Choosing the Best Books for Your Pre-K Child

A well-chosen book for a preschool child will capture their imagination through text as well as illustrations.

Choose topics and themes that will be of interest to the child. It is also fun to introduce books that have new themes to help your child explore and expand their knowledge and interests.         

6 Tips for Choosing the Right Book for Your Preschooler

1. A well-chosen book will have engaging illustrations.

Look for colorful and fun illustrations that bring the story to life and engage your child’s imagination. The author Jan Brett hides clues to the story in her beautifully illustrated children’s books which adds another layer of fun and interest to her stories.

Books from Eric Carle and Ezra Jack Keats are also must-haves for the young child. Their stories are fun, and the illustrations are bright and colorful as well as being beautiful art. Talk about the illustrations with your child and maybe recreate some with your child.

2. A well-chosen book is worded well.

A well-chosen book is worded in a way that draws the reader in and makes them want to find out what happens next. There is a flow to the text, and it is clear and not confusing for the young child.

Some of the best children’s books use rhyme, repetition and humor to tell the story. A well-chosen book will also introduce new words and help to expand your child’s vocabulary.

3. A well-chosen book teaches.


A well-chosen book teaches your child something. Books that teach your child about the world around them. Look for books about seasons, animals, history, holidays and other lands.

Books are also a great way to address a behavior that your child may be exhibiting. Books like Hands Are Not for Hitting and the other books in the Martine Agassi, Ph. D. Best Behavior Series teach your child in a gentle and fun way.

4. A well-chosen book has a fun and great ending.

A well-chosen book has a wonderful ending where the problem is solve or there is a fun and unexpected turn at the end. If your child wants to hear it over and over again, you know you have selected a winner!

5. Don’t forget about classic children’s books.

Where The Wild Things Are | OLS SchoolLike a good navy blazer, classics never go out of style. Staples in your child’s library may include:

Also be sure to include books of fairytales and fables.

(NOTE: The above books – and so much more – are available at Words Bookstore in Maplewood. Shop local!)

6. Introducing chapter books

As your child’s attention span begins to expand, you may want to introduce chapter books. Bedtime is a wonderful time to read a chapter-a-night to your child. Childhood classics such as Peter Pan and Charlotte’s Web are two favorites.

Pass on the love of reading to your child


Reading to and with your child will nurture a life-long love of books. It is a great way to spend time with your child.

Whether it be an afternoon snuggled up with a pile of books, a day at the library or a bedtime story, READ, READ, READ!

Play-Based Learning: 7 Easy Things to Do at Home with Your Preschooler

Preschool play-based learning | OLS School

Play is the work of children!

In today’s fast-paced, high tech society, children have fewer and fewer opportunities to use and develop their creativity and imaginations. Play and play-based learning unlocks their creativity and develops their language, reading, thinking and problem solving skills.

Low-tech toys are age-appropriate for preschool children. Blocks, animals, building and connecting toys, vehicles, dolls, pretend food and ordinary household items are perfect for encouraging your child’s imagination.

Play-based learning is the foundation of our OLS Pre-K program, and there are many ways to incorporate these same ideas into your child’s daily routine at home as well.

Play-Based Learning for Preschoolers: 7 Easy Things to Do at Home

1. Make Patterns

Have your child sort Legos by color or make a pattern out of the different sizes and colors.

2. Create

Play-based learning is great for Preschoolers | OLS SchoolProvide a plastic container filled with large and small beads and pipe cleaners. Have your child string the beads to make bracelets for family members or even create creatures like snakes.

3. Organize

Ask your child to help you unload the dishwasher by sorting large forks and small forks, then large spoons and small spoons.

4. Matching

Let them match socks while you do laundry.

5. Experiment

Fill the kitchen sink with colored water and glitter. Let them pour water from container to container. Add ice cubes. What happens to them? Add a variety of objects. What will sink? What will float?

6. Collages / Art Projects

Play-based learning for Pre-K - Art Projects | OLS SchoolProvide your child with a basket filled with old magazines, paper, glue sticks, tape and child-safe scissors. Have them cut out things that are: hot, cold, red, green etc. and create a collage.

7. Kids’ Space

Allocate a Kids’ Cabinet in your kitchen and fill it with old pots and pans, wooden spoons and other kitchen items that will engage your child while you prepare dinner. Be sure to include your child in the meal preparation whenever possible.

Play-based learning is enjoyable for your preschooler and you. Look around your house and let your (and your child’s) imagination lead the way and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

6 Tips for a Successful Transition to Middle School

Learning in Middle School

Middle school is a big adjustment for both children and parents. Your child is going from the oldest class in primary school, to the bottom of the stack in middle school. It can seem as if overnight their level of personal responsibility has grown.

The caliber of work increases, and students are expected to do more on their own. Your child is going to be moving through a fast-paced schedule and will have to get used to all new teachers and teaching styles.

Middle school can be a big change from the “hand-holding” and familiarity of primary school.

As difficult as this transition can be, there are ways to make it easier.

Planning for Middle School

In middle school, organization and planning are keys to long-term success. With a proper structure in place, your child will be in the best position to succeed. Here are some helpful tips for getting your child ready for the transition to middle school…

6 Tips for a Successful Transition to Middle School (infographic)


(Hint: Click to enlarge. Enjoy!)

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program: Lessons I’ve Learned After 10 Years

Barbara McCarthy and her friends | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

Barbara McCarthy, School Library Media Specialist at OLS School, with her friends, Emmanuel and Dylan in Guatemala as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program.

In 2008, a friend of mine was invited to go to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program. She wanted to go but was nervous to travel on her own and she wanted a companion. I had often thought about volunteering with Habitat before, so this seemed like a great opportunity.

We went to Zacapa in Guatemala – dry, dusty, and hotter than you could believe, but it was a terrific experience and I’ve been hooked ever since. This coming March, I will embark on my 10th trip back to Guatemala.

Why do I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala every year?

Oscar and his puppies | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

Simple. The people. The Guatemalan people are so welcoming and friendly. I have been to the Usumatlán Colony in Zacapa five times – there are now over 100 Habitat houses in the community and I feel like I belong to five families there.

Each time we build, the families work alongside us (there is a 100-hour “sweat equity” requirement to get a Habitat home), and even though we are only there for a week, we spend 8 or 9 hours together each day and we grow really close.

Most of the families we work with have little or no English and I started off with no Spanish, but with smiles, hand-gestures and hugs, we make our feelings known.

Each year when we return, the families all come to greet us. They invite us to bring our lunch to their houses so they can show us the improvements they’ve made. They are so proud of their homes and take such good care of them. Little by little, they add flooring, tiles, appliances, and furniture – turning the bare concrete buildings into cozy homes.

Volunteering with friends and family

Friends and family make volunteering fun. | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

After my first year, I knew it was something I would continue to do for as long as possible. And each year, I try to bring someone new with me so they can discover the joy of volunteering with Habitat’s Global Village Program, too.

Over the years, I have brought many friends, my sons, my husband, 9 adult Our Lady of Sorrows parishioners, and 8 young OLS School alumni – most of whom have come more than once. Most volunteers find it a little overwhelming at first, but each of them has found the experience to be very rewarding, though some found the extreme heat to be tough.

Some of the areas we build in are very poor, and the children run around the building site barefoot or in flip-flops. Many children are very skinny, and their families are struggling. It really makes an impression.

After being there for the first time myself, I found that my desire for “stuff” really went down. I felt that there were much more important things in life and found myself being drawn to volunteer with other organizations too, just to feel like I was doing something worthwhile with my free time. But my favorite is definitely Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program.

The importance of fundraising

Many hands make light work. | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

I like to bring young people with us as I believe it’s an invaluable experience for them to see how the “other half” lives, but the cost can be prohibitive. Habitat for Humanity volunteers pay to go on these building trips. We are also required to make a “donation” towards the work of Habitat in the country we go to, usually the same amount as the cost.

For example, it costs us $800 each for in-country expenses and we have to donate another $800 to the Guatemalan affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. That, combined with the cost of flights, makes it quite expensive to attend, roughly $2,000 each. That is one of the reasons we fundraise to try to cover the donation portion of the trip.

Sometimes different families or companies sponsor us so we can reduce the cost for each member of the group. Last year, we secured a $10K donation from Benchmark Construction Inc., which allowed us to bring some college students for free – they just had to cover their flights. Each of them would like to return but will need help paying their expenses. Our next trip to Guatemala is booked from March 10-18, 2018 and we hope to raise another $10K so we can bring some more college students with us.

8 lessons I’ve learned from my volunteer trips to Guatemala

Barbara and friends | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

1. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Making the decision to go on my first Habitat build was one of the best and most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. Try it – you won’t regret it.

2. A smile is worth a thousand words.

The first woman I built for had no English and I had no Spanish, but her smile told us everything she wanted to say, and her hugs were so tight that her emotions came through clearly.

3. No job is too small or unimportant.

Teamwork | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village ProgramThere are a variety of tasks available. It may seem that laying the block is the most important, but tying rebar, cutting wire, sifting sand, or mixing concrete is just as important. Each task contributes to the house, and without any one of them, the house would not be as sturdy/safe.

4. Don’t be embarrassed to speak the language – even if you’re not good at it.

Your effort will be appreciated, no matter how poor your grammar is! Even if you just start with por favor and gracias, that will be fine.

5. We don’t need power tools to build a house.

Mixing concrete | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village ProgramIn Guatemala, all the work is done by hand. We even learn how to split cinder blocks with a machete!

6. Be adventurous!

You may come across foods you’ve never eaten before and that look weird, or activities you’ve never tried. You may love them or hate them – but first you’ve got to try them.

7. Everything is valuable.

Working together | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village ProgramI’ve seen masons pull nails out of scaffold, hammer them straight, and use them again, whereas in the U.S., we would just discard them as useless.

8. Put yourself out there.

You may be nervous or apprehensive, but remember, everyone else probably feels the same way. Smile, extend your hand, and say hola!

Interested in helping out with our next trip to Guatemala?

If you would like to donate, or if you would like to volunteer with us in Guatemala – we would greatly appreciate your help. Our goal this year is to raise $10,000, and we can use all the help we can get.

Please visit our Habitat for Humanity – Zacapa 2018 webpage for more details. Thanks!

Barbara and the team | OLS School - Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program

Barbara and the rest of the Guatemala Habitat for Humanity Global Village team.