When Curriculum Looks Different

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People often ask what we use for curriculum.

The short answer? We use anything which will help our children learn what it is they are trying to learn. And, if it involves real life, even better.

Sometimes our curriculum looks traditional, like a math textbook.

Other times our curriculum is a stack of Living Books.

A few months ago, my middle schooler initiated a flower bed renovation project. She wanted a flower garden to call her own, a place she could eventually grow cut flowers. A few visits to the clearance section of the local garden shop and she had rescued several very nice—but wilting—flowers (aka curriculum). With a little research in a field guide and a how-to online tutorial (more curriculum), the plants were thriving.

Today we added a few more resources to the curriculum—a collection of solar garden lights. Before placing them in the bed, we experimented with them in a dark room. So fun! The littlest learners were enthralled!

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“Flashlights without batteries!” one shouted.

Curriculum incorporates all that a learner uses to learn the content of a specific subject. Though we are often tempted to stay within the means of what we know or have experienced as curriculum, in real-life the definition of curriculum broadens to include any materials used to foster a student’s understanding.

The possibilities are endless.

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Consider broadening your sense of what curriculum includes. Maybe it’s

When learning is real, relational and intentional it's remembered! 

Every. Moment. Matters.

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. 

 

 

 

 

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.

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, Naturally

Preschool is foundational for life and learning. In fact, it is during the preschool years that little learners master foundational skills which serve as a base for later learning. More importantly, attitudes and temperaments toward learning are set during the preschool and early elementary years. If learning is rushed--pushed--it becomes burdensome, hard, uninteresting, and often irrelevant. When learning flows naturally from that which is real and relational--interesting and personal--there is joy and wonder which leads to unending curiosity.

A love of learning is nurtured and begins with the items and people little learners love most.

How is a love of learning fostered, nurtured, and cultivated?

Read aloud. Reading aloud has been one of the most rewarding activities we've done in our 27 years of teaching and parenting littles. There are so many benefits to reading aloud: setting a template for the English language, building vocabulary, bolstering listening skills, understanding parts of a story, retelling events, the list goes on. Interestingly, there have been times when our little learners are seemingly off in their own world--playing, stacking blocks, coloring. However, when we talk about the stories hours later, they remember EVERY word. So, as you embark on the read aloud journey, read even when you think your learners are not engaged. Your reading matters! They are listening. 

Play pretend. Preschoolers learn by imagining and doing, by role playing and creating dialogue in relaxed and uninterrupted environments. Pretend play utilizes the senses and engages the mind, building language and thinking skills. Even as young as eighteen months old, little learners can be found feeding baby dolls, talking on pretend telephones, and mixing marvelous meals in a play kitchen. What's needed? Props! Some of our favorite pretend play items have been:

  • measuring cups and spoons
  • calculators, adding machines, and toy cash registers
  • dress up clothes and hats, backpacks and purses
  • fabric pieces or old costumes
  • magnifying glasses and binoculars
  • rulers, tape measures, protractors, and shape stencils
  • aprons,chef hats, pretend food, and dishes
  • stuffed animals and dolls
  • receipt books, stickers, and play money
  • old telephones, computer keyboards, and monitors
  • puppets and make-shift card table theaters 

Enjoy games. Playing games allows children to learn important life skills, naturally, in a relaxed (assuming there is not an over competitive) environment. While playing, littles learn turn taking, deferment to another person, waiting for others to make decisions or complete a turn, as well as a multitude of cognitive skills. Our favorite preschool learning games include:

  • BINGO (number recognition 1-75)
  • Matching cards (similarities and differences)
  • Dominoes (matching similarities, quantity recognition 1-6, counting 1-6)
  • Scrabble Junior (letter recognition, introductory phonics, initial consonant sounds)
  • Uncle Wiggly (number recognition 1-100, counting)
  • Guess Who?
  • Hi-Ho Cherry-O (early counting, addition and subtraction concepts)
  • Barrel of Monkeys (GREAT for motor skills!)
  • Busy Bee (an oldie but goodie introduced to us by great-grandma)
  • Rivers, Roads, and Rails (another oldie by goodie)
  • Hopscotch (great for motor skills)
  • Simon Says (listening and following directions)
  • Checkers (thinking skills)

Do life together. One of the things I love about parenting preschoolers is watching their faces light up, indoors and outdoors, around the home and away from home. Every moment is a marvel, especially when preschoolers are engaged in doing life with those they love. Getting the mail might lead to a conversation about stamps, addresses, states, or modes of transportation. Setting the table teaches one-to-one correspondence. Folding laundry offers opportunities to make fractional parts by folding in half and in half again. Matching shoes and sorting toys provides real-life situations for identifying similarities and differences. And, there are those kitchen experiences, some of our favorites: measuring, comparing, weighing (math skills) as well as muscle skills, scrubbing potatoes, stirring, and kneading together. Doing life together allows preschoolers to learn alongside

Talk and listen. Preschoolers are relational. They want to engage in face-to-face conversation and hand-in-hand exploration. When we talk to our children, listen to their questions, concerns, and ideas, we model interpersonal skills and they learn how to process information, feelings, and emotions.These skills are some of the most valuable nuggets our little learners will internalize in their early years. 

Ask questions. It is no secret that little learners are natural questioners. They wonder what will happen next, how things happen, and when things will happen. It is in this inquisitiveness that they learn how life and people work, interact, and interrelate. Questioning is one of the most important life skills parents can foster and nurture. Mike and I foster inquisitiveness with commentaries and questions which invite our children to do the same. 

  • I wonder how the (insert animal) stays warm.
  • What comes next in the sequence?  
  • I wonder if (insert item) will work better with this or that.
  • Do you think will happen next?
  • I wonder where that trail leads.
  • Let's watch the (insert animal). I wonder what it will do next. 
  • How long do you think it will take to ...?

Looking for a guide, a resource to encourage you through the preschooling years? One of my favorite resources for understanding the needs of little learners was Home Grown Kids by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Once our children entered first grade The Three R's by Ruth Beechick became a go-to resource. 

The preschool years are the wonder years, full of life and discovery, ripe with curiosity.

When learning flows naturally from that which is real and relational--interesting and personal--retention follows closely behind. 

 

 

 

4 Ways to Keep Holidays Simple

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

Perhaps you feel like I do as the holidays approach. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Preschooling, Intentionally

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

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

Math

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

Language

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

Science

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

Social Sciences

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

Physical

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

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

 

Preschooling- Relationally

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

Children are no different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A strong relational foundation prepares a child for life.

Dear Mom Who Worshipped in the Lobby

Dear Mom Who Worshiped in the Lobby This Week,

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

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

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

I wasn't in the mood.

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

I should clarify. 

I know where the nursery is located. 

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

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

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

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

That's when my attitude slipped. 


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

My lobby moments mattered. YOURS will, too!

 

 

 

Vintage Science Readers for the WIN!

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

This week we rediscovered Follett Beginning Science Books. 

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

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

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

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

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

That's a WIN!

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

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

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

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

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. 


Reading through the Holidays: Preschool through High School

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

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

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

 

What are some of our favorite holiday reads?

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

Thanksgiving for Littles

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

Thanksgiving for Middles

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

Thanksgiving for Bigs

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

Thanksgiving Family Read Togethers

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

Thanksgiving Poetry

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

Christmas for Littles

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

Christmas for Middles

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

Christmas for Bigs

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

Christmas Family Read Togethers

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson

Christmas Poetry

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

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

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

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

 

5 Comments I Don't Regret

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

Words are gifts.

Looking back over twenty-seven years of parenting eight children--toddler to adult--there are words I don't regret. Words spoken aptly. Words purposeful to the moment. Words to build up. Words carried through the day...and years. 

I don't regret

"Let's go to the park!" Let me out of here!  This was a common thought in my years with many littles. With a handful of bouncy children, I needed a break. Though I thought this many times a day, I don't regret staying the course and holding my tongue. In fact, replacing "let me out of here" with "let's go to the park" kept difficult moments positive with words that brought life. I don't regret, "Let's go to the park."

"Let's  _____ together!" Fill in the blank. Let's bake together. Let's do a puzzle together. Let's build Legos. Yes, there was flour in the grout. Yes, we were eventually missing pieces (they likely got swept up with the flour and ball field clay).  And, for those wondering, I didn't particularly like Legos. However, as our adult children have spread wings and flown from our home and as my elementary learners seem to grow by the minute, I don't regret accepting their invitation (or extending offers to them) to do our days together. Oh yes, I was tired--still am. But I couldn't have reaped the relationships I have with my children (including my adult children) without sowing "let's ____together" with wild abandon, even when soil was rocky or weeds popped out of no where--meaning I was tempted to give up and quit!

As children have become adults they continue to invite me into their lives: to shop (I am not a shopper but eagerly accept) or to coffee (I didn't enjoy coffee, but now have a coffee rewards card). There are many aspects of family life which could've contributed to our relationship--and likely did--however, I suspect the relationship began to soar with the open invitation to do life together.

Who doesn't appreciate an invitation? 

"Let's take a break." Littles only sit for so long. And, if I am honest, I can only sit for so long. Yesterday, in fact, I spent several hours at the kitchen table rotating learners with questions and explanations. To stay in the game, I had to take short breaks: freshen a glass of water, stretch my legs, step outside to get the mail.

Taking breaks develops work ethic. There's a body clock in all of us, the one that signals we are about to slide off track. I'm not suggesting children take a break every time they don't like something or begin to feel uncomfortable. Just the opposite. We've all had to work through those tendencies. But if we are honest, there is a point when we become unproductive and need a mind change, if only for a moment. Helping children not only understand what their personal time frame is and then helping them lengthen it (hear attention span-that's another post) is a valuable life skill.

In addition, helping children build a repertoire of positive, productive ways to take breaks is invaluable. 

I will never regret the short breaks we took: walking around the block, skipping to the neighbor's house and back, counting to 20 when frustrated, or standing up to stretch. As our children grew, breaks offered opportunities for intentionality, conversation, and life essentials.

"Your brothers and sisters will be your best friends." Fighting and bickering can get the best of a parent; it's had me often. In fact, hearing myself speak the words "your brothers and sisters will be your best friend" reminded me that my efforts could some day reap rewards. And, they did! I don't regret speaking these words. 

Today, our adult children are intentional about coming to visit younger siblings to play games or bake cookies; to pull littles close, smile into their eyes, to get on their level. These are moments a parent treasures, moments I once dreamed would happen. And they did!

"Let's read a book." Beginning in the young years, I purposed to make books an acceptable, inviting option. With fond memories of personal picture book favorites and daddy's calming read-aloud tone, I wanted to offer the gift of story to my children. Reading several books a day (not always in one sitting) laid a foundation of enjoyment, invitation, wonder. 

I've discovered another gift of story.

When tension rises or bodies grow weary, books offer a restful oasis.

As children matured and moved passed picture books, my comment became "let's read the next chapter". 

I have a multitude of opportunities--daily--to speak words aptly, to bring life. I am sure you do as well. Will you purpose with me to choose those words today? 

For, what we sow today we will reap tomorrow. 

Want to hear more? Cheryl and Mike have added the content of this blog to a NEW workshop for 2017. 

 

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. 

 

 

 

8 Skills Children Practice in Puddles

Rain poured.

Five years ago. One solid week of on and off rain. Our learners caught cabin fever. Petty arguments found themselves frequent visitors to play and learning time. My children and I needed outside time, desperately. When thunder and lightening pushed away, I announced it was time to find the raincoats.

Out we went!

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

Catch. Look in the puddle when the water is still. Do you see insects? Do you see any tadpoles? If there are tadpoles, try to catch some in a container. Once home, place in a larger container or fish bowl and observe over the next week or ten days. What happens to the tadpoles?  Draw pictures of each change. This is an amazing first lesson about life cycles. 

Jump. Who doesn't love to jump in puddles? Puddle jumping allows little learners to learn about the properties of water. If the weather is particularly rainy or cold, a raincoat will help keep little learner warm during his or her discoveries. Experiment with stomping. How does the force of stomping effect water displacement?  These experiences build physical skills while placing important files in the brain for later science learning. 

Listen. Listen to the rain drops hit the water. Listen to the rain patter on the house roof. How does the sound of rain change? Once inside, make a rain stick. Find a paper roll. Cover one end with wax paper. Measure (another great skill for littles) 1/4 cup of rice. Pour into the tube. Cover the other end to keep rice contained. Decorate. Shake. Try to replicated the sound of rain. While making music, chant Rain, Rain, Go Away or sing The Eensy Weensy Spider. Differentiating sound, replicating sound, and moving to music are important to auditory and physical development. 

Measure. Take measuring cups and spoons out to the puddle. Experiment with measuring. How many 1/2 cups can be poured into 1 cup? How many tablespoons can fit in a 1/4 cup? If you have a balance scale, compare the weight of 1 cup of water to 1 cup of mud. Compare 1 cup of wet leaves to 1 cup of broken sticks. Measuring and comparing are important math skills for little learners. 

Sink and Float. Collect objects. One by one, choose an object and guess whether the object will sink or float. If the object sinks, place it on one pile. If it floats, place it on another. This is a great activity for children to experiment with making predictions.

Write. Use a stick to write numbers, letters, or words in soft mud surrounding the puddle. For littlest learners, begin with writing the first letter of the child's first name. From the first letter, move to the whole name. 

Count objects. Are there object floating on the puddle's surface? Are there objects around the puddle? Count objects. Are there more objects in the puddle or on the edge? 

Evaporate. After rain, puddles disappear. However, evaporation happens at different rates. Be sure to go back outside to check on the puddles. Are they still there? How are they different each time you return.

Read. Once inside, place wet clothes in the laundry and redress in dry. Choose a few rainy read-alouds while sipping on hot chocolate. 

Some of our favorite rainy reads have been: 

  • From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer (one of three books available in the Math Adventures Math and Science Combo Kit)
  • Frogs, Gail Gibbons
  • Why Frogs are Wet, Judy Hawes
  • Ducks Don't Get Wet, Augusta Goldin
  • Peter Spier's Rain, Peter Spiers
  • Weather Words and What They Mean, Gail Gibbons
  • Down Comes the Rain, Franklyn M. Branley and James Graham Hale
  • Clouds, Ann Rockwell
  • Feel the Winds, Arthur Dorros
  • Flash, Crash, Rumble, Roll, Franklyn M. Branley
  • Weather Forecasting, Gail Gibbons
  • Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean, Arthur Dorros

As long as it is safe to go outside, rainy, puddle-filled days can provide memorable learning moments.

It's intentional, real, and relational. And, it matters!

Want to learn more? This Psychology Today article offers further explanation about what really happens when little learners play in the rain. Fascinating!

Boxes, Creativity, and A Bunch of Imagination

Kids love boxes. 

I know I did. 

Small ones, but especially LARGE ones. 

The other day I returned home from Aldi with groceries and BOXES!

I put away the groceries and sat down to help a high schooler edit some writing. It was mid-afternoon, a perfect time for our children to enjoy exploration, adventure, and independent studies.

From the kitchen, I hear...

"Mom, can we use those boxes to build a phone booth?"

My mind was with my high school learner. I didn't have time to think about mess and such. So, I said yes and kept an ear out for the communications and happenings in the kitchen, you know, like moms do when "creativity" is happening. 

An hour later I walked to the kitchen to get a drink of water, and check on "progress".

My kitchen was littered with cardboard pieces, shreds of paper, plastic inserts from a cookie package, more paper scraps, staples. And the kitchen table? YIKES!

Where would we eat dinner? 

Mike came in the door not ten minutes later. 

"Dad! Look at our phone!"

The phone had the makings of a coin slot, a receiver, and a timer to time calls!

What an afternoon these sisters had!

The kitchen was abuzz with excitement. I decided to allow dinner to take place elsewhere. 

The next morning, math was done and I was working independently with an older learner. The enthusiastic builders were now hard at work in the living room. 

Imagine my surprise when after the lesson with the older I walked into the living room and saw

A PHONE BOOTH!

They continued their learning adventure, making a price list with plastic coins so their sister who couldn't yet add coins could play, too. For the users who could add there were hand-written instructions. 

phone4.png

Now, I will be honest. I did make a few trips to the living room after the initial booth was up and "bargaining" was taking place about who would use the booth and when it would be used. When negotiations needed navigating, I stepped in to help with problem solving and conflict resolution. 


Two days ago, when my learners asked to make a phone booth, I could never imagined all they would learn and practice in the process: geometry and physics in the construction, math and spelling in the user details, collaboration, problem solving, interpersonal communication skills.

And it all began with some boxes, a question, and a bunch of imagination. 

Are there boxes in your house today?

Wonder what they may be?

 

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.

 

Tried-and-True Homemade Play Dough

Tried-and-true for over thirty years!

Play dough. Hands-on creative fun with the ability to build motor skills. It is a staple in many homes and schools.

 

As a high school student employed as a teacher’s assistant, I was introduced to an amazing homemade version of a timeless childhood treasure.

Play dough.

Part of my role as the assistant was to make sure the play dough was fresh, every day. Sometimes that meant making a new batch of pliable goodness. Over thirty years later (and counting) I am still using the same recipe with my littles.

Gather

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar (cream of tartar acts as a preservative)

2 cups cold water

Food coloring

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon OR a few drops of essential oil

Wooden cutting board or clear counter space

Air tight plastic bag or container

Make

1. In a medium saucepan, mix together the flour, salt, vegetable oil, cream of tartar, and water. Stir well. Add 5 to 6 drops of food coloring and 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon or essential oil. 

2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the dough is the consistency of mashed potatoes; about 5 minutes.

3. Spoon onto wooden cutting board or wax paper covered counter top.

4. Knead until smooth.

5. Store play dough in an airtight plastic zipper bag or container up to 6 months.

Knead, roll and pat to build fine motor skills.

Play dough is not just for molding and making. 

Consider

  • Make a long rope and form into letters. Begin with the first letter of the child's first name (this is important to them). 
  • Make a long rope and form into numbers.
  • Make a long rope. Ask the child to cut the rope into specified number of equal parts. This can be used to introduce and reinforce the concept of fractional parts. 
  • Make a long rope. Ask the child to divide the rope so that each person in the room receives an equal number of pieces. This reinforces the concept of division. 
  • Cut circles from the play dough. Cut the circles into equal parts, fractional pieces. 

Perhaps this recipe will be a new favorite in your home.

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.

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.

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