Elementary Art Appreciation: Collage Art

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”I am an artist and I never looked at picture books as a means for children to study and appreciate art technique.”

I had just presented my workshop Picture Books, Paper and Paint Brushes to a room of parents eager to learn how picture books could foster curiosity and creativity in children. After sharing engaging titles and practical ideas for art application—the activities I’ve watched children love—attendees were motivated to give art a try.

Picture books are inviting literary tapestry of word and art.

Perhaps you are wondering whether you can take on art appreciation or instruction in your home. YOU can! Yes, it may be messy. If that’s what’s holding you back, give yourself permission to take art outside. There are some days we do just that, especially if I want to cut down on the chances of paint in the grout and glue on cabinet handles. Whether art takes place indoors or out, over time I’ve observed children gain an appreciation for the art they see everyday in the books they love.

And, along the way, they learn they can be an artist, creative and able.

It’s the illustrations in the books they love which inspire them to try art or use it in a new way.

So, what is collage?

Collage is the assemblance of materials—paper, nature, fabric, ribbon, photographs—arranged on a surface. It’s a creative array.

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Children love to explore this art technique. In fact, as they find their creative sweet spot they will discover more items to collage.

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To begin our collage study, I pull picture books from our home library shelves or plan a trip to the local library. The goal is to find as many different examples of collage art used in illustrations as possible. If you are gathering a collection of collage-illustrated picture books, look for

Blackstone, Stella, Ship Shapes (fabric)

Carle, Eric, A House for Hermit Crab (painted tissue paper)

Ehlert, Lois, Pie in the Sky (paper)

Ehlert, Lois, Snowballs (found objects)

Flemming, Denise, Barnyard Banter (found objects)

Lionni, Leo, Swimmy (prints and paint)

Once we collect picture books, we compare illustrations. I spend some time pointing out the different items these author-illustrators utilize to create their illustrations. We talk about the differences and consider what we have around the house which might be used to create collage. We gather those supplies. Generally, I allow my children to gather what they want to use. However, when working with little learners, I may simply supply different types of paper—tissue, news, construction, wallpaper—and some glue. For children practicing cutting skills, I keep blunt-end scissors on hand to encourage their fine motor skills. For the youngest artists, I show them how to create collage with torn paper or let them watercolor on paper which I cut in squares for them to happily glue while the older learners create their masterpieces.

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Sometimes our study of an art technique lasts several days. Other times it’s a perfect rainy afternoon activity. Later at night, I read one or two of the books aloud (great for building language arts and reading skills).

Perhaps you are wanting to dig a bit deeper into the study of collage art. Here are some suggestions:


1. Study artists who use the collage method, especially children's book illustrators. Learn about Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, and Denise Fleming. One of our favorite video lessons features Eric Carle in his studio and this trailer for Picture Writer: The Art of the Picture Book.

2. Compare the mediums used by these authors. Try using the artist's techniques with found objects from the around the house. Make a book of the collage pieces created.

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3. Research the history of collage.

4. Visit an art museum. Look for examples of collage art.

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If you are looking for a helpful collage art resource with ideas, check out I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey. It’s excellent; empowering (especially for kids and parents who think they were born without creativity), and written with just the right amount of encouragement needed to fuel inspiration. The author explores a multitude of mediums—tissue paper, newspaper, painted papers, torn paper, nature findings and more—detailing twenty activities with step-by-step instructions. My girls were particularly interested in the Tasty Treats project which involved painting papers and then cutting shapes to make a yummy treat. The results were an ice cream sundae and cone. Brilliant hues and impressive images (almost good enough to eat) were the end result.

Collage is not the only art technique which deserves attention. Find out more about painting, photography, digital art, clay, print making, and drawing. Your child’s curiosity and creativity might just be the guide you are looking for.

Our Eric Carle Unit Study

(An elementary level, week-long, study with Eric Carle’s beloved picture books.)

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Eric Carle, a talented author/illustrator, inspires young readers with his bold illustrations and teachable content. Our youngest children (preschool to fifth grade) enjoyed a week-long study of Eric Carle’s works. By the end of the week, each child proudly displayed her book of Eric Carle art which was bound with a strip of fabric.

On the first day we re-read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, discussed the life cycle of a butterfly and created our own tissue paper collage caterpillar. We ordered planted plants which attract butterflies and watched a biographical video entitled Eric Carle, Picture Writer. Our children loved learning about the man and story behind the stories. 

On the second day we read The Very Busy Spider and discussed the benefits of hard work. Our preschooler made the sounds of the animals in the book and our elementary children discussed the differences between spiders and insects. We all marveled at the raised web on each page of this engaging picture book. At the suggestion of one of learners, we headed outside to look for webs and spiders. While walking, I remembered I had plastic spider counters. We made and added sets. The older learners made arrays—rows and columns (enter multiplication concept). When it came time to make our own spider art, the fifth grader remembered we had silver glitter glue in the art cabinet, which in her opinion, would make the perfect web. The younger children agreed and soon four very busy spiders were created.

On the third day we read The Grouchy Ladybug. We discussed good and bad attitudes, friendship, manners and the power of the spoken word. Our first grader had a quick review of telling time to the hour, with the help of the clock on each page of Eric Carle's book. Older children found the life cycle of the ladybug fascinating. We Googled ladybugs and watched a few informative video clips. Finally, we made our own ladybugs with wings which opened (thanks to a brass fastener) to reveal the words "thank you".  Google eyes brought life to the ladybug.

On the fourth day we read Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me.  We talked about the phases of the moon and were determined to watch the moon for a whole month to observe the phases. For the young ones, we discussed the difference between fiction and non-fiction. We concluded that the book was fiction because a ladder would never reach the moon. We then compared the illustrations of the books Eric Carle created designed our own fold-out ladder page for our book. Later that evening we read Mister Seahorse, discussed the sea life featured in the book and the important role parents play in the lives of their children. We marveled at the way the male seahorse cares for his young. One learner wanted to make tissue paper seahorses like the ones in the book. A great idea! We used scraps of tissue paper from the previous days to create very colorful and unique tissue paper seahorse.

On the fifth day we wrote a title on the book cover of our art masterpieces (hello copy work, spelling and an explanation of capitalization in titles) and bound our book by weaving a scrap of fabric through three paper-punched holes. The littlest learners enjoyed making paper plate jellyfish to hang from the doorway and hearing me read A House for Hermit Crab.

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Our week didn’t end there! Learning continued. After analyzing and comparing the art of Eric Carle to the work of other artists, we headed back to the library where our youngest ones selected more Eric Carle titles. Our four year old warmly stated, "Eric Carle is my favorite illustrator." Several weeks later, while on yet another visit to the library, I received another welcomed surprise. I mentioned I needed Mister Seahorse for a workshop I was presenting to moms in our homeschooling community. When the library volunteer asked, "Who is the author?" our six year old chimed in, "Eric Carle." YES!

Just what I had hoped...and more!  In addition to the academics we learned and retained, the curiosity and creativity of our four budding artists was fostered.

Our week had been productive, and FUN!

Nature Study Resources to Foster Curiosity

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YOU can teach science!

When I began homeschooling twenty-six years ago, one of the topics I felt least prepared to teach was science. What if I couldn’t teach my children what they were supposed to learn? What if I missed something important?  It didn’t matter that I completed a Teaching Science to Young Children course in college and taught science to preschoolers for several years. I still didn’t feel prepared to teach science to my children.

My thinking didn’t seem to make sense. I was “an educator”. The fact is I thought myself into a circle of concerns and questions.

Then came a realization.

Children LOVE being outdoors and they LOVE to ask questions—two factors providing a great foundation from which to work.

Maybe I could teach science?

Years later, I know I can. It’s not about me coming up with great plans and fancy curriculum.

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It’s about me fostering the curiosity and providing engaging resources; being available to listen to ideas and help process information.

The same is true today as I embark on another year with a handful of learners, preschool through high school.  

Perhaps you face the same doubts and similar questions.  

You are not alone.

Your learners may be at different ages and stages. You may live in the city.

Again, you are not alone.

YOU can teach science!

Starting Points

  • Find out what your children want to learn, what interests them. Start there.

  • If there are no hints, start with animals. Most children love animals, of some type.

  • Add real experiences.  Many can be found around your home or community.

  • Provide a field guide or two for found treasures.

  • Gather a pile of inviting non-fiction and picture books.

Need a few leads? Here are some of our favorites.

Non-Fiction Books

Blooms and Plants

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

How a Seed Grows, Helene J. Jordan

Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert

Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

Insects and Crawlies

About Arachnids: A Guide for Children, Cathyrn Sill

About Insects: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

Are You A Grasshopper? Judy Allen

Bugs Are Insects, Anne Rockwell

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

Tadpoles and Frogs

About Amphibians: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

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Beaches

About Crustaceans: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls, Gail Gibbons

Sea Shells, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Christiane Kump Tibbitts

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Fins

About Fish: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Feathered Friends

All About Birds, Cathryn Sill

About Hummingbirds: A Guide for Children, Cathryn Sill

Counting is for the Birds, Frank Mazzola, Jr.

Furry Critters

All About Mammals, Cathryn Sill

 

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Blog Posts

Blog post: Vintage Science Books for the WIN!

Use what is available in the backyard, at the park or beach front, on the porch or pond’s edge—wherever you happen to be.

Porch Science  https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2017/5/31/porch-science

Citizen Science https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2017/10/22/citizen-science-get-real-with-learning

Puddle Fun https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2016/10/4/children-learn-from-puddles

Field Guides and Resources

A Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock

Florida’s Fabulous Series

                Florida’s Fabulous Waterbirds: Their Stories, Winston Williams

                Florida’s Fabulous Land Birds: Their Stories, Winston Williams

Florida’s Fabulous Reptiles and Amphibians: Snakes, Lizards, Alligators, Frogs and Turtles, Winston Williams

Take-Along Guides

                Caterpillars, Bugs, and Butterflies, Mel Boring

                Birds, Nests, and Eggs, Mel Boring

                Trees, Leaves, and Bark, Diane Burns

Peterson Field Guides  http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/peterson/

Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition, Powell, Conant, and Collins

Nature-Related Picture Books

A Nest is Noisy, Dianna Hutts Aston

Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney

One Morning in Maine, Robert McCloskey

Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

Roxaboxen, Alice McLerran

Snowflake Bentley, Jacqueline Briggs Martin

The Raft, Jim LaMarche

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Nature-Related Drawing Books for Sketchers and Creatives

Draw 50 Birds: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Chickadees, Peacocks, Toucans, Mallards, and Many More of Our Feathered Friends, Lee J. Ames

Draw 50 Flowers, Trees, and Other Plants: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Orchids, Weeping Willows, Prickly Pears, Pineapples, and Many More..., Lee J. Ames

How to Draw Flowers (Dover How to Draw), Barbara Soloff Levy

Supplies and Materials

Brock Magiscope https://www.cherylbastian.com/blog/2016/4/22/owl-pellets-and-a-magiscope-simple-discovery-science

Carolina Biological Supply Company  https://www.carolina.com/ (owl pellets)

Educational Innovators https://www.teachersource.com/ (dolomite samples and owl pellets)

 Nature Gift Store https://www.nature-gifts.com/  (ant farms and live ants, butterflies)

 

We live in a suburban area. Though we have a backyard and a neighborhood to explore, we have to plan and be intentional about visiting state parks, ponds and streams, or the beach. When we travel we look for opportunities which are not typical or available in our area.

We’ve enjoyed

  • Bird sanctuaries

  • Rainforest exhibits

  • Arboretums

  • Nature preserves

  • State and national parks

  • Factories and manufacturing plants

  • Museums and displays

  • State and county fairs

 

YOU can teach science!

And, in doing so, you will not only keep your child’s natural curiosity alive, but you will open doors for other discipline areas like math and writing.

There could have a WHOLE podcast on nature-related study. In fact, there is! Check out this conversation I had with Jenni and Jody over at From Cradle to Calling.




What is a Picture Book?

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A picture book is a work which combines literary eloquence with artistic merit--words and illustrations--working together to tell a story. Generally, picture books are written with 200-800 words (depending on the age of the targeted audience) on 28-32 pages. Historically, picture books have been written to the preschool through mid-elementary audience, yet these masterfully crafted gems speak to the hearts of readers of all ages. 

Wordless picture books. A wordless picture book is just that, a book without words. The illustrations alone tell the story, unless, of course, the person holding the book chooses to imagine and craft the text. One of the Bastian's favorite wordless picture books is Jerry Pinkney's extraordinary The Lion and the Mouse, a retelling of Aesop's classic tale. This treasure won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for its illustrative excellence. 

If your younger readers enjoy visual storytelling or prefer to create their own storylines based on provided illustrations, these wordless picture books may add some spark to your morning read-aloud time. 

  • Briggs, Raymond, The Snowman
  • Spier, Peter, Noah's Ark
  • Spier, Peter, Rain

Concept picture books. Little learners devour information, especially if content is presented with a twist of fun or catchy repetitive phrases and rhythmic rhyme. With this engaging, low-stress presentation, picture books can teach age-appropriate concepts (colors, numbers, opposites, and letters) to eager, curious littles. 

Children ages 2-8 enjoy learning concepts through topics of interest, for example, cowboys, insects, or construction vehicles. Concept picture books make this possible and do so through relaxing moments with resources which foster both early learning and literacy.

  • Alakija, Polly, Counting Chickens

  • Carle, Eric, 10 Rubber Ducks

  • Demarest, Chris, The Cowboy ABC

  • Demarest, Chris, Firefighter A to Z

  • Emberley, Barbara, Drummer Hoff

  • Krull, Kathleen, M is for Music

  • Laroche, Giles, If You Lived Here: Houses of the World

  • McMillan, Bruce, Jelly Beans for Sale

  • Pallotta, Jerry, The Icky Bug Alphabet Book

  • Schnur, Steven, Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic

  • Wadsworth, Olive A., Over in the Meadow: A Counting Rhyme

Traditional picture books. I remember the librarian reading Blueberries for Sal as I sat imagining the smell of fresh muffins cooling in the kitchen. Through the unfolding plot of the the book, I could feel the fear Sal felt as she wandered off in the field and could no longer see her mom. Sal became my friend. I hoped she would find her mom, cheered her on as she met a mama bear. This is just one of the classics I associate with read-aloud time and school library visits. As a young mom, I couldn't wait to introduce my children to my literary pal, Sal.

Traditional picture books invite readers into the story, into the lives of the characters. While reading, listeners develop empathy and understanding of others' feelings and circumstances, almost without knowing the transformation is taking place. For this reason, picture books become a child's first experience with the power of story. Together as a family, we've jumped into the plots of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Should you be a time and life season where you are building your home library, here are some must-have picture books to brighten up your shelves. 

  • Ackerman, Karen, Song and Dance Man

  • Brett, Jan, Town Mouse and Country Mouse

  • Brown, Marcia, Stone Soup

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Katy and the Big Snow

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, The Little House

  • Cooney, Barbara, Miss Rumphius

  • Estes, Eleanor, The Hundred Dresses

  • Galdone, Paul, The Gingerbread Boy

  • Gramatky, Hardie, Little Toot

  • Hoban, Russell and Lillian, Bread and Jam for Frances

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, The Snowy Day

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, Whistle for Willie

  • Krauss, Ruth, The Carrot Seed

  • LaMarche, Jim, The Raft

  • McCloskey, Robert, Lentil

  • Newberry, Clare Turlay, Barkis

  • Swift, Hildegarde, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge

  • Ward, Helen, Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables

  • Ward, Lynd, The Biggest Bear

  • Yolan, Jane, Owl Moon

Biographical picture books. Our older picture book readers (which includes mom!) enjoy reading about real people who solve real problems. With biographical picture books, young readers don't have to wait until they can read chapter books to read about and meet some of the world's most significant history changers. Our favorites have included

  • Dooling, Michael, Young Thomas Edison

  • Moses, Will, Mary and Her Little Lamb

  • Martin, Jacqueline Briggs, Snowflake Bentley

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Every child ought to know the pleasure of words so well chosen that they awaken sensibility, great emotions, and understanding of truth.
— Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart, Zondervan, 2002, p. 18

What is a picture book?

A picture book invites readers into learning and into the stories of others, gently, peacefully, and purposefully. There will be pondering. There will be wonder. There will heart-changing impact, sometimes so subtly it will go unnoticed for a bit of time. 

Some of our most treasured family read-aloud moments and discussions have come from the pages we've turned together. With each book selected, read, placed on our shelves, and the read again, a legacy formed. That legacy is sweet, precious, unique to our family, as it will be yours. That story legacy is a gift, a gift which will continue to span generations. It is just one benefit of keeping learning real and relational. 

Every. Moment. Matters. 

I recently presented Picture Book Treasures at the 2018 FPEA Convention. If you would like more information on picture books and building a home library, the MP3 can be purchased in the FPEA store

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Make YOUR Own Math Books = Learning

My little learner decided she wanted to make her own books.

Math books! 

We'd been choosing and reading math literature from our home library shelves, borrowing others from the local library. Math was intriguing. Math was fun. She wanted to make her own books and apply her creative bent to master concepts. 

Thankfully, we had blank books on hand. 

My little learner chose a book from our stash, one which would match the fall leaf table toppers I found while grocery shopping. 

Once the leaves were sorted, we made piles of ten. 

On a piece of paper, I wrote numerals 1-10 alongside corresponding number words. From the sample, my little learner copied the numerals and corresponding words, giving each number a page in her book. By the time she was done copying, she felt very confident in her ability to form the numerals and count objects into sets. The more her book took form, the happier and more excited she became.

"I'm writing a book!" 

She wanted to write the number words. I wrote the words on a piece of paper and she copied them into her book. The final step was to count out leaves to correspond with the numbers on each page. 

I showed her how to set her book--open like a fan--on the kitchen table so the glue could dry. This prevented pages from sticking together. 

In the end, my little learner had not only written her first math book--she was quite proud of her accomplishment--she had also learned to match number words with a set of objects and mastered one-to-one correspondence--all foundational math concepts.


Shopping for Christmas wrapping paper, I discovered stocking table toppers. I immediately thought of my eager book-making learner and added them to the conveyor in the check-out line. 

Arriving home I told her there was a surprise in the  bag for her. 

She was thrilled.

Once again she chose a blank book from our collection and started to work. 

Before long, she added another counting book to her collection. 

She was ready for addition--adding two small sets to make one big set. 

As the weather cooled, I found foam snowflakes online. I knew they could be the makings of her next book, Adding Snowflakes. I pulled one of our favorite reads, Snowflake Bentley, from our home library shelf and sat side-by-side on the couch, engaged in the unfolding plot. 

When we finished reading, she sorted the foam snowflakes by size, shape, and color--three attributes--another foundational math skill. This was a perfect start to making sets!

Once the snowflakes were sorted, I asked her to make sets of two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight. 

I explained the concept of addition--the combining of two sets to make a larger set and wrote some addition facts on the two-page spreads of her blank book. She read the numbers and glued the set required on each page. When gluing was complete, my little learner added the two sets and wrote the sum on the bottom right-hand corner of the two-page spread. 

Book complete--now three in total--my little learner had the makings of a math library!


The next concept, addition with three addends--three sets. 

With Valentine's just around the corner, I knew what we would do--add three sets of hearts. 

Again, she chose the blank book--red stripes this time--sorted hearts by size and color, counted sets, and started adding. For this book she wrote the equations vertically. I explained that equations could be written horizontally or vertically without changing the answer. She was intrigued by the tidbit of knowledge. I wrote an equation both horizontally and vertically on a piece of paper and proved the concept by adding foam hearts. Indeed, the answer was the same.

In the end, she completed the book and added it to her collection! 

Perhaps we will tackle subtraction next season?

I love that we were able to work side-by-side on these projects and that she was engaged and eager. She enjoyed math and wanted to learn more.  

Time well spent.

Indeed, intentional, real, and relational. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!