Ride the West with Living Books

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I didn’t see it coming.

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

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

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


Language arts. Study skills. History.


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

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

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

But, it did!!

And, I am grateful.

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

Related resources for riding and exploring the west:

Buffalo Bill, Augusta Stevenson (Childhood of Famous Americans)

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

The California Gold Rush, May McNeer (Landmark series)

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

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

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

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

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

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









Childhood of Famous Americans: Living Books for Young Learners

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Over twenty years ago, a veteran home educator suggested I read titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series to my children.  Doing so would bring history—real problems solved by real people—alive, she claimed.

I purchased our first COFA and the children and I curled up on the couch to read. The book fueled questions, fostered wonder, and begged my children to read more. What a find!

That mom was right!

The Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series, praised by parents, teachers, and librarians for over sixty-five years, was first introduced to the public in the 1940s and continued to be printed into the 1960s by Bobbs-Merrill. Originally printed in hardback form, these fictionalized biographies (suitable for independent readers third grade and up or to be read aloud to any age) became instant favorites and were reintroduced in an infamous red, white and blue paperback form in the 1980s.

These books have engaged my children since the early 1990's.

Our family prefers the original hardcover books. Their large font invited emergent readers to read and allows younger eyes to comfortably read the text. Sadly, the hardcovers are now out of print. However, they can be found in online sales or in used bookstores.  If we cannot get our eyes and hands on these hard-bound treasures, we look for the well-known red, white and blue covers.

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Over the years, whenever we began new unit of study or a learner developed a new interested, we tried to find a COFA title to personalize learning. These books have allowed our young learners to learn history through real people, real problems, and real solutions. When we study a specific era, I use this list. With over 170 COFAs to choose from, there is sure to be one to be woven into any study.

Recently, the COFA flame was recently rekindled as one of my youngest children wanted to read about “real baseball players”.  I immediately looked through the stacks of COFAs on our shelves. Indeed, we had a paperback cover copy of Roberto Clemente: Young Baseball Player and a hard cover copy of Knute Rockne: Young Athlete.  I pulled those from our collection.

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I am thankful for that experienced mom’s recommendation to begin reading books from the COFA series. Since that day, we’ve been eagerly reading about the childhood lives of famous Americans, learning some very interesting lesser-known facts about people we have come to admire.

More about the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

  • The books are fictionalized, though based on information about the childhoods of these famous Americans.
  • Children find the books inviting because of their focus on the childhood life of people they know only as adults.
  • Each book is packed with noteworthy experiences, personality traits, and adventures from the growing up years of famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, and explorers.
  • Children gain understanding of how a person’s experiences and personal gifts contribute to and impact the lives of other people.  
  • By the end of each book, the reader is left with the desire to find out what happened next, a perfect lead to further study.


In recent years, several publishers are working to bring the once-out-of-print-titles back to life. A great endeavor, however in the process some of the books have undergone editing and rewording. One publisher, Patria Press, began reprinting the stories in 2002, renaming the series Young Patriots. 

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Want to learn more about the heroes and heroines who shaped our country?

Find a COFA title and relax on a comfy couch. You and your children will discover inspiring details from the lives of the men and women whom we often know only through their adult accomplishments.

Breathing Life Into High School American Literature

I've had great literature teachers. I've had not so great literature teachers. 

How about you? 

What do you remember about the really great literature teachers who taught you? 

I am a people person.

Perhaps you are? And, maybe your high schooler is, too?

We've had people-person high schoolers learning in our home. These young adults needed to meet people--the real people who changed their field, maybe even changed the world--in order to remember. In the case of literature, some of our learners needed to meet the authors.

Imagine our delight when we found this vintage treasure? 

Famous American Authors by Sarah K. Bolton

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Biographies of the lives of authors brought our literature studies to life. 

Reading the biographies of authors helped my high schooler understand how life events influenced their writing. Truly fascinating!

There was life in our high school learning. 

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With this resource, our current high schooler was able to read about Louisa May Alcott and then read the classic, Little Women. The people connection had brought literature to life while earning our high schoolers credit

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Famous American Authors was a welcome addition to our high school American Literature course. It may be to yours as well. 


 

 

 

High School Photography Elective

Several years ago, our daughter became interested in photography.

A real interest, one she thought about every day and one that did not go away!

She spent time researching and talking through her ideas about what she wanted to learn. Home educating, I knew she had the freedom to explore her interest as part of her day—every day—if she desired to do so.

Though I enjoy photography and have a "creative" bent, I had no idea what concepts and skills would be included in a high school level photography course. Therefore, when she asked me what areas I thought would be included in a photography course, I knew I would have to join in the learning. 

First, I searched the Internet for syllabi of high school level photography courses. Reading, I discovered common threads. This was a starting point.

Second, my daughter and I brainstormed additional content she wanted to learn. For example, she wanted to upgrade her camera. Researching the pros and cons of brands and features was definitely something she could include in her course.

Third, we talked about what real-life experiences could be added: job shadowing, taking pictures of family members, learning and using editing programs, and shooting seconds for a professional photographer.

Clearly, my daughter’s interest drove the learning. I simply had to be open to the ideas and be ready to encourage her progress.

Before we knew it we had accumulated not only content but resources.

Here is a snapshot of the content we developed. 

Course Content

I. History of photography

  • the pinhole camera, daguerreotype, Kodak Brownie camera, film development, darkrooms, Polaroid cameras, flash cubes, and flash bars

II. People of Influence

  • Joseph Nicephore Niepce, Loius Daguerre, R.L. Maddox, George Eastman

III. Types of Photography

  • portrait, children, pets, landscapes, macro, food, nature, architectural, forensic, sport, science, 

IV. Parts of a Camera

V. How Cameras Work

VI. Lighting, Shutter Speed, Aperture, Depth of field

VII. Composition, Color, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, and Special Techniques

VIII. Photo Editing

IX. Analyzing and Critiquing Photography

X. Documentary and Photojournalism 

XI. Famous Photographers and Photojournalists 

XII. Mounting and Displaying Photography 

  • enter photography in contests or county fairs

XIII. Digital Photography

XIV. Photography Careers

  • portrait photography, commercial photography, fine art photography, wedding photography, scientific photography, sports photography, medical photography, forensic photography, nature photography, aerial photography, photojournalism

XV. Photography Licenses

  • royalty free, rights managed, stock photography

XVI. Legal, Ethical and Copyright

  • fair use, buildings protected by copyright, difference between photography for personal use or commercial use, model/copyright releases, editorial photography as a profession in regards to rights and fair use

The outline above was the jumping off point. Once we had the major areas of study--at least a plan--we could adjust as we went along. 


We added experiential learning. Our list of considerations were

  • Job shadowing a photographer or interning as a photographer's assistant

  • Working in a camera store

  • Setting up a darkroom

  • Creating a yearbook for a school or co-op

  • Working with a blogger to communicate content visually

  • Learning mounting techniques.

For learners who appreciate the power of a story, these Living Books may be just the ingredient to bring additional life to the course. 

  • Cameras and Courage, Margaret Bourke-White by Iris Noble, Julian Messner biography

  • Joseph Pulitzer, Front Page Pioneer by Iris Noble, Julian Messner biography

My daughter's interest led to elective credits, not one but TWO! When she finished these studies, she decided to take an online course. 

Once the interest is sparked, there is no limit to where the learning path may lead. Sometimes it is an elective. Other times the study leads to employment. The possibilities of high school electives is endless! 

If you will be attending Florida Parent Educators Association (FPEA) conference May 25-27, you may be interested in the two high school workshops I have been invited to share: Keeping High School ALIVE with Living Books and High School: Mission Possible. In addition, my husband Mike will join me at the podium to share The Real-Life Influence of Family Conversation and my oldest son and I will present an encouraging session, Thank You, Mom!

FPEA is always a highlight of our speaking calendar. Can't wait to see you there! 

 

 

 

 

Teaching High School American History and American Literature with Living Books

I am often asked how we teach American History and American Literature in high school. 

Actually, we have used different means and methods with each of our high school learners, dependent on their interests, learning styles, and in some cases, learning challenges. 

This blog post addresses one of those methods; the method we used with our reader who LOVED history. 

With our son's interest in reading and history, we divided American History into Early American (to 1850) and Modern (from 1850 to present) so we could allow time for him to dig deeper. After extensive research (based on my love for education as well as the fear I was doing enough--yes, I have been there!), I developed literature lists for American, British, and World Literature courses. These lists provided my son with reading suggestions to get him started, a springboard of sorts. His desire to learn history prompted him to seek out additional titles. My motto became, 

"You read it, I will give you credit."

For readers interested in the list of works from which we used toward either American History or Survey of American Literature, our reading list (remember it was a springboard from which he could jump in for more) is below. The American, British, and World literature lists are included in my book, Celebrate High School

Please keep in mind as you read through this list, our son was a self-motivated reader with an interest in the subject. Not all young adults will share this interest or learning preference. In addition to his independent reading, we used a textbook as a spine of topics. Though he started the year reading some of the text, by the end of the year he was reading more primary source documents, living history selections, and biographical pieces than text. He also had amazing opportunities to tour many of the Civil War battlefields and visited Washington, D. C., Boston, Plymouth, Philadelphia, and New York City. God provided for his love of history through many experiential opportunities. We realize not all learners will have these experiences but trust there will be other provisions for your family. 

This method worked for our oldest son. I tweak the process for each young adult, asking for their input. Please, don't use what is written here as a comparison for what your student should or shouldn't be doing. Learners are unique and high school is not a one-size-fits-all experience. 

Comparing ourselves or our children to others leads to discouragement and discontent, neither of which are valuable.

Our examples are only intended as encouragement, to give an idea of what worked for us and what you might be able to create (or adjust) for your high schooler. Our young adult was (and still is) a reader, but your young adult may have an opportunity to intern with a local historical site or job shadow a museum curator. Use what God provides for your learner and pray about how he is preparing your young adult for the future plans He has, not for the ones we best intention.

Our American Literature list:

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Men

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women

Barton, David, Bulletproof George Washington

Baum, L. Frank, The Wizard of Oz

Bierce, Ambrose, Civil War Stories

Cather, Willa, My Antonia*

Cather, Willa, O Pioneers!*

Cooper, James Fenimore, The Last of the Mohicans*

Crane, Stephen, The Red Badge of Courage*    

de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America*

Dewey, John, Democracy and Education*

Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass*

Edwards, Jonathan, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God*

Faulkner, William, The Sound and the Fury*

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby*

Franklin, Benjamin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin*

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter

Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to Arms*

Hemingway, Ernest, For Whom the Bell Tolls*

Hemingway, Ernest, The Old Man and the Sea*

Hemingway, Ernest, The Sun Also Rises*

Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God*

Irving, Washington, The Legend of Rip Van Winkle

Keller, Helen, The Story of My Life*

Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird

McCullough, David, 1776

McCullough, David, John Adams

McCullough, David, The Wright Brothers

Melville, Herman, Moby Dick

Miller, Arthur, The Crucible

Miller, Arthur, The Death of a Salesman

Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan, The Yearling

O.Henry, The Gift of the Magi

Steinbeck, John, Of Mice and Men*

Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of Wrath*

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin*

Thoreau, Henry David, Civil Disobedience*

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden*

Thurber, James, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi

Washington, Booker T., Up From Slavery

Wilder, Thornton, Our Town*

Williams, Tennessee, The Glass Menagerie*

In addition to this literature list, we use primary source documents including speeches and journals.

Here are some examples. There are plenty of resources available on the internet (which could be a great catalyst for a discussion on reliable sources.

50 Core Documents, Teaching AmericanHistory.org

Primary Source Documents in American History

National Archives

Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Story of A Common Soldier- Kindle ebook

The Journal of James Audubon

Orville Wright's journal entry

This post is based on the experience of our oldest son. It is not intended as legal advice and is written with the knowledge that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. 

 

Discovery Biographies: Living Books for Young Readers

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

What really mattered!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Presidents

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

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

Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President, John Parlin

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

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

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President, Wyatt Blassingame

Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action, James C. Beach

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

George Washington: Father of Freedom, Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner, Helen Stone Peterson

Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife, LaVere Anderson

Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady, Mary Richmond Davidson

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

Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land, LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, and Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky, John Parlin

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

Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot, David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman, Mary Richardson Davidson

Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds, Katherine E. Wilkie

George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter, Adele deLeeuw

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

Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star, Charles P. Graves

Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper, Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, and Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy, Mary Catherine Rose

Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor, Jean Lee Latham

Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound, Elizabeth Rider Montgomery

George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist, Samuel and Beryl Epstein

Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder, Mary Malone

Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas, Charles P. Graves

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

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

Eli Whitney: Great Inventor, Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, and War Heroes

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

Henry Clay: Leader in Congress, Helen Stone Peterson

Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter, Lillie Patterson

David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral, Jean Lee Latham

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

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

Authors, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

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

Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot, Lillie Patterson

Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist, Wyatt Blassingame

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

 

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



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

Living Books Save Want-to-Be Reader

The want-to-be-reader in my daughter disappeared, somewhere between simple short vowel words and complex sentences.

Just like that, gone.

In desperation (if you know us you know we love books), I went to the home library shelf. There before my eyes appeared, George Washington. The title invited me in- Meet George Washington.

I pulled the book off the shelf and thumbed through the pages. 

PERFECT! 

Large type. Pictures on every other page. All nestled in chapters between two hard covers. THIS book had the look and  feel of a book an "older" child would read. I beckoned my want-to-be-reader and proposed we sit together as I read. That is all she needed. A book that felt like a "real" book. Not just some story printed in a graded reader, but a real book.

Motivation returned.

So often want-to-be-readers are lost when fluency and practice are needed to feed the reading process.

Reading can be just plain hard for some children.

 

Lots of practice. Lots of encouragement. Lots of interesting "real books" needed to make it through that tough time when a young child is building vocabulary and fluency to become a proficient reader.



We started together.

I read to her. The content was intriguing, interesting, something she wanted to know more about. I read the entire book. She listened. She wanted another.

 I have no idea where I found this treasure, the only Step-Up we owned.

Where to look?

The library? No, not there.

Google saved the day.

Within a short time, I was able to locate another, then another. Books were delivered to our doorstep!

We opened each box with Christmas excitement.

She chose a book from the box. I read a page. She read a page. Soon, she read a chapter and then I read a chapter. Dad was invited to read. Before long (maybe 2 months) she was reading, independently on her own with enthusiasm.


 Want-to-be-reader had been transformed to the I-gotta-read reader.


 

She wanted to read every book in the series. In fact, the now fluent reader wouldn’t move to another series until she read them all (or at least the ones we could find). Step Up books are that interesting to her.

Interest was the prime motivator. It was internal. It was powerful.

If you have a want-to-be-reader lost somewhere between simple words and complex sentences, perhaps these high-interest books would motivate your child as they have ours.

Living Books in High School

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

Living Books belong in high school!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Interests Fuel Life-Long Learning

Dogs.

It's everything dogs for our littlest learner. 

She's curious about what dogs eat (getting eye level--but not too close--to watch ours furry friend eat). She's curious about how why they pant, how they feel to touch. She wants to know everything about every dog she sees, large or small.

Sitting in the dentist office last week, waiting for big sister to finish her appointment, I found a treasure--an attention grabbing-just-what-we-needed-at-that-moment treasure. 

A book featuring photographs of dogs. 

I handed it to our youngest. I knew it would keep her attention. 

It was a "mom hung the moon" moment.

She looked at me. Her eyes seemed to say, "Thank you for caring about my interest!"

The excitement on her face. The eagerness in her learning. The pure joy!

As she paged through the book, I engaged with her about the pictures on each page. She'd look at me and smile. With every smile, I thought about two workshops I have been writing for an upcoming speaking engagement; one workshop for parents of elementary learners and one workshop for parents of middle schoolers.

Relationships and curiosity fuel learning.

Like adults, children need relationships. Couple that with natural curiosity--questioning anything and everything--and there is a recipe for building a love for life-long learning. 

How do we keep a person's natural curiosity aflame for life?

Ask questions. When the art of questioning is modeled, it is readily available for learning.

I am not natural questioner. I like to teach; to tell. As a consequence, the parenting years hit me hard. The more I told and commanded, the more frustrated my children became. And, I noticed they stopped asking questions and waited to be told to do things--waiting to do school work and chores until they were told. Stepping back from the situation (and asking for Mike's input) I realized my children had valuable ideas, valid questions. They needed a mom who listen and then ask questions; a who would practice the art of questioning. At that point, I decided to be intentional about asking more questions and encouraging my children to to the same. I asked questions like:

  • I wonder how that works?
  • I wonder why the hermit crab needed a new shell?
  • I wonder what will happen if we add more soap?

I had to work hard at replacing my teaching/telling bent (saving it for where that bent was really needed) with an intentionality to listen and engage my children in thoughtful questioning. Though it took a bit of time to turn the cart around, I began to hear my children returning to their natural bent of asking questions. Definitely worth my effort.

Find answers. With questioning comes the need to find answers.

If I was going to be intent on encouraging critical thinking skills and the art questioning, I would also have to purposeful in helping my children find answers. And, as the children grew we had to have conversations about where to find accurate information; to ponder whether an author had the knowledge and experience to speak to a topic. 

We began to build a home library of reference and resource materials--field guides, a Magiscope, a heavy-duty magnifying glass, kitchen scales, history books, classic literature. In some cases, we found apps to be the best resource, for example Sky View and Sky Map. We talked to our children about the importance of primary source documents and role played how to carry on conversations with people--should they want to ask questions of someone. In addition, as our children entered middle and high school, we discussed volunteering and job shadowing. These opportunities encouraged our young adults to answer their questions about career interests by talking to professionals in the field.

Be observant. Interests are not always obvious.

Some interests are obvious, like my daughter's curiosity with dogs. Others are a bit more hidden, sometimes even unknown to the beholder! To discover the interests of some of my children, I had to watch, listen, and be open to how they spent their time (versus controlling every minute of their day).  In my watching and listening, I began to ask myself questions. 

  • Was my child wanting to take things apart and put them back together?
  • Was a particular career intriguing to my child?
  • When we were at a church event or field trip who did my child gravitate toward certain people--children or adult?
  • What did my child do to fill extra time in the day?
  • Did my child have an ability to put together colors, lines and shapes or craft inspirational poetry?

My littlest learner is not yet old enough to verbalize her questions, yet her curiosity is evident in her facial expressions and gestures, through her hand clapping and dancing. Her reaction--her joy in learning--invites us to ask her questions, interact with her excitement, and fuel her curiosity by providing resources (like finding her dog books at the library). In doing so, her siblings, Mike and I are learning to help her dig deeper into her interest. As a result, our curiosity about how she learns is fostered. It is a cycle of interest-fueling learning. 

 

And it is a beautiful life-learning cycle. 

It's intentional, real, and relational. 

 

 

 

Vintage Science Readers for the WIN!

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

This week we rediscovered Follett Beginning Science Books. 

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

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

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

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

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

That's a WIN!

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

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

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

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

Living Books and Independent Studies

"Mom, do we have any nurse books?"

That question. 

An interest.

I started with what I knew. My knowledge of nursing minimal at best. 

A Florence Nightingale biography; I knew we had one in our biography section. I  eagerly motioned her over to the shelves. 

A week. She read; late into the evenings. I could tell she was engaged. She had accepted the author's invitation to walk hospital ward halls where Florence served, cared. My daughter experienced the Crimean War, through the pages of that biography.

The final evening, sprawled across the recliner, she closed the book and pulled it close to her chest. A sigh. I inquired. 

"I love that book! I know Florence. She persevered. She solved problems to help others. I know Florence."

My daughter had been invited into a life, into a life that mattered.  

"Do we have any other nurse books?"

That question.

An interest evolved into an independent study, a year-long learning adventure. 

I knew it would happen. I just didn't know exactly when or with which book. 

Stories have a way about beckoning us to places, meeting people we would never otherwise meet. While my daughter read the The Story of Florence Nightingale by Margaret Leighton, I heard a whisper, a quiet voice which suggested I build; build resources, other books related to nursing. In answering the call, I searched book lists. Bought used and asked knowledgeable people for ideas. All for a purpose. 

I found books. They were delivered to our door. My daughter read.

About three books into her reading, she started to recognize connections between these often heroic women. At dinner I heard about her ah-ha moments. My daughter commented, sharing stories of how one nurse inspired, trained, or mentored another. 

I was astounded by the understanding she was gaining, truly amazed!

My daughter's independent study began with one Living Book, a book about a real person who recognized a need, saw a problem and then found solutions. That one book led to an independent study, a study I didn't plan. My role was to foster her interest by finding resources--in this case books--and to be willing to listen--to process. There were many discussions, many summaries voluntarily shared because the learning intrigued and mattered. My daughter analyzed, compared, inferred, questioned.

Surprisingly, her independent study began with one book; an invitation into the life of one nurse.

One Living Book. One real story. An independent study.


What were the books?

In addition to The Story of Florence Nightingale by Margaret Leighton (a Signature series biography) the book which started the study, my daughter also enjoyed:

Great Women of Medicine by Ruth Fox Hume, a collective biography

Nurse Around the World: Alice Fitzgerald by Iris Noble, a Messner biography

The Story of Edith Cavell by Iris Vinton. a Signature series biography

First Woman Ambulance Surgeon: Emily Barringer by Iris Noble, borrowed from a friend who knew of my daughter's interest, also a Messner biography

Frontier Nurse: Mary Breckinridge by Katherine E. Wilkie

America's First Trained Nurse: Linda Richards by Rachel Baker, a Messner biography

Remember, some of these books are intended for older learners. My daughter was entering high school when she read these books. What one family deems appropriate may not be considered acceptable for another family. Parents should consider their family's guidelines for reading material, as well as the maturity of their reader, when offering titles for learning. 

 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.