Sassafras Science Adventures

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Day 15: Sassafras Science Adventures

I am always looking for ways to bring learning alive in our home.  And when I found the Sassafras Science Adventures, I had a hard time deciding on which one to choose.  All three looked amazing and I had one of those 'I-want-it-all' moments.  I finally settled on Botany, much to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my six-year-old botanist.  And we have not been disappointed.  This book has quickly become a favorite read-aloud, and closing the book is a guaranteed way to hear a chorus of "Don't stop....Just one more chapter...Pleeeaaaase?"

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But our learning hasn't stopped there.  We have headed out the door to see what we can find.  To see if we can spot some of the plants the story so gracefully introduces.  And our rabbit trails lead us to other books and still more discoveries.  We keep track of our learning in our logbooks, but even if we didn't, reading the story and exploring the world would be enough.  Because real learning is an adventure.  You never want it to end!

The Apple Pie Tree

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Day 14: The Apple Pie Tree

Who doesn't read at least one book about apples in the fall?  Even as our kids get older, we still smile when we see the display of picture books at the library with their apple illustrations on the cover.  They beg us to sit a while, as if just by opening the pages, we will be immersed into the goodness of autumn.  And then we will feel all warm inside and immediately have the intense desire to bake an apple pie:)

apple pie tree

The Apple Pie Tree will do all of these things.  It's simplicity is top among its merits, along with the way it leads us to think upon the magic of the apple seed and the cycle of the seasons.  Little ones will want to look inside an apple, and that leads to all sorts of activities.  Apple picking, making apple prints, making applesauce, apple crisp, apple pie.  Sometimes simple is best!  Happy Learning!

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Learn Geography with a Laugh


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Day 13: Learn Geography with a Laugh

Sometimes I take this whole parenting & shaping my children's future thing too seriously.  Do you know what I mean?

I carefully select books to support the development of their character and their minds.  I look for themes that will inspire and teach, and being well-written is a MUST!  But sometimes, I just need to loosen up!

Enter The Scrambled States of America.

scrmabled states scrambles states game

We found this book, or rather it found us, after we purchased the game at a yard sale.  I am always looking for engaging ways of introducing topics that have traditionally been presented in dry, lackluster fashion.  The game is just that!  It includes geography of the United States, including capitols and state nicknames, spelling, and color identification.  It is one of the first games that every member of our family has enjoyed no matter their age.

The book is equally fun!  My kids will always remember that "Nevada and Mississippi are in love."  Not sure what that means?  Check out the book to find out.  You'll never look at geography the same again!

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Learning to Trust with Boys & Baseball


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There's a Book for That, Day 10:
Boys & Baseball

Allowing learning to unfold naturally is a tightrope walk between anxiety and trust. At least it has been for me. I have often questioned my own notion of learning, and often done so multiple times in an hour. What I have learned is that whenever I allow trust to win out over the fear and anxiety, the result is beautiful. Always. The process is not always neat and orderly. Actually, it rarely is. But beauty and blessing can be found in every corner of trusting enough to respect your child’s voice in his own education. That’s the lesson all six of my children teach me daily. And among my children, there is no better teacher than our eight year old. This boy has pushed me out of my comfort zone in splendid ways that I thank him for.

boys baseball graphic

So when his love of baseball happily threatened to take over every aspect of his waking (and most likely dreaming) hours, I made the conscious decision to welcome the passion. Thanks to Julie Bogart over at Brave Writer and Lori Pickert over at Project-Based Homeschooling, this decision was easy. I suggested to my boy that he come up with a project about baseball. His enthusiasm for this ideas matched that of Christmas morning. Not only was he going to immerse himself in learning all about baseball, but he got to take the lead and he got quality time with me sharing his passion. All of these are immense benefits, but the latter is what this parenting gig is all about. Nothing says ‘I love you’ to a child more than spending time together focusing on what they love.

So now, on to the books….

These are just some of the books we read together. We also watched some YouTube videos documentaries about different baseball players and baseball history. And this boy amazed me every step of the way. He was focused and attentive and persistent. After some brainstorming, he decided he wanted to write a book. And he doesn’t mean just a little, easy reader book. He means a BOOK, and he is prepared for it to take him all year to do it.

jeter project text

This is the result of trusting my boy and being his partner in learning.  As recent as a few months ago, he did not want to learn to read or write.  Now he is doing both, with enthusiasm!

two paths

Throughout the process so far, he has learned how to read and spell several dozen words. He has learned how to paraphrase and re-tell what he has learned. He has learned how to ask questions and seek the answers. And he has learned how to go through a video or book with a fine tooth comb a second, and sometimes third time, to make sure he got the facts straight. And above all, he has learned that he is a reader and a writer. So if you ever  When you come to the fork in the road where you have to choose the path of fear or the path of trust, choose trust. Let’s make it the path more traveled.

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The Hundred Dresses Story Chart

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There's a Book for That, Day 9: The Hundred Dresses, part three & a free printable!

For the past two days, I have been sharing my notes and resources for the book club I facilitate at our local homeschool co-op.  You can find those posts here and here.  Even though I tried to make the description of our process and conversations as clear as possible, I know that sometimes it's helpful to just have something that you can download and print to have on hand when you are ready to jump into your own discussion.  So, I made you a story chart, based on the one found in Teaching the Classics, complete with notes for each aspect of the story.  While your discussion won't be exactly like ours, I thought you may find it helpful, as I did when I was just getting started, to have some notes to guide you.   So, consider this little story chart my way of paying it forward.  I hope you find it helpful and that it encourages you to dive in to a book discussion.  It's really not so scary once you get started.  :)  If you'd like a copy of the story chart delivered to your inbox, just pop your name and email address into the form below.  Happy reading (& discussing)!

Get a free story chart to jumpstart your own book discussion!

100 dresses


There's a Book for That, Day 8: The Hundred Dresses, part two

31 days large There's a Book for That, Day 7: The Hundred Dresses, part two

Yesterday, I talked a little bit about the inspiration and resources I have found to begin a book club at our homeschool co-op. Today, I am going to delve into what the discussion looked like with our little group.

We started our time together by reading a picture book, Anitole, together. This was a great way to start because we could read the book and still have a good amount of time to talk about the book within the confines of our allotted class period. As I explained yesterday, I began with a discussion of genres, having the girls name as many genres as they could think of. Then I challenged them to choose just one of the genres that could be one umbrella genre. This proved to be a little more difficult for them, though they had some great ideas. Finally, we settled, with some guidance from me, on mystery. This transitioned into a quick overview of the parts of the story. I purposely kept this short and succinct, using the chart from Teaching the Classics, because the concept feels somewhat abstract until you really dive in and look closely at a story.


So with the idea that every story is a mystery and the consistent parts of a story in our minds, I read Anitole to the group. Just by looking at the girls faces, I could see that they were listening carefully for clues. The discussion that followed was great considering our lack of experience with the process.

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The next week (We are meeting for a total of 6 weeks.), we read the first 2 chapters of The Hundred Dresses together, and immediately we started asking questions. I pointed out to the girls that asking questions is what keen detectives, and readers, do. The remainder of the class time was spent having an in-depth discussion setting and touching briefly on the characters. The photo shows our notes in all their raw detail. One interesting thing to note is that The Hundred Dresses contains illustrations, and the illustrations sometimes affected the girls’ interpretation of the setting. This was an important teachable moment. Whenever someone would offer evidence of the setting based upon an illustration, I would challenge them to find evidence in the text to back it up. This lead to further discussion about an illustrator’s role in telling the story.

Please excuse the blurriness of this photo. Please excuse the blurriness of this photo.

For the next week, the girls and I read chapters 3 & 4, and our discussion focused heavily on the characters. You can see from the photos that we reviewed our discussion from the week before and then looked very closely at the characters. To give each girl a chance to participate, I had them write down a characteristic of one the characters and then find some evidence to back it up, noting the page numbers. This was a great exercise and really helped us as we moved forward with our discussions in later weeks.

100dresses3-3 100 dresses4-4

Our third discussion for The Hundred Dresses focused on beginning to fill in the story chart, as you can see in the picture. And we also began to make predictions, based on the evidence we already have, as to the theme or message the author wants to convey. At this point we had read through chapter 6 and had a lot to go on. We each took a notecard and wrote our suspected theme on one side and our evidence to prove it on the other side, then discussed. To deepen our discussion of theme, I shared “Outside Looking In,” a song by Jordan Pruitt. We looked closely at the lyrics while we listened to a recording of it. The concise nature of song makes the theme easier to spot, and this song in particular is a clear parallel to the book.

Our fourth and final discussion will take place in just a few days and the week after that we will have a “book party.” I’ll be sure to post the details of that. Since I don’t have actual notes about what we have done, I will share with you my plans.

We will complete the story chart together, now that we have read through the entire book, and we will revisit our assumptions about the characters and setting to confirm that they are correct based on the details of the story. Then we will focus on theme. I will give the girls a new notecard and repeat the process from the week before, writing their idea of the theme on one side and their evidence on the other. I am predicting that this will lead to a lively discussion since a few different themes could be seen as valid, depending on which character’s perspective we look from. I also plan to share the quote below and this poem by Mother Teresa with the girls and have them make connections with them.

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There's a Book for That, Day 6: Wild Child

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There's a Book for That, Day 6:
Wild Child

Over the years of reading aloud to my children, I have read more books about Autumn than I can count, but this one...Wild one of my new favorites.  It's beautiful illustrations and gentle depiction of the changing of seasons are breathtaking.  And children will find a little bit of themselves in the wild child of Autumn. 

nature suncatcher

This book inspired us to get outside and take a look at the natural world around us.  We decided to collect some things that we saw on our nature walk.  Once we were home, we laid them out and I rummaged through our seed box to see what we had left to add.  We then cut out the center of a paper plate and a large circular piece of clear contact paper.  Then we arranged some of our favorite nature items onto the sticky side of the contact paper and covered it over with another piece.  The results were beautiful.  I also read this book and did this craft with our homeschool co-op.  I wish I had pictures!! All of the sun-catchers were so different!

There's a Book for That, Day 5: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast


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There's a Book for That, Day 5:
What the Most Successful People
Do Before Breakfast

I just stumbled across this little gem and it was so inspiring! I hesitated as to whether or not to include it in this series because it isn’t exactly a story, though it does include several vignettes that perfectly illustrate the author’s well-thought-out point. After careful consideration, I did decide to share this book in my write31days challenge because What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast will jumpstart your learning, whatever that may be.

It will also help you learn more about yourself & what you value. And it will help you decide if the latter is reflected in how you spend your time. I don’t know about you, but this is something I need to revisit often. One of the great things about this book is that it's short and easy to read. Something even better is that there is an audio version available on YouTube. It takes only an hour to listen to and could significantly change your approach to your morning and your whole day!

There's a Book for That, Day 4: Paddle-to-the-Sea

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There's a Book for That, Day 4:

When it comes to geography, enlivening the topic can be a challenge. But Holling C. Holling has met this challenge amazingly well! Through the story of Paddle, the little wooden man and his canoe, geography is not only interesting, but exciting!  When reading this book, you can’t help but pull out a map and follow Paddle’s course from Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. And along the way, you learn about the characteristics of the landscapes, industries, cultures, as well as the geography of the Great Lakes area.  All from one story!

Holling C. Holling has written several books like Paddle to the Sea, and they all inspire us to learn more about geography and history. Happy Learning!

There's a Book for That, Day 3: Owl Moon


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There's a Book for That, Day 3:
Owl Moon

The beauty of books is the depth and breadth of learning they offer. Just one book can lead us in so many directions, hopping off on rabbit trails that lead us on to discover new ideas on a variety of topics. Owl Moon is one of my favorite books for just that reason. Jane Yolen’s writing effortlessly lifts us up out of our homes and right into the cold night going owling with Pa. We hear the crunch of the snow. Feel our hot breath behind the woolen scarf. See the magnificent beauty of the owl.


At the end, we sit in quiet awe of having experienced something so seemingly real without having to bundle up and head outside. From reading this book, you may decide to learn more about owls and seek out a non-fiction book like Owls by Gail Gibbons, or learn more about how the seasons affect animals or about life in the country. Or, because of the beauty of Yolen’s words, you may want to learn more about writing. Owl Moon is a book that I share with every young writer I work with, either one on one or in a writing workshop setting.

If you are curious about how to use Owl Moon to inspire writing, check out 5 Simple Steps to Using Picture Books to Teach Writing .  It will encourage you to look closely at the books you read and not stop your discussion at the plot but delve deeper into looking at the words the author chose and the beauty of the language.  Really, Owl Moon, and books like it can inspire writers of all ages!  They're concise, vivid, and after all, who doesn't love a great picture book?!

So, no matter what rabbit trail you find yourself on, you’ll be glad you followed it.  Happy Learning!