Curriculum · Uncategorized

Blossom and Root First Grade Curriculum Review

Why I Love Blossom & Root

Blossom & Root is a rich and secular homeschool curriculum choice that is flexible, engaging, and affordable. Each year can be purchased in its entirety or families may pick and choose which specific subjects meet their needs.

When you purchase a specific subject for a specific year, note that the Parent Guides are robust and meaningful; the “how to” is thorough but there is also a lot of room for freedom for you to implement the curriculum in a way that makes sense to you. All book lists and website link are thoughtfully curated to be age-appropriate as well as include a diverse range of perspectives. This is one of my favorite parts — knowing I can trust the resources that pair with our devoted topics.

Blossom & Root focuses on language arts and supports STEAM subjects. Blossom & Root incorporates lots of hands-on activities, projects, and outdoor activities. Student notebooks are included to document your child’s learning, but so much of the curriculum is “done” through hands-on and rich learning practices. This curriculum helps foster a child’s natural love of learning and invites them to make connections on their own.

Blossom & Root is decidedly secular at its core, but educators will be able recognize some learning style elements from Charlotte Mason, Montessori, and Waldorf approaches. Of course any religious family may use this curriculum and easily incorporate their family’s personal beliefs/choices in addition to this curriculum! Open-ended play and outdoor adventures are encouraged. Narration, copywork, and dictation are incorporated in the language arts programs. Rich literature is celebrated. STEAM subjects are included through a range of hands-on experiences.

Lastly, I mentioned above that Blossom & Root is committed to including a diverse range of perspectives in its curriculum. This is shown through a commitment to revisit and revise existing curriculum to alter booklists and learning subjects when appropriate.

You can read about my entire set of curriculum choices for First Grade here.

Language Arts

The MOST IMPORTANT point to make right out of the gate: Blossom & Root just released their Version 2 of the Level 1 Language Arts curriculum! So exciting!

You can view a sample of the booklist here. Stories include a wide range of folktales and legends from Indian, Scottish, Vietnamese, and Hispanic origins, among many other fairytales and folktales.

The Blossom & Root Level 1 Language Arts curriculum contains:

  • literature projects
  • journaling
  • word building
  • poetry activities
  • narration
  • copywork

In addition to these language arts components, there are opportunities to explore geography and culture as you read through favorite folktales of the world. Children will have opportunities for storytelling through play and engaging project ideas as well as record their ideas and what they learned in a Student Notebook.

This past year wee had the first edition of The Stories We Tell. The literature used in this version was:

Note: The Version 1 and Version 2 language arts components both include fairytales, myths, and folklore. Version 2 does not include the nature lore stories (Among the People). If you purchase the Blossom & Root Level 1 Language Arts curriculum at this time you will receive BOTH Version 1 and Version 2 of the curriculum. Please read more at Blossom & Root for details.

VIDEO INSIDE LOOK at both Version 1 and Version 2 language arts components

Okay, so how did utilizing this curriculum go for us?

The short version: I gave up on using this curriculum *exactly* as directed pretty early on in our school year.

The long version:

If you join the Blossom & Root Year 1 Facebook group, you’ll see lots of discussion about the literature used for Version 1 of The Stories We Tell. As stated above, this curriculum has all been recently updated. We honestly did enjoy the Among the People nature lore series; however, my kids were less enthused about pairing these stories with literature projects and narrations and copywork. So, in the end, we just read the stories and let the stories just stand on their own without projects or notebooking. I do know others had children that did not enjoy these stories and left them out entirely. In terms of the fairytales and folklore section of the curriculum, read below for how I adapted that.

I decided then to switch tactics a little bit BUT keep the same spirit of The Stories We Tell. I bought my kids each a simple composition notebook, then would read them one of the fairy tales or folklore stories. I chose some stories from this curriculum selection (books noted above) and other stories I picked on my own from books like the following:

The kids would illustrate something from the story, I would have them do simple copywork from a memorable line from the story, and then they would narrate to me what happened while I wrote down exactly what they said in the notebooks. We did this one day per week. Again, this style of learning in essence captures what you’ll find in The Stories We Tell curriculum! In addition there are fun, engaging narrative prompts, ideas for play in storytelling, word lists, and even prompts for creating poetry using cut-and-paste words. The depth of skills touched on in this curriculum is rich while remaining age-appropriate.

I want to note that a part of the reason I switched to simplifying this language arts component was that both of my children are working through All About Reading and All About Spelling (which I still love). So, I felt like some of the words lists and other journaling prompts provided in The Stories We Tell Student Notebook were redundant with what the kids were getting in All About Reading.

Science

Okay, this science curriculum (Wonders of the Earth & Sky) is SO GOOD!! This is partially due to subject matter, but my kids ADORED every minute of this curriculum. They would beg to do science every day! Yes, probably because sometimes were were making igneous rock treats and building exploding volcanoes outside — but that’s exactly the point! This was so much fun. The concepts for geology and meteorology can be complicated for college students, and I love how these were all broken down in meaningful ways while keeping the kids engaged with topics.

Wonders of the Earth & Sky covers geology, weather, and seasons. You will get a Parent Guide, a Laboratory Guide, and a Student Notebook. The main book spines used throughout the whole curriculum are the Super Earth Encyclopedia and Nature Anatomy. There are alternative suggestions when you purchase the curriculum.

For each week, you as the parent are given several “big picture points” to read over with your child(ren). Beyond that, there are lots of options depending on what kind of family you are, what kind of time you have, and how your children learn best. Each week presents at least one hands-on experiment or project. You obviously do not have to do these each week, but I did find that most of these were easy to implement without too much fuss or even expense.

There are books (some required, and many optional) to gather from the library for that week. Or not. If it feels like too much to add in the extra reading, skip it. But, I personally did love all the extra picture book options for each topic. The book list is fantastic.

Each topic also has a few curated videos to find online (typically 3-5 minutes long) which I found to be extremely helpful for my visual learners.

Lastly, there is a student notebook which includes a single notebooking page per week/topic. Children are asked to illustrate what they learned and either narrate or write themselves what they learned. At the end of the school year my kids absolutely loved having this completed Student Notebook of their very own to read through and remember all the fun learning we did this past year.

NOTE: There is a coordinating Nature Study companion to this science unit, which I think can be a great way to get children out in the natural world around them, exploring the topics they are learning for science. That said, I choose not to have a specific nature study curriculum for our homeschool because this particular topic I prefer to have nature itself be our curriculum. What happens in the natural world and what we observe through our regular outdoor time is the thing that is our guide, our teacher. I just want to be clear that I think the Blossom & Root Nature Study companion to the science is great and that my choice to not use it has nothing to do with my opinion on the quality of the program.

Book Seeds

Year 1 also includes six special edition Profiles in Science Book Seed issues. You get all of these with the purchase of the curriculum so do not add these to your cart. These Book Seeds all coordinate well with the Wonders of the Earth & Sky curriculum topics and can be incorporated throughout the year at any time. I preferred to dive into these around the same time a coordinating topic came up in the Wonders of the Earth & Sky that way the kids could make connections. For example, we read more about Marie Tharp when learning about the Earth’s crust and plate tectonics in Week 3. It is also possible to come back to the Book Seeds once you finish the science curriculum altogether.

Math in Art

Exploring the Math in Art is a unique and fun curriculum component for the Year 1 level! Each week you introduce your child to a specific art piece for an art study, then you discuss and learn about a given math concept and how it is incorporated in that art piece (e.g. shapes, symmetry, patterns, and balance). Last, you can give your child an opportunity to do an art project implementing what they learned in a way that coordinates with the selected art piece and math concept.

I love how unique this program is and the wide range of art, artists, and art styles that are incorporated. We looked forward to this each week and the kids especially grew in their art study skills over the course of the year.

On to Second Grade!!

We plan to use the full Blossom & Root Second Grade curriculum next school year. Though, I think I may also include some stories from the updated Version 2 of the First Grade Language Arts! The book selection looks fantastic, and next school year I will have a child in Second Grade and a child in First Grade, so I do think I will included language arts elements from both years.

NOTE: The next big sale for Blossom & Root will run August 1 – September 15th. Please note if you are homeschooling beginning in the fall and need time to print out the parent guides and student notebooks this process of printing may take awhile. Online printing companies like Making Family Count, Family Nest Printing, and The Homeschool Printing Company get busy this time of year.


This content uses referral links. Please read my disclosure policy for more details.

Books · Nature Study · Uncategorized

Favorite Children’s Books About Evolution

Evolution Books for 3-5 Year Olds

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Lisa Westberg Peters, Illustrated by Lauren Stringer
  • Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Jonathan Tweet, Illustrated by Karen Lewis
  • Published by: Feiwel & Friends

Evolution Books for 5-8 Year Olds

The Story of Life: A First Book About Evolution

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, Illustrated by Amy Husband
  • Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Sabina Radeva
  • Published by: Crown Books for Young Readers

Who Will It Be? How Evolution Connects Us All

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Paola Vitale, Illustrated by Rossana Bossù
  • Published by: Blue Dot Kids Press

Charles Darwin (Little People, Big Dreams)

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Illustrated by Mark Hoffman
  • Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure

Evolution Books for 7-11 Year Olds

When We Became Humans: Our Incredible Evolutionary Journey

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Michael Bright, Illustrated by Hannah Bailey
  • Published by: words & pictures

When Darwin Sailed the Sea

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By David Long, Illustrated by Sam Kalda
  • Published by: Wide Eyed Editions

When Plants Took Over the Planet

  • Upcoming publication: August 17, 2021
  • By Chris Thorogood, Illustrated by Amy Grimes
  • Published by: QEB Publishing

Life Through Time: The 700-Million-Year Story of Life on Earth

Evolution Books for 9-12 Year Olds

Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Anna Claybourne, Illustrated by Wesley Robins
  • Published by: Ivy Kids

When the Whales Walked: And Other Incredible Evolutionary Journeys

  • See my full review on Goodreads here
  • By Dougal Dixon, Illustrated by Hannah Bailey
  • Published by: words & pictures

The Story of Life: Evolution

  • By Katie Scott
  • Published by: Templar Publishing

Continental Drift

Honorable Mentions

The following books deal with life on Earth as a whole but are not specifically about evolution. These are all fantastic reads.

Older Than the Stars (ages 3-5)

You Are Stardust (ages 5-8)

Life Story (ages 7-11)

Video Flip-Through

Watch the following video on my YouTube channel for an inside look at the titles mentioned above. Thanks for viewing!

For More of my Favorite Nature-Based Books

Please see my most current lists on Amazon and be sure to follow me on Goodreads for children’s book reviews!


This content uses referral links. Please read my disclosure policy for more details.

Curriculum

History Quest: Early Times Final Review

What Is History Quest All About?

You can see my Halfway Review of History Quest with some more detailed introduction here:

History Quest: Early Times Halfway Review

Since we concluded the entire curriculum, I will highlight some of my favorite aspects of History Quest: The Early Times:

  • The chapter-book format can be used with a variety of age ranges, and different kids will get out of it different things, depending on age and interest. It works well for the whole family.
  • The curriculum is secular, diverse, and inclusive. Multiple world religions are introduced beautifully, cultural groups are included across continents (not just focused around the Mediterranean and Europe) and women are included just as much as men in the History Hops.
  • The Study Guide with extra learning for visual learners and hands-on learners is excellent, well-organized, adaptable, and fun!

DO I NEED THE STUDY GUIDE?

  • It is possible to only read the History Quest chapter book (or do the audiobook) and not do the Study Guide or any additional material! If you are interested in teaching history to your child(ren) but have a hard time imagining incorporating a full schedule of history each week, it’s definitely a great option to simply read through the chapter book! It’s engaging and covers the material well without the need for a lot of additions.

HOW MANY DAYS PER WEEK DOES THIS TAKE?

  • The Study Guide lays out a 5-day week schedule but you do not need to follow it. There are many ways to fit History Quest in to your week in less days, or expand lessons/weeks even further. There are lots of ideas in discussion threads on the History Quest Facebook Group on how to schedule it out. I usually spent 2-3 days each week on history.

WHAT ABOUT NOTEBOOKING?

  • Some notebook pages are included in the Study Guide (for recording what the child learned through that week), but depending on your child’s age and interest you may want to consider buying or creating a more extensive notebook. I created separate notebooking pages with copywork (which was provided in the History Quest Study Guide) and kept everything in a 3-ring binder. In the end, we had a nice memory book my son had created to review all the material.

DO YOU KEEP A TIMELINE?

  • No timeline cards or banner or specific project is included with this curriculum. There are lots of options for incorporating this, though. I purchased The Big History Timeline and the corresponding sticker book which helped my son see how we jumped around in time as we covered different historical groups reading through History Quest.
  • I know others have purchased the timelines that correspond to History Odyssey (different from History Quest) and just used the stickers that match History Quest.
  • Others have created their own timelines.
  • Or, you could work on a Book of Centuries (Charlotte Mason homeschoolers use these; note these use BC/AD and often won’t include prehistory). For secular homeschooler, there is a free printable one here from Lauren at Chickie & Roo that uses BCE/CE or this awesome brand-new Rainbow Notebook: History Timeline Notebook from Megan at schoolnest, which I recently purchased!

FOR THE VISUAL LEARNERS

  • My family loves exploring videos to aid in our learning. Having History Quest, through its website, and the internet links curated from the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History was such a huge help and joy each week! I didn’t have to do a bunch of research to find appropriate videos for my children; someone else did all that work. And I’m here for it!

WHAT SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKS DO YOU NEED?

Highlights for Each Unit (Second Half)

I left off the last review with Ancient Greece, which we spent four weeks on as follows: (1) Minoans and Mycenaeans, (2) Hygge History Week: Greek Mythology, (3) Greece Develops, and (4) Classical Greece.

After Greece, we covered Macedonia, India, Rome, Kush & Aksum, China, the Byzantines, and Arabia. I will detail each of those below.

Macedonia

Well, covering Alexander the Great is pretty epic and memorable, to say the least. This unit was especially interesting and my son really latched on the the Alexander the Great by Demi book! It’s beautifully done, contains maps, and details and captures Alexander’s life so well. Highly recommend.

We ended up not really doing a specific craft or hands-on activity for this week because the kids were having so much fun with the pretend play and I felt like that was enough. They get to lead the learning a lot!

Other books pictured:

Ancient India

Ancient India was covered in two parts: we first covered the very early Indus Valley Civilization and then got in to more of the Mauryan Empire and learning about Ashoka the Great. We really enjoyed a variety of tales from Ancient India, eating Indian food, and created a clay Indus Valley Seal.

But, the real and lasting highlight of this unit was reading the stunning and perfect story of The Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel. We read this so many times! This is one of those books that is worth owning, in my opinion. Many of the other suggested books throughout the curriculum can be found at your library and you probably don’t need to own.

Other books pictured:

Ancient Rome

When I told my son we would be learning about ancient history this school year he in advance determined that he was the MOST excited to learn about Ancient Rome. Not surprisingly, these several weeks spent on Rome were a hit. That said, I do think that his level of interest and engagement was just as high when we did other units. There were some weeks that I think surprised even him as to how “cool” he thought it was. As I just mentioned, he really latched on to Ancient India. But even learning about some “smaller” ancient cultures like the Nazca or Aksumites was a memorable and engaging experience.

Yes, Ancient Rome is indeed epic and awesome in a young child’s mind. My husband and I even joked about showing our son Gladiator (don’t worry, we didn’t!)

I put our Ancient Rome Playmobil figures in the photo just so it’s clear that in our homeschool we use play as learning on a regular basis. I don’t want it to seem that history lessons with my 7 year old were stodgy and boring! One of the crafts from the History Quest Study Guide was to create a catapult with popsicle sticks and rubber bands, and we had a blast with that!

Because my son was extra excited about this unit AND because there is a wealth of books and knowledge out there about Ancient Rome, I added some books in beyond what was recommended in the History Quest Study Guide:

Other books pictured:

Kush & Aksum

The one week we spent learning about Ancient African peoples (other than those pesky Egyptians) was so fun! The African Beginnings books (recommended to pair with this week) is stunning and wonderful. Lots to explore. And my favorite part was introducing my kids to the game Mancala!

Other books pictured:

Ancient China

Remember when I said my son was super excited about Ancient Rome? Well, I think when we hit Ancient China his level of enthusiasm was superseded! We had so much fun with these few weeks. History Quest included two weeks of Ancient China: Part 1 and Part 2 chapters, and then a built-in History Hygge week with Chinese folklore. We enjoyed reading through Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories and Fa Mulan. There were wonderful historical videos to watch about the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall, and we even enjoyed the nature study lesson of the silk moth and silk making!

Other books pictured:

Books used but not pictured:

The Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire was an interesting unit, and I felt like we delved more in to art & architecture with this one than some other weeks. I liked structurally how History Quest chose not to cover this chapter immediately after Ancient Rome. The separation helped my kids understand a bit more of the cultural shift.

It was harder to find good children’s books for this unit, so we stuck with Usborne Encyclopedia of World History and the linked websites/videos. We definitely enjoyed creating a mosaic art project in Byzantine style, and learning about the Haggia Sofia (the open book depicting this is Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World.

Arabia

We ended our Early Times year with a journey to ancient Arabia to learn about the rise of Islam. My children had both been taking some beginning Arabic lessons at the time we reached this unit, so we were all very excited. I added in a couple of books beyond what was recommended for this unit, and we enjoyed some cultural food as well this week.

Books used:

In Summary

Remember that the bulk experience of History Quest: The Early Times is sitting down with a great book and reading it with your child(ren). I’ve included in my post a number of flatlay photos, many with crafts and notebook pages and additional books, and all of that certainly added to our enjoyment and learning. But, I want to make it clear that I believe this history curriculum is decidedly fuss-free and really adaptable for families. I think the content is fantastic and I can’t wait to do History Quest: Middle Times next (the Fall of Rome to the 17th century)!


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Books · Uncategorized

New and Notable Nature-Based Picture Books For Spring

The Spring Equinox has arrived which means it’s time for flowers and rain and birds and gardening and insects and so much more! While I love many things about winter, there is so much joy and wonder to be had in nature in spring.

And, to help usher in spring, I thought I would share a few of my favorite new and upcoming picture books for children ages 3-7. I tend to share a lot of nature nonfiction on here, but there are so many wonderful picture books that celebrate nature and engage children in this age group in a world of beauty and wonder.

Hopefully these books will be enjoyed by many families while outdoor picnicking this spring!

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up by Shawn Taylor and Alex Morss

Quarto Kids – March 16, 2021 – Ages 3-6

From gardening to pond dipping and nesting birds to insect life, spring brings so many wonders and promise of newness. All of this is captured beautifully through a narrative and then several pages of nonfiction detail in Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up. Children will love peeking in to the life of a family as they explore the outdoors in springtime, taking in all of the changes. Illustrations are charming and befitting the season, while the narrative moves and holds your attention.

Several pages at the end of this book serve for further detail to learn about what exactly spring is and what plants and animals are doing during this time. This is a nice opportunity to explore the topic for the older children, but the book still nicely combines the science with a lovely preceding narrative.

Have You Ever Seen A Flower? by Shawn Harris

Chronicle Books – May 4, 2021 – Ages 3-5

Have You Ever Seen A Flower? is a lovely celebration of both nature and childhood as well as the life-giving connection between the two! I think children would love to literally dive in to this book. The illustrations are captivating and MOVE with the story, literally zooming in as the narrative takes you closer and closer. The story asks: have you ever seen a flower? have you ever BEEN a flower? It’s brilliant in it’s simplicity and meaning. Imagination is such a wonderful way to connect with children, especially in nature-based settings. It’s a good reminder to adults, even, to slow down and pay attention.

My Nana’s Garden by Dawn Casey

Templar Books (Candlewick Press) – March 23, 2021 – Ages 3-7

My Nana’s Garden is a touching story of togetherness, love, and the natural cycles of life. The depiction of Nana’s garden through the seasons and over years mirrors the life-death-rebirth cycle in the lives of those tending the garden. We follow a little girl as she explores her Nana’s garden in all its splendor, then through the change in season we see her deal with the grief of the loss of her Nana. We further pass through the years as the little girl grows into a woman and has a child of her own, the two of them tending the same garden together as we saw in the beginning.

Illustrations are bold and inviting–I love all the detail as it captures the beauty and wonder of gardening well. Fittingly, winter is the time when Nana passes away and her granddaughter feels the weight of this loss. “The world is hushed. Nothing grows.” Nana’s death is represented with an empty chair, which shows the sensitivity towards this target age group while not shying away from raw and real emotions.

I love the multi-generational celebration, diverse representation, and powerful connection between women represented in this story.

Grasshopper by Tatiana Ukhova

Greystone Kids – May 4, 2021 – Ages 4-7

Grasshopper is a stunning and captivating wordless picture book with lots of pages to explore and dive in to a garden with a little girl, wondering at the impact she has on even the smallest of creatures.

I think the idea here is to consider both the point of view of the girl AND the little creatures. There can be a harsh reality and even savagery to both the way nature operates as well as the human impact on our environment, and this book touches on those very real themes in a age-appropriate way. I appreciate very much the concept and implementation of those themes in a wordless picture book. The impact is there and doesn’t need any text.

I think this book does a great job simultaneously drawing young children in to the wonder and awe that nature provides as we observe it, while also reminding us that we can have a negative impact. There is a way to approach nature with both connection and care as well as respect for what it is without our involvement.

Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear

Chronicle Books – April 13, 2021 – Ages 3-5

Hello, Rain! is beautiful and playful celebration of rain! I confess I’m biased because there isn’t a Kyo Maclear book I don’t like, but this one truly is a gem. The illustrations are fun and I love the color palette–the depictions of raindrops as oversized fits the overall tone of the book. I love that the narrative is just a girl and her dog, nothing overdone and hits all the right notes. The way the text is creatively spread across pages is brilliant. A fun read, perfect for spring, and one children will want to live out and revisit.

As Strong as the River by Sarah Noble

Flying Eye Books – March 2, 2021 – Ages 3-7

Who doesn’t absolutely love picture books with bears?! As Strong as the River is a gentle and touching story with beautiful illustrations I can see many young children wanting to revisit over and over at bedtime. It is a story of love and connection between baby bear and mama bear as well as the wonder and excitement of learning new things and growing up. But not too soon, of course. The title, As Strong as the River, hints at the closing message of the story: both mama and baby are big, strong, and beautiful … just like the river. And maybe we are too. The illustrations here have a lovely color palette and neatly depict natural landscapes and details while corresponding nicely with the tone of the book.


*Please note: I was given review copies of these books from the respective publishers. Opinions are my own.

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FOR MORE BOOK REVIEWS: See my Goodreads page.
FOR CURATED BOOK LISTS: See my Amazon page.
Uncategorized

Favorite Early Readers

Early Readers From Our Homeschool Curriculum

We use the All About Reading curriculum to teach our children to read. I love this curriculum for so many reasons–it’s phonics-based program with a multisensory approach. It’s fun, easily to teach, and follows a developmentally appropriate progression. My son (First Grade, age 7) is finishing up Level 2 soon and will move on to Level 3. My daughter (Kindergarten, age 5) is currently working through Level 1. Keep in mind the curriculum is mastery-based and Levels do not correspond to grade level. You can read more about our use of Level 1 on this blog post and see a video walk through as well: Do A Lesson With Us: All About Reading Level 1.

All About Reading has decodable readers that coordinate with the curriculum. These readers contain a number of wonderful and engaging stories that work through concepts learned in the curriculum. Each reader contains about 15 stories and each level of All About Reading has 2-3 readers! I love having these readers to work through with my children. They love the stories.

Note that you can purchase just the readers from All About Learning! You don’t need to be using the curriculum to use the readers with your child(ren). When you go to the appropriate Level of the curriculum, there is a drop-down option for purchasing Individual Items and you can select the readers there.

While these readers are fantastic, my children have also wanted to have more to read than just these readers when we “do school” and work through the curriculum. I desire that for them as well. They now take turns with us reading bedtime stories and spend timing reading in bed each night with booklights.

Reading is one of life’s true delights, and so I do what I can to spread the feast for my children with literature they can read and enjoy. Below I’ll share my favorites.

About Using & Finding Early Readers

I first want to say: I’m not an expert on this topic at all! In many ways I feel out of my league trying to figure out how to teach my children to read. Which is why I love All About Reading — it takes the pressure an anxiety off of me.

Beyond teaching my children to read, searching for the right books for them can be a confounding process. One frustration I have run in to is that different publishers use different distinctions for their “levels” of early readers! So, here’s a scenario: you reserve a bunch of Level 1 readers from the library to find that some are WAY too easy for your child, some are WAY too difficult, and only a few are just right. It can be frustrating to find the right fit.

One way to possibly combat this is stick with the same publisher/line of readers–that way when you know your child is comfortably reading at Level 1 of those readers, you can try some Level 2 from that same publisher. I recently did this once I latched on to the fact that my son could read Level 3 in the Penguin Young Readers series. So, I just hunted for others at the library at that same level. That feels unrealistic to always do, though, and it is limiting to try and stick with one publisher.

So — my best advice is: use the library as much as humanly possible, and realize you’ll run in to some challenges with the search.

Favorite Early Readers

ANYTHING by Arnold Lobel!!

The Frog & Toad series gets a lot of attention but I really feel the other early readers of Lobel’s are equally amazing. I cannot even contain how much I love him. And the audiobooks (with him narrating) are equally spectacular!

Mo Jackson Series

There are six books in this series and these particularly appeal to my son to have a male protagonist playing sports. The stories are sweet and playful and this is an excellent series representing a boy of color.

Other Notable Early Readers With Characters of Color:

Henry & Mudge Series

I am a huge fan of Cynthia Rylant — she has an excellent way of creating stories where characters are kind and the storylines celebrate life and love. Henry is a boy with a 182-pound Mastiff named Mudge and they have all sorts of adventures and lessons together. This series is a joy because your child can get to know the characters and have a wide range of scenarios to read. Twenty-eight stories in all!

Mr. Putter & Tabby Series

Similar to Henry & Mudge, this series was written by Cynthia Rylant and features endearing characters with relatable stories. There are 19 books in this series and they never get old!

The Good & the Beautiful readers box sets

I love the nice progression from each box set (A, B, C, then D) with these books! When your child masters one set you can confidently move on to the next level. Each set comes with 10 beautifully illustrated and diverse books, and the stories are of a nice variety that will appeal to children with a wide range of interests.

I particularly love that these box sets have little mini books for children just starting out to read (Box A and Box B), so those children can feel like they are reading a whole little book! It’s so satisfying.

Note that these boxed sets CAN coordinate with The Good & the Beautiful homeschool Language Arts curriculum, but they do not have to. You can purchase and use these readers even if you are not using their curriculum!

Penny Series

This is a lovely Level 1 set by Kevin Henkes. Really sweet and engaging stories. There are four total in the series. Again, I appreciate books that have recurring characters for children at this age.

Usborne Beginning Readers

These beginner books are on the more challenging level of early readers and definitely note that some subject matter might even be sensitive to some kids (hazardous weather, history, etc.). Usborne books aren’t always my favorite, to be honest, but what I particularly love about these readers is that they are an opportunity for children to engage deeply with nonfiction information in a reading-level-appropriate format. Your child can read to you and feel like they are teaching you something! So fun. And, this type of book has repeat-read value if it is a subject matter of interest to your child.

Note: I am not an Usborne representative. These links are from Amazon, for which I am an affiliate.

Little Bear Series

The classic Little Bear series is a sweet and enjoyable series for kids and adults to enjoy! There is a very good reason these have been favorites for years and years.

Other Early Reader Joys

Elephant & Piggie series

Ling & Ting series

We do like some of the Dr. Seuss books as well.

A Note About Interest-Based Books

I want to put in a note here to say that I personally love finding random (and admittedly sometimes absurd) books that fit my child’s interest! Both kids get so excited to read these types of books. Yes, I understand the need and desire for providing quality literature to our children, but for me I also want my child to enjoy reading and that means that they often get to pick the subject matter. LEGOs, dinosaurs, natural wonders, dragons, and characters based on TV shows or movies.

No, I do not want ONLY these types of books around, but I definitely want the range available. I myself enjoy reading a range of genres of literature and can understand the value in exploring a variety of types of stories.

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Happy Reading!

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What Kindergarten Language Arts Looks Like This Year

Kindergarten Language Arts Curriculum

For my first child, I used A Year of Tales as our Core Curriculum (which has language arts components as well as others) and then added on The Good & The Beautiful: Level K Language Arts to teach him how to read.

You can read about our First Grade Curriculum choices here and why I stopped using Language Arts from The Good & The Beautiful.

For my Level K child this year (2020-2021 school year) we are using All About Reading Level 1 and the coordinating Letter Tiles App to teach her how to read.

You can read an in-depth blog post of this curriculum in action (with video) here:

Read Alouds

Language Arts encompasses a great number of things, and this year for my Level K child has not been solely about teaching her how to read and write. The All About Reading curriculum has reminders with each lesson to read aloud to your child. We read aloud from a range of stories for my Level K child. NOTE: because my children are so close in age, what we read for my First Grader is easily combined in to read alouds for my Level K child. I don’t treat them separate, other than I do make sure not ALL our reading each day is coming from history texts or longer books. We read a lot of picture books! Most days I let my Level K child choose what picture books she wants me to read to her. This happens regularly in the mornings and bedtime, and then we try to incorporate some other reading throughout the day.

If you need inspiration for the importance of reading aloud to your child, I recommend the following books:

Story Podcasts

I wanted to give a special mention to a number of stories podcasts we have enjoyed over the years. These are great ways to fit in stories on car rides!

Narration and Copywork: For Kindergarten???

In addition to simply reading stories, for my First Grader and Level K child I purchased some Composition Notebooks to journal and keep track of copywork and narration for stories. I would not normally see this as a requirement for Kindergarten to do copywork and narration; however, my child has shown lots of interest and wants to do what her older brother does. So, she gets a notebook of her own. I keep the copywork very simple and minimal for her, and it is only one time a week. The narration is optional, and usually she keeps it brief. Know and Tell by Karen Glass is an excellent resource for learning about narration.

We started out using the Blossom & Root The Stories We Tell (First Grade Language Arts) curriculum for inspiration for stories, but I ended up dropping this curriculum because it felt like too much language arts on top of our All About Reading / All About Spelling stuff. I love the actual stories used (fables, folklore, classic tales), though, so we have kept in theme with that.

I also love the Blossom & Root Kindergarten Language Arts curriculum option, but I felt unprepared this year to go back and do that after I had originally planed for the First Grade option. I think if your child in Kindergarten is not quite ready to do a learn-to-read curriculum the Blossom & Root Kindergarten Language Arts curriculum is an excellent option!

Books I currently read from that the kids do narration & copywork for are:

I honestly don’t keep a schedule with this at all! I just randomly pick a story (I do read it advance) and then we read it together and the kids (1) illustrate the story, (2) copy some words, a phrase, or sentence from the story, and (3) give a narration of the story that I write down.

Kindergarten Handwriting and Letter Formation

For handwriting and letter formation for Kindergarten I utilize a variety of methods. I love all the Montessori-inspired methods utilized in The Peaceful Preschool, and ever since we used that curriculum I’ve still kept a lot of those methods in the mix. My daughter is old enough now and self-directed in some aspects so some days she’ll just ask for what she wants to do. It might be a salt tray or it might be a Handwriting notebook with worksheets. She’s doing great with her handwriting so I really do not pre-schedule this kind of thing in to our days. I just make sure we are doing a little bit each school day.

Here are some products we have used over the years that may or may not be helpful to you:

Tracing Boards

I created that simple tracing sheet linked above and my kids do this multiple days a week. It’s a nice option for me to give to one child while I work with the other on curriculum. My Level K child no longer uses the wooden tracing board but does use a tracing chalkboard sometimes.

Pictured in this photo are printouts from Kinder Nature Beginnings, which is a wonderful option for this age!

Salt Handwriting Trays

I like using a simple tray for salt writing but love special wooden trays made by small shops like the ones from my friends Cam Kennedy or Crystal Torres.

Handwriting Curriculum

Note that you can get the Handwriting Without Tears letter formation chart for free, which is helpful even in the preschool years.

Other Kindergarten Language Arts Resources

We also love alphabet books that are playful and make language learning FUN! You can read a longer list of my favorite alphabet books here, but for now I’ll list a couple:

One Last Note

I just want to say that mostly for Kindergarten I focus on child readiness and learning that is fun and engaging. I really am not aiming at this age for school to feel forced or burdensome. Often I even find that most of my daughter’s learning happens through simply living life, and not through a curriculum or purchased material. For example, we have taught her that asking questions is ALWAYS good and so she is constantly asking “What does that word mean?” when she doesn’t know. She also particularly loves to draw so we have encouraged her to “write stories” and you can hear her often yelling from the next room “How do you spell ____?” so she can write a word or two on her art piece. Mostly I want to emphasize that with Kindergarten it helps to set yourself (the educator) up for success and give yourself the tools you need, but often education at this age is simply: pay attention to your child. Give them room to be a child. Much of the learning develops naturally.

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History Quest: The Early Times Halfway Review

About History Quest: The Early Times

History Quest is a new curriculum designed by Pandia Press. The first unit covers the Early Times. The most recent History Quest release covers the Middle Times. The curriculum is designed as a narrative approach, and the main book can be utilized on its own without the need to pair ANY supplemental books or the study guide with activities! Seriously: you can just read the core chapter books to your child(ren) and leave it at that. There is even an audiobook option!

Each segment of history is covered in two parts in the chapter book: one narrative section and then something called a History Hop! where you pretend to travel back in time and have a conversation with one main person from that time period. You likely travel to a significant event or location in that time period and witness things “first hand.” Both the History Hop and regular chapter portion do an excellent job of making connections between various civilizations and helping your child put people and events in context.

If you desire, you can do more than read the core chapter book. We did purchase the companion Study Guide because I do feel that having supplemental picture books, videos, and hands-on activities is beneficial to learning AND the study guide provides notebooking pages & maps to keep track of what your child learns. My children are in First Grade and Kindergarten, too, so I feel that having all the hands-on activities and visual learning is so fun and helps them saturate in the learning. My Kindergartener often skips out on reading the entire chapter from the History Quest book but she will happily participate in everything else.

Key Features of History Quest

  • Secular-based history
  • Engaging narrative in a chapter-book format
  • Utilizes the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History which includes engaging curated internet links to explore
  • Allows your children to delight in imagination and exploration
  • Explores civilizations all around the world
  • The study guide is detailed and easy to follow for the parent!

And last but not lease: History Hygge weeks!

Occasionally throughout the curriculum you are instructed to schedule weeks where you read and explore longer narratives from that period in history and do nothing else. No main chapter to read or a History Hop, no activities, no notebooking. Just read.

We absolutely loved reading a picture-book and young-child-friendly version of the Epic of Gilgamesh:

For the multi-week journey into Ancient Greece we are exploring Greek myths for History Hygge:

Highlights and Additions for Several Units

I wanted to spend some time highlighting a few weeks of the curriculum. I won’t be going through every unit below, just a few to kind of give an idea of what is covered.

Paleolithic Times

We loved reading The Secret Cave and The First Drawing, learning about cave art, and creating some of our own with our homemade charcoal crayons. This printable cave art game is also a fun addition.

Civilizations Begin

The kids loved the cuneiform project for learning about the beginning of civilizations. Learning about the beginnings of writing paved the way for learning about how later civilizations wrote and kept records. We more recently learned about the importance of the Phoenicians and the invention of the alphabet. This is a great example of a provided hands-on activity that doesn’t require a lot of materials, prep, or set up.

Sumer

So, we created a cardboard ziggurat as we learned about the ancient city of Ur!! This ziggurat was much more work than the cuneiform tablet BUT it got a ton of play. Also, since this was so early on in our History Quest journey, I think having kind of an epic project like this helped solidify the joys of learning about ancient history. We used a number of different small boxes and cut holes so the kids could play with people figures and put them in the ziggurat. Too fun!

Ancient Egypt

My son in particular was REALLY looking forward to all things Ancient Egypt. And so, I decided to supplement History Quest with some extra play and learning over the course of several weeks:

Andes Mountain Civilizations

Learning about the ancient peoples of Peru was so fun! We watched some interesting videos on the art of weaving and dying cloth. We learned all about the Nazca lines — so fascinating. We enjoyed the lovely story The Llama’s Secret. Again, I appreciate that History Quest does a great job of representing a variety of peoples, cultures, and religions throughout the curriculum.

Mesoamerica

For learning about Mesoamerican civilizations we took a deeper dive in to learning all about chocolate. We loved the book No Monkeys, No Chocolate and the unit study on Chocolate from The Masterpiece Studio. There was so much to learn about and explore with this! Again, this deep dive was NOT a part of the original History Quest curriculum, but I wanted to share how this curriculum does inspire so much learning beyond the core because it engages your children in a variety of ways.

Persia

For Ancient Persia the History Quest study guide did not have any picture book suggestions but I did some searching online and found The Secret Message and The Green Musician were both ancient Persian tales. We enjoyed both, and used our MAPS book to explore Iran, and made baklava to enjoy with our lessons.

Note: The copywork page you see in this photo was something I made for my First Grader. The History Quest Study Guide has copywork suggestions and I decided to make pages in advance with traceable text for my son because he doesn’t love handwriting. For older elementary children or kids that enjoy that much writing, I think you can just get blank lined paper to have them do the copywork.

Ancient Greece

We are currently in the midst of a multi-week journey to Ancient Greece. Some books we have been enjoying are:

We also enjoy playing Santorini and Zeus on the Loose for some Greek-themed play.

Additional Books We Use

Other than the main History Quest: Early Times chapter book and Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, I have also utilized a number of Ancient History based books. Some are all-encompassing that we use as references depending on what unit we are on.

Note that a few of these do include history through modern times and depending on the age of your child you will likely want to screen these in advance for any images that may be too sensitive to your child. I personally keep a couple of these on my bookshelf and only get them out to reference when it matches our lesson.

Here are several of our favorites:

When on Earth? History As You’ve Never Seen It Before

The Ancient World in 100 Words

Curiositree: Human World

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

MAPS: Deluxe Edition

Ancient Wonders

The Story of People

Inside Out: Egyptian Mummy

Greek Myths

Mythologica

I also use the coordinating History Quest Study Guide to reserve unit-based picture books from our library to pair with each chapter. These picture books mentioned in the Study Guide are all nicely curated with explanations and things to be aware of. Sometimes delving into history can hit on sensitive topics for children and I find it so helpful to have these things curated in advance.

For example, for Ancient Egypt we used these excellent books:

…To Be Continued!

We have LOTS more ancient history to cover this year and I’m hoping to write a similar post documenting our journey through Ancient Rome, India, China, and Arabia.

Take Advantage of the Pandia Press SALE!

The Black Friday – Cyber Monday sale is currently on over at Pandia Press! Take advantage through December 1, 2020.

Pandia Press
Pandia Press

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Books · Uncategorized

Quarto STEAM Club Highlight

The Need for STEAM Books

First — just a quick reminder: STEM represents science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM represents STEM plus the arts – language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, etc.

STEAM-based books for children have become more and more popular lately. Many supply great at-home learning for homeschool curriculum enhancement or just fun project-based books for any school-aged children to spend time exploring on their own or with family members. Children have a wide range of interests when it comes to STEAM topics, and I fully appreciate the value of a physical book to dive in to versus trying to explore the wide world of the internet to find project ideas or lesson plans. Books can go a long way and provide insight, imagination, and skills-based learning.

So, What Is Quarto STEAM Club?

Quarto STEAM Club is a bi-monthly e-newsletter that keeps you up-to-date with the new and notable STEAM books for kids. It’s just one email every 2 months to help make shopping for STEAM books easier. In addition to the STEAM-panel’s specific book selections, you will receive:

  • A discount coupon for 40% off the Quarto STEAM Club book picks on Quartoknows.com
  • A recommended STEAM-based toy
  • Free STEAM-based downloads
  • STEAM-based videos
  • Access to a STEAM Club private Facebook group

I appreciate that joining doesn’t mean you are going to be inundated with email. It’s really simple and fun to see what new books are out there that might interest your children or the whole family. And a 40% discount cannot be beat!

Recent Picks: Five Books and a STEAM-Based Toy

Below are the recent Quarto STEAM Club books & toy selection so you can see more detail:

I absolutely love the concept and delivery of Copycat Science! The comic-strip is a playful and unique way to visualize STEM concepts and meet 50 of the world’s greatest scientists. The book is divided up by topical categories (e.g. biology, electricity & magnetism, light, etc.), and while the book highlights 50 different scientists from varying time periods the focus isn’t to get overly bogged down with historical facts. The page simply highlights the dates a given scientist lived and then throughout the comic strips might define important terms. This book is intended to be fun. All of the associated scientists and topic of interest are paired with activities for children to do, which are nicely illustrated and paired with easy-to-follow-instructions. The idea is to pair a simple experiment with a given scientist and topic so hands-on and visual learners will thrive with this.

The Kitchen Pantry Scientist: Chemistry for Kids is a fun concept! I am a huge fan of kitchen science projects for kids. The idea is that materials used will be things you already have an doesn’t require a huge investment of energy. Chemistry can feel daunting for homeschoolers or families who favor STEAM learning at home, but this book makes it accessible. I love that this book combines projects with real-world scientists and their discoveries, and a diverse range of scientists are included. Kids will first learn about Agnes Pockels, for example, and then do a lab on surface tension. Real photos are included to demonstrate the labs and instructions are clear throughout!

Animal Exploration Lab for Kids contains over 50 project ideas for children (and families) to learn about amazing animals in playful and engaging ways. Each project is highly detailed and includes plenty of real photographs so the instructions are clear. A variety of science concepts are explored — how we study animals, animal adaptations, animal behaviors, animal senses, animal movements, animal families, living alongside animals, and supporting local animals. Kids will enjoy learning about a range of animals through thoughtful labs, including several which are meant for kids to not just learn *about* animals but learn how to respect and care for those around them. It’s a beautiful concept of a book and well implemented.

Adventures in Engineering for Kids is highly detailed, fun, and an engaging STEAM book for children. This book has an incredible concept and will provide excellent learning material for kids interesting in engineering or STEAM as a whole. I love that this book takes kids through an imaginative adventure that is all inter-connected; the projects are connected, inclusive, and challenging in all the right ways. Kids will love the empowered feeling of problem-solving through a fictional journey of epic proportions! So fun.

The Encyclopedia of Insects is an excellent kid-friendly topical encyclopedia. This book is a must-own for bug-loving kiddos and families. The illustrations for each entry are realistic in style and the information presented is concise and helpful. Insects included throughout the book exist worldwide, so it is nice to have a focus not just on where a child might live. That said, what this book might NOT work well for is if you are trying to research insects in your localized area. There may be a few represented but it would be impossible to include so many. The insect world is fascinating and this book does it justice!

The Smart Labs Storm Watcher Weather Lab toy was the Quarto STEAM Club’s recent selection for a STEAM based interactive learning toy. The toy and science projects are all self-contained. In the box is everything you need to conduct a range of weather-based experiments. The booklet included explains all the concepts in detail with clear diagrams. This type of learning toy makes for a great gift for kids who love interactive learning.

My kids pretty much beg for science every day of our homeschool so I feel it’s genuinely lovely to have quality books around with one-off projects to dive in to that won’t cause disruption to our regularly scheduled school plans.

Past STEAM Club Selections

You can view more selections on the Quarto STEAM Club Amazon page. Enjoy!!

Note: I was given copies of all the Quarto STEAM books mentioned in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions are my own.

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Nature Study · Uncategorized

Wild Dogs Nature Study

Books

Resources

For Fun

FOR MORE OF OUR NATURE STUDIES SEE THIS PAGE

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Do A Lesson With Us: All About Reading Level 1

Why I Use All About Reading

All About Reading is offered by All About Learning. Note that this curriculum thoughtfully separates out Reading and Spelling into two separate curriculum tracks. Here is a helpful post explaining why reading and spelling is taught separately.

Going in to Kindergarten year with my oldest (2019-2020), I used The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts program to teach my child to read. This for the most part worked, though it became clear towards the end of it that his reading level was more advanced than his spelling level. That, combined with all the extra stuff in The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts program that we constantly were skipping, I decided to search for something different. ((By “extra stuff” I mean that The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts is intentionally designed to go well beyond reading and spelling. It includes literature, poetry, memorization, and more)).

I had heard about All About Learning for several years but it can be so hard to purchase a curriculum you haven’t seen in action! It is a lot of money, and what if you don’t like it or it’s just not working with your child? I can honestly say after using this for several months I totally understand what the hype is about and I am so happy we made the switch!

Here are a few of my favorite things about All About Reading:

  1. Lessons are clear & focused for the child.
  2. Lessons are fun! There are lots of engaging activities utilized and the illustrations and stories are wonderful.
  3. A multi-sensory approach is used so I know my kids will take part fully in their leaning and maintain excitement for the lessons.
  4. It’s truly open-and-go! Lessons are easy-to-follow and require minimal prep for the educator.
  5. I’m not left wondering if I’m forgetting something or doing it wrong!

One important note is that in both Level 1 and Level 2 I have noticed one “lesson” in the curriculum can be quite long. I strive for short lessons with my children so often it may take us more than one day to complete one “lesson” in their curriculum book. The All About Reading curriculum does suggest spending no more than 20 minutes per day on these lessons, and that’s what we aim for — a set time or a feel instead of trying to complete a whole lesson and check a box.

Which Specific Curriculum We Use in Our Homeschool

As I discussed in detail in our First Grade Curriculum Choices post, this school year I switched to using All About Learning.

For my First Grader we are using:

For my Kindergartener we are using:

We also use the coordinating Letter Tiles App for all levels which we will use on our iPad. The app makes switching between programs super easy, plus requires less space than having physical letter magnet tiles.

I also purchased the All About Reading Review Box to store all the phonogram cards and word cards. Since I have two kids with two separate curriculums in use, this box has proven super helpful in my organization!

Note: All About Reading Level 1 is for our Kindergartener, and I approach this in a gentle and interest-led way. She has shown interest in reading but also this is a challenge! I am in no rush to get through this whole curriculum this school year or have a set completion date in mind. I want her to gain confidence and continue to learn in a way that she enjoys.

Video: Do A Lesson With Us

This is for All About Reading Level 1

Note that we are on Lesson 10 and have been doing school this year for 12 weeks. This is to say: we spread out these lessons over more than one day. And, I often incorporate reading activities for my Kindergartener that do not utilize this curriculum.

Other Resources We Use for Teaching How to Read

The All About Learning curriculum contains everything you need to teach your child to read and continue to expand on that learning.

That said, we also have a couple things I occasionally incorporate that help build in some phonological awareness:

And A Note About Handwriting…

Since we are using All About Reading Level 1 for our Kindergartener, I wanted to also share how we are handling handwriting at this age.

I incorporate letter formation using a Montessori-based approach — writing letters in salt trays, Montessori Sandpaper Cards, and using a Letter Tracing Chalkboard or Wood Tracing Board. A lot of this is inspired by The Peaceful Preschool, which I think is such an excellent foundation for children of this age. This curriculum provides a wide variety of hands-on multi-sensory learning opportunities for language arts for young children.

For handwriting at this age I keep it pretty relaxed. I do not require copywork but if my child wants to that’s fine. I do have the Level K Handwriting book from The Good & the Beautiful as well. We have also used Handwriting Without Tears.


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