Skip to content
Mar 31 14

“Homeschooling…You Can Do This!” by Terrie Lynn Bittner

by Adrienne

Homeschooling is something I’ve considered doing for a long time, but when my eldest was young it was not a feasible option. I enjoy being with kids and doing crafty things with them, and to watch how they learn. Years ago I took several education courses. The more I learned about “No Child Left Behind” and the emphasis placed on standardized testing, the more depressed I became about becoming a teacher. There would be no time for in-depth projects, or being creative in what or how to teach. By the end of the year, I couldn’t wait to retire from teaching and I hadn’t even earned my degree yet. It occurred to me that there was something very wrong about wanting to retire before starting. So I became a librarian. I could still do creative, crafty things with kids, but would not have to cower before standardized tests, hoping to retain my job.

Homeschooling has been a nebulous question mark hanging in the air ever since our daughter was born, but it was always something to deal with mañana. She turned four in November and for months, dozens of questions swirled around in my head. It’s one thing work with other people’s kids on a weekly basis doing craft projects and slipping in occasional educational content now and then. It’s an entirely different thing to try to educate your own child, while slipping in a craft project every now and then, the main difference being you are totally, completely and irrevocably impacting her entire FUTURE. There were questions about how to deal with the school district, how to decide on a curriculum, where to find this information, socialization, lesson preparation, dealing with much younger children, and so on. The most basic question was, “Can I do this?”

After I finally got tired of rehashing these questions in my head, I did what every good librarian does: I went to the library. Browsing the homeschooling section, I found this title: “Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath – You Can Do This!” by Terrie Lynn Bittner. (This post reviews the 2004 edition, there is a newer edition published in 2012.) This book promised to answer my question. By and large, it does a pretty good job of it. I am glad this is the first book I picked up on the subject. Bittner understands how one can feel completely intimidated by the mere thought of homeschooling. Her approach is general enough that the neophyte does not become overwhelmed with details, specialized vocabulary, and to-do lists, but can find answers to many common questions (and some less common questions).

The first part of the book dealt with a lot of questions I had, from addressing personal insecurities, to how to gracefully manage criticisms from well meaning family and friends, to finding what the laws are in your state. Prior to reading this book, I’ve spent a bit of time researching online. The usual assumption is that one’s audience is a stay at home mom of a traditional nuclear family interested in homeschooling for religious reasons. Bittner recognizes not everyone fits this mold. She touches on homeschooling if you are divorced and have joint custody, as well as how to manage if you are single with a full time job. Most chapters in the book conclude with a short list of annotated resources. Given that the copy I was looking at was ten years old, I was skeptical that any of the websites listed would still be working. I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly all of the websites I checked out were still there, although specific url’s may have changed. (The only sites that didn’t work were geocities ones, and I can’t fault her for not foreseeing the demise of that service.)

The next chapters get into the nuts and bolts of homeschooling: how to organize not only your learning space, but your time as well, what sort of record keeping is necessary and/or helpful, managing with a baby or toddlers, afterschooling, where to find good deals on supplies, what to keep in mind when purchasing or designing your own curriculum. Suggestions are given for kids with learning disabilities or who have special needs. This is followed by a series of chapters devoted to each major academic subject. She gets into a bit more detail with these chapters, and I confess the first time I read it, I just skimmed them because I wasn’t ready for that yet. Of these, the chapter that really stood out was the one on writing. It is full of outstanding ideas to help both parents and children improve their writing skills. She argues that in order to help kids improve their papers,  parents must be able to write well themselves. She clearly loves to write and obviously thinks it is one of the most important academic subjects you can teach your children. The college I attended after high school had a philosophy that if you can write well, then you can think well. I think Bittner would agree. The last chapters give an idea of exactly how to get started, whether in Kindergarten or if your child has been to school already, how to evaluate your child’s learning, how to deal with people who question homeschooling, that there will be bad days and what the ultimate rewards are.

Bittner’s tone is comforting, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, she is excited about learning right along with her children, and she wants them to be excited about it, too. The book is full of examples where she has come up with creative and active ways to get kids to learn basic, rote stuff that is usually tedious. (Think relay races with flash cards.) The stories she tells reveal how she learned things along the way, which gave me confidence that although there is a lot I don’t know right now, I will learn by doing it. She has been there and knows your housekeeping may suffer (though she does give tips about dealing with it) or that some days your kid will drive you crazy. Obviously, she believes homeschooling is one of the best options available, but stated more than once that it’s not for everybody. And it may not even be the best choice for a particular child for all thirteen years of school. She emphasizes that if you homeschool for a year and decide to send your child back to public school, you are not a failure; you have given your child the gift of that year.

If you are “thinking about homeschooling,” before you dive into the morass of websites and blogs on the subject, read this book first. Compared to other intro to homeschool books I’ve read, this one best addresses any misgivings you may have. Enough information is presented to answer most questions, but is not so detailed as to become overwhelming. Ultimately, I walked away from this book with a good mental picture of what homeschooling could look like. It looked a little less scary than before. I think I can do this.

Mar 1 14

Saints’ Books for Children

by Adrienne

I enjoy stories of the Saints and want to share them with my four year old. The illustrations in some books on the lives of the saints look like they were taken from prayer cards – and I love prayer cards, but they are not the images I would choose to illustrate a children’s book. I have found a number of books at the library that have engaging stories and illustrations. I have also included feast days as well. This post will be added to as I come across more titles.

St. Martin de Porres – November 3

The illustrations are vibrant for this first black saint from the Americas. His kindness and gentleness shine through in the story despite prejudice from all sides.

St. Patrick - March 17

Tomie dePaola has written and illustrated so many picture books about different saints. The stories are well written and his illustrations keep children’s interest. For most of St. Patrick’s story, he sticks to the facts, but includes a number of legends about him at the back of the book. My favorite is of him riding an altar stone on the sea in the wake of a ship.

 

Sep 4 12

A New Look at Swallow Hollow

by Adrienne

Swallow Hollow is a part of our local wildlife refuge. Just over a mile, it’s an easy walk; flat terrain and lots of benches. Even a toddler can deal with it, provided she can periodically ride via stroller or backpack. We have never tried a stroller on this trail, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.  Having been an armchair naturalist for many years, it seemed a good idea to really get to know a place. My proposal to the family was to visit every three to five weeks to see what’s different, and learn to identify what’s what along the trail.

We visited on Sept. 2, late afternoon. Justin did all the research trying to identify trees and flowers, while I tried to take some photos, playing around with the manual settings on the camera. This is what the entrance looked like when we arrived.Justin was able to successfully identify several types of trees, namely elm, oak and aspen. As there maples are quite common in this area, we did not need a guidebook to identify those. Of the few flowers left, we were able to identify tall white aster and purple loosestrife. We did not have a spider identification book with us, and so were unable to pin down the two spiders we saw at the bottom of funnel-shaped webs in the hollows of several trees. My best guess is that they are from the Linyphiidae family. Aside from a dozen or so small birds that flew ahead of us as we neared the end of the trail, that was all the wildlife we saw. This summer has been especially dry, and the swamp was dried up at least 20 feet in from where we are used to seeing it. The shrubs on the southeast side of the trail were thirsty, and there was not a mushroom to be seen.

I was not entirely prepared for our trip, as the camera battery ran out of juice halfway through. But it was long enough to get a few shots I was pleased with.

Nov 2 11

Autumn Storytime

by Adrienne

Our group of kids this year is composed of mostly two and three year olds, so the books and crafts are chosen with that in mind.

Books

“When Autumn Falls” by Kelli Nidley

“Leaf Jumpers” by Carole Gerber

“Leaf Man” by Lois Ehlert

Fingerplays and Flannel Boards

A fingerplay from thebestkidsbooksite.com

Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves are floating down,
(float arms and hands up and down)
They make a carpet on the ground
Then swish, the wind comes whistling by,

(move arms to the side quickly)
And sends them dancing to the sky.

A fingerplay from Alphabet Soup

Mr. Oak Tree
(Sung to tune of “Where is Thumbkin?”)

Mr. Oak Tree,
(Hold your arms above your head and sway)
Mr. Oak Tree,
Leaves float down,
(Extend hands over head and flutter down)

To the ground.
Acorns dropping–
plip, plop!
(Clap once when each italicized word is sung)

Squirrels a-scamp’ring–hip, hop!
All around,
(Move hands in front of yourself from left to right.)  On the ground.

A flannel board from Kid’n'Kaboodle Daycare

Fall Flannel Story
Cut a nice size tree from brown (the trunk) and green (the top) flannel to make a tree. Then cut out 5 nice size leaves, in fall colors, to go along with the following poem:

5 little leaves in the tree next door,
1 fell off and then there were 4,
4 little leaves all over the tree,
A bird pulled off 1, and now there are 3,
3 little leaves up where the wind blew,
1 fell off and then there were 2,
2 little leaves sitting in the sun,
A bug ate a leaf and now there is 1,
1 little leaf in the tree alone,
the wind blew and blew and now there are none!

 

Craft: Fall Wreath from thebestkidsbooksite.com

Materials Needed: Self adhesive leaf-shaped foam — Paper plates with the centers cut out — Ribbon for hanging — Hole punch (optional)

What To Do:  Have kids stick leaves to paper plate ring.  Either make a hole punch where you would like the top of the wreath to be, thread the ribbon through it and tie, or simply tie a bit of ribbon around the ring for hanging.  The leaves we used were about 1.5-2″ long.  It took about 12 leaves to go around the ring.

Oct 13 11

“The Fires Beneath the Sea” by Lydia Millet

by Adrienne

It was almost time for school to start again, and Cara missed her mother who disappeared several months ago.  One day in late August, after the tourists had for the most part left the beaches around her home in Cape Cod, Cara decided to go for a swim and has an unusual experience with an otter.  Unusual not only because otters do not live in the Atlantic, but also because the otter was communicating with her.  This information is presented in the first ten pages, and in the next forty the reader learns about Cara’s home life.

As I read, it just all sounded so familiar.  A middle child whose older sibling is the paragon of normal and her little brother who is a genius but kind of weird and possesses some sort of extra sensory perception.  The protagonist is more clued in than the oldest child, but not as clued in as the youngest.  Their parents are scientists.  One parent mysteriously disappears.  There are phantoms that only the middle and youngest child can see, but only the youngest child really understands…..And then it dawned on me.  This storyline is remarkably similar to “A Wrinkle in Time.” Upon this realization, I had to stop reading this book, because for the rest of the time, I would constantly be comparing it to Madelene L’Engle’s work.  This is probably also the reason I have not become an author of fiction myself.  I was given an assignment in 8th grade to write a short story and had a difficult time getting started because I could not think of a single original idea for a plot.

At any rate, the writing is good.  Were it not for this unfortunate comparison in my mind, I would probably read the whole thing.  Life is such that I do not have oodles of time to read, so what I read needs to be worthwhile for one reason or another.  For those who cannot get enough of “A Wrinkle in Time,”  “The Fires Beneath the Sea” is probably a fine read alike.  Or you could read  the rest of the Time Quintet series.          

 

Aug 3 11

And Now For Something Completely Different…

by Adrienne

At the request of my husband, I am writing a bit about a new dish I am trying for dinner.  (It is cooking on the stove as I type.)  I had thought I would just post professional related things on this blog, but the truth is I cook more than I read right now.  And because variety is the spice of life, I frequently try new recipes.  When it comes to dinner, my husband likes surprises.  My children are not quite as enthusiastic.

Sometime within the past year, we stopped at a favorite used book store and I picked up The Big Book of Vegetarian by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley.  Most of the recipes I have tried are pretty good.  They are tasty, do not require particularly exotic ingredients, do not have inordinately long ingredients lists, and generally do not take too long to prepare.

The dish currently simmering on the stove is Jambalaya with tofu.  There is another jambalaya recipe which I have modified to be vegetarian which I use frequently, so I thought I would see how this one compares.  The dish we will be eating tonight has liquid smoke in it.  Liquid smoke scares me a little bit, but I had it in the house from a brisket I made this past winter, and when it comes to cooking, I pretty much do everything by the book the first time around.  (I confess I put in a scant teaspoon of liquid smoke because a little of it goes a long way.)  This dish also requires a some forethought, as the tofu needs to be frozen a day or two ahead of time, and then needs to be thawed four hours before you want to use it, so the recipe says.  I found that four hours was not long enough, and had to put it in the microwave a few minutes for it to finish thawing.  One nice thing about this recipe is that it calls for brown rice, so that makes it more healthy for you.  This may not necessarily be a net gain, as it requires 45 minutes to cook and at the moment, I am ravenous and will probably eat more than I should.  So you need to chop onions, garlic, celery and green peppers, sauté the onions and garlic for five minutes or so, dump everything into the pot with water/broth, bring to a boil, let it cook 45 minutes and then wait 10 minutes more.  When everything is said and done, it will be about an hour from start to finish.  Not a dish to make when you have little time.  On the other hand, most of the time you are not actively tending to it, so that is nice.

Ta-Da!

The first thing my husband said was, “It’s very hammy.”  Yep, that would be the liquid smoke.  I think if I made this again, I would cook it about five more minutes because the rice was a bit chewy.  Overall, it tasted pretty good (I did have seconds), but the liquid smoke kind of leaves lingering chemical sensation on the palate.  I would probably make it again at some point, maybe halving the liquid smoke, but I don’t think it will become a staple at our house.

Apr 25 11

“A Girl Named Mister” by Nikki Grimes

by Adrienne

Admittedly, I have not read a lot of novels about teen pregnancy.  I think “A Girl Name Mister” might even be the first.  This novel covers most of the points that I imagine all novels about teen pregnancy do, the essence of which can be summed up thus: a pregnancy changes relationships.  Mister (a nickname derived from her initials) has to deal with changes in her relationship with her boyfriend, her best friend, her mother and herself.  One aspect of this novel that is probably a little different is that it also addresses the spiritual aspect.  Mister has grown up being very active in church; she even has a promise ring — a symbol that she made a promise to God to save herself for marriage.

The novel is formatted as a series of poems, which makes for a quick read.  It took me less than two hours to read it all.  Most of the poems are written by Mister, but many are from a poetry book she takes solace in which embodies the perspective of Mary the mother of Jesus, also a teenage mother.  Overall, I found the writing uneven.  Sometimes Grimes’ portrayals of Mister’s feelings are right on, like how she feels when she starts hanging around her boyfriend Trey, or how the relationship with her best friend is stressed by her announcement that she is pregnant.  On the other hand, she seems to gloss over the big revelation that Mister’s mother was a teenage mother, too.  There is no depiction of how that played out in their relationship.  There are only a few pages devoted to Mister’s thoughts and reflections.

Librarything.com has given this title 3.5 stars out of 5 and I tend to agree.  When I finished the book, my immediate impression was that it was ok, but not all that great.  As librarians, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to find “the best.”  After all, the library I work for is small and has a correspondingly small materials budget for teens, so I have to be choosy.  I tend to look for starred reviews and what is award-winning.  On the other hand, it is not always the most literary books that speak to kids, or adults for that matter.  When I was thirteen I read Scott O’Dell’s Road to Damietta.  It made a significant impact on me, leading to a strong, active interest in St. Francis well into my twenties.  I reread that book about five or six years ago and was disappointed to find that it really wasn’t all that great.  Sometimes the mediocre is good enough.

I think that “A Girl Named Mister” is good enough to reassure adolescent girls about a number of things.  If a pregnant fifteen year old can feel close to God, it might be possible for a girl who hasn’t messed up that badly.  On the other hand, it might make the reader think twice about being too  judgmental.  And should a girl find herself in this situation, this book shows that your world does not entirely fall apart, even though it feels like it.  The messages offered here make me glad this title will be available on our shelves, even if it is not “the best.”

Jan 24 11

Snowman Storytime

by Adrienne

Books

“All You Need for a Snowmanby Barbara Lavallee

“Snowballs” by Lois Ehlert

“Snowmen at Night” by Caralyn Buehner

Fingerplays and Flannel Boards

A flannel board from Hummingbird Educational Resources

Snowman
First the body  (two white balls of felt to make the snowman’s body)
then the head   (add another ball to make his head)
A stove pipe hat  (add a black tophat)
and a scarf of red  (add the scarf)
Two buttons for his eyes (add eyes)
And a carrot for his nose, (add orange carrot)
then add some raisins,
standing in a row  (add a mouth)

The following two rhymes came from Everything Preschool

I’m a Little Snowman (Sung to: “I’m a Little Teapot”)
I’m a little snowman short and fat.
Here is my scarf and here is my hat.
When the snow is falling come and play.
Build a snowman every day.

I Built a Snowman
I built a little snowman. (make large circle with arms)
He had a carrot nose (point to nose)
Along came a bunny (hold up to bent fingers)
And what do you suppose? (shrug)
That hungry little bunny, ( make bunny again )
Looking for his lunch, ( hop bunny around )
Ate the snowman’s nose. ( pretend bunny is eating nose )
Nibble! Nibble! Crunch! ( pretend to be eating a carrot )

Craft: Snowman Mobile from Step By Step Child Care

Materials Needed: Large and small paper plates — Hat cutouts and hat bands — Carrot cutouts — Scissors — Hole punch — Crayons — Gluesticks

What To Do: Faces: Use small paper plates for the face, construction paper for hats and noses, crayons to draw facial features. Decorate hat with hat band, ribbons or as creativity dictates.  Use a large plate for the body.  Punch a hole at the bottom of the face, one at the top of the hat, and one at the top of the body.  Attach with yarn and hang.

Jan 17 11

“Sophie Simon Solves Them All” by Lisa Graff

by Adrienne

Sophie Simon might possibly be the smartest third grader in the world.  She reads “Civil Disobedience,” psychology textbooks and thinks calculus is fascinating. As smart as she is, it would probably never occur to her that she has at least one thing in common with most of the third graders in the world — parents.  What she wants most in the world is a graphing calculator that costs one hundred dollars, and her parents refuse to get her one.  Thus in chapter one, the reader is confronted with Sophie’s problem.  It turns out that several other kids in her class have problems with their parents as well, and they look to Sophie to help them solve their dilemmas.  Resourceful Sophie sees a way to get her calculator by helping her classmates with their problems.

On the positive side, it’s nice to see a strong, intelligent female lead character who is excited about math.  I enjoyed the introduction of such topics as lemurs, the French Revolution and as mentioned earlier, Henry Thoreau.  (He’s a favorite of mine.)  The book includes a glossary at the back to briefly elaborate on words, topics or concepts mentioned in the novel.  Also included is a recipe for saltwater taffy.  (It will make sense after reading the novel.)  On the other hand, all of the parents are completely and utterly clueless and/or callous when it comes to their children’s interests.  It is all over the top — Sophie’s parents use a plethora of ridiculous pet names for her like “sweet potato,” so it’s a criticism that can’t be taken too seriously.  I imagine the intended audience will appreciate the exaggerated follies of adults presented here.

This is a good read for kids who are just getting into chapter books.  It might even spur interest in ring-tailed lemurs.  Or saltwater taffy.

Jan 5 11

Winter Storytime

by Adrienne

At our library, we have a storytime on Monday mornings for anybody under the age of five and their caregivers.  We usually feature three books, a few fingerplays or flannel boards and a craft.  Crafts are sometimes selected with the knowledge that parents stay and help their kids.  I use a number of online sources to help with choosing books and crafts.  Now that I have returned after a year’s absence, I find I come back to earlier plans for inspiration.  They go back four or five years, so the kids coming now will not have seen any of the crafts before.  It seems that posting current plans here will be useful in accessing them in the future.  And perhaps they may be of use to someone else.

Books:

“When Winter Comes” by Nancy Van Laan                        

“Flannel Kisses” by Linda Brennan

“Hello, Snow!” by Hope Vestergaard

Fingerplays: I found the following rhymes at http://www.hummingbirded.com/winter-snow.html

Dance Like Snowflakes
(sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques”)
Dance like snowflakes,
Dance like snowflakes,                                     
In the air.
In the air.
Whirling, twirling snowflakes,
Whirling, twirling snowflakes,
Here and there.
Here and there.

Warm Up
What warms me up on a cold, cold day?     
Cocoa warms me up in a chocolaty way.
What warms me up on a cold, cold day?
A fire warms me up in a toasty way.

What warms me up on a cold, cold day?
A quilt warms me up in a snuggly way.

What warms me up on a cold, cold day?

A hug warms me up in a loving way!

The Winter Pokey
to the tune of “The Hokey-Pokey”
You put your right mitten in,
You take your right mitten out.
You put your right mitten in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the winter pokey, [shiver]
And you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!

You put your left mitten in….
You put your right boot….
You put your left boot….
You put your long scarf in….
You put your warm cap in….
You put your snowsuit in….

Craft: Snowy Trees — This is one that I designed.

Materials Needed:  Draw a bare tree on a piece of 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.  Then xerox it onto blue paper. — Pencils with erasers or Q-tips — White poster paint

What to Do:  Dip pencil eraser or q-tip in paint and dab on “snowflakes”.