Elementary Art Appreciation: Collage Art

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”I am an artist and I never looked at picture books as a means for children to study and appreciate art technique.”

I had just presented my workshop Picture Books, Paper and Paint Brushes to a room of parents eager to learn how picture books could foster curiosity and creativity in children. After sharing engaging titles and practical ideas for art application—the activities I’ve watched children love—attendees were motivated to give art a try.

Picture books are inviting literary tapestry of word and art.

Perhaps you are wondering whether you can take on art appreciation or instruction in your home. YOU can! Yes, it may be messy. If that’s what’s holding you back, give yourself permission to take art outside. There are some days we do just that, especially if I want to cut down on the chances of paint in the grout and glue on cabinet handles. Whether art takes place indoors or out, over time I’ve observed children gain an appreciation for the art they see everyday in the books they love.

And, along the way, they learn they can be an artist, creative and able.

It’s the illustrations in the books they love which inspire them to try art or use it in a new way.

So, what is collage?

Collage is the assemblance of materials—paper, nature, fabric, ribbon, photographs—arranged on a surface. It’s a creative array.

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Children love to explore this art technique. In fact, as they find their creative sweet spot they will discover more items to collage.

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To begin our collage study, I pull picture books from our home library shelves or plan a trip to the local library. The goal is to find as many different examples of collage art used in illustrations as possible. If you are gathering a collection of collage-illustrated picture books, look for

Blackstone, Stella, Ship Shapes (fabric)

Carle, Eric, A House for Hermit Crab (painted tissue paper)

Ehlert, Lois, Pie in the Sky (paper)

Ehlert, Lois, Snowballs (found objects)

Flemming, Denise, Barnyard Banter (found objects)

Lionni, Leo, Swimmy (prints and paint)

Once we collect picture books, we compare illustrations. I spend some time pointing out the different items these author-illustrators utilize to create their illustrations. We talk about the differences and consider what we have around the house which might be used to create collage. We gather those supplies. Generally, I allow my children to gather what they want to use. However, when working with little learners, I may simply supply different types of paper—tissue, news, construction, wallpaper—and some glue. For children practicing cutting skills, I keep blunt-end scissors on hand to encourage their fine motor skills. For the youngest artists, I show them how to create collage with torn paper or let them watercolor on paper which I cut in squares for them to happily glue while the older learners create their masterpieces.

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Sometimes our study of an art technique lasts several days. Other times it’s a perfect rainy afternoon activity. Later at night, I read one or two of the books aloud (great for building language arts and reading skills).

Perhaps you are wanting to dig a bit deeper into the study of collage art. Here are some suggestions:


1. Study artists who use the collage method, especially children's book illustrators. Learn about Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, and Denise Fleming. One of our favorite video lessons features Eric Carle in his studio and this trailer for Picture Writer: The Art of the Picture Book.

2. Compare the mediums used by these authors. Try using the artist's techniques with found objects from the around the house. Make a book of the collage pieces created.

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3. Research the history of collage.

4. Visit an art museum. Look for examples of collage art.

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If you are looking for a helpful collage art resource with ideas, check out I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey. It’s excellent; empowering (especially for kids and parents who think they were born without creativity), and written with just the right amount of encouragement needed to fuel inspiration. The author explores a multitude of mediums—tissue paper, newspaper, painted papers, torn paper, nature findings and more—detailing twenty activities with step-by-step instructions. My girls were particularly interested in the Tasty Treats project which involved painting papers and then cutting shapes to make a yummy treat. The results were an ice cream sundae and cone. Brilliant hues and impressive images (almost good enough to eat) were the end result.

Collage is not the only art technique which deserves attention. Find out more about painting, photography, digital art, clay, print making, and drawing. Your child’s curiosity and creativity might just be the guide you are looking for.

Our Eric Carle Unit Study

(An elementary level, week-long, study with Eric Carle’s beloved picture books.)

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Eric Carle, a talented author/illustrator, inspires young readers with his bold illustrations and teachable content. Our youngest children (preschool to fifth grade) enjoyed a week-long study of Eric Carle’s works. By the end of the week, each child proudly displayed her book of Eric Carle art which was bound with a strip of fabric.

On the first day we re-read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, discussed the life cycle of a butterfly and created our own tissue paper collage caterpillar. We ordered planted plants which attract butterflies and watched a biographical video entitled Eric Carle, Picture Writer. Our children loved learning about the man and story behind the stories. 

On the second day we read The Very Busy Spider and discussed the benefits of hard work. Our preschooler made the sounds of the animals in the book and our elementary children discussed the differences between spiders and insects. We all marveled at the raised web on each page of this engaging picture book. At the suggestion of one of learners, we headed outside to look for webs and spiders. While walking, I remembered I had plastic spider counters. We made and added sets. The older learners made arrays—rows and columns (enter multiplication concept). When it came time to make our own spider art, the fifth grader remembered we had silver glitter glue in the art cabinet, which in her opinion, would make the perfect web. The younger children agreed and soon four very busy spiders were created.

On the third day we read The Grouchy Ladybug. We discussed good and bad attitudes, friendship, manners and the power of the spoken word. Our first grader had a quick review of telling time to the hour, with the help of the clock on each page of Eric Carle's book. Older children found the life cycle of the ladybug fascinating. We Googled ladybugs and watched a few informative video clips. Finally, we made our own ladybugs with wings which opened (thanks to a brass fastener) to reveal the words "thank you".  Google eyes brought life to the ladybug.

On the fourth day we read Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me.  We talked about the phases of the moon and were determined to watch the moon for a whole month to observe the phases. For the young ones, we discussed the difference between fiction and non-fiction. We concluded that the book was fiction because a ladder would never reach the moon. We then compared the illustrations of the books Eric Carle created designed our own fold-out ladder page for our book. Later that evening we read Mister Seahorse, discussed the sea life featured in the book and the important role parents play in the lives of their children. We marveled at the way the male seahorse cares for his young. One learner wanted to make tissue paper seahorses like the ones in the book. A great idea! We used scraps of tissue paper from the previous days to create very colorful and unique tissue paper seahorse.

On the fifth day we wrote a title on the book cover of our art masterpieces (hello copy work, spelling and an explanation of capitalization in titles) and bound our book by weaving a scrap of fabric through three paper-punched holes. The littlest learners enjoyed making paper plate jellyfish to hang from the doorway and hearing me read A House for Hermit Crab.

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Our week didn’t end there! Learning continued. After analyzing and comparing the art of Eric Carle to the work of other artists, we headed back to the library where our youngest ones selected more Eric Carle titles. Our four year old warmly stated, "Eric Carle is my favorite illustrator." Several weeks later, while on yet another visit to the library, I received another welcomed surprise. I mentioned I needed Mister Seahorse for a workshop I was presenting to moms in our homeschooling community. When the library volunteer asked, "Who is the author?" our six year old chimed in, "Eric Carle." YES!

Just what I had hoped...and more!  In addition to the academics we learned and retained, the curiosity and creativity of our four budding artists was fostered.

Our week had been productive, and FUN!

Learning from Life: Hurricanes and Drills

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Hurricanes. Cordless drills. Pop.

This is what’s in our world this week.

This is what’s on the mind of my middle schooler.

Real and relational learning.

Connection and application.

Motivation and retention.

The past week has found our family face-to-face with Hurricane Dorian preparation. There’s been forecasts and projections. Models and movement. It’s in our world and it matters to our children (even if we intentionally keep the television off to lessen possibilities of news overload).

What matters, sticks.

Enter Pop with a bag of drills he brought over in case we needed to board up. Our middle schooler bounced to the foyer. Not only because she admires her grandpa, but because he had something of interest. Drills!

Pop sensed her curiosity (one of the things we love about him). He immediately bent down, unzipped the bag and began telling her stories. As he pulled out each drill, he told her what he appreciated about the functions of the model and mentioned a few jobs it could complete. He talked about his bits and offered explanations of why each might be useful. Oh, and he mentioned the model big brother owned.

Real-life show and tell happened in my foyer.

It was real and relational.

Drills. They’ve been on her mind from the first mention of boards going on the windows. It’s been over for over 72 hours and she’s still pondering, researching, planning. Her learning journey included opportunities to

  • navigate the internet safely to find information

  • ponder other information resources (enter two uncles—each with construction expertise—and more relational moments)

  • conduct impromptu, informal interviews with uncles and more conversations with Pop at family dinner

  • build reading comprehension, skimming, and scanning skills

  • compare costs of drills (and the value of the accessories in combination sets)

  • compare the specifications and applications for drills, hammer drills, and mixers

  • research differences in voltage

  • review and compare measurements as related to bits (1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, and 3/4)

  • build vocabulary: lumens, mortar, thinset, ratchet, lithium, warranty, stud, joist, asset and torque (great Scrabble word!)

  • spell words related to her searches (there’s been a lot of “Mom, how do you spell?”)

  • use computation skills to figure out what’s in her savings and what she spent over the past months

  • predict what she may make in the future

  • ponder ways to gain needed income

Drills. They’re in my middle schooler’s world. They’re real and relational. She’s diving in and digging deep.

Her interest matters!

What’s in the world of your children or teens?

What matters to them?

Take time to ponder, observe, and listen.

Likely there’s learning—rich meaningful, memorable learning taking place. Don’t let it go unnoticed.

Every. Moment. Matters.

The Possibilities of Elective Credits: Part I

What about elective credits?

Mike and I field this question often. 

The short response?  

There are endless possibilities to potential elective credits. 

If your high school student is enrolled in a public or private school, be sure to check the school's offerings. Choices vary for each school. 

If you are home educating the high school journey, know your state statute and graduation requirements as well as how they apply to home educated students. Find out if your state allows parents the freedom and responsibility to create core or elective courses. This is important because some states require home educated students to take only courses offered in the state. Other states give parents the ability to oversee the child's education, hence the creation and oversight of classes, should the family choose that path. Your state statute requirements will provide what is required of the parent and student and therefore shed light upon the possibilities available to the family.

For those who are home educating and have the ability to choose elective credits, consider:

The life-goals (if known) of your learner. For some high schoolers, they will have a clear understanding and direction for what they will pursue after high school graduation. Other young adults will be exploring their interests and therefore, getting a better idea of what they might do after they turn the tassel. The good news is there is no right time for a learner to decide next steps after graduation.

If there isn't a clear path, prepare for the broadest possibilities.  Be careful not to short change the young adult. 

For learners who have an inkling of what they want to do post high school, they will move forward in that direction. As you help process their ideas, keep an open perspective. Be ready for change. An interest one semester may transform into a niche the following semester.  

One of our high school learners became interested in veterinarian medicine. She even considered this as a possible career path for a few months. We felt our next right step was talking with professionals in the field and preparing for a job shadowing experience or volunteer opportunity should either become available to her. In our brainstorming process, we considered several venues: a vet's office, a local clinic, and the county animal shelter. As part of our conversations, we came up with what questions which would be helpful should an opportunity to talk with a veterinarian present itself. Our questions included:

  • What universities are considered optimal for this profession?
  • What are the potential degree and career paths for this profession?
  • What classes or experiences were most helpful in the education process? 
  • What are the specialty ares of this field of study?
  • What would you, as a professional, recommend for a young adult pursuing this career?

While present at on-site opportunities—job shadowing, volunteering, or internships—our high schoolers are encouraged to be mindful and open to how they can bring value to the host while present. This might include offering to fold clean towels or empty trash cans. We also encourage our young adults to observe office etiquette and practices (real-life learning at its best). Along these lines, we suggest visiting several venues within the same niche as well as any which are closely related or dependent upon the specialty. In the case of veterinary medicine, specialties may include veterinary oncology or ophthalmology. From the varied experiences, the learner is able to compare office practices and evaluate care from a broader perspective. Ultimately, these experiences may allow the learner to narrow his or her potential field of study while earning high school electives.

Experiential learning in high school is as valuable as in the elementary and middle school years. 

When thinking about elective credits, parents and learners can take into account the acquisition of life skills while also considering the academic admission requirements of the learner’s top choice universities. This consideration is—from our experience—extremely important and often overlooked. Colleges of interest frequently get deleted from the list of potentials for many reasons. Sometimes it’s the test scores which make the choice seem out of reach. Other times it’s the foreign language requirement. There are a plethora of other reasons, too. However, perhaps the most common reason parents tell us they eliminated a university from the list of possibilities is the belief that the cost of the education is beyond the financial reach of the family. Mike and I encourage parents and young adults to keep every potential school on the list of consideration, even if attendance seems out of reach for some reason. In doing so, students will be prepared academically for admission to all their choice colleges come application season. We know learners who desired to attend private, out-of-state schools who eventually were awarded full room and board for four years based on academic merit, community service, or in one situation, a drawing at a college fair! 

The interests of your learner. I find it ironic that elementary-aged children are often encouraged to explore their interests, yet as the middle and high school years loom on the horizon, the tune changes. When it does, students, parents, and educators tend to concentrate on core courses (with good reason) while pushing strengths and giftings to the side. Yet, often those strengths and giftings are the very elements which learners need to be successful adults--not to mention reduce the stress of some tougher core courses. Wouldn't it be wonderful if--during the middle and high school years--students, parents, and teachers could find ways for learners to complete required courses while also engaging in and exploring interests and strengths? 

As home education evaluators and consultants, Mike and I have seen AMAZING outcomes for young adults who have had opportunities to complete required core courses (and therefore be eligible for college admission at schools of their choice) while also delving into areas of interest.

While studying algebra, history, and biology, our third high schooler continued to build the business she started in middle school. In doing so, she was able to complete core courses while also learning important small business skills: purchasing and crafting inventory, budgeting and filing taxes, investigating advertising, setting up a website, and showcasing inventory at craft shows and expos. Her income allowed her to purchase her own clothing, save money, and tithe to church. To manage her income and expenses, she created a spreadsheet where she recorded her finances. Personal Finance found its way on the transcript that year, right under the algebra, American history, and biology.

The current life season of your family. When my grandmother was terminally ill, we spent four months visiting and researching facilities--navigating pros and cons of each--as Gram's needs changed. In addition, we visited Grammy three times a week, caring for her and connecting with her "friends" in each facility. We talked with care workers about what they did and how they obtained their education and professional licensing. As evaluation time rolled around, I couldn't even begin to remember all we did. But, my high schooler did! In fact, she asked whether all she had taken part in and learned could be used for credit. GREAT question! And after discussing all she learned and researching high school and college course equivalent to what she completed, I titled the course Cares and Concerns of the Elderly. Definitely an eye-catcher on her transcript. You can read more about how this course came about in this blog post. 

What situations are upon your family? How can those normal, every day opportunities become credit? For example, if you're painting your house, your learners are learning how to calculate the amount of paint needed, research paint types, buy good tools (good quality tools make the job go well), use and care for tools properly, run a pressure washer, trim paint small areas, roll on paint, clean rollers and brushes, and store tools so they can be in good condition for the next project. The list is endless. As we tackle painting the outside of our home this week, I stepped up our ladder thinking, this is real-life home economics (though in the past I titled the course home maintenance and repair). If you need to tackle a home project and don't know where to begin, model for your children how to find an expert in the field (read more about this here) or search for an online tutorial. These are important research skills your learners will need in life. 

What are the elective possibilities for your young adult? Begin observing what the learner is already doing? Where are the areas to which he or she gravitates? Are there real-life activities and opportunities in which he or she is participating? Considering interests, strengths, and aspirations as well as the admission requirements of the high schooler’s top college choices will return great rewards as the high school years come to a close.

A last note for consideration...

What about excessive credits? 

As Mike and I have worked with families over the past twenty-three years, there have been a few cases in which a student has earned excessive credits--more than 35 credits! In other words, the reader of the transcript would wonder if the learner ever slept. However, this has been only a few scenarios. In those situations, parents were able to include content from one course into another already existing course without being accused of credit inflation. It is possible for homeschooled students to earn more credits than the average student. This is acceptable if indeed the credit is not inflated. 

For more information on documenting elective course work, check out part 3.

Needing ideas for elective course titles? Click on over to Part 2. 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children. 

This refreshed post was originally published December 2016.

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.

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. 

Most Popular Posts of 2016

2016 is marked as significant.

Why? Because every moment of our days mattered--the triumphs and the trials. We lived and learned together being intentional about using what was real and relational--from cradle to shingle--toddler to adult. Thank you for walking that journey alongside us! We are grateful for you, our readers! 

As a recap of our year together, I compiled our top 15 posts of 2016. ENJOY! 

 

The Many Possibilities of High School Success

Just as there are many potential pathways to successfully completing high school--the end result of helping a young adult develop his or her divinely-created strengths and giftings--there are also many different avenues to the young adult's future; the years beyond the turning of the tassel.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be encouraged by Real-Life for High School Credit: Care and Concerns for the Elderly.


Preschooling, Naturally

Preschool is foundational for life and learning. In fact, it is during the preschool years that little learners master foundational skills which serve as a base for later learning. More importantly, attitudes and temperaments toward learning are set during the preschool and early elementary years.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be encouraged by "Let Me Do It!" Helping Little Learners Become Independent


5 Comments I Don't Regret

Words are remembered, taken with us through our days. This is true for us and it is true for our children and young adults.

If you found this post helpful, you might also enjoy Legacy: Learning Alongside


The Possibilities of Elective Credits - Part II

When I wrote the first edition (who remembers that first spiral-bound resource?) Celebrate High School I included a sample list of potential course titles--both core and elective. When I published my extensive revision in 2015, I expanded my list based on our experience and the experience of those with whom we work.

If the information in this post was helpful, you might want to continue on and read Part III.


32 Ways to Learn from Real and Relational 

Some of my children love making lapbooks, others prefer unit studies. Still others learn best when we incorporate field trips into our days. And, our middle and high school young adults? They have learned at co-ops, through online courses, and with personal independent study. 

If you are being intentional about keeping learning real and relational, you might also be encouraged by the practical life lessons (and history!) in this post-- Living History: 30 Questions that Bring History to Life


8 Skills Children Practice in Puddles

There was much to learn in the puddles. Each learner carried a small fish net, sand bucket or shovel. They were off on an adventure.

Rainy days are natural wonders which intrique little learners. If rain is falling at your house and you are waiting for a safe pause in weather, try this indoor art activity--Torn Paper Rainbows


Grades...In High School

"How do I give grades in high school?"

If designing a transcript is your next step, this post may be helpful--Transcript Matters


Using 4-H for High School Course Content

"Our high school learner is very active in 4-H. Can we use any of what the student is doing toward high school credit?" 

If you have middle school learners and are wondering how you can help them manage time, organize belongings, and pursue interests, this post--Magnificent, Make-A-Difference Middle School--might be helpful. 


Preschooling, Intentionally

Learning is the natural outcome of everyday living, especially for little learners. With a few intentional questions here and a purposeful explanation there, preschoolers can learn naturally from walking alongside older siblings and significant adults. Through everyday experiences, preschoolers gain a jump start to mastering foundational cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual life skills.  By the time the young learner blows out six candles on the birthday cake, significant progress toward mastery of foundational skills has likely been made.

If you are seeking ways to help your little learners do what they can, 3 Things They Can DO on Their Own, might be helpful. 


Living Books and Independent Studies

An interest evolved into an independent study, a year-long learning adventure. 

Science--especially animal science--is particularly interesting to little learners. If you have little learners with a zest for all things living, check out the book list in Vintage Science Readers for the WIN! 


Nature Adventures Made EASY- A Glimpse into Part of Our Day

Ten minutes later, peering out the bedroom window to check on the adventure, my heart smiled--three little learners discovering, wondering together. Co-laboring in learning. 

Looking for a way to learn math outdoors, in nature, where children crave? Check out Math Adventures!


Using Living Books in High School for Credit

We have used several approaches to formulating classes based on strengths, interests and the future plans of the young adult.

Interested in earning credit for writing college essays? This post--High School Made Simple: College Essays for Credit--might offer some insight. 


SIMPLE Prepositions for Little Learners

Keeping early learning active and fun!

Picture books can encourage learning. Read Aloud to Foster Counting Skills lists some of our favorite math picture books. 


Intentional Cursive Handwriting

Oh yes, there is good reason to teach cursive, teaching correct strokes and rotations. Proper letter formation does make composition easier. However, once initial instruction is complete and letters are formed properly, practice begins. Practice.

Interested in hands-on, real-life, spelling activities? This post--What About Spelling?--has lots of practical ideas. 


Helping Learners Foster Strengths and Interests

A trip to the electronics store. I was hoping to go alone. You know, time to enjoy quiet; time to think without questions. After all, it is ONLY the electronics store. 

If this post made you curious about interest-based learning, The Benefits of Interests: Motivating Learners, may answer a few more questions. 

Want to know more about how your days can be intentional, real, and relational? Click below to sign up for the Celebrate Simple Newsletter. 

FREE Winter Resource

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Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Snowflakes is available for download  in Free Resources


Winter Fun for FREE Plus Extras!

We all need mid-year boosts--teachers, parents, and learners! 

Celebrate Simple is all about encouraging and equipping parents and families; adding spring in your winter steps! 

We have created several winter-themed, inter-related learning resources for your family--all ages preschool to adult. The contents of each resource is related but nothing is duplicated. 

Our first FREE winter resource is FREE to subscribers! If you are a current subscriber, you will receive this resource in the next newsletter. If you haven't yet subscribed, please do! We would love for you to have this handy, practical winter-themed unit. The contents are related to all of our NEW winter items listed below. The content of Simple Winter Family Fun includes

  • conversation starters for family members of all ages,
  • winter-themed book lists for preschool through high school, 
  • practical ideas for family team building,
  • learning activities for Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (different from those included in Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Snowflakes),
  • a four-year plan worksheet for families walking the home education high school journey, 
  • winter-related spelling words with fun spelling practice ideas, and
  • math practice for patterning, counting by fives, and solving word problems.

Our second FREE winter resource can be found in our FREE RESOURCES tab. Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Snowflakes is a shorter math study similar to Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Parks and Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Nature. Click on FREE RESOURCES to download your copy!

Our third winter resource is intended to extend the learning in the above units.  The snowflake blank book and foam snowflakes are available in the store. The self-adhesive snowflakes can be use for sorting, counting, adding, and multiplication. When littles are finished sorting and counting, the snowflakes can be used to make a counting or addition book.

Finally, we are offering a winter special which includes all of the above resources AND a Magiscope! This sturdy, metal microscope has been a favorite in our home for twenty-two years and comes with a lifetime warranty! Our scope was a Christmas gift to our oldest son from his gandparents! 

Whether your winter will be spent outdoors making snow forts or indoors wishing it would snow, refresh the mid-year, winter blahs with some fun new ideas and resources. We would love for your family relationships to grow and for this to be your best winter EVER!

Remember, every moment matters when using what is intentional, real, and relational! 

Legacy: Learning Alongside

It's that time again. Time to paint the exterior of our house.

Who is the first person I consult, to find out what needs to happen first, then second, and so on?

My Dad is a carpenter genius.

He can fix anything! 

I remember when I came to this conclusion.

I was an elementary girl, a constant companion alongside my Dad in his wood shop. In that shop, he created from wood, sometimes the wood from trees near our home. He made dining room chairs, grandfather clocks, hutches, and my toy box!  


Our kitchen--the one in which I prepare meals for my family--was crafted in his mind and made with his hands. 


He is my Dad, but he is also a mentor. He is a mentor for me and for my children. We learn from his genius. 

He has helped us with many home projects--roofing, kitchen and bathroom demo and design, home add-ons.

But this time was different.

I am beginning to realize my time, our time with my Dad--the time from which I can soak in all he has to share--might be limited.

I want to soak in all the wisdom I can, and I want my children to have the same opportunity. 

So, last week began our house painting project. It was a PROJECT!


Simple paint and brushes, but a TON of work and perseverance. 


Pressure washing to finish, prep to fill cracks, trim work to be painted, shutters to be covered, and brushes to clean. But we did it as a family--grandpa, parents, and children! Together.

Each person quickly found they were better at one job than another. And, for some there were skills to learn. Some learned to trim paint, others practiced rolling. Some found joy cleaning brushes--I mean, playing in water!  I realized my children were learning alongside my Dad--a legacy--much like when I learned by his side in the wood shop, alongside him when we added-on to our house. I want my children to learn all they can from him. 

Indeed, every child--toddler to adult--learned something this week. Some heard and then imitated my Dad's positive attitude. Others learned how to hang a roller on the side of a paint can. Another observed how Pop angled the brush to paint the mortar joints. 


It was a PROJECT with lots of real learning, from a man who is leaving a legacy. 


As I painted, I wondered. 

What legacy I will leave with my children.

Will it be the books we read together? Will it be the cheesecakes we baked together? Will it be my positive comments and words of encouragement or the "be a blessing" I spoke as they left the house? Will it be something I couldn't have fathomed, something which has yet to take place? 

I don't know what legacy I will leave with my children. But I do know one thing. The time, effort, sacrifice--the intentionality of my days--will matter. I know so. I learned that from my Dad (and my mom, to be honest)! 

Parents, we will leave a legacy.

What will that legacy be? 

Likely, it will be something you and I did intentionally, with items which are real and personal, with moments which are relational in nature.  

Our moments matter, every one of them.

4 Ways to Keep Holidays Simple

Holidays are fast approaching. I can feel them coming at us full speed. In fact, parades, recitals, concerts, plays, cookie exchanges, and mom's night out are already on the calendar. Children are begging to start holiday baking and decorating. EEK! 

Perhaps you feel like I do as the holidays approach. 

How can the focus of the holidays remain in focus, not crowded by commercialism and comparison? How can days be simplified so relationships are strengthened, not strained? What if really boils down to for our family is,

How can be keep the holidays intentional, real, and relational? 

First. Discuss Priorities. Mike and I set time aside to talk about what the current year's priorities will be. The early years of our marriage found us considering how we would incorporate traditions from both sides of the family. The more recent years have been refreshing as we included children and young adults into the conversation. Their insights and what they felt was important or what they wanted to experience was often different than what Mike and I were considering. In the many seasons of our marriage and family life, the priorities changed slightly, often dependent on whether we welcomed a new baby (we had two December babies), tried to keep active toddlers out of the Christmas cookie dough and decorations, or whether family would travel into town. 

Second. Set Realistic Expectations on the Priorities. Our family has enjoyed making gifts and goodies to give to others. We have also enjoyed serving. However, we have had to consider the ages and stages of our children. If our goal was to bake cookies for the neighbors, I had to decide if I would rather them be a part of the baking--realizing there may be a flour blizzard--or if it might be better to bake while they took a nap. Years when we went to look at Christmas lights with toddlers who didn't particularly like the car, we chose displays closer to home.

Third. Don't Overload the Schedule. WOW! I learned this one the hard way! I am an extrovert who loves people and adventure. I had our family coming and going 24/7. Toddlers missed naps. Children bounced from too much hot chocolate and cookies. Over the years I learned it is better for us to do fewer things well and make great memories than filling every day and night with parties, musical events, and crafts. Children can't enjoy or remember the holidays if they are a whir and blur of hustle and bustle. And, children with tendencies toward sensory or anxiety challenges may crumble before their parents very eyes. It just isn't worth the chaos and stress of overloading the calendar. Lord willing, there will be more years to come.

Fourth. No Guilt Downsizing. There are definitely times in our twenty-seven years of parenting where we had to downsize the holiday and I constantly reminded myself it was okay. There was not harm done if we had to set up a table top tree instead of the eight foot monster. The table top tree kept the toddler out of the tree and I kept my sanity! Mike and I had to decide what was important for our family in any given year and then stand confident to ward off guilt.

It is important to remember, one mom's simple is not another mom's simple. And, simple may look different in different mothering seasons. Define priorities, set realistic goals and expectations, and don't overload the schedule. Do the holidays at your pace, considering life's circumstances and the needs around you. Read a few extra books. Look your children in the eyes, enjoy a conversation, and pull them close for a hug. 

Holidays, like every day, can be intentional, real, and relational. Those are the holidays my children remember, and I am pretty sure yours will, too!

 

Preschooling, Intentionally

Life is learning. Learning and life go hand-in-hand, everyday!

Learning is the natural outcome of everyday living, especially for little learners. With a few intentional questions here and a purposeful explanation there, preschoolers can learn naturally from walking alongside older siblings and significant adults. Through everyday experiences, preschoolers gain a jump start to mastering foundational cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual life skills.  By the time the young learner blows out six candles on the birthday cake, significant progress toward mastery of foundational skills has likely been made.

Math

  • Identify colors
  • Understand and demonstrate one-to-one correspondence
  • Make sets of 1 to 5 objects
  • Identify sets of 1 to 5 objects
  • Associate a number with a set of objects
  • Recognize numerals 1 to 10
  • Recognize and draw simple shapes--circle, square, rectangle, and triangle
  • Count to 20 orally
  • Recognize similarities and differences in objects (Comparison is a foundational pre-number skill.)
  • Recognize and identify coins (This is an easy one. I haven't met a little learner who isn't interested in how much money is in his or her piggy bank. Capitalize on this interest by sorting, counting, and identifying.)
  • Identify tools of measure (Tools of measure include thermometers, speedometers, scales, Knowing the purpose of each is important to later math skills.)

Language

  • Recite the alphabet (Why not sing the alphabet song while jumping up and down.)
  • Recognize letters
  • Recognize similarities and difference in letter formation
  • Recognize similarities and differences in sounds
  • Speak in complex sentences
  • Hold a book and track from left to right (One of the best natural ways to learn this skill is by modeling others, doing as they do. As you read aloud, trace a finger under the words, working from left to right, top to bottom.) 
  • Retell a story (This is a foundational skill for reading comprehension and vital for auditory processing.)
  • Follow a two-step direction
  • Hold a pencil with correct grip
  • Write lower and upper case letters (There are so many ways to learn letter formation. Some of our favorites are writing in shaving cream on a bathroom wall while taking a bath, finger painting on easel paper, forming letters in a salt tray, and writing with a stick in the mud. 
  • Spell first name
  • Recognize cause and effect (Offering explanations if every day cause and effect will help your little learner do the same. If we leave the door open, kitty will run out. If we put all the cold groceries together they will help each other stay cold until we get home.)

Science

  • Recite phone number and address (This is a safety life skill. While learning this information we explain to our children why they may need it: emergency, calling 911.)
  • Name basic colors
  • Identify living and non-living
  • Identify parts of a plant: roots, stem, leaf, flower, pedal
  • Make simple predictions
  • Develop observation skills
  • Form questions and find solutions

Social Sciences

  • Order daily activities
  • Locate home state on a United States map
  • State the significance of and the similarities and differences between people who work in the community: police, firefighters, librarians, grocers, etc.
  • Learn left, right, straight, and diagonal (When entering your neighborhood, speak the directions as you drive. For example, we turn right at the stop sign. We will turn left at the corner, and so on. Once you have repeated these directions several times going in and out of the community, ask your child to tell you how to get home using left and right.)
  • Identify basic geographical formations: river, mountain, cliff, ocean, and continent

Physical

  • Draw a person with a recognizable body
  • Use utensils properly
  • Catch a ball
  • Kick a ball
  • Run
  • Gallop
  • Skip
  • Use a scissors (Providing a cutting box, old magazines, or newspaper ads for cutting along lines and curves.)
  • Identify body parts. (Play Simon Says. Simon says touch your nose. Simon says touch your elbow.)
  • Walk a balance beam (Okay, so most of us don't have balance beams in our homes. However, there are curbs and lines to walk. See a line, seize the moment and walk, carefully as a tight rope walker does.)
  • Dress and undress
  • Personal responsibility (Taking care of oneself and the areas in which he or she works and plays. Tidy up the toy room. Use a tooth brushing chart to encourage consistent care.)

In the early years, our homes provide a place--a haven--where our children can gain a foundation for future cognitive, physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual health.

 

Three Ways to Gather Up Courage

Courage. 

That is what it takes for moms to make it through the day--for me to make it through the day!

As I am working with one learner--working through six long division problems to cement the steps--I am also caring for another little who had a tooth extracted earlier in the morning. There are dishes in the sink (just a few but they are weighing on me), laundry in the washer and laundry waiting to be folded. Oh, and a toddler needs lunch and dinner is shouting to be started.

In the midst of all this, I receive a text from a dear friend.

"How is your courage today?" 

At that moment--the moment when hurting gums, forgotten math steps, lingering dishes, and piles of laundry were closing in on me (at least it felt that way)--I needed that text. My courage was fading. I know I'm not the only mom whose courage fades now and then. For some of us, courage fades several times a day depending on our circumstances.

Do you know what was so special to me about that text I received?

The text from my sweet friend reminded me I had courage within me.

Courage is within me. My friend knew it. That is why she asked how my courage was; not if I had courage today.  Her question reminded me I had courage. I just had to gather it and persevere through the day. 

Dear mom with many facets to your day, how is your courage today?

Seriously, I know you have courage. It is there--just like mine, even if we don't feel it at the moment.

So, how do we proceed? 

How do we gather up our courage to persevere through the day?

Know. You are in good company. That's right! Every mom struggles with courage at some point--if not daily--in their motherhood journey. We soothe sick children, battle laundry wars, and fight mind games with dinner preparation. You, mom, are not alone in your frustrations or your discouragement. How could you connect with friends--maybe an impromptu visit to the playground or walk around the block-- who could remind you that you are not alone?

Admit. Yep! Admit fear. Admit discouragement. This morning when I woke, I acknowledged my fears for the day: how my daughter would react to the anesthesia, how I would orchestrate the day amid her recovery needs. Having acknowledged my fears and concerns, I was better prepared for what might come. Hence, as I was driving to the dentist with my daughter, I was able to listen to her nervous chatter and endless questions. Later, when she needed pain meds and soft foods amid math, diaper changes, and dryer buzzing, I was prepared mentally. I admitted my fears and later my discouragements and was better able to deal with the details of my day. 

Know. Know the why. As moms, why do we do what we do? For me, when I know the why behind anything I do--cleaning, cooking, running errands, reading aloud to children, offering kind words to Mike--I'm motivated to complete the task at hand, even when I know it will be hard. Knowing my why makes a difference. For example, I took my daughter to the dentist today (and reviewed math over and over with another) because I care deeply about their physical and academic well-being. That care for their well-being allowed me to sit on the dentist chair and hold my daughter's hand (our dentist is awesome) and it allowed me to sit and redo math problems even when other things clamored for my attention.


As moms, we all face challenge, difficulty, and pain. Many of us have also faced danger.  


Knowing I am in the amazing company of other moms who experience the same things I do, admitting my fears, concerns, and discouragements, and knowing the why behind what I was doing was essential to staying afloat. 

Did my courage begin to fade today?

Yes. Yes, and I did get discouraged mid-stream when my daughter needed care, laundry was shouting at me, math needed re-doing, and dinner wasn't more than a thought. However, my friend's text message was the reminder that I indeed had the courage in me, I just needed to gather it up. 

How is your courage today? 

I KNOW you have it in YOU!

 

 

 

Dear Mom Who Worshipped in the Lobby

Dear Mom Who Worshiped in the Lobby This Week,

After spending many Sundays worshipping in lobbies with littles, you would think I could have a better attitude.

Well, today I forgot my years of wisdom and experience--the very things I would have told my younger momself when she came face-to-face with this morning. 

It all started with an escaping toddler who walked over three worshipers in our pew to get to the aisle. She had an escape plan, determined. 

I wasn't in the mood.

However, I followed my daugher because honestly, she had already disturbed three people and I didn't want to disrupt worship for anyone else. We scurried to the back sanctuary door as fast as her little feet could carry her. We eventually made it to the lobby.

I should clarify. 

I know where the nursery is located. 

However, for reasons which would make another blog post, toddler number eight spends Sunday morning with me. 

When we arrived in the lobby my daughter made a direct path to the checker game on the coffee table. At first she and I sorted checkers--light and dark colors. She smiled as she sorted and then placed each checker, one-by-one, in the provided draw string bag. I interacted with her while keeping an ear tuned to the worship audio feed. 

Ten minutes into our worship experience, my daughter calmly sorting, dumping, and stacking, I decided to step over to the coffee kiosk just arms length away. I selected a cup and filled it, leaving a half-inch for cream. All of a sudden, while moving my cup closer to the cream carton, I saw checkers flying through the air! Everywhere. In my haste to see where the checkers where landing, I tipped my cup and coffee flooded the coffee station. AND, at that very moment, with checkers still landing, my daughter decided to follow (read, run!) a small friend who had captured her attention. 

I retrieved my daughter and cleaned up the coffee. Together, she and I played checker hide-and-seek, looking in the nooks and crannys near the coffee table. As we searched, I counted checkers thinking surely I would have to make a quick trip to the local Target to buy another checkers set for the church. 

That's when my attitude slipped. 


"Why did I even come to church? I could've stayed home and cleaned my house!"


When calm returned to the situation, I thought about my mom friends--YOU--who spend Sunday mornings in church lobbies. If you are like me, you don't particularly like worshipping apart from your husband and family, yet for reasons likely unknown to others and unique to your family, you worship in the lobby.

Reflecting on my past experiences with lobby sitting and countless conversations with moms I've met while worshiping in the lobby, I pondered what I would tell my younger momself had I had an opportunity. I would tell Cheryl:

YOU are doing a great work. Mothering matters, but it may also be hard, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. You will turn bright shades of red when checkers fly and coffee spills. However, the time you spend mothering--every moment--will be worth the effort. Cheryl, your mothering matters not only today for your children but it also makes deposits for your future grandchildren. None of your mothering moments will be wasted, not even worshiping moments in church lobbies. 

The season is short. Cheryl, though life seems to stand still when your are in the middle of trial--when seams in socks cause tempers to flare and all the sippy cups are hiding somewhere in your house--you will someday be on the other side. Your children will be adults and you will have a different perspective. In fact Cheryl, that biter you are nurturing in the lobby today--the one you can't even fathom putting in the nursery--will indeed grow into an amazing, caring young adult who will love people well. Caring for people will be that adult child's life work! Someday you will reminisce on your seasons of lobby worship and realize those were special times, times which really did pass by quickly. 

Enjoy the one-on-one time. Cheryl, your toddlers will only climb in your lap for so long. Embrace the moments. Snuggle while listening to the sermon or read a board book. Those face-to-face moments--those heart moments--are precious. Don't wish them away!

Be prepared. Preparation will save your sanity. I know there will be mornings which will not go as planned. However, be intentional about preparing for times--including Sunday worship--when you may have to entertain a little unexpectedly. Consider filling the diaper bag the night before. Cheryl, some of the things I found helpful when I sat in the lobby were small snacks (quiet snacks, not crumbly), board books, a coloring book and crayons, and an educational card game. One of my children's favorites was Busy Bee, an old card game my grandmother gave us. 

Encourage another person. Cheryl, you are not alone! In fact, there might even be moms in the lobby with you. When there are, respect the moms who don't want to engage in conversation--they may be listening to the sermon--but also be open to engage and connect. There may be a mom sitting next to you sporting a coffee stained shirt and whose toddler has just tossed checkers around the lobby. That mom might need an encouraging smile, a warm hug, or a comforting complement. Camaraderie is important. 


Dear mom who worshipped in the lobby this week, YOU are not alone and your mothering moments matter. I was right there with you, yes in a different church, but I experienced the same thoughts and feelings.

One day you will be able to worship again with your family. In fact, someday when the young adult years are upon you, you may look down the pew filled with the friends your once-little-lobby-worshiper has invited to church.Three weeks ago, I had that experience.

My lobby moments mattered. YOURS will, too!

 

 

 

Vintage Science Readers for the WIN!

There is something to be said about tried and true. That's one reason our family enjoys older books.

This week we rediscovered Follett Beginning Science Books. 

Three learners, Kindergarten to middle school, have been glued to content as I read aloud Frogs and Toads by Charles A. Schoenknecht. During our time together, I heard "I never knew that." and "That's so interesting!" more times than I can count. YAY!

In fact, I am still learning. I didn't know that frogs pull in their eyes to help swallow caught insects--which they ingest WHOLE! Fascinating!

There's more I love about this series--at least the ones we have managed to find. Large font, simple text packed with content, invited my budding reader to give independent reading a try. I mean-- interesting content, large font, hardcover--she was excited!  

"It's a real book and I want to read it!"

She is motivated to become a more fluent reader and will learn science in the process.

That's a WIN!

I will add, these gems are difficult to find--published by Follett Publishing Company in the 1960s--but well worth the hunt. In fact, we have more coming this week! And, my learners can't wait.

In case you've been intrigued to find one to find out if your learners will be enjoy this series, here is a list to help your quest. Consider starting with a title of interest. For example, my learners are more interested in the animal titles, hence our beginning point. 

  • Air by Edna Mitchell Preston      
  • Animals without Backbones by Robert E. Pfadt   
  • Ants by Charles A. Schoenknecht            
  • Beavers by F. Dorothy Wood     
  • Birds by Isabel B. Wasson             
  • Birds That Hunt by Willard Luce
  • Butterflies by Jeanne S. Brouillette          
  • Climate by Julian May   
  • Comets and Meteors by Isaac Asimov           
  • Deer by John Feilen       
  • Electricity by Edward Victor        
  • Friction by Edward Victor             
  • Frogs and Toads by Charles A. Schoenknecht     
  • Galaxies by Isaac Asimov             
  • Grasshoppers by Robert E. Pfadt              
  • Heat by Edward Victor  
  • Hummingbirds by Betty John     
  • Insects by Jeanne S. Brouillette
  • Light by Isaac Asimov    
  • Machines by Edward Victor        
  • Magnets by Edward Victor          
  • Mammals by Esther K. Meeks   
  • Molecules and Atoms by Edward Victor
  • The Moon by Isaac Asimov         
  • Moths by Jeanne S. Brouillette  
  • Plants with Seeds by F. Dorothy Wood  
  • Robins by Edwin A. Mason           
  • Rocks and Minerals by Lou Page
  • Snakes by Esther K. Meeks         
  • Soil by Richard Cromer  
  • The Solar System by Isaac Asimov           
  • Sound by Charles D. Neal            
  • Space by Marian Tellander          
  • Spiders by Ramona Stewart Dupre          
  • Squirrels by John Feilen               
  • The Sun by Isaac Asimov              
  • Trees by George Sullivan             
  • Tropical Fish by Loren P. Woods               
  • Weather by Julian May
  • Whales by Val Gendron               
  • Your Wonderful Brain by Mary Jane Keene  

Reading and science? Yes, please. And that's a WIN! WIN! 

Light-Hearted Reads for Difficult Moments

Sometimes the only thing I know to do is pull them close and read aloud. 

difficult.jpg

Difficult days. Napless afternoons. A sick grandma. Health issues. Flooded laundry room. Itchy mosquito bites. 

It had been a long day. We had accomplished math and worked on our family project for Christmas around the world night. Yet, I was determined. There was much to be done before our December baby was to due to be born.  On little sleep, I ventured out with four children to help them get their Christmas shopping done early. Honestly, my intentions were good.

Though the early afternoon was quite productive, mid-afternoon arrived with traffic jams, hungry tummies, and tears. I was overcooked and dinner hadn't even been started. 

I knew if I didn't hand out a few crackers for snack and gather the emotions, the night would continue to be difficult. 

I grabbed a sleeve of cheddar rounds from the pantry, asked the oldest to select two books from the book basket, and pulled teary-eyed littles to my lap (what was left of it). Two pages into the first book, emotions settled and crumbs accumulated on the couch cushions. 


Stories have power; power to calm attitudes, power to turn tears into smiles, power to smooth rough evenings. Stories pull people close and offer diversion.

Stories also bring understanding; understanding of emotions, understanding as to how to be a part of solutions, understanding of people, places and events. Stories bring perspective. 

Stories can lighten heaviness. At times, stories offer a metaphorical hand to hold through difficult seasons. For our family, a humorous light-hearted read invited us to chuckle through paragraphs when our days were heavy and sad in Grandma's last weeks.  In those times, stories helped lighten our heaviness, soothing hearts, souls, and minds. 

Stories help answer questions and bring clarity. We all have questions, children and adults.  In fact, a whole family may be trying to make sense of confusing, hurtful, or uncomfortable circumstances. In those times, stories can offer opportunities to see situations more clearly or from a different perspective. 

Stories help us know we are not alone. I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows, written by Wilson Rawls, as a middle schooler after having a pet die. Knowing other children had been through and understood the loss of a pet, I no longer felt alone in my sadness. 

Have you had a difficult afternoon? Maybe a string of doctor visits have left your family exhausted, in need of fun and light-hearted humor.  Consider one of the fun reads below. One of these titles might just be an invitation to some down time, time away from stressful moments.

Picture Books

  • Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey
  • The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  • Guess How Much I Love You, Sam McBratney
  • Caps for Sale, Esphyr Slobodkina 
  • No Roses for Harry, Gene Zion
  • The Napping House, Audrey Wood

Chapter Books

  • Mr. Popper's Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater
  • The Borrowers, Mary Norton
  • Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  • The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  • Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary
  • Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

Sometimes pulling the family close to enjoy a good story is needed in order to carry hearts, minds, and souls away from present difficulties. 

Every. Moment. Matters.

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Living History: 30 Questions that Bring History to Life

We--family and friends--sat around tables at my grandmother's 90th birthday. Most were enjoying cake, punch, and conversation. One woman, sitting alone, attracted our attention. My children and I carried our cake plates over and sat alongside her. She was delighted. 

We introduced ourselves. She told us how she knew Grams. Then I asked, 

"Tell us something about your life."

And she did. 

"I was an Olympic runner with Wilma Rudolph." 

I wasn't too sure I believed her--you know, memory care and all. However, after talking, the story became clear and I was convinced. The kids marveled and asked questions--all the important whys, wheres, whens, whats, and hows. After our new friend finished her cake, she insisted we wait at the table while she went to her apartment. 

She had something to show us. 

Fifteen minutes later, she walked in the room with a photo album and an Olympic torch! No kidding! She sat back down at the table, opened up the album and pointed to a yellowed newspaper clipping of her standing alongside Wilma. 

We asked more questions, just like we had in our conversations with Grammy.

These women were living history--memoirs--testimonies of real-life, real moments in time. 


My grandmother celebrated 95 birthdays in her life. In our times together, she shared memories of her childhood, her family, her hobbies, and of times in history she experienced first-hand. She lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Kennedy Era, the invention of many modern conveniences. She remembers events well, better than most of us on any given day.

She holds within her, a living history, of our world and of our family.

Several years ago, my then seven-year-old daughter questioned the age of her great-grandmother and made an insightful comment as we studied the Great Depression.

“We must ask Grammy about her experiences during the Great Depression. She might be the only person left alive that we can talk to about living during that time.”

Ah, yes child, you understand the importance of passing down stories.

Every person has stories and each of us can be story tellers, story bearers, regardless of our age. Stories connect generations; the stories we long to hear, the stories our hearts need to hear.

When you have opportunity to visit with someone, particularly someone with age and experience, consider the stories they might share. They will likely be eager to share and you may learn something no one else could share. 

Questions to ask:

  • Where and when were you born?
  • Did you have brothers and sisters? Were they younger or older than you?
  • Tell me about the house in which you grew up.
  • What activities did you enjoy as a child?
  • What do you remember about your parents or grandparents?
  • Did you go to church? Tell me about the church you attended.
  • Did you have a favorite book? Who read to you?
  • Tell me about your school.
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • Did you have any pets?
  • Did you play a musical instrument?
  • What was your favorite type of music? What were some of your favorite songs?
  • What did you enjoy doing? Did you have any hobbies?
  • Who were your friends? What did you enjoy doing together?
  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • What was your favorite food? 
  • How much did a hamburger and fries cost?
  • Did you have a job? At which age did you start working?
  • Tell me about your first car.
  • How much did your first car cost?
  • Did you marry?
  • If so, how did you meet your spouse? What did you enjoy doing together? 
  • Tell me about the proposal.
  • Did you have children? How many? What were their names?
  • Did you travel? Where did you visit?
  • Did you serve in the military? Where and when did you serve? What do you remember about your service?
  • What inventions do you remember and how did they impact your life?
  • Have you ever been to a World's Fair? Which one? What was it like?
  • What historical events do you remember? 
  • Did you belong to any organizations or clubs?
  • Was there someone who strongly impacted or changed your life?

How does what I experienced with that dear Olympic runner, my grandmother, and others impact me and my family? Today, I will purpose to tell at least one personal story to my children, one with which they might better understand their heritage and their world.

History can be intentional, real, and relational. 

When Homeschooling Has to Happen Away from Home

An elderly grandmother needing care. 

An unexpected hospital stay.

A medical emergency.

There have been seasons in our homeschooling journey when we had to take education on the road, away from the house.

Often, those seasons weren't optional or even anticipated like the field trips we eagerly scheduled to local children's museums or park days with friends. And, generally those seasons were unexpected, not planned. 

During one such season, great-grandma had multiple doctor's appointments. Learning looked different. Instead of reviewing math at the kitchen table, we answered word problems in the car or waiting in the doctor's office. And, of course there were life skills like holding the door while Grams pushed her walker through the entrance.

In those seasons, we schooled out of a canvas tote bag packed intentionally for unexpected moments when learning happened away from home. Included in the bag were

  • review worksheets
  • a family read-aloud
  • plain white drawing paper
  • colored pencils, and
  • educational games

When we weren't on the road, the tote bag remained by the front door, ready to grab should we have to leave quickly. As children mastered concepts, finished independent reads, or bored of games, I replenished the contents. 

There was also a season--years later--when Grammy was nearing the end of her life. Those four months were the most spontaneous of my twenty-three year homeschooling journey. In a moment's notice, we had to be ready to relocate and educate en-route or on-site. There were days when we were gone all day, spending hours in places where we had to be quiet and occupied. Though I re-instated the tote bag routine, often what was packed wasn't sufficient or appropriate for the situation. And, there were times we needed diversion, a change, something to divert attention if even for a few minutes.

During that season in our journey, we: 

  • Counted. For our littlest learners, counting always helped to pass time whether driving or waiting. We would count by ones, twos, fives, tens, and hundreds, depending on the skill level of the learner. I kept scrap paper and handwriting paper in my purse so that if we were in a place where we could write, we would practice forming numbers or writing numbers in sequence. To vary the game, I would say a number and the learner would say the number before and after the given number. 
  • Practiced oral math facts. With multiple ability children riding in the van, I gave the youngest learner an easy addition problem, the next learner a harder addition fact, and the oldest elementary learner a multiplication problem or oral word problem.

In doing so, each learner was able to work at whatever level he or she needed to. The oral review was good for everyone!

  • Played "Starts With". This game was one of those which we could start or stop at any time. For the youngest learners, I would say a letter and ask for each child to say a word which started with the given letter. For example, I would say "F" and she would say "fish". For older learners, I would give a consonant blend (br, sl, sk, ch, bl, st, cr, etc.) or change the request, perhaps asking for a word that ended with a given consonant or consonant blend. 
  • Spelled most frequently misspelled words. I kept a list of words--varied levels because though a word on a list is placed in one grade, it may be placed in another grade on another list--in my tote bag to pull out when needed. To practice, I asked each learner to spell a word at their learning level. I would say the word, use it in a sentence, and then ask the learner to spell the word orally. After the learner spelled the word, I would repeat the correct spelling and ask the next child a different word. This would allow learners who were listening to either learn new words or review silently the spelling of mastered words. This activity helped pass the time in the van, waiting room, or surgery center. Click the button for a free printable of frequently misspelled words. Remember, use this list as a guide, in a manner most helpful to your leaner. A third grade learner might be able to spell fifth grade words and vice versa.

 

  • Rhymed words. For this oral game--which we played in the car and in waiting rooms--I would say a word and whoever was with me at the time would say a word which rhymed with the given word. To change up the activity, we would take turns being the first to give a word. This game could be started or stopped at a moment's notice. 
  • Read and retold. Listening to and then retelling a story in sequence is an activity which is extremely beneficial for developing processing skills. I would read a picture book or a chapter in a chapter book and then ask learners to retell the story. To vary the game, I would start with the first event and then ask a learner to recall the next event. Together we would retell the story event by event.
  • Matched states and capitals. Like the math and spelling drills, I would move around the van offering a new state or capital to each learner. In response, the learner would orally provide the match. Again, I would choose states or capitals based on the level of the child. Younger learners always started with his or her state, a relative's state, or a state we had recently studied. To change up the game, I would offer a state abbreviation and the learner would say the corresponding state. We played this game in the car while riding to great-grandma's assisted living complex. Click the button for a printable list of states and capitals.

 

  • Played "I am Thinking of an Animal", taking turns giving clues and answers. Sometimes I made this game geographically or biome specific. For example, the parameters may have been jungle, rainforest, ocean, forest, etc. This allowed every learner to play, little to big. One of our favorite places to play this game was in the garden gazebo at great-grandma's assisted living center.
  • Listened to audio books. Audio resources--music, books, plays--offered a calming diversion in otherwise disheartening circumstances. In addition, older learners were able to download audio books to a Kindle or reader and take learning with us no matter where we had to be. Our high schooler even used our experiences to earn high school credits (that's another blog post). Audio resources have been a means of continue reading or learning subjects we might not have been able to otherwise.  
  • Played games. Grammy loved games and was able to play up until just weeks before she passed. She loved BINGO (great for number recognition for my littles), UNO, Othello (great for strategy), and Scrabble (spelling!). We played, enjoyed our time together, and learned!
  • Talked. There was much to process after every visit with Grammy: her health, her future, her care, the people we met, on and on. Our children always had questions and it was important to put down the books and talk through concerns and questions. Through conversation, sometimes tears, we process our journey together. The relationships deepened as a result. 

I have to be honest, there were many valuable real-life learning opportunities in our unexpected seasons of education away from home--things we couldn't have learned at home.

During appointments we listened to nurses and doctors explain medical conditions, talked to patients in waiting rooms, opened and held doors for people who couldn't do so for themselves, and asked Grammy questions about her childhood. She was able to tell us about her life during the Great Depression. She remembered man walking on the moon and President Kennedy's assassination. She was a living history book!

When Grammy's health warranted stays in assisted living facilities and we visited several times a week, we made friends with nursing staff and residents. When we visited, we were able to help push resident's wheelchairs, encourage the nursing staff with treats and kind words, and visit and play games with residents who didn't have many visitors. During the holidays, we participated in an egg hunt with residents and made Christmas cards. In addition, we had important conversations about life, death, relationships, and medical care. We learned how to care for people, to extend love to folks who were walking through tough circumstances. Those months were a challenging physically and emotionally. However, relationally those four months were some of the most precious in our family's life together. 

Those days had to be intentional, real, and relational because truly every moment mattered.

We wouldn't have experienced these precious times if we weren't homeschooling. 

Have you had seasons like these, times when home education needed to be portable, moments when real and relational learning far outweighed the paper trail of progress? 

What did you do? Please share in the comments. 


A Story, A Masterpiece

Caught between the unfolding events, we wonder what will happen next?

What will the next paragraph reveal?

What light does this paragraph cast on the next chapter?

Our lives are eloquently-written classics, penned by the Author. We sit on the edge of today's paragraph waiting to see how today's actions will unfold and impact the rest of our story. It is a masterpiece!

I don't know about you, but I constantly remind myself not to be eager and read ahead--like I longed to do when reading my favorite chapter book as a child--but to enjoy today's chapter; the sights, the sounds, to take them in and relish them.

As I focus on today's rising action, I might find myself frustrated, discouraged, wanting to put down the story and read no longer. Or, I might find myself seeking, praying, content, and full of gratitude. I believe this is how the Author intended me to read this masterpiece, this classic. I remind myself not skip ahead, impatiently reading what might spoil today's joy.

And then there are tomorrows. Oh, what about those tomorrows?

Tomorrow will reveal new events, new characters, new lessons in due time when the sun rises and mercies are new. Will we be content to enjoy today's amazing paragraph and not read ahead? 

I pray I will. How about you?

Reading through the Holidays: Preschool through High School

Hot chocolate, a blanket, a cozy couch, and a few favorite holiday reads. Picture books welcome us to tables with families and stables under starlight where we can count and pretend. Other books invite us into history, to meet people and walk through events. As weather cools and the holidays approach, I look forward to moments of reading and learning together. 

Thanksgiving reminds us it is time to pull Reeve Lindbergh's poetic Johnny Appleseed from our picture book shelf. It is definitely one of our fall holiday favorites. 

Our family's favorite Christmas story is found in the gospel of Luke. It is central to our home. However, over the past twenty-seven years of reading to littles and bigs, we have also enjoyed other literary treasures. We've all come to anticipate the month of December, a time when we read, reread, and compare Christmas stories from around the world. 

 

What are some of our favorite holiday reads?

We've compiled our list of holiday classics just for you! 

Thanksgiving for Littles

  • The Thanksgiving Story, Alice Dalgliesh
  • The Little Red Hen, Paul Galdone
  • The Very First Thanksgiving Day, Rhonda Gowler Greene
  • Ox-Cart Man, Donald Hall
  • Johnny Appleseed, Reeve Lindbergh
  • Why Do Leaves Change Color?, Betsy Maestro
  • How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, Marjorie Priceman

Thanksgiving for Middles

  • A Lion to Guard Us, Clyde Robert Bulla
  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, Clyde Robert Bulla
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble, Alice Dalgiesh
  • Landing of the Pilgrims, James Daugherty
  • Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving, Eric Metaxas

Thanksgiving for Bigs

  • The Mayflower Compact (primary source)
  • Of Plimouth Plantation, William Bradford (primary source)
  • The Courtship of Miles Standish, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (poem)

Thanksgiving Family Read Togethers

  • Pocohantas and the Strangers, Clyde Robert Bulla
  • The Matchlock Gun, Walter Edmunds

Thanksgiving Poetry

  • We Gather Together, Adrianus Valerius (hymn)
  • My Triumph, John Greenleaf Whittier (poem)

Christmas for Littles

  • The Mitten, Jan Brett
  • Christmas for 10, Cathryn Falwell
  • The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, Rhonda Gowler Greene
  • The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale, Angela Elwell Hunt
  • 12 Days of Christmas, Rachel Isadora
  • The Crippled Lamb, Max Lucado
  • Gingerbread for Liberty, Mara Rockliff
  • The Polar Express, Chris Van Ausburg
  • Room for Little One: A Christmas Tale, Martin Waddell
  • Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

Christmas for Middles

  • The Little Match Girl, Hans Christan Andersenn
  • The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry
  • Silent Night: The Story and Its Song, Margaret Hodges 
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • The Call of the Wild, Jack London

Christmas for Bigs

  • A Country Christmas, Louisa May Alcott 
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Christmas Family Read Togethers

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson

Christmas Poetry

  • Christmas Trees, Robert Frost
  • 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore 

As the fall and winter holidays approach, gather littles and bigs. Enjoy the sights and sounds, but also the literary treasures of the times. Perhaps a new read will become your family's favorite. 

Happy, intentional, real, and relational holidays to you and yours!

Want to learn more about how to simplify your holiday season? Check out this blog post.