Echo in Celebration

I read Echo in Celebration: A Call to Home-centred Education
because the author founded Classical Conversations, a homeschool co-op group that we hope to join in the fall.  I read the book in electronic format, which made it hard for me to interact with the material in the same way that I do with print books, but I thought the book was interesting and engaging in spite of my format issues.

In the book, Leigh Bortins writes about her own view of learning as a life-long journey, and uses her story and stories of other families she has worked with to provide context to her larger points.  I found her background interesting: she was an aerospace engineer, stopped working full time after her second child was born, began homeschooling her kids, found out about classical education, and developed a way for families to connect and classically educate together while still remaining home-centered.

In addition to the author’s own experiences, Echo in Celebration considers topics such as the history of literacy and education, ways to recover successful educational methods used in the past and in different cultures today, how to develop a life-long love of learning and ability to learn in your children, and how to think about a home-centered education.

I particularly appreciated the author’s use of the term “home-centered” education because so often people get the idea that homeschooling is this solitary, narrow thing.  In reality, a home-centered education is the most broad opportunity available and can encompass all sorts of amazing components depending on your family’s interests and gifts.  I like Leigh Bortins’s vision for parents being involved in education and partnering with their children in learning, and I think parents would get a lot out of this book even if you are putting your children in public or private schools.

This books is high on vision and low on implementation, but if you’re in need of encouragement about your educational choices, or if you really NEED a vision for your child’s education, this book might be very helpful to you.  The author’s next book, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education reportedly contains much more detail and focuses on implementation of the vision.  I’ll review that in a future post.

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Latin for Littles?!

I know that after reading my last post reviewing The Latin-Centered Curriculum many readersprobably reacted with surprise.  “Latin?  For Kindergarten?  Seriously?”

The reason I’m starting Latin so early (although it’s not early by historic standards) has to do with the reason I want the children to learn Latin in the first place.  You’ve probably read the stats – half of English words have Latin roots, 80% of Romance languages like Spanish and French stem from Latin, kids who study Latin do much better on the SAT, and so forth.  Certainly learning vocabulary roots is a great by-product of Latin.  However, what really attracts me to ancient language study is the intellectual training it offers.  Studying a complex but logically structured language like Latin increases a child’s ability to reason, problem solve, and think, read, and speak clearly and precisely.  It teaches them to be analytical and logical and deepens their understanding of all grammars as well as preparing them to learn modern languages more quickly and easily later on.  (For more on why you might want to study Latin, here is a good article, or read this longer collection of articles, or read The Latin Centered Curriculum or Climbing Parnassus)

Actually we’ve been doing Latin in preschool too, using Song School Latin, which was recommended to me by blog reader Anna L.  The book and CD set are quite reasonably priced on Amazon ($15.61 at the moment) and I’d say the program is a very good primer level for primary grades.  Depending on how much of the written work you want to do you could certainly use it with older elementary students, but I’ve used it for Hannah and Jack (Hannah just turned 5 and Jack is 3) this year doing the exercises orally and they’ve done great.  Even Sarah (2) gets in on it.

Each lesson introduces a few new words or phrases and has a corresponding song.  We usually take a week or two on each lesson, although we have skipped weeks during the year too.  I’d recommend Song School Latin for a gentle, easy start in Latin for little ones, but once we finish the book we are moving on for Kindergarten.

Although I do think Song School Latin is a good program, I’m looking to go long-term and in-depth with Latin so in the fall we are going to start Prima Latina, which is part of the Memoria Press Latin program.  Prima Latina is also quite reasonably priced on Amazon ($29.65 for the student book, teacher’s manual, and pronunciation CD).  You can read more about the program and how it fits in with a longer Latin sequence on the company website (which also explains the reasoning behind teaching ecclesiastical Latin in primary years before moving into classical Latin).  I was sort of on the fence about starting Prima Latina in Kindergarten, although my sister-in-law did so successfully with her boys, but reading The Latin-Centered Curriculum really helped me think through my reservations and clarify my goals for Latin, and now I think I’m ready to give it a go.  Since I haven’t used the program yet I can’t speak personally for it, but I’ve heard great things from others.

If you’ve been thinking of integrating Latin into your kids’ education, or even if you hadn’t really considered it before, hopefully the links in this post give you some food for thought.  I’m certainly not trying to take a “all good parents teach Latin!” stance, but this is something I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about so I thought I’d write about it.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  The Memoria Press links are not affiliate links.

What to do about Latin

Education is one of my main interests, and over time I’ve read a vast number of books and articles about various philosophies and methods of education and  developed my own sense of how I’d like to pursue it in my family. Because I tend to be a strategic/big picture sort of person, I have a vision for how the parts of various philosophies and methods can work together into a great education for my kids, but I have long struggled with how to begin.  If I want my child taking Latin AP exams in high school, how do I get there from here?  If I want my high schoolers studying humanities (history, government, literature, art, etc) in an integrated and in-depth way, what do I teach them in kindergarten?

That is why The Latin-Centered Curriculum was such a revelation for me, has catapulted into the top spot as my new favorite book on education, and will be one of my top picks for 2011.  This book is enormously helpful and useful, containing not only the reasons for a language-based classical curriculum, but concrete, year-by-year suggestions for scope and sequence, goals, and age-appropriate curricula in various subjects.

As with many other books on classical education, this one begins with an explanation of what the author means by classical (if you have read much in the genre you’ve probably realized that people mean a zillion different things when they say “classical education”) and why you would want that for your child.   The Latin-Centered Curriculum focuses on the importance of laying a strong foundation in classical languages and implementing the concept of Multum non Multa, which means “not many things, but much” or, in other words, pursuing a depth of knowledge rather than a large amount of superficial knowledge.

The book provides answers to common objections for Latin and classical study, and offers reasons for pursuing it from a utilitarian, cultural, and formative perspective. If you’re not sure about the reasoning behind studying ancient languages, this section would be helpful for you and I think it’s more persuasively and simply laid out than similar sections in other books.  You should know that the classical education discussed in this book is not the “Learn some Latin so you understand the roots of English words and read a lot of Great Books” version espoused by some other classical proponents.  The author takes no issue with the Great Books style of neo-classical education, he just thinks that the best foundation for that is laid with studying Latin and Greek for the sake of developing intellectual capacity, reasoning skills, and ability to use language.

The most valuable part of the book, however, is the age-specific discussions of how to implement a classical curriculum beginning in kindergarten. Most of the books I’ve read are good at imparting vision, but fairly weak on how to implement it. The Latin-Centered Curriculum, however, covers year by year practical suggestions for English Studies (in primary years that encompasses phonics, nursery rhymes and tales, copywork, and recitation), Latin, Classical Studies, Christian Studies, Modern Studies, Arithmetic, and Science.  I loved seeing the progression of how you could study manageable amounts of things year by year and get to fantastic proficiency by the end of high school.

This book really helped me to crystallize my plan for language study in the primary years and gave me confidence.  I haven’t found another book that tracks so closely with my own ideas about education – including rigorous language study, interacting with ideas deeply rather than just superficial facts, using Charlotte Mason type ideas about short lessons and narration, and studying humanities in a fully integrated way.

Since everyone has their own approach to education, I’m sure The Latin Centered Curriculum would be more helpful to some people than others, but I would highly recommend it.

While we’re on the subject of classical education, I will also touch on another book I recently read, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition.  I think I was biased against this book because it’s based on an illogical and silly anecdote.  The story goes that a priest was asked to baptize a baby in the vernacular.  The priest said he would not, because “the baby doesn’t know English, but the Devil knows Latin.”  That’s not funny; it’s inane.  I get that the point is that learning Latin will train the student to be a better thinker, but I don’t really know how learning Latin would keep the Devil at bay.  It didn’t work out that well for the Romans.

If you can get past the silly fight-Satan-with-Latin thing, the book does contain some good points about the history of education and how studying ancient languages enhances education.  Overall, I think most readers would be better off reading The Latin Centered Curriculum instead, unless you’re just really into the theory and history of classical education.  Even as someone who IS really into that subject, however, I have to say that The Devil Knows Latin was not my favorite.

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What To Do With Kids Books

I like to read to my kids.  In fact, the curriculum I sort of cobble together for our preschool is based on books.  I like the kids to be able to pick up books whenever they want and just sit and look at them.


The mess, dear readers, overwhelmed us.  You see, because I am using books for our preschool subjects, I had the kids books organized by subject.  It made perfect sense to me when I was putting the books away (Bible, ABCs, Mother Goose, Poetry, Art, Music, Manners, Math, Science, History, Folk Tales, Social Studies, Literature) but I was the only one who could put the books away.  The kids didn’t get the system so they couldn’t help.  They would stack the books up at the end of the day, but I would wind up reshelving.  We have roughly four jillion books.  It was not working.

Thus, I decided to move to a new system.  Most of the kids toys are organized in baskets and boxes and stored on another shelf so that they can only get out one mess at a time and more easily pick it up before starting the next mess.  I decided to transfer that idea to books.  I used a gift card I earned from taking a survey a long time ago to purchase six plastic boxes.  Using those and one wicker basket I divvied up all of the books into seven boxes, with a few from each category in each box.  Now each day we can get out a new box and at the end of the day all of the books go back in that box.

It almost worked.  Except the boxes were too small (I believe I mentioned the four jillion number…).  So I put a small bookshelf in Hannah’s closet and another basket in Jack’s room and filled each of those up with books that they can look at during afternoon rest time.  With one additional box for books related to the country we’re learning about currently, we are set.  The freed up space on the playroom bookshelf holds toys.  It’s SO much easier to clean up now!

So much better!

Out of curiosity, how do you store your kids books?  Who does the picking up?

Studying the Netherlands with Little Children

Our preschool history and geography this month has focused on the Netherlands. We have several good atlases for children, which we have used to find the Netherlands and its position relative to our home. For longer read aloud books we’ve been working through Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (which we are enjoying and learning a lot from) and The Wheel on the School (we have only read the first chapter of that one so far). We’re also reading lots of picture books about the country. Here are our favorites:

The Cow Who Fell in the Canal is one of our all time favorite books.  The story follows Hendricka, an unhappy cow who eats too much and longs to see the city and wear a hat with ribbons on it, as she runs away from her farm and travels down the canals through the Dutch countryside until she reaches the city and rampages through the cobblestone streets and the cheese market.  The kids love the crazy idea of a cow loose in the city and her silly antics, and I like how the colorful illustrations wind up teaching the children a lot about Dutch distinctives like wooden shoes, windmills, architecture, cheese making, and things like that.  It’s a really fun book and we highly recommend it.

Katje the Windmill Cat is based on a true story about the St. Elizabeth’s Day Flood in 1421 when a dike was breached and a town flooded but a baby bobbing in its cradle was saved by a housecat keeping the cradle balanced in the flood waters.  The new dike that was built in the place of the broken one is called the Kinderdijk after that baby.  Anyway, in the book Katje is a miller’s cat living with the family who operates the windmill.  When the town floods Katje helps keep baby Annika’s cradle from capsizing and she wins the love of the miller and his wife.  Although the subject matter could be scary, it’s presented as the cat being heroic rather than as the baby being frightened so I don’t think it would bother anyone.  The illustrations are colorful and are highlighted by borders of blue and white Delft tiles that give a pretty Dutch flavor to the pictures.

The Hole in the Dike is a story taken from Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates and retold as a stand-alone tale.  You’re probably familiar with the story of the little boy who found a leak in the dike and held his hand against the sea all night long until help arrived to patch the hole, thus saving his entire village from flooding.  As we’ve learned from our reading, the country of Holland is below sea level, so the dikes are very important.  The story is a good lesson about how children can be observant and do great and helpful things even though they are small.  Eric Carle illustrated this version of the story and the colorful painted collage style pictures are characteristic of his other work.  Because we already had this story in another book (reviewed below) I mostly got this one because we like Eric Carle’s pictures.  After we read the book for the first time we made our own windmill pictures, cutting out colored paper triangles and rectangles and gluing them on a background paper to form the body and sails of a windmill.  You can see the kids’ pictures below.  I think they did pretty well for a barely 2, 3 1/2, and barely 5 year old crew whose mama is not inclined to practice art with them very much!

The Boy Who Held Back the Sea is a very pretty retelling of the story of the little boy who plugged the hole in the dike.  The illustrations are quite different from the version above, and are more in the style of Dutch masters paintings with good use of light and shadow.  This version of the story adds much more detail than the Eric Carle version, and considers themes like the boy’s disobedience to his mother, his behavior at school, and how dikes were guarded and repaired.  Overall I would say I prefer this version to the Carle version, but the Carle version is simpler and worthwhile for its own illustrations  so there is really no reason to choose just one.

I wasn’t sure if The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands would be appropriate for preschoolers since it deals with running from Nazis, but I think the book is well done and instructive without being too much frightening detail for small kids.  The main character of the book, a boy named Piet, is the son of an ice skate maker who looks up to Pim Mulier, the great skating racer who pioneered the Elfstedentocht race between eleven Dutch towns.  Because Piet is a fast skater, his father asks him to help two other children escape Holland to live with their aunt in Belgium.  The children’s father has been seized by the Nazis and it is not safe for them to live in Holland anymore.  Piet and the other children must race down the canals and navigate around bridges and avoid German soldiers to get to safety before dark.  The trip is presented as an adventure and the children are brave.  After we read the book we also watched some YouTube videos of Elfstedentocht races so the kids could see people skating, see what the canals look like, and watch the skaters “klunen” (walk around the bridges), which was described in the book.  The kids really liked the whole idea and now want to go ice skating.  I should have looked into ice skating options in our area, but haven’t gotten to that yet.

Boxes for Katje is based on a true story of how the author’s mother sent a care package through the Red Cross to a family in Holland after World War II.  The book focuses on the little girl who received the package, Katje, and what it meant to her impoverished town to receive gifts in a time of need.  In the book (and in real life) the Dutch girl and American girl struck up a friendship and the American girl’s entire town came together to send box after box to their Dutch friends to help them get through the post-war shortages.  In return, the Dutch town sent a huge box of tulip bulbs to the American town.  This is a really neat story of friendship and helping others and being thankful for blessings.  The illustrations are bold and colorful and really add emotion and detail to the story.  I also liked how the book includes pictures of handwritten letters between the girls, because it reinforces what letters are supposed to look like in this day and age when snail mail is rare.  I can’t even believe I’m saying that, or that my kids are seeing handwritten letters as relics!

To complement our study of the Netherlands we are studying Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn this month.  Our art study is very basic – we have a big book of Rembrandt’s work from the library that we look at and talk about to get a feel for the type of work the artist did, and my main goal is for the children to remember his name, be able to recognize a few of his paintings and his style, and to know he worked in Holland.  We also found a great living book about the artist called Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs.  The story is about Rembrandt’s son and how he worked hard to learn to draw like his father.  It’s based in truth since the younger van Rijn did apprentice in his father’s workshop, and I liked that the book conveys the importance of working diligently to learn a new skill.  The book has colorful illustrations and mixes in prints of Rembrandt’s actual sketches, etchings, and paintings.  I like that additional tie-in to connecting the art and style with the artist.  The kids like the story, especially the fact that the little boy has three dogs AND a monkey for his pets.

Hana in the Time of the Tulips also includes Rembrandt as a character and features one of his paintings, but this gorgeously illustrated book is primarily about the tulip mania in Holland in the 1600s.  The illustrations include lovely paintings and detailed pen and ink sketches that look similar to Dutch style use of light and color.  The history in the story is presented a little vaguely but is probably accurately how a small child would have perceived it at the time.  We give this book extra points because the main character’s name is Hana, which is very close to our own Hannah’s name.

Overall I think our study has been a success.  The kids have a general idea of where the Netherlands is located, that it is also called Holland, that the language there is Dutch, and they learned some of the distinctives of the culture and history of the country.  If the children were older I would probably include more history and in-depth study, but for preschool level I’m pleased with how much we’ve learned.

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Teaching the Trivium and Two Books I Liked Better

I think it’s interesting to read about how other families approach things, especially when it comes to education.  In that sense, I thought Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style was worth my time even though I found myself disagreeing fundamentally with the authors on several key points. 

The authors of the book write about classical education in the sense of following the trivium model (very basically, that young children should learn lots of facts, the middle years can be used to begin putting things together, and high school is the time to analyze the information), but not in the sense of really reading the classics or following a classical curriculum as it has been used through the ages.  The book discusses some classics, but the authors believe that books that don’t conform to Biblical standards and worldview are not important to study.

I disagree with the authors profoundly on this point.  I think that all truth is God’s truth, and that the classics inform all of literature.  We can’t interact with and transform our culture if we don’t understand it and aren’t able to analyze it and present a counterpoint.  The authors argue that it’s unimportant to understand some of the very basic pieces of the Western canon of literature, and they are right that most people don’t these days, but that doesn’t mean those people are well educated.  I think it’s possible to read and appreciate classical sources without conforming to the worldviews contained therein, and really it comes down to how that literature is taught and presented and dealt with in the classroom or homeschool. 

Aside from the curriculum limitations, I thought the authors did a good job of explaining the rationale behind different ways to teach language, why one might want to teach Latin in the formative years, and how the study of foreign languages aids the understanding of English grammar.  Personally I will probably not wind up teaching my children Hebrew, although I appreciate the authors reasons for adding Hebrew to Latin and Greek.  I’d like to do Greek, but we might not get there, realistically. 

Another interesting topic the book touches on is the reasoning and background for delaying formal math instruction until age 10 (and by formal they mean textbook/workbook style, not keeping math knowledge from kids – the informal math would be using manipulatives, counting, basic math functions and fractions and ideas found in everyday life and concrete situations).  I’m not sure how I will handle that with my kids, but I have read several other studies and articles recently about how children who don’t do math drills and textbooks until the 9-10 age range can learn the equivalent of 6 years of early elementary math in a matter of weeks and don’t wind up hating math like many kids do who start too early.  It is more efficient to teach concepts when children are really ready to understand and interact with them.  However, I do think there are ways to teach math that keep kids from burning out too early or missing something, such as methods that incorporate a lot of visuals, manipulatives, games, and so forth.  We’re probably going to use Math-U-See with Hannah next year for kindergarten, and I think it’s a gentle yet logical and rigorous approach. 

Although I don’t regret reading Teaching the Trivium and it may be quite helpful to others, I wouldn’t recommend it as highly as some other books on classical education.  I mean no disrespect to the authors, but I disagreed with too many points in this book to recommend it highly.  Unless you really want to read a lot of books about homeschooling in general and classical schooling in particular I think you would be better off reading The Well-Trained Mind or  The Case for Classical Christian Education to get a feel for what a classical education can look like within a private, Christian, and/or homeschool framework. 

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Christmas Read-Aloud

I like to read chapter books to the kids in addition to picture books because I think it helps their concentration to pay attention to a longer story, and because they seem to enjoy the added detail and drama of a more in-depth tale.  I generally read one chapter per day although sometimes I can be persuaded to read more.  One of the books we read this month was Natalie Savage Carson’s Newberry Honor Award winning book The Family Under the Bridge.

The book tells the story of a homeless man in Paris who accidentally becomes attached to a homeless family of three children when they all find themselves sleeping under the same bridge.  I know, you’re thinking, “whoa, you’re reading to your preschoolers about homeless kids????” but the story is very upbeat and is all about the hope and ingenuity of this unlikely group as they learn that what is really important around Christmas time is family and friendship.

We enjoyed this book and the great illustrations by Garth Williams (who also illustrated the Little House books and others).  If you’re looking for something to read to your kids these last few days before Christmas, I’d recommend The Family Under the Bridge!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Favorite Thanksgiving Books for Kids

I just realized that Thanksgiving is around the corner and I forgot to get Thanksgiving books from the library.  Oops!  In case you made the same oversight, or if you’re just looking for a list to take along to the library or have some Amazon money to burn, here are our All Time Top Thanksgiving Books for Kids:
I love books that are kind of quirky and full of clever rhymes, but that aren’t weird or trying too hard. A Plump and Perky Turkey qualifies for that distinction. The book tells the story of the people of Squawk Valley, who were “downhearted and depressed” because they did not have a turkey for Thanksgiving and feared they would be left with only “bowls of Shredded Wheat” for their dinner. In order to avoid this horror, the people put up ads for a craft fair to celebrate turkeys and solicit a turkey to be the model for turkeys made of various mediums including, naturally, oatmeal and soap. The turkey outsmarts them all and takes off for the beach and the townspeople are left to learn their lesson and be thankful for their cereal dinner.

The Very First Thanksgiving Day is a great back and forth rhyming book (in the style of the nursery rhyme “this is the house that Jack built” – kids love that kind of thing, but don’t worry, this version isn’t annoying for parents!) about the first Thanksgiving.  I appreciated that the book treats the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians with respect and accuracy while staying totally age appropriate and not letting the details of hardship bog down the theme of thankfulness. The best part of this book are the illustrations, which are wonderful and detailed.

In November has some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve seen in a book for children.  It makes me want to pull out my oil paints, but reminds me that I’m not a very talented painter!  I love the vibrant autumn colors and the depictions of people and animals full of life and emotion. The text is also great, and is slow paced and thoughtful, as is entirely appropriate for the season.  If I ever find multiples of this book, I would consider tearing pages out and framing them, the pictures are that good.

Thanksgiving Is Here! is a fun and happy story of a huge extended family celebrating together.  The author, Diane Goode, illustrated other books we love, like Alligator Boy and When I Was Young in the Mountains, so we were not surprised to also enjoy the detail and emotion in her Thanksgiving story.  In this book a very large family celebrates a joyful and eventful Thanksgiving and has a lot of fun together.  Each picture shows action and has plenty of detail to occupy children.

I love Edna Miller’s accurate and pretty pencil and watercolor drawings of animals living through the winter in the snow from her book Mousekin’s Thanksgiving.  The main character, a little wood mouse, finds that all his stores of winter food are gone, and gets hungrier and hungrier until a wild turkey helps him out. Along the way, incidental to the story, you will learn some interesting facts about how various animals store food for the winter, avoid predators, survive cold temperatures, and other interesting facts.

10 Fat Turkeys is a very silly book about turkeys doing silly things, but it also happens to be a counting book and is told in good rhyme and rhythm. Admittedly, there is a fine line between silly and totally annoying when it comes to books for children, but we think this one is fun and it doesn’t drive us crazy when the kids recite it.  That’s a good thing, since after three or four Thanksgivings of reading this book, “gobble, gobble, wibble, wobble, do a noodle dance” is part of our family lexicon.  It could be part of yours too, if you read this book often enough.  Aren’t you psyched?!

The heroine in Silly Tilly’s Thanksgiving Dinner is a forgetful mole lady who has the best of intentions to invite her friends over for Thanksgiving Dinner, but keeps forgetting key things, such as actually inviting her friends and cooking anything. Don’t worry, it all works out in the end. Incidentally the book also has good themes about friendship and is good practice for understanding sequences. Lillian Hoban illustrated the Frances books, if you’re familiar with those.  If you’re not familiar with the Frances books, you are missing out big time and now you know what to add to your Christmas list!

In Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ a variety of mishaps afflict the family as they try to cook their Thanksgiving dinner, but when the relatives arrive and the disasters are found out, the family discovers that Thanksgiving can still be thankful and a fun time with family even if you have to eat liverwurst sandwiches. I’d personally rather starve than eat a liverwurst sandwich, but I can appreciate the sentiment involved. (Note: Amazon has a more recent version of this book but with a different illustrator, and to me the pictures look creepy. I like this old version.)

This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story tells about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe through rhyming and counting descriptions of the children belonging to each group, culminating in the first Thanksgiving dinner’s prayer of thanks. The pictures are clear and colorful.  If you like to teach math concepts through books like I do, you might especially enjoy this book for November.  The pictures have lots of good detail for counting, and you can easily come up with ways to add and subtract things as you go through the pages.

Although in the preface the author of Three Young Pilgrims notes that this book is not a scholarly work, but rather “an illustrated primer,” I think it’s very educational to learn in the context of a well-told story. The book follows a family, the Allertons, who actually were on the Mayflower. The illustrations in this book are wonderful – very detailed and well done paintings. We like the spread that shows a cut-away of the Mayflower so you can see all the little sections and levels of the ship. The book doesn’t pull any punches – Mrs. Allerton and the new baby died during the first winter, and the book talks about that, although tastefully. Ultimately the book ends with the hope and promise of the new world, and gives a short update of what happened to the three Allerton children after they grew up. I think this book would be good for a variety of ages, from toddlers to elementary age kids.

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie is, of course, a play on “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” and this book is the silly adventure of an old lady who swallows an entire Thanksgiving dinner much to the surprise of her family.  In case you have forgotten, the rhyme ends each time with “perhaps she’ll die” and a few people pointed that out to me after I talked about it before, so if you have a problem with reading about the death concept in a funny rhyming context, this may not be the book for you.  I find that my kids aren’t freaked out by it but certainly do whatever seems best for your family.  The ridiculously vast quantities this little old lady packs away in the book are pretty wild, and admittedly the concept is  a little odd, but it’s pretty funny.  The rhyming includes some unusual couplets, such as rhyming “salad” with “pallid.” The pictures are quite expressive and fun.

In Goody O’Grumpity, the illustrator set a familiar poem in a Pilgrim context, and depicts Pilgrim children following after Goody O’Grumpity as she makes a spice cake. At the end of the book, there is a recipe for spice cake such as the Pilgrims might have made with ingredients they had. We haven’t made the recipe yet (and by “yet” I mean, not once in the three years we’ve been reading this book, I’m sorry to admit!), but we’ve enjoyed the poem and pictures.

This Is the Turkey is a rhyming story that tells of Max and his family assembling a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for their family and friends (except the turkey winds up in the fish tank!) and then enjoying each other’s company thankfully.  I feel super bad for the family in this story because all they have for Thanksgiving dessert is brownies.  So really, once the turkey is in the fish tank, they might have been better off with the Tappleton’s liverwurst sandwiches described above.  Seriously, who eats brownies on Thanksgiving?  I suppose the idea of the fishtank turkey and the pitiful dessert offerings ought to make me even MORE thankful for the much, much tastier fare we consume on Thanksgiving.  Anyway, it’s a good book.

Over the River and Through the Woods is a great version of the familiar poem and gives a fun twist with the riotous illustrations of a family’s adventures getting to grandmother’s house.   I always thought the song was about Christmas, but this version sets it at Thanksgiving. Each page has a lot to look at and laugh about, and you can sing the words or read it more slowly as you prefer.

Although it’s not about Thanksgiving really, Leaf Man is about fall leaves and the narrating child’s imagination of a man made out of leaves and acorns and whatnot. It’s very imaginative and creative. Since we have no mature trees in our neighborhood, this book is about as close as my kids came to seeing a variety of fall leaves this year! It’s fun to have the kids pick out the shapes made with the leaves (pictures of real leaves) on every page.  If I was really crafty I would use this book as a spring-board for great seasonal art projects, but I’m not a crafty mama, I’m a reading mama, so we just look at the book instead.  Sorry, kiddos.

Ox-Cart Man is another book not about Thanksgiving, but sort of autumn-related. It’s one of our all-time favorite books so I thought it was worth a mention. The story is about a family who makes and grows things together all year long in anticipation of the father taking a cart to Portsmouth Market to sell it all and buy what they need for the upcoming year (surprisingly very little!). The illustrations are great and you will learn a lot about a New England family in colonial times.

In Thanksgiving Mice!, a group of mice acts out a play about the mice who came over on the Mayflower. I’m sure the real Pilgrims would have disputed the cuteness of the vermin that traveled along with them, but the mice in the book are cute and are disease-free, at least by the looks of them. This is a cute book told in rhyme, but would probably be best for kids under 4 years old.

What did I miss?  Do you have other favorite Thanksgiving story books?

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Preschool Nature Study: Butterflies and Cocoons

My mom teaches science and likes to help her students learn about nature, so last week when we were visiting my parents in Virginia we got to see her Monarch butterfly cocoon.  Isn’t it lovely?  The cocoon is a milky blue and jade with gold accents.  It looks like jewelry.

When the butterfly hatches out of the cocoon, it has to dry its wings before it can fly.  My mom let Hannah hold the butterfly that was drying.  At first she was not so sure about this listless creature.

But she took to it pretty quickly!  We missed the second butterfly, because it hatched while we were gone, but it was neat for the kids to see the process in real life!

We have looked at several books about butterflies from the library, but I haven’t found any living books that really met our needs.  Two reference books that we do like are Look What I’ve Found: A Cocoon, a board book about the butterfly life cycle over the different seasons of the year, and Caterpillars and Butterflies from the Usborne Beginners series.

If you know of any great books about butterflies and cocoons, please share with us in the comments!

Preschool Pianists

In addition to sporadic guitar lessons, we also let the children play around on the piano.  They don’t know how to play anything really, but we work on not banging the keys and the sound that a scale makes and so forth.

This year we’re also trying out composer study. For us, for this level, that means we listen to music by our composer (Bach for right now) and listen for the instruments used in the music, and read some books about the composer.  Sadly I have not found any living books about Bach, so we’ve looked at a few books from the library and I’ve edited the text heavily to just give basic information like Bach’s name and birthplace, his family, the types of music he wrote, and so forth.  In addition to listening to Bach at various times during our day, we also have Bach’s works as mood music during dinner sometimes.

My goal for composer study and music for preschool is that the children would learn to appreciate classical music and be exposed to different instrument sounds, and that they would see music as something we value in our family and something they should aspire to play themselves when they are older.

How do you go about teaching music to small children?  Do you have different goals or methods that work for your kids?