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.

Nature Study Resources to Foster Curiosity

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YOU can teach science!

When I began homeschooling twenty-six years ago, one of the topics I felt least prepared to teach was science. What if I couldn’t teach my children what they were supposed to learn? What if I missed something important?  It didn’t matter that I completed a Teaching Science to Young Children course in college and taught science to preschoolers for several years. I still didn’t feel prepared to teach science to my children.

My thinking didn’t seem to make sense. I was “an educator”. The fact is I thought myself into a circle of concerns and questions.

Then came a realization.

Children LOVE being outdoors and they LOVE to ask questions—two factors providing a great foundation from which to work.

Maybe I could teach science?

Years later, I know I can. It’s not about me coming up with great plans and fancy curriculum.

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It’s about me fostering the curiosity and providing engaging resources; being available to listen to ideas and help process information.

The same is true today as I embark on another year with a handful of learners, preschool through high school.  

Perhaps you face the same doubts and similar questions.  

You are not alone.

Your learners may be at different ages and stages. You may live in the city.

Again, you are not alone.

YOU can teach science!

Starting Points

  • Find out what your children want to learn, what interests them. Start there.

  • If there are no hints, start with animals. Most children love animals, of some type.

  • Add real experiences.  Many can be found around your home or community.

  • Provide a field guide or two for found treasures.

  • Gather a pile of inviting non-fiction and picture books.

Need a few leads? Here are some of our favorites.

Non-Fiction Books

Blooms and Plants

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

How a Seed Grows, Helene J. Jordan

Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert

Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

Insects and Crawlies

About Arachnids: A Guide for Children, Cathyrn Sill

About Insects: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

Are You A Grasshopper? Judy Allen

Bugs Are Insects, Anne Rockwell

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

Tadpoles and Frogs

About Amphibians: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

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Beaches

About Crustaceans: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls, Gail Gibbons

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

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Fins

About Fish: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Feathered Friends

All About Birds, Cathryn Sill

About Hummingbirds: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Counting is for the Birds, Frank Mazzola, Jr.

Furry Critters

All About Mammals, Cathryn Sill

 

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Blog Posts

Blog post: Vintage Science Books for the WIN!

Use what is available in the backyard, at the park or beach front, on the porch or pond’s edge—wherever you happen to be.

Porch Science  https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2017/5/31/porch-science

Citizen Science https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2017/10/22/citizen-science-get-real-with-learning

Puddle Fun https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2016/10/4/children-learn-from-puddles

Field Guides and Resources

A Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock

Florida’s Fabulous Series

                Florida’s Fabulous Waterbirds: Their Stories, Winston Williams

                Florida’s Fabulous Land Birds: Their Stories, Winston Williams

Florida’s Fabulous Reptiles and Amphibians: Snakes, Lizards, Alligators, Frogs and Turtles, Winston Williams

Take-Along Guides

                Caterpillars, Bugs, and Butterflies, Mel Boring

                Birds, Nests, and Eggs, Mel Boring

                Trees, Leaves, and Bark, Diane Burns

Peterson Field Guides  http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/peterson/

Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition, Powell, Conant, and Collins

Nature-Related Picture Books

A Nest is Noisy, Dianna Hutts Aston

Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney

One Morning in Maine, Robert McCloskey

Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

Roxaboxen, Alice McLerran

Snowflake Bentley, Jacqueline Briggs Martin

The Raft, Jim LaMarche

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Nature-Related Drawing Books for Sketchers and Creatives

Draw 50 Birds: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Chickadees, Peacocks, Toucans, Mallards, and Many More of Our Feathered Friends, Lee J. Ames

Draw 50 Flowers, Trees, and Other Plants: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Orchids, Weeping Willows, Prickly Pears, Pineapples, and Many More..., Lee J. Ames

How to Draw Flowers (Dover How to Draw), Barbara Soloff Levy

Supplies and Materials

Brock Magiscope https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2016/4/22/owl-pellets-and-a-magiscope-simple-discovery-science

Carolina Biological Supply Company  https://www.carolina.com/ (owl pellets)

Educational Innovators https://www.teachersource.com/ (dolomite samples and owl pellets)

 Nature Gift Store https://www.nature-gifts.com/  (ant farms and live ants, butterflies)

 

We live in a suburban area. Though we have a backyard and a neighborhood to explore, we have to plan and be intentional about visiting state parks, ponds and streams, or the beach. When we travel we look for opportunities which are not typical or available in our area.

We’ve enjoyed

  • Bird sanctuaries

  • Rainforest exhibits

  • Arboretums

  • Nature preserves

  • State and national parks

  • Factories and manufacturing plants

  • Museums and displays

  • State and county fairs

 

YOU can teach science!

And, in doing so, you will not only keep your child’s natural curiosity alive, but you will open doors for other discipline areas like math and writing.

There could have a WHOLE podcast on nature-related study. In fact, there is! Check out this conversation I had with Jenni and Jody over at From Cradle to Calling.




Read Aloud Time: To Schedule or Not to Schedule

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A woman walked toward my booth with an inquisitive look on her face. I knew she had a question.

“I just heard I should schedule read-aloud time. Is that how you’ve done it?”

In some seasons, yes. One particular year of our homeschooling journey, starting our morning with a good picture book fueled our day. The kids could consistently count on me gathering the troops in the living room right after breakfast before the oldest learners sat with me for math. Scheduling read-aloud together time was perfect for that season. It brought us together and grew us closer in a time when we could have been disjointed.

In another part of our educational adventure, when littles had tired eyes and pouty faces (like after lunch when tummies were full and bodies needed rest) I knew scheduling a quiet time of hearing my voice read a favorite story (or a new library treasure) would be just the right remedy. And so, I scheduled.

In other parts of our years together, I didn’t schedule reading aloud. Instead, we read when needed, you know those moments when attitudes flare and tears flow for no apparent reason. That’s when gathering on the couch invited calm. To those times, one little may bring a valued comfort read, perhaps Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton while another learner would contribute a non-fiction book of interest. No schedule meant the most freedom for our family while also allowing us to learn about one another’s needs.

Seasons vary from one family to another. Given such, the answer to the if-and-when question of scheduling read-aloud time isn’t a pat answer. Each family can decide which works best for its members.

Should your family schedule time to gather for a stack of good reads?

Only YOU can determine the answer to that question. If you are not sure, try starting with reading consistently during one part of the day, maybe right after dinner or after teeth are brushed for the evening. See how it goes. If it’s not working, try another time. And, if you are one of those parents keeping a pulse of the home environment, read when you feel the need. We parents have the ability to determine the best times for reading aloud to our families.

Remember, you and I are on a learning adventure, each path unique, each path full of possibilities.

Ride the West with Living Books

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I didn’t see it coming.

Recently, I was reminded that some of the best learning “units” we’ve enjoyed were unplanned and unexpected. They were birthed by questions raised from learning a new word, being involved in an intriguing moment, or engaging in a fascinating event. One of our most recent learning tangents evolved after reading a few chapters of The Pony Express by Samuel Hopkins Adams (Random House, 1950) to my middle schooler. In the process, the elementary learner wondered what the excitement was about and she, too, was hooked. Before we knew it we were all riding the routes of the Pony Express (Mom included after realizing she didn’t know as much as she wished she did), racing through mountain passes, stopping at rest stations, and outwitting bandits.

I remembered we had a few more books about riders on our home library shelf—as well as books about the period of history. I invited my youngest to join me at the bookshelf to find other resources she might enjoy. She was intrigued by the cover of one in particular, Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express by Eleanor Coerr (HarperCollins,1995). Upon opening the book and fanning through the pages—seeing the larger font—she was even more excited. Large font. Easy, enjoyable reading. Unintimidating. We began reading and she immediately recognized some of the rider’s names and station stops from listening to me read to her sister. Learning about the Pony Express just got a bit more personal for her.

Three weeks later, looking back, the “unit” was more than I could have imagined, mostly because of the level of engagement. There was interest and they fully “owned” what they were learning, because they were interested. The more we read, the more involved my learners became. When they had questions, we did our best to find answers. This paved the way to practice research skills.


Language arts. Study skills. History.


I know my girls remember a large percentage of what they learned. That makes my heart smile. But, there was something else that grew along with their knowledge…a relationship. They had something in common, a mutual interest, something they could talk and wonder about. They shared what they learned; got excited together.

I could never have manufactured or orchestrated that aspect of the process.

Even after 26 years of homeschooling, I didn’t see a “unit” growing from this book.

But, it did!!

And, I am grateful.

Today, because of that deeper care for one another, they are outside reading in the fort. That’s another story for another day.

Related resources for riding and exploring the west:

Buffalo Bill, Augusta Stevenson (Childhood of Famous Americans)

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman, Mary R. Davidson (Discovery biography series, Garrard Publishers)

The California Gold Rush, May McNeer (Landmark series)

Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star, Charles P. Graves (Discovery biography series, Garrard Publishers)

Jim Bridger: Man of the Mountains, Willard and Celia Luce (Discovery biography series, Garrard Publishers)

Kit Carson: Pathfinder of the West, Nardi Reeder Campion (Discovery biography series, Garrard Publishers)

Daniel Boone: The Opening of the Wilderness, John Mason Brown (Landmark series)

Daniel Boone: Young Hunter, Augusta Stevenson (Childhood of Famous Americans)

The Story of Daniel Boone, William O’Steele (Signature series)









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