mail this week. Flipping through them, I noticed the holiday toy stereotyping – everywhere. (Melissa, creator of Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies, has a succinct explanation of why these advertisements bother me – and many other parents). Actually, as my children age, I find these examples less annoying, and more offensive.

Today I have toy stereotypes from “Big R.” This flyer came in our weekly newspaper:

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I’ve only been in Big R once, and flipped through the mailer to get a better idea of the store. The mailer is offensive, and I won’t shop at the store.

“Boys Crafts and Hobbies.”

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My five-year-old daughter loves frogs and any other reptile. When I saw this spider (lower, right corner), I originally thought of her. It’s on the clearly labeled boy page though. Marketers at Big R want boys to learn from race cars, science, dinosaurs, and building blocks.

What is appropriate for my daughter? Junk, apparently.

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Stickers, glue, paper, sparkly jewelry and style kits, bracelets, and makeup. Items to “improve” her appearance, and rather disposable and inexpensive items.

I looked for more “boy labeled pages,” but only came across more “girl” pages.

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Dolls and strollers – because only girls tend to babies? Boys aren’t future dads? (I honestly think this is a poor marketing strategy – only targeting half of the population).

Girls will enjoy “ride on toys,” but only at a 5:1 ratio.

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Children have varying interests. Why do holiday brochures feel the need to reinforce toy stereotypes?

Teaching Prepositions Activities

I wrote about teaching prepositions with a laundry basket earlier this week. That activity works well with younger kids, but I wanted to create something that my older child would use too. (Read to the end – I have a free printable attached).

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I thought about teaching prepositions activities and how they normally center around a “box.” Boxes are easy to acquire. Kids can manipulate them. Students appreciate different activities. Originally, I thought that students could write prepositions on a note card and glue them to the box – “outside” on the outside of the box, “inside” on the inside of the box. I started by printing some blank templates.

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I have collected plastic baby food containers, sometimes using them for snacks. They are relatively clear, so I changed the size of the rectangles to fit and typed single-word prepositions in them.

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They fit nicely, but did not hold still. I want my kids to exchange the prepositions out (by removing the lid and the paper), so I made the boxes larger. I now could fold the top over like this:

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These are the “stage one” baby food containers.

I cut them down to size; each rectangle is approximately 2.5″ by 1.5″.

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I like putting the words on their sides for the box effect. I also played around with putting them on the lids. I considered making other parts of speech for these baby food containers, and having my kids create sentences. You can slightly see the baby food container’s brand, which might distract some students though:

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Teaching prepositions activities (and any grammar topic, really) can be dry. I’m still playing around with these, but at this time I’ve thought of using these printables different ways. Here are some ideas:

* Print the prepositions on different colored paper to organize.

* Use these in clear boxes, for the “box” and manipulative benefits. If you have enough containers, these will stay permanently with a piece of tape or drop of hot glue.

* Cut the prepositions and have students glue/ tape them to a box, or even different parts of the room.

* Cut the prepositions and use them as part of a word sort; have students separate them from nouns, verbs, etc.

Hopefully, this is the first of teaching prepositions activities! I have the different “stages” of baby food containers and may make some for other parts of speech. Right now, you can download these for free at the Language Arts Classroom on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Let me know how you used these!

Teaching Prepositions

Teaching prepositions is a tough one for me, and I doubt I’m alone in teacher-world with that one.

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The main confusion is that prepositions can be (and look a bit like) adverbs and conjunctions. Look:

After my chores, I went to school. (“After” is a preposition)

After I finished my chores, I went to school. (“After” is a subordinating conjunction)

Jill came tumbling after. (“after” is an adverb in this little nursery rhyme)

“After” can even be an adjective, but I won’t bore you. Teaching prepositions can be confusing.

One way that teachers try teaching prepositions “with a box.” Since a preposition shows a location or a relationship with something else, most prepositions can locate a box. The boy was in the box, outside the box, on the box, under the box, inside the box, atop the box. Most of the time, this works.

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C.J. putting her toys in the box.

I know that prepositions can be tricky, and want to introduce them to my kids in a natural environment. When they have a bag, a purse, a box, or any container – or if they are by a table, couch, chair, anything – they can learn prepositions.

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Putting the car toward the bottom of the bag.

Teaching prepositions as “location” words as the kiddos play takes advantage of their bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

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Putting cars inside the bag.

And – hopefully, when they study grammar in a few years, they won’t be disgruntled but will know that our language is interesting and complex. This week, I am teaching prepositions with everyday household objects.

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Basket under a baby; basket atop a rug.

Fine Motor Skills: Stringing Beads

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Stringing beads on a pipe cleaner always makes my kids’ days. They are practicing fine motor skills and giving me a break, but they also learn so much more. Now that my kids are getting older, and have interests which do not require me, I am cherishing these craft activities a bit more.
I let the kids manage their projects, but will emphasize what they are learning along the way. Aside from practicing those tiny fingers, here are other learning experiences from the simple act of stringing beads.
Kids experience a feeling of accomplishment. For days after finishing the project, my kids wore their new bracelets and showed them off to other people.
Kids must plan ahead. My two kids decided how to split the beads, what color of pipe cleaner each wanted, and on. I (too) often forget that the tiniest details matter with little feelings.
Patience, especially when practicing the fine motor work.
Math skills: counting and patterning.
Picking up at the end!
I am not a craft-lovin’ mama. This is my go-to craft and my kids enjoy it. Kids need to practice fine motor skills, and stringing beads on a

NBC Get A Clue

A few months ago, I “liked” the FB page for “The Mysteries of Laura.” I like Debra Messing. I liked “Will and Grace.” And I love “Law and Order: SVU.” NBC was advertising Olivia and Laura together under the hashtag #WomanCrushWednesday. I assume I am the target audience; FB did plenty of advertising before I “liked” the page.

I was sold. I’ll watch a new show.

And I did.

And NBC needs to get a clue.

“The Mysteries of Laura”

Laura (Debra Messing) is a detective with twin sons. She is in the process of a divorce from a husband who cheated on her and is disinterested in his family life. She is a funny, tough detective who reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown. She is busy, and her kids are ill-behaved. When the twins get expelled from pre-K, she looks for a new facility. Worried about the boy’s behavior in a school interview, she drugs them with cough syrup. The boys fall asleep and one vomits during the headmistress’ questioning.

History

One of the reasons I fancied “Will and Grace” was because I knew that it was a part of social change. I have seen a positive trend in acceptance of homosexuality and others, like Rick Santorum, have acknowledged that television has an influence on this change in perspective.

I have always wondered when that started with “Will and Grace” though. Did NBC-thinkers decide from the start that the show would be influential? Did they realize it after a few episodes? Did they realize that customers (viewers) were attached to Will and Jack, and saw them as people? Did they initially intend to do this with humor? Was it a happy accident?

Maybe it was a bit of it all. It matters that it happened though. TV is influential. Advertisers pay big money for TV spots.

Did you know some kids get high from OTC drugs?

Perhaps educating parents (and NBC) is key. Drugging kids for a break is abuse. It sets a bad example. It is dangerous. I have no idea what it does to a developing brain or liver because I’m not a medial professional – and most parents don’t know either. I do know that my pediatrician has never suggested it as a possible parenting technique. Doctors warn parents about giving cough medicine to kids.

Why is NBC worsening a serious problem? Parents have warning signs to observe if their child is perhaps abusing OTC medicine. Organizations are devoted to stopping OTC abuse. The government knows it is a problem.

It seems NBC news knows it is a problem. But on a new show, a parent is reassured of her mothering skills after drugging her kids. NBC, get a clue, please.

TV is not real life!

I know this. Whenever I write about a television show sending a nasty message, I get called names and receive a bunch of weird blog comments.

And before anyone says it, yes, I have watched shows like “Breaking Bad” and I am not a meth cook. But. But – think about what parts of that show has influenced viewers, and what parts are fixtures in society. (Jessie’s catch-phrase? Walt’s, I am the one who knocks or Say my name?)

Another character who abused drugs comes to mind – Karen from “Will and Grace.” That always required quite the suspension of disbelief on my part. Secretaries don’t swallow down handful of pills with vodka midday while their bosses sigh and carry on. Karen was disgustingly wealthy with a household staff. I know no one like Karen. Even if I did, Karen is an adult.

Last night, Laura drugged her kids behind closed doors. She hid this. The writers capitalized on parents’ overwhelming… well, their overwhelming children. Parents are overwhelmed. Parents often don’t know what to do. They wanted moms to related to Laura.

Laura was overwhelmed and drugged her kids. And after she told her children’s father – a serious moment in this comedy-drama -he explained why she was a good parent. The husband gave a huge speech about Laura and her fabulous mothering. The kids told her that yes, you really are a great mom. The most serious moment in the pilot episode was a pep talk for Laura – that she is a good mother – and that her kids love her.

Unfortunately, I know that kids are drugged and I have heard parents discuss the best OTC meds to quiet children. Parents brag that they keep medicine in the glove compartment of the family van, ready to dose on long trips. This is a real-life scenario and NBC handled it incorrectly. It would be the same as if Laura beat her kids to quiet them, and then her husband told her what a great parent she is.

If you are a parent who thinks, “I watched Laura drug her kids last night and I would never do that,” good. I’m glad. I’m not going to do it either.

Television does influence viewers. Some television shows massively change society. If we weren’t influenced by television, why would retailers spend billions of dollars on advertising and product placement?

But…

So maybe a hundred people will read this blog post today, and no one from NBC will.

I am writing this as a parent who has the sense and the ability to defend little kids. Until television companies see that this stunt is offensive and that some parents will take this message as an acceptance to drug kids behind closed doors, and until they lose money over their crummy storyline, nothing will change. I’m hoping to make a tiny change.

Social change can happen. NBC knows that, and they’ve profited from it before. Why are they trying to make money providing humor in abused children? Why are they targeting me with a product that has a dumb message? (I’m your target audience? Really?! I am offended). It’s offensive to everyone. NBC needs to get a clue.

#RossFallFaves

Are bloggers allowed to use hashtags in the title? If not, consider me a trendsetter.

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This past weekend we headed to St. Louis. I want to live there someday and my husband needed to return two of the three birthday presents I ordered him. (Of course Peoria does not have said store). When he suggested Thursday that we head down, I agreed.

I have great luck at Peoria’s Ross, but when I realized that the Ross at the outlet mall in St. Louis was gigantic, I headed in. The kids bet ‘over’ (am I using that term correctly?) on their mom purchasing at least one item for each child, so they didn’t complain. Plus, Za loved the enormous sign.

We spent right at forty dollars on the kids. Ty got a pair of athletic pants, Za dress shoes, and C.J. dress shoes.

Monday, Za planned her school outfit around the shoes.

Monday, Za planned her school outfit around the shoes.

Ty will not pose for blog pictures, but luckily, the girls are quite compliant with picture-time.

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C.J. is less enthusiastic about pictures, but is also easily tricked.

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Or active, and I can catch her in mid-jump.

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Flowers and a buckle. Perfect shoes for so many outfits.

Together, the dress shoes were under thirty dollars, which is the price I need because my children destroy dress shoes about two seconds before we arrive at church, or the photographer’s studio, or a Christmas party. Za did, however, arrive home from school yesterday with her shoes unscathed, which speaks to their durability. (Her tennis shoes are a bit worn after only a month of school).

Anyway, Ross allows me to deck my kids in cuteness, while not making me broke. Both girls had numerous pairs to choose from. Ty’s pants are name-brand, and I was shocked to see the small price tag on comfy school pants that he will wear weekly when the weather turns cold. I start my weather-changing-must-buy-kids-new-outfits shopping trips at Ross.

Would you like to win a gift card to Ross? Right now, Ross is giving away $150 gift cards. Head to their Facebook page and vote for your favorite #RossFallFaves look. I’ve entered, which means all the cool people are doing so. (It’s easy. Promise). 

This was a sponsored post by Ross Dress For Less. All opinions are my own.

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Niagara Falls and Chicago

Last time I left you all on the edges of your seats, awaiting to hear how our “quick trip” into Chicago on the way to Niagara Falls turned out. My husband needed to pick up a passport, and that morning we awoke to news that passport offices had “crashed.” We don’t believe it.

Pehffff. On with vacation!

We’ll be fine, my husband said as he jumped out of the van in downtown Chicago. Drive around for a bit. I scooted over to the driver’s seat and that nauseating, hot tingly in the arms and icy cold stomach set in. Why? —-

Well, I grew up in a town with zero stoplights. (We had a four-way stop with a blinking red light. The light didn’t always work, so I’m not counting that). I had to drive about thirty minutes if I wanted to find an interstate. I didn’t drive on the interstate until I was in college. Driving in Peoria freaks me out sometimes. Driving in Chicago kills me. (End childhood explanation for adult paranoia).

So, I started “driving around for a bit.” But people are mean. And crazy. They do not abide by the driving lanes, blinkers, light colors, or any other traffic law. I worry about bicyclists and pedestrians. I know that I’m inexperienced and a worry-wart.

I also don’t care, and will avoid driving in huge cities whenever possible. Hushing Ty who asked a few time, are we lost, I pulled into a parking garage that possible wanted a hundred dollars for twenty minutes, happily grabbed a ticket, and started driving for a parking spot.

I’m not sure what I did wrong in the parking garage, but there never was a parking spot. There wasn’t. As I’m thinking I must have missed a “full” sign, I notice that I am approaching the pay booth.

I pull up to the booth and luckily the nicest person in Chicago works there. I asked her if the garage was full – and she laughed. She was so nice and I am very, immensely sure I looked desperate. She told me to back up and park at the side of the booth. If she had not been so kind, I would have melted. She was though, so I grabbed all three kids, noticed the lady was still chuckling, and headed downstairs.

Thinking ahead, I noted the street name and a landmark. (Smart, right?) We headed across to a coffee shop. I got a coffee and an enormous cinnamon roll which the kids barely shared with me. They were pretty good, and hubs texts me – he’s done! He’s within walking distance! We will make it out of Chicago, out only about $30, and a decent time! With happy kids! I mentally celebrate!

My excitement bubble didn’t last. There are multiple coffee shops with this name, on the same street. And in Chicago, an apartment building isn’t really a landmark. Hubs is lost and when he finds me, he explains that he’d done waiting in line to submit his papers. Those two hours that I drove around and fed the kids took care of hubs’ wait in line.

Niagara Falls by evening. Right.

Because what will we do with three kids on an unplanned trip to Chicago? Sounds fun.

Book Review: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare

Book Review: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.

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This past summer I jumped at the chance to review Ken Ludwig’s book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. The book is long – over 300 pages. Plus, I did activities from the book with my kids as I read – during a busy summer – so I apologize for the tardiness of the review.

Child: Mom, I’m so bored I’ve started talking to pictures on the wall!

First, the concept. Ludwig is an acclaimed playwright with two children. Like any theater geek, he gave his children the best theatrical knowledge he could: Shakespeare. His passion overflows in every chapter and I believe he sincerely taught his children Shakespeare with the same enthusiasm this grammar geek teaches her kids about verbals.

Ludwig doesn’t just want his kids (and your kids) to know about Shakespeare, he wants them to memorize Shakespeare. He says:

For many of us, Shakespeare has become a kind of Bible for the modern world, bringing us together intellectually the way religious services have traditionally done… To know some Shakespeare gives you a head start in life.

I’m unsure if his intention with this was to put Shakespeare as part of our American fabric like the bible is, but from a literature standpoint, it makes sense. As an English teacher, students with a working knowledge of the bible and/ or Shakespeare write, read, and speak better than those without.

In further explaining his reasoning for memorizing Shakespeare, Ludwig gives multiple examples of how children can analyze the nuances of poetry, of well-written and complex poetry! Kids can later apply this formula to any reading, hopefully with a dose of confidence from already dissecting the most difficult poetry out there.

Finally, Ludwig theorizes that exposing children to difficult concepts, that teaching them bits of a complex and larger picture can be a starting point for learning in other life areas.

After he explains the reason for his process, he provides a sensible order for teaching children Shakespeare.

Let it go! Let it go!
- Anyone in the family, whenever someone is holding something 

What I like. The book made me hopeful, which may sound odd, but I’ll try to explain. Ludwig is a cheerleader for parents, encouraging them to work with their kids while tackling Shakespeare. He gives anecdotes along the way from teaching his kids, and how they implemented quotes into spontaneous theater productions.

In addition to memorizing Shakespeare, Ludwig provides background with his plays, the time period, and his life. This is important for understanding the plays, and additional information is easy to find.

The format is an easy read even if the content isn’t always. The book covers comedies, tragedies, and histories, with special attention to Hamlet (commonly referenced as Shakespeare’s perfect play). Each type of play requires unique approaches, especially for younger children. General tips are included, and Ludwig gives specific times to incorporate Shakespeare with children.

The website, http://www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com/, has printables. I have started the first suggested poem (“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows”) with my kids. The printed sheet has helped, a cheat sheet if you will.

My kids have memorized that piece from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m excited. My seven-year-old was compliant, but my five-year-old eagerly sing-songs it. Will my son benefit from knowing a bit of Shakespeare? Probably. My daughter has found an interesting learning opportunity most kindergarteners don’t have – and all of that makes me hopeful.

Hi Sven’s family! It’s nice to meet you! I understand you are love experts.
- Me, seeing my family together – at any time

My hesitation. The book is a smooth read, but Shakespeare rarely is. In fact, William Shakespeare typically scares people.

I am not sold after reading this book that a parent with little Shakespeare background could use this book as intended. Ludwig addresses this when he says:

Like Shakespeare, opera can seem a bit frightening if you haven’t grown up with it. But if you roll up your sleeves, and your children’s sleeves, and take a few minutes to listen to a little Rossini every now and then, your children will soon be humming opera tunes as easily as they’re reciting passages from Shakespeare.

I agree with the notion that kids’ surroundings influence them, but Shakespeare is not like watching Sunday night football. Kids might hum a bit, and quote characters a bit, but to make it part of their lives? Many adults attempt to do this with unoriginal alterations of “to be or not to be.”

I have a degree in English and took an entire course on Shakespeare. I have identified authors’ references to Shakespeare’s work. I have read almost all of his plays and have taught many of them. In fact, I can quote Shakespeare beyond the cliche quotes.

But. I’m not sure that my kids will comfortably quote the Bard in everyday conversations. I believe Ludwig’s kids do – but he lives and breathes this difficult, often overwhelming concept. While his mind eagerly applies Shakespeare to everyday life, the best the rest of us can do is grab a book and search for a quote.

Speaking Shakespeare in everyday life is a lofty and admirable goal, but the typical reader should not be discouraged from introducing and practicing Shakespeare because of it.

Ty: Mom, do you know when we are going to the store?
Me: Yeah! Why?!
Ty: (giggling, understanding) Can you tell me when we are going to the store?
Me: Yeah! Why?! 
Ty: (Any question that I can answer with, Yeah! Why?!)

Overall? The process works. My five and seven year-olds can quote the Shakespeare I have taught them. They even want to know what the “new words” mean. (Four-hundred year-old words). Learning Shakespeare makes people feel smart! Hopefully my kids feel less overwhelmed when their teachers assign them a difficult reading assignment because, honestly, if you can understand Shakespeare, you can tackle other authors.

And of course, I could be wrong about making Bill a part of everyday life. Shakespeare is fascinating and complex. If we work at memorizing these lines as my children grow, maybe they will incorporate Shakespeare into our daily quotes as they do their Frozen lines. Those natural, non-hesitant, jovial digs at others may come easily. A fun family joke.

After all, I do hope that as my kids grow, their interests do, and that they identify more with Othello’s struggles or Ophelia’s love torment than what Anna and Sven think. Encouraging them along the way, and studying Shakespeare as a family may make that possible.

Final Note. I will use this process as a parent, but will consult the book as a teacher. I have acted out Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar with classes before. My only experience is theater is that of an audience member, and this theater perspective will help me as a teacher.

I was compensated with a copy of How To Teach Your children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and ideas are my own. 

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