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?
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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.
When I mention homeschooling to almost anyone I meet, they cannot comprehend the enormity of what I am doing with my kids. I've gotten everything from, "Good for you, but I could never do it," to literal open mouthed shock.
I get it, for the following reasons:
But people in our culture do have a concept of what it means to be educated outside of the 30-kids-the-same-age classroom, but we just don't think about it. We all are aquainted with an educational system that is very different from today's public school model and very close to the homeschool model.
That very different educational model is called the one room schoolhouse.
In a one room school house, a small group of children in a wide variety of ages from a small group of families would come together, outside of the planting and harvest seasons, to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and science together. There would be a single adult teacher in the room who was responsible for a wide range of children who all had something to learn.
When it came to the three Rs, the teacher would go around and teach short lessons to small groups of kids, who would then practice what they had learned while the teacher taught another group of kids. Older kids would help the younger kids and kids would help out the kids sitting next to them. Lessons in the content area subjects like, history, geography, and science would be shared with the entire school.
A one room schoolhouse was a multi-age educational community that worked.
The one room schoolhouse is not unusual in our minds, so why does homeschooling seem so unusual? After all, when you compare the two systems, they aren't that different at all.
So the next time someone looks at you askance when you mention you homeschool, mention the similarities to the one room school house.
One of my goals in homeschooling is to help my kids make meaningful connections with all of the knowledge that they are receiving. When it comes to Biblical knowledge, there is just so much to synthesize that even adults need help connecting the dots between what we learn about God in Genesis and Revelations and every book in between.
I came across The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, and it seemed like a fun introduction to the overarching themes of the bible for my age range of kids, so I added it to my cart with a few other books I was purchasing for our homeschool.
How The Ology is Set Up
The Ology has a total of 71 chapters divided into 11 sections that teach about God and his relationship to us. The eleven major sections are:
Each chapter is four pages long. Two pages contain a short, yet example-rich explanation of a truth from the Bible with several verses included in the margins. The other two pages have simple illustrations that are symbolic of some part of the text. The illustrations also have verses that further support the text and can be looked up by the parent or older students.
At the back of the book, there is a glossary for the theological terms that are used in the book. Each term is explained with a kid friendly definition. There is also a section titled "Think Theology, Talk Theology" which has discussion questions for each of the chapters.
How We are Using The Ology as a Family
At the beginning of the book is a parent guide on how to use The Ology with different age groups: Early Elementary (ages 6-9), Upper Elementary (ages 10-12) and Teens and Adults. Since the recommendation for both Early and Upper Elementary is to read the book straight through to get an overview, that is what we are doing.
As we read each chapter, I remind my kids about what the prior chapter was about. Then I ask my youngest (3 years old) about the illustration for the current chapter. Next. I read the first page of text and ask my daughter (5 years old) why she thinks they picked the first picture for that chapter. Then I read the verse that is alongside of the main text and ask my oldest son (12 years old) if he can tell me how the verse relates to what the chapter was about. We then turn the page and repeat with the second half of the chapter.
There is more that we could do with The Ology. We could memorize the verses each week, spend more time with the questions in the back, or we could look up all of the verses from the pictures, but in this season of life, what we are doing is working just right for our family.
Our readings from The Ology are a part of our morning family devotions, which also include prayers and readings from the Bible.
It is easy to teach who's who in the Bible and to memorize a few verses, but as our culture moves more and more into secularism, it is important that our children know the truths of the Bible and how they are connected. I believe that The Ology is a good tool towards that end.
Before reading The Ology to my kids, I read them The Jesus Storybook Bible since it is a good introduction to how everything in the Bible points to Jesus. After reading The Ology, I will probably get my oldest son Big Truths for Young Hearts to read on his own while rereading The Jesus Storybook Bible to my youngest two before moving on to The Ology again.
Disclaimer: I purchased The Ology with my own money to use within my own family. All opinions in this article are my own. Links in this article are affiliate links.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong, Mommy Monday, Inspire Me Mondays, Wise Woman Link-Up, Literacy Musings, and Hip Homeschool Moms
I find that my biggest challenge in choosing book to read aloud to my kids is accomodating the wide age range. This winter my kids are 12, 5, and 3 but with upcoming birthdays, they will soon be 12, 6, and 4.
It would make sense, with the gaps in my kid's ages, to read separately to my son and then to the younger two, but they all like starting the day out together with a little bit of family learning before they go their own ways in their independent subjects. The burden falls on me to find books that won't be ridiculously easy for my oldest or too far over the heads of my youngest two.
The selection of books that I came up with center around my oldest son's history unit (Ancient Greece), my daughter's science interests, and poetry selections for all ages.
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We are currently reading the Book of Daniel for our daily Bible reading. When we are finished with Daniel, we will read the Gospel of Mark. Also, we are reading a chapter a week from The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New to help us understand the overarching themes of the Bible.
I am planning on spending a big chunk of time studying Greek history and culture this winter. Some of the read alouds I plan to use include:
I will be reading short selections from Dorothy Mill's The Book of the Ancient Greeks at time and at times having my son read from it on his own so that we can get through the book in a reasonable amount of time. It is hard for the younger kids to sit through history readings even though they really want to share in their older brother's lessons, so I just read aloud very short sections to everyone while assigning the rest to my son to read independently.
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths is a hit with both of my kids. My daughter asked me if it was "poetry or a story" and my oldest son asked to bring it to his room to look at it during his break.
After we finish D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, I plan on reading Archimedes and the Door of Science, I will also be requesting picture book copies of Aesop's Fables from the library to appeal to my youngest boy.
Most of our science selections are picture books that come from the library. Learning about the natural world appeals to all of my kids, so this winter I am looking for books about animals that live in snowy climates, changing weather, and the solar system.
When my little ones start to lose interest, I read a nursery rhyme or a poem. Our nursery rhyme book is the Tall Book of Mother Goose and the poetry book I am using is the Random House Book of Poetry.
Those are just our school read alouds. Of course, it would be unreasonable to read every book every day, so each morning, I pick a few books and read a few pages from each. I really only spend about 20 minutes a day reading aloud at the beginning of our day. It's amazing how much ground we cover in such a small amount of time.
As far as New Year's Resolutions go, I think that there are two kinds: the kinds we feel like we should make and the ones that we aren't really sure that we should make.
The should resolutions are ones that we hope will reverse the bad habits that we've gotten into: loose the ten pounds that we gained between the time Halloween candy entered our house and our final New Year's toast and then the ten more from the year before, organize all of the stuff that got jumbled into a chaotic mess during the chaos of the holidays, stop spending money on little things so we can save more for the important things, and the list goes on.
Funny thing is, these are the resolutions that often fail. The weeks get busy again and we fall into habits. We always know what we should do, the problem is that a new year really isn't that much different from the old year. So why not put that should off until next year.
The resolutions that we at we aren't really sure that we should make are the ones that seems bit extravagant or even self-indulgent. Last year, I decided to learn to paint so I asked for a paint set, small desk easel, and a how to book for Christmas. Once we got through the holidays and the dust settled, I began working through a lesson a day. After several years where I had given up all of my time to care for a baby and a toddler while spending my spare moments figuring out homeschooling for my oldest it really felt unnatural to reclaim that time for something other than giving of myself to my family. After all, if I had any extra time it felt like I should be spending it catching up on laundry or organizing a drawer.
Despite what I should have been doing, I decided to paint every day during my youngest's nap time. It is interesting that one of the key steps in painting is to wait for the paint to dry before moving on to the next step. While I waited for paint to dry, laundry got done, drawers were dumped out and organized, and the occasional push up and plank happened. The resolutions that I should have made happened without any "resolution making" on my part.
As far as resolutions go, I didn't learn everything about the art of painting, not by a long shot, but I started the process and I learned so much more after this year than from my previous 37 years combined. If I want to take the next step, I know where to go next. I call that a resolution achieved.
This year, I decided to make another resolution that reflected more of what I could do, and less of what I should do and so, in an effort to work on my writing skills, I have started a blog.