The winter season is my favorite time of year to curl up in my coziest reading chair by the warm fire and indulge in a good book. I have especially fond memories of snuggling in the oversized chair with my children and reading storybooks as the snowflakes fell softly outside the window. Perhaps this scenario is also familiar to you and your family.
When I hear the exciting news that a child has just begun learning how to read, it brings a great joy to my heart. This child has now entered a new realm of learning and a new way of discovering the world. Learning to read is like receiving a gift of a lifetime!
We are fortunate that our modern-day world makes books so readily available. There is a numerous assortment of amazing classics for children, including many Newbery and Caldecott Award winner and honor books. The American Library Association recently announced 2017’s Caldecott and Newbery Awards.
Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also creates a “Children’s Notable” list that identifies the best in children’s books, recordings, and videos.
I recently asked some of my local homeschool students to share the names of their favorite books. It was both entertaining and educational for the other children to hear which book titles were selected. Many were familiar favorites, while the new titles sparked interest in a desire to read some of these unfamiliar books. It was also delightful to listen to each child’s oral summary of their favorite book. We even discussed how our “favorite” books often change because there are so many unknown books that are just as fantastic as the ones that have already been read!
In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade syllabus, a suggested activity for Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Search for Delicious, offers doing a poll for the most delicious foods. It could be inspiring to poll the choices your children and their friends’ favorite books. We can even create a list of your children’s favorite books right here on the blog. My all-time favorite children’s book is Gwinna, beautifully illustrated and written by Barbara Berger. If you haven’t read this story to your children, I highly recommend it!
“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
In a recent Oak Meadow blog, I wrote about the book character, Flat Stanley, and how author Jeff Brown initially created this funny fellow as a bedtime story for his sons. Creative writing, especially for the younger grades, often begins with oral and artistic expression. In Oak Meadow’s early elementary language arts lessons, the students are introduced to the art of storytelling by listening to stories and then practice retelling story events with detail and in sequential order. They compose simple story summaries and draw story scenes showing specific details. Puppet shows and play acting are also encouraged in the retelling of stories or in creating imaginative scenarios.
As the students mature and develop, creative writing is introduced through detailed story summaries, short stories, and original poetry and rhyming compositions, along with descriptive and opinion paragraphs. By the time the student reaches grades three and four, creative writing is generated through brainstorming story ideas, identifying story components (character, setting, story problem, conflict, and resolution), expressing thoughts and ideas in informal journal form, and completing other free writing exercises.
For some students creative writing flows with ease, while for others information research projects are much more appealing. As American novelist and non-fiction writer Anne Lamott once wrote, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” When I work with my local home school students on creative writing projects, we often tell stories together. It’s kind of like a Round-Robin storytelling session, where we sit in a circle and I (or one of the students) begin the story with a few sentences or a short scenario and then pass it on to the next person to continue with a few more sentences. It goes all the way around the circle until the last person gives the story an ending. It’s not only a great activity for oral participation, it also provides a nice segue into writing ideas in story format.
When my students and I learned about Flat Stanley and each participant made a “Flat Me”, we created adventurous settings and stories for our characters. Perhaps we visited a jungle or a deep enchanted forest, or we climbed atop a mountain or visited the deep blue sea. The stories that were written to accompany the activity included questions that helped in composing the imaginary stories:
1 – Who went with you?
2 – Why did you go?
3 – How did you travel?
4 – What trail did you follow?
5 – How long did it take?
6 – What did you see?
7 – Who did you meet?
8 – What special memories did you bring back with you?
No matter how you approach creative writing, it can enrich the student’s imagination. Knowing where to begin or what to write about allows the activity to flow easier, naturally, and more creatively. Inspiring the student to write with their own passion and excitement allows a new freedom to write about many things.
“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley 1925
One of my favorite stories to share with children during the winter is Else Beskow’s book, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Ollie goes on a snowy adventure and discovers King Winter’s palace where he finds him sitting on his icy throne with sheer pride and pleasure. Ollie also meets King Winter’s spritely right hand man, Jack Frost, as well as Mrs. Thaw, who shows up with her broom to sweep away the last of the winter snow in preparation for the entrance of Lady Spring.
The season of winter goes hand in hand with the wonder of snow, which brings to mind a man by the name of Wilson Bentley, better known as the Snowflake Man. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was a farmer who grew up and lived in Vermont. As a young boy, he was home schooled. He had a natural affinity with nature, and with snowflakes in particular. He received his first microscope on his 15th birthday (in 1881) and began examining snowflakes. He soon discovered that no snowflake is like any other. At the age of 19, Bentley took his first micro-photograph of a snowflake, and this was the beginning of a passionate hobby. He spent his entire adult life photographing snowflakes, and by the time he died in 1931, he had photographed over 5,000 images. Imagine that!
William Bentley’s official home site also provides an assortment of books for all ages on this marvelous “Snowflake Man”. If you are fortunate to live close to or pass by Jericho, Vermont, you can visit the Bentley Museum to view his photographed snowflakes and to learn more about his fascinating life and the captivating beauty of snow!
The Oak Meadow syllabus in kindergarten and in first grade offers the artistic project of making paper snowflake designs. Oak Meadow’s fourth grade coursework offers a block on poetry, which involves creating a portfolio of freestyle, rhyming and acrostic poems. Student Maren Doughty wrote a lovely acrostic poem on “SNOWFLAKES”…
Smelling hot chocolate Now winter is here Outside we go! Wind howling Freezing fingers and noses Lots of snow angels shaped in the snow All the gournd is covered white Kids building snowman Everyone is excited Seeing snowflakes falling
The Commission on Reading stated in a report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, that “THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ACTIVITY for building knowledge for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
This year, World Read Aloud Day is celebrated on Thursday, February 16. Whether your children are babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, a primary school students or beyond, reading aloud provides a perfect opportunity to value the world of literature. It allows the child to become inspired and motivated to read independently, to strengthen reading and listening comprehension skills, and to learn new vocabulary words. It offers an introduction to new books and different types of literature that children might not discover on their own, such as the classics, poetry, short stories, biographies, etc. It offers the ability to use their imagination (and beyond personal experiences) to explore people and places from around the world, as well as events that occurred in the past or might occur in the future.
One of Oak Meadow’s primary focuses of the language arts in the early years is to build an appreciation for the richness of language, to emphasize the value of reading, and to attain strong foundational skills in reading. Reading aloud to young children is known to be one of the best reading readiness activities there is and lends a cozy closeness to your time together. You can read outside in a hammock, or under the table in a makeshift fort, or in a tree house. You can sit on the steps and read while your children are eating their snack. You can read anywhere, anytime. Read when your children are a bit too wild and need settling down, or when they are tired and just want to relax. Choose books that have themes your children are interested in and choose books that expose them to things they might not otherwise experience. Reading classic tales you remember from your childhood is a wonderful experience and often exposes children to language that has richness and depth that modern literature often lacks.
Story and book suggestions offered in Oak Meadow’s Grades K-4 language arts coursework, with intentions to form a foundation for rich and effective reading, include fairy tales and other archetypal stories, bedtime stories, poetry, tongue twisters, fables, folktales, world cultural stories and children’s classics. So now is the time to curl up with your little bookworms and celebrate World Read Aloud Day by reading books and sharing stories, not just on February 16, but each and every day!
I have discovered that watching butterflies is a delight at any age. I am in awe as I watch the butterflies emerge from their winter sleep or return home from their long migration. Butterfly watching is fast becoming a popular hobby. Did you know there are more than 650 species of these colorful winged insects in the U.S. alone? Did you know that people who study them are called lepidopterists?
Butterfly conservatories are a great way to observe many different species of butterflies, but most of you don’t even have to leave your backyard before you’ll notice them flitting about. If you are enthusiastic about attracting even more butterflies, you can plant particular varieties of flowers, such as Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Zinnia, Bergamot, Day Lily, Black-Eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower, as well as herbs like Tansy, Garlic, and Chives.
Oak Meadow’s science courses in grades k-4 include various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Or perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies.
If it’s a rainy day, and no butterflies can be observed, then you and your children might like to make a butterfly template, paint it with watercolors, and then create your own butterfly kite or wind waver. Before painting, you might like to view pictures of butterflies to study the symmetry of their patterns. They truly are amazingly beautiful insects!
Today, a rare celestial event occurs: Mercury crosses in front of the sun. This celestial event only happens on the average thirteen times a century. For seven and a half hours, this unique “transit of Mercury” can be viewed through high powered binoculars or with solar filters. However, if you would like to follow today’s transit of the smallest planet in the solar system through a live webcam, please click on “Transit of Mercury 2016“.
Oak Meadow’s fourth grade astronomy unit includes a research report on planets, so today is a perfect opportunity to view and to learn more about Mercury – the planet that is not only the smallest of the eight planets, but also the closest one to the sun. To learn more about Mercury and the other planets in our solar system, you can also find educational information from the website, KidsAstronomy.com.
In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade science coursework, the final block of lessons offers an extensive study on astronomy. The twelve lessons offer educational information, additional book and story selections, sky watching activities, hands-on projects, and artistic exercises.
I highly recommend the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website to families as a way to further enhance the ongoing lessons. APOD is a collaboration of NASA and Michigan Technological University (MTU). Each day, an image or photograph of our universe is featured with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer. This website is extremely interesting, as well as quite educational for any budding scientist, astronomer or avid sky watcher.
As part of Oak Meadow’s fourth grade astronomy block, there is a five-week main lesson project, in which the students choose a planet to research and complete a written report. I suggest perusing the website, Kids Astronomy, for additional information. It offers educational websites and interactive games, worksheets, music, and movies.
One of Oak Meadow’s enrolled families shared an exciting website they discovered called Meet the Planets. This site (and book) offers awesome portrayals of “Who’s Who & What’s What” in each of the illustrations created by Laurie Allen Klein.
If your family is interested in stargazing, there are many amazing events occurring throughout the year of 2016. The Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events for Calendar Year 2016 is a good site for finding these specific dates. Plato, the Greek philosopher and mathematician, once wrote, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” May you find similar inspiration in your sky gazing activities!
In your time, there’s a plan in line for you to know.
Seeds are sown hidden deep
There to grow to be set free.
Light does yield a wondrous sight.
From earthly field, a dove takes flight.
In your time, reap what you sow from this common ground.
In your time, harvest all you know; share what you’ve found.
In the fourth grade science coursework, a seed investigation is conducted. It introduces the structure of the seed and the life force within. For many of us enthusiastic gardeners, it is common practice to collect seeds from our harvests and preserve them by storing these selected seeds over the winter in a proper environment. Sometimes, we don’t use those seeds for several years, and if the conditions are right, they will still grow.
The life force within a seed is truly a miracle, but it’s even more miraculous when a seed is actually preserved for thousands of years. Currently, the record for the oldest seed that was regenerated into a plant is a 32,000-year-old flowering plant native to Siberia, known as the Silene stenophylla. It was discovered by a Russian team who discovered the seed cache that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River.
Even in the United States, old seeds have been discovered, planted and grown. One of my Oak Meadow families recently shared an amazing squash seed discovery found on a Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. As we enter the middle of winter and begin to think about going through our seed collections in preparation for the upcoming gardening season, it might be fun to do a little research and discover the oldest seed in your state or country!
Music plays a very positive role in your child’s development, whether it is through listening to music, singing songs, or playing an instrument. In the first grade, Oak Meadow offers an introduction to the soprano recorder as a musical instrument to play, along with additional, more advanced tutelage offered up through the fourth grade.
The recorder is a very old European instrument that dates all the way back to the 14th century, possibly originating in Italy. It’s an appealing and appropriate modern-day instrument for young children who are just beginning to unfold their musical abilities and potential. The recorder is also a simple and versatile instrument to learn that allows the player to practice attention and focus, to help train and develop the ear, and to further aid in reading and composing musical notation.
If you, as the home teacher, are also new to playing the recorder and feel that a guided tutorial would benefit you in teaching your child to play this instrument, I suggest watching the Recorder Basics – B A G video. The instructor in the video, Mr. Barnes, demonstrates how to hold the recorder, as well as how to play “Hot Cross Buns” with the notes B, A and G. “Hot Cross Buns” is one of the first songs introduced in Oak Meadow’s Beginning Recorder guidebook.
If your child is more advanced in playing the recorder and has already worked through all the songs in the recorder books offered in the Oak Meadow coursework, Woodstock Chimesprovides a lengthy list of familiar songs to play on the recorder. Each song includes its own fingering chart, as well as words to the songs for additional singing pleasure.
As a collaborative effort, Oak Meadow’s staff offered some additional tips for helping to play the recorder:
Michelle Menegaz –
Before you begin to practice, do some quick stretches…shoulder rolls, finger wiggling, etc. Then stand tall and imagine you are being suspended by a string from above. Relax the shoulders and lengthen the body. Please consider standing as often as you can when practicing. It really helps!
When you perform, there are special but simple skills you can practice to make your gift of music or poetry or any other presentation more enjoyable for your audience. Try looking toward the back of the room just above the heads of the people farthest away. Smile, smile, smile if you can remember – either while playing or before or after if you are using a wind instrument. Remember to introduce yourself and your piece before you begin and bow with gratitude when you finish.
Sarah Antel –
One of the things that stuck with me from music lessons as a child was belly breathing. You can stand in front of a mirror to practice breathing. Additionally, it helps if you stand sideways so you can see your belly go in and out. You should take a deep breath through your nose and imagine you are filling a balloon in your belly and focus on filling your belly with air rather than making your chest rise. In a similar fashion, when releasing air, or breathing out, exhale through the mouth. You should focus on squeezing all of the air out using your stomach. Your chest should not be moving at all. Looking sideways in the mirror, you will see your stomach pull in. This type of breathing allows you to take a deeper breath and have a stronger sound when playing.
Lesley Arnold –
Instruct your child to sit up tall (with a straight back) and toward the edge of the seat in order to take full breaths. After finding the right breath for blowing into the recorder, have your child try to imagine gently blowing on a candle flame just so it flickers, but doesn’t go out. The fingers should be curved and relaxed completely covering the holes. The left hand should always be on top! Have your child press firmly to seal the finger holes completely. Lips should cover the teeth lightly. Make sure your child separates the notes by touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth or to the tip of the recorder. Clap and count the rhythm, speak, then sing the name of the notes. Then the tune is ready to be played.
Amanda Witman –
“Find a place where you can practice comfortably and without distraction.”
“A little bit of practicing every day is better than a lot of practicing once in a while.”
“Listen to the sounds you are making and experiment with ways to make them pleasing to you.”
“Take a moment to relax your hands and your breathing before you start to play.”
“Share your music with others. If you can’t find anyone to play for, stand in front of a mirror and perform for yourself. Smile and take a bow at the end of your performance!”
The Oak Meadow coursework in all grade levels (particularly in grades k-4) highly emphasizes the integration of artwork with the academics. Throughout the coursework, students are encouraged to complete artistic activities and projects in the form of drawing, painting, and/or making crafts in all the main subjects. Main lesson books are made by the students to preserve their ideas and knowledge of the content for each lesson, which includes the combination of written work and creative expression.
If your child likes to doodle, then I highly recommend participating in the 8th annual Doodle4Google art contest (for grades k-12). The theme for this year is “What Makes Me…Me”. The contest is open for entries from now until December 7, 2015. If you are interested in seeing a galleryof past winners, you and your children might get some great ideas!
So, doodly doo your way into a winning “doodle4google” day; and if you need some added inspiration, you can always take a break and enjoy the Doodly Doo song with hand actions!
Doodly Doo Song (Wadally ah cha)
Please sing to me
That sweet melody
Called the doo, doodly doo
I like it so wherever I go
It’s the doo doodly doo
It’s the simplest thing
There isn’t much to it
All you got to do is doodly doo it
I love it so
That wherever I go
It’s doodly, doodly, doodly, doodly doo
Come on and…
Wadally ah cha, wadally ah cha
Wadally oh, wadally oh
Wadally ah cha, wadally ah cha
Wadally, wadally oh
pat knees twice
stay in clapping position and click to the right then the left
take right hand put on nose then on shoulder same with right, start the actions when you get to the line: come on and…