Summer Solstice Storytime

Summer Solstice will occur tomorrow for the northern hemisphere.  The summer solstice is the day of the year with the most hours and minutes of sunlight.  Spend the day celebrating our great star that provides the light and warmth that sustain all life on earth.

Start by reading The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer.  In this picture book, illustrated by Linda Bleck, the author explores the summer solstice. There are descriptions of natural phenomena and modern traditions that happen in summer. Then the author describes ancient Summer Solstice ceremonies from around the world. The illustrator included a diagram of the Earth's movement around the sun the shows how seasons work. The final pages offer experiments and crafts that children can do to celebrate the year's longest day.

After the story, get active by practicing Sun Salutations, a series of yoga poses that help us honor the sun while stretching to increase flexibility and strength.  You can follow along with the poses on the free, printable sun salutation poster from Childhood 101, or you could try moving along to the words of Kira Willey's song, Dance for the Sun.  If you are enjoying this practice, you can read Sarah Jane Hinder's book, Hello, Sun!: A Yoga Sun Salutation to Start Your Day.

Next you can create sun prints using a few supplies you may already have on-hand and the copious rays available on the sunniest day of the year.  Head to Tinkerlab, where Rachelle Doorley provides all the simple steps for this fun, sunny-day craft. If you enjoy this craft, you should check out Doorley's fantastic book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors, about process art for kids.

If it's not too hot too turn on the oven, you can make a celebratory sun cake.
Start by baking your favorite cake recipe (or box mix) in two round pans.  After they're baked and cooled, lay one round cake in the center of your platter.  Then cut the second cake into equal wedges by cutting in half and then in fourths and finally in eighths.  You can trim the round edges off your triangles to make them fit better, and then arrange them around the circumference of the circle.  Then frost the whole thing in yellow or orange frosting.
You can get the cute summer pineapples pictured above from My Sister's Suitcase.

If it feels too hot to do do any baking, you can turn mandarins into festive sunshine snacks using the printable suns from Studio DIY.


Celebrating Juneteenth with Stories and Fun

Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19th.  The holiday, also called Emancipation Day, commemorates the date in 1865 when slaves in Texas finally got word that slavery had been outlawed in the United States thus making them free!  This announcement came more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that should have immediately ensured the release of all humans held as property.  In subsequent years, African-American communities organized to purchase property dedicated to Juneteenth celebrations each summer and recreation for black community members throughout the year.

At these early festivities and those carried out today, families and friends join to celebrate, dance, play games, and share homemade foods such as BBQ, hibiscus tea or other red drinks, and traditional tea cakes.  Make your own red punch using dried hibiscus flowers and this hibiscus punch recipe from Chow.
You can learn more about the history of the tea cake and try out an old-fashioned tea cake recipe shared by National Geographic.

You can make decorations for your party using printable Juneteenth flags and bunting from Primary Treasure Chest.

If you've never been to a Juneteenth celebration, you can learn about them in the book Juneteenth Jamboree by Carol Boston Weatherford in which a girl who has recently moved to Texas joins her extended family in attending a big Juneteenth festival with a parade and picnic.

More books you can read about Juneteenth include
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Freedom's Gifts: A Juneteenth Story by Valerie Wesley

This is also a great time of year to read Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson's beautiful 2019 book, The Undefeated.  The book is a poem in honor of the endurance of and accomplishments by African Americans.  It includes amazing illustrations of great, black activists, musicians, and athletes as well as sorrowful tributes to victims of hate and greed. 
After reading, you and your little learners can enjoy listening to music by some of the artists featured in the story.

Get more Juneteenth ideas: Happy Juneteenth!: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary


Delicious Diversions for Donut Day

National Donut Day takes place each year on the first Friday in June. Unlike many of the quirky food “holidays,” this one has a long history going back to World War I.  The Salvation Army donut girls distributed the tasty treats to soldiers during the war to lift their spirits. You can learn more about the tradition from facts shared by the Savannah, GA Salvation Army.
Lots of national and local donut shops mark the day by giving discounted or free donuts to customers, but even if you missed the official event, you do-nut need to miss out on the fun!
You can start by joining me in telling corny donut jokes with these free printable donut jokes from Nestling Design.

Next you can read a donut story!

The Donut Chef by Bob Staake is a fun and beautifully illustrated story of a donut shop that gets caught up in a frenzy of competition with another trendy bakery before returning to its roots making simple and delicious pastries.
For more great donut stories, check out
The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller
If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff
Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller

After reading, let kids practice writing skills with some donut postcards from Mad in Crafts.

Next try some donut shop pretend play. Kids will have minutes of fun (let’s be real) taking orders, decorating pastries, filling plates, and serving snacks. We got the Melissa and Doug doughnut set shown above at a resale shop, and you might be able to find a used set too. Since it’s not being made anymore, you could also get this similar Bee Smart — Wooden Cakes and Wooden Biscuits Set to set up your donut shop.

Kids can also decorate their own donuts using this adorable Donut coloring page From 100 Directions.

If you feel like taking a field trip, be sure to visit a donut shop where kids can see the doughnuts being made.
Krispy Kreme stores have giant windows into the kitchen so guests can watch the conveyor belt of donuts move through a fountain of glaze before circling around to be boxed up for customers.

Perhaps most importantly, you can make your own homemade donuts.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice measuring and kitchen safety. Make sure to get a donut pan. We chose the inexpensive and well-reviewed HEHALI 2pcs Silicone Donut Baking Pan set. Then select a recipe. Since you’re making your own, you get to control what goes in, so why not make your treats delicious AND healthy with one of these recipes:
Whole Wheat Chocolate Baked Donuts (We made these & substituted coconut sugar for cane sugar. We used chocolate-hazelnut spread and peanut butter for frostings, and they were super tasty!)
Apple Spice Baked Vegan Donuts
Classic Vegan Chocolate Glazed Donuts

After eating donuts from the shop or from home, get active by hula hooping with giant “donuts” or make your own donut ring toss with supplies right out of your recycling bin. The original post at My Fab Land is gone, but you can figure out how to create your own set just by looking at the pictures.


Books & Tools for Children Experiencing Grief and Loss

When children experience grief and loss, we, as adults, can feel helpless to ease their pain and provide reassurance.  Nearly every parent and teacher will go through this as the passing of grandparents is normal and unavoidable.  Even worse is the discomfort when a child loses a loved-one who is young or when the death is an unexpected and/or tragic loss.

Experts recommend speaking honestly to children in a developmentally appropriate way.  To understand more about how various age groups of children process deaths, I encourage you to read "Childhood Grief: The Influence of Age on Understanding" published by the mental health professionals behind the What's Your Grief website.

When words fail, stories can be helpful.  The following are picture books you can share with children to help them process their loss.

Pet Loss and Plants & Animals as Symbols of Loss in General:
The Goodbye Book, by Todd Parr
The Dead Bird, by Margaret Wise Brown
Big Cat, Little Cat, by Elisha Cooper
Bug in a Vacuum, by Melanie Watt
Always Remember, by Cece Meng
When Dinosaurs Die: a Guide to Understanding Death, by Laurie Krasny Brown
The Dandelion's Tale, by Kevin Sheehan
Ida Always, by Caron Levis

Stories about the Deaths of Human Loved Ones:
The Memory String, by Eve Bunting
Where Do They Go, by Julia Alvarez
Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs, by Tomie dePaola
The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Activity Books for Processing Grief:
Scrapbooking: Keep Your Special Memories, by Deborah Hufford
The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm, and Connect, by Patrice Karst & Dana Wyss

You can find more art activities to help kids process grief in "15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises & Ideas for Children and Adults" from the Positive Psychology Program website.

Sesame Street also had some resources available for adults helping children through a loss including "Helping Kids Grieve" and the Sesame Street Grief Toolkit.


What’s for Lunch: Finish the Year Strong with Healthy Lunch Ideas

The last few weeks of school can feel like such a chore, but it’s no time to slack off on packing healthy lunches for yourself and your littles. Boring lunchboxes make boring attitudes, and all the sugar and chemicals in processed packaged food will lead to crankiness. So, here are a few simple ideas to keep lunch-packing under control.

Sandwich Swaps
Switch up the sandwich routine with some easy substitutions. Try nut butters other than peanut, such as almond butter, sunbutter, or chocolate hazelnut spread. Instead of jelly, try apple butter or thinly sliced fruit like bananas or strawberries.

Make peanut butter banana bites by spreading a wheat tortilla with peanut butter and rolling a whole banana inside. You can serve it whole or slice little sushi-sized rounds for finger food fun.

Quesadillas are a yummy sandwich alternative, and it’s easy to sneak tiny shreds of spinach or other greens, diced mushrooms or tomatoes, corn or really any veggie inside. A side of salsa or guacamole for dipping adds another vegetable to the meal.
Hot dogs or veggie dogs can become several different tasty lunches. Wrap half links in biscuit dough for pigs in a blanket or yummy mummy dogs. 
 Try making quick homemade beanie-wienies by slicing a few hot dogs into a can of pinto beans with BBQ sauce. Or make a tray of corn dog bites by dropping slices of hot dog into a pan of cornbread before baking.

Why not serve pie for lunch? Grab a pre-made pie crust or whip up a homemade whole wheat one. Use a drinking glass to cut out circles. Then fill each circle with a teaspoon or two of preserves, a few thin slices of apple, or a savory filling like cheese (or dairy-free cheese) and veggies.  Fold the circles in half to cover the filling and crimp edges closed with a fork.  Bake until brown and serve throughout the week.

Breakfast for Lunch
Make a double batch of whole wheat pancakes or waffles on Saturday. Then pack these weekend favorites for lunch during the week. Both waffles and pancakes can be made without any sugar and served later with yummy, healthy toppings like fresh fruit slices and nut butter. Waffles are best if you toast them before packing if they’ve been in the refrigerator. 

Scrambled eggs cut into sticks are a quick and easy main course that can be prepared ahead or made extra during breakfast. 

Extra brown rice is filling and healthy. Add some thawed frozen mixed veggies and chickpeas or hummus to round it out. 

Gluten free pasta is a kid-pleasing meal that won’t lead to a post-starch crash like regular noodles. Make a batch with Italian dressing and mixed vegetables for a pasta salad or mix with red sauce and melted cheese. 

Pizza! Let the kids help make pizza for a weekend or evening meal and serve cold slices for lunch during the week. In a pinch, try my total cheaters approach, by slicing a pita bread in half, topping with sauce & cheese and broiling for a couple of minutes.

What are your favorite lunchbox meals?

Check out these fun and useful lunchboxes or print adorable lunch stickers to jazz up your paper sack.  If you're feeling really industrious, learn how to make a reusable sandwich carrier from a milk jug.


Celebrate Diverse Books this Read Across America Day

As we approach Read Across America Day, I've collected some helpful resources for analyzing the traditions of the event and planning your own celebration.
This year's Read Across America theme is "Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers."  Their website includes some diverse book suggestions for elementary readers.  The Tutu Teacher shared a more complete plan for celebrating all week including lots of book recommendations for exploring America's diversity
At last year's national RAA kickoff event, author Gene Leun Yang suggested that students try his Reading Without Walls Challenge:
Did you know that the National Education Agency, the organizer of Read Across America, shifted the event's theme away from Dr. Seuss before last year's celebration in response to growing concern about racist content in Dr. Seuss' work including his children's books? ("Is Dr. Seuss Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books," School Library Journal, Sept. 12, 2017). 

In fact, a new study of 50 Dr. Seuss children's books found concerning trends. The entire 51-page article, "The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books" is available to download from the Research on Diversity in Youth Literature journal website.  To see an extremely brief but shocking sample of anti-black, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Native American work by Dr. Seuss, see The Conscious Kid's Instagram story on the topic.  Please do not view the previous link in the presence of children!

With these ideas in mind, how will you and your students celebrate diversity as you Read Across America this year?


Sun Bread: A Warm Story for the Winter Season

Last weekend, I discovered a beautiful wintertime read-aloud that I had somehow never noticed before.

Sun Bread is Elisa Kleven's 2004 picture book about a community of animals left sorrowful when the winter sun went away.  With cold and gray all around, the animals can be seen pouting and bickering inside their homes as they wish for the sun to return.  Amid all the gloom, the town baker decides to create his own cheer and warmth by baking a loaf of sun bread.  The resulting giant loaf is shared by the community of animals and eventually by the sun as well who agrees to return each morning for breakfast. The final page offers a recipe to make homemade sun bread.

This story makes a wonderful read-aloud, with its brief, charming rhymes and descriptive language.  The book's detailed illustrations also make it fun to slowly peruse and discover.  My 2-year-old has been referring to Kleven's book as "the animal book," and she enjoys studying and pointing out features of each scene.

After reading the text and spending some time enjoying the illustrations, who could resist attempting to bake your own sun bread.  Kleven includes a simple-to-follow recipe on the last page of the book.
The sun bread recipe can also be found and printed from her website.  Children will relish the opportunity to assist with mixing and measuring ingredients, a perfect opportunity to sneak in lots of mathematical reasoning and vocabulary.  You'll also have no problem getting little hands to help with kneading.  My 3-year-old was thrilled to help knead real dough after lots of practice using the interactive dough-kneading page in Pizza!: An Interactive Recipe Book.

When the beautiful loaf finally emerges from the oven, your little readers will be about as thrilled as the sun-starved animals in Sun Bread.  After selecting a perfect piece to eat, little hands can get fine motor skill practice by buttering their own bread.

While everyone enjoys their snack, you can discuss or read about what really causes the seasons and when to expect warmer days in your area.