Living Books: Margaret Davidson Biographies

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Middle elementary readers love Margaret Davidson biographies. 

These engaging, short chapter books enable young readers to devour a book in a day (or a few), offering a sense of accomplishment and the personal satisfaction of "I did it!" 

Margaret Davidson pens the stories of world changers; real people (and in some cases animals) solving real problems. As a child, Margaret was an eager reader. Her love for story shines through her work. Her biographies include:

Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Davidson and Robert Shore 

Balto: The Dog Who Saved Nome, Margaret Davidson and Cathie Bleck 

Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom, Margaret Davidson

Helen Keller, Margaret Davidson and Wendy Watson 

Helen Keller's Teacher, Margaret Davidson and Wayne Blickenstaff 

I Have A Dream: The Story of Martin Luther King, Margaret Davidson

Louis Braille: The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind, Margaret Davidson and Janet Compere 

My Lords Richard, Margaret Davidson

The Adventures of George Washington, Margaret Davidson

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell: Inventor of the Telephone, Margaret Davidson and Stephen Marchesi (Illustrator)

The Story of Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American, Margaret Davidson and John Speirs (Illustrator)

The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Davidson

The Golda Meir Story, Margaret Davidson

The Story of Jackie Robinson: Bravest Man in Baseball, Margaret Davidson

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison, Inventor: The Wizard of Menlo Park, Margaret Davidson

Unlike many older biographies, some libraries are keeping Margaret Davidson treasures on the shelves, making them readily available--at least for now! Check out your library. Maybe you will find one of these gems living on the shelves. If so, borrow it!

And, perhaps your family will be like ours. We've had several learners move quickly through these reads. They're well loved. Hence, this is one series we keep collecting for our home library. If your learners grow to love her work, consider adding them to the bucket list for your home library--the library that grows with your children.


Cheryl will be presenting Growing a Home Library on Saturday, December 1 from 10am to Noon.  The morning will be packed with practical helps and lots of book suggestions. Save the date on your calendar and watch the Celebrate Simple Facebook page for more details, coming soon! 

 Looking for more posts about Living Books? Younger readers may appreciate   Discovery   biographies (WIN-WIN for combining language arts and history) while older children may want to dig into   an independent study  . Parents home educating in the high school years may find   this   post helpful. 

Looking for more posts about Living Books? Younger readers may appreciate Discovery biographies (WIN-WIN for combining language arts and history) while older children may want to dig into an independent study. Parents home educating in the high school years may find this post helpful. 

 

 

Homeschooling Resources for Every Season of Learning

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Some of the questions I field most frequently involve inquiries about homeschooling and educational resources--the go-tos for the how-tos and what-ifs. Resources can be helpful as we all need boosts of encouragement and fresh ideas for the home education journey.  

When asked, I recommend the resources I've found most beneficial to us in the shifting seasons of our 25 years of homeschooling. Walking alongside a family, I try to offer recommendations which most closely address that family's unique questions and circumstances. Who has time to read through material which isn't applicable? We don't! We are a community of families with full days and many blessings.  

To that end, I compiled this blog of resources into categories. As you read through the list, you'll notice many of the selections incorporate multiple ages or facets of home education. Therefore, recommendations which are broad or could incorporate many seasons are listed in each potentially applicable stage. I hope you find this format beneficial. If you have additional questions, ask in the comments or connect with me via email. 

New to Homeschooling

Homeschooling for Excellence: How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education and Why You Absolutely Must, David and Micki Colfax (Warner, 1988) - one of the first books I read about the possibility and potential of homeschooling; helped me to see education outside the box

Home School Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, Christopher Klicka (B&H, 2006) historical account (with data) of homeschooling in America

Teaching Children: A Curriculum Guide to What Children Need to Know at Each Level through Sixth Grade, Diane Lopez (Crossway, 1988) - my FAVORITE scope and sequence K-6; one of the resources I most recommend at evaluations when parents ask for this type of guidance

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Sarah Mackenzie (Classical Academic Press, 2015)

The Busy Homeschool Mom's Guide to Daylight: Managing Your Days through the Homeschool Years, Heidi St. John (Real Life Press, 2012)

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner (Scribner, 2015) - another highlighted and dog-eared FAV of ours; highly recommend and often carry in our convention booth resources

Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Scribner, 2015) - philosophy of education and testing; opened my eyes to the myths I believed

Beyond Survival: A Guide to Abundant-Life Homeschooling, Diana Waring (Emerald Books, 1996) 

The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on Homeschooling, Durenda Wilson (CreateSpace, 2016) - one of my ALL TIME FAVS; fits nicely in a diaper bag for quick reads; highly recommend

Preschool Homeschooling

Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony (David C. Cook, 2010) - parenting with implications for home education; reading this book was confirmation of what Mike and I always believed about parenting and learning

The Three R's: Grades K-3, Ruth Beechick (Mott Media, 2006) - a definite TREASURE in our home

The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell (Moody, 1997) - love languages with parenting, learning, and teaching applications

Home Grown Kids: A Practical Handbook for Teaching Your Children at Home, Raymond and Dorothy Moore (Hewitt Research Foundation, 1981) - one of my all-time FAVORITES; read and reread many times over

The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on Homeschooling, Durenda Wilson (CreateSpace, 2016) - one of my ALL TIME FAVS; highly recommend 

Elementary Homeschooling

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully:Grades 4-8, Ruth Beechick (MDC Publishing, 1999)-one of my FAVORITE go-tos for how-tos in late elementary and middle school; empowering

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, Debra Bell (Apologia Press, 2009)

Different: The Story of An Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally and Nathan Clarkson (Tyndale, 2016) - a comfort for parents of children with learning challenges

Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults, Tim Elmore (2012, Jossey-Bass) - another one of FAVS; read and reread, dog-eared and highlighted

Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Your Child's Learning Problems, Jane M. Healy (Simon and Schuster, 2011)

Teaching Children: A Curriculum Guide to What Children Need to Know at Each Level through Sixth Grade, Diane Lopez (Crossway, 1988) - my FAVORITE scope and sequence K-6

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner (Scribner, 2015) - another highlighted and dog-eared FAV of ours; highly recommend and often carry in our convention booth resources

The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on Homeschooling, Durenda Wilson (CreateSpace, 2016) - one of my ALL TIME FAVS; highly recommend

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Middle School Homeschooling

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully:Grades 4-8, Ruth Beechick (MDC Publishing, 1999)-one of my FAVORITE go-tos for how-tos in late elementary and middle school; empowering

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey (Franklin Covey Co., 1988) - our teens appreciated this book, too 

Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults, Tim Elmore (Jossey-Bass, 2012) - another one of FAVS; read and reread, dog-eared and highlighted

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner (Scribner, 2015) - another highlighted FAV of ours; highly recommend

High School Homeschooling

Celebrate High School, Cheryl Bastian (Zoe Learning Essentials, 2015)

Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (Gallop, 2001)

And What about College? : How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions at the Best Colleges and Universities, Cafi Cohen (Holt Associates, 2000) one of the first workshops I attended about high school and one of the first resources I read

Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook: Preparing Your 12- to 18-Year-Old for a Smooth Transition, Cafi Cohen (Three Rivers Press, 2000) - another one of my first high school reads

Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults, Tim Elmore (Jossey-Bass, 2012) - another one of FAVS; read and reread, dog-eared and highlighted

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner (Scribner, 2015) - another all-time FAV of ours; highly recommend

Learning Differences 

When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder, Terri Bellis (Atria, 2003) - this resource became invaluable in my parent education

Different: The Story of An Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally and Nathan Clarkson (Tyndale, 2016) - a comfort for parents of children with learning challenges

Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Your Child's Learning Problems, Jane M. Healy (Simon and Schuster, 2011)

Picture and Living Book Guides

Who Should We Then Read?, Jan Bloom (Jan Bloom, 2000) - volume 1 and 2 are two of my FAVORITE go-to's for Living Books; LOVE author and series information provided in this one-of-a-kind resource

Read for the Heart, Sarah Clarkson (Apologia Educational Ministries, 2009) - annotated and helpful for selecting just the right read

Honey for a Child's Heart, Gladys Hunt (Zondervan, 2002) - one of the first books I read about reading

Give Your Child the World, Jamie C. Martin (Zondervan, 2016) - listed by geographical location with helpful info about the content of each book

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best in Children's Literature (Revised Edition), Elizabeth Wilson (Crossway, 2002)

Do you have a resource you recommend? Share in the comments so others can be encouraged!

 

What is a Picture Book?

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A picture book is a work which combines literary eloquence with artistic merit--words and illustrations--working together to tell a story. Generally, picture books are written with 200-800 words (depending on the age of the targeted audience) on 28-32 pages. Historically, picture books have been written to the preschool through mid-elementary audience, yet these masterfully crafted gems speak to the hearts of readers of all ages. 

Wordless picture books. A wordless picture book is just that, a book without words. The illustrations alone tell the story, unless, of course, the person holding the book chooses to imagine and craft the text. One of the Bastian's favorite wordless picture books is Jerry Pinkney's extraordinary The Lion and the Mouse, a retelling of Aesop's classic tale. This treasure won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for its illustrative excellence. 

If your younger readers enjoy visual storytelling or prefer to create their own storylines based on provided illustrations, these wordless picture books may add some spark to your morning read-aloud time. 

  • Briggs, Raymond, The Snowman
  • Spier, Peter, Noah's Ark
  • Spier, Peter, Rain

Concept picture books. Little learners devour information, especially if content is presented with a twist of fun or catchy repetitive phrases and rhythmic rhyme. With this engaging, low-stress presentation, picture books can teach age-appropriate concepts (colors, numbers, opposites, and letters) to eager, curious littles. 

Children ages 2-8 enjoy learning concepts through topics of interest, for example, cowboys, insects, or construction vehicles. Concept picture books make this possible and do so through relaxing moments with resources which foster both early learning and literacy.

  • Alakija, Polly, Counting Chickens

  • Carle, Eric, 10 Rubber Ducks

  • Demarest, Chris, The Cowboy ABC

  • Demarest, Chris, Firefighter A to Z

  • Emberley, Barbara, Drummer Hoff

  • Krull, Kathleen, M is for Music

  • Laroche, Giles, If You Lived Here: Houses of the World

  • McMillan, Bruce, Jelly Beans for Sale

  • Pallotta, Jerry, The Icky Bug Alphabet Book

  • Schnur, Steven, Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic

  • Wadsworth, Olive A., Over in the Meadow: A Counting Rhyme

Traditional picture books. I remember the librarian reading Blueberries for Sal as I sat imagining the smell of fresh muffins cooling in the kitchen. Through the unfolding plot of the the book, I could feel the fear Sal felt as she wandered off in the field and could no longer see her mom. Sal became my friend. I hoped she would find her mom, cheered her on as she met a mama bear. This is just one of the classics I associate with read-aloud time and school library visits. As a young mom, I couldn't wait to introduce my children to my literary pal, Sal.

Traditional picture books invite readers into the story, into the lives of the characters. While reading, listeners develop empathy and understanding of others' feelings and circumstances, almost without knowing the transformation is taking place. For this reason, picture books become a child's first experience with the power of story. Together as a family, we've jumped into the plots of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Should you be a time and life season where you are building your home library, here are some must-have picture books to brighten up your shelves. 

  • Ackerman, Karen, Song and Dance Man

  • Brett, Jan, Town Mouse and Country Mouse

  • Brown, Marcia, Stone Soup

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Katy and the Big Snow

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, The Little House

  • Cooney, Barbara, Miss Rumphius

  • Estes, Eleanor, The Hundred Dresses

  • Galdone, Paul, The Gingerbread Boy

  • Gramatky, Hardie, Little Toot

  • Hoban, Russell and Lillian, Bread and Jam for Frances

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, The Snowy Day

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, Whistle for Willie

  • Krauss, Ruth, The Carrot Seed

  • LaMarche, Jim, The Raft

  • McCloskey, Robert, Lentil

  • Newberry, Clare Turlay, Barkis

  • Swift, Hildegarde, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge

  • Ward, Helen, Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables

  • Ward, Lynd, The Biggest Bear

  • Yolan, Jane, Owl Moon

Biographical picture books. Our older picture book readers (which includes mom!) enjoy reading about real people who solve real problems. With biographical picture books, young readers don't have to wait until they can read chapter books to read about and meet some of the world's most significant history changers. Our favorites have included

  • Dooling, Michael, Young Thomas Edison

  • Moses, Will, Mary and Her Little Lamb

  • Martin, Jacqueline Briggs, Snowflake Bentley

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Every child ought to know the pleasure of words so well chosen that they awaken sensibility, great emotions, and understanding of truth.
— Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart, Zondervan, 2002, p. 18

What is a picture book?

A picture book invites readers into learning and into the stories of others, gently, peacefully, and purposefully. There will be pondering. There will be wonder. There will heart-changing impact, sometimes so subtly it will go unnoticed for a bit of time. 

Some of our most treasured family read-aloud moments and discussions have come from the pages we've turned together. With each book selected, read, placed on our shelves, and the read again, a legacy formed. That legacy is sweet, precious, unique to our family, as it will be yours. That story legacy is a gift, a gift which will continue to span generations. It is just one benefit of keeping learning real and relational. 

Every. Moment. Matters. 

I recently presented Picture Book Treasures at the 2018 FPEA Convention. If you would like more information on picture books and building a home library, the MP3 can be purchased in the FPEA store

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When Curriculum Looks Different

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People often ask what we use for curriculum.

The short answer? We use anything which will help our children learn what it is they are trying to learn. And, if it involves real life, even better.

Sometimes our curriculum looks traditional, like a math textbook.

Other times our curriculum is a stack of Living Books.

A few months ago, my middle schooler initiated a flower bed renovation project. She wanted a flower garden to call her own, a place she could eventually grow cut flowers. A few visits to the clearance section of the local garden shop and she had rescued several very nice—but wilting—flowers (aka curriculum). With a little research in a field guide and a how-to online tutorial (more curriculum), the plants were thriving.

Today we added a few more resources to the curriculum—a collection of solar garden lights. Before placing them in the bed, we experimented with them in a dark room. So fun! The littlest learners were enthralled!

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“Flashlights without batteries!” one shouted.

Curriculum incorporates all that a learner uses to learn the content of a specific subject. Though we are often tempted to stay within the means of what we know or have experienced as curriculum, in real-life the definition of curriculum broadens to include any materials used to foster a student’s understanding.

The possibilities are endless.

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Consider broadening your sense of what curriculum includes. Maybe it’s

When learning is real, relational and intentional it's remembered! 

Every. Moment. Matters.

REAL-LIFE Spelling

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I had a hard time spelling when I was a child. It was hard. Red marks plagued my weekly tests. 

Though I understand the reasoning behind word families and traditional methods--I learned the pedagogy as an educator--I've been reminded that theory and practice are not always instant friends. Like any teaching means or method, nothing works for every child. 

It didn't work for me. It hasn't worked for all my children. 

Several of my children and I learned to spell by seeing correctly spelled words--and using the correctly spelled words in written context--over and over.

In other words,

repetition in real-life context returned the greatest retention. 

Perhaps you have a child who learns best by experiencing the written word in real life, in context in the environment.This post is for YOU! 

Yesterday as I prepared to visit the grocery store, a young learner asked to make my shopping list. I accepted the offer. She made the list and later spelled a few several times in her spelling book. The list provided access and practice to high-frequency (used often), real-life words, words which would be used over and over in her lifetime. The result? Spelling for the day. And, it mattered. 

Learning wasn't just a list, it was life! 

Today my daughter asked for more grocery words. I stopped what I was doing and quickly looked for a grocery ad to help us develop a list of words she thought were important. Her perception of what words mattered or would be helpful to her later in life fueled her desire to learn. Ultimately, she realized the words would one day help her make lists for shopping visits and the correct spelling would be important. She had taken ownership of her learning. 

A desire to help + real-life need = learning with purpose

Grocery words may not interest your child. Instead, words of interest may be might be tied to simple machines, clothing, computers, or art. Start with an interest to discover learning with purpose. 

If food words are of interest to your learner, here's a leveled list we created. 

Grocery spelling for beginning spellers

  • pie
  • tea
  • bag
  • pea
  • ham
  • nuts
  • can
  • corn
  • apple
  • fish
  • leek
  • beef
  • beet
  • salt
  • ice
  • rice
  • pork
  • meat
  • milk
  • beans
  • pita
  • cake
  • roll
  • egg
  • oil
  • dip

Grocery spelling for intermediate spellers

  • blueberry
  • strawberry
  • banana
  • pumpkin
  • ketchup
  • sushi
  • fruit
  • water
  • yogurt
  • celery
  • peanut
  • dairy
  • butter
  • cream
  • juice
  • sauce
  • pasta
  • grain
  • cereal
  • olive
  • carrot
  • apple
  • squash
  • grapes
  • orange
  • juice
  • lemon
  • pepper
  • coffee
  • muffin
  • cookie
  • cheese
  • bacon
  • steak
  • roast
  • mango
  • salad
  • lettuce
  • crackers
  • onion
  • pudding
  • pizza
  • biscuit
  • turkey
  • chicken
  • lentil

Grocery spelling for advanced spellers

  • fillet
  • burrito
  • lasagna
  • mushroom
  • cucumber
  • pierogi
  • detergent
  • charcoal
  • sandwich
  • pastry
  • salami
  • cheesecake
  • mozzarella
  • grapefruit
  • asparagus
  • raspberry, raspberries
  • avocado
  • pineapple
  • potato, potatoes
  • tomato, potatoes
  • broccoli
  • sausage
  • salmon
  • tilapia
  • shrimp
  • tenderloin
  • margarine
  • edamame
  • vegetables
  • batteries
  • sirloin
  • bakery
  • expresso
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Extended Learning

  • Use a weekly grocery ad to make a list of foods needed for three meals a day, for seven days. 
  • Write words on index cards. Choose ten of greatest interest and copy those on a white or chalkboard, twice a day. Younger learners may enjoy writing the words with chalk on the driveway or with a finger in a sand tray. 
  • Make a word search. There are word search generators online. 
  • Play grocery Scrabble. Only food or grocery words are eligible for play and the weekly grocery ad may be used during play. 
  • Take a behind the scenes tour of your local grocery store. 
  • Take a factory tour of a milk product processing plant near you. Our local grocery store has a processing plant an hour and a half from our home. It is amazing! 
  • Visit a U-Pick farm. 

Read Grocery-Related Picture and Non-Fiction Books

Hearing grocery-related words spoken and used in context--builds knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure as well as provides a means by which math, science, and history content can be gained in a relaxed setting. Hearing content in context often keeps curiosity engaged and wonder active. 

  • Milk: From Cow to Carton, Aliki
  • From Milk to Cheese, Roberta Basel
  • From Tomato to Ketchup, Roberta Basel
  • Eating the Alphabet, Lois Ehlert
  • Growing Vegetable Soup, Lois Ehlert
  • The Fruits We Eat, Gail Gibbons
  • The Milk Makers, Gail Gibbons
  • The Vegetables We Eat, Gail Gibbons
  • From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons
  • Bread and Jam for Frances, Russell Hoban
  • Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey
  • The Vegetable Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta 
  • Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

If the interest in everyday food words grows to an interest in farming, check out this post on our favorite farm books

Spelling can be real, relational, and intentional.

It matters! 

Field Trip Learning with Multiple Ages

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Dad's first day of Spring Break invited us all--six learners ages 2-20 and two parents--into an educational extravaganza. We visited the Lego exhibit at Leu Gardens. 

Learning surrounds us. It's part of life. Gathered around the kitchen table working math problems, we often forget the rich learning which takes place when we venture out, walk through life together and learn.

Last Friday,  as we marveled at Lego creations and smelled Sweet Alyssum, I remembered how much littles (and bigs) need field trips, time out and about to learn together.

While on our Lego garden adventure, 

  • the youngest learners instinctively balanced on the curbs and looked for rabbits. We didn't stop to run or roll down the hills, though it would have benefited their vestibular development. On another visit, we will definitely leave time to run and roll! 
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  • the elementary learners compared the number of bricks in each sculpture. This allowed for practical comparison of place value and oral practice of reading and saying numbers over ten thousand. 
  • the learners, together, marveled at the patterns in the Lego sculptures. While we oohed and ahhed, we deepened our appreciation for one another and the things each considers beautiful. 
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  • the learners worked together to navigate the map to find the places they wanted to visit. When they had a question, we encouraged them to consult an older sibling. While navigating, heading to the north forest, we heard owls hooting above our heads. We stopped, looked in between branches and gazed at these magnificent birds. We watched as two owls called out their territory and then had a brief altercation with their talons right above our heads! The youngest learners asked great questions as their curiosity was sparked. I am glad we took time to look up! 
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  • the middle schooler with a current interest in horticulture, stopped to read signage which explained foliage. She took pictures of plants she wanted to incorporate into our yard. 
  • the high schooler and college student enjoyed taking pictures of the amazing blooms, chatting about life as they walked along. I loved watching them spend time together and marveling at the wonder their siblings were taking in. 

While visiting the gardens, I was also reminded me that children often tell us what they need. The key is listening (and not having an agenda--ouch!). After walking about an hour, the littlest--map still in hand and spying a nice shady hill--interjected her thoughts,

"I think we need a picnic!"

She articulated her need to stop, sit, and enjoy a snack. Honestly, we all benefited from the refreshing break. Snacks eaten, we headed out for the second part of the self-guided tour. 

After walking and enjoying the outdoors for three hours, we headed to the car. The youngest cried. We instantly thought, "She's ready to go home!" Instead, when I asked about her sadness she said, "I didn't see any rabbits!" Dad decided we should stop at the library on the way home and check out some rabbit books. Tears disappeared and a smile returned to her face. 

A stop at the library was a perfect way to close out our day together. 

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What learning adventures await your family today? Maybe nature walks? Maybe puddles? Perhaps something which will come about spontaneously.

Whatever that learning adventure is, may it be one which is memorable for your family. 

Every. Moment. Matters!  

Portfolio Possibilities: What to Include

To keep track of the volumes of work samples for four learners, I am trying something new this year. Well, it isn't really new. I tried it before, but unsuccessfully. 

I decided to give it another try. 

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Different season. It's working...so far! 

In our state, statute requires parents to keep work samples for their children. With four learners, the pile of completed work on my kitchen table grows daily. Books read. Papers completed. Field trip brochures.

If I don't tame the pile, it can get the best of me. 

This year, I am keeping my log of activities (another statutory requirement for our state) on the kitchen table where I can log conveniently. After logging, I place the samples in a plastic tote. Then, sometime over Christmas break, we will have a family sorting party. Each child will receive a binder for their samples. I pass out plastic sleeves for odd-shaped treasures. At the end of the sorting party, each child's portfolio begins to take shape. To lessen the stress, second semester work is placed directly in the binder after it's been logged. The end result will be a portfolio ready for our annual evaluation. 

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What is a sample? 

Samples. Every family interprets the meaning of samples differently. In 24 years of doing home education annual evaluations for other families, we've seen the full range of freedom in terms of samples. One family will bring 5 work samples for each subject while another family brings every.single.paper for every.single.subject. That's the freedom of the law. Parents decide what is needed for their family.

Sample examples. Traditional math lessons come to mind for many. It is what we remember from our school days. Yet, when considering other subjects in light of the variety of educational philosophies held by parents, the possibilities for samples grows. For families with a Charlotte Mason philosophy, there will be book lists and sketches, maybe a nature journal. For traditional textbook families, there will be notebooks of answers and solutions and lists of spelling practice. And those who learn on the road? They may have photos and travel brochures to attest to their learning highlights. 

Over the years, parents we've evaluated saved: 

  • math lessons and scratch work
  • writing or poetry samples
  • journal
  • research papers
  • article critiques
  • reading lists
  • magazine subscription listing
  • book reports or summaries
  • primary source document listing
  • documentary listing
  • lab reports
  • dissection reports and sketches
  • nature notebook
  • sketches
  • theater tickets 
  • movie reviews
  • photography
  • video clips
  • graphic arts samples
  • sports stats
  • sports videos
  • recipes
  • URLs from independent studies
  • community service hours
  • achievement award certificates

Some families happily eliminate paper, capturing everything digitally. In recent years during evaluations, we've swiped I-pads to view scanned work and flipped through PowerPoint presentations of field trips. Other families design digital scrapbooks. In our digital society, portfolio possibilities continue to grow. Be creative! If your family is learning on the go or on the road, consider how you might take advantage of digital technology. 

What about high school portfolios? 

I get this question often, especially since families come back to us year-after-year. As those families move into the high school years, they begin to feel the pressure of credits and college admission. To ease the pressure, I remind them that the types of work samples saved really doesn't change. The point of the portfolio is to show that the learner has made progress at a level commensurate to the ability (at least in our state).

Though the work samples saved during the high school years is generally the same as the elementary and middle school years, I do encourage parents to take special care to log titles and authors of books (in a digital document for easy interfacing to other documents) as well as community service hours (documented on company letterhead). Doing so can save time in the late junior and early senior year when families begin gathering college application documents.  

Taming paper trails doesn't have to be a full time job. I found doing a little bit each week helps keep my long-term sanity. I know you can tame yours as well. Perhaps keeping work samples in one place is a next right step in the positive direction. 

Citizen Science: Get Real with Learning

We like real learning. Learning which is practical, hands-on, experiential, with purpose. 

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Becoming a Citizen Scientist is one way children and young adults can immerse their studies in real science for real purposes. And, the projects integrate into almost every curriculum or can be used to create an independent study. Budding scientists dive in and dig as deep as their interest takes them. 

One of my high schooler learners participated in a local bird banding experience with an ornithologist who worked in a local park area. This particular learner is not a science guy. However, when he arrived home he couldn't stop talking about the experience. The opportunity brought his biology unit about birds, alive; and my son took part in real scientific research. 

Citizen Science projects can be found online. Simply type "citizen science projects" in a search engine. Here are a few to get started and jump start creative ways to integrate real science into the day. 

Citizen Science- Cornell Ornithology 

Science Buddies

National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Watch

10 Popular Citizen Science Projects

PBS Kids- Citizen Science

National Geographic

To enhance the study, think outside the box. 

  • Interview a scientist in the field of study.
  • Visit an aviary, aquarium, or arboretum and talk to the caretakers about what their work entails and what education was needed to work in the field.
  • Start a collection--rocks are a favorite--label and categorize.  
  • Start some porch science.
  • Talk with scientists at a local Audubon facility. 

And, as always, read a few good books! You never know when a little learner will grab ahold of an older learner's current study. Some of our elementary and middle learners love these hard-to-find science readers

Over the years, we have enjoyed: 

Are You A Grasshopper?, Judy Allen

All about Sharks, Jim Arnosky

Look Out for Turtles, Melvin Burger

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Owls, Gail Gibbons

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner

The Life and Times of the Bee, Charles Micucci

The Bird Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta

The Frog Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

Cricketology, Michael Elsohn Ross

One Small Square: Backyard, Donald Silver

Sea Shells, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Christiane Kump Tibbitts

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Middle and high school learners may want to read a Living Book or biography to bring a personal connection to their Citizen Scientist project. Some of our favorites have been: 

Luther Burbank, Plant Magician, John Y Batey

Louis Pasteur: Founder of Microbiology, Mary June Burton

Ernest Thompson Seton, Naturalist, Shannon Garst

The Story of Louis Pasteur, Alida Sims Malkus

The Story of Marie Curie, Alice Thorne

 

 

Beating Afternoon Boredom

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Who doesn't battle afternoon boredom?

Let's not take a show of hands. Rest assured, my hand would be raised. 

You know the story. Three o'clock. Children squabbling. A high schooler STILL needs help with Algebra. And dinner? It's frozen on the counter! 

Afternoons can be hard. Yet, after years of beating afternoon boredom, I know the efforts I made toward defeating "I'm bored" syndromes--in myself as well as my children--mattered. In fact, hobbies launched and rediscovered interests became catalysts for entrepreneurial pursuits, high school courses, and career choices.

Beating afternoon boredom is worth every ounce of time and energy we can muster. 

At a recent mom's event, a group of ladies gathered after to ask me how our family beats the afternoon wearies. 

Our strategies varied with life seasons. 

When we had two eager, active boys, we: 

  • spent many afternoons outside. 
  • visited local parks. 
  • had Popsicle and wading pool parties--adding measuring cups, a bucket, and garden hose to change things up--as long as the weather allowed.
  • ran around outside playing with squirt guns.
  • played in the lawn sprinkler. Notice the hose and water trend?
  • read a book together while sitting on a blanket outside or on the couch inside.
  • took an afternoon bath with bubbles and wrote with shaving cream on the walls (great for practicing letter formation).
  • took nature scavenger hunts. 
  • played hopscotch or jumped rope. 
  • created with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. 
  • painted the garage door with water and paint brushes. 
  • tossed bean bags. 
  • bought a basketball hoop and gathered children from the neighborhood to play. 
  • played wiffle ball in the dead end street.
  • created with watercolors.
  • encouraged outdoor adventures and independent studies. 
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When we had lots of littles with a few bigs who needed afternoon help, we:

  • sat on the floor in the hallway across from the bathroom so I could supervise littles in the tub while also helping an older sibling with math or editing papers.
  • spread a blanket under a shade tree for afternoon tutoring while the littles rode bikes around the driveway or played hide-n-seek. 
  • listened to audio books, our favorites being Jim Weiss recordings and Your Story Hour, again while mom worked with the bigs.
  • offered play dough, pattern blocks, old magazines to cut, or watercolor paints. 
  • enjoyed playing in the sandbox while mom and older siblings sat nearby and completed math or mom edited papers. 
  • used masking tape to create a "village roadway" on the carpet so littles could build houses and garages for their toy cars and play "village". 
  • made a masking tape hopscotch on the carpet for littles to be active when weather wouldn't permit us to be outside. 
  • asked bigs to go on a date and take learning to new surroundings. 
  • discussed the plot and characters of a current read while running errands or taking a sibling to practice. 
  • encouraged bigs to work on independent studies. 
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When we had a menagerie of ages, we: 

  • enjoyed front porch read-aloud time. 
  • created with Lite Brite.
  • went to visit great-grandma. 
  • sat together on the couch and read books of interest. Farm study was always a favorite. 
  • took a teen or young adult on a date to talk about things that mattered to them. 
  • used a coupon and bought five pounds of clay at a local craft store. 
  • spent time at a local park or community swimming pool. 
  • made brownies for the elderly neighbor and went to visit. 
  • built a fort outside. 
  • dug a hole in the backyard (not my favorite or my idea, but it was sibling generated and encouraged collaboration and working together). 
  • made impromptu afternoon library runs. 
  • created something yummy in the kitchen, often to "surprise" Dad when he returned from work. 
  • made cards for family member's birthdays.
  • enjoyed spin art. 
  • cared for our porch science projects
  • spent the afternoon creating with watercolor. 
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Go ahead! Beat the afternoon boredom. YOU can do it! It will be worth your time and effort. 

And, in the process, your children and young adults will learn valuable life skills: time management; collaboration; communication and conflict resolution; work ethic; teamwork; working independently; and caring about others ideas, thoughts, and feelings. 

Ant Study

Our ants arrived!

It felt like Christmas complete with shouts of hooray and looks of wonder. 

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"Look at them move!"

"How will we get them out of the tube?"

"Let's read the directions!"

Questions. Comments. Ideas. 

Just a week before the ants arrived, we found the ant farm on clearance. Thrilled, the children marveled at the box as I I reminisced about the ant farm my older children experienced years prior. In fact, I had been praying I would find an ant habitat for study.  

Ant farms make learning come alive. 

In the process of getting the habitat set up and becoming acquainted with our new little friends, science intertwined with oral reading (reading the instructions and ant information), reading comprehension (following directions), math (setting a timer to measure duration and measuring water amount), as well as an experiential lesson in patience.


Put the ants in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

 

So much learning in a tiny vial of ants. 

Ants in the fridge, we watched as the timer counted down. When 10 appeared on the screen, we all instinctively began counting down.  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, , 3, 2, 1...

"ZERO! Get the ants!"

"Look at them! They are still."

"They must be sleeping. Time to take them out and put them in!"

Then I worked fast. (Hint: Ants wake up FAST! Be ready to move quickly.)

Once in their new home, the ants got to work. My children were enthralled. 

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The children sat, watching progress, for at least thirty minutes. As they observed, they asked questions. 

  • Is that ant dead or sleeping? 
  • What is that ant doing with the sand?
  • Why are they piling the sand at the top? 
  • Why do they crawl over one another? 
  • I wonder what they will do while we are sleeping? 
  • Did that ant die already?
  • Do we have a queen? 
  • What does a queen look like? 

Our ant study was just beginning! 


Extended ant learning study for all ages

Read a good book. Experiences help children understand written material and fuel further learning. If a child becomes interested in a topic, place books related to the interest in the home: on end tables, night stands, or book shelves. If a study pops up spontaneously, plan a visit to the library and help the learner find the section containing books about the interest. Some of the ant books we read:

   Fiction

  • One Hundred Hungry Ants, Elinor J. Pinczes
  • The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

   Non-fiction

  • Are You an Ant, Judy Allen
  • Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros
  • The Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci

Observe ants in their natural habitat. Take learning outdoors. Look for ants. Spend time watching their activities. Take pictures and make your own ant study book or journal. 

Make a sketch. Sketching integrates another learning modality into the experience. In an ant study, learners can go outside and observe real ants, sketching what they see. This will likely lead to wanting to know more about ant anatomy and environments. Add your sketch to your ant study journal. 

Learn and label body parts. Watching the ants made my children curious about the ant's body. From their questions, we researched and learned ant anatomy, drawing and labeling each major part (head, thorax, abdomen) as well as the more specific parts (mandible, antennae, compound eye, legs). Enchanted Learning offers a diagram of the anatomy and ant information.Life Studies site has a page devoted to ant study. Another great addition to an ant study journal. 

Study the lifecycle. Every living creature has a lifecycle. Ants are no different. In fact, one of my children asked if there were eggs in the vial. Enchanted Learning helped us here, too. 

Take a closer look. Magnifying glasses are great tools for looking at live ants. However, the Magiscope is a great way to take an even closer look. Do so with a few dead ants. Otherwise, you may get stung or they may crawl away from the stage. 

Have an older learner, perhaps middle and high schooler? Research myrmecology and entomology. How are these branches of science related? Who are the leading scientists in these areas and what contributions did they make to the field? How did their works impact science and the general population? If opportunities are available--perhaps through a local pest control service, zoo, or college campus--consider interviewing a myrmecologist or entomologist. We discovered how one scientist is studying ants and bees

Helpful sites

Arizona State University School of Life Science, Ask a Biologist page. 

Harvard Forest

Life Studies

We bought our ants through Life Studies

Ready to learn about ants? The process can be one of the most rewarding and remembered events of childhood learning. If you decide to introduce learners to this amazing creature, tell us about your experiences, or leave helpful resources your found, in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

Childhood of Famous Americans: Living Books for Young Learners

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Over twenty years ago, a veteran home educator suggested I read titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series to my children.  Doing so would bring history—real problems solved by real people—alive, she claimed.

I purchased our first COFA and the children and I curled up on the couch to read. The book fueled questions, fostered wonder, and begged my children to read more. What a find!

That mom was right!

The Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series, praised by parents, teachers, and librarians for over sixty-five years, was first introduced to the public in the 1940s and continued to be printed into the 1960s by Bobbs-Merrill. Originally printed in hardback form, these fictionalized biographies (suitable for independent readers third grade and up or to be read aloud to any age) became instant favorites and were reintroduced in an infamous red, white and blue paperback form in the 1980s.

These books have engaged my children since the early 1990's.

Our family prefers the original hardcover books. Their large font invited emergent readers to read and allows younger eyes to comfortably read the text. Sadly, the hardcovers are now out of print. However, they can be found in online sales or in used bookstores.  If we cannot get our eyes and hands on these hard-bound treasures, we look for the well-known red, white and blue covers.

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Over the years, whenever we began new unit of study or a learner developed a new interested, we tried to find a COFA title to personalize learning. These books have allowed our young learners to learn history through real people, real problems, and real solutions. When we study a specific era, I use this list. With over 170 COFAs to choose from, there is sure to be one to be woven into any study.

Recently, the COFA flame was recently rekindled as one of my youngest children wanted to read about “real baseball players”.  I immediately looked through the stacks of COFAs on our shelves. Indeed, we had a paperback cover copy of Roberto Clemente: Young Baseball Player and a hard cover copy of Knute Rockne: Young Athlete.  I pulled those from our collection.

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I am thankful for that experienced mom’s recommendation to begin reading books from the COFA series. Since that day, we’ve been eagerly reading about the childhood lives of famous Americans, learning some very interesting lesser-known facts about people we have come to admire.

More about the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

  • The books are fictionalized, though based on information about the childhoods of these famous Americans.
  • Children find the books inviting because of their focus on the childhood life of people they know only as adults.
  • Each book is packed with noteworthy experiences, personality traits, and adventures from the growing up years of famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, and explorers.
  • Children gain understanding of how a person’s experiences and personal gifts contribute to and impact the lives of other people.  
  • By the end of each book, the reader is left with the desire to find out what happened next, a perfect lead to further study.


In recent years, several publishers are working to bring the once-out-of-print-titles back to life. A great endeavor, however in the process some of the books have undergone editing and rewording. One publisher, Patria Press, began reprinting the stories in 2002, renaming the series Young Patriots. 

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Want to learn more about the heroes and heroines who shaped our country?

Find a COFA title and relax on a comfy couch. You and your children will discover inspiring details from the lives of the men and women whom we often know only through their adult accomplishments.

Trusting Children with Little, Leads to Much

Children entrusted with little will one day be able to be trusted with much. 

What is your child able to be trusted with today, right now? 

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It's hard, isn't it, to say yes--to trust, to risk. 

When I was a young mom, I held on more tightly, regulated and controlled what I could, fearing the worst, yet longing to raise children who would one day to be independent. As my oldest children grew, I realized I was doing them a disservice. They wouldn't become responsible, and one day independent, if I waited until the day before I expected them to launch. I had to change my thinking. 

If one day I wanted them to be trusted with much, I needed to begin trusting them with little. 

It would be a process. 

  • A receipt from the grocery store. My two-and-a-half-year-old always wants to carry the receipt, along with the spare change. When I give her the handful--all of it--she feels empowered, trusted. And, she is mindful of what she's doing, like she is guarding a million dollars! 
  • The keys to the house. When we pull in the driveway, my six-year-old always asks for the keys as soon as I pull them from the ignition. She wants to carry the keys and unlock the front door. In doing so, she feels capable, able to help the family enter the home. 
  • My cell phone. A few weeks ago, Mike and two middle girls took a road trip to the softball World Series. When I called to check in, one of the girls answered the phone. The proud voice on the other end exclaimed that Dad let her be the secretary, especially when he was driving. She felt important, able to meet a need.
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The empowerment to independence was indeed a process. When the day came for each child to sit in the driver's seat of our car for his or her first solo ride, babysit, or travel alone, I knew he or she was ready. Each of the children had had a multitude of opportunities to prove responsibility and trustworthiness. 

On our second son's wedding day, I remember reflecting on his readiness to not only be responsible for himself but also to consider the well-being of another person into his days. One day he was entrusted with bringing in his bike from the rain, another day to was instructed with how to use grandfather's fishing pole. A year or so later, he was given command of a canoe of younger scouts. Not too long after, he asked for the keys to our car, and then, a few years later, he waited at the end of an aisle for his bride. Trusting him with a little grew to trusting him with much. 

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It was a process, one which took time. And, looking back, the years flew faster than I ever imagined they would. 

Pew Learning for Young Worshipers

The parenting years are training years! There's potty training, voice training, executive control training, strength and core training. And, then there's what we call pew training, those moments on Sundays when littles learn to sit, enjoy, and later contribute to "big church".

Training years can be exhausting, marathon sessions of reminders, follow throughs, and well-dones.

At least they've been for us.

We've parented children with active minds and busy hands, lively imaginations and energetic bodies.

These traits didn't change on Sunday mornings!   

Pew training is not a new fad. It has been taking place for generations. I remember sitting in the pew as a child. Sitting by my grandmother, I watched as she dug in her purse to find me a mint. Mint in mouth, I handed Grammy a pen, a hint I wanted to play tic-tac-toe. Later in the service, my mom wrote a number on the church bulletin and I would hunt through the hymnal for the hymn with the corresponding numeral. I loved sitting with my family in church. I felt big, part of a larger community of people.

I am thankful for the sacrifice my parents made to include me in their Sunday morning worship. 

Mike and I have been pew training for more than 25 years. Currently, our Sunday worship times include coloring, puzzle solving, and bead stringing as our just over two-year-old daughter prefers to sit in the service (as long as she can) with our family. To help her in her desire to be with the family, I pack a bag of treasures, things for her to look forward to, just as I anticipated Grammy's mints and games of tic-tac-toe.

How do I prepare for pew training? It's all about what I pack in our bag. 

What's in the bag? 

  • thick cardboard puzzles with piece count appropriate to the age. Our toddler will stand in front of the church pew chair and solve the puzzle on the seat of the chair. 
  • a few board books, especially ones with textures or quiet flaps. I change these out frequently so there is a new selection in the bag. 
  • crayons and quarter sheets of cardstock. Colored pencils become drumsticks and noise makers, hence the crayons, and standard paper creates a crinkly paper cacophony. Cardstock quarters has quieted coloring sessions. 
  • a quiet snack in a quiet wrapper.

In addition, I pack a few treasures for our preschoolers and early learners, just in case. 

  • thick cardboard puzzles, again piece count appropriate to the age and ability of the child. 
  • a small notebook and crayons. Some of our young worshippers enjoy drawing something they hear about during the sermon. 
  • a tablet of stickers for use with notebook or to fill the empty white space on the bulletin. For emergent readers and spellers, I pack letter stickers. 
  • a toy car. 
  • a quiet snack in a quiet wrapper. 
  • beads and a string or pipe cleaner for stringing and small motor skill building. A plastic bag quiets shuffling beads.
  • a small doll or a few Lego figures. 

On the weeks I forget to pack a treasure, I pull a pen from my purse and allow little worshippers to draw on the church bulletin. Our early learner likes to search for and circle vowels or specific letters she chooses on the printed bulletin. 

Not every Sunday unfolds smoothly, even if I prepared. For example, this weekend I spent the majority of the service in the lobby! Even still, I don't feel my efforts were wasted. I know I made it one step closer to the goal: being able to sit in church as a family.

A few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of our pew. There stood our children, toddler to adult (plus a few friends an adult child invited) extending the entire length of the pew. What a blessing! Twenty-seven years of pew training (and counting) in the making. Our efforts were worth every obstacle we had to overcome.

The efforts we made in the pew training season proved fruitful. 

Fellow pew trainers, YOU got this! May you one day look down the pew and see the fruits of your labor standing and worshiping together. 

Porch Science

In my recent FPEA workshop, I was speaking to parents about science little learners love. In the course of our time together, I mentioned the amazing wonders we had flourishing on the front porch, most of for which I cannot take any credit. The marvels were the treasures of my children, their purchases, their discoveries, their experiments. Indeed, my learners have gathered quite a menagerie and it is fun to watch them take responsibility for their projects. 

I told attendees I give them a sneak peek of our porch projects when we returned home. 

These are the science wonders little learners love! 

Rooting project. A friend blessed my budding gardener with some clippings from her favorite plants. My daughter listened as my friend explained how she rooted her plants and how some of the plants went to seed. Clippings in hand, my learner dreamed of the garden which might spring forth from the cuttings. Expectation was rooted in intrinsic interest. Since that day, my daughter has cared for the plants, watering them every day, each day growing fonder of her project. Today we have good sized plants which are transplant ready.

Our favorite planting books:

The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

Grasshoppers. Likely you can't see them in this picture, but I promise they're there. Big eastern lubber grasshoppers, romalea microptera, find their path to our porch. Their appearance prompted curiosity and independent research. Those grasshoppers, as destructive as they can be, are incredible creatures. When we found a dead grasshopper, we placed it on the stage of our Magiscope to take a closer look. Fascinating! 

Our favorite insect and wiggly wonders books: 

Are You A Grasshopper?, Judy Allen

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

Flowers. The day before we left for the FPEA convention we made a clever discovery at a local garden shop--$1.00 plants! We purchased a few plants to bring beauty to our booth and now those plants have found a home on the porch until they are transplanted. In the meantime, these flowers attract butterflies and learners notice differences in petals and leaves. In addition, each day an eager little learner heads out to the porch with a spray bottle to water the flowers. Another means by which to foster responsibility. 

Our favorite books about blooms: 

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert

Sprouts. Several weeks before convention my little learners were on a "grow everything you can" frenzy. We grew beans in a baggie and beans and marigolds on peat pods. A few days later, an older learner researched how to harvest snap dragon seeds which she eventually harvested from a plant she had purchased on a clearance rack. Those seeds sprouted, too! Our porch began to be a haven of color, beckoning learners to stop every time they passed in or out the front door. 

Our favorite books about sprouting wonders: 

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

How a Seed Grows, Helene J. Jordan

Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

Tadpoles. Friends--bless them--gave us a container FULL of tadpoles! What an amazing wonder! Our littlest learner sat and watched and watched, marveling. Our tadpoles are still young--no legs yet--but every day we observe, hoping to see some soon! I know this will launch questions and even more discovery! 

Our favorite frog books: 

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner (pictured below)

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

Other things we have had on the porch in the past: 

Rocks. Children love rocks, especially ones they find on their own (digging them out is a bonus, too)! 

Our favorite reads about rocks: 

Pocket Genius: Rocks and Minerals, DK

Shells. Summertime trips to the beach bring shells! Not only is it fun to discover what animals live in shells, but shells make great items for counting, adding, or writing letters and numbers in the sand. 

Our favorite shell books: 

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

Sea Shells, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Christiane Kump Tibbitts

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Abandon Hives. No bees, we made sure! What a wonder these creations are! Once we knew the hive as safe, it fueled further learning. One hive = many days of questions. 

Our favorite bee books: 

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

The Life and Times of the Bee, Charles Micucci

What wonders have landed on your porch?

What marvels might find their way to your porch tomorrow? 

Please share your pictures in the comments.

Let's encourage one another as we keep our eyes open for the science little learners love

 

 

 

 

Sprouting Peat Pods

A failed experiment led to learning opportunity for other children.

As we prepared for the planting station at FPEA, one of my learners had an idea,

"Let's try to sprout our lima beans on a peat pod!"

A combination of the results of both experiments! 

It worked! 

Ten days later, our sprout was ready to plant! 

Meanwhile, back at FPEA, parents shopped, children planted! 

I wonder how many plants sprouted? 


If your child planted in our planting station, you may enjoy these book suggestions.

Picture Books

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

A Bean's Life, Nancy Dickman

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

The Vegetables We Eat, Gail Gibbons

How a Seed Grows, Helene J. Jordan (Let's Read and Find Out Science series)

Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

One Bean, Ann Rockwell

Plant Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens (one of our favorites!!)

Living Book Biographies for Elementary and Middles

The Story of George Washington Carver, Arna Bontempts (Signature series)

Luther Burbank: Boy Wizard, Olive Burt (Childhood of Famous Americans series)

Luther Burbank, Partner of Nature, Doris Faber (Garrard Discovery Biography series)

George Carver, Boy Scientist, Augusta Stevenson (Childhood of Famous Americans)

 

Want to share a picture of your plants? Do so in the comments. 

If you missed Science Little Learners Love, a workshop I shared at FPEA, you can order it in the FPEA store. 

Beans in a Baggie

Thirty years ago, several amazing, veteran, early childhood educators mentored me--a new teacher. I was ecstatic as they shared their tried and true lessons. One I remember vividly is growing a beans in baggies. Little learners ran to the window every day to see if their beans had sprouted. When they did, there was celebration. 

Since that time, I have recreated this activity with all of my children, each time teaching to their unique interests, their unique bent. One time I placed all the materials on the table and allowed the child to figure out the experiment. Another time I quickly drew picture instructions on scrap paper. Yet another time we read a non-fiction book about planting seeds. Each time we've done it a bit different. No matter the learning style or the prefered modality of input, every learner has loved observing his or her first sprouts in a bag. It's wonder! It's discovery! It's learning!

Every. Moment. Matters. 

These are the results of our most recent bean-in-a-bag experiment. 

Gather sandwich-sized zipper baggies, one per child. Write the child's name on the baggie with a permanent marker. 

Look for lima beans in the pantry. Purchase limas if necessary. 

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Fold the paper towel in quarters and place in the baggie. Place five beans inside the baggie and on the paper towel. Using a spray bottle, add ten squirts. Zip the baggie.

Tape to a sunny window. 

Carefully observe the bean several times a day. Baby sprouts are fragile. Ask questions.

  • What is happening?
  • How are the beans changing?
  • Do all the beans look the same? What is different?
  • What do you think the beans will look like tomorrow? 
  • What will happen to the sprout? 

Fostering the Excitement

Where there's interest, learning follows.

Enthusiasm breeds learning. Enthusiasm increases retention. If excitement has been building as a result of anticipating what might happen to the beans or if the beans have sprouted and shouts of joy rise to the roof tops, consider next steps to further learning. 

Consider:

  • Drawing observations in a blank book. 
  • Measuring--very carefully--the sprout with a ruler or tape measure (a personal favorite). 
  • Planting other seeds in starter trays, window boxes, or backyard gardens
  • Learning the parts of a bean
  • Researching what plants need to grow
  • Reading a few good books

What happens when experiments don't go as anticipated? 

Happens all the time. Failed experiments are a part of science. When things go awry, new opportunities present themselves. There are new problems, new questions, and potential solutions. These moments are equally important to our children as they learn collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

Seize these learning moments. They matter. 

So, on Day 3--as soon as we woke--we checked our beans. MOLD! Ugh! I was disappointed. My learners were discouraged. What would we do? 

Brainstorm. Find an solution. 

We asked questions. Researched. Visited the local garden shop. 

The solution? Peat pods. 

We started over with new materials. The results were amazing. And, our discovery was so exciting we knew we needed to share the learning fun.

We decided to offer a planting station in our booth at FPEA. It was a huge success!

A failed experiment led to a solution and a new idea which benefited others.

That's learning at its best!

Discovery Biographies: Living Books for Young Readers

I enjoy talking with my adult children about what they appreciate about having been homeschooled. Now in their mid- and late-twenties, I glean much from their insight. And, having littles and middles (and a few high schoolers) still at home, the feedback is especially helpful as I daily evaluate the whys, hows, and whats of homeschooling.

What really mattered!

Unanimously, our adult children agree that having a plethora of books to choose from--books for all interests, learning styles and levels--has been one of the things for which they are most grateful. They usually follow up with a comment on how thankful they are that they had time to read; time to read what they found engaging, what would help them in their next steps of life and learning. 

Reading--aloud and independently--has greatly impacted the lives of our children. 

Having reading materials available to budding readers is important. It spurs them on, encourages them. These are books that invite the emerging reader--even challenge them--to jump in; kind of like a "you can do this" pat on the back. Garrard Publishing Company's Discovery biographies have been some of our favorite reads, fostering independent reading in newly fluent readers. These books are often our learner's next choice after Step-Up books, also biographies.

Discovery biographies are historical adventures written for learners at the early- to mid-elementary level. The cover copy on one book states,


"Discovery Books have been tested by the Spache Readability Formula and edited so they can be read by children in grades two through 4".

We found our later elementary learners also enjoy these books due to the engaging content--the adventure and real-life problems solved by real people--and find much satisfaction in finishing a book in one day.

The books offer full-page, three-color illustrations accompanied by a larger font size. Garrard states,


"All facts are authentic for they have been carefully checked by leading sources for historical accuracy".

One of our learners couldn't put these books down! In fact, I had to keep hunting and hunting to find titles. As you hunt, this listing may be helpful. 

Presidents

Ulysses S. Grant: Horseman and Fighter, Colonel Red Reeder

Abraham Lincoln: For the People, Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff

Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President, John Parlin

Thomas Jefferson: Author of Independence, Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff

John F. Kennedy: New Frontiersman, Charles P. Graves

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President, Wyatt Blassingame

Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action, James C. Beach

Harry S. Truman: People's President, David Collins

George Washington: Father of Freedom, Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner, Helen Stone Peterson

Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife, LaVere Anderson

Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady, Mary Richmond Davidson

Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World, Charles P. Graves

Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land, LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, and Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky, John Parlin

Henry Hudson: Captain of the Ice Bound Seas, Carl Carmer

Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot, David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman, Mary Richardson Davidson

Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds, Katherine E. Wilkie

George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter, Adele deLeeuw

Davy Crockett: Hero of the Wild Frontier, Elizabeth Robards Mosely

Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star, Charles P. Graves

Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper, Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, and Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy, Mary Catherine Rose

Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor, Jean Lee Latham

Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound, Elizabeth Rider Montgomery

George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist, Samuel and Beryl Epstein

Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder, Mary Malone

Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas, Charles P. Graves

George W. Goethals: Panama Canal Engineer, Jean Lee Latham

Florence Nightingale: War Nurse, Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff

Eli Whitney: Great Inventor, Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, and War Heroes

Jane Addams: Pioneer of the Hull House, Helen Stone Peterson

Henry Clay: Leader in Congress, Helen Stone Peterson

Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter, Lillie Patterson

David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral, Jean Lee Latham

Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Carolinas, Elizabeth and Carl Carmer

Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People, Lillie Patterson

Authors, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

Helen Keller: Toward the Light, Stewart and Polly Anne Graff

Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot, Lillie Patterson

Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist, Wyatt Blassingame

Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People, Lillie Patterson

 

This series has definitely invited our budding readers into the amazing lives of people who made a difference...and into another reading level of living books!



Note the varied covers. I appreciate having a visual picture of what I am looking for when shopping a used bookstore or garage sale.

Living Books Save Want-to-Be Reader

The want-to-be-reader in my daughter disappeared, somewhere between simple short vowel words and complex sentences.

Just like that, gone.

In desperation (if you know us you know we love books), I went to the home library shelf. There before my eyes appeared, George Washington. The title invited me in- Meet George Washington.

I pulled the book off the shelf and thumbed through the pages. 

PERFECT! 

Large type. Pictures on every other page. All nestled in chapters between two hard covers. THIS book had the look and  feel of a book an "older" child would read. I beckoned my want-to-be-reader and proposed we sit together as I read. That is all she needed. A book that felt like a "real" book. Not just some story printed in a graded reader, but a real book.

Motivation returned.

So often want-to-be-readers are lost when fluency and practice are needed to feed the reading process.

Reading can be just plain hard for some children.

 

Lots of practice. Lots of encouragement. Lots of interesting "real books" needed to make it through that tough time when a young child is building vocabulary and fluency to become a proficient reader.



We started together.

I read to her. The content was intriguing, interesting, something she wanted to know more about. I read the entire book. She listened. She wanted another.

 I have no idea where I found this treasure, the only Step-Up we owned.

Where to look?

The library? No, not there.

Google saved the day.

Within a short time, I was able to locate another, then another. Books were delivered to our doorstep!

We opened each box with Christmas excitement.

She chose a book from the box. I read a page. She read a page. Soon, she read a chapter and then I read a chapter. Dad was invited to read. Before long (maybe 2 months) she was reading, independently on her own with enthusiasm.


 Want-to-be-reader had been transformed to the I-gotta-read reader.


 

She wanted to read every book in the series. In fact, the now fluent reader wouldn’t move to another series until she read them all (or at least the ones we could find). Step Up books are that interesting to her.

Interest was the prime motivator. It was internal. It was powerful.

If you have a want-to-be-reader lost somewhere between simple words and complex sentences, perhaps these high-interest books would motivate your child as they have ours.

Math Meets Art: Watercolor Square Collage

Have a creative learner who loves color?

If so, the black and white page of the math book may not be the WIN of the day.

I learned that lesson the hard way about thirteen years ago.

I told myself if I had another creative I would be intentional about offering math experiences which would nurture the artistic tendency of his or her brain. 

Guess what? God gave me another creative! 

Lesson learned; I get a do over! 

Squares--black and white lines of equal sides on a page. Or, squares--colorful cut outs with sides of equal lengths. 

Math matters to a creative, after all math and art have some of the same elements--shape, line, space. Add a bit of color, some construction paper, glue, and scissors and math may become of the highlight of the day! 

Yesterday, math was the highlight in our house! 

After talking about rectangles--two short sides and two long sides, four in all--and squares--four sides of equal length--we did a quick look around the living room and dining room for rectangles and squares.

Windows.

Glass panels in the kitchen cabinet.

Cloth napkins.

Pages in a book. 

Checks in the tablecloth.

While hunting an older learner asked, "What do you call the distance around the window? I forgot."

Perimeter. 

Another discussion ensued; children were curious. I had their attention. 

I excused myself to the junk box (who doesn't have one of those!) in the laundry room and returned with a measuring tape and a tape measure. We talked about the differences between the tools. One was flexible, one rigid. Reviewed how the tools were used. Each had advantages and disadvantages depending on what was being measured. 

Learners asked to play with the measuring tools. 

They 

  • measured the perimeter of the math book
  • measured the height of the dining table
  • measured the length of the computer keyboard
  • measured the width of the window sill
  • measured the circumference of my coffee cup

After moving and measuring with excitement, I introduced my idea. 

Let's combine math and art! 

I gathered a watercolor tablet of paper (rectangular!), the watercolor box (it was rectangular, too!), several brushes, a napkin for blotting (square!), and a cup of water to clean brushes. 

Handing each learner a sheet of watercolor paper, I instructed them to paint, anything, anyway they desired. Once painted and dried, we cut squares. 

The squares became a mosaic.

My artist met math, and spread her enthusiasm to others in the room!

I am thankful for a second chance at teaching a creative learner. 

 

 

Interests Fuel Life-Long Learning

Dogs.

It's everything dogs for our littlest learner. 

She's curious about what dogs eat (getting eye level--but not too close--to watch ours furry friend eat). She's curious about how why they pant, how they feel to touch. She wants to know everything about every dog she sees, large or small.

Sitting in the dentist office last week, waiting for big sister to finish her appointment, I found a treasure--an attention grabbing-just-what-we-needed-at-that-moment treasure. 

A book featuring photographs of dogs. 

I handed it to our youngest. I knew it would keep her attention. 

It was a "mom hung the moon" moment.

She looked at me. Her eyes seemed to say, "Thank you for caring about my interest!"

The excitement on her face. The eagerness in her learning. The pure joy!

As she paged through the book, I engaged with her about the pictures on each page. She'd look at me and smile. With every smile, I thought about two workshops I have been writing for an upcoming speaking engagement; one workshop for parents of elementary learners and one workshop for parents of middle schoolers.

Relationships and curiosity fuel learning.

Like adults, children need relationships. Couple that with natural curiosity--questioning anything and everything--and there is a recipe for building a love for life-long learning. 

How do we keep a person's natural curiosity aflame for life?

Ask questions. When the art of questioning is modeled, it is readily available for learning.

I am not natural questioner. I like to teach; to tell. As a consequence, the parenting years hit me hard. The more I told and commanded, the more frustrated my children became. And, I noticed they stopped asking questions and waited to be told to do things--waiting to do school work and chores until they were told. Stepping back from the situation (and asking for Mike's input) I realized my children had valuable ideas, valid questions. They needed a mom who listen and then ask questions; a who would practice the art of questioning. At that point, I decided to be intentional about asking more questions and encouraging my children to to the same. I asked questions like:

  • I wonder how that works?
  • I wonder why the hermit crab needed a new shell?
  • I wonder what will happen if we add more soap?

I had to work hard at replacing my teaching/telling bent (saving it for where that bent was really needed) with an intentionality to listen and engage my children in thoughtful questioning. Though it took a bit of time to turn the cart around, I began to hear my children returning to their natural bent of asking questions. Definitely worth my effort.

Find answers. With questioning comes the need to find answers.

If I was going to be intent on encouraging critical thinking skills and the art questioning, I would also have to purposeful in helping my children find answers. And, as the children grew we had to have conversations about where to find accurate information; to ponder whether an author had the knowledge and experience to speak to a topic. 

We began to build a home library of reference and resource materials--field guides, a Magiscope, a heavy-duty magnifying glass, kitchen scales, history books, classic literature. In some cases, we found apps to be the best resource, for example Sky View and Sky Map. We talked to our children about the importance of primary source documents and role played how to carry on conversations with people--should they want to ask questions of someone. In addition, as our children entered middle and high school, we discussed volunteering and job shadowing. These opportunities encouraged our young adults to answer their questions about career interests by talking to professionals in the field.

Be observant. Interests are not always obvious.

Some interests are obvious, like my daughter's curiosity with dogs. Others are a bit more hidden, sometimes even unknown to the beholder! To discover the interests of some of my children, I had to watch, listen, and be open to how they spent their time (versus controlling every minute of their day).  In my watching and listening, I began to ask myself questions. 

  • Was my child wanting to take things apart and put them back together?
  • Was a particular career intriguing to my child?
  • When we were at a church event or field trip who did my child gravitate toward certain people--children or adult?
  • What did my child do to fill extra time in the day?
  • Did my child have an ability to put together colors, lines and shapes or craft inspirational poetry?

My littlest learner is not yet old enough to verbalize her questions, yet her curiosity is evident in her facial expressions and gestures, through her hand clapping and dancing. Her reaction--her joy in learning--invites us to ask her questions, interact with her excitement, and fuel her curiosity by providing resources (like finding her dog books at the library). In doing so, her siblings, Mike and I are learning to help her dig deeper into her interest. As a result, our curiosity about how she learns is fostered. It is a cycle of interest-fueling learning. 

 

And it is a beautiful life-learning cycle. 

It's intentional, real, and relational.