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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 7 Winter

omvcxIt’s sweltering outside.  But at least it’s not raining, right?  Nevertheless, I’m doing that weird human thing where in the midst of the season I was praying for in January I am looking forward to the cool-off.  Why can’t we just be happy with what we have?  Well, I don’t know.  Sometimes it’s too hot and sometimes it’s too cold and sometimes it’s too wet and sometimes it’s too dry… We don’t live on a perfect planet.  And that’s okay.  Because it gives us something to look forward to.  In honor of that, today’s book recommendations are going to be good additions to a winter study.  The season, ice, snow, snowflakes, hibernation and other animal habits–all of those things make great science studies.  So how about a little literature to go along with it?

 

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

My favorite thing about winter is the very first snowfall.  I don’t care if it happens in the daytime or the dark of night, I always go for a walk in it and listen to the hush of it, the silence of the earth as it welcomes the flakes, the stillness that happens at no other time, ever.  I always take these walks by myself.  Later, after the snow has really accumulated, that’s the time for Littles.  The Snowy Day is about that littles’ time.   It’s about a little boy’s day in the snow, and the wonder he encounters in a totally transformed city.  You’ve probably read it.  Read it again.  It’s a great celebration of the winter season.

 

The Mitten by Jan Brett

I’m totally smitten with The Mitten.   (Like how I did that?)  This story is not only a good winter tale, it’s a wonderful reminder to share and be good to others. As all the animals pile one after another into a single mitten, your little will giggle and wonder how they all fit.  And when a sneeze tumbles them all out into the snow, you’re sure to get an outright laugh.  Brett’s wonderful illustrations are heartwarming, helping to keep the chill off of this wintry tale.

 

A Bird in Winter by Stepanie Girel and Helene Kerillis

This book combines two of my favorite things–Literature and great art.  It’s based on Pieter Breugel’s painting The Hunters in the Snow.  The premise is that of a young girl who nurses an injured bird back to health.  It is also a good introduction to the Renaissance and to Breugel’s artwork.  If you don’t know Breugel, he was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands who was known for his landscapes, especially peasant scenes.  I have long been fascinated with his work because it is so simple and true.  The book contains a reproduction of the original, a picture of which I’m posting below.  Because it’s amazing.

hunters in the snow

Frost (Book 1 of the Frost Chronicles) by Kate Avery Ellison

Frost is the first book in a superb YA series set in a world that is entirely immersed in winter.  Monsters lurk in the wintry woods, and Lia, the protagonist, has to discover their secrets in order to protect her younger sister and her crippled brother.  When her sister discovers a fascinating stranger who needs their help, Lia is forced to go against everything she has ever been taught to keep them all out of danger.  Listen, there are 5 books in this series, and every single one of them is worth the read.  Each book has its own twists and turns and the overall story is well-planned.  Full of action, romance, and mystery, I think it will suck in any teen you gift it to.  Oh, and it’s about winter.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Well.  I had to include Dickens.  You’re not really surprised, are you?  (And The Shining by Stephen King .might not really be appropriate here.)  I know, I know, there are about 10 million films out there based on it, including a Muppet version, and you’ve seen them all.  It. Is. Not. The. Same.  Even the Littles agreed that reading it exceeded watching it on film a million times over.  Since it is set at Christmastime, every scene is in winter. And it’s Dickens.  So you can’t beat it.  Read it.

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Set in Russia, Tolstoy’s epic novel of love gone wrong (and right) is a long read, but well worth it.  It’s at the top of my list of all-time faves because of its close look at Russian classes and life and the numerous story lines that tie together and unravel so beguilingly.  Believe me, in the end Anna isn’t even the star of the story, though she is, perhaps, the most tragic part.

Even if you’re just craving a cool-off right now, all of these books are excellent for bringing winter into your mind so that you can almost feel it.

Now if you can excuse me, I’m going to go get in the pool. And pretend I’m a polar bear.  In the Arctic.

Love wins,

KT

Day One: Donkeys             Day Two: Summer            Day Three: Water

Day Four: Insects              Day Five: Owls                 Day Six: Bears

9 Engaging Ways to Make Homeschool Fun

One of the things we love about homeschool is the lack of rules.  We do not have to be like public school; we can learn any old way we please.  Even so, it is often easy to find ourselves falling back on the old standbys: textbooks and worksheets.  What is a homeschool mama to do when her homeschool becomes boring?  Here are a few ways to engage your littles and get your homeschool back to being fun.

Active Learning This can be as simple as reading a play aloud.  When we were studying American History we would sit in a circle on the floor and choose a play about our lesson from Scholastic’s ebook “Read Aloud Plays: Pioneers.”  The Littles loved doing this because they like acting.  So we would divide the characters among us and read.  Plays are a great tool because they teach the lesson without seeming to teach at all.  In fact, they’re downright fun.  Especially when you dress the part.

 

Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012

Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012

 

There are many other types of active learning, such as

Science Experiments You can teach science across the board without ever touching a textbook or putting pencil to paper.  You can find simple chemistry experiments all over the internet, as well as weather and earth science experiments.  Make a weather station.  We set one up right outside our classroom window and took notes from it every day.  The Littles couldn’t wait to get to class every morning that semester to see if their rain-measuring jar had caught any water, or their barometer had moved since the day before.  The weather vane we made was a source of endless fascination.  That was two years ago, and they can still tell me exactly what types of clouds are in the sky at a given time.  Engaged learning.  Long-lasting effects.  We once made a skeleton by gluing different types of pasta onto card stock.  Fun and engaging, and helps your littles understand anatomy a little better.  You can set up a detective game to teach a bit about forensic science.  I can’t even list the number of physics projects we’ve tried.  Balloon rocket cars.  What kid wouldn’t love that?!  Too many static electricity experiments to count.  Biology? Dissect frogs or owl pellets.  Do an animal study.  Your kids are learning and having fun and there’s nothing that says they can only study one kind of science a year.

 

Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Arts and crafts This does not have to be a separate class.  In fact, I most often include it in one lesson or another.  Kids love to make art, even if they’re never going to be another Van Gogh.  Getting their hands active will help them remember the lesson.  If you’re studying Greek history, make a Parthenon out of cardboard.  If you’re studying Asian geography, make a salt-dough Japan.  If you’re reading the Secret Garden, make tissue paper flowers.  We once did a study of Spanish words related to rainforests and created trees, vines, leaves, and animals to decorate our classroom with.  Every single day, add an art or craft project to one of your lessons.  It gets rid of the necessity of planning an art class, and Gets Your Littles More Engaged with whatever else they’re studying.

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Get Out of the House This can be as simple as stepping into your backyard for a nature study or taking a walk around the block to check out how the sun is casting shadows as time passes.  It can be as complicated as driving for an hour to a great historical spot.  One of Littlest’s favorite field trips involved a 20-minute drive to a Civil War site that had nothing to offer by way of entertainment.  It contained a cannon, a plaque, and a log cabin.  The cabin was locked up tight, you couldn’t even see into it.  I printed out a brochure from their website that told the story of the battle and as we walked around the small site, I read it to them.  They were fascinated.  Littlest talks about it All the Time.  Sometimes they’re engaged even when we’re not.  Remember, we’re doing this for them, not ourselves.

aquarium Littlest

Play Music You may think that sounds strange, but research shows that our brains absorb information better when music is playing in the background.  I want my littles to grow up with a real appreciation for orchestral music, so I literally have a crate full of classical and contemporary orchestral music.  They choose if they want to listen to Mozart or Vivaldi or Strauss or even Celtic music.  And they love Gregorian chant, which we studied a couple years ago in a music theory class.  They take turns picking the CD of the day, we put it in and let it play quietly the whole time we’re in class.  I can always tell when we forget.  They are more easily distracted.  Interesting, huh?

scrabble

Play Games Mad Libs are superb for grammar lessons.  Clue is great for critical thinking.  We are huge fans of trivia games like Trivial Pursuit and Scene It.  Cranium and Kid’s Cranium cover trivia, art, and P.E.  Scrabble helps with spelling And with foreign language.  Getting the picture?  Board games are not just a blast and a good way to bond–they teach your littles lots of good stuff.  Any time it’s appropriate (and even when it isn’t), add a board game to your school day.

Plan Shorter Lessons  If you plan shorter lessons, you allow more time for Rabbit Trails.   Sometimes kids just really want to discuss what they’re learning, and if we’ve got an hour-long lesson planned, it can feel like they are taking up too much time.  We end up not giving that little the one-on-one we planned when we decided to homeschool.  But if the planned lesson is only 1/2 an hour long, we can let our kids’ minds wander all over the place.  If they are talking about history or geography or math or science, even if you wander far off topic, they are actively engaged in the learning process.  Allow it.  It helps them soak it all in and may lead to a truly fascinating discussion.

Get Messy In any way possible.  Littles adore getting messy.  Fingerpaint.  Make Oobleck.  Build a volcano and use vinegar and baking soda to make it erupt.  Go to a creek and hunt for crawfish (or crawdads as we call them here).  Build a Great Wall out of mud bricks.  Let them littles get filthy.  They will love you for it and remember the lesson better because you will have made it into a great memory.

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Read a Book  You knew I was going to say it.  See my 25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool series for suggestions.

It really doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part to make every single day exciting for your little learners.  Practice these tips and you will find that you almost never hear, “Do we Have To do school today?”  I’ve only heard that a handful of times in 5 years, and it was usually during the summer.  By making learning fun for them, you are teaching them to love learning.  And isn’t that what we want to create?  Lifelong learners?

Love wins,

KT

 

 

Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,

KT

 

25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 6 Bears

ohr4bEver wonder exactly why bears hibernate? Or how exactly they make such good fishermen?  A bear study can teach your littles so much about nature, conservation, and mammal habits.  You can cover black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, Kodiaks.  There are so many varieties of bear.  You can learn about their cold weather habits, their warm weather habits, their diets, their sense of family.  Bears are a great addition to any animal or nature study and adding literature to your study can make it ever so much more fun.  You know it can.  You’ve read it here before.  And I don’t lie to you.

There are a lot of books about bears, and some of them have been favorites in our house for a long time.  You’ll have heard of most of these, maybe.  That’s okay, maybe you forgot how great they are.  Maybe you remember them from your own childhood and haven’t yet had the chance to introduce them to your littles.  Maybe it didn’t occur to you to make them part of your bear study.  Lucky you, you have the Lit Mama to remind you. 🙂

 

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

We love these books.  They are sweet, simple stories with an almost lyrical feel to them.  Even the illustrations are sweet and simple.  They’re easy readers, so they can give your lower elementary child reading practice or your preschool child a good chance to cuddle up next to mama and follow along as she reads.  Nothing bad happens in Little Bear’s world and happiness shines through all the family interactions.  Little Bear’s antics will help your littles relate to bears and make their studies even more rewarding.

 

Corduroy by Don Freeman

This book.  I remember it inspiring me when I was little.  I still kind of believe stuffed animals come to life behind our backs, thanks to Corduroy and the Raggedy dolls.  This one fed my imagination, and it fed Big’s imagination, and it fed the Littles’ imaginations in turn.  Corduroy comes to life in the department store after it closes at night and climbs down from his shelf to look for his missing button.  He has a series of adventures before he’s discovered by the night watchmen and put back on his shelf.  The next morning, a little girl buys him and takes him home to be her friend.  Such an endearing story, and the bright illustrations are sweet while leaving a little something to your little’s imagination.

 

 

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

Paddington is another bear I grew up with.  Traveling to England from Darkest Peru with only a jar of marmalade?  Darkest Peru?  It sounds so intriguing.  (And Peru Actually Is intriguing, so this book with work well with a South America study, too.)  This bear is one adventurous guy.  Luckily for him, he meets a family who accepts him at face value and welcomes him into their hearts. There are more than fifty books about Paddington and this is the first.  If you haven’t already fallen in love with this bear, you will from the first page.

 

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

This riveting story about a young troublemaker who is sentenced to Native American ‘circle justice’ for beating up another kid gives some insight into the nature of bears.  When Cole is sent to live on an island off the coast of Alaska, he is warned of a Spirit Bear who will share the island with him.  Cole, in a typical act of rebellion, tries to kill the bear when he sees it.  The bear mauls him, breaking several bones and nearly killing him.  As he lays alone on the island, surviving on worms and other nasty things, the bear returns twice without hurting him and her realizes it had just been protecting itself.   His journey from being an angry, violent teen to being a more humane person is amazingly well-written.  A wonderful additon to your bear study.

 

East by Edith Pattou

Pattou is one of the authors who inspired me to make my first novel, Frog’s Princess, fairytale-based (the other was Shannon Hale).  This particular book, based on the tale ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” is brilliant.  Pattou makes her reader fall in love with the polar bear who takes Rose from her home and you stay cheering Rose on until the very end of her adventures.  Sure, it doesn’t really teach much about bears, but my book doesn’t teach you about frogs.  You should still read it. haha

 

There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart

Nerdy, sweet Tyson just wants to be in the in-crowd.  Unfortunately, he just doesn’t fit in.  His best friend is his Grandpa Gene, a roughneck who has promised to take him on an elk hunt.  When Grandpa Gene gets sick and has to move to a nursing home, Tyson feels like he’s lost his only friend.  Together, they come up with a plan to sneak off to the Grand Tetons for the promised hunt.  But there’s a vicious grizzly in the area, and they’ll have to contend with that, too.  The most exciting part of the book is the encounter with the bear, but kids who love hunting will enjoy it all the way through.

On another note, just in case I haven’t complained enough about how much it’s rained this summer, this meme says it all:

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True story.

Love wins,

KT

Day One: Donkeys   Day Two: Summer

Day Three: Water   Day Four: Insects

Day Five: Owls