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.

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.

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. 

 

 

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! 

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.

Discovery Biographies: Living Books for Young Readers

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

What really mattered!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Presidents

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

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

Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President, John Parlin

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

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

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President, Wyatt Blassingame

Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action, James C. Beach

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

George Washington: Father of Freedom, Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner, Helen Stone Peterson

Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife, LaVere Anderson

Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady, Mary Richmond Davidson

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

Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land, LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, and Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky, John Parlin

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

Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot, David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman, Mary Richardson Davidson

Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds, Katherine E. Wilkie

George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter, Adele deLeeuw

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

Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star, Charles P. Graves

Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper, Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, and Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy, Mary Catherine Rose

Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor, Jean Lee Latham

Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound, Elizabeth Rider Montgomery

George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist, Samuel and Beryl Epstein

Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder, Mary Malone

Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas, Charles P. Graves

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

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

Eli Whitney: Great Inventor, Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, and War Heroes

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

Henry Clay: Leader in Congress, Helen Stone Peterson

Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter, Lillie Patterson

David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral, Jean Lee Latham

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

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

Authors, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

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

Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot, Lillie Patterson

Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist, Wyatt Blassingame

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

 

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



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

Living Books in High School

When we started our homeschooling high school journey in 2003, I was determined not to leave the learning power of Living Books behind in the elementary and middle school years. 

Living Books belong in high school!

While preparing a workshop I will present at the 2017 FPEA Convention, May 25-27, I decided to give Celebrate Simple readers some quick ideas we used as we incorporated Living Books into high school course content. Our high school learners were greatly impacted by the Living Books they chose. In fact, several titles greatly impacted career choices and life goals.

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When we began our high school journey, the first content area in which we incorporated Living Books was history. This seemed a natural choice since we had been using Living Books--biographies, autobiographies, and historical fiction--to accent our history studies in the elementary and middle school years. 

Adding Living Books to our science studies was also a natural fit, especially for learners who had interest in specialty areas or who wanted to dig deeper to learn more about scientists and inventors. As our young adults advanced through the high school years, we branched out into adult and college level materials. 

Reaching our creatives with written materials was a challenge at times, unless the reading was related their artistic gifting or interest. If you find yourself in that quandary, know that you are not alone and that your efforts are worth the time spent trying to find them great, applicable reads.

And, I had to let go of my more rigid definition of what a Living Book was in order to be open to the plethora of possibilities I would  have otherwise discounted.

The power of the story--not my definition of Living Book--impacted the life of the reader. 

What about an athlete who loves to read? How can Living Books be interwoven in a personal fitness or weight training course? And, what about an athlete who would rather play ball than read?

Living Books have the power to pull in even the most reluctant reader! 

Living Books can give life to any subject, if we allow them the opportunity to do so. Recently, one daughter began to lean toward personal growth and leadership materials, while another continued on her pursuit of all things medical. Why not include Living Books in that area, too!

If you are in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend, I would love for you to join me in my workshop, Keeping High School Alive with Living Books, at the FPEA Convention. This workshop will offer insight as to how Living Books bring high school studies to life and influence choices learners make beyond the tassel turning. The workshop will be packed with specific ideas in regards course content, book titles, and life-learning experiences. Hope to see you there! 

 

 

When Living Books Become Tickets to Travel

It was a stress-filled day. Guests coming; comments becoming sarcastic. 

I knew a few quiet, intentional minutes would be a great reset--a reset and a relationship builder. 

And, we could go to LONDON! The text and illustrations of A Walk In London by Salvatore Rubbino would take us there.

I asked a learner to go to the library bucket and find the London book. Once retrieved we sat on the living room floor, backs positioned against the couch. I read the title and author from the cover and opened the book. The illustrations immediately caught the attention of my ten-year-old. Her excitement was quickly caught by my five year old. I began to read and we were immediately transported to the streets of London, each page highlighting a landmark or introducing a bit of history. We talked about words we didn't know; ah-ha'ed over new facts.

For twenty minutes we listened and learned together--learners from five to thirteen. 

When I closed the book, stress had been replaced with calm and we had enjoyed our minutes together.

This book was our ticket to visit a country, but it was also an opportunity to reset attitudes and deepen our relationships.

For the past 27 years, books--fiction and non-fiction--have provided us with tickets to travel. Some of our favorites include

  • What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World, Maya Ajmera
  • Counting Chickens, Polly Alakija
  • Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under, Marianne Berkes
  • Over in the Arctic: Where the Cold Winds Blow, Marianne Berkes
  • The Five Chinese Brothers, Claire Huchet Bishop 
  • The Littlest Matryoshka, Corinne Demas Bliss 
  • The Three Snow Bears, Jan Brett
  • Italy ABCs: A Book about the People and Places of Italy, Sharon Katz Cooper
  • The Story of Ping, Marjorie Flack
  • Germany ABCs: A Book about the People and Places of Germany, Sarah Heiman
  • Kenya ABCs: A Book about the People and Places of Kenya, Sarah Heiman
  • Paddle to the Sea, Holling C. Holling
  • If You Lived Here: Houses of the World, Giles Laroche 
  • The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, Thomas Locker 
  • The Story of the Statue of Liberty, Betsy Maestro
  • The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History, John S. Major
  • Bread, Bread, Bread, Ann Morris
  • Houses and Homes, Ann Morris
  • A is for Africa, Ifeoma Onyefulu
  • How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, Marjorie Priceman
  • Marguerite Makes a Book, Bruce Robertson 
  • This is Venice, Miroslav Sasek
  • D is for Down Under: An Australia Alphabet, Devin Scillian
  • C is for China, Sungwan So
  • The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto, Natalie Standiford
  • Round is a Tortilla, Roseanne Thong
  • E is for Eiffel Tower, Helen L. Wilbur

Chapter Books for Older, Independent Readers or Family Read-Aloud

  • The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
  • The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
  • Hans Brinkner, or The Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge
  • A Cricket in Times Square, George Selden

If you enjoyed A Walk in London, check out A Walk in Paris and A Walk in New York also written by Salvatore Rubbino. 

Books can also bring comfort in difficult times. If your family is walking through a challenging season, snuggling up together to read might be one way to invite calm to the moments of your day. Check out this post, Light-Hearted Reads for Difficult Moments

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. 

Our FAVORITE Farm Picture Books

This year marks more than 30 years of working with little learners; 27 of those years watching our little learners grow and learn daily in our home (yes, we still have some little learners!). 

I watch the wonder in their eyes and listen to the curiosity in their questions.

Along the way, I've come to understand that young children have innate interests--many of them! One of those interests is animals; all animals, big and small. Couple a young child's natural curiosities with inviting picture books and non-fiction reads and you have the makings of a learning frenzy!


I am sure you have watched your children--or those you work with--choose books off a shelf. First one, then another.


Reflecting on my years of watching children gather farm books--a combination of treasures they've found in the local library and our home collection--here are the books chosen most often. 

Fiction

  • Big Red Hen, Keith Baker
  • The Big Red Barn, Margaret Wise Brown
  • Rooster's Off to See the World, Eric Carle
  • The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle
  • The Very Busy Spider, Eric Carle
  • Growing Vegetable Soup, Lois Ehlert
  • Market Day: A Story Told with Folk Art, Lois Ehlert
  • The Little Red Hen, Paul Galdone
  • Barn Dance, Pat Hutchins
  • The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss
  • Barn Dance, Bill Martin, Jr.
  • The Turnip, Pierr Morgan
  • The Little Red Hen, Jerry Pinkney
  • Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens
  • The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, Philemon Sturges
  • Winter on the Farm (Little House Picture Book), Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Non-Fiction

  • Milk: From Cow to Carton, Aliki
  • From Grass to Milk, Stacy Taus-Bolstad  
  • Food from Farms, Nancy Dickman
  • Jobs on a Farm, Nancy Dickman
  • Cows: Watch Them Grow, Lauren Diemer
  • Chickens Aren't the Only Ones, Ruth Keller
  • Chicks and Chickens, Gail Gibbons
  • Farming, Gail Gibbons
  • From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons
  • Horses, Gail Gibbons
  • Milk Makers, Gail Gibbons
  • Pigs, Gail Gibbons
  • Chickens, Julie Lungren
  • From Kernel to Corn, Robin Nelson
  • One Bean, Anne Rockwell
  • Chicken, David M. Schwartz
  • Plant Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz
  • Where Do Chicks Come From?, Amy E. Sklansky

Do you have multiple children at multiple ages, preschool through elementary? We do, too!

One of our favorite family read-aloud treasures is the timeless classic Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Pop some popcorn or serve some hot chocolate and enjoy listening together as Mom or Dad reads. 

Reading aloud is intentional, real, and relational. It matters!

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! 

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.

 

Preschooling- Relationally

People were made for relationship. Each of us, no matter the age, has the basic need for relationship--for other people who will care, listen, walk alongside. 

Children are no different.

Relationships are essential to a young child's development and academic success. 

The family provides the venue for this vitally important relational element to life and learning.

Learning together. Children learn best when learning alongside people who care greatest for them. Learning together might include reading a book snuggled on the couch or retelling a story and talking about the character's choices. Learning together can be writing letter or sending an email thank you to a family member or friend. Learning may also be writing numbers in fresh mud after a rain shower, marveling at minnows as they swim around a pond's edge, or listening to baby robins chirp for mama bird. Skills learned together are remembered. 

Work together. Children want to be a contributing part of a community. For small children, this begins in the family, working together to accomplish a task--perhaps emptying a dishwasher or making cookies for a sick friend. Working together sends the message, "We can do this together!" When working together in a family unit children come to understand that members--gifted differently--can contribute to a greater cause. In the family unit, children can be invited to join in, to solve problems together, and help a unified cause. Working together might mean raking leaves, pulling weeds, painting a fence, or planting a garden. Often working together also offers opportunity to build life skills and develop muscle strength. For example, wringing out sponges while washing the car not only results in a sparkly clean car, but builds muscle and motor skills. Children feel empowerment when they can contribute. The family is a perfect environment for contribution. 

Play together. Playing together offers natural opportunities to share, to defer to another person, to take turns. Playing with another person, especially one who can model sharing, turn-taking, and deference, invites children to move toward associative and cooperative play. For example, building play dough sculptures together allows for discussion and collaboration--co-laboring to create something new. Bouncing a ball back and forth develops motor skills but also provides opportunity to take turns and share. Some of our favorite play together times include swinging while singing a fun song, working puzzles, and playing board games. 

Eat together. Meal time is gathering time, time to talk about the events of the day, to verbalize the goodness in the moments of the day, together. What were the favorite moments? Which moments were the least favorite? Eating together not only provides for face-to-face conversation but also provides real situations for practicing table manners and deference toward other people.

Worship together. Worshiping together grows spiritual bonds. Singing together also allows children to experiment with their voices--highs, lows, louds and softs--or follow a tune and experiment with musical instruments--real or homemade (nothing like pots and pans). 


As I reflect on the the early years of our now adult children, I smile. Those days we spent reading aloud, observing the life cycles of butterflies, emptying the dishwasher, building block towers, preparing fraction sandwiches, and serving at church....MATTERED! Those moments of intentional interaction while living and learning together built--block by block--the foundation for the relationship my adult children and I enjoy today.  

A strong relational foundation prepares a child for life.

Light-Hearted Reads for Difficult Moments

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

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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.