Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From One Train to Another

Last week the girls and I disembarked the train on which we rode for several days, finishing The Mystery on the Train by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Tonight we boarded another train, riding with four-year-old Walt Disney from Chicago to his new home. Having had a few lessons in "rail lingo" during our first read, we were two steps ahead for our new read. Trust me, this wasn't planned, but I love when situations like this happen- a nice bridge to our next adventure. Seeing the title, Walt Disney, and being a fond of the blue-covered Childhood of Famous Americans series, I pulled the book from the library shelf. Eighty pages into the book, we have not been disappointed. What a great book! Nothing questionable thus far, just an exciting walk through young Walt's life, listening as his innate interest in art and animals comes to life, despite frequent hardship. We are beginning to see young Walt develop a tender relationship with his brother Roy. What a refreshing treasure that is! Well, anyway, tomorrow, with anticipation, we begin on page 80. The tension and conflict in the plot encourages us to come back to find out what happens.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's "P" Day

Grab the magazines, construction paper, scissors, and paste! We cutting out pictures that start with the letter P. After we cut "P" pictures, we will be dining on Piggies in a Blanket (hot dogs cut in half and wrapped in biscuit) and then reading books about pigs. We may decide to act out The Three Pigs or pull out the flannel board version. Any one for a game of Parchesi? Later today we are going to a local parade to watch our cousin march with his high school band. He is a percussionist. Perfect!

Pig books:
If you Give a Pig a Pancake, Laura Numeroff
Pigs, Gail Gibbons
All Pigs are Beautiful, Dick King-Smith
The Book of Pigericks: Pig Limericks, Arnold Lobel
Pig, Jules Older

Preschool piggie ideas

Lots of piggie activities

More piggie stuff

If you don't like piggies, how about popcorn, peacocks, pancakes, or pandas...

Popcorn Plants, Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Popcorn activities

Colorful Peacocks, Deborah Underwood

Miss Mable's Table, Deborah Chandra
Curious George Makes Pancakes, H. A. Rey
From Maple Trees to Maple Syrup, Kristen Thoennes Keller
Ideas for teaching math while making pancakes and other foods, check out Flip Three Pancakes with One Spatula

Giant Pandas, Gail Gibbons

Follow the giant pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Panda activities

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thank you, Chirs Klicka!

Just wanted to express my appreciation to the Klicka family for their support and encouragement to homeschooling families over 25 years. They sacrificed much for us. May God grant them peace and comfort as they mourn the loss of an amazing husband and dad.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Behind a Perfect SAT?

Love my newest pleasure read! Recommended by a veteran, I searched the Internet to find a used copy. Eureka! Found! It was in my mailbox a week later and I immediately opened the package and began reading, while cooking dinner. This stuff is so fascinating! Not because I have a student who achieved a perfect score or that I endeavor to have a student who will earn a perfect score, but because I am curious what elements comprise a "perfect score".
SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score written by Tom Fischgrund, Ph.D, complies and details the results of his landmark study. His findings come from interviews with students who earned a perfect score on the SAT (160 of them and their parents) and College Board data. His goal "was to understand the academic habits of these bright students (p.3), who these students were as individuals (p.4), and what made them successful." (p.4) He asked:
  • How many times did they take the SAT?
  • What kind of education did they receive?
  • How many hours did they spend studying?
  • What were their sources of inspiration and motivation?
  • Did their parents interact with them in special ways?
  • Did they read a set number of hours a night?
  • Were they interested in certain subjects?
and more....

From the data he answers commonly asked questions. Some of the answers are obvious, others thought-provoking.

Some (there are many more in the book!) of the interesting findings:
  • "Succeeding on the SAT is not a short-term approach but takes a lifetime approach to learning." (p.5)
  • "Students who scored a 1600 on the SAT typically spend more hours a week reading than those who get an average score." (p.5)
  • "A vast majority of perfect score students participate in multiple activities outside of the academic realm... and pursue these endeavors with passion and won't settle for half-hearted attempts to learn a new skill." (p.5)
  • "They were not pushed by their parents or teachers to achieve. Their drive comes from within." (p.6)
  • "Parents motivated them to learn in the early years and then gave them the tools to motivate themselves through high school." (p.6)

The author uses charts, graphs, and in-depth insights into the lives of these students and their families to answer the 7 secrets. Students share their likes and dislikes (very interesting!), how they spend their free time (equally interesting!), how they relate to friends, and the role of family in their lives. The book also contains information about preparation (long term and short term), study tools, test-taking tips, developing passions, and learning styles.

Interesting information, wouldn't you agree? The next question for me: How does this effect, or will it effect, how I am teaching my children? For certain I will continue to foster a love of reading with my children, through reading aloud and listening to great audio literature, and nurture a love of learning, not with the intention of scoring a 1600 on the SAT, but with the goal of raising thinkers and problem solvers, adults who will use their creativity and God-given talents to provide for their families, to care about and for people, and to serve where they are called.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A is for Art by Stephen T. Johnson

The book jumped off the library shelf! With a candy collage of brightly-colored gum balls, Smarties, and Double Bubble on the cover, it caught my children's attention. As I paged through the clever find before approving it for the library bag, I marveled over the creative use of abstract art.

Every letter of the alphabet is assigned a page, in alphabetical order of course. The page is a piece of abstract art described with alliteration. For example, the letter B is hidden on the "B" page entitled Blueberry Blues. The caption reads "Beside the bisected, black, bumpy bicycle tire, a bunch of busy burgundy brushstrokes blurs into a blue background with a broken bowl below at the bottom." Amazing use of "B" adjectives! Author/illustrator Stephen Johnson gives the reader examples of abstract art described with words that set the mind in motion. Inspiring!

Children find this art particularly intriguing as they feel sure they can produce an eye-pleasing piece. To young children, this art is doable, created with everyday items. In fact, young readers may decide to make their own abstract alphabet book. Not a bad idea.

For readers interested in checking out other Stephen Johnson books, look for:
  • Alphabet City
  • City by Numbers
  • My Little Red Toolbox
and others. Read about them at

For information about Stephen T. Johnson, visit
He has private and permanent collections including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C. and a mosaic mural in the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Boxcar Finished

Okay, so we are devouring Boxcar Children books. I know devouring books is not normal fare, but a steady appetite for read aloud time is an appetite I want to feed.

Our most recent read was The Mystery of Peacock Hall. It was packed with fascinating information about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. Timely as well. We had read, earlier in the day, The White House by Jennifer Silate. Another fascinating selection highlighting the chronological history of the White House and its residents. Though we are finished with The Mystery of Peacock Hall, what we learned about Thomas Jefferson remains. In fact, I'm quite sure our next adventure to the library (maybe later today!) will involve a catalog check for resources like the ones below:
  • Meet Thomas Jefferson, Marvin Barrett (Landmark)
  • Thomas Jefferson's Feast, Frank Murphy
  • Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography, James Cross Giblin
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?, Jean Fritz
  • Thomas Jefferson: Voice of Liberty, Andrew Santella
  • Meet Thomas Jefferson, Patricia Pingry
Helpful links:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sew Sweet!

This weekend found my daughter and I in stitches! My daughter's sewing skills amaze me, as does her ambition. Beginning this summer she began sewing aprons to accompany my Flip Three Pancakes math/cooking curriculum and has been quite busy. I love the colors and patterns she chooses! She has an eye for design.

This weekend I pitched in to help her fill a large order, 5 adult reversible holiday aprons (one side Thanksgiving and the other Christmas) and 1 Gator apron (which she gave her aunt as a birthday present). And so, together, we were in stitches. I loved it! Working along side my sweet daughter on a shared project. Treasured memories!

This is the peppermint pattern she finished last week.

More patterns are are available at the bookstore page of my website She also takes custom orders. Wonder what pattern she will be sewing today?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Boxcar Children Books

"Mom! That store over there has 5 boxcars for $5.00!"

During the middle to late elementary years, my oldest son "collected" Boxcar Children books. He devoured them, reading one a day. Recently, with four daughters middle school age and younger, we've dusted off the covers and crowded onto the love seat to read. We are now devouring these books. Thankfully, my oldest son has agreed to let us "borrow" titles from his library. After all, he did purchase most of them.

My love for these books as been rekindled. Four siblings work together to solve mysteries, generally mysteries which occur in their hometown, Greenfield. Yes, they work together! Siblings! Each helps solve the mystery with his or her unique gifts or interests. As they work together, they encourage one another. What refreshment! Never have we heard any of the siblings call another a name that wasn't given at birth. What a way to reinforce positive sibling relationships! We have come to love this family (me, for the second time around!).

Here is why I like to read the Boxcar books together:

  • The Boxcar children are resourceful. They use what they have or what they can find. They don't head to the store everytime they "need" something, and don't whine over something they don't have.

  • The Boxcar siblings protect and care for one another. A few days ago during the mystery the children were trying to solve, the oldest brother pushed his younger siblings from the edge of the curb where they were in danger of being hit by an oncoming reckless driver.

  • The Boxcar siblings are children of integrity. Just yesterday we heard Henry say, "She belongs to us for now, at least until we find her owner." He knew their new found pet was not really theirs, he was just trying to give it a good home, UNTIL the owner could be found. And then, they tried to find the owner. No ill intentions here.

  • The Boxcar siblings serve people. Last night as we read the last chapters of The Animal Shelter Mystery, we listened in on a conversation which took place in the Alden kitchen. Jessie, the oldest daughter, offered hot tea to a cold elderly neighbor.

  • The Boxcar siblings honor and respect adults. Never a unkind word has be spoken to or about an adult character in the book. Again, a refreshing feature.

Some might say these are not "realisitic". Well, perhaps. But I believe "realistic" is an individual opionion. Personally, I like my young ones relating to positive familiy interations woven with care for the community. I want their "realistic" to be serving and protecting those people whom God puts in our midst.

I love that each book is thematic. For example, the book we just finished involved saving the community animal shelter. While reading and discussing the plot, my children learned the ins and outs of caring for stray animals and how shelters are run. We were exposed to animal shelter vocabluary and pet care. Part of the plot involved deeds and land ownership, so we were also introduced to state capitals, land offices, and record rooms.

The author of the Boxcar Children series, Gertrude Chandler Warner, wrote the books so that young readers could enjoy an exciting story, one they could read independently. The plots of the books are written from her personal experiences and childhood adventures. She wrote the first eighteen books of the series.

Read the information to you children. They will enjoy hearing Miss Warner's life's adventures.
If you are ever in Putnam, Connecticut, vist her museum.