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!

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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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! 

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!

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.

 

What About Spelling?

As we sat around the evaluation table with homeschooling families this summer, great questions surfaced.

"What about spelling?"

A common question with several potential right answers dependent upon educational philosophy, age, ability, and learning style.

In other words, as evaluators, we have seen many methods and curricula produce excellent spellers.

There is no right answer to this question. 

There are options.

  • Purchase a traditional, grade-leveled spelling curriculum. This is the first answer which comes to mind for most parents. Easy-peasy. Buy the curriculum. Done. Works well for some children and parents, alike.
  • Choose high-interest or frequently used words. This method takes a bit more work, but is pleasantly effective. It works well for active, hands-on learners as well as learners with interests which saturate their days (like the fisherman who sees a need to spell the words bait, tackle, license, trout, shrimp, brackish, hook, sinker, shore, catch, freshwater, captain, salmon, carp, permit, marsh, or wade).  Words of interest often return the greatest reward because there is a motivation to spelling--an email to Grandma, a note to the bait-n-tackle owner, a request to write an article for publication. 
  • Use objects of interest. Another wonderful option for hands-on, engrossed-in-an-interest learner. Using Dolch words, commonly misspelled words, or interest-based words, learners can use objects (think acorns, Matchbox cars, cereal and sand boxes) to spell. Stickers and foam letters make great teaching tools as well. 

Sometimes we have used objects of interest to learn spelling. One of our most unusual items have been acorns and cerealStickers and foam letters make great teaching tools as well.

 

  • Play a game. My children enjoy engaging games. Games add spark to learning. When there is a less-than-favorite subject to learn--spelling is one in our house--I pull out Scrabble or Banana Grams. Making games can be fun, too!

  • Compile a "I want to learn these!" list. Where there is intrinsic motivation, retention is not far behind. Whether learning a new skill or reading a book with intriguing vocabulary there are likely words the child wants to know. Use the words of interest to compile a "I want to learn these!" list, place it in a notebook, and whittle away at it each week.

Though cliche, it is often true of learning

variety is the spice of life.  

The truth is, classroom and home educators have used a combination of the above possibilities and been highly successful at teaching children this often dreaded and difficult skill: SPELLING. 

There is not a tried-and-true method. Each child receives, stores, and retrieves information differently, especially with spelling.

Hence a individualized path is often necessary for the greatest retention.

And often, spelling which is intentional, real and relational is remembered.

Make. Every. Moment. Matter.

 

SIMPLE Paragraph Writing for Little Learners

Paragraph writing can be intimidating, especially for little learners just beginning the writing journey. 

Over twenty-eight years I have tried numerous ways to teach paragraph writing. Depending on the learning style and motivation, some methods have been more successful than others.

What have we used?

Our recent success involved colors and glue. Yes, the creative, crafty, visual learner.

First, said learner narrated her paragraph to me. She spoke, I wrote. The paragraph was of interest, her topic choice. In fact, it was her idea.

The most important initial step toward writing success: the content must be intriguing, something that matters to the learner. 

After she narrated her paragraph and I wrote the words neatly on lined paper, we discussed what a sentence was and why each sentence was important to the paragraph. The first sentence pulls the reader in, the last sentence wraps up or concludes. We also discussed punctuation.

I drew a black line after each sentence, a stop sign.

She selected construction paper; the number of colors dependent on the number of sentences.

The next step of her writing was to write one sentence on each color. After writing each sentence, she placed the sentences in paragraph order. This step was important as one of the sentences was better placed toward the end of the paragraph. With one sentence per color we could easily change the order of the sentences.

Once sentence order was finalized, she glued the edges. Done! She reread her paragraph and then proudly displayed on Dad's side of the table, waiting for him to arrive home from work.

Success! She walked away confident about the process and eager to share learning with others.

Intentional Cursive Handwriting

Eight weeks of summer home education evaluations leave me pondering.

Methods and means.

Current trends.

Proven practices.

Preparing our children for the future. What skills will they need? Thoughts today revolve around penmanship and cursive.

All those practice books.

Oh yes, there is good reason to teach penmanship and 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.

Purposeful cursive allow for greater retention, practically and naturally.

All those practice pages? Maybe, since progress can be seen if a person thumbs through pages, first practice page to the last. But could there  be another way? Another means? 

Seeing books full of practice pages was helpful to us and to the learners. There was completion and progress. However, there was a missing element to learning.

Quite honestly most of the children who completed the work were less than excited about their accomplishments. Sadly, some learners didn't even care about their work. It was pushed aside or tossed back in the crate with other books. Further, most learners hadn't even considered their ability to write with purpose, compose. Handwriting was just another thing to do, complete. 

Handwriting can be valued;

something of purpose, useful. 

Then there were other learners. These learners pulled out papers that were important to them: a creative writing piece, a business plan, a data report from a science project (which included very delicate drawings), a list of important goals.

These papers mattered, and they were completed in cursive! 

The purpose of this post is not to argue whether or not cursive (the mechanics of it) is important or if it has proper place in a school day. Of course learners need proper instruction in strokes and formation. They will be more efficient writers if they choose to keep working in cursive. 

However, once strokes and formation are known, practice and purpose may look different. In fact, productivity--not to mention attitude--will be effected.

Looking for fun, productive means to practice cursive? 

  • Paper checks. Have any old ones resting in a box collecting dust? Pull them out. Hand them to a learner and watch fascination drive learning. First, there will be a discussion of what they are, what they are used for, where the money comes from, and how they are becoming obsolete. Then, there will be instant need to use them! Play store, restaurant, shop and more, while practicing handwriting. To encourage their play, I write related vocabulary on the white board: check, date, total, receipt, cashier, pay, cash. I add number words as well as dollars, hundred, thousand. Then, my children have the words needed to play and to write their checks (spelling!). They play, practice, and enjoy using their best handwriting because it mattered to them. Checks were something of value. The written checks from play time became part of a portfolio of work samples. 

 

  • Grocery lists. Children love to dream about what they would like to buy at the grocery store. Let them dream in lists! Using a sale ad from a local store, I allow my children make a grocery list, either in manuscript or cursive, their choice. The next day I make the project more applicable to life. Children worked together to combine their lists and create a nutritionally sound family meal plan on a budget. Not only do we practice handwriting, but we discuss lessons in health and math. There is intentional purpose. The list and meal plan are added to the portfolio of work samples. 
  • Plan an in-state vacation. Use a state map. With the help of the map, I ask my child to plan a vacation to visit 6 cities, 1 lake, and 1 river in our state. The names of the places (capitalized proper nouns) are written in the spelling notebook or on a white board. Handwriting (and capitalization) is practiced while considering state geography. To add math, the learner can use the scale of mile to add and find an estimate of the total mileage to be traveled.
  • Plan a European (or other location) vacation. As above, the learner plans a vacation to include visits to 1 mountain, 2 rivers, 2 lakes, 5 cities, and 2 countries. 
  • Create a menu. The menu should be complete with prices (writing decimal numbers). Using play coins, an adding machine or pretend cash register, learners can play restaurant. I remind the learners that handwriting should be the best it can be so customers can read and order. 
  • Copy a recipe. This is a great practical handwriting for a budding chef. The best handwriting will help the recipe be read by others, if necessary.
  • Write a poem. Poetry writers will appreciate this intentional, practical suggestion. Some families we know use poetry or verse for handwriting and copy work. 
  • Create purposeful lists. Learners have interests. One of my elementary learners is creating handcrafted jewelry. Making a wish list of supplies, chains, and beads allows her to check off items as she makes purchases. Learners may choose to make a lists of colors, car parts, robotic supplies, hair accessories, and more.   
  • Foster creativity. Creatives will welcome using fancy charcoal pencils, felt pens, or quill pens to practice manuscript and cursive. 

In the comments, share ways you have made cursive personal, natural.

We are in this together, helping one another to be intentional, real, and relational. 

SIMPLE Prepositions for Little Learners

prepositions.jpg

"Mom, what is a preposition?"

A great question to start the day. Impromptu language arts lesson.

Curious minds are ripe for learning!

A preposition is a word that connects or shows the relationship between two nouns or a noun and pronoun. Prepositions are always with an object or person.

We reviewed nouns and pronouns. Then, I gave examples of each and used them in a sentence.

Together, my little learners and I looked around the room and chose two nouns for our preposition play, mice and cars.

Paper mice were made from 3x5 cards, each child coloring a mouse family. I found some Duplo cars from our collection of blocks.

Once all the mice were colored and decorated, tails in place, our preposition discovery began.

For our play we would act out sentences, stating the relationship between the mice and the cars. I demonstrated by placing the mice on the cars while stating,"The mice are on the cars." I wrote "on" on a 3x5 card and placed it near the cars.

Then, I asked each of the child to place their mice in some relation to the cars, stating the position in relation to one another.

The mice are under the cars.

The mice are on the cars.

The mice are aside of the cars.

The mice are behind the cars.

As the children placed the mice and verbally expressed their position, I wrote the preposition on a card. Before long we had a handful of preposition cards. By the end of a few hours, we used our creative thinking, worked on spatial relationships, applied artistic uniqueness, and UNDERSTOOD prepositions and how to use them in sentences.

Int he end, we also had a handful of spelling cards to use for other lessons.

Learning started with a question.

"Mom, what is a preposition?"

SIMPLE.

Click to download your FREE PDF printable!

Sticker Spelling

Our youngest, a budding emergent reader, beginning speller happened upon large sheets of 2-inch peel-off, brightly-colored sticky letters.

A gold mine!

Within 40 minutes she had completed the equivalent of a month's worth of spelling lessons, without tears, without coercion. Best of all, she remembered the words she spelled, days later. A win-win-win situation.

Learning, fun, retention.

That is what I call a productive day!

Spelling Cereal

Two weeks after an incredible "buy one get one free" cereal sale and an impromptu breakfast spelling lesson, Dad was home, watching the young ones while I met a friend for coffee. 

Dad asked the little learners,

"What would you like for breakfast?" 

The four year old promptly answered, 

"Dad, could I have some of that spelling cereal?"

Dad wasn't quite sure whether spelling cereal was a breakfast choice or one of our educational games. 

Upon further questioning, the four year old commanded,

"Dad, just open the pantry."

He did and quickly found out that spelling cereal was indeed a breakfast choice. It was letter-shaped cereal we had used for spelling a few days prior.

When I arrived home, my husband quipped,

"Will you quit having so much fun with the kids!"

I snickered.

It was real and it was relational. It was remembered. 

Fall Spelling Fun

This week my daughter had a wonderful impromptu idea.

"Remember those acorns I collected--all 224 of them? I used them to spell words!"

Brilliant idea.

A subject often relegated to long lists of unrelated words.

I walked to the kitchen to see her masterpieces.

Indeed creative. Indeed reinforcing learning.

After discussion, it was determined that gluing the words to cardboard would make festive Thanksgiving decorations. 

And so goes the day when acorns become spelling practice.

(Just one day after the burstingbaggie of acorns were the place value and counting lesson. Simple, available, and intriguing equal many days and ways of learning.)

Tricky Y Game

"Those tricky Ys! They make all different sounds. They are so confusing!" 

A little learner, quite confused by all the "Y" words on a recent workbook page, voiced her opinion about why "Y" shouldn't have so many sounds. Those tricky "Y" words!

I decided to take learning off the page and put it into her hands. 

And we learned TOGETHER!

I made a list of words ending in "Y" which took on the ending sound of either long e or long i. Then, I created a document which would provide 2 x 3 inch cards when printed on 100 pound card stock (colored card stock made our game more fun). Once printed, little learners used a blunt-ended scissors to cut the words apart. 

Once cards were cut, I designed a pocket Y using two envelopes--one business and one letter. To make the Y, I sealed the envelopes. Then, I trimmed 1/4 inch off the top edge of each envelop to make two pockets. Next, I formed the "Y", gluing the envelopes together and traced around the outside edges with a black permanent marker to make the "Y" more pronounced. Finally, I wrote "long e" on one envelope pocket and "long i" on the other. 

Before we sorted the words according to ending sound, each learner read the words on the cards. We reviewed rhyming words as words that sound the same and sorted the cards in rhyming words piles.

After reading the words, learners took turns choosing a word card from the draw pile, read the word, and placed the word in the correct pocket. Turn taking continued until all words were placed correctly.

This game was a hit!

In fact, this game was requested for several days straight until one of the learners discovered the words could also be used as spelling words. Great idea!

Every learner had either learned or reviewed the Tricky Y concept, sorted rhyming words, and practiced spelling, all from printable cards and two envelopes.

Intentional. Real. Relational. 

State Study with Discover America Series

While sitting around a table this morning with a sweet mom and her precious daughter--discussing their state studies--I remembered one of our favorite resources.

Discover America State by State

Colorful, inviting and plentiful in intriguing content, this fifty-one book series takes young readers on journeys through each state's geographical landscape while also allowing children to become familiar with landmarks, wildlife and culture. Truly each book provides a window from which children can peek into places they may not otherwise visit. 

One day as we were combing the shelves for the state books, our children discovered Sleeping Bear had also published state-themed number books. These, too, quickly became favorites. In fact, when used in conjunction with the State by State books, our studies deepened. 

Visit the Sleeping Bear Press website for more information including a plethora of teacher guides and learner activities. The State by State activities were helpful to us in our studies as were the guides for the state number books

As I post this blog, I am with you on this summer journey of fondly remembering the highlights of our year yet looking forward to the learning ahead, just like the mom and sweet daughter we met this morning. 

Perhaps these books will enhance your future learning adventures. 

 

 

 

Graph Paper with Purpose

One of my favorite SIMPLE resources is one-inch graph paper. 

I renew my supply every year as we use it for all ages and stages. 

Graph Paper Patterning. Littles, markers in hand, enjoy making colorful patterns. For the very youngest we start with simple ABABABA patterns and work up to harder ABBCBBABBCBB patterns. They love creating their own patterns or copying patterns I give them. Patterning is a prenumber skill needed for numeration, counting and even language arts skills.  

One-to-One Correspondence and Counting. One-inch graph paper (or larger) is perfect for learning one object to one number. The child counts, writing a number in each square. 

Column Guide. Graph paper can be a gentle guide, keeping columns in math problems aligned. For example, the problem 32 x 21 can be written on graph paper, one digit per square, to keep children on process (in other words, which number or column is added, multiplied, subtracted or divided next) and digits in line (making the last steps of problems easy and natural, not swinging and swaying between ones, tens and hundreds). Graph paper can be helpful for all number operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) keeping problems neat and organized. 

Concept of Multiplication. Rows and columns not only provide a visual picture of a multiplication equation, but also prepare a student for learning the concept of area: length times width. Once the multiplication concept is mastered, begin learning the multiplication facts. 

Concept of Area. A natural next step to the column/row concept of multiplication above, graph paper allows the concept of area visual. I begin by drawing a large square on graph paper. Then, I teach area as length times width, tracing my finger along the square while speaking "length times width". I then write the corresponding numbers and operational symbols (squares along the length x squares along the width) under the square and solve the multiplication equation. Lastly, I count the number of squares inside the large square to check.

Algebraic Graphing. Graph paper helps big learners, too. My bigs have drawn x- and y- axis graphs on quarter-inch graph paper to solve slope intercept problems. Some learners cut out their graphs and pasted them into their regular math notebooks while others have me purchase a graph paper notebook to work their lessons, both graph and not-graphing problems.   

More than Math. We have also used graph paper for spelling, writing one letter per square. When comparing word lengths, we have cut and placed words strips side-by-side providing a visual tool for word comparison. For children who have difficulty with letter and word spacing in sentences, use quarter-inch graph paper to spell words one letter per square, leaving a square empty between words. 

Valuable Visual. Many children need a visual reference to file in the brain, especially when learning a new concept. Graph paper has provided this colorful visual for my children and many others to whom I have made this recommendation. Try it! See if graph paper presents the visual tools necessary for your child to master foundational concepts. 

Graph paper is an education staple in our home. For some children it has kept columns straight, for others graph paper offered opportunities for patterning and geometric design creation. As we look forward to the coming school year and inventory our back-to-school needs, graph paper will be a must-have resource.