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Summer Reading Rewards

Summer Reading Book Basket

Every summer I’m stumped by the task of motivating my kids to read. So this year, I got creative. Since introducing “Tucker Bucks,” our new family currency that can be earned by reading books, I have five very voracious readers in my house. I’m excited to see them reading, but I’m hoping the runners off the starting block lose a little bit of steam here shortly or I might go broke sooner than I thought.

Our new reading reward currency

Every book is assigned a point value depending on the reader and his reading level (i.e. the same book might be worth more points for one of my younger boys than my older ones) and one point=one “tucker buck.”  When they’ve saved up some bucks, they can come shop at my “store”–a basket of goodies I’ve collected from clearance shelves and dollar stores. One tucker buck equals fifty cents in U.S. dollars–a slightly inflated currency, but it helps me keep my costs down a little and makes them have to work a little harder for their reward. Other things they can save their money for are iTunes gift cards and gift certificates to our local used book store (they must earn twenty tucker bucks to get a $10 gift card, of course).

My Store

I’ve already learned to set certain hours for my store, or I’ll be playing the role of store clerk all day. So, the boys have started to ask if my store is open, and when it opens, they very proudly show up with their “wallets” in hand, ready to cash in on their rewards. This is also a great lesson in math (counting money, making change).  Finding play money was a little harder than I thought it would be, so I made a small investment in Melissa and Doug play money from Amazon–it is more real looking, and thus a little better of an educational lesson anyway as they practice spending money that looks like real money.

My upcoming fifth and sixth graders have to fill out brief book summaries for every book to prove they read and retained something from it, and my younger ones have to either read to me, their dad, or one of their older brothers, or I ask them questions about the book, before they get their tucker bucks. I also created baskets for each boy with specific books that I want them to read each month of the summer–there is plenty of room for them to pick their own books as well, that just helps me be sure they are reading some challenging books.

My sixth grader's book basket

If it gets to the point where I feel like I have to refinance my house to keep up with the costs of this program, we can start to sell gift certificates for quality time with mom and dad too, like bike rides, fishing or games. There are many ways to get creative with it, we will just try to roll with it.

I always love to hear about other people’s reading incentives, so do share if you can!


Chocolate Custard

I recently stumbled upon a recipe for chocolate custard and thought it might be fun to make some with the boys after reading the classic story, The Poky Little Puppy.  My younger three really enjoy that story, and it’s very appropriate, you know, since having five boys is sort of like having five puppies.  And we even have a “poky” one.

Then they counted themselves, one, two three, four. "Now, where in the world is that poky little puppy?" In this story, he was finishing his math homework, very fitting.

Assembling our supplies

The poky little puppy finishes his math homework and helps mix some ingredients

The final product

The final product was very tasty, but very rich.  If I were to do it again, I’d try using milk chocolate chips rather than bittersweet chocolate.  True custard aficionados might bristle at the thought, but it would be more kid-friendly.

The recipe that we used is below, we tripled this recipe (accept for the whipped cream part) to make six ramekins full.

So read yourself some Poky Little Puppy and enjoy!

Chocolate Custard

  • 1/4 c  milk
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 1 lg egg yoke
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (we used 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • pinch of ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, combine the milk and two tablespoons of the sugar and heat until steaming and the sugar is dissolved.  Whisk in the egg yolk.  Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened about two minutes.  Add the chocolate and salt and whisk till melted and smooth.  Whisk in the butter till melted.  Pour the custard into shallow bowls and refrigerate till firm, about five minutes.  Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat the heavy cream, cinnamon and remaining sugar until whipped.  Dollop the cream on top of the custard and serve.



Great Alphabet Printables

When the older four boys were getting ready to start school in September, boy #5 was feeling left out of the all the hype, so he started asking his brothers what grade he was going into. His brothers convinced him that he was in “pre-k,” which officially made me his pre-k teacher.

So far, our pre-k has consisted of some Wii time and a lot of running errands with mommy, but we’ve managed to incorporate a few official school activities in there too.  He picked out his own pre-K folder when I took his brothers back-to-school shopping and was eager for something to put inside of it.  So, I went back to a website that I stumbled upon a while ago, called DLTK’s Printable Crafts for Kids, with many free early elementary printables and activities.  I like it for the alphabet coloring worksheets specifically, but there’s so much more to it than that.  I’ve been keeping his folder full of fun coloring worksheets and then when I’m working on my computer, or sewing up orders, he pulls out that folder and colors to his heart’s content.  And, when he runs out, I return to that website for more, the supply is seemingly endless!


Guides to Good Children’s Literature

In the early years of motherhood, the constant flux of pregnancies and nursing babies really hindered me from spending quality time reading with my older children.  I regret that we did not read together more in those days.  But, with my youngest now three-and-a-half, I am trying to make up for some lost time.  My younger three still love to crawl up in my lap and have a good story read to them; my older two are a little less interested in this ritual, which is understandable at ages nine and ten, but disappointing none-the-less.



Backpacks and Breakfast Counters

Problem: backpacks under your feet and nowhere to hang them

Solution: hooks under your breakfast counters

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I don’t believe in underutilized space.  A blank wall in my house is likely to end up with a coat hook eventually.

The latest victim of my coat hook obsession: the walls underneath our breakfast counters.  Our breakfast counters are generally reserved as homework stations, so what could be more fitting than the boys hanging their backpacks right where they need them…and out from under my feet.



Reading with Bob

Reading with Bob Books

Boy #4 turned five recently.  Its hard for me to believe and its going to be even harder for me to give him up to kindergarten next year.  Though we primarily homeschool our kids, they do go to a classical studies center four mornings a week and then spend their afternoons and off-days working on assigned homework.  I like to call it “homeschooling for dummies;” to clarify, the kids aren’t the dummies, I’m the dummy.  I get to have my kids at home (more…)