Category Archives: Homeschooling

Garden Books for Children (Good Pickins’ #21)

Nine Garden Books for Children

We are in the thick of springtime chores on our little homestead. Each day I tend to our chickens and the sap collection for maple syrup, and each afternoon my husband works on trimming plant overgrowth and boiling down the sap on our makeshift evaporator. (I’m working on a maple syrup post for next week!)

March 2015 016Between those chores and keeping various animals out of our kitchen, we’ve been staying pretty active this March:

goatinthekitchenThis weekend’s project? Starting some of our seeds! This year, J really wants to have his own little plot to care for. He’ll be joining us to see the seeds from start to harvest.

We’ve been nurturing his early love for gardening by checking out a lot of books on the subject from our local library. He’s so excited about it, and he’s learning a lot as we read together. For this week’s Good Pickins’, I want to share some of our favorite garden books so you can enjoy them with your kiddos too! (This post contains affiliate links.) 

1) How Groundhog’s Garden Grew– When groundhog discovers a beautiful garden in full fruit, he can’t help but partake of the delicious harvest. Squirrel, however, chastises him for stealing from others’ food stores, and insists that he grows his own food if he likes it so much. When groundhog admits that he doesn’t know how to garden, squirrel graciously shows him the ins and outs of how to grow, cook, and share a garden from start to finish.

yuckyworms2) Yucky Worms – Join a little boy and his gardening grandmother as they get their hands dirty learning about worms. This book combines just the right amount of gross-factor and creature fascination to get your child to fall in love with nature’s underground farmers.

mossy3) Mossy– Jan Brett tells a heartwarming story through beautifully detailed illustrations and a text that invites children to see the world through the eyes of a very special turtle. Mossy is the only turtle I have ever read of who has a garden growing on her shell. An eager biologist, Dr. Carolina, wants Mossy to live in a museum for all to see. But Brett highlights the magic of nature and the importance of conservation by eventually bringing Mossy back to her home pond and her turtle friend, Scoot.


4) Tops & Bottoms -An old folktale retold in the context of gardening, Tops and Bottoms tells the story of poverty-stricken rabbit using his wit to outsmart the rich (but lazy) bear. While the story is worth your read any time of the year, it is especially pertinent to gardening time. Rabbit’s cleverness will pique your child’s interest in which parts of plants are the tastiest and most useful, and which parts are less desirable.

growingvegetablesoup5) Growing Vegetable Soup – Lois Ehlert once again uses her unique illustration style to capture the wonder of growing your own food. Dad and his child gather their tools, sow the seeds, watch the plants grow, and cook them all into delicious soup at the end. Talk about knowing and valuing where your food comes from!

howaseedgrows6) How a Seed Grows – This book is like a science textbook on plant germination and growth for very young readers. Children will see and wonder at how small seeds can turn into large and varied plants.


7) The Vegetables We Eat– The gorgeous illustrations in this book encourage a close look at the amazing vegetables available to nourish our body. Gibbons overviews different types of vegetables, which parts of the plants we eat, and variation within individual species. J particularly liked shouting out whether he was looking at a root, stem, or fruit vegetable. 🙂


8) How Does My Garden Grow?– Sophie leaves the city to live with her grandparents for a while, and there she learns all about how to grow a garden and enjoy the fruits of her labors. From vegetable families, pollination principles, night and animal life, and the effects of the elements, Sophie gets a full gardening education. Best of all, Sophie begins her own city vegetable garden when she returns home- and teaches her friends to do it too!

plantingarainbow9) Planting a Rainbow– Another Lois Ehlert book for the flower lovers among us. Colorful eye candy inspires readers young and old to plant their own rainbow of flowers to enjoy all season long!

We hope you enjoy this gardening inspiration just as much as your child does!

The above links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, you can and should check at your local library for these titles first! Supporting your local free book distributor is a wonderful thing to do. Thank you in advance for your support for both my blog and your local library. 🙂


How to Get the Most of Your Voice Lessons

I haven’t really written about singing on this blog yet, but this has been on my mind frequently and I thought maybe someone out there could benefit from reading this. (If this isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, I’ll be back to the regular stuff soon enough.) While I’m primarily going to be addressing voice students of a beginner to intermediate level, many of the principles could carry over to other types of music lessons as well.

how to get the most out of your voice lessonsI’ve taught private voice lessons for about six years now, and I’ve had my share of students from middle schoolers up through adult men and women. Some students are really efficient in their learning, and for others I feel as though I am repeating the same thing week after week after week. Over time, I’ve noticed some characteristics that my best students (read: the ones who make the most progress) seem to have in common. I’ve also thought of some suggestions that would help some other students to improve more quickly. If you or your child are currently taking voice lessons, think about how these tips could help you to get more out of your lessons and progress more quickly.

1) Come to lessons well rested, fed, and ready to learn. I can’t tell you how many times tired high school students have stumbled into their 7:00 pm lesson, bleary-eyed and yawning, exhausted from a day jam-packed with too many activities and too little sleep. They are distracted, their voices are tired, and their ability to focus is nearly shot for the day. Judicious removal of extraneous activities and a conscious effort to get more rest could help to remedy this problem.

Likewise, make sure you are comfortable in other ways- e.g., well fed, dressed comfortably, not physically ill or in mental distress over an emotional event in your life. As a singer, your body is your instrument. You don’t want to bring stress and exhaustion into your singing, because then you will not play it nearly as well- and perhaps you will even introduce bad habits due to tension, stress, or trying to over-compensate for a temporary physical weakness (e.g. sore throat, exhaustion, etc.).  Do what you can to prevent physical and emotional stress on the voice as much as possible.

2) Bring your music. Do I need to say more? I’m afraid I do. Bring your music. BRING YOUR MUSIC!  Your music should become like a dearly loved friend to you. You should make observations about this friend, spend time with her often, get to know her deeply and passionately, and want to bring out the best in her every time you see her. Your teacher can help you learn how to do this. If you are not bringing your music to your lesson, it is almost pointless to try to study the song, unless you are already very well equipped to do so independently. It does you no good to have your teacher make notes in his or her own copy for the week.

3) Take notes and/or record your lesson. More frequently than I like to admit, I have come home from a lesson realizing I forgot what it was my teacher said about a particular passage, or what the pronunciation was for this or that French word, or the name of a certain performer who I was supposed to research. If I had only brought a notebook and pen, a tape recorder, or- (here’s an idea for all you tech savvy people)- turned on the recorder on my smartphone, I could have had a record for the week that I could easily return to in order to answer my questions. It’s so much more efficient than waiting another week to ask again about what you were supposed to be practicing all along.

4) Practice consistently. I have had students who I can tell have not practiced all week long. This produces a lesson that inefficient, and, frankly, a waste of their money. I have students who may only practice the night before lessons. This is better than nothing, but still far from ideal. If you can only practice ten or fifteen minutes a day, that is far better than an hour at the end of the week spent in a “cram” session. Consistency is key in cementing a new concept.

5) Practice purposefully. Don’t just run songs aimlessly- all that will do is lock in bad habits. Rather, ask your teacher for specific exercises that you should rehearse to help you improve vowel quality, blending of the registers, expressive techniques, etc, as well as how to improve the problem sections in your songs. When practicing your repertoire, make sure you spend the most time addressing the troublesome passages. Slow them down and get them perfect. Merely singing songs over and over will not help resolve vocal challenges.

6) Let your teacher teach you. Allow your teacher to pick vocalises, sight-reading-exercises, and repertoire that he or she thinks will be the most beneficial to your vocal development. Respect his or her suggestions. Do not insist on singing only the songs you want to sing. You will grow more as a singer if you are open to doing the foundational work necessary to progressing forward. It will do you little good to pay a teacher to practice radio songs with you that you could be singing in your car. (I began to write a whole rant on this topic, but it’s since moved over to a future post. I may one day still share my craziness. 🙂 )

Hopefully these suggestions will be helpful to you and/or your child while taking voice lessons. Musicians, what has helped you grow the most in your instrument? Teachers, what wisdom do you wish you could share with your students? Happy studies to you!



Tractor Collage (Recycled Preschool Project)

My four year old is obsessed with papers. Cutting paper, ripping paper, stabbing paper, gluing paper. Scribbling, drawing, stacking, sorting, piling, stuffing into plastic bags and old cardboard boxes.

It got to the point where I was constantly walking around picking up little leftover paper bits from off the floor. It was making me nutso! We’ve tried making recycled paper (maybe a future post?), but we can’t keep up with the volume of scraps laying about. My husband finally designated an extra basket exclusively for paper scraps, and declared that all paper scraps must go immediately into recycling, garbage, or the basket after being used (an idea also suggested by Heather of Townsend House).

That being said, even the basket gets overfull. And then it is time to think of a project. Today’s was this fun tractor collage:

Tractor Collage 1The process was really quite simple. We used one of J’s favorite tractors for our model. As you can see, it’s been well loved- it’s now missing a fender and the smokestack, and the grill is always being removed (somehow or another)- but it’s still a lovely little tractor:

Tractor Collage(Ours was a gift, but you can check out these similar tractors if you want to snag your own.)

First, I laid the tractor on a large piece of sturdy paper and roughly traced the outline:

Tractor Collage2Next, I filled in the outlines of different color sections on the tractor, and shaded the black parts in so we would have a guide for our collage (artistic, I know) :

February 2015 024Next, we started cutting up papers in different colors (a little grey, a strip of white, some blacks, and lots of reds) from a combination of newspaper, magazine, and construction paper.

February 2015 026We worked in small areas, one color at a time. We used this disappearing purple glue stick so that J could see which areas were glued and which ones weren’t. You can see our progress as we worked:

Tractor Collage3

Okay, so J made it through all the grey, white, and black, and about halfway through the red… and then guess who finished it? 😉 (Though J added a single blade of grass as his finishing touch.)

Regardless, this was a really fun little project for us! You could do it with any number of objects, and you could  pick more or less detail depending on your child’s age and ability. You could also print out free coloring pages from your computer to use as a collage template.

Hope you have as much fun cutting and pasting as we did!

This post contains affiliate links. When you make any purchase through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support in this way!


Traceable Valentine’s Conversation Hearts

Looking for a simple preschool Valentine’s project that isn’t too frou-frou? We decided to make some simple traceable Valentine’s conversation hearts the other day! These can be used at home for schooling or to give away to friends as reusable Valentines. It’s easy to do, and gives your little ones lots of opportunities to practice different fine motor skills.

traceable conversation hearts

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

First, I made a heart template, and J and I took turns tracing and cutting them out of construction paper. (Try stacking and cutting several sheets at once to expedite this process.)

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Preschool, Revisited (Or, Trading Workbooks for Real Life)

I wrote a post last fall on our preschool resources for 2014-2015. Halfway through our school year, I’ve had some time to reevaluate what works & what doesn’t work for us- both in terms of curriculum and general philosophy.

Preschool Revisited

We have continued to use some of my favorite kid’s websites for seasonal activity ideas, like Wee Folk Art, No Time For Flash Cards, and a couple of new ones I’ve discovered recently like Mom Inspired Life and Quirky Momma. I’m constantly filling my Pinterest boards with activities for my kids from around the web. We homeschooling mamas are certainly at no shortage of free and low cost ideas for our little ones. (Sometimes I think there’s too much, actually- it can all get overwhelming!)

While we still use many preschool workbooks, I’ve found myself loosening up on which ones we have to do more and more. In fact, I quit our main “textbook” this past December! Why? This particular curriculum was too contrived to be of much real learning use for my son. Both he and I grew tired of playing busy work games centering on topics like eggs and bears when we have real chickens laying real eggs in the backyard- and real bear spottings occasionally too!

I found that J and I butted heads the most when I tried forcing our way through artificial and overdone preschool exercises. Flipping through our homemade word flash cards was tedious. But picking out words in a favorite book to practice reading was enjoyable! I began noticing a pattern:

J learns the most when we explore all aspects of a real life interest. We visited a science museum with an outer space section… and suddenly we were bringing home books on the moon and planets, and going outside to observe the night sky, and discussing the turning and the orbit of the earth and what makes the seasons and what keeps us from flying off the ground. We rode a train last summer… and then came home to check out tons of books on trains from the library. He needed no external motivation to learn all about how trains work, memorize the foreign vocabulary of train parts, and draw and play and dream trains.

Wellsboro Trip Aug 2014 105

I’ve found that schooling is far more effective, thorough, and enjoyable at this stage when I “teach” from real-life scenarios. In fact, I find that I need to do very little teaching at all, because J is so curious and interested that he absorbs the information like a sponge. When I simply give him access to what he wants to learn, he eats it up. When I force an unnatural curriculum on him, he resists the mandated activities with fervor.

And who can blame him? Who, if given the choice, would prefer dull workbook exercises over well-written stories with beautiful illustrations? Who would prefer sitting inside practicing counting when he could be going outside and exploring which apple tree bears more fruit (and why is that so)? Who wants to spend time sounding out words in exasperatingly slow “reader” books when a world of excellent literature lays at his fingertips?

James 2nd Birthday, Baltimore 021(J, two years old. He loved being outside then, and he still learns best there now.)

Obviously, my child still needs to learn to read and write. But I am becoming increasingly convinced that what he needs right now is not so much phonics or tracing practice, but a fuel for his natural curiosity and desire to learn. Fostering this attitude, this joy in learning, will get him so much further than meager repetitious exercises. Killing his joy in learning early on will only set him up for an attitude of frustration towards future schooling.

Will we still do preschool workbooks? Yes! Of course! I am not poo-pooing them entirely. J still enjoys doing them (so long as I don’t push too much). Of course we will work on counting, reading, writing, etc. But will I make completing a typical preschool curriculum my sole goal for these early years? No.

May 2013 042(A backyard hands-on Luna moth learning experience.)

I will try (imperfectly, I am sure), to seize the opportunities of wonder that the world around us presents at every turn. I want to let J do his own learning by soaking up these opportunities- and use them as springboards for practicing other important skills as well. It makes it harder to plan practically, of course… but if it works well for J and helps him most, I think it’s worth it!

I’m such a newbie at all this- I’m sure I’ll be working to figure out effective schooling for years to come. Experienced mamas: what works well for your kids? I would love your feedback!


Ornament Counting Activity for Preschoolers

Here’s a preschool math/ fine motor activity that will take you about 30 seconds to set up and keep your kiddo going for much longer than that.


You’ll need paper, a pen, and some stickers that will suffice as ornaments. (Here are some cheap ones, though I got mine at the dollar store.) If you don’t have the stickers, your kiddos can draw the ornaments, or use a bingo marker to make ball ornaments. I was going to make you a printable, but honestly, you can probably draw basic trees faster than the printer can print them, and why waste the ink?

This is so simple I shouldn’t be writing a blog post on it. Really, it’s just an activity idea to give you enough time to throw dinner together without the hounds at your heels. 🙂 (Peeling stickers, for some reason, provides endless entertainment to my children. Do your kids like them too?)

All you’ve got to do is draw trees and numbers of your choice underneath. Do several sheets if you want! Have your kiddos count out that number of ornaments to stick on the tree. Conversely, your child could place ornaments as he pleases and then he could count how many he stuck after the fact.

This can serve as a number tracing activity for beginning writers. Or, for older children, write simple addition or subtraction equations beneath the trees instead of only writing one number. I’m sure you can think of other age-appropriate extension activities for your child!

Happy sticking. 🙂


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Thankfulness Wreath

It’s getting close to Turkey-Day! That means that the internet is rife with Thanksgiving and thankfulness projects for kids- and here I am to make my contribution. Last year, we decided to make a “thankfulness wreath” to help introduce the idea of gratitude to my son. Here’s how we did it.

thankfulnesswreath(Sorry for the curling leaves in the photos… let’s just say the wreath went through some kitchen humidity before I got to take the finished photographs. 😉 )

First, I cut a ring out of a big cardboard box to the size I wanted it. Simple enough.

Next, we went outside and collected leaves of various sizes and shapes. We traced their shapes onto fall-colored construction paper, and cut out many leaves.

iPhone pictures and videos 895

Next, we started thinking of what we were thankful for. It ranged from our garden to food to my midwife to our family to toys and stuffed animals. We wrote one thing we are thankful for on each leaf. I let J draw on the leaves too. This year, if we do something similar, I will have him trace the words. If you have a beginning writer/speller, this would be a good opportunity to let them practice writing their own leaves. (If you have an older child, they could write sentences, poems, or short essays to complement their thankful leaves.)

iPhone pictures and videos 898

Finally, we arranged and glued the leaves one by one onto our cardboard ring. iPhone pictures and videos 899

Ta-da! So, maybe it isn’t Pinterest-worthy, but it’s proud mama-worthy. We hung it up to display to help us remember the things we are grateful for each day!

November 2014 042

The nice part about this project is that you could make it very simple for the youngest of children (like J last year), or you could try to make it very artful for older children. Try using autumnal scrapbook paper for the leaves, or using metallic or calligraphy pens. You could try sketching or painting pictures of the things you are thankful for if you have an artistically-inclined child. The most important thing is to allow the children to come up with the things they want to put on the leaves. It will foster more appreciation in them if it’s their own idea!

How do you practice thankfulness this season (and everyday)?




Pumpkin Watercolor (etc.) for Littles

(Or, what to do with your leftover pumpkins now that it’s November!)

Even though the calender has turned past the month of pumpkins, I find that the beginning of November is really when we have to deal with the leftover pumpkins sitting around the house. After all, everyone wants to keep them out for decoration all of October, so now is the time to use them up! Don’t let them go to waste. Here’s a pumpkin watercolor project & accompanying activities to keep you and your kids loving your squash.

In the middle of October, we did a still life of a pie pumpkin that we had not yet cooked up. I was rather pleased with J’s artistic interpretation on this one!


We set up the pumpkin and made observations about it first (texture, shape, color, irregularities, etc.). I had J draw it in pencil first on watercolor paper, then go over his pencil with a sharpie marker. Next, he used watercolors to paint his drawing. I was happy to see that he noticed all the different shades of coloring in the actual pumpkin and tried to represent that in his painting. Not bad for a four year old.

Oct 2014 004Then came his vine. At first I protested, thinking he was just swiping green all over his paper to be silly, but when he explained what he was painting I had to concede. Pumpkins do, after all, grow on vines. Who can fault him that?

Oct 2014 007 Oct 2014 009

Here’s his finished masterpiece, sitting next to its model. I think a pumpkin still life could be done by a younger child (with mom/dad helping to draw the shapes as needed before painting), and it could certainly be done by an older child too.

Oct 2014 016

Usually, whenever I do any project that revolves around a food item, I also have to eat it. I can’t help it! Here is my absolute favorite pumpkin pie recipe from Mum in Bloom, made without evaporated milk! The texture is super fluffy and light, and I’ve found that I prefer it to the traditional pie recipe. (The only change I made to the recipe is that I cut the sugar in half.)

If you can wait overnight for your pumpkin nosh, try these awesome soaked pumpkin muffins from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship. I usually have bad luck with soaked grain recipes, but these came out perfectly moist and delicious. For this one, I replaced the sugar/sucanat with maple syrup and did only 3/4 cup of it instead of a full cup. I also just used whole wheat flour because that’s what I had. These were great, and the kids liked eating them too.

While waiting for your pumpkin goodies, why not enjoy some pumpkin literature together? We loved The Great Pumpkin Switch last year. Grandfather sits down with his two children, and takes them back in time to his own childhood to tell the tale of when he accidentally send his sister’s contest pumpkin rolling down a large flight of steps… until, SPLAT! He is left scrambling to right his wrong and replace his sister’s pumpkin without her noticing. Beautiful illustrations, a nostalgic narrative, and loving family ties that cross generations all make this book special.

We also enjoyed Too Many Pumpkins, a tale in which Rebecca Estelle (who absolutely abhors pumpkins) is stuck with an overabundance of them due to a fallen pumpkin’s seeds splattered in her yard. An entire day of an exaggerated amount of baking and carving turns Rebecca’s disdain to gratitude and brings a community together in friendship. Well worth the second read.

What are your favorite activities to do with your leftover pumpkin decorations? Enjoy those golden globes while they last. 🙂

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support in this way!


Scarecrow Letter Craft for Preschoolers

What’s autumn without a little scarecrow fun for little people? J has been really excited to see all the small store bought scarecrows in people’s yards recently, so we decided to make our own paper scarecrow to decorate the play/school room.


My main goal with this project was to give him a little independence while still practicing the preschool skills we’ve been working on. I let him do the cutting, the drawing, and the placement of the “hair” (as you may have guessed by the photo), but I made the main scarecrow body so it would still look semi-scarecrow-ish by the time we were finished. Depending on your child’s age, you could pick and choose which aspects you felt most important to give your child the freedom to do.

1) Get everything ready. My prep work involved making the body. This was fairly simple. I used 2 pieces of blue construction paper, one left whole, and one cut in half to make two legs. Then I cut a piece of brown construction paper in half to make two shirt sleeves. Finally, I cut a circle of paper for the head.

2) Have your child draw the scarecrow’s face:

sept 2014 004

2) Have your child cut strips of “straw” and glue them onto the head (for hair), sleeves, and pants (for hands and feet) as desired.

sept 2014 005(Do you like the multitude of face parts and the minimalist hair? 🙂 )

3) Next, we made a “patchwork” letter S on our scarecrow’s overalls. I wrote the letter S in school glue and had J place paper scraps along the glue to form the letter.

sept 2014 007(Note also that our scarecrow’s hairstyle got a little emo-style, side-swept bang drama since the last picture…)

4) I let J decorate the scarecrow’s overalls by practicing writing “S” freehand where ever he liked. You can see the one I helped him with vs. the ones I let him do himself- most of them ended up backwards, but it was good practice nonetheless. Here’s our overall front:

sept 2014 010Overall, a fun, simple project to do that offered a lot of fine motor skills, writing practice, and independence for J. Hope you have fun making yours! What’s your favorite scarecrow project for fall?


Blueberry Recycled Art for Preschoolers

It’s blueberry season! But it was rather wet and dreary the day we were supposed to go to the blueberry farm, so we were stuck home instead. To hold us off til we could get some good pickin’s, J and I decided to make some rainy day blueberry art together.


First, we looked up some pictures of blueberry bushes to refresh our memory on what the plant actually looked like.  (It’s amazing the things we don’t observe until necessary.)


Photo Credit

Next, I took an old Styrofoam fruit tray and drew a few simple leaves in them with a pen so that the lines made a good indent in the foam. Then I cut out the leaves. Voila, recycled stamps!

Aug 2014 015

We got out a piece of craft paper and squirted out our poster paint onto a plate (green, yellow-green, and blue-green for variety). Then I let J get smearing and stamping. I tried to encourage him to stamp the leaves in groups, but he preferred a somewhat separated blueberry bush. 😉

Aug 2014 020

We set our craft paper up to dry, and next got out a sheet of newspaper. The little man decorated it with a generous squeeze of blue and red paint, then we crumpled it all up and opened it again. The result was a type of tie-dyed newspaper.

Aug 2014 026

Aug 2014 031

We set the newspaper up to dry and took a break with some blueberry themed books. Blueberries for Sal , The Blueberry Train, and Blueberries for the Queen were some of our favorite picks from the library.

Finally, after nap and dinner, we came back to our project. I had J practice cutting circles out of our purpley newspaper to make little paper blueberries.

Aug 2014 033

Next, we took some of our homemade Mod Podge and adhered the blueberries onto their bush. J decided to call it quits after only a small handful of berries… and there are no stems.. but you get the idea. For me, art with kids is more about the process than having it look perfect when its all done. So we’re keeping it real here!

Aug 2014 041

How do you celebrate blueberry season? Link up to your favorite book or craft to go with this delicious treat.

This post was shared at No Time For Flash Cards Link & Learn.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on the links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support!