Picture Book Readings – March 2015

We have enjoyed some great picture books over the past couple of weeks. I thought I would pick a few of our favorites to share.

If You Want to See a Whale (Julie Fogliano) helps reader learn what to do (or not to do) to see a whale. Spotting a whale might not be as easy as you think! As we watched a young boy and his dog look for a whale, we learned that to see a whale, we really need a window. An ocean would be helpful and time to wait is necessary as well. Unfortunately to see a whale, you have to ignore the roses and sailing ships. Those pirates? Yes, ignore those too because we are wanting to see a whale.  This book gives a great lesson on patience. Can you wait for what you really want and ignore the distractions? I loved the gentle flow of the words. The illustrations suited the story beautifully. Soft, gentle pencil sketches and linoleum printing were used.

Again (Emily Gravett author of Orange Pear Apple Bear) is one you will appreciate if you have a child who wants you to read a story again. And again. And again! It is time for bed and Cedric the dragon wants to hear his favorite bedtime story. As soon as his mom finishes reading, Cedric is demanding Again! Oops, Mommy Dragon falls asleep in the middle of reading. Cedric is very upset. What happens in the end to his book is most unfortunate. The illustrations really make this book. At each reading of Cedric’s story, you will notice the characters of the book responding to Cedric. My children loved catching the changes as I read. A very simple but fun read; especially if your children are prone to asking Again! Again!

Read Me a Story, Stella (Marie-Louise Gay) is an absolute delightful read. Ms. Gay understands children and their world. Stella loves to read and throughout her day with Sam, she always has a book in hand. They spend the day building a doghouse for Fred, having a picnic by the pond, watching frogs, and looking at caterpillars. Stella is always ready to read to Sam from her books or share what she is reading. Sam is full of questions. They have a fabulous day of exploring and enjoying nature.  Until the end of the day comes and we close the book as Stella is reading to Sam. This is such a fun read. We have a Sam and his eyes lit up when I started to read. It helps that our Lydia looks much like Stella and loves to read. The illustrations are full and vibrant and children will love each and every page. I love the sibling relationship between Stella and Sam. So very sweet! I think I need to grab a few more Stella and Sam books.

Warning Do Not Open This Book! ( Adam Lehrhaupt) is hands down Sam’s (5) favorite book in quite some time. I can’t count how many times he has asked me to read this book. He loves it! My other little ones enjoy it as well but not like Sam does. Warning signs are telling you not to open this book. Don’t do it! Of course you have to open it. When you do….you let the monkeys out. And if that isn’t enough trouble, you keep turning and then you have toucans and monkeys! Yes, it gets even worse. With the turn of another page…an alligator!!!! No worries. We have a plan. A banana. Yes, that’s the plan. Will it work? Can we capture the monkeys, the toucans, and an alligator? Be prepared to read this book again, and again, and again. It is a fun read. At least for boys named Sam.

What have you been reading with your little ones?

The Lizard Garden – March Read Aloud

One delight in our home is discovering a new author that gives us a most excellent read. Sometimes we are invited on a fantastic adventure and sometimes we are simply welcomed into someone’s life to walk alongside them. This month we have thoroughly enjoyed The Lizard Garden by Anne Siglin.

The Lizard Garden takes us to the Netherlands with the Smith Family. Twelve year old Charlotte Smith and her family are spending the summer in the Netherlands due to her father’s work. What an amazing way to spend your summer! The Netherlands!

The Smith family has rented a home for the summer along a canal. Mrs. Smith has piles of books about the Netherlands, art, the Dutch resistance during WWII, and windmills. There are plans to enjoy a relaxing summer and to embrace, enjoy,  and learn the Dutch culture.

Charlotte’s summer break, however,  is overshadowed by her deepest longing. Charlotte’s family has a history of moving frequently due her father’s contract work. A year in Boston, a year in Seattle….always moving. Charlotte longs to settle down in a small town, to hang posters on her wall, to make friends for a lifetime.

Soon, Charlotte has more on her mind than just where they are moving to next. A tragedy strikes that sends Mrs. Smith back to the States leaving the rest of the family in the Netherlands. Charlotte, along with her older brother, Milo, and younger sister, Alice, are staying behind with their dad. Charlotte is tasked with extra responsibilities to help out and keep things running smoothly.

It doesn’t take long for the adventure to start: shopping when you don’t understand the language, dealing with siblings, interrupting a bit of illegal gambling, and an unexpected dip in the canal. Then dad gives an assignment to rival the best homeschool mom to be found.

Will the Smith’s survive a summer abroad without mom? Can Charlotte come to terms with the upcoming move? How much Nutella can they pack in their suitcases? (Just kidding. Although this is the question my children would be asking! Read the book and you will understand.)

The Lizard Garden was an absolute delight to read! I read it aloud and all of my children from ages five to sixteen enjoyed it. Every night someone was always asking for one more chapter.  Each evening when we read, Sam (5) could always tell me exactly what happened at the previous reading. We looked up art mentioned in the story, learned a bit about life in the Netherlands,  and even found a new recipe.

Anne does an excellent job at showing sibling relationships that had my older ones laughing and nodding in agreement. She also does a beautiful job of showing Charlotte’s heart and her struggle. I think that will speak deeply to children. Not just those who perhaps have moved often but any child who has dealt with loss in some way. That fear or knowledge of having to say goodbye to someone or something you love deeply is profound.

My older children and I discussed The Lizard Garden and what we enjoyed about it. It is like The Moffats or The Melendys in how it simple joins in the life of a family and walks with them. Life, simple family life, is never dull or boring. There is always a bit of adventure around the corner. I think as you read The Lizard Garden you will find yourself smiling and laughing. At the end, I found myself with a tear or two. The Smiths are a great family. I’d love to be their neighbor.

The Lizard Garden worked very well as a read aloud. I could easily hand it off to my nine year old to read independently.  But I imagine you will want to read it yourself. Let me know if you do!


HomeSchool Office – Planning Resource Review

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I face is planning and organizing the education of nine children. At the moment I have seven children working at various levels. Planning is key to the days running smoothly! What planning method or resource should I use? For the past several weeks, I have been utilizing HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage. HomeSchool Office was a new resource I had not heard of before. Would it solve all my planning challenges?

HomeSchool Office is a web-based program that is designed to bring together all aspects of your children’s education into one centralized location. Since it is a web-based program, you do not have to be concerned with downloading anything or losing information.  HomeSchool Office is available through an annual subscription. This annual subscription has no limit for the number of children and includes support whenever needed.

HomeSchool Office Basics

The concept of HomeSchool Office is very simple. Creating your Team is the first step. Not only do you enter your students but also those who teach them. You, piano teacher, co-op teacher, or a tennis coach can all be included

Once you have your Team established, HomeSchool Office works on the concept of P.O.W.E.R.

  • Plan
  • Order
  • Work
  • Evaluate
  • Report

Plan – In Plan you take each student and create subjects, master schedules, plan projects, and can even do some budgeting.

Order – Now you take the information from Plan and put it into action. Here is where the lesson plans all come together. You can work in a full month calendar format or shift to a daily/weekly format. This step also had a customizable To Do List feature. Chores, anyone?

Work – Work will look identical to the Order step above but it has a key difference. Work can be shared with your students in two ways. They can access via a student account or you can print it.

Evaluate - This is simply where grades and attendance are tracked. You can also track by subject hours.

Report – This feature is really helpful for those who live in states that require certain forms of reporting about the school year. You can select from a variety of options to put together a report that contains just the information you need. If you have high school students, it can also aid in compiling a transcript.

How did HomeSchool Office Work for Me?

A few weeks before receiving HomeSchool Office, I had implemented another system for my oldest students that was working well. I decided to utilize HomeSchool Office for my other students that were in a “planning limbo”. If it went well, I would later transition my oldest ones over. The set up of HomeSchool Office can be quite time consuming so I made a wise decision.

I really liked the concept of this product. The step by step process helps you to think through the year ahead and plan well. Creating a master schedule gives you a colorful visual of what your child is doing and how much time it is taking. Adding in something as simple as the To Do List feature is really helpful. It works well for a child who may need to be reminded of morning responsibilities or a check off sheet for the steps of writing. Having the planning all in one place would also be helpful if someone needed to step in and take over teaching for a bit due to sickness or other emergency.

As much as I wanted to love HomeSchool Office, I struggled. Our homeschool method/philosophy is heavy on living books. The only subject that is clearly directed by lessons is math. Most of our “subjects” are time based. The majority of our school day is reading and discussing. I found it hard to plan and schedule that all out. We are not rigid in our day but have more of a flow. HomeSchool Office was more detailed than I needed.

HomeSchool Office also has the school year preset and the subjects preset. The school year was a traditional 9 month school year (2014- 2015) and we do not follow this break down of the school year. The subjects had no option to customize. While I appreciated the variety of subject options, I found that I needed some subjects that were not there. I do have the option of editing the subjects at the Report. I can download Reports into Word and make changes there. While that is helpful for those who need to report, it doesn’t help me. I want my children to see accurate subject headings. I think it benefits my younger students especially to see the subjects as we use them in our home.

I think that HomeSchool Office would be a great resource for many homeschool families. For me, HomeSchool Office does not offer the flexibility that I need in planning and organizing our homeschool. If you use a traditional approach or a more structured approach, it would likely work really well. I think with older students it offers independence and the transcript portion of the reports is likely a sanity saver. After seeing HomeSchool Office in action, my older students have chosen to stay with the planning method we already have in action.

HomeSchool Office does offer a free 30 Day Trial so you can test it out and see how it works. For a product like this, I think actually using it is so helpful in getting a feel for if it will be beneficial. Of course, you can also read how others made it work for them!

HomeSchool Office Review

Crew Disclaimer