I'll admit it. I was struggling in the afternoons. Our mornings are fairly structured. Time goes quickly. We get a lot done. Circle time, word wall games, math, Scholastic News, and our reading program fill the morning. Then, about 4 hours after we started, we are all ready for a significant break.
I let the kids watch some tv while I prepare lunch. Then I let them eat lunch in front of the tv while I have some quiet time. I know it isn't perfect, but I'm human and an introvert and my sanity is important too. So we all have a mid-day break and I do use the television to make that happen. The problem was that I was having trouble finding the motivation to pull us all back together afterwards. I found excuses to delay... and delay... and delay. Then I had an ephiphany. I realized that we needed something truly fun to pull us all back together - something that made me glad to leave my little bit of solitude and something that made the children excited about turning off the television.
So now I read to the children in the afternoons. It's not a lesson. Michael isn't reading or taking turns reading. They simply get to listen to me read. I'm not feeling rushed like I often feel during the reading time that is part of our bedtime routine. If we're all enjoying it we can just keep reading. We often read for 60-90 minutes in the afternoon and we all love it. Michael calls it "Super Reading Time".
One of the purchases I indulged in with my first Scholastic Reading Club order was a Magic Tree House book set. We now are the proud owners of books 1-45. (If you want the full set, the best price per book by far is from the Scholastic Reading clubs. Any library should have these books too.) The main characters are an older brother and a younger sister who are only a year apart - just like my two. The older boy is conservative and loves books and knowledge. The younger girl is imaginative and adventurous and loves animals. I think part of the reason the children love the books so much is because they identify with Jack and Annie. Michael has even started using some of the phrases that Jack frequently uses in the books. I'm not super fond of the phrase, "Is she nuts?" but hearing him imitate Jack is pretty cute.
The stories are about two children who discover a magic tree house in the woods near their house. The tree house is filled with books. When they point to a picture in the book and wish to travel there the tree house takes them to the location (and time) of the picture in the book. So far, there are story arcs that bridge several books. In each of the first four books they discover a clue about the owner of the tree house and they meet her at the end of the fourth book. At the beginning of the fifth book they discover that the tree house's owner has a spell cast on her and they have to collect four things to break the spell. They collect those four things over the course of their adventures in the next four books and then rescue her at the end of the eighth book. We've just started it, but the story arc for books 9-12 appears to be Jack and Annie answering four riddles in order to pass the test to become "Master Librarians". The children enjoy the individual stories, but they also very much enjoy the story arcs as well and definitely keep track of the progress Jack and Annie are making towards the larger goal.
Each book is 10 chapters. In each story they travel to a new location in time or space and there is a lot of science and social studies content embedded in the books. That is a great bonus while homeschooling. We read half a book (5 chapters) each day so it takes us two days to read each book. Many of the books also have a nonfiction companion book. So, for example, the fictional story "Mummies in the Morning" has a nonfiction companion book "Mummies and Pyramids". The nonfiction books are fairly dense with a great deal of interesting information. They are written from the perspective of Jack and Annie with the story being that when they got back from Ancient Egypt they wanted to know more about it. So they went to the library, learned more about it, and wrote this book to share the information with other children. I tried the Fact Trackers on a whim. I was almost positive the reading level would just be too high for my 4 and 5 year old, but they seem to like them. So each day we read 5 chapters of the next Magic Tree house book, and then a couple chapters of a Fact Tracker book about one of the fictional books we've already read. So far we've done "Knights and Castles" and most of "Mummies and Pyramids."
Another great thing about reading this book as a series is the Magic Tree House companion website. There you can print out a passport. Each time you finish a book you can earn a passport stamp by answering three questions about the story. My children LOVE this. You can also earn passports for the Fact Tracker nonfiction companion books. The site also has a game where you can complete missions by answering questions about four different books (earning a clue for each answer) and then solving a puzzle at the end. You earn a medallion for each successfully completed mission. This part of the website fascinates my children and I would love to let them do it. Unfortunately, the missions seem to choose randomly between ALL the books. If they would limit it to just books the children have already read (ones they've earned passport stamps for) then you would be able to play the mission game and begin to earn medallions no matter how many of the books you've read. As it is, we can't really play that game at all.
"Super reading" and the Magic Tree House books have completely transformed our afternoons. Now we all look forward to the time after lunch and we come back together for some snuggly reading time on the sofa together. It has become a really special time of our homeschooling day.