Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fall Spelling Fun

Have acorns? Spell!

This week my daughter had a wonderful impromptu idea.

"Remember those acorns I collected--all 224 of them? I used them to spell words!"

Brilliant idea. 

I walked to the kitchen to see her masterpieces.

Indeed creative. Indeed reinforcing learning.

After discussion, it was determined that gluing the words to cardboard would make festive Thanksgiving decorations. Just add a bow hanger.

And so goes the day when acorns become spelling practice. 

(Just one day after the bursting  baggie of acorns were the place value and counting lesson. Simple, available, and intriguing equal many days and ways of learning.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Discovery Biographies: Living History with Living Books

Garrard Publishing Company's Discovery biographies have been some of our favorite reads, encouraging independent reading in newly fluent readers. These books are often the next choice after Step-Up books, also biographies.

Discovery biographies are historical adventures written for little learners at the mid-elementary level. The cover copy on one book states "Discovery Books have been tested by the Spache Readability Formula and edited so they can be read by children in grades 2-4". We found our later elementary learners also enjoy these books due to the engaging content and find much satisfaction in finishing a book in one day.

The books--we especially like the hardcovers--offer full page, three-color illustrations with larger font size. Garrard states "all facts are authentic for they have been carefully checked by leading sources for historical accuracy". This series has definitely opened another reading level of living books for us!

We have not read all the titles, choosing to save some titles for later learning. Also, note the varied covers. Nice to have visuals when shopping a used bookstore or garage sale.


Ulysses S. Grant: Horseman and Fighter
Colonel Red Reeder
Abraham Lincoln: For the People
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President
John Parlin
Thomas Jefferson: Author of Independence
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
John F. Kennedy: New Frontiersman
Charles P. Graves
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President
Wyatt Blassingame
Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action
James C. Beach
Harry S. Truman: People's President
David Collins
George Washington: Father of Freedom
Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner
Helen Stone Peterson
Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife
LaVere Anderson
Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady
Mary Richmond Davidson
Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World
Charles P. Graves
Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land
LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky
John Parlin
Henry Hudson: Captain of the Ice Bound Seas
Carl Carmer
Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot
David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman
Mary Richardson Davidson
Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds
Katherine E. Wilkie
George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter
Adele deLeeuw
Davy Crockett: Hero of the Wild Frontier
Elizabeth Robards Mosely
Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star
Charles P. Graves
Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper
Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy
Mary Catherine Rose
Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor
Jean Lee Latham
Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound
Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist
Samuel and Beryl Epstein
Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder
Mary Malone
Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas
Charles P. Graves
George W. Goethals: Panama Canal Engineer
Jean Lee Lathm
Florence Nightingale: War Nurse
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
Eli Whitney: Great Inventor
Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, War Heroes

Jane Addams: Pioneer of the Hull House
Helen Stone Peterson
Henry Clay: Leader in Congress
Helen Stone Peterson
Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter
Lillie Patterson
David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral
Jean Lee Latham
Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Carolinas
Elizabeth and Carl Carmer
Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People
Lillie Patterson

Authors, Artists, Entrepreneurs

Helen Keller: Toward the Light
Stewart and Polly Anne Graff
Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot
Lillie Patterson
Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist
Wyatt Blassingame
Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People
Lillie Patterson

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Teaching Prepositions

"Mom, what is a preposition?"

That question started the day's language arts lesson...because curious minds are ripe for learning!

A preposition is a word that connects or shows the relationship between two nouns or a noun and pronoun. Prepositions are always with an object or person.

We reviewed nouns and pronouns. I gave examples of each and used them in a sentence.

We chose two nouns for our preposition play, mice and cars.

Paper mice were made from 3x5 cards, each child coloring a mouse family. I found some Duplo cars from our collection of blocks.

Once all the mice were colored and decorated, tails in place, our preposition discovery began.

I explained that for our play we would act out sentences, stating the relationship between the mice and the cars. I demonstrated by placing the mice on the cars while stating,"the mice are on the cars".  I wrote "on" on a 3x5 card and placed it near the cars.

One by one I asked each of the child to place their mice in some relation to the cars and then state the position in relation to one another.

The mice are under the cars.
The mice are on the cars.
The mice are aside of the cars.
The mice are behind the cars.

As the children placed the mice and verbally expressed their position, I wrote the preposition on a card. Before long we had a handful of preposition cards. By the end of a few hours, we used our creative thinking, working on spatial relationships, applied artistic uniqueness, and KNEW what prepositions are and how to use them in sentences.

We also had a handful of spelling cards to use for other lessons.


Learning started with a question. 

"Mom, what is a preposition?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Clemson Scholarship

Clemson is trying to spread to the word to the homeschooling community about the Lyceum Scholars Program. Contact Kathleen Koehl, Programs Coordinator, for more information (864-656-2133). This recently-launched new scholarship is "dedicated to building students' intellectual skills as well as their moral character. The scholarship provides a classical, integrated education guided by Great Books. Students accepted to the program recieve a four-year scholarship worth up to $10,000".

Visit their website at

The required reading list can be found at
(Reading over the list I recognized many of the titles we've used for high school literature and history courses. Nice to see come of these important reads included at a university.)

Admission requirements here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Determining Reading Level

One of the questions I am asked quite frequently is 

"How do I determine the reading level of the books we are reading?"

First it must be decided which reading ability is being determined. Generally, people are most interested in determining independent reading level, the level at which a child can read with confidence, without help. Independent reading level is the level at which a child could sit on a couch, read with ease independently, and remember what was read (comprehension).

There is also an instructional reading level. Material at this level is used for instructional methods, where help will be available from a parent or instructor when there is question in regards to pronunciation or meaning. This is the level where progress occurs as the child is building reading skills. New vocabulary will likely be introduced, but is not the greater percentage of what is read, less frustration set in.

The last level is the frustrational level. At the frustrational level, a child will become discouraged, often due to the large percentage of unknown words, setting the read aside. Children presented with a constant stream of materials (not just literature-based) with a high frustrational reading level will quickly  become disheartened about learning.

When considering reading level, it is important to determine the purpose of the reading. If the reading is for pleasure, independent reading or learning, an independent reading level would be best, since comprehension is greater at this level. Interestingly, if a child is motivated to learn content due to intrinsic interest, he or she will eagerly chunk through more difficult reads in search of the information being sought. The purpose of the reading (motivation) will be important when deciding which materials to make available.

There are many ways to determine reading level some more accurate than others, some more time-consuming. Here are a few to consider:
  • Fry Readability Formula is the most widely known method for determining reading level. It was developed by Edward Fry. The formula and readability graph can be found here. 
  • The Flesch Formula, which paved the way for the Dale-Chall, can be found here
  • Dale-Chall and Spache is another readability formula. An explanation can be found here
If you want to get a feel for whether or not your child could read a particular book independently, open the book being considered and have the child read aloud a page (or two paragraphs should it be a longer chapter book). If the child can read aloud the passage with less than five errors and can tell you what took place in that passage, the book is likely a good choice for an independent read.

Did you know you can check the readability of Word documents? Found out more here for Word 2003 and Word 2007

You Tube Word Readability Tutorial