My “Top Faves” Booklist

I’ve been reorganizing our bookshelves and reminiscing about some of the books we’ve read and enjoyed together over the years and I thought I’d create a quick list of some of our most loved books. According to my calculations, we’ve read between ninety to one-hundred books together, but the ones I list here stand out to us as the most memorable.

1. Abel’s Island by William Steig

I absolutely love this author’s writing style. We’ve read several of his others but this one is definitely the most charming and loved by us.

 

2. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

We remember giggling through these three years ago and now my youngest, who’s in third grade, is reading Winnie the Pooh again and enjoying it very much. These are the ultimate classics of children’s literature.

 

3. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

While Charlotte’s Web might be White’s most popular book, I’d have to choose The Trumpet of the Swan over it. We loved this story.

 

4. A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

 

5. In Grandma’s Attic series by Arleta Richardson

These reminded me of The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but with a little more humor and a moral lesson you discover in every chapter. Each chapter stands alone as its own story so you can take longer breaks between readings, which is nice.

 

6. Betsy Tacy and series by Maud Hart Lovelace

Such a cute series, but probably best suited for girls.

 

7. Little Pear and Little Pear and His Friends by Eleanor Lattimore

These are super cute and reminded me a bit of Betsy Tacy, but with a boy as the main character.

 

8.The Twenty One Balloons William Pene Du Bois

This is mine and Elliot’s favorite read aloud yet. It’s just all around great.

 

9. The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon

 

10.Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

 

11. Boy of the Pyramids by Ruth Fosdick Jones

 

12. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

 

13. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgeson Burnett

 

14. Wolf Story by William McCleery

This one is especially great for a Dad to read aloud because it’s about a Dad telling a bedtime story!

 

15. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

 

16. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

This is a great book that provoked a lot of interesting discussion around the idea of living eternally.

 

17. The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson

 

18. Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston

This book written in poetry verse was chosen for our summer book club. It’s fabulously clever and so much fun to read out loud. I’d recommend reading this to kids ages eight up because some of the vocabulary is pretty sophisticated.

 

19. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Elliot read the entire Narnia series several years ago, but I had never read any of them until recently when I decided we’d start reading them together. It’s a beautifully written story with Christian symbolism that jumps out at you throughout the story. There’s lots of great discussion to be had with this one.

 

20. Ramona the Pest and series by Beverly Cleary

Unfortunately, Ramona sometimes gets a bad rap. I think a lot of parents are worried she’s a naughty kid who will be a bad example to their kids. Personally, I think Beverly Cleary captures the heart and mind of a child so extremely well and kids enjoy Ramona because they can relate to what she’s thinking and feeling. Any “bad attitudes” displayed serve as a great opportunity for discussion. These books were the very first chapter books I read to our kids when they were just five and two-years-old, and they got us hooked on reading books together. I can still see in my mind’s eye my fidgety little two-year-old quieting down and becoming still to listen to these being read. For that reason, they will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

And because professional narrators often read a book better than I ever could, our top favorite audiobooks are worth mentioning too.

1. Bud, Not Buddy narrated by James Avery

 

2. Nooks and Crannies narrated Susie Riddell

 

3. The BFG narrated by David Walliams

 

4. The Great Brain narrated by Ron McClarty

 

5. Tuesdays at the Castle narrated by Suzy Jackson

 

6. Just So Stories narrated by Jim Weiss

 

7. The Penderwicks narrated by Susan Denaker

 

8. Twenty and Ten narrated by Eve Bianco

 

9. The One and Only Ivan narrated by Adam Grupper

 

10. Fortunately, the Milk written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

 

11. Mary Poppins narrated by Sophie Thompson

 

12. Hank the Cowdog and series written and Narrated by John Erickson

(Not my personal fave, but the kids find them to be pretty funny and with sixty-eight books in the series, there’s always more where that came from!)

 

13. All of the books written by Beverly Clearly, including by not limited to The Mouse and the Motorcycle and series, Henry Huggins and series, Ribsy and series, Ramona the Pest and series, Ellen Tebbits, and Otis Spofford.

 

First Day of School 2016

Our first day of school was really fantastic. Both kids were eager to see what new things they’d be doing and they had great attitudes about the tasks that might be challenging or would take them more time.

My main concern was how we would like the stuff we were trying for the first time. When you’ve invested in new curriculum, there’s always the concern that you’ll discover you hate it on the first day, but we were successful with everything that was new to us and I feel really good about using it all long-term.  I’m breathing a big sigh of relief!

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Middle School Antics

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“I see you taking pictures of us.”

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He did a massive amount of note-taking while listening to our history audios.  After telling him my expectation that he’d be taking notes, I was secretly a bit worried he’d tell me he didn’t know what to write and that we’d end up with a blank page at the end, but he literally never stopped writing. We all found the audios to be very easy to listen to and full of interesting facts. Caroline kept turning to me and winking when she heard something that caught her attention!  I loved getting the affirmation that she was following along.

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What’s New for the 2016-2017 School Year

It’s so hard to believe we are about to begin our 7th year of homeschooling.  When I tell people that, I find myself re-counting the years just to be sure because I can’t believe it’s been that long already.  But yep, I have a sixth grader this year, so the math all adds up!  Seems like just yesterday he was approaching Kindergrten and we attended the registration at the local elementary school where we began the process of enrolling him. I remember telling Josh that life was about to change so much and that we’d be spending the next eight years with a child at that school. Just weeks later, the thought that maybe I should look into the idea of homeschooling seemed to come out of nowhere. Before I knew it I was un-enrolling him and buying books and researching curriculum.  Since then, neither of our kids have set foot in the school that I thought our lives were going to be revolving around. Instead, our life and our learning has all happened at home.

The years of Five in a Row, phonics workbooks, and readers are behind us now. To be honest, I’m excited to have two big kids who are ready to tackle more challenging and interesting stuff.

We’re sticking with the math, grammar, and spelling programs we’ve used for years. Both kids will have a generous amount of assigned reading throughout the year and will keep a reading response journal.  In addition we’ll be doing the following:

Elliot will be starting Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing with Skill.  Up until this year I’ve created my own writing instruction and assignments for him but I’m looking for a bit more structure this year for middle school.

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For History we’re going to continue with a not-so-traditional approach, using a variety of resources instead of the typical textbook/workbook.  We finished U.S. history last year so we’re starting World History again, beginning with Ancient History.  We’re going to listen to audio CDs from Diana Waring’s history series, read books and listen to audiobooks that take place in the ancient world, watch Khan Academy videos, have great conversations, and do plenty of map work. We’ll also use my Keynote slideshow timeline that will assist the kids in filling in their own timeline of events.

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For science, Elliot is going to work through John Tiner’s Biology book along with the comprehension questions that go with it from Memoria Press.  Additionally, both kids will be doing a short 10-week astronomy unit, also from Memoria Press.

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Typically for third and fourth grade, I let my kids choose what interests them from our stash of science books and magazines in addition to giving them a few selections I want them to read.  So this year, Caroline will often be doing her own choosing for science, but she’ll also be reading a few books I’ve chosen from the Super Smart Science series, as well as the first book in the Sassafras Science series.

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And these are a few on our list for reading aloud together this year (in addition to the books that fit with our history).

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Our school room also got a bit of a refresher for the new school year.  We’ve traded in their separate desks for one big table. I got two drawer units that each have ten drawers, more than enough to keep all their subjects nicely organized and separated with a few to spare for them to store their creative protects.

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And I’m super excited about this idea that I snagged from Sarah Mackenzie at the Read Aloud Revival.  No more writing the day’s assignments on a dry erase board (that would get accidentally eased too often).  I love that we’ll be able to look back on everything they accomplished each day of the entire school year.

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We’re looking forward another great year!

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New York and Boston

Josh and Caroline recently took a special father-daughter trip up to New York and Boston.  They stayed with an Aunt, Uncle, and Cousins who live in New Jersey and with another Aunt who lives in Boston.  What a blessing it is to have family that live in interesting places!

 

A Day at the Shore

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Cousins

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American Girl Store in NYC

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Boston

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Simplifying Allowance

We recently changed how we do allowance and it’s been so helpful that I thought I’d share the idea.  For years we’ve been getting stacks of one dollar bills to keep in an envelop for weekly allowance money.  Sooner or later though, my stash would run out and I’d forget to get more and I rarely have enough ones in my wallet, and so I’d “owe” a child some and it would just became a major pain to keep up with it all.  The kids were less motivated to do their chores because they only really got paid the agreed amount part of the time, so their quality of work was slipping. And then there’s the issue of kids keeping track of those one dollar bills.  Half the time the money would get misplaced, which would lead to big disappointment. Another thing I discovered was that when my kids have cash physically in their possession, they have more of a desire to spend it.  For all these reasons I’ve mentioned, they weren’t able to save larger amounts of money.  We really want our kids to learn the value and satisfaction of saving long term for something bigger.  We decided we wanted to give them more of the real world experience of having an account they can deposit and spend from (without having to constantly go to the bank to deposit into their savings accounts, which they do have), so we set up little account books in simple notepads for each of them where we can keep track of what they earn and spend. Their money is now all on paper.  If they earn their allowance, I simply add it as a deposit to their “account”. If they make a purchase, I buy the item but then deduct the amount from their current balance. It’s so simple and has been working out so well!  No more trips to the bank to load up on ones that are just going to get lost or spend on junk.  And best of all, they forget that they even have money because it’s “out of sight and out of mind” so they are saving so much more than they used to.

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She’s normally my little spender, but she has not spent any of her money since we started doing it this way.

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My Top Online Educational Tools

I was just thinking the other day about how many helpful websites/apps I’ve come across over the years that we now use on a regular basis. They’ve truly enriched our homeschooling experience and I’m sure they could be useful to others too.  So here’s a quick list of our faves that have a permanent home as a bookmark on my iPad or computer:

1: Spelling City

Make your own spelling lists and it will generate games with those words for your child to practice. They can even take their spelling test on here.  You can use the free version which has fewer games, or buy the premium version (which we have done for a few years now) which has several more options. You can create over 100 separate lists.  I always load up all my lists from our spelling curriculum for the entire school year ahead of time so they’re ready for when my child reaches that lesson.  I’ve got several grades worth of lists created by this point, which is handy as my younger child is now coming up on spelling lessons I’ve already created lists for.

 

2. Quizlet

This is great for studying vocabulary words or anything else you would create flash cards for.  You make sets of words and their definitions and then your child can play games and test themselves. You can also print out flash cards or quizzes if you prefer to do it that way.  Additionally, you can browse and save other people’s sets, so if you’re looking for vocabulary words to go with, for instance, a novel you’re reading, you might get lucky and find that someone else has already created a great set. You can use it both on the computer or on the iPad app.

 

3. XtraMath

This is the perfect solution for drilling the math facts. You set the level/operation for each of your students and they work on the math facts until they’ve mastered them. You even get reports emailed to you, detailing how your child is coming along.

 

4. Khan Academy

We’ve used this a few times when needing to hear certain math concepts explained differently, but I have plans to incorporate their great videos into our history studies next year and beyond.  There is so much on there it’s almost overwhelming. Most of the ones I’ve previewed look like they are probably best for middle school age and up.

 

5. Audible

I wrote a blog post about Audible not long ago, and we’ve continued to LOVE it.  It’s not cheap, but in my opinion it’s money well spent. In the four months we’ve been using it, we’ve listened to 14 books together.  That adds up to a lot more “reading” than we would ordinarily do.  I’ve also found a lot of great stuff that I’m excited to use to enhance our history studies in school, such as this series called Weird World of Wonders as well as lots of historical fiction that would tie in well to the different time periods we’ll study.

 

6. Book Adventure

I just recently came across this and I’m excited to use it this school year.  While I’m certainly not into imitating public schools by overdoing it with tests, especially when it comes to reading, I’ve been looking for a tool that can help me assess how much of what my kids read “sticks”, so when I came across this website that has comprehension quizzes on thousands of books, I was pretty thrilled. After setting up their account, kids can earn points by scoring well on each short ten-question quiz and eventually buy prizes (albeit, they’re not the greatest prizes), or you can set up your own incentive plan with rewards you’ll give when a certain number of points is reached. My kids and I have tried out a few quizzes on books we’ve read together and they seemed to think it was more like a game than a test, which is exactly what I was going for.

 

7. Duolingo

My kids have been using this iPad app to learn more Spanish.  There are around 18 different languages and several more in development. You won’t become fluent by using it, but it definitely can increase your vocabulary if you use it regularly.

 

Summer Book Club

We’ve had the privilege in being a part of our friends’ Summer book club (that got started a bit early) and have been reading some of the books together as an entire family.  Josh has really enjoyed being a part of this with us and he even got to lead one of the book discussions on The Green Ember. It was definitely more of a “dad book” (in fact, it was written by a dad who told this story to his own children). It was not exactly my cup of tea, but I was glad to be a part of it with my family.

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