Disneyland Halloween

We went to Disneyland during the end of October to see the park in its Halloween glory. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know about the separate Halloween night time park tickets, which were sold out on our dates by the time we learned. It was still tons of fun, after all, it IS Disneyland, and the October days were much less crowded and hot than the usual summer visits. All in all a huge win.

We were getting ready to go to Disneyland for Christmas this year, but with the new Star Wars Land opening next year, I think we’ll wait and go after it is up and running. I’ll fill in some more details soon, but for now, enjoy this pictures of some of the Halloween decorations around Disneyland Halloween last year.

Disneyland Halloween Nighttime Gate decoration Disneyland old town decorations halloween Disneyland halloween decorations giant mickey pumpkin head disneyland halloween time pole decoration Disneyland Halloween Arcade decoration

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How To Volunteer at Your Kid’s School

I volunteered at my child’s school a lot, and I spent two years on the PTO as well, but nothing gave me more insight into how school classes work than being a classroom assistant these last two years. Believe it or not, most teachers LOVE to have parents volunteering in the classroom, however, not all parents are willing to provide the KIND of help teachers really need. So, to make sure your visit to volunteer in your kid’s classroom is as valuable as can be, follow these tips.

Respond to Teacher Requests

Not all schools are the same, and neither are all classrooms. Some teachers would laugh hysterically at the idea of having “too many” volunteers, being lucky to get even one parent every so often. Others have to set up a schedule to avoid having too many parents in the room at once.

kids school learning classroom

For this reason, it is important to note, and comply with, and teacher requests on how to volunteer. In a school with heavy parent involvement, that might include signing up on an online form. In a school without such parental support, you may need to email the teacher so they know to expect help rather than plan everything out to not need anyone else.

The other reason to check with teacher requests is that volunteer needs can be pretty specific. Believe it or not, your child’s teacher can already do everything necessary in the classroom. That’s the job after all. But, there can be areas where a little help can go a long way.

Reading and math are two areas where help is useful in elementary school. Children at this age can vary widely in ability and speed. An extra adult who can take a small breakout group (advanced or slower) can be a huge asset. Same thing for hands on activities like experiments or building projects. On the other hand, a volunteer might not be as useful during a history video or discussion with the whole class.

Don’t Be Afraid

A lot of parents end up waiting to volunteer out of fear. Some worry about getting in the way, others worry that maybe they won’t be able to provide help.

Remember, a teacher is more than just a source of knowledge. They are also experts in managing a classroom and getting students what they need. They’ll know exactly how to use you. If they can’t, they’ll let you know how you can stay without disturbing things, if possible.

As for ability, if you have a child, then you already know how to talk with and act around kids. As far as knowledge goes, trust me, it comes back pretty fast, and the teacher won’t drop you into the middle of a history lesson on Jamestown (English colony…first permanent British settlement… sound familiar?).

Most help occurs during reading and math, and you totally know how to read, and you remember more math than you think. Remember third graders are still doing basic multiplication and division to start the year. Even fifth grade math come back quick with a little review. (You divide fractions by inverting one of them and then multiplying the tops and bottoms…)

Beware the Schedule

A school schedule is a complex system of moving parts. There’s nothing quite and disheartening as seeing an excited parent drop by class to find out that this is the time the kids are at specials, and then they go to snack recess, and then… Be sure you know that your volunteer time coincides with usable class time.

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The exception to this rule is if you are providing “paper help” like grading, filing, or copying. In that case, just make sure the teacher won’t be scarfing down their lunch during a precious few minutes, or in a planning session with other teachers. Don’t dismiss providing paper help. It’s these paperwork tasks that often bog down good teachers whose first priority is being in the classroom with your child, not making sure that Will gets his art project into his take home folder.

Not Just Your Kid

The biggest thing to remember is that volunteering in the classroom is a way to help the CLASS, not a way to hang out with your own child. Your own kiddo may, or may not, end up being directly with you, although some teachers will try and make that happen if they can.

Nothing makes a volunteer a detriment rather than an asset than a parent who just wants to sit by their own kid for fun. Volunteering is a great way to help your child’s class, and very rewarding, it shouldn’t be selfish.

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Books for Second, Third and Fourth Graders

Finding books for your kiddos to read is a tricky game between books that are too easy, and books they don’t want to read. Especially for those children who have hit that point where they can read pretty much whatever they want to, but not necessarily as fast as they want to. Forcing them into books they don’t want to read, or making them read books that are longer than their attention span is a recipe for making a kid who says he doesn’t like reading.

To that end, I’m going to start writing up some books and series that my kids have enjoyed during the transition between just learning to read, and full readers.

Tom Gates Books

First up is a series of books by L. Pichon. The Tom Gates books have plenty of pictures in the form of drawings, but they aren’t young readers type picture books. There are also plenty of words, lots of text, and a fun, kid based story.

The good news is that there are several of these books, so if your kiddo likes one of them, then you have “the next book” ready to go.


My third grader’s favorite of the series that he read so far is Tom Gates Excellent Excuses, but he has devoured every one of them that I have managed to get in front of him. There is an eight-book Tom Gates set on Amazon, if you just want to get them all in one go.

Other Elementary Series Books with Drawings Like This

These kinds of books with fun drawings that go along with the text are a great way to encourage reading. The read is fast, and the stories are fun. Children get used to having a “regular sized” book in their hands without feeling like it takes forever to finish. It’s a great way to start transitioning to other books, all without bogging them down, or resorting to books beneath tier reading level.

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Here are some other books like this that my own kids liked:

  • Stick Dog (and Stick Cat)
  • Dogman
  • 13-Story Treehouse (and the 26-Story Treehouse, and the 39-Story Treehouse…. you get the idea. – All the way to 91-Story Treehouse for Summer 2018).
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Pre-Order Amazon Book Price Guarantee

I have a third grader who is on the cusp of becoming a reader. I mean, he can already read. What I’m talking about, is becoming the kind of person who reads for fun, by choice. Building up that quality takes providing a steady stream of books your child wants to read.

It can be hard, because you have to force the start to many books that he doesn’t know he’ll like yet. And, then sometimes, you are wrong and the book you pressed your kiddo to read doesn’t turn out to be one they like. Too many strikes like that and you can end up doing the opposite of what you want, and make reading into a chore that they don’t want to do.

One solution is to get your kids hooked on books that are a part of a series, or trilogy. Probably the best one for young readers is the Magic Treehouse series. There are tons of those. By the time your reader gets through all of them, they’d be hooked on reading for life.

Unfortunately, for some reason, those books don’t seem to resonate with my kiddos.

Amazon Pre-Order Price Guarantee

Fortunately, many other children’s books are parts of on-going series. Unfortunately, if you hit your goal of creating a willing, and active reader, hitting the end of those series comes all too quickly.

So far, my reader has read through the end of several series, including the 13-Story Treehouse series, which has a new book in a 13-story interval every couple years.

26-Story Treehouse, 39-Story Treehouse, 52-Story Treehouse, 65-Story Treehouse, and coming next year 78-Story Treehouse, and so-on, so long as they keep making money.

He also is a big fan of the Dog Man series. So, when he finished both series we sat down and pre-ordered the next book in both series from Amazon so that he would have them right away when the came out. As an added bonus, the Dog Man one, called Dog Man and Cat Kid came out on December 26th, right when we need a little Christmas vacation reading!

Here is the really great part about pre-ordering from Amazon. First, they ship the book so that it arrives on the release date. In other words, we got it on the first day you can (officially) get it even if that meant that Amazon sent it out two days before the official release date.

The second cool part that I hadn’t really paid attention to is that Amazon has what they call a pre-order price guarantee. To encourage you to order the book right away (and from Amazon, of course) they don’t charge you right away. Instead, they wait and charge you when they ship the book. What’s more, is that the price they charge you is the lowest price that occurs between the day you pre-order, and the day it ships. In other words, there is no penalty for being eager and ordering right away. In fact, the earlier the order, the more likely you are to get the absolute lowest price.

Next up?

The Stick Dog series that seems to have captured his attention. The pictures are rudimentary stick drawings that break up the text, and give the illusion of not so many words per page while still having the entire story told in text. It’s brilliant really. He’s already read three of them, and there are a few left, but I get the feeling, that will be our next pre-order.



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Best Children’s Books for Young Kids

There are a lot of children’s books out there, but it can be tough to find the really great kids books.

For me, I don’t like the books that try too hard to be right on the nose with some lesson. Dinosaur Learns to Use The Potty, for example would be the kind of book that I’m not really interested in reading to my child. That doesn’t mean I don’t like books with good lessons and morals, but I think kids don’t respond well to children’s books that are too transparent.

The Best Kids Books for Young Children

  • Elephant and Piggie – Like it sounds, the Elephant and Piggie series of books starts two friends, an elephant, named Gerald and a pig named, well… Piggie. Each book is a ridiculous fun adventure that only occasionally ventures into that on-the-nose moral type of story, but even when it does, it’s fun and entertaining. Most of the time, there are silly adventures to be had. The books are by Mo Willems, who is the same guy who wrote another highly recommended set of childrens books that make great gifts, the Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus set of books.
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – The gimmick of this book is that you get to say “No!” to the book. Technically, you are saying no to the pigeon, but that isn’t important. What is fun about the book is the way the pigeon tries to talk you into letting him drive the bus, and even pouts when you keep telling him no. Of course, you don’t let him drive the bus, which has him sad, but the last page is a giant 18-wheeler pulling up and the pigeon goes, “Hey……” because he’d like to drive that now. Technically, this is a very young kiddo book, but older kids love the humor even when it’s beneath their reading level.
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