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KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.

25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 1 Donkeys

 

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Adding Literature to your daily lessons is super easy to do.  A good story can be such a marvelous addition to anything you’re teaching your littles about.  It doesn’t matter if you have primary, middle, or high school level littles, studies have shown that the brain doesn’t make too much differentiation between reading about an experience and Actually Experiencing it.  Which means that an interesting tale can help subject matter stick with your littles for the long haul.  Yet another excellent reason to encourage reading in your homeschool.

I’m starting out this series with donkeys for a variety of reasons, none of them having anything to do with how important donkeys are. 🙂  Mostly just because one of my all-time favorite picture books features a donkey, but also because in the freebies section of this site there’s a free Animal Study worksheet that will go well with these book suggestions.  So without further ado, here are some great books for your littles to read while they’re studying donkeys.

 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

I’ve mentioned William Steig before–he wrote one of my favorite chapter books for littles, Abel’s Island.  Sylvester’s story is very sweet and a good lesson about being careful what you wish for.  The drawings are simple and colorful and the writing is exemplary.  I have many fond memories of pulling this book off the shelf as a child and getting lost in its pages.  Perhaps it doesn’t really teach anything about donkeys.  Who cares?  It is a beautiful tale your littles will thoroughly enjoy, and it will remind them to be grateful for what they have.

 

  The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith

This is a great read-aloud for littles, with lots of wordplay and hilarity.  The watercolor pictures are soft and lovely, but the depictions of the donkey and the various things that make him wonky are hilarious.  The book comes with a free downloadable song of the story, so that’s something great to get stuck in your head. 🙂  It also provides a lesson on diversity and how being different is a quality we all have and that is not a bad thing.

Donkey-donkey by Roger Duvoisin

This is the story of a donkey who is embarrassed by his ears.  All the other farm animals have beautiful ears; why do his have to be so long?  He sets about following the advice of his animal friends in order to solve his problem (reminiscent of Leo the Lop by Stephen Cosgrove, another all-time fave of mine.  In fact, I have a lop-eared rabbit named Leo).  But when a little girl comes to the farm and admires the donkey’s long ears, he is given a new-found confidence.  The simple pen-and-ink drawings are entertaining and the lesson about loving yourself for who you are is priceless.

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

No way can we talk about donkeys here without mentioning Eeyore, the all-time best donkey ever.  Any of Milne’s collections will have him in them, but my favorite Eeyore story is in this one.  If you have littles that love the Disney version, go ahead and find a Disney picture book about Eeyore.  But if you really want to them to know this loveable guy, go for the original.  Lots of lessons here about learning to recognize when people love you and dropping the soul-sucking pessimism.  Plus, he’s just plain Funny!
Teeny Tiny Ernest by Laura T. Barnes

Here’s another tale about loving yourself for who you are (why are donkeys so good for that?!).  In this one, Ernest gets up to all kinds of hijinks while trying to impress his friends with his height.  Of course, he is not tall, so he doesn’t fool anybody.  Soon he realizes that he’s the only one who notices his size–all his friends like him for who he is, not what he looks like.  Another wonderful lesson, told in a fun, engaging way.  Ernest has a whole series of books, too, if your little falls in love with him like we have.
The Last Battle (Book 7 of The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

This final chapter in the Narnia books stars Puzzle the donkey as one of the antagonists.  Puzzle is a bit dense but has a good heart.  He is the faithful sidekick of Shift, an ape who has it out for the Narnians.  Shift manipulates Puzzle into carrying out his orders, including risking his life to steal the skin of a lion from the Caldron Pool, then wearing it to imitate Aslan.  In the end, Puzzle does what is right and, after a short conversation with Aslan, is admitted into Aslan’s country.  As in all the Narnia books, there are lots of lessons here about how to be a good person, but particularly in Puzzle’s case, how to think for oneself and not allow peer pressure to influence decisions.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays and Bottom, whose head gets transformed into that of a donkey’s by Puck, is the funniest character.  He is silly and foolish, and nothing about his antics ever really redeems him.  It makes this a great play with which to introduce your littles to Shakespeare.  Plus, I’m pretty sure you can get it for free on Kindle or you can read it online for free here.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

You can’t have a group of political farm animals without including a stubborn donkey.  In fact, Benjamin the Donkey is so stubborn he absolutely refuses to get excited about the rebellion.  He is the oldest animal on the farm and kind of an Eeyore with a brain.  Very cynical.  Because he is longer-lived than the other animals, he sees the rebellion and the new regime as passing fads.  He’s pretty sure he’s going to live to see what comes next, so he just can’t drum up any enthusiasm for all the plots and machinations.  He’s one of my favorite characters simply for his detached amusement about all the goings-on.

Pick one or more of these books to add to a class about donkeys and you’re sure to perk up your littles’ interest.  Even just reading excerpts from the chapter books or the play can give your child a little insight into what we humans think of the donkey’s character.  Silly, foolish, stubborn, fiercely loyal… Yeah, that describes our donkey, too. 🙂

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Love wins,

KT

 

 

 

 

6 Ways to Have a Fabulous Fourth of July Celebration!

With Independence Day coming up, we took the day off from science today to prepare.  Following are some craft, lesson, and food ideas to get your littles involved in your July Fourth celebration and pretty it up a bit.

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We’ll start with crafts.  Here are two that are super simple to make and will add a little spark to any celebration.

Miniature American Flags

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These are so fun to make and can be used for various things.  We have used them for coasters, glued them to the front of jars to hold plastic ware on the food table, and attached them to sticks for the kiddos to wave around.

Materials:

IMG_20150702_112839655For each flag you will need

8 craft sticks

red, white, and blue tempera or craft paint

glue

Instructions:

1.  Cut or break one of your craft sticks in half, making sure the pieces are as equal in length as you can get them.  These are what you will attach the other sticks together with.  Set them aside.

2.  You will only be painting one side of the remaining craft sticks.  Paint 1/3 of 4 of the sticks blue.  I put the sticks together and mark them with a pencil so it’s all even.

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IMG_20150702_115539114Warning: If you’re using tempera paint, you will have to do 2 or more coats, especially on the white.

3.  Alternate painting the remaining 2/3 of those four sticks red and white.

IMG_20150702_1205389154.  Paint 2 of the remaining sticks red and the final one white.

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  1. Once the paint has dried, turn the sticks over, being sure that your blue field will be on the left-hand side and your top stick is blue and red.  Also, alternate the red and white sticks so you have a true-looking flag.  Line them up so that they’re straight at all edges.

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  1. Now it’s time for the stick you cut in half.  Run a line of glue along one side of one piece and place it about 1/2 inch in from the end.  Be sure it touches all 7 of the flag sticks.  Now glue the other piece the same distance from the other end.  It should look like this:

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7.  Now that you have assembled your flag, you can paint a white star in the center of your blue field, or make white dots to represent whatever number of stars you want to place on your flag.

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That’s it!  Cute and simple! (You can see that Littlest forgot to make sure he started at the top with a blue and red stick.  Make sure you don’t do that!)

Fireworks Pom Poms

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These are also really easy to make, though younger littles may need a bit of help with the scissors.  Also versatile, we’ve used them for centerpieces, individual decor, or twirly toys for kiddos to replace sparklers.  You can make a bunch of red, white, and blue pom poms, or you can mix up the colors for variety.  Also, you can make the pom poms a little fuller by adding another strip or two of crepe paper, but don’t use too much–they stop looking like fireworks and start resembling flowers.

IMG_20150702_121049559Materials:

Red, white, and blue crepe paper

Small dowel rods or kabob sticks

Scissors

Tape

(Cat is optional!)

Instructions:

1.  Cut a 6-inch strip of each color of crepe paper.

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  1. Stack them atop one another.

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  1. Fold the stacked crepe paper in half once.  Fold in half again.

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  1. With your scissors, cut thin strips on one long edge of the folded paper.  You should leave about a 1/2-inch strip along the bottom for attaching it to your dowel rod or kabob stick.

IMG_20150702_121930320It should look like this:

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5.  Place one end of the dowel rod or kabob stick onto the uncut edge of the paper.  Roll the paper up from the short edge, making sure your cut edges are above the stick, which you are rolling up in the paper.

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6.  Tape the bottom edge of the pom pom around the stick.

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7.  With your fingers, fluff the cut edges until they resemble a firework.

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Also simple and cute!

Learning About Independence Day

Adding a short lesson to your preparations helps your littles remember why we’re celebrating this particular day.  It’s not just fireworks and potluck suppers!  There is a great selection of Independence Day poetry here, including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn and Henry Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride.  I remember memorizing Paul Revere’s Ride in the 5th grade, and it still pops into my head from time to time in quiet moments. It has amazing rhythm.  To save you some time, here is a great American poem by Walt Whitman that reminds us of the diversity of people who live in this country and how they contribute to its success.

I Hear America Singing
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Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, first published in the 1867 edition)
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I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—
Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—
At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

That Whitman.  What a genius.

Product Details

There a several great children’s books to help littles understand more about the 4th of July.  Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong celebrates our independence and our diversity.  It’s about a Chinese-American girl who is disappointed that her family is being so Un-American as to make Chinese food for their 4th of July celebration.  But she learns her own lesson about what America is in the end.

Product DetailsThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence by Judith St. George is a brightly-colored, well-researched book about the many places that document has called home throughout our history.

The Signers: 56 Stories behind the Declaration of Independence by Dennis B. Fradin is good for older kids who want to learn more aboutProduct Details how the document came into being.  And because there is a story for each of the Declaration signers, your littles can pick and choose who they want to learn about.

If you would rather just read the Declaration with your littles and discuss it at your own pace, you can find an online copy of it here.  The site even has a printer-friendly version.

 

Food

Red White and Blue Tiramisu

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If you have a tiramisu dish, this red, white and blue yummy goodness is sure to make a beautiful smash!  I don’t have a finished pic for you because I’m not making it until Saturday, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.  This simple dish is a great way to sneak fresh fruit in on your littles if they don’t normally dive on it the minute you get home from the store like mine do.

Ingredients:

2 21 ounce cans cherry pie filling

2-3 cups fresh blueberries, to taste (and visual effect)

8 ounces fresh strawberries

2 5.25-ounce packages instant vanilla pudding

1 8-ounce tub cool whip

(Again, lazy cat optional.  Though I don’t recommend it for this particular project.)

Directions:

1.  Start by making the pudding according to package directions, then putting it in the fridge to thicken.

  1. Slice your strawberries and set aside.

3.  Spread both cans of cherry pie filling on the bottom of your dish.  Top with pudding.

4.  For your blue layer, add blueberries until they can be easily seen through the sides of the dish.

  1. Top with whole tub of cool whip.

  2. Arrange strawberries in any design you want atop the cool whip.

Easy, yummy and (somewhat) good for you, this dish is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

  Strawberry-Peach Shakes

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For a fun way to cool off from the July heat, make these shakes and watch the smiles break forth.

Ingredients:

14 ounce sliced peaches, undrained

8-12 ounces fresh strawberries

1/2 cup milk

1/2 to 3/4 of a 48 oz tub of vanilla ice cream, depending on desired thickness

Directions:

1.  Pour peaches with syrup into food processor or blender

  1. De-stem strawberries and add them to the peaches

  2. Add milk and ice cream

  3. Pulse until mixture is thick and creamy

That’s all there is to it!  My littles beg me daily to make these yummy shakes.  I hope you and your littles enjoy them as much as we do.

There you have it, beautiful readers.  My favorite ways to make the 4th of July amazing for all of us.  I hope there’s lots here you can use to enhance your celebrations.

Happy Independence Day!

Love wins,

KT

Teaching STEM When You’re STEM-Challenged

We all know about STEM, right?  That relatively new term that gets tossed about and means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  If you’re like me, just reading the acronym can turn your knees to jelly.  I have written before about being convinced by others as a child that I was a sub-par science and math girl, even though I always scored well on what amounted to standardized tests back then.  Before I tackled chemistry with the Littles last year, I had never taken anything remotely approaching a chem class.  I considered myself STEM-challenged.

In some ways, I still am.  Mostly because I don’t have the background education that would serve me well in these later homeschool years.  When I start to plan a science or tech course for the boys, I am quaking in my shoes over how hard it’s going to be for me to teach them something I know nothing about.  Then I get into the planning process and realize I actually know much more than I thought I did, and have to high-five myself for the life lessons that have prepared me where my education did not.

Still.  Some of us are truly STEM-challenged.  Our brains are creative or literary and all that logic throws us for a loop.  Just when we think we’re grasping the information, it slips away like water in a swollen stream.  What do we, as homeschooling parents, do when faced with this challenge?

IMG_20150701_101330985Seek help.  Never be afraid to seek help.  I posted in June about our great find from STEM Fuse, from which we are learning coding so that Middle can follow his dream of video game designing.  It wasn’t my first idea for summer science, but as you know, one of the things I love most about homeschooling is getting to let the Littles lead in terms of their education.  Middle really wanted to learn how to actually create a video game.  I had no idea how to teach him that.  I have never (nor have I ever wanted to) designed a video game.  The classes I took about computer technology took place at least 6 years ago, many of them much longer ago than that.  I have obviously kept my hand in, what with using the computer to create classes, this blog, and a few novels, but not enough, I have learned.  Those things are pretty basic.  I couldn’t write HTML or CSS if you held a gun to my head (please don’t do that).  So I went looking for help.

I found a class.  Already prepared and mapped out, all I have to do is give it.  If you’ve been reading me for very long at all, you know this is not something I do.  My STEM-lacking education at least gave me the skills to provide some kick-butt history, language arts, art, and music classes.  I use resources from other homeschooling blogs, but I often make my own worksheets, notebooking pages, and unit studies because…. Well, it’s fun.  I Love It.  And I’m stubborn.  I took on this responsibility and I intend to be the person who does most of the work.  I cannot make myself change that mindset.  Except.  I don’t know anything about writing code or designing video games.  So I found a class.  That someone else put together.

IMG_20150701_101345452Can I thank STEM Fuse enough?  I don’t think so.  Though the course is set up to be done in 18 weeks in a public school, because science and cursive are our only concentration for the summer, we have 2-3 hours a day to work on it.  And since it’s so interesting to the Littles, they don’t mind doing it for that long.  We are already in what should be the 8th week of the course, and we’ve only been at it for 2 & 1/2 weeks.  (Don’t you just Love Homeschooling?!)  Today the Littles created the background and main character for their first game.   A big step away from my original advice of, “Take this binder and fill it with paper and write down every single idea you have.”  It was good advice, don’t get me wrong.  But this class is actually getting them closer to being able to take real action toward achieving their goals.

By the same token, when we started chemistry last year, I wasted a lot of money on books that seemed like what I wanted but ended up being over all our heads.  I kept looking.  It wasn’t until mid-year, but I finally found something that Really Taught Us about chemistry.  We proceeded with glee.  The original problem was that I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t think to ask for help.  Remember that stubborn streak I mentioned?

Sometimes we can’t do it on our own, and that is okay.  If you think of yourself as STEM-challenged, there are lots of online resources that can help you move forward with your child’s education full of confidence.  Here are a few:

STEM Fuse

This site offers lots of STEM courses and advice, and there are serious discounts for homeschoolers.  But hurry up–right now they are $50 a course, but on 8/7/15 they will go up to $100 a course.  I happily paid $50 for the course we are taking now, and it is worth every penny.  There are courses in reading, math, computer programming, health sciences, and business.  There are webinars offered on building your own coding courses and sneak peeks of their products under the Education tab.

National STEM Centre

This site is British, but don’t be intimidated.  I get their newsletter, and it is always full of great resources for teaching STEM subjects.  It’s also really interesting to see what Britain is doing in terms of STEM advancement.  Just getting a worldview on education is a total bonus for me.  Their latest newsletter included info on engaging space lessons, Lego robotics, and extending thinking in primary science.  Their eLibrary tab offers tons of free pdfs to help you plan your STEM classes.

The STEM Education Resource Center at PBS.org

This is another site that offers free resources for all STEM subjects, for grades k-13+, including PBS-grade videos which are awesome.  I have found, when teaching science, that videos can go a long way toward explaining certain materials because of their combination of audio and visual instruction.

EarthSky

I have mentioned this site many times on the blog because it is so incredibly magnificent.  A true feast of astrological and geological information and pictures that are out of this world (sometimes literally), this is one you should refer to often.   Sign up for their newsletter.  I have received it for years and I still look forward to seeing it in my inbox.  It’s among my top 5 fave sites for our homeschool.

NASA for Educators

NASA’s site is amazing in and of itself, but its resources for educators are outstanding.  They offer the latest news, apps, and ebooks available in Kindle, EPUB, and pdf files.  The site can be a bit disorienting to navigate, but be patient–a wealth of knowledge is there.

Free Technology for Teachers

This site gives advice about how to teach tech to your kids.  It offers a really cool array of information on what to do to add tech to your classes.  Check it out, and try not to be overwhelmed–when I say an array I mean a Vast Array.  I heart this site in a big way, especially now that we are definitely adding technology to our curriculum.

I hope these sites help you feel more comfortable and less challenged with STEM.  As parents of the modern age, we’d better get with it! haha  I wish you luck on the journey.

Love wins,

KT

 

 

 

 

Homeschool Hysteria

FB95IMG951435673073701Hahahaha  We all know that feeling, don’t we?  There are just some situations that you can’t help but feel you are just not equipped to handle.  We all do it.  Just like those of us in our 40s can’t imagine why young people look at us Like That–we’re not much older than them, so what’s up?  We don’t Feel older than them.  We feel exactly like we did in our 20s, if you add a twinge or a pain or two.  Inside, though, there are times when we just don’t feel our age, just don’t want to be the person who has to handle the problem.  We’re just kids, darn it.  How does the world expect us to do this?

Sometimes I feel like that as a homeschooler.  Don’t you?  Like if I  could just find someone in authority who would give me the answers I would be able to get things done.  The really cool thing about homeschooling is that we, as parents, are in charge.  Sometimes, though, that is really scary.  It occurred to me yesterday that Middle has started the 7th grade this summer.  Um, panic much?  Why yes, yes I did.  I went through all the things we homeschooling parents go through when we’re faced with a new situation.  Am I doing this right?  He’s not in elementary school anymore by any definition.  Am I missing something?  Have I not upped the curriculum enough to meet his needs?  AM I COMPLETELY SCREWING UP MY CHILD’S EDUCATION???

Where was that adultier adult when I needed her?  Well, there is no one else.  Just me.  I can go to the wonderful homeschool communities I have developed both at home and online and get advice.  But all the decisions, all the authority, come down to me.  So I have to put on on my big girl boots and be a 40-something, confident, adult woman, and answer all those questions myself.  I have to remind myself that I have always had a definite blueprint for the Littles’ education in my head and that I am following that plan.  I must tell myself that the Littles are at least 2 years ahead of their ‘grade level’ and I could stop right now for a year and still be on track.  But oh, I wish there were someone here who is successfully adulting who would make my panicked heart believe all that.

Here’s the thing.  If you are new to homeschooling or still trying to figure out whether to do it, you may be struggling with a similar hysteria.  It may be making you feel like you are not adulty enough to succeed.  But I want you to rest assured–we all do it.  When we veterans were trying to decide whether or not to keep our kids home, we felt exactly like you do.  When we were halfway through our first year and trying to figure out if we were doing it right, we felt just like you do.  When we are 5 years in and realize that we are entering a whole different phase of schooling, we have the same feelings you are having.  You are not alone, and you know what?  You are just as adulty as we are.  So you can do this.  We can do this.  We have each other, no? 🙂

It does, indeed, help to have veterans you can go to with questions.  I still go for advice to people who have been doing this longer than I have.  I even ask for help from people who are newer at it, because sometimes they have fresh ideas that make my stale ones look… stale.  But trust me when I say, you are adulting just fine, and you will adult just fine as a homeschooler.  Knowing that everyone feels that way helps.  Knowing that it doesn’t really end until after graduation… Well, let’s just say I hope I haven’t terrified you.  I’ve kind of terrified myself.  But the truth is, I’ll get it all worked out.  I have that much faith in myself.  I might throw  a tantrum or two, I’ll probably keep stepping on Middle’s toes to try to get him to stop growing (It makes him laugh.  He’s so proud of towering over me at 12.), and I know at some point I will be beating my head against the wall in frustration.  But we will continue to sail through 7th grade, then 8th, then high school.  Panic attacks included.  Because I am adult.  And there is no adultier adult around.  And I can handle this.

So can you.

Love wins,

KT