The kids are 10 and 11, boy and girl. They each love reading - and I'm surprised it happened with the boy. He's easily distracted, keeps changing topics when he's talking and seems to always be moving. Amazingly, he will stop and read for about an hour on any given day. If he's incredibly interested in the story, he'll maybe read for two hours.
My daughter is reading all of the time, it would seem. In the last year she's read more than 300 books. She also takes AR tests at school, which earns her "points" if she performs well on the test.
When my son started reading, he wasn't really interested in it. It was hard! Yes, that's a good enough reason for some people to stop right there. His sister dared him to read a Magic Treehouse book...which led to becoming comfortable with books. For an emerging reader, I highly recommend the Magic Treehouse books. Libraries usually have them and they're also available at Amazon.com.
Big Nate books and The Dork Diary books cemented his love of reading. The humor and graphics gave him something to look forward to. Eventually, he became a strong enough reader to attempt the Harry Potter series. It would take him weeks to finish one of the books - especially the further along in the series he got, they're long - but he was enjoying himself and was able to talk to his sister about them. She'd be able to give him extra insight and remind him of things that happened in the previous books.
My daughter loves reading fantasy books and even read the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year. She said that this summer she'd like to read them again, hoping to catch more details. I'm really proud of her for reading the series. I attempted it once when I was about 14 and was completely lost because of the odd (to me) language and so much descriptive text. I like snappy dialogue when I'm reading.
Christmas 2012, each kid received a Kindle eReader for Christmas. With shipping, I paid about for each - buying used from eBay. They came, I set them up with my Amazon account, gave it a password so they couldn't accidentally buy books, charged and then set them aside for wrapping.
I believe those Kindles have already saved us that much money in gas, from the trips we aren't making to the library anymore. We were going once a week, twice on occasion - like when they were out of school and it rained almost every day in July. They were reading a lot then.
I check out Amazon's Kindle Book section regularly, there are tons of free kids books offered. If you look into that, a few things:
You only have to buy once, then you can send it to multiple devices.
If you're looking at a free book, but it states Preview -- you're not going to get all the chapters for free. You'll have to buy the full version if you would like to finish the story.
If you don't remember if you've bought a book, click on the title. Near the top of the page (above the item's title), there will be a message stating you've already bought the book - and when.
It is worth it to pay the 99 cents for public domain works...sometimes. I purchased an Anne of Green Gables collection for my daughter for 99 cents. It was worth it because they'd reformatted the text so it was easy to read on the Kindle. Downside? Two of the books from the series weren't included. I'll have to buy them or wait until the licensing allows for the inclusion in the collection.
Oh - and I haven't found the ad version of the Kindle to have intrusive ads. They don't bother me or the kids. The most prominent ads are visible when the Kindle is in standby mode.
Play with Legos
This one is actually good for the kids when they are bickering. I'm not sure why...making them work together on something could be a fast ride to a catastrophe and tears. But yay! It doesn't work like that at all when it comes to Legos. My son's pretty competent in viewing the directions and seeing how things should go together, and she lets him be good at it. Really - she lets him be good at it. She can be pretty bossy and controlling. Not so with Legos.
We're in Florida, so no winter misery to deal with. The kids can each ride their bikes on a small section of the road we live on. Why a small section? Because I'm an overbearing mother that is afraid something like a tornado will come by and pick them up if they're out of ear shot.
Riding bikes is different than just going outside to play. My daughter uses it to relax. We live in a small house and the only place she's got a sense of true privacy is when she's in the bathroom. We've only got one bathroom - so she can't hang out in there. Ever.
When Ally rides her bike, I watch as her shoulders relax and she enjoys the solitude. She is free for just a little while and can feel the wind in her face. Good for her! Really! It's a wonderful feeling and being a product of an overbearing mother, I also know how good the feeling is.
Practice Shooting Hoops
Lee's loved basketball since kindergarten. He even had an on-court run-in with another kids, with a finger poking his eye and scratching his cornea (that Easter break blew!). It didn't stop him from wanting to still play at school (as it shouldn't, I know).
In 2012 we bought him a hoop and basketball. Yes, the final cost was about 0 - but it has been one of the best investments. More than six months later and he still goes out to practice. Ally sometimes joins in, but she's usually riding her bike instead.
I've caught Red shooting hoops with him - even though it is against Dr.'s orders. Red's shoulders aren't holding up that great, but he loves having that time with Lee.
They're small, they're inexpensive and they don't make a ton of noise. Yes, the crashing noises can get to be a bit much - but there's more to Matchbox cars than racing them. There's sorting by color, size, style, type...with or without stripes...I'm sure there are tons of ways to sort them. I think Lee's done it plenty of times.
And then he races them.
Crashes them into each other.
Macks the front/back end to make them flip in the air.
Crashes them into each other some more.
Picks up the random pieces destroyed (the windshields of convertibles are the first casualties).
He'll build a ramp and see which ones perform the best.
He'll use an old paper towel tube and have them slide through.
And then he crashes them together some more.
Ally doesn't usually participate in the races or crashing, but she likes to help sort. Her bossy nature can also kick in, giving strict guidelines for each category.
Write a Letter to Grandma and Grandpa
Okay, this one isn't my favorite. Why? Because their handwriting is messy. I "make" them write a full page and then feel like I have to point out what they need to fix before I'll mail it. That's frustrating for them AND for me. The good news is that I'm starting to just get over that. As long as I can read the words, it passes inspection.
It is easier for Ally to write a full page (she's a chatterbox), but Lee has such a hard time. I give him writing prompts. I used to write them down, but then he was writing the question and the answer - like an essay. Oops. Anyways, now I talk with him about it beforehand. I ask him what story he wants to tell Grandma and Grandpa. It can be about the kid who won't stop picking his nose in class (yeah, grosses me out too), the fact that his teacher watches shows on her computer (meh - I don't know the context, but he has mentioned it a couple of times), what he did for recess this week -- anything he can give me a few sentences about will work.
That being said, I've allowed him to "finish" his full page with a drawing. He wrote the letter. It is legible. It makes sense. Add a picture, sign, send. And the grandparents love getting their letters. That makes me look good - because they're my grandparents and I'm the black sheep of the family. Let them be impressed with the kids, I know I helped get them to that point.
With a few crayons, some markers, lined paper and construction paper there's a LOT of time-killing to be had. I prefer Crayola crayons. They run across the construction paper smoothly, without sliding. I don't know if it has to do with the wax content? Really, I don't know. Some of the bargain bin crayons just don't present as pretty a picture.
They've also go markers and colored pencils. I like the Twistables color pencils - no pencil sharpener required, but I don't recommend them for younger kids. It is too much fun twisting out the pencil to expect the younger set to not do it for fun and then forget to twist it back in before starting to draw. *snap* =(
Construction paper, glue sticks, kid-safe scissors. Yes, they're old enough for regular scissors - safety-wise - but the smaller ones fit their hands better.
We don't give the kids glitter. Ever. It's a big mess and three months after a glitter catastrophe, I'd still find glitter. How do I know this? Because the "no glitter" rule doesn't apply to Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma puts glitter in birthday and holiday cards. One wayward sneeze and there's a mess.
Yes, I allow the kids to play video games. I have to approve of the game and they're limited in how long they're on the devices. They each have a Nintendo DS and there's an old Gameboy and Gameboy color around. The DSs get to plug in to charge - bonus!
They can play for an hour on school days.
They can play for two hours on non-school days.
I have the right to revoke their permission to play if it is a gorgeous day outside and they should be out there.
If either one of them messes up doing the dishes so badly they have to be redone the next night, neither of them can play until dishes have been washed successfully. Seriously. I don't want to pick up Tupperware and feel grease.
When we take trips and it is going to be a long car ride, they can play their DS - as long as the volume is turned off.