Fun Halloween Stories

It’s nearly Halloween! My five-year-old loves hearing spooky stories—just not too spooky. I thought I’d share some of our favorites.

For the youngest readers, Here Comes Halloween (paid link) is not scary at all; it’s about dressing up in costumes.

Two of my five-year-old’s favorites are Five Little Pumpkins and Five Black Cats (paid links). The stories are fun to chant in rhyme. “The second one said, ‘There are witches in the air!'”

Goodnight Goon (paid link) is a funny spoof of Goodnight Moon. “Goodnight claws and goodnight jaws. . .”

Although it’s only superficially about Halloween, Room on the Broom (paid link) is a standout. Julia Donaldson is a gifted author of children’s books, and Axel Scheffler adds colorful and fun illustrations. The story begins, “The witch had a cat and a hat that was black, and long ginger hair in a braid down her back.” The story is about making friends and coming to your friends’ aid.

When I was a child I loved listening to the Disney recording of Haunted Mansion (paid link). Featuring the voice of Ron Howard, the story follows a couple who enter a spooky mansion during a rain storm only to find themselves on a ghostly tour. It’s a little scary, but the ghosts expressly don’t hurt people. You can listen to the recording through Amazon prime or purchase the mp3 or CD (if you get the disk check around for the best price). Listening to the story with my child brought back many of my own childhood holiday memories.

Why Interest Matters

Children and adults tend to learn about things that interest them. How does interest work? What can parents and teachers do to foster a child’s interest in a given subject? Should adults seek to foster such interest, and, if so, how and when should they do so? These are some of the important questions addressed in a recent podcast discussion between “Schooled” host and education professor Kevin Currie-Knight (whom I’ve interviewed) and and psychologist K. Ann Renninger.

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A Simple Dice Game for Adding and Subtracting

The dice game Yatzee is great for older children to work on sums. But what about younger children? Yahtze is just too complicated for those just starting out with math. I toyed with the idea of modifying Yahtzee for younger children but came up blank. But then I hit upon a simple two-dice game that my five-year-old has enjoyed.

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Skepticism about Learning Styles

How much should we tailor a child’s instruction to the child’s preferred learning “style”? I was surprised when someone I know from the field of education, Kevin Currie-Knight, suggested that learning styles aren’t too meaningful. Currie-Knight suggested a couple of starter articles: “Learning Styles as a Myth” from Yale’s Poorvu Center and “The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’” by Olga Khazan. (See also my podcasts with Currie-Knight.)

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How to Nurture Young Readers

Reading books opens a world of knowledge, inspiration, and moral guideposts. But learning to read is hard, and reading seldom offers the immediate and continual dopamine rewards that various sorts of screen time promise. What can parents do to help their children develop the cognitive skills to read as well as a love of reading?

Lindsay Journo and Cornelia Lockitch offer an excellent introduction to the topic in their newly released talk (actually recorded last year), “Nurturing the Reader in Every Child.”

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Magformers Promote Spacial Reasoning

My kid loves Magformers, plastic shapes with magnets embedded. He plays with them as toys; I appreciate them because they promote spacial reasoning. You can build squares into cubes, triangles into pyramids, and combined shapes into many complex 3D figures.

They are a bit expensive. I got lucky and bought multiple sets from a family off of CraigsList. One of the sets we got has specialized shapes for building dinosaurs. My son enjoys building the dinosaurs but I don’t consider those packs essential. (Magformers offers many other sorts of packs that can get quite expensive.) If I were going to buy sets new, I’d go with a basic starter pack plus perhaps a gear pack (paid links).

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Perler Beads Offer an Inexpensive Way to Visualize Large Numbers

As adults, digit placement is second nature: ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. It’s easy to forget that the way we now use numbers was an important cultural invention. And it’s easy to forget how hard it was to learn digits as a child. One of my biggest surprises as a homeschooling dad of a kindergarten-age child has been seeing what a conceptual leap it is to grasp digit placement. It helps enormously for kids to see visually what we’re talking about.

Of course it’s easy to make groupings of ten coins or whatever. I’ve used wooden cube blocks to illustrate two-digit numbers. But doing ten stacks of ten, and then ten stacks of a hundred, can be a challenge. That’s where Perler beads and pegboards (paid links) come in. You can get a large set for around thirty bucks and then iron together sets of ten and a hundred. (Or you can save some effort and spend over a hundred bucks on Montessori “golden beads” (paid link) if you prefer. There’s also a lower-cost foam option (paid link).) You can also do art projects with the Perler beads if you’re so inclined.

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A Pocket LED Microscope Is an Amazing Learning Tool

The Carson LED pocket microscope is, for the money (less than $14), the single-best science tool I’ve purchased (available on Amazon—paid link). After using a clunky old microscope with a mirror, the new microscope is a dream. I popped in a AA battery to power the light and immediately got great results. It “only” offers 120x magnification, but for kid use it’s perfect. Plus it’s cheap enough that I won’t worry about it getting broken, so it will be great for backyard and camping use.

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Brain Quest Workbooks Make Great Supplements

If you’re looking for ridiculously cheap supplementary materials for your home preK–6 curriculum, check out the Brain Quest workbooks. Honestly I don’t know how they sell these lengthy (some over 300 pages), full-color (and printed in the U.S.) workbooks so cheaply—obviously mass printings help. And my five-year-old enjoys working in them. If you use these at all, for the money, you can’t possibly go wrong.

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