Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Balanced Thanksgiving Reading for Children

It was really hard for me last year when First Sprout learned about Thanksgiving at school. She came home from kindergarten talking about the pilgrims and Indians and how they were such good buddies that they sat down to a turkey dinner together. Seeing as how we were at a really progressive school (I thought), I was pretty shocked. My history-buff husband was angry. How could well-meaning people still be teaching the same inaccurate story that we learned as gradeschoolers?

I never confronted First Sprout's teacher about it because I was busy and tired, and oh, the teacher was my boss at the time. But I did decide that I would work hard to start putting together a better list of read alouds for Thanksgiving. I wanted to incorporate more of a Native American perspective (which was harder than I expected) and then supplement  with books that approach the season from a perspective of gratitude.

Without further ado, here is my short list of Balanced Thanksgiving Reading for Children:

1)  Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac. This by far and away the BEST book I have found that teaches actual historical facts about the first Thanksgiving from the perspective of Native Americans. The story is told by Squanto of the Patuxet tribe, and it explains how he was sold into slavery in Spain and traveled to England with the help of monks. There he learned to speak the English language and committed himself to becoming a guide to broker peace between his people and the new settlers. The story is told in an honest way that children can handle. It ends with a message of respect for all people, which is definitely a lesson I want my children to learn.

2) Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes. This book doesn't have a lot going for it in the way of diversity, but I love the basic message of gratitude that it shares. It describes many of things that a family with three young children might be thankful for at this time of year using a cheerful verse. I love the overall message of thankfulness for family.

3) In November by Cynthia Rylant. I tend to love anything by Cynthia Rylant, and In November is no exception. It's not about Thanksgiving specifically, but the striking language and beautiful illustrations go a long away to evoke the wonder of season. It's a remarkably lovely book that is perfect for snuggling and sharing.

4) Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp. This book is based on the Thanksgiving Address used to open government proceedings and official ceremonies for the sovereign tribes of the Six Nations-- Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. It is a powerful message of gratitude for our natural world and all of the wonderful things that it provides for us. In addition to providing more Native American perspectives, it prompts important discussions about the environment and natural resources too.

5) Strega Nona's Harvest by Tomie dePaola. This is another book that's not strictly about Thanksgiving, but the themes of harvest and sharing the bounty of the season with others are certainly fitting. In this story, Big Anthony doesn't quite understand why Strega Nona has to have her garden planted a certain way, so he decides to take some extra seeds and an unused patch of land to try an experiment. He ends up with a great yield-- just not in the way he expected. I love the messages about curiosity, perseverance, and kindness that crop up in this story.

My list is still pretty short for now, but I am on the lookout for new books to add for next year. I know there are some decent books that share the First Thanksgiving story from the Pilgrim's perspective, but my sprouts seem to be getting that perspective from a lot of other places already. My goal with this list is to try finding balance with more mainstream messages about Thanksgiving (and no buckled hats). I also don't want to make our studies in November all about Native Americans, because I prefer to share those books throughout the year as they fit with other seasonal studies (e.g. The First Strawberries is a summer staple around here, and autumn wouldn't be the same without How Chipmunk Got His Stripes). Hopefully, my work in progress will give others some ideas on new ways to approach the Thanksgiving holiday with children.

What Thanksgiving books do you love to share with your families and students? I'd love to get more ideas to add to the list, so feel free to leaves some comments in the space below!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our Thankful Tree

So last year, my cousins had the wonderful idea to start a thankful tree in November. Each day, every member of the family wrote down one thing to be thankful for on a leaf. It was a project that spoke a lot to me, and I wanted to try it in my home too.

I remembered on Sunday night.

Since it was already two weeks into November, I decided to incorporate the thankful tree into my planning for the week by creating some leaf templates and printing them on colorful construction paper. We put the tree up Monday and added two rounds of leaves. First Sprout was able to write most of the words independently (although I was willing to help with names by writing them down as a reference). Second Sprout wanted to write leaves as well, and it was a good opportunity to practice kid-writing.

Here are some of the leaves we made. I printed the templates out on colorful card stock, and First Sprout helped with the cutting. We used metallic Sharpie pens to get extra fancy. And for the record, this Mama is thankful for coffee.
 I think we will probably put up another round of leaves next week (maybe on Thanksgiving Day) since the kids keep asking when we can make more. I am thankful happy that everyone is so excited about the project! Once we got going, it was really easy to come up with more ideas.

I used brown packing paper (the kind that comes in boxes from Amazon) to make the trunk of the tree and adhered it to the wall with sticky tack. First Sprout made the sign, which translates to "We are thankful for our family."

It's a lovely idea and a lovely result. I'm so glad that I remembered this project with enough time to get it going before Thanksgiving. Maybe next year I will remember to start earlier in November!

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Button Box

Since we have been doing a lot of sewing and quilting projects around here, I thought that I would read The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid as part of our morning work. In the past, I have used this book as a way to discuss attributes and classification with my students; however, that was not my intention with the reading.

But then, First Sprout got unexpectedly excited about studying buttons.

This book is amazing, and I highly recommend it!
One of the great things about homeschooling is that I can follow these leads where they take us. So, I pulled out my jar of buttons, an old cookie tray, and a magnifying glass. As First Sprout was describing the various buttons, I introduced the term attribute, and we made a list of various attributes that might apply to our buttons (the book was a big help here).

It made a lot sense to start sorting the buttons based on their attributes. First Sprout was especially interested in the materials of the buttons, so we started there. I stuck some Post-It Notes on a large piece of construction paper so that we could record the data on our different groupings.

As First Sprout says, "we are science-ing the buttons!"

All of our hard word in spelling is paying off here.

Then we decided to try sorting a different way to see what would happen. First Sprout chose to sort by color, which made for some really beautiful groupings. We flipped the construction paper over and used a new set of Post-It Notes to record our data there as well.

Sorting buttons by color was really visually stunning.

Recording our data on sorting buttons by color.

Since this activity turned into such a great success (and I have two more sprouts showing interest in the buttons), I decided to create an activity pack for my Teachers Pay Teachers store called Attributes, Buttons, & Counting... Oh My! It is full of good stuff like attribute charts, sorting mats, and button graphs. We are taking the opportunity to try out our new goodies during the week, and I am adding pictures of the activity pack in use:

Second Sprout uses an attribute mat to sort buttons by color.

First Sprout made an awesome pictograph after sorting buttons by the number of holes.

Until next time, Happy Learning!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

Voting was definitely the focus of our school work today. I love how homeschooling allows us to use the world as our classroom, and taking a "field trip" to the voting book is no exception. I talked with First Sprout what would happen ahead of time, and we even read through the Step Into the Voting Booth pages at PBS Kids. We especially liked the "Cast Your Vote" feature which helps kids to identify what issues might be important to them in election. Then it creates a "Future Voter's Card" to print for your records. We printed two-- one for our homeschooling portfolio and one for First Sprout's treasure box!

And just because, here are some photos from the big day:

Mama's "I Voted" selfie.

Even Second Sprout's doll joined in on the voting fun.

Third Sprout sure is excited to show off the "I Voted" sticker!

First Sprout added the sticker to the "Future Voter's Card" we printed this morning.

I hope everyone is able to make it to the polls today (if you haven't cast a ballot already).

Happy Voting!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sewing Lessons

When I was teaching at an arts-enriched private school last year, I was fortunate enough to do some sewing with my students on a quilting project for our unit of study on geometry. I was amazed at how eager my first and second graders were-- many of them took to sewing very quickly. First Sprout's kindergarten class was also introduced to some basic stitches by the school's art teacher, and First Sprout has been through many self-designed and self-started sewing projects since then.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (and the parent of one of my former students) approached me about offering sewing lessons. Like First Sprout, her child had been planning and attempting a lot of sewing projects but was having mixed results. My friend felt like some basic lessons would help give her child the tools to complete sewing projects more successfully. Makes perfect sense.

So I started giving sewing lessons to First Sprout and Friend Sprout-- two so far. I was very fortunate to stumble on this neat series of blog posts on Teaching Kids to Sew. We started by practicing running stitches on Styrofoam plates, but it became clear that my students were looking for a bigger challenge.

First Sprout's stitching sampler (back stitch and running stitch from left to right).

This week, I gave each of the sprouts an embroidery hoop and let them choose patterned fabric. They practiced embroidering around the designs in the fabrics using running stitches and back stitches. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to use the same fabric hoops and gradually learn to use new types of stitches. The end result should be a little stitch sampler that they can keep (and maybe frame if they come out really nice!).

Friend Sprout's stitching sampler (running stitch and back stitch, from left to right).

I also put together little books that illustrate what each stitch looks like. The pages are laminated, hole-punched and clipped onto a ring so that we can gradually add more to the book as they learn new stitches. "My Little Book of Stitches" is up and available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store for anyone who might be interested! The books are really nice to you as a ready reference when learning a new stitch because the laminated pages hold up nicely and stay flat on your working surface.

The first three pages to "My Little Book of Stitches." Moving forward, we'll be adding whip stitch, couch stitch, zig zag stitch, cross stitch and chain stitch to our repertoire.
I am really enjoying the sewing lessons and look forward to getting more stitches down. My thinking is that even the decorative stitches will be helpful in building fine-motor control and confidence with needle work. Then we can move on to skills like patterning and piecing-- fun! I'm keeping my eye for some good starter projects that will help introduce those skills.

I'd love to get more ideas about sewing with children (or any sort of fiber crafting, really!). What skills did you start with? What projects did you create? Please share in the comments.

Happy Learning (and Sewing)!