The Top 101 Fictional Picture Books

I’ve mentioned before my enjoyment of the blog 101 Books. It’s written by a guy named Robert who is reading and blogging his way through Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels (since 1923, plus Ulysses).

I was thinking it would be great to have a list of the top 100 picture books. So I made one. Plus one. Just in time for the holidays. I wrote this originally as a guest post for 101 Books. The whole post, including how I came up with the list and my top 15, will be on Robert’s blog tomorrow. Make sure you check it out. For today, here’s the full 101:

DSC_0520

The Top 101 Fictional Picture Books

  1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Viorst
  2. Are You a Horse? – Rash
  3. Are You My Mother? – Eastman
  4. Baby Danced the Polka – Beaumont
  5. A Bad Case of Stripes – Shannon
  6. Black Beauty – Lerner
  7. Bread and Jam for Frances – Hoban
  8. Can I Play Too? – Willems
  9. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Martin
  10. Click, Clack, Moo – Cronin
  11. Clorinda – Kinerk
  12. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – Barrett
  13. Corduroy – Freeman
  14. The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash – Noble
  15. Dear Zoo – Campbell
  16. Diary of a Fly – Cronin
  17. Do Like a Duck Does – Hindley
  18. The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! – Willems
  19. Dumpy La Rue – Winthrop
  20. Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct – Willems
  21. A Fish Out of Water – Palmer
  22. Fox in Socks – Seuss
  23. Frog and Toad Are Friends – Lobel
  24. Gingerbread Baby – Brett
  25. Giraffes Can’t Dance – Andreae
  26. The Giving Tree – Silverstein
  27. Glasswings – A Butterfly’s Story – Kleven
  28. Go Away Big Green Monster – Emberley
  29. Gossie – Dunrea
  30. Green Eggs and Ham – Seuss
  31. The Gruffalo – Donaldson
  32. Harold and the Purple Crayon – Johnson
  33. Hazel’s Amazing Mother – Wells
  34. Hedgie’s Surprise – Brett
  35. The Hello, Goodbye Window – Juster
  36. Hey Al – Yorinks
  37. Horton Hears a Who – Seuss
  38. Horton Hatches the Egg – Seuss
  39. I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – Beaumont
  40. I Love Monkey – Kaufman
  41. I Love You No Matter What: A Prince Chirpio Story – Rutland
  42. I Love You Stinky Face – McCourt
  43. I Love You the Purplest – Joose
  44. Imogene’s Antlers – Small
  45. Interrupting Chicken – Stein (my all-time favorite)
  46. Is Your Mama a Llama? – Guarino
  47. Jamberry – Degan
  48. Julius, the Baby of the World – Henkes
  49. Jumanji – Van Allsburg
  50. Kipper – Inkpen
  51. Kitten’s First Full Moon – Henkes
  52. Knuffle Bunny – Willems
  53. The Library Lion – Knudsen
  54. The Little Engine that Could – Piper
  55. The Little House – Burton
  56. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear – Wood
  57. Llama, Llama Red Pajama – Dewdney
  58. Madeline – Bemelmans
  59. Max’s Words – Banks
  60. Meet Me at the Moon – Marino
  61. Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel – Burton
  62. Millions of Cats – Gag
  63. Mister Seahorse – Carle
  64. Mouse Was Mad – Urban
  65. Mossy – Brett
  66. Mud Puddle – Munsch
  67. My Friend is Sad – Willems
  68. The Napping House – Wood
  69. No, David! – Shannon
  70. Not a Box – Portis
  71. Officer Buckle and Gloria – Rathman
  72. One Fine Day – Hogrogian
  73. One Smile – McKinley
  74. Owen – Henkes
  75. Owl Babies – Waddell
  76. The Paper Bag Princess – Munsch
  77. The Pigeon Wants a Puppy – Willems
  78. The Pout Pout Fish – Diesen
  79. Room On the Broom – Donaldson
  80. Seven Blind Mice – Young
  81. Sheila Rae, the Brave – Henkes
  82. Should I Share My Ice Cream? – Willems
  83. A Sick Day for Amos McGee – Stead
  84. The Snowy Day – Keats
  85. Spoon – Rosenthal
  86. A Squash and a Squeeze – Donaldson
  87. Stellaluna – Cannon
  88. Stephanie’s Ponytail – Munsch
  89. The Story of Ferdinand – Leaf
  90. A Story, a Story – Haley
  91. Stuck – Jeffers
  92. Swimmy – Lionni
  93. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – Steig
  94. There’s a Nightmare in My Closet – Mayer
  95. The Three Pigs – Wiesner
  96. The Very Hungry Python – Carle
  97. Time For Bed – Fox
  98. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Oxenbury
  99. When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry – Bang
  100. Where the Wild Things Are – Sendak
  101. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears – Aardema

What’s on your list?

23 Picture Books About Horses

We recently finished a unit on horses. My kids love horses, so this was a really fun one. If fact, we did this unit at their request.

DSC_0485

As I always do, I got tons of picture books to read and talk about during our circle time. I found some really wonderful, beautiful horse books, and we had such a great time learning and imagining about these beautiful animals. As usual, I learned a lot while teaching it.

We read a total of 23 horse books, both fiction and nonfiction.

DSC_0490

Here’s a list of what we read. The ones with links were our favorites.

Fiction:

Black Beauty retold by Sharon Lerner – This is such a classic story and this book has beautiful illustrations. My girls loved it. So did I.

The Wild Little Horse by Rita Gray – Sweet story of a little horse going off to explore.

Clip Clop by Nicola Smee – This was such a fun book to read with a really cute story about several animals taking a ride on a horse. My girls were laughing and asked to read it many times.

Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash – I LOVE this one. It’s a cute story about Roy, who gets a saddle for his birthday with the instructions: “1. Find a Horse, 2. Enjoy the Ride.” Roy doesn’t know what a horse is, so this is about his process of finding one. I love the twist at the end that had my girls (and me) surprised and laughing.

Where Horses Run Free: A Dream for the American Mustang by Joy Cowley – Gorgeous illustrations. My girls loved the main horse in this story.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble – Lovely story, beautiful illustrations. I loved this one, though my girls weren’t super impressed with it.

Hush, Little Horsie by Jane Yolen – A sweet book about mama horses watching over their babies.

The Story of Black Beauty retold by Susanna Davidson – Another great retelling of this classic. My girls just seemed to like the other one a little better.

Cowboy Ned and Andy by David Ezra Stein

A Blue Ribbom for Sugar by Elaine Clayton

Everything but the Horse by Holly Hobbie

Fiction and Nonfiction:

A Field full of Horses by Peter Hansard – I couldn’t categorize this as fiction or non. It has a little storytelling with lots of facts included.

Nonfiction:

Horses: Trotting! Prancing! Racing! by Patricia Hubbell – This book has catchy rhymes and good information about breeds of horses, caring for them, and different jobs horses do.

Horses (Naturebooks Farm Animals) by Mary Ann McDonald – This one had a bit more detailed information than (and wasn’t as fun to read as) “Trotting! Prancing! Racing!” but it wasn’t too wordy.

Horses by Sheri Doyle – Short and sweet.

I Love Horses and Ponies: Over 50 Breeds by Nicola Jane Swinney – This is a beautiful book that my mom just gave to the girls. It’s not one for sitting down and reading start to finish, at least not at their age, but they love to look at it and learn about all the different horse breeds.

Horses (Animals Animals) by Steven Otfinoski – This one was a little too wordy for my girls, though I skimmed over it and they still earned some cool new stuff. My favorite thing about this one is the photos. It goes beyond the standard photos of horses standing in a pasture or looking over a stable gate or carrying a rider… This book has photos of horses nibbling each other, making funny faces, showing their teeth and more.

Horses and Ponies by Anna Milbourne

Girls and Their Horses (American Girl Library) by Camela Decaire

Horses (Farm Animals) by Rachael Bell

Horses (Great Pets) by Gail Mack

Horses! by Gail Gibbons

Poetry:

Gallop O Gallop by Sandra Alonzo – I didn’t actually read this whole book for my girls. I just don’t enjoy reading them a book of poetry. A few poems is good, but not a whole book of this length.


DSC_0488

What’s your favorite horse book?

4th of July Fun

We’re having lots of 4th of July fun here. I love the 4th of July. It’s not my favorite holiday, but it’s up there. I like the patriotic songs and parades and the flag waving. I love the middle-of-summer-holiday barbecues or picnics, beach trips or family parties by the pool. And my favorite, of course is the fireworks. We are planning to take the big girls out to watch those tonight and hopefully catch some fireflies and make s’mores too.

They are already getting into the patriotic spirit.

I made these shirts with the girls yesterday:

DSC_0486

I got the idea here. I think we’ll do them every year.

I didn’t think of it until after I totally failed in getting Sis’s handprint, but I should have used her footprint instead I think…

DSC_0487

The girls were excited to wear the shirts that they made themselves.

DSC_0488

And we’ve read several patriotic and 4th of July themed books today, like:

Hooray for the 4th of July! by Rick Brown

America the Beautiful (Love this one) by Katharine Lee Bates and Chris Gall

America the Beautiful: Together We Stand by Katharine Lee Bates, Brian Collier (et al.)

Happy 4th of July Jenny Sweeney! by Leslie Kimmelman

Red, White, and BOOM! by Lee Wardlaw and

Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong

Last night I put together a red, white, and blue-themed scavenger hunt for them to do this morning.

DSC_0496

I had several packs of small American flags from the Target dollar section, cut some craft foam into different shapes, and grabbed a few extra things from the dollar store this week (red, white, and blue batons, leis, and artificial flowers).

I was hoping that the girls would enjoy this activity, and they really did. Even more than I expected, I think.

DSC_0503 DSC_0512 DSC_0510 DSC_0515 DSC_0518 DSC_0517

Miss liked crossing off her items as we went.

DSC_0522

Everyone got into finding cool stuff.

DSC_0520

When we came in we got all decked out in our red,white, and blue stuff (picture leis, flowers in the hair, and lots of flags waving) and marched in a parade around the house, complete with Grandma singing “Yankee Doodle” at full volume.

DSC_0492

Fireworks tonight. Hope you’re having a wonderful 4th too.

Some Miscellany – 7 Quick Takes Friday

— 1 —

I am kind of obsessed with reading the blog Conversion Diary right now. Is it possible to be “kind of obsessed”? Probably not. I think that’s an oxymoron. Whatev. I’m calling it “kind of obsessed.” It’s a blog about the author’s conversion from Atheist to Catholic, among other things. Love it.

Every Friday the blog’s author Jennifer writes a post called “7 Quick Takes Friday.” Then lots of other people write “7 Quick Takes” posts and link them to her blog. Fun, yes? I enjoy random thoughts on a Friday. So this week, I’m going to throw my hat in the 7 Quick Takes ring and see how it works out.

— 2 —

During the seemingly endless winter that we had here this past year I was desperately wishing summer would come. I was so eager to be able to take my kids outside to play without spending 3 hours getting them stuffed into several layers of clothing, snow pants, boots, coats, etc. And the mittens! Oh geez. I loathe mittens. Can’t anyone make mittens for toddlers/preschoolers that actually go on easily and stay on and keep their hands warm and dry?

Anyway, I don’t love the process of getting three kids under five ready to go out and play in the winter. So I was excited when spring arrived.

Except I had forgotten about sunscreen.

*Insert audible sigh here*

I think it takes at least as long to get sunscreen on them as to put on mittens. But sunscreen is messier. And they squirm and scream more during the process.

photo-4

 

— 3 —

We have two butterflies in our little butterfly cage. Of six caterpillars that came in the mail, two of them successfully formed chrysalides and emerged as butterflies. There is one more chrysalis that may still successfully birth a butterfly, but the rest didn’t work out.

The girls are so excited about the two they’ve got. They are sure one is a girl and one is a boy.

I, on the other hand, am worrying because they don’t seem to be eating. I mixed the sugar water as instructed and even put a piece of fresh watermelon in the little butterfly house. I keep looking in there, “Come on little Painted Lady. Unroll that proboscis. Doesn’t that sugar water taste yummy when you step on it?” But I don’t think it’s happening.

In case you’re thinking me cruel, don’t worry. They’ve only been “hatched” for 1-2 days. We’ll be letting them go soon and they can find their own flowers and drink all the nectar they want.

photo-2

My girls have even been scoping some out for them.

photo-3

— 4 —

Miss completed Safety City this week. Yesterday I went to watch her graduation and she got to show off some of the stuff she learned. They had a karate instructor to teach the kids about “stranger danger.” He called Miss up to demonstrate what they are supposed to do if a seemingly nice stranger speaks to them, such as a little old lady asking for help finding her dog. Karate Man knelt down, imitated a sweet old lady voice, complete with sad face and “Can you please help my find my little lost dog?” Miss turned and ran and yelled, “NO THANK YOU I’M GOING TO GET MY MOM AND DAD!!!!” I was so proud. I almost started to cry.

photo photo-1

— 5 —

In the past few weeks I have read three Awesome-with-a-capital-A books. Two of them were on my Summer Reading List.

The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom has just gone straight to the top of my list of all-time favorite books.

And “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis has made the favorites list as well.

The third one wasn’t on my summer list but I had to read it anyway. “My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir” is an amazing book (and another favorite now).

From my summer list I’ve also read “On the Beach,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” All enjoyable reads as well if you’re looking for a good book.

— 6 —

My hubby starts working nights tonight. I don’t love the weeks that he works nights.

I’ve been trying to plan ways for us to be out of the house next week during the day, but Miss has Wee Camp at the YMCA in the mornings, so we can’t take any big day trips to some of the fun places I’m wanting to visit this summer (See our Summer Fun List).

So far I’ve got grocery shopping and two play dates with Super Friend (God bless Super Friend) to help us get through the week. And one day I’m just punting to our babysitter to take Lass and Sis in the basement to play while Daddy sleeps. Throw in Church one day and a possible closing on some property another (I’ll post more about this if it happens, because I don’t want to count my chickens…) and I think we’re pretty well covered.

— 7 —

Speaking of our list of stuff to do this summer, I would like to note that I officially changed the name of it from “Summer Bucket List” to “Summer Fun List.” I did this after reflecting on the origin of the phrase “Bucket List” and realizing that the name came from the movie characters’ lists of things to do before “kicking the bucket.” Seemed a bit extreme for a list of fun things to do with my little girls before summer ends.

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Cultivating Bug Love

My girls love being outside. They love getting dirty, wet, chalky, bubble-y.

They love the grass and flowers. The birds and animals.

IMG_2035

DSC_0496

They aren’t really huge fans of bugs though.

DSC_0491 DSC_0494

In fact, creepy crawlies are probably their least favorite things about being outside.

They like to explore and examine all sorts of things,

DSC_0490

IMG_2008

but bugs tend to freak them out.

 

That is, until we decided to study bugs in school.

I is for Insects.

Heck yeah.

DSC_0507 DSC_0513

Okay, she still looks a little freaked out in that picture, but that was at the very beginning of our unit. And she was holding a hornet. It was dead. But it was a hornet.

Anyway, we did all sorts of fun stuff with bugs.

We used bugs for counting and sorting and puzzling.

We studied bug life cycles.

We learned cool words: Metamorphosis. Chrysalis. Pupa. Thorax. Proboscis. Glossa.

We learned all about lots of different kinds of bugs and read tons of books, fiction and nonfiction, about them.

Books about ants.

DSC_0503

Like:

Ant Cities (Dorros)

Bug Safari (Barner)

Ants (Stewart)

The Ant and the Grasshopper (White)

Books about bees.

DSC_0485

Like:

Busy Buzzy Bee (Wallace)

Bees (Slade)

Honey Bees (Schaefer)

Bees! (Winchester/TIME for Kids)

Gran’s Bees (Thompson)

Crickets:

Old Cricket (Wheeler)

A Pocketful of Cricket (Caudill)

Crickets (Coughlan)

Mosquitoes:

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ear (Aardema)

Mosquitoes (Coughlan)

Butterflies:

DSC_0501

Are You a Butterfly? (Allen)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle)

From Caterpillar to Butterfly (Heiligman)

Caterpillar to Butterfly (Marsh)

Glasswings – A Butterfly’s Story (Kleven)

My Oh My – A Butterfly! (Rabe)

Where Butterflies Grow (Ryder)

Speaking of which, look what came in the mail yesterday!

DSC_0484

Grasshoppers:

The Ant and the Grasshopper (White, same book as above in the Ants section)

Grasshoppers (Coughlan)

Also:

Fireflies (Coughlan)

and

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle (Carle)

Even especially yucky, annoying bugs like termites and flies and fleas:

Roberto the Insect Architect (Laden)

Diary of a Fly (Cronin)

A Flea Story (Lionni)

And general bug books:

Insect Soup (Polisar)

Insects (Bernard)

How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects (Heller)

Insect Homes (Hopkins)

The Very Ugly Bug (Pichon)

Insect Detective (Voake)

The last book was especially great to read after we went to a local nature preserve yesterday to look for bugs. We went with some other homeschooling families and reserved time with a naturalist to look in the ponds and prairies for insects. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time, so we didn’t even try the prairies and only got to scoop stuff out of the ponds. But the girls got to see dragonfly and damselfly nymphs (which I had never seen before) as well as lots of tiny tadpoles. They even saw one of the dragonfly nymphs start to eat one of the tadpoles!

Today we finished up with ladybugs:

The Grouchy Ladybug (Carle)

Starting Life Ladybug (Llewellyn)

Ladybug, Ladybug (Brown)

Ladybug Girl (Soman)

Lara Ladybug (Florie)

What the Ladybug Heard (Donaldson)

The freak-out factor with bugs has decreased significantly. They are much more likely now to say “cool!” when they see a bug than to be scared of it.

That’s not to say they’re totally loving bugs though. Miss lost her ever-loving mind yesterday when a mosquito got into the car as we were leaving the nature preserve.

But no one loves mosquitoes…

Summer Reading List

Recently I have signed up for my local library’s adult summer reading program. Each time I read 140 minutes I can enter my name in a weekly drawing for stuff like books, DVDs, etc. I have entered my name at least 10 times since the start date. That was Tuesday.

I read a lot. And they let me count the hours I read to my kids too. So I really read a lot.

DSC_0485

I have been logging my kids reading time too for a couple of different summer reading programs, and I logged 100 minutes for them yesterday. That’s a bit more than usual maybe, but not too much. It’s nap time now and we’ve already read 40 minutes today…

DSC_0493

Here are the kids’ programs we’re doing this summer:

You can do the Scholastic Summer Challenge and log minutes online, or the Half-Price Books Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program, in which you keep track of minutes on a form you print out to earn “Bookworm Bucks.” I’m doing both of those for my kids plus the reading record for our local library. I think Chuck E. Cheese has a program too.

I have never kept track of the minutes/hours I read before, either for myself or my kids. It’s fun to see just how much time we do read in a day.

So all this thinking about how much we read has me thinking about what books I want to read this summer, and I thought I’d share a few that are on my list:

DSC_0498

1. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill – Historical fiction about the slave trade during the 18th century. I actually just finished this one. It was excellent.

2. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom – True memoir written by a woman who survived a concentration camp after being arrested for assisting Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. I read this as a teenager and really liked it but wanted to read it again now that I am older and might appreciate it more. Plus Super Friend read it recently and I like discussing books with her (we have our own 2-person book club). I’m about halfway through it, and I am so glad I’m reading it again.

3. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – I have read part of this already. I’m going through it a few chapters at time and discussing them with a friend.

4. The Screwtape Letters also by C.S. Lewis – The correspondence from the Devil to his nephew Wormwood, a “novice demon.” This one sounds kind of odd to me, but comes very highly recommended by Super Friend and I trust her taste in books, so I am up for it.

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – I don’t know much about this book, but it’s the choice of my other book club for June, so it’s on my list.

6. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller – This is the second memoir written by Miller, which describes what happened after his first highly successful memoir Blue Like Jazz  was being made into a movie and he had to discuss his life with producers, realizing it wasn’t all that interesting. This is the June book for my Super Friend Book Club.

7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – The classic novel about a group of expats in 1920s Paris and their adventures with bullfighting in Spain. I have wanted to read this for a long time, but especially since I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (a great read, historical fiction written from the point of view of EH’s first wife Hadley Richardson)

8. These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner – Historical fiction, written as journal entries of a woman on the frontier in the Arizona Territories. July book for my other book club.

9. On the Beach by Nevil Chute – Classic doomsday book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time so I’m putting it here so I actually get it and read it.

10. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – The newest book by one of my favorite authors. Can’t wait to read this one.

11. He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek – True story of Father Walter Ciszek who was captured by the Russian Army during WWII and imprisoned as a “Vatican spy” in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia for 23 years.

12. Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller – A memoir of early motherhood as a spiritual journey.

13. The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D. – A “look in the mirror” approach to parenting.

14. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – Because I just read Gone Girl and loved it. I’ll probably read Sharp Objects too.

That ought to get me at least through July.

What’s on your summer reading list?

I Think It’s Interesting!

I went to the library yesterday and grabbed a bunch of stories by one of our new favorite children’s authors, Robert Munsch.

DSC_0490

We just discovered this prolific author. His stories are cute, funny, and often feature clever protagonists. Some of our favorites are “The Paper Bag Princess,” “Mud Puddle,” and “We Share Everything!”

We read a new one yesterday called “Stephanie’s Ponytail.” It’s a witty tale of a little girl who wears a ponytail in different ways and gets copied by others in her class at school. The moral of the story is “don’t blindly follow people.” It’s a good book, and we all enjoyed it and laughed at her funny ponytails.

DSC_0491

Today, Miss said she wanted one ponytail “coming right out the back” and two more on the sides. I gently suggested that perhaps she would like to have either a ponytail in the back or two on the sides. Her response?

“But Mo-om! I think it’s interesting!”

DSC_0487

Well. Yes it is.

DSC_0489

Interesting.

I love her independence.

Should Preschoolers “Do School?”

I went to my first homeschooling convention this past weekend. I learned some good stuff, got lots of cheap used books, and bought a few new manipulatives for our school room.

DSC_0483

I had a really good time. Most of the workshops I attended were quite informative.

Surprisingly, the workshop from which I got the least amount of useful and practical information was the one focused on homeschooling 3, 4, and 5 year olds.

Kind of odd, since this is the only age group within which I do homeschool, but whatev.

I think the reason for this is that lots of people hold very strongly to their opinions that preschoolers should not be “schooled” at all. That our society pushes too much formal learning onto kids too early. That preschoolers should do all their learning through play. That kids should not be pressured to learn letters and begin reading before kindergarten, or even later.

The presenter at the conference cited lots of information on the importance of play and quoted one article as saying that the optimal age for children to begin formal education is around age 8 (I think that was the age she said… it was somewhere around there).

So, needless to say, the presenter didn’t have much to say as far as suggestions for fun things to do in homeschool for preschool-aged kids. Mostly she just said “play.”

And that’s cool. I actually agree with her to an extent, though I was really hoping for some fun new ideas (I did get some from a session by a music therapist!).

I know that the most important ways for kids to learn in the preschool years are through play and being read to. I think art and music are also critical. And I do also believe that too much emphasis is being placed nowadays, in many settings, on teaching young children through rote memorization with things like flashcards and worksheets and drilling facts.

BUT, I also think there can be a happy medium. I think it’s okay to teach kids their letters and numbers and colors and shapes when they’re little. I think it’s okay to have a little bit of “school time” when kids do somewhat more formal learning activities, though I wouldn’t necessarily choose for these activities to be flashcards or worksheets most of the time (but occasionally these can be fun too).

I’ve spent the past six months or so trying to figure out how to do homeschool preschool in a way that works best for us. For me. For my kids. For our schedule. I’ve refined my “method” several times during this time. I’m happy with the way we do things now.

So in case you’re wondering, here it is:

I start by picking themes, or units, for our school based on what is going on around us or what my girls are interested in. Then I pick a letter to go with the theme. For example, we’ve done “G is for Groundhog” for Groundhog Day (still one of my favorite weeks), “L is for Leprechaun” for St. Patrick’s Day, and “C is for Clown and Circus” the week before we went to the circus. Recently we did “R is for Rainbow” and now we’re talking about weather and doing “U is for Umbrella.” Next up, by request from my girls, is “I is for Insect” (I would have done B is for Bug, but we already did “B is for Bunny” at Easter).

Our units last as long as I need them to, not just a week. Usually the length of time of a unit is dictated by how many books we have to read and how many days per week we do school. Sometimes external factors come into play too, like when we only had a week after “B is for Bunny” and “E is for Easter” (did two letters for that one, sometimes we get all crazy up in here) and before we went to the circus, so we did our entire circus unit mostly in one week. But I usually try not to rush through a unit.

Once I have a theme in mind, I search for books to go with it and put the books on hold at my library. I get lots of books for each unit!

DSC_0368

Then I start combing Pinterest and my favorite homeschooling blogs (like this one and this one) where I get lots of free downloads. I find activities to focus on our letter as well as doing some counting, patterning, sequencing, sorting, etc. I print tons of pages, laminate most of them, and cut them up as needed. I have a slight obsession with my laminator and magnet tape.

DSC_0373I find a few craft activities for each theme and try hard not to over-manage their projects.

DSC_0495 DSC_0352

We do some experiments if applicable. Today we talked about clouds and the water cycle and experimented with using droppers to drip water onto a cotton ball to see how much water it could hold before beginning to “rain,” for example.

DSC_0336

We “do school” several times a week, though not every day, usually in the morning.

We generally spend about an hour on school activities, sometimes a little more if we’re really into an art project or something.

We start our morning with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Then we do circle time, which for us consists of going over our calendar, talking about the weather, doing the nursery rhyme and/or song that goes with our theme, reviewing our letter and its sound, and talking about any other interesting info related to our topic. I have a white board with the letter, rhymes, and other facts written on it.

DSC_0361

We read 2-4 books related to our topic each day at the end of circle time (I try to do a mix of fiction and nonfiction) and sometimes do felt or magnet board activities with them. My girls really love these, so we often do them repeatedly throughout the time we are focusing on a certain theme. For example, at St. Patrick’s Day time, we did a magnet board activity almost every day while reading “There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Clover” (and the same thing with “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Chick” at Easter time). The girls had the Old Lady and each of the things she ate, and they took turns placing her/them on the magnet board as I read the story.

Right now we’re reading Jan Brett’s “The Umbrella” and putting up each of the animals in the story onto the felt board as we read the story. Every. Day. They even play with the animals and the felt board when we aren’t doing school time!

DSC_0483

After circle time the girls sit at their table and do various activities. Miss gets really excited about this part. Lass is sometimes less enthusiastic. This is where things get a little tricky for me, because each of the girls always wants to do what the other is doing, but Lass has a hard time with some of the things I have for Miss to do.

So I just try to have a good variety of things, with puzzles, counting, patterning, sequencing, sorting, and some writing practice. I only ask Lass to do the most simple prewriting activities and if she’s not into it, I let it drop. With other writing worksheets she just colors. It usually works out pretty well.

DSC_0485 DSC_0489

I have learned the beauty of the cookie sheet and magnetic tape or these colorful little round magnets. Magnetic tape holds puzzle pieces in place to keep perfectionistic girls from freaking out when they won’t stay just so. These little round magnets on various printed designs are one of Lass’s favorite activities to do.

The trick is to find activities that challenge them enough that they feel accomplishment, but not so much that they get stressed out and frustrated. That is my goal with all of the “school stuff” I have them do.

Sometimes I find the perfect activities for them (like the magnets for Lass). Sometimes I don’t get it right, like the time I had Miss adding by counting pictures and writing the number of the answer at the end. She had no problem counting and adding to get the right answer, and seemed to enjoy that part. But she wasn’t ready to freehand write the numbers in for the answers (she’s still working on tracing them), and she and I got quite frustrated by that one. For subsequent activities like this I have printed numbers for her to place in the answer space, or let her use numbered blocks, etc.

DSC_0496 DSC_0502

I try to keep our school time fun and minimize the frustration. If one of them is hating an activity and my coaching them on it isn’t helping, I usually try to set it aside and move on to something else or call it good for the day.

I don’t always get this right. Sometimes I start to think one of them is being lazy and not really trying to do something I know she can do. So then I start pushing her to do it. As you can imagine, this never turns out well. I usually end up mentally slapping myself and regrouping. Often I end up apologizing. I always end up reminding myself to try not to be a jerk.

But my point is, most of our day is spent reading and playing. The girls have tons of time for free play.

DSC_0517 DSC_0484 DSC_0490 DSC_0594

But they actually love having “school time” too. Miss asks for it frequently. They seem to enjoy the activities we do, the books we read, the crafts we make. They learn stuff. And so do I.

I like our balance. It works for us.

DSC_0404

What are your thoughts on preschool? How do (did/will) you do preschool with your kids?

Field Trip – Elephant and Piggie Style

A few days ago, I started our morning by telling my girls we were going to the children’s museum to see Elephant and Piggie.

I case you don’t know, Elephant (Gerald) and Piggie (who doesn’t have another name) are the characters in a series of books by Mo Willems. We were introduced to Mo Willems recently by my Super Friend who gave Baby Sis the book “The Duckling Gets a Cookie?!” and a Duckling stuffed animal for her birthday. My girls loved Pigeon and Duckling, so the Easter Bunny brought them some Elephant and Piggie books. And, wonder of wonders, they love these too!

Needless to say, they were very excited when I told them we were going to see Gerald and Piggie and hear a new book “Elephants Cannot Dance.” They immediately rounded up all their books and started reading them (they have them memorized).

DSC_0547I managed to tear them away from the books so we could get dressed and make the 30 minute drive to the children’s museum with time to make several parking errors, fill a parking meter with most of my quarters only to realize that it had a 30-minute limit (you’re welcome red car that pulled in after me), finally find a place to park, and get inside, with time to spare before the program started.

The girls killed time with some construction vehicles,

DSC_0549 DSC_0552

mirrors and squishy toys and

DSC_0557

vegetables.

DSC_0560 DSC_0561 DSC_0563 DSC_0565

It wasn’t planned this way, but we ended up meeting Super Friend and her husband and their kids for the show. Super Friend walked in with her kids, and her kids and my kids exclaimed simultaneously, “Our friends are here!!”

DSC_0571

There was so much anticipation before the entrance of Elephant and Piggie.

They finally came in and…

DSC_0574

Sat down.

DSC_0579

Apparently the costumes they were wearing didn’t provide them with much ability to see, because both of them needed to be guided to their seats by a “handler,” and they did not get up again for the duration of the story time. At least Piggie waved a few times.

The girls were so excited to see them, they didn’t care one bit. I was the only one who was disappointed I think, becasue I thought E and P were actually going to read/act out the book.

The woman who did read it did a great job though and had the kids up and dancing and spinning and having a good old time.

DSC_0583

We got to “meet” the immobile, mute Elephant and Piggie afterwards. It was a very stimulating experience…

DSC_0589

The girls got to do a craft, making hula skirts out of paper afterwards.

While we were crafting, Miss got wise to the fact that it wasn’t really Elephant and Piggie there at the story time when she looked hard over at Piggie next to us and saw a gap in the costume at the neck. Some guy’s hairy neck was showing, and my girl figured that one out right smartly. Later she told me, “Mom, I don’t think that was the real Gerald and Piggie we saw today. I think it was just someone dressed like them.”

DSC_0594

Afterwards the girls had lots of time to run and play with their friends and explore some of the rest of the museum.

DSC_0595 DSC_0598

We don’t go there enough. It has been about 2.5 years since we were there last, so neither of them remember being there before, but they’re already asking to go back.

DSC_0600

We used up all of our usual school time to go there, so after we got home Miss asked when we were going to do school. Surprisingly she wasn’t that thrilled when I told her that our trip to the children’s museum was our school for the day.

It was a great “field trip.”

 

Groundhog Day Has Never Been So Fun

Groundhog Day has been my most favorite homeschooling unit so far. Apparently I dig groundhogs (pun intended, sorry).

So do my girls.

I have discovered the magic of Pinterest and my library for really bringing the fun to the topics we are covering in our school.

At the start of January, I decided that I was going to focus on units more than letters of the week, and just pick a letter that works with our unit. I’m not set on the length of time we stay on one unit. Most of January, other than the past week, was a Winter unit, with our letter being W.

This past week was a Groundhog Day unit focusing on the letter G.

My strategy for preparing for the units is to find good books on our topic and request them from our library. Then I comb Pinterest to find printables for all sorts of activities, some focused on our letter, some arts and crafts, some hopefully pulled from one or two of the books we’re reading. Then I wing it from there.

DSC_0371

I found some really fun books for our groundhog unit.

Reading Substitute Groundhog

These are the ones I used.

DSC_0377

“Time to Sleep” was actually one I had for our Winter unit, but it talks about hibernating and has a woodchuck in it, so I included it this week too. It was fun for them to realize that the woodchuck in this story is the same as a groundhog.

The first book we read was “Groundhog Weather School,” in which the Weather Groundhog puts out a classified ad looking for more groundhogs to help him predict the weather around the country. He gives six criteria, with discussions of each of them, for candidates to consider before applying:

Our white board with the week's rhyme and groundhog characteristics

Various animals, such a a hippo, a monkey, and a skunk, check off the criteria they do meet, but then ultimately realize they don’t meet all of the qualifications. The girls really enjoyed going through each of the qualifications, repeatedly, for each of the animals, and disqualifying them at various points in the list. I left the list up all week and we discussed it many times while reading other books too.

I got lots of the stuff we used from DLTK Crafts for Kids, including the rhyme in the picture above, which is a song to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.” I made up some hand motions for it and we sang it a few times each day after doing our calendar. The girls loved it.

Another thing we did every day along with our calendar and weather discussion was to judge whether we thought the groundhog would see his shadow if he were to pop up that day. Miss really got into this and did a great job thinking it through and making a prediction each day.

The DLTK site has tons of free printables for activities, games, and crafts. Another one we used from them was the Five Little Groundhogs felt board activity.

Groundhog Day Felt Board activity

And of course we had to make their toilet paper roll groundhogs.

Coloring toilet paper groundhogs Coloring toilet paper roll groundhog Gluing groundhog parts onto toilet paper roll

The girls just made these today, and both of them are sleeping with their finished groundhogs tonight. Miss even insisted that we make burrows for the groundhogs, so we glued pieces of construction paper into cylinders that the groundhogs could fit into and “pop up” as desired.

DSC_0364

We did lots of the printables from the DLTK Groundhog Day section, like some of these, and these.

2 Teaching Mommies has awesome units that you can download for free and I used several of their Groundhog Day activities, like these:

DSC_0362
Groundhog body parts

I laminated the pages and added velcro so the pieces would stay put for my girls (and not get lost). I especially love watching Lass do activities like these, because she really shows how much she knows when she can do it in a fun and different way (if I just ask her questions, she often pretends she doesn’t know).

I added a few other fun things to round out our groundhog fun. We went into my bedroom where we could pull the blackout shades and have a large expanse of blank wall to do some shadow playing. We built a burrow with pillows and the girls took turns “popping up” and seeing their shadows. We experimented with moving closer and farther from the light source to see what happened to the shadows. And of course we practiced making some good old shadow puppets.

This morning the girls made their hypotheses about whether the groundhog would have seen his shadow. Then we checked out the website of The Punxatawney Groundhog Club to see what Punxatawney Phil saw (or didn’t see). We watched the webcast, which I thought would be really exciting. I wish I would have watched it first so that I could have automatically fast forwarded the first two thirds of it which was nothing but a looong procession of all the “Groundhog Officials” and introductions of all of them. There must have been 15-20 of them. The girls did get a kick out of it once they finally pulled Phil from his “burrow,” but even that was sort of lame. I’ll just be thankful that I didn’t wake them up at 6:25 to watch it live… Not that I would have done that.

Their favorite thing this morning was when I played this recording of the whistling sound a groundhog makes when it senses danger. We have been talking about how some people call groundhogs “Whistle Pigs” because of this. They really got a kick out of hearing how it sounds.

We had lots of discussions about what makes an animal a mammal, what hibernating is, what herbivores eat, what animals are predators of groundhogs, and how groundhogs set up their burrows. It was all quite fascinating, really.

And finally, it wouldn’t have been Groundhog Day without a groundhoggy snack.

Chocolate pudding cups, graham cracker crumb “dirt” (the other versions I’ve seen of this snack used either chocolate graham cracker crumbs or oreo crumbs, but this is what was in my cupboard, so we had lighter dirt), Milano Cookies, slivered almonds broken in half for the ears, and fudge applied with a toothpick to stick on the ears and make the face. Not quite as elaborate as some, but enough to impress my kids.

Groundhog Snack Enjoying her Groundhog Snack

So that’s it. I kind of can’t believe how much fun groundhogs can be. I think I enjoyed them as much as my girls did.

Next we’ll do two weeks of V is for Valentine. We’ll also throw some President’s Day stuff in there before we go out of town in a couple of weeks.

Happy Groundhog Day!