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Summer Adventures: Read. Talk. Explore!

Carol Shen

Guest blogger Carol Shen, is a stay at home mom of two, creator of the blog, Blueberry Mom and serves on the Board of Directors of The Reading Connection. She'll be sharing her kids' learning adventures on Start with a Book inspired topics like gardening, the night sky, If I were President, and other ideas she and her kids are excited to explore.

Catching Stars

August 19, 2015

In Carol’s final blog posting for the summer, the family embarks on another Start with a Book summer science exploration: The Night Sky. Unbeknownst to them, their exploration continues on in paradise, and wraps up at home in their own front yard.

Last year, Addie got a kids’ telescope for her birthday from one of our dearest friends. She was super excited to use it to look at the moon and stars at night. So I started helping her assemble it that same day. Except in my rush to put it together, I skipped past the instructions (a bad habit I have, as mentioned in my first posting), and proceeded to push a lens piece way too hard into a place it didn’t belong. The lens ended up popping into the tube, and was rattling around like a loose stone, which is never a good sound to hear in a telescope. I spent the next hour in panic mode trying to get it out. Eventually, with some help from my husband, we did manage to get it out. By then though, Addie had gotten tired of waiting to use her telescope. The window of my child’s excitement had deflated, and she had decided to move on.

Throughout the year, Addie would periodically ask me to take out the telescope, and teach her how to use it. With good intentions, I would tell her sure, but that I needed to read the instruction manual first. There always seemed to be interruptions though. Half the time I didn’t know where the instruction manual was. The other half the time I knew where the manual was, but the different lenses had gotten scattered around the house. When I finally got my act together and put the lenses in a Ziploc bag, then the instruction manual disappeared again.

Many months went by, and I began blogging for Start with a Book. That’s when I saw the topic, The Night Sky, and made a promise to myself that I’d redeem myself from the earlier telescope mishap, and explore this topic with my kids this summer. We started our exploration reading a few books about this topic: Fancy Nancy Sees Stars, Stargazers, and National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Space.

Books about stars

Addie’s a big fan of the Fancy Nancy books by Jane O’Connor because she can relate to the topics, and the beginning reading level suits Addie well. Stargazers by Gail Gibbons is a great introduction to stargazing for kids (and adults), and talks though the basics of stargazing, including an overview of the history of constellations and how a telescope works. Both Addie and Taylor love the Little Kids Big Book of Space. Taylor likes to look at the pages with the solar system, and is always asking me to name the planets. He can name a few himself now!

After reading the books, we found ourselves in the midst of a busy summer with lots of traveling involved. One of the places we visited was Hawaii, where I used to live. What we didn’t anticipate was the wonderful stargazing we would get to do in Maui. After watching the beautiful sunsets, the skies would darken, and one by one the sea of stars would come to life. Both my kids, having grown-up in a suburb outside of Washington DC, had never seen the night sky like this. We ended up downloading a stargazing app onto our iPad to help Addie and Taylor identify the constellations we were looking at. That evening, Addie told me she wanted to become a pilot because that way she could fly a plane, open up the window, and catch stars. Here are some of my favorite photos from our trip to Hawaii:

Taylor on a forest trail

Addie and Taylor enjoying the beach in Maui

The Shen family explores nature in Maui

On a side note, prior to our Hawaii trip, Addie had picked out Froggy Goes to Hawaii as a book she wanted to read in anticipation of our trip (getting kids excited about a trip with a book is something we always look forward to now). Apparently, any book that has the word “nincompoop” in it becomes an immediate hit with the kids.

Books about stars

The first night we got back, the kids went to bed at 1:00 a.m. because our flight arrived late in the evening. The following day, we thought we’d “conquer the jet lag” by tiring them out at the pool. We were at the pool for five hours. That’s a long time. We got them in bed by 9:00 p.m. Apparently their jet-lagged bodies both thought they were just taking a late nap though, and they were up by 10:30 p.m., wired. We tried to get them back to bed, but to no avail. So we decided to make the most of the situation and continue our night sky exploration: we were going to stargaze and moon gaze in our front yard.

We set up Addie’s telescope on a table on the sidewalk in front of our house. She finally got a chance to use it that evening. We were fortunate in our timing, as the full moon had just passed (and it happened to be the blue moon which is the second full moon in a month), so it was still very bright. Between our telescopes, and stargazing app, we had a wonderful evening enjoying the night sky.

Addie looks through a telescope

The Moon

Taylor looking at stars

That night, I saw a shooting star streak across the sky. I’m hoping there was a reason I got to see the shooting star. I inadvertently left Taylor’s blankie on the plane on our flight back from San Francisco. Yes, I lost my son’s lovey. You can probably guess what my wish was, and I’m trying to be optimistic that my shooting star wish will come through for me (with the help of the kind employees at Virgin America).

Here’s what I’ve learned this summer:

  • Start with a Book has done the work for you. As a busy parent, I’ve come to realize this is my one stop shop to go for book ideas and other learning resources when my kids ask me questions about music, dinosaurs, buildings, and the list goes on.
  • The Start with a Book framework, starting an exploration with a book, and then connecting it to activities, apps and places, is a simple and useful framework to have in your back pocket as a parent. It helps me to point out connections to my kids, and have ongoing dialogues with them about how an idea in a book is linked to what they see, question and create. The more connections we help our kids see, the more we add value to our children’s experiences. And this matters to our children, a lot!
  • Connecting books and events helps to cement that moment into our memories. Whether or not you are prescriptive and plan out a day, or allow it to happen in a more fluid manner, that connection gives the memory an anchor. For us, this summer has truly been a special one. If you’ve seen the movie Inside Out, we’ve got lots of yellow spheres with joyful images of us reading and exploring settling into our memory archives (and a couple of blue and red ones, between getting to the U.S. Mint after it closed, and losing Taylor’s blankie, but that’s life, and thankfully those are few and far between).

Thank you so very much for joining us on our Start with a Book adventures. Enjoy the rest of your summer (and beyond), reading, talking and exploring!

All the very best,
Carol

The Shens in Hawaii

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"I feel the need of reading. It is a loss to a man not to have grown up among books." —

Abraham Lincoln