Curriculum · Uncategorized

Our Second Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices

ABOUT OUR HOMESCHOOL

I’ve been blogging about our Homeschool curriculum choices for awhile now and have used a variety of things over the course of Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade. I’ve settled in to a few favorites and you will see some continuations from last year. At this point I prefer secular curriculum, but I do not mind sourcing a few things from religious-based companies as long as the curriculum can be adapted. I’ve landed on Blossom & Root as my go-to curriculum and we will be using almost all of their Second Grade year materials.

I’m choosing curriculum that makes sense for my second grader and our family values. The beauty and freedom of homeschooling is that there is not one perfect formula or expectation for every single child at the same level. So if you have a second grader, you might find there are some things that are more advanced for where your child is at and some things that your child mastered last year. That’s not something we should stress about or feel shame over. That is the gift of homeschooling! We get to choose and then make adjustments when things aren’t working or we feel like totally changing up the methodology.

A few curriculum options I will be sharing are currently in process. We are already working through a certain curriculum level because those items are mastery-based and it’s not like there is a clear line of NOW it’s second grade. It’s just what we are working through. So, you might see me share two different levels of a curriculum, just to say we will work through those as the year goes on.

Note that I have a second grader and a first grader for the 2021-2022 school year, so because my kids are so close together, there are a few things we do together – things like science and literature and history. So, in a way, a number of things I’m sharing are a hybrid first-second grade year. Again, with homeschool, I do not think it really matters what “grade” we call it.

I also understand that beyond curriculum people often want to know how the function of our actual school day works and how all the components come together in a sane and manageable way. I am always a bit overwhelmed when I read about other people’s curriculum choices because I’m like HOW are you doing all of that?!? So, I get it.

The HOW is just as important as the WHAT. But, for this post, we’re just going to discuss the WHAT. So, take a deep breath and let’s begin!

SECOND GRADE SUBJECTS

  • Language Arts:
    • Literature
    • Reading
    • Spelling
    • Writing
    • Grammar
  • Math
  • Science
  • Nature Study
  • History
  • Art Appreciation
  • Music Appreciation

Keep in mind: curriculum covers academic subjects but home education is about SO MUCH MORE than academics. 

Also: it’s important to know your state’s legal requirements when it comes to homeschool. I am in a state with very little requirements or regulation, so I have quite a bit of freedom with my curriculum choices.

LANGUAGE ARTS: LITERATURE

For this coming school year I am combining Blossom & Root Level 1 Language Arts and Level 2 Language Arts. The Level 1 Language Arts has recently been updated and the entire selection of literature is different from the Level 1 that I used for First Grade. I was really excited to see all these changes and since I have a Second Grader and First Grader this year I thought it would work well to pull from both language arts curriculum pieces. So, I am using 16 weeks from Year 1 and 19 weeks from Year 2.

We will be reading from the following books:

What I am leaving out from Level 1 (Weeks 1-19 and Week 36):

  • Classic tales and fairy stories
  • Ananse stories

We already have read a lot of the stories used in the first half of the Level 1 Language Arts, so instead I wanted to incorporate the folktales from around the world from the second part. We also just finished a special unit on Africa and read a bunch of Ananse stories so I am leaving that out too.

What I am leaving out from Level 2 (Weeks 13-29)

We have already read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz twice together so I do not want to repeat that again. I’ve tried The Wind in the Willows before with my children and did not care for it. And — The Hobbit is a book both my husband and I have been excited to read with our children since before they were born! My husband *really* wants to read this with them, and so of course that’s what we will do! Therefore, I didn’t see the point in including it as a “school” focus where the kids would also do some narration and copywork. They’ll just read it for reading’s sake with their Dad.

I am also using a condensed version of this curriculum, focusing in on:

  • Literature
  • Narration
  • Copywork

In addition, we may (or may not) incorporate some of the:

  • Fun projects, play, and storytelling
  • Journal prompts

***I’m skipping all the reading lists and poetry activities from the curriculum because we use a separate curriculum for reading and spelling (see below).

I printed out and bound an abbreviated student notebook using just the relevant narration and copywork pages for the corresponding weeks in Year 1 and Year 2.

Note that I do not expect ANYONE will be following exactly what I’m choosing to do for this year! I thought it would be helpful to share, though, to see how easy it is to adapt curriculum to suit your family for any number of reasons. For me, it came down to: (1) not repeating stories we have already read and (2) meeting my two children in the middle. I really love the style and literature choices Blossom & Root makes for their language arts program, so that’s why at the core I wanted to stick with that rather than just do a different curriculum.

READING AND SPELLING

We will continue using All About Learning for reading and spelling in our homeschool.

Right now, my 2nd Grade son is working through All About Reading Level 3 and we will begin All About Reading Level 4 at some point this school year. And what happens after Level 4? We’re in the “Read to Learn” phase, hooray!

I also wanted to mention that we do a lot of independent reading separate from the actual curriculum. My son can read a lot but we still stick with this reading curriculum because I believe in the effectiveness of giving a child a strong foundation for reading fluency.

You might be interested in this post: My Favorite Early Readers

My son also listens to audiobooks during his quiet time and throughout the learn-to-read phase we’ve enjoyed using ABC, See, Hear, Do products.

For All About Spelling my son is on Level 2 and we will continue on with other levels as he completes them. I will be purchasing Level 3 next! I also use this Primary Spelling Notebook from schoolnest — they work perfectly with All About Spelling because they have the same number of lines as the word lists in the curriculum.

If you are interested in getting a closer look at All About Reading Level 1 see this blog post.

I really love this curriculum BECAUSE it separates out reading and spelling into two separate tracks. We have tried a one-size-fits-all style curriculum (The Good & the Beautiful), and it did not work for us. Read about why All About Learning is customizable and why that might be a good fit for you here.

Note that we use the Letter Tiles app which is perfect for switching between the two curricula as well as switching between two different children at different levels.

WRITING AND GRAMMAR

Building Writers from Learning Without Tears

For this curriculum you can also download the Teacher’s Resources for free which have extra printable writing pages in this program’s format — these are SO great because you can write well beyond what the notebook provides!!

In terms of other writing programs, I have heard good things about Brave Writer (we’ve actually used some of Jot it Down), Once Upon a Pancake, and Writer’s Toolbox.

Handwriting Notebooks from The Good and the Beautiful

Note that these notebooks are not secular and include Bible verses.

*Note that since the writing of this post I have decided not to promote, support, or recommend ANY products from The Good & the Beautiful.

Grammar and Punctuation from Evan Moore

I like the simplicity of the lessons in these notebooks. I have also looked at Easy Grammar and may give that a shot as well this year.

We will work on other types of writing activities through our language arts and history programs as well. And I have these fun resources to help inspire creative writing (which we will use with the Building Writers format:

Overall I still try to take a really gentle approach here and do a lot of writing WITH my kids, transcribing their words in little books they create or we verbally create stories through play. I also still write or type out for them their narrations when it comes to science and history.

MATH

For math we will be using Dimensions Math Level 2 from Singapore Math. I buy the Teacher’s guides, Textbook, and Workbook for each level.

You can read about our experience with Dimensions Math Level 1 on this blog post and why I love it so much!

Note that the curriculum rollout for the Home Instructor teacher guides for Dimensions Math has begun. As of this blog post, the Year 1 guides are available. The original Teacher’s Guides (like those pictured above) are designed for classroom use. Many activities assume several children can work together, which doesn’t always fit for a home experience. The Home Instructor guides are tailored for homeschoolers and eventually there will be a guide for the later elementary years. As soon as the Year 2 ones come out, I think I will purchase them. Though — I will say that using the Teacher’s Guides is working out just fine for me.

SCIENCE AND NATURE STUDY

Blossom & Root Wonders of the Plant & Fungi Kingdom

One of my kids’ favorite parts of our school year last year was the Blossom & Root Science Unit – Wonders of the Earth & Sky. The format and style of this science curriculum worked well for our family.

The recommended books to pair with this curriculum are as follows:

I also really like the DK Trees, Leaves, Flowers, and Seeds book and I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast — I am using these instead of the recommended Botanicum book to pair with the curriculum.

I’ve also pulled out the following books to explore with our year of plants & fungi

We will also incorporate fun things to extend all the learning:

*Note that since the writing of this post I have decided not to promote, support, or recommend ANY products from The Good & the Beautiful.

A NOTE ABOUT NATURE STUDY

I like to say this a lot: nature is the curriculum. I mostly consider nature study to be simply: immersive nature experiences. Any kind of “nature study curriculum” to me should involve being outdoors and very little to no expense, printouts, resources, etc.

There is a Nature Study companion to the above-mentioned science unit, and I do have this printed and ready to use. The nice thing about this curriculum is there’s no particular order or schedule to it. The projects are all something we can fit in throughout the school year without it being overwhelming for me to prep. The big project ideas to coordinate with Plants & Fungi are things like creating your own leaf book with pressed leaves or seasonal wreaths out of plant material. Overall there are about 32 prompts and 4 bigger projects, all of which can be completed in whatever schedule makes sense to you.

I like the overall approach of the Blossom & Root curriculum when it comes to nature-based lessons. The idea is that it’s great and fine to have a prompt or guide, but the topics are never intended to be a fixed agenda that you hold fast to at the expense of letting your child’s interests and curiosity be the guide. Therefore, we will use this in ways that are fun and assist in learning our science concepts, but I won’t let this be something I feel we have to do.

HISTORY

This year for history we will be using History Quest: Middle Times. Last year we so enjoyed History Quest: The Early Times — the format and depth and richness of this curriculum was so lovely and I can’t wait to continue with it! The curriculum uses the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History to pair with lessons.

The Study Guide provides learning summaries, guided prompts, curated reading lists, suggested ways to plan out your week, examples for copywork, and additional crafts or engaging projects. You can just read the chapter-book style book of History Quest, but I highly recommend purchasing the Study Guide as well.

I created a unique student notebook for each of my children using some of the student pages provided by History Quest (in the Study Guide) but also included pages for copywork with ruled lines for my kids to write on, and then pages for illustrations and narration to summarize what they learned each week. If you follow me on Instagram, you can see the details of how I created this notebook in my “History Quest” stories highlight.

We will also be using this awesome History Timeline notebook from schoolnest to document our learning.

ART APPRECIATION

For art appreciation we will be using Blossom & Root Exploring the Math in Art (Year 2) which is such a unique and interesting way to approach art! We enjoyed the Year 1 version of this curriculum. In includes a simple picture study of a famous work of art (sourced from a wide range of artists and styles), then exploration of a math concept. There are also simple guided prompts to crate an art piece based on that week’s artwork and math concept.

I recently came across Drawing Workshop for Kids and hope to find ways to incorporate this with my kids this year!

My kids also take a weekly art class that they both enjoy attending — the teacher usually has different themes each month like ancient art or color theory. My kids also spend a lot of time with independent drawing and creating. I purchase drawing notebooks for them to fill up to their heart’s content.

OTHER SUBJECTS

We build in music appreciation to school as well and poetry. My kids have a few other activities they participate in but overall I try to keep lots of room for freedom and play and exploration in their days. I know all the above seems like a lot, but I want to be clear that we also do a whole lot of nothing in particular. It’s glorious sometimes and boring sometimes.

VIDEO INSIDE LOOK

WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE ALL SCHEDULED OUT

I’m not going to give a fully detailed weekly schedule here, but just wanted to share a few quick thoughts about how all of this fits in to a week of lessons.

We work on our core academics Monday through Thursday. Every day I make sure we do (1) math, and (2) some form of language arts (reading, narration, literature project, copywork, writing, spelling are all options — we might do a couple of these but I would never do all those in one day!)

I then rotate and switch around history and science lessons, typically spending maybe 2-3 days on each of those topics, depending on that week’s topic and/or my childrens’ interest level. Some weeks I’m sure we could do science in one day. I’m pretty flexible with how we spend time on these subjects. I just try to make sure I’ve done a library grab of topical books in advance (based on curriculum suggestions), and we go from there!

Fridays are for nature time, poetry and art appreciation.

And of course we take breaks here and there just because. I don’t keep a planner or anything. I might look one month or two in advance just to get a general idea of where we are headed with the topics and how we might need to work around holidays and celebrations, but I would never strictly plan out our weeks far in advance!

FOR FURTHER READING

You can find more details about our curriculum choices for Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade here. I also have lots of general homeschool related resources on that page!

Thanks for following along with us. I know some of you have been with me since the very beginning of our homeschool journey and I can’t believe we’re on to 2nd grade now! It’s so fun and crazy.


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Nature Study · Uncategorized

How to Create a Nature Cabinet

Why a Nature Cabinet?

If you spend any time in nature with your children, you will know what it’s like to have them come home with pockets and hands full of treasures. So, what do you do with all those rocks and sticks and shells? Perhaps your child has a little tin or box where they keep their favorites, or maybe these things end up on your kitchen counter only to be forgotten about a day later. The good news is: if you make time in nature a priority, you likely already have a collection going … AND, it really is not to difficult or costly to work on curating a simple Nature Cabinet in your own home.

A curated Nature Cabinet is a nice way to organize and display your own family’s personalized collection of nature treasures and curiosities. The idea is that this cabinet and collection fits with your specific family and space, and is organized in a way that appeals to you. It’s your very own mini museum! There are many ways to go about creating such a space in your home, and I’m here to share ours as just one example. There are no specific requirements on the size of the collection or what you keep in it. Think about what makes sense to you.

Let’s discuss how exactly to go about collecting and curating your family’s nature cabinet…

Know What Is Legal

Protected properties have specific rules on taking from the land. Most collecting and foraging is illegal on federal or state owned lands. That said, I’m not going to pretend like I’ve never walked out of a protected area with a few rocks.⁣⁣ Generally speaking, we have collected most of our items from private property. Even then, there are laws in place. It would be helpful to read up on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and similar regulations. You may have localized rules to follow that people in other areas do not. It’s worth a little reading up because these rules are in place for a reason.

I know there is debate on this idea when it comes to parenting — letting kids be kids versus raising responsible citizens. Personally I do not feel the two are in opposition. For me it is generally important that I communicate in advance to my kids what the rules are of a specific place we are in and they can follow my lead. If they see me hunting for fossils to take home, they know it’s fine. If I say in advance: this is a special area and we will not be picking flowers or collecting anything of any kind, then we might take extra care to take photos along the way of things we find that are special and we keep those in our memories.

I do take time to explain to my kids WHY we don’t just pick whatever flower we want and why protected areas have the rules they have. This happened recently when we were in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spotted a morel mushroom. My kids were so trained to absolutely freak out with excitement and pick a morel should we spot one on our property, that it took a nice teaching moment to say, “We aren’t going to pick that one. It’s for everyone.” Obviously I’m not collecting a morel mushroom to put in my nature cabinet, but you get the point!

I don’t want the idea of a building a nature collection to seem like I am in support of a free-for-all where we just take and grab whatever we want. With that in mind, I’ll introduce my second point…

Be Honorable

In her incredible book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer presents the following ideas behind an “honorable harvest,” which is intended for harvesting plants or nature’s bounty to use for food, shelter, home remedies, etc. but I think these concepts also still apply to collecting nature items for an at-home nature cabinet:

  • Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.⁣⁣
  • Never take the first. Never take the last.⁣⁣
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. ⁣⁣
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.⁣⁣
  • Use everything that you take. ⁣⁣
  • Take only that which is given to you. ⁣⁣
  • Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. ⁣⁣
  • Be grateful. ⁣⁣
  • Reciprocate the gift.⁣⁣
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.⁣⁣

I also live with a Leave No Trace educator so generally we follow those principles. There are great educational materials for kids on that site if you are interested.

Be Safe, Sanitize, Debug

WARNING: Skip this section if you’re squeamish.

Okay, so let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of bring nature INDOORS.

There’s nothing charming about bringing indoors a collection of pine cones and acorns only to find they’ve been run over by spiders and maggots in a day or two. ⁣⁣Someone once mailed us some large acorns from their yard in a zip-loc bag and it was full of maggots by the time it reached us!
⁣⁣
If you are wanting to keep small nature items like acorns or pinecones regularly indoors for play, math manipulatives, or crafts/decorations, then make sure you take the necessary steps to debug them. But also remember the honorable harvest. The spiders in those pine cones have a right to live too. ⁣⁣I often will give items like that a week or so “buffer” time in my screened-in porch or let them sit in the sun for awhile. Then, depending on the material and its purpose, I might put them in my oven at its lowest temp for an hour or so (cover your cookie sheets with foil!). For pine cones, this also helps solidify the sap so you don’t have that stickiness to deal with anymore.

The oven also works to sanitize things from animals that might carry diseases like birds nests or turtle shells. Cover a cookie sheet with foil, then place items in the 325 degree oven for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

Hand sanitizer is a helpful thing to bring on hikes in case you or your kids end up handling a nature item that might carry some bad germs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that it is safe to handle feathers, as long as you are not in an area where there have been cases of the avian flu virus. That said, it’s really always a good idea to wash hands with soap and water after being out in nature.

Sanitizing Bones


For collecting bones, I generally do not let my young kids touch those things while out on the trail. If you are really prepared and have gloves and/or tweezers, then that’s an option for safe handling. Once we have collected bones home we figure out various ways to sanitize them. How we sanitize and clean bones depends on the state of the specimen. We had found a Heron skull that needed quite a bit of work, so we put it in our compost bin for awhile and let the beetles do their work. Then, we boiled the skull in a pot of water over an outdoor fire (don’t bring that stink indoors!), then I put some gloves on to de-meat the bones by hand. Yes, by hand. Then I did a rotation of (1) a overnight soak of dish soap + peroxide plus a gentle scrub, then (2) some time in the sun. Finally, I gave it about an hour bake in the oven at a low temp. This ensured it was clean and free of germs, plus there was nothing left on it that would invite anything else to grow on it.

I know that seems like a lot of work and it’s honestly not pretty. If you are interested in having some animal skulls or bones in your collection but don’t want to go through that process you can always find sellers (who have proper licenses!!) that sell that sort of thing and they have done all the dirty work for you! We actually bought a beaver skull from someone on Etsy because I really wanted one in our collection and after years of searching never found one. Beavers hold a special place in our hearts and the skull is a treasured nature curiosity in our collection even though we did not specifically find it.

Preserve Items in Resin

Preserving items in resin works well for live insects but there are lots of options. Here are the supplies I use:

I recommend reading all of the instructions of whatever resin kit you purchase and follow it. There are lots of safety precautions to take and it is important to follow them. I would not consider this a kid-friendly project.

Curate What Actually Enters Your Home

Nature items like rocks and shells don’t generally need extra effort to clean, but maybe you need to manage the AMOUNT of these things coming into your house.⁣⁣ One of my kids in particular seems to have no limit to the amount of little rocks she likes to bring home.

My kids each have their own nature treasure box to manage. If they run out of room then they need to make decisions on what to get rid of. I also tend to use our screened in porch as a buffer zone for nature collections. The kids are often convinced that the stick or rock they found is the best thing EVER. But let it sit for a few days on the porch and they usually forget about it. The real treasures are usually the ones that are tied to specific memories.

I also limit my kids’ take-home selections in person because obviously I don’t want a ton of random rocks on my porch that I have to then turn around and get rid of! I might say “pick one of your favorites” or ask them if they would like to take photos of the items they really love that way we can leave the item but not feel like we need to bring it all home.

Choose Which Items Are Hands-Off

I imagine in every nature collection there are some pretty special items that you have discovered along the way. It is always good to be clear about what is off-limits in terms of handling by the kids on their own, that way they are clear about what they can just explore as they wish. Obviously if you have toddlers and younger children, you are going to have to set up some actual physical limitations with your collection.

My main goal for our nature collection, now that my kids are old enough to be careful, is that they feel freedom to explore the items as they wish. That said, I do still communicate which items I would like them to be extra careful with.

It is also okay to put things up high or displayed on the wall where they can’t reach it!

Create an Inviting and Beautiful Display

I specifically use the words “inviting” and “beautiful” because building a nature collection at home does not have to be a specific size or type or look like someone else’s. Decide what looks beautiful to you and what makes sense both for your space and family culture. I chose to go with a larger sideboard for our cabinet because I feel like this is a core part of our family culture and wanted to celebrate it as much as possible. We needed lots of space, but your nature collection need not be this sizeable!

The nature cabinet display should be inviting–meaning, that the kids are interested and want to explore the items. This is special and valuable, but it’s a hands-on kind of museum where we are including the children. I like to always have a magnifying glass available. If you have a microscope or field guides it might be nice to keep those things nearby. Again, do what makes sense to you. I know many people like putting up nature identification posters or prints alongside their nature cabinet. You might even include your own nature photography or illustrations your children create to make it special.

Also, when I say “beautiful” I mean beautiful to you. Do not get hung up on all the items needing to be a certain aesthetic or style, though! Budgets matter. Plastic bins work just fine! Not everything needs to be vintage or wood or even look like a museum.

Your nature display might also have a bookshelf nearby. I do think having nature field guides nearby or storage in the cabinet is a great way to invite exploration, but even some kid-friendly nature nonfiction books work. You can view a lot of my favorite nature-based children’s books here.

You might also try rotating items regularly and changing the theme based on seasons or what is happening in the natural world around you. Or, maybe the theme could fit your child’s particular interests! There are lots of possibilities.

Try to Stay Organized

One main goal I have is to make sure the collection is not out of control. Here are a couple of storage solution ideas I have come up with:

  • ANYTHING works in terms of actual display and storage! Thrift shops are a great place to start. You do not need to spend a lot of money. Hunt for baskets or small wood bins in a variety of sizes. Try to even look around your house and make do with what you already have.
  • Divided trays or divided storage boxes work well for children’s personal collections or for separating similar items in a themed collection. This wood tray pictured below is actually a utensil divider that came with a cutlery set we got as a wedding gift.
  • Jars in a variety of sizes work well as “vases” for taller items like feathers or interesting sticks or dried plants. Glass jars also make a nice way to store small items but you can also see and appreciate them. You can use simple Ball jars found everywhere, hunt in thrift shops, or sometimes there are interesting shaped ones at places like the Target Dollar Spot. We found some mini glass jars with wood lids that way. I also use small vials with cork lids for collecting sand or dirt or making a little apothecary set of dried flowers/plants.
  • Vintage printer’s trays are also great for a unique wall display. These can be hard to find, though, so please don’t get too hung up on having something like this immediately! If you really want one, be patient and search online and in nearby antique shops.
  • Have fun with a simple label maker! I personally don’t feel I need to have absolutely everything catalogued and labeled but there are times when it’s both helpful and fun.

For more longer-term storage, I keep items separate in zip-loc bags and in a plastic storage bin. Sometimes we use items like acorns for crafts so I might have a bag of excess in a separate bin like that.

Having a separate bin helps me rotate some display items as well, just to change it up occasionally.

I also wanted to share this separate coffee table we have that was made from a printer’s tray (the same display I have hung on the wall above our cabinet). This coffee table was a lovely heirloom from my grandparents but I know there are lots of you with skilled woodworker family members and friends that could totally make something like this! It has a glass on top you can simply slide off to add items. My grandparents had every rock neatly labeled when they had it, but I’m not that detailed.

A Video Tour of our Nature Cabinet

Below is a video tour of the nature cabinet the kids and I put together in our home. Enjoy!

For Additional Exploration

Thank you for reading. I hope you have fun in your nature-collecting endeavors! And, feel free to ask my any questions below.

If you are a homeschooler interested in adding nature studies to your learning, I recommend any of the following resources:

You might also be interested in this post:

Natural Backyard Play Supplies


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

Curriculum · Uncategorized

Human Body Science Unit (Early Elementary)

Curriculum & Project Book Used

The Human Body, Part 1 (The Good & the Beautiful Science Curriculum)

Note that The Good & the Beautiful is religious and includes Christian-based ideas in its lessons. That said, I do think their science units can be adapted for a secular family or family of a different religion! Note: I had an older version of this science unit and can’t full speak to the most recent updated version.

My First Book of My Body

This book is fantastic! It honestly could work as a unit study curriculum on its own. There are different topics covered in detail and then lots of hands-on project ideas, all nicely detailed with real photographs and illustrations to help you work through the projects. We used a lot of ideas in this book.

If you have older elementary kids, the Blossom & Root Fourth Grade Science Unit covers the human body, among other topics in Wonders of the Physical World

Reference Books for Entire Unit

DK Human Body! Knowledge Encyclopedia*

Inside Out Human Body

Big Book of the Body

*Note this book does contain information on the Reproductive System

I will detail additional books used below for each week/theme.

I created simple spiral-bound notebooks for my kids to document our learning through the lessons, but note that The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum does provide one page of notebooking per week/theme.

Our main structure for each week/theme was as follows:

  1. Learn basic concepts
  2. Explore in depth information through books
  3. Explore videos
  4. Do at least one hands-on project
  5. Complete notebooking

Extra Materials – For Fun!

None of the following items are required for the curriculum I used, but are just fun elements to add on to the learning for the early elementary ages.

Kiwi Crate My Body and Me

Safari TOOB Organs

Smart Labs Human Body

Magnetic Human Body Play Set

Videos for Visual Learners

One thing I learned this last school year using the Blossom & Root science curriculum is that both of my kids learn well from videos. Obviously searching on YouTube can be risky, so I fully appreciate when videos are vetted by a curriculum in advance. I didn’t have any for this Human Body unit, but used the following channels/sites that had LOTS of fantastic video options for each week/theme:

Typically for each unit I could find one or two videos to help drive home the lesson.

Week 1: On Being Human…

Week 1 of The Good & the Beautiful Human Body, Part 1 curriculum covers identity in terms of “God made my body” and includes a Bible verse. I wanted to share how I adapted this portion of the curriculum to instead take a secular approach. I did a library haul of several books that celebrate our identity (you can see the list below). We also covered human evolution at the start of the unit, as well as an age-appropriate understanding of the “where do babies come from?” question. I’m not here to say you should or should not cover these things, but rather these are some options. Obviously how you cover the reproductive system will depend on your family’s values and children’s ages. Note that The Good & the Beautiful does not cover the reproductive system in the curriculum I used.

Humans: Affirming Our Identity
Human Evolution

See this blog post for favorite books on evolution.

We also watched these videos:

*Week 1 of The Good & the Beautiful curriculum does cover the cell in addition to the “God made me” stuff.

Reproductive System

*I adore this little book because it covers all sorts of family structures: adoptive, foster, multi-parent, etc. and is LGBTQ+-inclusive.

Week 2: The Skeletal System

For the Skeletal System we used resources from The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum, and also did a super cool project from My First Book of My Body to create a robotic hand from cardboard, string, and paper straws. I also used human skeleton 3-part cards from Montessori Factory. The Good & the Beautiful curriculum does contain lots of handy printouts for every week/lesson, so honestly you do not NEED to purchase any extra printables if you go with this curriculum.

Videos:

Week 3: The Muscular System

For the Muscular System we mainly used resources from The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum. I also loved this helpful poster printout of the Muscular System from Art Design Collection. The extra books pictured for the muscular system here we just explored by browsing. Most books like this I grab from the library.

Videos:

Week 4: The Respiratory System

The main project we did for the Respiratory System was found both in The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum and in My First Book of My Body to create a lung simulation. The extra books pictured for the respiratory system here we just explored by browsing.

Videos:

Week 5: The Circulatory System

We created “blood” using mini marshmallows, oats, and red hots based on an idea found in My First Book of My Body. So fun! I also loved the Human Heart Anatomy 3-part cards from Montessori Factory. We also enjoyed the simple artery and vein “lacing” heart project from The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum. The extra books pictured for the circulatory system here we just explored by browsing.

Videos:

Week 6: The Nervous System

We had a lot of fun playing with ideas to learn about The Five Senses from My First Book of My Body. The five senses posters from Wild Feather Edu were nice to pair with this unit.

I combined ideas to have the kids create a play dough model of the brain and label parts, with the main idea coming from The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum. I also really liked the book Why I Sneeze, Shiver, Hiccup & Yawn.

Nervous System Videos:

Five Senses Videos:

Pictured above shows the hands-on lesson idea from The Good & the Beautiful science curriculum.

Week 7: The Digestive System

What Happens to a Hamburger is a great book to learn about the digestive system. We also created a fun model to get an idea of the length of the intestines, which of course blew the kids’ minds! There are some other fun (and super gross) ideas in My First Book of My Body to learn about the digestive system.

Videos:

Week 8: The Urinary System

Well, not sure which unit was more silly to my kids — this or the digestive system. I will say that the fun hands-on experiment from My First Book of My Body (pictured below) helped the kids see the “wow” factor and understand the function of kidneys. But, of course their notebooking illustration involved lots of use of the yellow crayon.

Videos:

Week 9: The Immune System

Lots to learn about the immune system, and certainly this topic is quite relevant to the kids right now. We made some model germs out of play dough to try and have some fun with it, and there was a great little board game from The Human Body, Part 1 curriculum. For books, we enjoyed The Good Germ Hotel and Tiny Creatures which I think were both helpful to not only think of microbes as bad. We are all a bit germ-intensive lately so it was nice to gain some understanding and have fun with it. I could see this being an anxiety-inducing topic for some children, but I think The Good & the Beautiful approach helps focus on the science and makes it fascinating to explore.

Videos:

Week 10: The Integumentary System

The last unit we covered was all about skin, hair and nails. There were LOTS of fun projects in My First Book of My Body. My kids especially enjoyed investigating their fingerprints and doing some hot/cold tests with their skin.

Videos:

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for following along our little homeschool adventures.


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Curriculum · Uncategorized

Dimensions Math Level 1 Curriculum Review and Favorite Math Resources

All About Dimensions by Singapore Math

Dimensions from Singapore Math is the newest line of curriculum products from Singapore Math. It was written by American educators who have been using Singapore Math in their classrooms for years. Currently, Teacher’s Guides are designed for classroom use, but lots of homeschoolers are successfully using this program and adapting it for use at home. Singapore Math has a great Q&A blog post for Homeschoolers on their site.

Singapore Math use a unique CPA (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) progression to learning. There is a nice explanation in that link with a video explaining the concept in detail.

Dimensions has full-color Teacher’s Guides and Textbooks through all of Elementary. The Workbooks are grayscale. You can view the entire scope and sequence of Dimensions Math here.

For each Lesson you will follow a sequence: Think, Learn, Do (and then sometimes: Activities) and then additional practice in the Workbook. Note that each Chapter contains a number of Lessons, and, again, this Teacher’s Guide is intended for a classroom experience so there will be a number of activities that I find we either skip or adapt. I tend to read an entire Chapter of the Teacher’s Guide in advance, then flag just a couple ideas from the Activity section of each Chapter which I might incorporate. So, for example, in one week we might do math for four separate days. One of those days I might include an extra activity that fits with the math concepts being learned. Otherwise, we work through the Think-Learn-Do sections, often using something hands-on and some of the Textbook/Workbook each day.

Initially the amount of choices and information in the Teacher’s Guides for Dimensions Math can feel overwhelming! Eventually, I think if you commit to this curriculum, you will get the hang of it and learn to go through the Teacher’s Guides with a discerning eye for what makes sense for your home learning style and your student. I personally like having lots of instruction and detail and ideas in the Teacher’s Guides. I’m never left wondering how the heck to teach in Singapore Math style (which is different than how I was taught). And, I like having lots of ideas for activities so I can select which ones I think will work best for us (or ones that use materials we already have around the house). That said, I fully appreciate that there will be some who do not like the idea of picking and choosing and just want a simplified instruction manual.

Note also that there is no scripted lesson plan here. I have tried other math curricula that do have more of a scripted approach and understand that that can be nice because it does not require you to read in advance. So, just note that I do recommend that if you use Dimensions Math you should read ahead a whole chapter before you begin with your student.

If you don’t have time to read “how to” do something before the day it’s scheduled to begin, don’t begin. Make sure you understand what you’re asking your kids to do before you do it with them.

Julie Bogart, Brave Writer

For another helpful resource, see: How to Choose a Homeschool Math Curriculum

The Essentials

For First Grade I purchased the essential set from Singapore Math:

  • Teacher’s Guide 1A
  • Textbook 1A
  • Workbook 1A
  • Teacher’s Guide 1B
  • Textbook 1B
  • Workbook 1B

You can always search for the Teacher’s Guides on the Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook Group.

The Teacher’s Guides provide clear explanations on how to teach in the Singapore Math methodology and demonstrate what each Chapter is trying to accomplish, addressing any variances or concerns that might come up. I would be surprised by a homeschool that could use Dimensions without the Teacher’s Guides and only using the Textbooks, but I’m sure it has been done.

Blackline Masters are companion printables for the curriculum. Each chapter in the Teacher’s Guide will let you know upfront which printables you will need. I recommend waiting until you get to each chapter to determine which items you actually need to print. Many times the same ones from previous chapters show up and you should not need to print them again. I also found that a lot of these we did not print at all! Sometimes they are items designed for a classroom activity which would not make sense for us to use. I also recommend getting some Dry Erase Write-and-Wipe Pouches and using dry erase markers — several Blackline Masters can be placed in these and you can use them over and over again rather than need to print a new sheet multiple times for different lessons.

Below I am going to give you a number of extra math resources we have and incorporate in our math lessons. I first want to say that the MAIN two resources I use the most are:

You can print number cards from the Blackline Masters but I felt that would be a lot of paper and cutting and laminating so just bought flashcards instead.

The Linking Cubes are fantastic! There are 100 total an 10 different colors. These work well for so many uses throughout the curriculum that I find no need for any other specific math manipulatives.

Other Helpful Math Manipulates and Resources

In Level 1 of Dimensions your student will, by the end, cover addition and subtraction within 100, fractions, time, measuring, grouping and sharing, and money.

Specific supplies used for the curriculum are listed in the Teacher’s Guides and you can peruse the Singapore Math store to get an idea of the types of materials used. Note that for each lesson you likely do not need EVERY supply listed in the book, as these guides were intended for classroom use.

I try to simplify what we use and purchase things that I feel will get a lot of use. For example, I purchased a nice Wooden Hundred Board which seems to have more longetivity of use in math than some other things. Instead of also have a wooden Ten-Frame, I printed out the Ten-Frame and Twenty-Frame 8 1/2 x 11″ sheets from the Blackline Masters and keep them in a Dry Erase Write-and-Wipe Pouches for reuse. There are ways to not go totally crazy on math supplies! I also use a small Dry Erase Board that fits on our school cart since we live in a space space and do not have a wall chalkboard.

Below is a list of what I have regularly used through Level 1 of Dimensions Math:

A Few Favorite Games That Incorporate Math Skills

We also have a variety of puzzles!

Video: Do A Lesson With Us of Dimensions 1A

Below is an inside look at an early lesson of Dimensions 1A. I took these videos at the beginning of our school year near September 2020. My son was at the beginning of his first grade year and near 7 years old.

Note that I did a little extra activities for this video than I normally would so that you could see a few things in action.

I also said in the video that we did not use the extra 1A Workbook. However, we did end up incorporating the workbook because I do feel that those extra sheets for practice and review come in handy.

Hope this is helpful!

A Note About Number Bonds

Number bonds are used in Dimensions Math both in the Kindergarten and Level 1 curricula (and looking ahead, I see them in Level 2 as well which gets in to multiplication and division). When I switched from a different math program to Dimensions Math, I actually started my 1st grade son with Dimensions Level KB because I wanted him to get comfortable with the structure and style of Singapore Math before diving in to the Level 1 curriculum. One component of the curriculum I wanted him to gain a comfort level with is the use of number bonds.

Number bonds are pictorial representations of a number and the parts that make it. Often this is shown with two circles around the parts with lines drawn to one circle around the whole. When describing a number bond we use “____ and ____ make ____” instead of the formal addition and equal symbols (+ and =). For example: “2 and 3 make 5” as shown in the photo above (from Dimensions 1A Chapter 2).

Chapter 8 in Dimensions Math KB is used to familiarize students with number bonds with the idea that at the end of Dimensions Math Kindergarten the student should know their number bonds to 10 automatically. Lots of games and activities are used in the curriculum to help the child achieve this goal. Note that in the video above you will see my son use a Rekenrek to help learn those 0 to 10 subtraction facts in Level 1A, which eventually we phased out as he gained more confidence and knowledge with Dimensions Math. Eventually, the idea is that he would know “5-3=2” because he knows the number bond “5 is 2 and 3.”

Video: Inside Look at Dimensions 1B

Dimensions 1B expands on the addition and subtraction basics covered in 1A but takes it further. Your child will go from doing addition and subtraction within 100 by the end of Level 1B. This section of the curriculum also covers length, fractions, time, and money.

Here is a look at one page of the Teacher’s Guide:

This is the corresponding Textbook page:

Note that the Teacher’s Guide indicates by this point the students should mostly be doing these problems in the textbook without the use of manipulates. The illustrations in the book show the Linking Cubes but the student won’t be actually counting out 25+47 linking cubes.

Below is a video inside look with more detail about the 1B Dimensions Math curriculum:

What’s Next?

My youngest child is already in to the Dimensions Math 1A curriculum. My oldest is finishing up 1B and then for his second grade year start we will work on Dimensions Math Level 2!

That’s it! Thanks for reading and watching. I do hope this is helpful. You can see all the other details about our first grade year here:

Homeschool First Grade

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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.


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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!


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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.
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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

*Note that since the writing of this post I have decided not to promote, support, or recommend ANY products from The Good & the Beautiful.

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.

*Note that since the writing of this post I have decided not to promote, support, or recommend ANY products 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.

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