Spring

Our neighbor’s peonies are out of this world 💫

Just finished: Everything Sad is Untrue (a True Story), Daniel Nayeri

Currently reading: The Captain and the Glory, Dave Eggers

Just finished reading with Kids: The Black Star of Kingston and The Last Archer (both part of the Green Ember series)

Good stuff

It was my daughter’s 2nd birthday last night, and our friends brought their very special rabbit named “Gus” to see us. The best therapy.

My husband made a mini caramel macchiato for me this morning 😍

And finally, we had to stop and take a picture under this tree after school today. Our perennial favorite.

Hearts

A few months ago my husband and I went on a staycation in Nashville and had such a great time eating at Hearts. I just love this sign.

And it feels like now is a good time to remember to take care of our hearts!

I recently got off of Instagram and opted for a quiet space here to continue writing and sharing, mostly books and other beautiful things.

Posts will be short and sweet. Happy ❤️s day.

Reading: Keeper of the Lost Cities
Just finished: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Next up: Practical Magic

(On a magical/fantasy kick)

Reading with kids: Homer Price
Just finished with kids: Chronicles of Narnia Series
Next up: The Green Ember

A New World

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Hi friends,

The past few weeks have been crazy, to say the least, with the advent of a coronavirus pandemic. Never thought I’d write those words! We’re trying to adjust to all of us being at home all the time. There are parts that are wonderful and parts that are challenging.

Concerts have been canceled, so Mark is home for a good long while (that’s wonderful for me! maybe not as much for him). Preschool is out, so we’ve got all 4 littles home full time. I’m having trouble finding diapers, wipes and sometimes milk (!) at the stores and that can be stressful. It’s a strange time.

Since two of the kids are pretty used to doing school at home, that part has been great. It’s actually given us some sense of normalcy to have our regular learning, just like we always do. There are a few things we’re going to forgo because attention spans are shorter and distraction is high. We’re substituting with a lot more nature time, art, and tuning into some of our favorite writers, artists, chefs, etc. as they share on various platforms.

Here the boys are getting to watch Oliver Jeffers read his books live. One of our all-time favorites is Stuck. If you have young children or grandchildren and they don’t have that book, it would be the perfect panacea for this pandemic. It always makes us laugh.

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Other bright sides to this hard time:

  • We’ve used our sidewalk chalk to make pictures and notes along our walking route for our neighbors. And, when it rains, we can just do it over and over and over…

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  • We’ve learned how to draw dinosaurs and aliens with Mike Lowry, another favorite of ours. What a huge treat!
  • We’ve fallen in love with Mac Barnett, another children’s author. We’ve enjoyed a few of his books before this, but now we are lifelong fans.
  • For me, I’m trying not to look too often at the news, so at night I’m turning back to books, and I’ve read some great ones lately (Interior Chinatown, The Girl With the Louding Voice, and more)
  • We are using Wednesdays as family cleaning day. Not cleaning our family, but cleaning our house. It has been awesome bonding, and probably my favorite thing we do now.
  • We’re really learning how to use less, waste less, be creative with our stuff. I’m not letting a single scrap of food go in the trash. Either someone eats it or I find a way to get it into tomorrows lunch 😉
  • One of my biggest joys is that we’ve been learning sign language together. Everyday we learn a few new signs, and it’s just such a beautiful way to communicate. The kids love practicing their new signs too.

There are lots more things I’m grateful for during this time, but these are just a few. The days are slower, but not necessarily less full.

Finally, I wanted to share an article from one of my inspirations when it comes to schooling…Sara, from Happiness is Here, has a lovely post just today about this new normal that a lot of families are facing and how our children can thrive in it. Maybe it will be helpful to someone you know who’s trying to juggle their whole new world. 🌎

Lots of love and light,

Kate

Reading Reimagined

Teaching my kids to read has (so far) been one of the most rewarding – but hardest! – things I’ve done as a mom.

I’ve learned that reading is not automatic for every child. I wish I’d known that earlier, but that’s why I’m sharing this post. Some kids are reading confidently when they’re 5, just adding new vocab along the way. Some kids are working very hard at all of it until they’re 10. And everything in between.

Some children need very little guidance. They see the words and just take them in like a sponge. That was me when I learned to read. Other kids need really explicit instruction, especially in phonics. And phonics instruction is totally different from just reading aloud with your kids. It’s a whole methodology that you really do take step by step beginning with phonemic awareness when kids are young.

A can be ā or ä or short a (not sure how to make the breve mark on the computer)

S can be s or z

etc.

If a child needs a lot of explicit phonics instruction, it’s very different work from just sitting side by side and helping them through a book.

To help anyone on this journey, I wanted to share a few resources that I’ve used (or wish I had used!) to make things a little easier along the way. There are tons, literally tons, of articles online about the best ways to teach reading, textbooks on the subject, lots and lots of opinions (strong ones!), but in the end, it’s really about what works best for you and your child. It’s so great if you’ve never had to utilize any of these resources, if your child just picked up reading like riding a bike, but if you’re struggling, I hope some of these will be helpful.

**Note: I have not included the ever-popular BOB books which we used early on, but they’re great if your child gets into them.

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Confession: I got this book when my first-born was about 4, thinking that I would use it to teach him to read by age 5. When we started, I found the method confusing and I abandoned the book a few lessons in. What I realize now is that there were two things going on:

1) I didn’t realize that my son was going to be on the slower side of reading (I thought he should be picking it up faster if the book was working)
2) The reason the book was confusing to me is that I hadn’t needed much understanding of phonics when I learned to read, so it was like a foreign language and I just didn’t see how it could work

Now I wish that we’d kept at this book. And I’ll use it for my other kids.

Here is an article from the Atlantic that talks about this particular book. It was shared with my by a professional reading instructor.

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When it comes to more phonics instructions, I’ve really liked the books from Logic of English. I don’t incorporate their handwriting practice (although I think they have a really really interesting approach), but for learning the different phonograms, etc. from an early age, these are great resources (and they have little videos on YouTube that go along with this book if you aren’t sure yourself how to make the sounds!)

This program is pretty comprehensive, so you might want to check out their site and read more before diving in: logicofenglish.com

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Explode the Code! Reading really is a code and it’s fun to think of it that way when you’re teaching a child that’s having a harder time.

I didn’t do these with my first child, but I probably will with the others, especially if I see signs that someone may need a little more help.

You can read more about which program might be good for your child on their site: Explode the Code

ADDENDUM: A few weeks after writing this post, I’ve explored some of the reading/phonics content of The Good and the Beautiful and I am really impressed. I think we will be using this for the rest of 1st grade, 2nd grade and when my next son starts K.
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Readers that are engaging and in line with the child’s interests:

For my son this was Star Wars readers 🙂

I’ve really had to find ways to make reading fun to make it stick. Basically, I thought about what was most interesting to my child (e.g. Star Wars) and got readers based around that theme. That’s when reading really started to click. There are World of Reading sets of all different levels and all different themes. And many other titles as well – Penguin Young Readers, Ready to Read, Step into Reading, etc. They’re so many at the library, it’s only a matter of finding a theme or style that really engages the reader.

Recently I accidentally stumbled into a really good strategy for encouraging more independent reading. I began reading aloud a Nate the Great book, but couldn’t finish because I needed to cook dinner. My son was already hooked by the mystery, so he finished the book on his own right away. About 20 minutes of reading time that I didn’t have to enforce.

Reading/Writing/Spelling practice that correlates with the child’s interests:

Here’s another example that we’ve incorporated for writing and spelling that involves Minecraft. My son has loved going through these lessons. There are different levels based on your child’s age/grade.

Even if you’re not homeschooling some of these might be helpful to supplement in areas where your child is having a tough time.

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The following are some interesting reads for parents, about reading. It’s a fascinating subject and the way that the brain decodes the written word is really just amazing. It would have been great to read some of these before I started into homeschooling…

Note: I don’t necessarily espouse everything I read in books like this, but I find that reading widely on this subject just helps me better understand the landscape around the question: What is reading??
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Finally, other activities that have helped us with reading:

-Composing and reading letters from friends and family
-Composing and reading text messages from grandparents (maybe one of our favorite reading activities!)
-On-line games (oh screens, they’re sometimes very helpful!)

And, the very most important of all, reading aloud. I know it take a lot of time and energy (and often all I want to do is hide away in the bedroom and curl up with my own book). But these books forever changed the way I approached reading aloud with my kids. I can’t recommend them enough.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for coming on this journey with us!

These links are affiliate links. If you wish to purchase from your local bookstore, please do so, or you can order online from Parnassus Books.

Young Readers’ Book Series with Diverse Characters

One of our resolutions for 2020 is to explore more great literature (for ourselves and our children) that features characters of color, diverse socioeconomic and geographic situations, and even books that weren’t primarily written in English.

I’m making sure my own TBR pile is stocked with diverse authors and books in translation (I finished 2019 with Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and started this year off with Mira Jacob’s Good Talk, a graphic novel about her life, which was outstanding).

When it comes to kids, they pretty naturally seek out diverse literature which is so awesome. They’re very curious about characters that don’t look just like them and places they’ve never been to. It’s just a matter of us not stifling their curiosity about the world.

Here are a few of our recent favorites featuring non-white or non-American heroes and heroines.

Zapato Power, series by Jacqueline Jules

One of my boys’ (5yo and 7yo) favorite series they picked up at the library recently. Freddie Ramos is Latino and just an all-around great kid (which makes him a superhero in my eyes!). He lives with his mom because his dad was a soldier who was killed in action. I love how the author treats this difficult theme so well, and I love how she paints real-life, everyday issues that Freddie and his mom face (like how his mom is busy working during the week so they often have microwave frozen meals…very relatable.)



Anna Hibiscus
, series by Atinuke

This is such a sweet series about a young girl growing up in Africa. I love the descriptions of the places in the stories as well as the descriptions of Anna’s extended family and her relationship with them. The author has another series (listed below) that we haven’t checked out yet, but it looks wonderful, too.


Yasmin, series by Saadia Faruqi

We recently binged on these from the public library, and finished the whole series. They’re great simple read alouds for the 3-4yo group and first books for those just starting to read. I love the characters, the simple but meaningful story lines, and I really love that there is a glossary of Urdu words with each book that gives definitions for terms like hijab, kameez, salaam, and more. There are also facts about Pakistan and an activity at the end of each book.


Now here are some that are on our family’s TBR list!

Ruby and the Booker Boys, series by Derrick Barnes

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, series by Nikki Grimes

Ling and Ting, series by Grace Lin

The No.1 Car Spotter, series by Atinuke

The Precious Ramotswe Mysteries, by Alexander McCall Smith

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins (not a series, but looks great)

I’m still looking for more series or readers with Native American themes and characters, as well as more series featuring characters from Europe, Russia, Australia and the Middle East. I know they’re out there!

 

**These links are Amazon affiliate links. You can also purchase from your local independent bookstore 🙌🏻 or mine which is Parnassus Books.

Milton? For Five Year-olds?

I didn’t even like Milton as a 35 year-old. I’m still not sure I like Milton. But recently, in our curriculum from A Gentle Feast (which is wonderful, by the way) we have been given some Milton poems to read aloud together. “At a Solemn Music” was one of the first ones, and it was one I had never read before.

I did my homework like a good teacher and “pre-read” this poem the night before, and I have to be honest, I was like, “What? No way.” I didn’t think there was any chance my five and seven year-old would get anything out of this one. I wasn’t even sure that I would.

But then came school time, and I was out of other ideas, so I went for it with the poem. Trust the poetry, I thought. I gave them some bells to ring every time they heard a word that made them think of music (If nothing else, this will keep them from being bored to tears while I read this.)

Surprisingly, my five year-old and seven year old boys listened through the whole way, ringing their bells with great gusto. Ok, I thought, well that’s easy enough…pretty much every other word is about music.

But then, just for the heck of it, I asked them what they got from the poem (not expecting much more than how fun it was go get to ring bells in the house), and my seven year-old said, “Well, when sin entered the world, the beautiful music stopped because people were separated from God.”

Ok. School dismissed 🎤

Trust the poetry.

{{P.S. here are some of my favorite children’s poetry anthologies}}

 

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Favorite Books for Early Readers (that aren’t Dog Man)

List time again! I thought I’d post some of our favorites for early readers – kids who are just starting to read on their own, and want something more than picture books and easy readers, but aren’t ready for full-fledged juvenile fiction chapter books.

(And, nothing against Dog Man at all. We’ve read it. I just think it’s funny that every parent who asks me for recs for this group always adds ‘…but not Dog Man.’)

This is a tricky group of readers because kids can vary so greatly in age at this stage in the game…some kids are reading longer books comfortably by 5, others not until they’re 9. And that is OK. I am learning that it’s important to not get caught up in ‘level’ but to look more at what your kids will be comfortable reading (ability) and what they’ll enjoy reading (affinity).

Even these suggestions are all over the map in terms of what may fit your kid(s), so I highly recommend taking a look at them in the library first.

Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy, by Ben Hatke


For kids that really love a graphic novel series (ahem, Dog Man). I like this one because we love all things outer space and a strong heroine. Type is kind of small (and more like handwriting), just so you know.



The Bad Guys
, by Aaron Blabey


Fun fun fun. Another quality graphic novel series. Highly engaging and I’ve gotten great feedback on these when I’ve recommended them to friends.



Narwhal and Jelly
(series), by Ben Clanton

These are simple and sweet with great humor. There are four total in the series now and I love all of them! They make me laugh.



Princess in Black
, by Shannon and Dean Hale

We’ve checked ALL of these out at the library, and at first I kind of rolled my eyes at a blonde princess with a unicorn named “Frimplepants,” but now I totally get it. They’re fun for early readers, boys and girls alike, but my three year old daughter really enjoys them read aloud by her brother. And the boys get a kick out of the subtle humor (“Twinkle, twinkle, little — SMASH!”).



Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot
(series), by Dav Pilkey

Well, it’s not Dog Man, but this is the one series by Dav Pilkey on this list. I’m not even sure how many there are of the Mighty Robot series now (at least nine? we’ve only gone through #4). So here’s an option to keep those Dog Man lovers busy. These are ‘easier’ than Dog Man (and much shorter).

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Dory Fantasmagory (series), by Abby Hanlon


These are longer books but still manageable, and highly enjoyable! if your child is ready for them.



Zoey and Sassafras
, by Asia Citro


Here’s a neat series that I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. An awesome heroine who is not white, tons of scientific elements, and really positive messages.



Dragon Masters
, by Tracey West

An enormous series (are there 14 of these? 15?) of short simple books about a dragon, a king, a wizard and an 8 year-old boy named Drake. From Scholastic’s Branches collection. We are really into dragons at our house right now!

There are so many more that I feel like could be on this list – I could just keep adding to it! There are also so many that I’ve heard a lot about and just haven’t read yet (Ivy and Bean, The Infamous Ratsos, Kung Pow Chicken, etc.). Seems like I’ll need to do a follow up to this as we keep reading more and more at our house (we’ve just started).

 



** Links are affiliate links. To buy local
(🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

Enchanting Egypt

I never get tired of ancient Egypt. I don’t think I got enough of it as a kid, so getting to go back there with my children is so much fun.

In the various curricula we use for school, there are lots of good resources on Egypt, but I wanted to share a few extras which have really added to our fun with this subject.

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Here are some we thoroughly enjoyed…for your travels through Ancient Egypt:

(Pictures are affiliate links. You can also purchase through your local bookstore or at Parnassus Books)

Hieroglyphics, by Joyce Milton

This is not only a great little book about Egyptian life, but it also comes with a hieroglyphics stencil. My kids really really loved writing messages for each other in this beautiful form of writing.


Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht, by Richard Platt

A great ‘living book’ about Ancient Egypt in which the author follows an aspiring scribe on his adventures. It really brings to life the time period with colorful characters. Platt also has another book like this that’s wonderful, for the Roman period, called Roman Diary: The Journal of Iliona of Mytilini.


Tales of Ancient Egypt,  by Roger Lancelyn Green

My kids are really interested in Greek mythology, but I was kind of wondering if it was too much to introduce them to a whole other civilization’s mythology at such young ages. They LOVED it. And, the differences and similarities in the Egyptian stories compared to ancient Greece was really interesting for me. I had never delved so far into Egyptian mythology as I have with my young kids. What a joy to discover this interesting world with them!


Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie dePaola

A super fun one that we read long before our studies on ancient Egypt. And who doesn’t absolutely love anything Tomie dePaola has done!? This one will make you smile, and there are some great Egyptian words in here, even for the smallest learners.


Cleopatra, by Diane Stanley

 

One of my favorite books I’ve read about Cleopatra…ok, maybe the only book I’ve read about her. She and Cesar and Antony were always a little confusing to me…like, how did that all happen, again? It was nice to have a beautifully illustrated simple account of the whole drama. And, not too much for my five and seven year old. They followed right along (you may want to edit a little on the fly, depending on what your kids are comfortable with). A great end for your Egyptian studies since Cleopatra was, basically, the end of the empire.
Oh there are so many more. Can’t wait to explore some new books on Egypt when we get around to this subject the next time!