I thought I'd share a few of the winter themed picture books that we have read the past few weeks and especially enjoyed. This is not a comprehensive list of every good winter picture book out there, just the ones my 3 year old, 5 year old, and myself have enjoyed reading together.
We just checked out this version of the classic folktale The Mitten and everyone in our family loved it! The expressions on the animals' faces were so expressive and often very funny. A book hasn't caused so many belly laughs in our house in quite a while!
Don't You Feel Well Sam is a sweet book to read with kids who have a little cold. Sam is sick but his wise momma kindly and patiently takes care of him. There is a gentle surprise for Sam and his mom as they finally settle down at the end the story.
Katy and the Big Snow is a classic story of a hard working snowplow that doesn't stop working until she clears all of the roads in Geoppolis. My kids love watching the town cars follow her paths in the snow.
When we read The Missing Mitten Mystery, my kids enjoyed how Annie retraced her footsteps at the end of a winter day looking for her lost mitten and I enjoyed her imaginative nature.
Go to Sleep Groundhog is a fun winter book. Groundhog keeps waking up for each of the late fall and winter holidays. I like that I can read it all winter and it's not out of place. That way, when I can't find it on Groundhog Day, I don't feel so bad.
What are your favorite winter picture books to read with your kids?
Linked to: Weekend Blog Party, Hip Homeschool Moms
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After two weeks of stormy weather, we were blessed with brilliant double and triple rainbows two days in a row. The sunshine also revealed that our yard was looking both winter barren and unkempt. I can't do much about the barren part, but the kids and I worked on trimming back dormant plants and pulling weeds while on a different day my husband pruned our fruit trees and the kids helped him pick up fallen tree branches and twigs.
My daughter and I planted some early blooming flower seeds. I love Renee's Garden Seeds, everything from the packaging to the plants that grow from the seeds are pure goodness!
I finished Consider This by Karen Glass and learned a lot about the underlying philosophies behind Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Modern styles of education. I knew they were different, but I didn't know how to articulate the differences. Glass does so clearly.
The kids and I were in stitches over the illustrations in the Aylesworth/McClintock version of The Mitten. Since the first reading, I have read it aloud about 27 additional times.
This week I wrote about using Charlotte Mason's method of short lessons and why we started nature journaling. I also accidentally published a round up of free online workbooks that I use in our homeschool (Warning: very hyperbolized title.)
Homeschooling is the Smartest Way to Teach Kids in the 21st Century
"According to leading pedagogical research, at-home instruction may just be the most relevant, responsible, and effective way to educate children in the 21st century." This pro-homeschooling article is by Business Insider.
The Books You Categorically Don't Read
I identify with this post a lot. I cannot read books that graphically depict children in abusive situations. That is my category that I do not read.
Pray Something Big Before You Eat
How to move beyond our fallback prayers and pray bigger and better.
In a Country Where Abortion is Illegal
Of all the abortion and pro-life articles this week, this one was my favorite.
This post was shared with Weekly Wrap Up and Homeschool Blog and Tell
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Even though I believe in using great books as a cornerstone of my kid's education, I also know that worksheets and workbooks have a place. Specifically, their place is to help with skill building in the areas like math and spelling. Here are some skill building workbooks that I have found and discovered to be effective.
Super Awesome Free Phonics Text
Word Mastery by Florence Akin is technically not a workbook. Rather it is a phonics text from 1913. The pages consist of clean and uncluttered lists of words provide practice in specific sounds. My daughter likes to underline the words that she can read fluently, so to her, it's kind of a workbook.
Super Awesome Free Math Drills
The Math Minute series consists of several workbooks of 100 worksheets that students are challenged to complete in one minute. Each worksheet covers a variety of skills. I used them during my son's fourth grade year after we transitioned from one math program to another. I didn't use it during 5th grade because I didn't find a 5th grade version. This year, I am using this set of workbooks again during our morning table time and do not time it so my kids can worry about accuracy, not speed.
Fifth Grade (Boo, I can't find it, but I can find these Middle Grade Math Minutes)
Super Awesome Free Sentence Diagramming Workbook
This Sentence Diagramming workbook is my latest find. Sentence diagramming, along with any other type of formal grammar instruction, was out of style when I went through middle and high school, so it isn't a skill that I have learned. I did learn how to parse sentences using a crazy big syntax tree in my college linguistics class which finally helped me understand sentence structure, but it takes an entire sheet of paper to parse a sentence using a syntax tree. So, I'm hoping that sentence diagramming will be a nice, compact way to show sentence structure to my son without going through an entire ream of paper. So far, this workbook has been pretty easy to follow, but I'm not too far into it yet.
Super Awesome Free Pattern Block Mats
This cute pattern block activity book is space themed. The activities gradually get more challenging as the book progresses. My three year old enjoys the early activities where you match the pieces to the picture. The puzzles and games increase in difficulty so that the later puzzles are challenging to my oldest son.
How about you?
At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I started coming across the name Charlotte Mason, over and over and over. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was.
I finally turned to Google and came across a series of articles explaining Mason's methods of education. I skimmed over articles on narration and nature study and then stumbled on one about short lessons.
The concept wasn't hard. Charlotte Mason advised that lessons for children should be challenging, varied, and short. A short lesson meant that a child could give full attention to the lesson without a wandering mind. A short lesson wouldn't burn out a child which also meant that the child would be left eager for the next lesson.
Mason's concept of short lessons was so different from how I was organizing education in my mind. I had latched on to a block schedule, thinking it would be easier in the end. Our early block schedule included a substantial block of time for language arts, almost an hour for a math lesson and practice, and then another substantial block of time for either history, science, or art.
To me, it made sense to to get out the books for a subject once and then work with them for a good amount of time before putting them away again. If we only did history twice a week, I only had to get out the books, notebook, and other materials twice a week. It made less sense to get out the history book read a little then put it away and get out the math book for a lesson then put it away then get out a poetry book to read a poem then put it away then get out the spelling book and do an exercise then put it away... Unfortunately my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiently getting out and putting away materials and not much to do with effectively educating a young mind.
It turns out, that spending longer amounts of time in a block type schedule wasn't working even though it seemed to be so common sense. I may not have spent as much time pulling books off the shelf, but I was spending way too much time pushing my son to just get to the end of the lesson.
Unfortunately, my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiency and nothing to do with effectively educating a young mind.
Something had to change, and short lessons was a method that I knew I had to put to the test to see if it would actually work. I began by writing out a long checklist for my son so he could see what we were going to cover during the day. I made a point of making sure no two like activities or subjects were right next to each other. It looked something like this:
Story of the World
Black Ships Before Troy-1 Chapter
Chore of the Day
Of course, I didn't show him the list until he could check a few things off. He would have seen so many things scheduled before lunch instead of the usual three. I finally showed the list to him and of course he grumbled when he saw it. Why did he have to do so much today?
However, we were done with school in record time. We had hit every subject and I never once had to say, can you please just finish this page first and then you can have a break?
At the end of the week, when I added up everything that he had accomplished, more had been done in a dozen short lessons four days in a row than in four days of block scheduling. Also, we had accomplished more in less time.
Switching to a new schedule is hard, and it took me a few weeks to convince my son that what we were doing was better. The familiar pattern of doing things that we inherited from public schools was just that, familiar. We are comfortable with the familiar even if it isn't good for us. "Shouldn't I do more spelling exercises?" I'd see the question in his eyes, but he didn't dare ask.
My son had to build new habits, but I had to build new habits too. Pulling out three books for three subjects at a time and setting them on the table to work through one at a time became necessary because as soon as I turned my back to put one book away and take another out, I'd find myself alone at the table and my son already engaging his sister in a game. I have learned to pull out at least three books at once if I don't want a break between each and every short lesson.
Now that my son is older, I write out his schedule out in the order I want him to accomplish his lessons and he is no longer daunted when he gets a list of 12 tasks in the morning because now he knows that he can accomplish a lot in a little amount of time.
Charlotte Mason's short lessons have transformed our school mornings. We hit every subject between 8:30 am and lunch time with breaks in between. I do save activities that my kids like to dwell on, including science labs, art projects, and PE for after lunch. They have hours of free time for playing, reading, and personal projects.
Short lessons are the first area that I put Charlotte Mason's philosophy to the test, and I am so glad that I did because they just may have saved our sanity during our first year homeschooling.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong and Hip Homeschool Moms
Late last summer, after a string of 100 degree plus days, we were all tired of our weekday pattern of going from our air conditioned house to our little temporary pool in the backyard and back to our air conditioned house, so I packed some sandwiches and drinks and took the kids on a picnic to a local park where they could safely play at a place where the river runs wide and shallow.
The local schools had started, so we had the whole park to ourselves. The kids ate their sandwiches and waded in the river with nets and buckets looking for rocks, minnows, and freshwater clams.
After a time, my youngest got tired of the sun so we retreated to our blanket on the shade for a snack. My daughter remained on the river bank digging in the sandy mud and my oldest sat in eight inches of water letting the current flow over him.
In this idyllic moment, a great white egret flew along the surface of the water with the sunlight gleaming brightly on its wings. My three year old turned to me and said, "Mommy, look a pelican!"
As I was explaining that the bird we saw was not a pelican like the brown pelicans we had seen flying along the waves at the beach the weekend before but it was in fact a great white egret, my daughter ran up shouting, "Mom, did you see the pelican fly by?"
Once again, I explained that we had seen a great white egret, not a pelican. I was answering my daughter's question about why the two large birds looked similar when they were flying when my son came up to us exclaiming, "Mom, I think I saw a pelican!"
In my son's defense, he is nearsighted and, on my instruction, had left his glasses in the car. But still...
We had just been camping at Half Moon Bay and watched hundreds of pelicans soaring along the waves and diving for fish. Every single one was brown. We looked up pelicans in our field guides and learned about their field marks, diet, behaviors. We even noted that the white pelicans don't live on our coast. We learned a lot, I thought, until I realized that I had been doing most of the learning. My kids on the other hand, were more interested in experiencing the sand and the waves and the wildlife. They remembered pelican after pelican flying across the waves, diving down and completely submerging themselves in the water. They gathered pelican feathers in every shade of brown and learned to "zip" them so they would be smooth. They remembered how a pelican looks when it flies (and it is similar to how a great white egret flies). They just forgot the details that we learned from our field guide that would have let them know that pelicans just don't venture to our part of California and the white pelicans stay on their own coast, thousands of miles from the muddy banks of the Stanislaus River.
My kids also know about great white egrets. I point them out in fields as we drive through the rural areas around our town and if we drive to my parents early enough in the morning, we will see them perched in the trees en route. What a sight that is!
Don't get me wrong, it is a great thing to know how a water bird lives and moves from observation. Perhaps even more important than knowing a string of facts about the bird that can be found in any guide book, including its precise name. But that doesn't make names unimportant. And I wanted my kids to not just know of the birds we see day to day, I wanted them to know them by name. I want them to know a blue jay from a bluebird, a duck from a loon, a seagull from a tern, and a pelican from an egret.
We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.
I needed to turn the table. After all, I am in charge of my kids' education. The nature experts in our family were our field guides (and their interpreter--me), the occasional informational sign in state and national parks, and Siri. In order to help my kids remember the details of what they learned in nature, I would have to give them ownership of their study of the natural world.
How we finally figured out a way of nature journaling that worked for us will be the subject of another post.
Despite the fog-shrouded winters and blazing hot summers, anyone that lives in California's Central Valley will tell you the same reason about why it's a great place to live: We are within a two hour drive from anywhere we could want to go and anything that we could want to do. On a given morning, we can decide to go to Yosemite, San Francisco, or Lake Tahoe. If we feel like snow skiing, beach combing, water skiing, hiking, or going to the theater, we can!
This weekend we took advantage of our location. On Saturday, we drove west to San Francisco so we could eat pizza at a sidewalk cafe in North Beach and explore Crissy Field. On Monday, we drove east and spent the day in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains.
Is there anything better than being a three year old in the sunshine, playing on the sand, with a cool new stick?
Sorry, no pictures of the snow. I left my camera on in my pocket after taking a couple of videos of the snow and didn't bother charging it when I realized that it was dead.
Oh, and we did school this week, too. This week the kids' electives started up again. My oldest is taking band, Spanish, and a World War II/Number the Starts class. My daughter is taking art and a one month science class. I post a few photos each week on Instagram @freelylearned.
We also went to see Sing! during the week at noon and we were the only ones in the theater. It was a sweet family movie that was better than I had thought it would be. If you have younger kids who like movies with no scary parts, Sing has no scary parts.
I just finished One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is a beautifully written book about how intentionally giving thanks to God in all situations is a profound source of joy. A few of the chapters felt like a bit of a stretch, but overall, I'm glad I read it. Next, I am planning to read Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers along with the Close Reads podcast. But I am dragging my feet. Mysteries have never been my favorite.
My husband is reading a James Patterson mystery. Outside of school reading, Mr. Twelve Years Old just started Alice in Wonderland, Miss Five Years Old is reading these sweet, adorable Penny books and various Garfield comic books, and Mr. Three Years Old curls up with various Little People lift the flap books and The Animal Book. He has been bringing me a lot of ABC books to read to him lately.