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!

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.

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!

 

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!  

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. 

 

 

 

 

Sprouting Peat Pods

A failed experiment led to learning opportunity for other children.

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

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

A combination of the results of both experiments! 

It worked! 

Ten days later, our sprout was ready to plant! 

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

I wonder how many plants sprouted? 


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

Picture Books

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

A Bean's Life, Nancy Dickman

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

The Vegetables We Eat, Gail Gibbons

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

Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

One Bean, Ann Rockwell

Plant Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

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

Living Book Biographies for Elementary and Middles

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Beans in a Baggie

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

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

Every. Moment. Matters. 

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

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

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

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

Tape to a sunny window. 

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

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

Fostering the Excitement

Where there's interest, learning follows.

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

Consider:

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

What happens when experiments don't go as anticipated? 

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

Seize these learning moments. They matter. 

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

Brainstorm. Find an solution. 

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

The solution? Peat pods. 

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

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

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

That's learning at its best!

Discovery Biographies: Living Books for Young Readers

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

What really mattered!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Presidents

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

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

Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President, John Parlin

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

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

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President, Wyatt Blassingame

Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action, James C. Beach

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

George Washington: Father of Freedom, Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner, Helen Stone Peterson

Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife, LaVere Anderson

Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady, Mary Richmond Davidson

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

Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land, LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, and Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky, John Parlin

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

Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot, David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman, Mary Richardson Davidson

Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds, Katherine E. Wilkie

George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter, Adele deLeeuw

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

Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star, Charles P. Graves

Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper, Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, and Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy, Mary Catherine Rose

Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor, Jean Lee Latham

Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound, Elizabeth Rider Montgomery

George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist, Samuel and Beryl Epstein

Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder, Mary Malone

Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas, Charles P. Graves

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

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

Eli Whitney: Great Inventor, Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, and War Heroes

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

Henry Clay: Leader in Congress, Helen Stone Peterson

Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter, Lillie Patterson

David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral, Jean Lee Latham

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

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

Authors, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

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

Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot, Lillie Patterson

Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist, Wyatt Blassingame

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

 

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



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

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

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! 

Vintage Science Readers for the WIN!

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

This week we rediscovered Follett Beginning Science Books. 

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

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

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

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

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

That's a WIN!

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

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

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

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

Light-Hearted Reads for Difficult Moments

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

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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.

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

Living History: 30 Questions that Bring History to Life

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

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

"Tell us something about your life."

And she did. 

"I was an Olympic runner with Wilma Rudolph." 

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

She had something to show us. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask:

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

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

History can be intentional, real, and relational. 

When Homeschooling Has to Happen Away from Home

An elderly grandmother needing care. 

An unexpected hospital stay.

A medical emergency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During that season in our journey, we: 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you do? Please share in the comments. 


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. 

In our twenty-three years of homeschooling, our children have benefited from activities rooted in just about every educational methodology.

As beneficial and pleasurable as these experiences have been, the greatest rewards in retention and relationship have come from incorporating life moments into our days together; discovering God’s creation, serving the needs of others, and engaging in conversations.

In the younger years, we:

  • Watch busy ants carry food to their hills, commenting on their phenomenal strength and work ethic.
  • Till a small garden and sow seeds, watering and weeding with hopes to enjoy the abundant harvest, the fruits of patience, diligence, and perseverance.
  • Build a birdhouse, hanging it in a nearby tree and observing the types of birds that enjoy the shelter.
  • Weed the flower bed, discussing root systems and parts of the plant.
  • Pull out a blanket after the sun goes down and gaze upward, identifying constellations, studying the night sky.
  • Study and sketch the moon each night, pondering its changes.
  • Solve a jigsaw puzzle or play a game, building critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Sing together, experimenting with high and low pitches and encouraging vocal giftedness.
  • Sort the laundry, learning the difference between lights and darks while engaging in conversation.
  • Tidy the house, encouraging young helpers to be a part of the family team, doing what they are able.
  • Peel carrots together, strengthening small motor skills while discussing life’s profound questions, like why are bats nocturnal. 
  • Make lunch together, slicing bread into half-inch slices and cutting sandwiches into halves and quarters.
  • Make lemon meringue pie, marveling at how the egg whites change and stiffen.
  • Slice and quarter lemons, stirring in one-half a cup of sugar and filling a pitcher with water to make lemonade.
  • Cuddle on the couch, reading page after page, book after book, traveling to unknown places, meeting extraordinary people.
  • Look through family photo albums, recalling favorite memories and sharing family history.
  • Invite people of varying backgrounds, cultures, and careers into your home, broadening our children’s understanding of the world.
  • Make homemade holiday and birthday cards, sending greetings to those who might need extra cheer.

During the pre-teen, teen and young adult years, we:

  • Discuss theologies, philosophies, and belief systems, expanding our young adult's understanding of how people think and apply knowledge, while building and refreshing our own knowledge base.
  • Learn with our young adults, discerning when to encourage independent study and when to be involved.
  • Embrace our young adult's talents, giftedness, or special interests, offering to help in the discovery and research process.
  • Start a sewing project, learning and creating alongside, shoulder to shoulder.
  • Sweat with our teens, practicing sports and fitness skills, caring for their physical health.
  • Walk briskly around the neighborhood, praying for the neighbors while setting a foundation for life fitness.
  • Complete a task together (cleaning a bedroom, washing a car, mowing the yard), lightening the load of doing it alone and engaging in conversation which may not happen otherwise. 
  • Take our teens on dates (clothes shopping, tea rooms, book cafés, or sports stores), enjoying our alone time together away from the hustle-bustle of everyday life.
  • Read books together, sharing feelings and insights.
  • Sit with our young adults, engaging in conversation, helping them sort through challenges, uncertainties, and frustrations.
  • Strive to be quick to listen, asking questions that help our young adults move through difficult circumstances or relational snags using problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
  • Relax together, watching a movie or discussing a recently read book.
  • Serve at a local shelter, mission, or children’s home, blessing those who need an extra dose of love while encouraging one another to care for the least served.
  • Offer childcare for single moms or moms on bed rest, meeting her practical needs.
  • Go on a mission trips together, experiencing new cultures and serving people whose existence matters despite difficult circumstances. 

As our children move to adulthood and away from home, I often ask what mattered most in their learning and living years at home. By far, the experiences which have impacted them most, shaped their being, are the experiences which involved the real and relational. 

As you move about your day today, embrace the real and relational. Those moments matter and they will impact your family for years to come.

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

"I'm going on a nature adventure!"

nature 1.jpg

Those words were heard before the front door slammed shut and excitement ran to the backyard.

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. 

I walked back to the living room  to listen to an older learner read aloud. 

Within thirty minutes the front door swung open, the metal doorknob placing a ding in the drywall. 

"Took at these amazing finds, Mom! These specimens are the best we've ever found!"

A HUGE beetle. A lizard skeleton. A small pine cone.

"Can I get the Magiscope!"

And, while they were outside, one decided to start working through My Nature Adventures



We observed, marveled at the wonders they had found! What amazing details we saw with the scope! We drew pictures in My Nature Adventures.

Then, I asked questions about their adventures. Observation, recall, and analysis are important skills for math, language, and science skills development. 

  • What was the first insect you saw?
  • Were the insects on certain plants?
  • Were all the leaves in the pile the same?
  • What colors were the birds you saw? 
  • What were the birds doing?
  • When some birds flew away, how many were left?
  • What did each person contribute to the adventure?

There you have it. A glimpse into our day, into the nature adventures our family enjoyed. Interestingly, most of it was unplanned. Yet, my intentional listening, attentiveness, and questions were essential. 

Our favorite non-fiction, field guide type books:

  • Birds, Nests, & Eggs, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Caterpillars. Bugs, & Butterflies, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Trees, Leaves & Bark, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Florida's Fabulous Birds: Land Birds, Winston Williams (Florida's Fabulous Series)
  • Florida's Favorite Insects, Thomas Emmel (Florida's Fabulous Series) 

Nature books we enjoy reading after our adventures: 

  • From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • From Caterpillar to Butterfly, Deborah Heilgman (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • A Nest Full of Eggs, Priscilla Belz Jenkins (Read and Let's Find Out Science)

The above three Read and Let's Find Out Science books are included in the Math and Science Adventure Combo Kit in our store

nature adventures.jpg

More of our favorites: 

  • Waiting for Wings, Lois Ehlert
  • Counting is for the Birds, Frank Mazzola (an absolute favorite and great for math!)
  • Why Do Leaves Change Color? Betsy Maestro (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • Pets from the Pond, Margaret Waring Buck
  • In the Woods and Fields, Margaret Waring Buck
  • Small Pets from Woods and Fields, Margaret Waring Buck

Margaret Waring Buck books are some of the most fascinating nature books in our collection. They are vintage books published in the late 1950s; most by Abbington Press. The line drawings are done with intriguing details. Well worth the hunt to find. 

What might your children engage in today? Might it be an outdoor learning adventure or an indoor building project? 

Adventures await. 

My Nature Adventures
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My Nature Adventures invites your child outdoors to discover elements of creation which innately capture attention, engage thinking, and cultivate questions.