Homeschool… are you crazy?


This is the question I’m asking myself daily right now, as I prepare to homeschool my rising 3rd grader.  We ended up here for a mess of reasons, switching my son from a private Montessori school.  The idea is to do it for 3 years, until we can enroll him in the private school where we are putting his sister this year.  But, who knows?  I’m definitely taking this one year at a time (heck, one day at a time!).

While my son is well past the learning to read phase, I see this upcoming year as a continuation of the out-of-school work and play we have always done, and hence a continuation of this blog.  So, I hope you’ll come back as I build resources for those of you who are homeschooling full-time or just as supplement to other schooling your child is receiving!

Books on Diversity and Civil Rights


I’m hearing a lot of calls right now for help identifying books that teach about diversity and civil rights.  Regardless of your political persuasion, these are concepts we can all get behind, and that will benefit our kids as they try to understand the emotion in post-election America.  The more books we read that contain diverse characters and difficult topics, the better we and our children will be equipped to talk about race, religion, sexuality, and other differences that make us whole we are.  A word about the links: the title for each link is meant as a shorthand for the predominant topic or a description of the main characters.  These are all books for all of us!  So, choose a list and head to your local library or bookstore!

So here are links to a number a of book lists that focus on these topics.  Know of other book lists that are helpful, or have a favorite that isn’t listed?  Please comment!

Books to teach about diversity
50 books discussing diversity
Books on diversity and bullying

Books about religious diversity
Books on transgender and gender non-conforming kids

Books that Affirm Black Boys – scroll down for books about black boys, divided into age categories 

Books that Affirm Black Girls – scroll down for books about black girls, divided into age categories

More books with black main characters
Books about black history in America
10 books on the Civil Rights Movement
15 books on the Civil Rights Movement
A comprehensive list of multicultural children’s books
Good list of Latino children’s books, but difficult site organization
Hispanic heritage picture books
Asian children’s books

Borrow a page from language programs


I have recently been learning another language through an app, and it has given me a few ideas on new early-reading games to play with kids.  If you try this or any of the other games or tips I mention, please let me know how it worked or how you modified it for your kiddo!

Search and Label

Have a dollhouse with furniture?  Some old magazines you can cut up?

Collect 10 (or so) items that start with different letters, for example: bed, sofa, rug, television, lamp, window, door, floor, wall, kitchen.

Write on slips of paper or sticky notes the words that correspond to the pictures or dollhouse furniture that you have chosen.

Have your child place the label with the item.

What does this teach your child? Even if they cannot yet read these complicated words, you should be able to help them think through which beginning sound corresponds to which picture.  They will start to realize that even if they don’t know a word, there may be clues that can help them figure it out.  Of course, sounding it out is always a great place to start, but context is also important, and this little game can help them realize that.


Choose one beginning sound and see how many items you can find in your house, on a walk, in pictures in a favorite book.

Use ending sounds instead of beginning sounds.

Remove the pictures/furniture, and see if they can find the item corresponding to the word somewhere in the house.

Tip of the day: long or short vowel?


Mat or mate? Early readers frequently misread words, and more often than not their confusion is rooted in the vowels. An “s” always says sssss, but the vowels are not consistent. How to help? I try to get my kids to think about a vowel’s sound as soon as they look at the word. When they stumble, I repeat a catch phrase, ” Is the “a” short or long? How do you know?” Even if they read the word correctly, I will bring them back to my question. “Good job figuring out that word. Now, can you tell me, is the ‘a’ long or short?” Regardless of whether they give the correct answer, I then ask “how do you know?” Getting them to the how was critical, because it showed they understood the rule and could decipher on their own. If they got the wrong answer but the correct rule, I asked again if it was long or short.

That’s great, you say, but what is the rule on short and long vowels? Generally, a vowel is short. There are two main exceptions (we are talking English, so there are lots of exceptions, but I’m trying to beginners at the moment): when there is an “e” within eyesight, or when another vowel is right next to the vowel in question.

The Magic E! If an “e” follows one consonant from the vowel, then the vowel is long. The words don’t matter – understanding the idea does: the “a” in “ate” is long because the “e” is within eyesight (one letter away). “Atte” is not a long “a”, because the e is too far away to use its magic (e.g., matte). So when I ask why a vowel is long, I want to hear, “Because of the ‘e’!” Why is it short? “Because there is no ‘e’!”

Vowel partners! When vowels are partners (diphthongs), they usually sound like the long version of the first vowel. “Ai” is pronounced as a long ‘a’. “Ee” is pronounced as a long “e”. You get the idea. As I said, not always true, but usually true.

I hope this helps you and your little reader help decipher more words together!

Tune into the Soccer/Futbol excitement


Yes, the US was eliminated today by Belgium, but if your kids are anything like mine, they’ve been watching and hearing about the World Cup.  They may have even caught some of the soccer bug.  Here are a few books that might tickle their soccer fancy.  I’m sorry they aren’t organized by reading level, but there’s something for everyone in this list.  Remember to check your local library to see if they have or can order the books you are interested in.  If you have other suggestions or comments on any of the books in this list, please leave a comment!

Froggy Plays Soccer, by Jonathan London

Magic Tree House #52: Soccer on Sunday (and the accompanying fact book) by Mary Pope Osbourne

Stars of the World Cup by Illugi Jokulsson – ages 7 and up, a small bio of some of the most well-known players

National Geographic Kids Everything Soccer by Blake Hoena

The Everything Kids’ Soccer Book by Deborah Crisfield

The Wild Soccer Bunch, Book 1, Kevin the Star Striker by Joachim Masannek – ages 9 and up, a hit series that began in Germany and has 13 books (one for each member of the soccer team)

My Soccer Book by Gail Gibbons – preschool – Grade 2, basic facts about the game with pictures and a glossary

Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin – Grades 1-3, about a Brazilian boy who dreams of being a soccer star

Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson – beautifully illustrated, charming book about the troubles and hopes of refugees in Haiti

After-School Sports Club: Soccer Day by Alyson Heller – a Level 1 Ready to Read book

Captain Awesome, Soccer Star by Stan Kirby – a chapter book with illustrations, for ages 5 and up

Soccer Sam by Jean Marzollo – a level 4 Step into Reading book

Soccer Game! by Grace Maccarone – a Level 1 Scholastic Reader

Little Soccer by Brad Herzog – rhyming riddles about soccer

Olivia Plays Soccer by Tina Gallo – a Level 1 Ready to Read book

Soccer Duel by Matt Christopher – 10 year olds

Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town by Warren St. John – Grade 7 and up

The Soccer Mystery: The Boxcar Children Mysteries #60 by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm – preschool – Grade 2, a picture book about persistence

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal (Go! Go! Sports Girls) by Kara Douglass Thom

Saving the Team *The Kicks) by Alex Morgan – Grades 4-6, multiracial characters

Maisy Plays Soccer by Lucy Cousins – a picture book for the younger crowd

Frankie’s Magic Soccer Ball series by Frank Lampard – a series of books about a young soccer team, written by a professional soccer player from England

The Berenstain Bears Get Their Kicks by Stan Berenstain

Less is more… Again


There is a new article making the rounds that nicely dovetails with a couple of my recent posts. “Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom” discusses new research from Carnegie Mellon, which shows that young children who are still learning to focus, like those in K and 1st grade, are more distracted, less focused on the teacher, and learn less in heavily decorated classrooms.

I wrote about similar theories in Keeping a Child Focused and Trouble in Interactive Book Paradise. It was definitely my experience with my two kids that the more extraneous decoration there was around the material they were learning, the less focus they had for the material itself. Sesame Street ABC cards were quickly discarded for my homemade letter cards because of the distraction of characters climbing over the letters. And I’ve become a broken record on how much I like the BOB Books for their simplicity and black and white pages.

Interactive books and classrooms with busy walls may have their place for older children (the article mentions 6th graders who are more capable of dealing with the distractions), and even for younger children in the right circumstances.  But this study advocates the “less is more” approach.  It also makes this one more area of Maria Montessori’s century-old approach to teaching children that has been backed up by recent research. As the article reminds us, “Montessori schools have long emphasized a calmer, understated look.”

More studies are needed to really understand the impact of classrooms with busy walls. Perhaps the children absorb what is on the walls over time, reinforcing the verbal lessons they pay less attention to? Perhaps the children in the more heavily decorated classroom learn faster how to focus and ignore distractions? Or, are the children in the decorated classrooms ultimately more inspired and excited about learning, or do they continue to miss lessons, fall further behind, and lose interest because they are struggling? What does this tell us about teaching the many children with attention issues?

I’m obviously only a researcher within my little family, but the article quotes another researcher of early education, unassociated with this study, who feels that her own research is in line with the results of this study.

I want to throw myself over those scalloped borders and cute cartoon stuff and scream to teachers, “Don’t buy this, it’s visually damaging for children!”

says Patricia Tarr, from the University of Calgary.

Tarr wrote an article in 2004 on this topic which is worth a quick read, particularly for those who will be decorating classrooms next Fall.  She implores educators to rethink their classroom decorations.  One of the classrooms she observed was heavily decorated.  After looking at the commercial decorations that adorned the walls and bulletin boards, Tarr became convinced that they create stereotypes that are counterproductive to the learning going on in the classroom.

The image of the learner embedded in these materials is that of a consumer of information who needs to be entertained, rather than a child who is curious and capable of creating and contributing to the culture within this environment.
She sees value in some postings on walls, but feels they should be based on work done by the children or should be accessible and relevant to work the children are doing, rather than commercial decorations.  If there is a word wall, are they words that are relevant to the children in that classroom, and are they readily visible as a resource, or just a decoration filling a back corner?
I hope you find this food for thought for school and home classrooms, and for the level of distraction that our young ones can handle when simultaneously learning a difficult new task.  Happy reading!

2014 Summer Reading Program Incentives


Sometimes we could all use a little incentive. Luckily, there are a lot of summer reading programs that provide one for children. I’m talking, fill in a reading journal or write a short book report and receive prizes of one sort or another.  Know of a program that isn’t listed?  Please let me know in the comments section and I’ll update the list.

First stop: your school, homeschool co-op, local public library and DOD-MWR Library Installation, and place of worship.

Next stop: one of the local businesses in the list below

Book Stores and Suppliers:

  • Scholastic – help set a new world record with their Reading Under the Stars program!!!  They have book lists for different reading abilities, a timer app you can download to keep track of reading time, and weekly challenges and rewards.  Runs from 5/5 to 9/5.
  • Sylvan’s Book Adventure – read books from their online book lists, go to the website for quizzes on the books to earn point to earn prizes ranging from temporary tattoos and candy to a 3-month Highlights subscription, books, and CDs.  Runs year-round.
  • local, independent bookstores – they don’t all have programs, but many do, and it’s worth calling, asking, or checking out their website
  • Barnes and Noble – my personal favorite, because you can keep going back and getting more prizes.  Pick up their journal in a store or print from their website, read 8 books, and choose from a list of free books.  They have books in different age groups, and you simply go to the kids section of the store, choose one from the summer reading program rack, take it to the counter and pay no money.  As I said, the great thing is they have encouraged me in past years to have my kids keep reading, and to bring back as many journals as my kids will complete, and keep getting free books.  If you have an early reader, they can still participate even though they aren’t in K yet.  Runs through 9/2.
  • Books A Million – Read 6 books on their list of books, return the journal, and get a free Theodore Boone Pencil Case and Pencil (the main character in John Grisham’s kid books).  Runs through 8/16, while supplies last.
  • Half Price Books – Read 300 minutes in each of June and July and receive $5 gift cards for each month.  The child will also be entered in a drawing for a $20 gift card.  Runs through 7/31.
  • Tyndale Media Center – read 5 Christian-centric books from their lists and write 5 reviews on sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and you can choose a free book to receive in the mail.


  • TD Bank – Grades K-5, read 10 books, return the journal, and they will reward you with $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.  Runs through 8/31.
  • CapCom Federal Credit Union – Kids up to 12th Grade can earn $3 per book read, up to 5 books.  They run the program again in the winter.  In order to receive the money, children must submit (as age appropriate by their standards) a picture or short summary of the book.  Must be a CapCom Member to participate.  Runs through 9/15.


  • Pottery Barn Kids – Kids under 10 who read all the books on one of their reading lists get a free book.  Runs through 6/17.  You can also go meet the characters of PBS’ SuperWhy on special event days.
  • American Girl – Less of a reward program than a source of ideas, quizzes, in-store events, and more.  Runs through 8/26.
  • HEB H.E. Buddy Summer Reading Club – Read 10 books, mail in the form, and receive prizes (it looks like you may receive a t-shirt).  There is no fine print on the form requiring you to live near one of their grocery stores.  Runs through 10/1.


  • Chuck E. Cheese – Earn 10 Chuck E. Cheese tokens by filling in one of their charts, including a reading chart that requires reading each day for two weeks.  Ongoing.
  • Pizza Hut’s Book It Program – read 5 books and complete an Instagram scavenger hunt to earn chances to win prizes.  There are lots of printable activities sorted by title of picture book or chapter book.  Runs through 8/15.


  • Showcase Cinemas – read a book, write a report on their form, and bring to a cinema for free admission to special Wednesday showings of kid-centric movies.  Siblings under 6 and parents may accompany the reader for free.  Runs through 8/13.

Other Resources:

  • Latinas4LatinoLit – Read 8 books, and be either a Freemium of Preemium member by 7/17 and receive prizes and be entered into drawings for some really great rewards (including a ChromeBook!).
  • NEA – tips, resources, and graded book lists.

Summer – Scraboggle

Scraboggle 1

The complete set up for Scraboggle

My kids got out of school on Friday and were adamant yesterday morning that we have “school” at the usual time. Complete with recess. I’m not one to say no to a desire to learn, so I pulled some tasks out of my always-stocked box of activities. We started the day with Bingo (nothing like reinforcing number recognition with the younger one), then pulled out some rocks we had gotten at a museum. I had both kids draw several of the rocks in their summer journals, and then we took turns looking them up. Littlest one ended up reading about the deepest desert in the world (happens to be in Ethiopia, where he was born). My older kid wrote and my younger kid dictated descriptions of the rocks, and some fast facts about them after we identified what type of rock/mineral they were. Huge success, with some reading, writing, art, and science thrown in the mix.

This morning, my son came running out of his room telling me it was time for Moveable Alphabet. For those not versed in the bizarre methods of Montessori, Moveable Alphabet involves using letter tiles to spell words, focusing on phonetics and phonemes. Ever the mother of invention, yours truly went to the game cabinet and pulled out two games we have accumulated from yard sales: Scrabble and Boggle Jr. I set up the Boggle cards so the picture was showing and the word was hidden. I then had my son use the Scrabble tiles to spell the words. He was fabulous. You can see in the picture that there were a few missteps. I copied them into his summer journal, with notes about phonemes he had missed. Behold, the new game of Scraboggle.

For example, “aw” was spelled o-w. I asked him to read what he had spelled, and he immediately realized it was sow, not saw. His hand kept flying to his face to make the “aw” sound and to try to recall what vowel came before the w.

Another interesting one, to me, was can (as in tin can). My son would say it to himself and listen to me, but he kept hearing a “d” at the end of the word. I let him misspell it, and when he pulled the card out to check we talked about why it was can instead of canned (that is, why there was no “d”).

Finally, he tried to spell bus as “bhs.” I tried having him read it back to me and he slowly read “b-huh-s.” I asked him what the H says, and he said “huh.” “Please watch my mouth,” I said, and mostly exhaled to say hhhhhh. That said, he corrected bhs to bus.

I hope this inspires you to use existing games and resources you have at home to keep your kids engaged and learning this summer. I’d love to hear about what you come up with. Happy reading!

Cards and Tiles for Scraboggle

Completed word list for Scraboggle, with sounds to work on

Word Lists and Games


I notice a lot of you looking at the link I posted for sight words, and also looking at the letter sounds pages.  So, I thought I’d take a moment and pull a couple more resources together for you.  Before I do, please know that I will be updating this site soon to have a better breakdown on sounds lessons – that is, which sounds to teach prior to reading the early reader series I used.  I’ve started this by identifying what to teach prior to series one of the BOB Books, and what to teach before series two, but I am in the process of improving and expanding this breakdown of lessons.

Anyway, here are some additional resources that may be useful.  If you have others, please let me know in the comments section (free resources only, please).

Sight words

Sound families / diphthongs

Word family worksheets (there are tons of these worksheets on the web, but this seems like a pretty good, free assortment)

Sound worksheets (again, this is one site of many)

Printable phonics word games