Monday, October 14, 2013

History Tidbit: Feudalism

It took almost two months for Till Year's Good End by W. Nikola-Lisa to become available at my local library. It was worth the wait. There are so many books about knights and castles. There's nothing wrong with those. At the moment I'd say we have a stack of books on those subjects at least a foot high. It's much harder to find books about the lower classes of society. This book is something entirely different from the average medieval picture book which is devoted to glittering armor and formidable defenses. It depicts the class whose labor and servitude made feudalism possible.

The text follows the lives of medieval peasants month by month through a full year. Each month is depicted on a two page spread which begins with four lines of verse that are followed by a paragraph in prose describing the chores and feudal obligations associated with that particular month. The majority of each spread is devoted to a full color illustration by Christopher Manson. His work melds strong definitive strokes with nuanced color. The scenes beautifully depict the various tasks and activities described by the text. You'll be able to point out objects and practices for which your child might not have a mental image. Both art and text are engaging and informative. You won't find extra blurbs or captions. Unlike many nonfiction picture books, text, art, and information are woven together and presented seamlessly. If you're studying the Middle Ages, this is one book you definitely don't want to miss.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Science Tidbit: Natural Cycles

Occasionally  a lot of the time I find awesome things after I put up a post, things that are just too good to hang onto for two or three years until we study the same subject again, which is why I'm going to start posting tidbits. Tidbits are great books, activities, or resources that I want to share with you but either they didn't make it into a post because I hadn't discovered them yet or I simply don't have time to compile an entire book list or unit on that particular subject.

Here's your first tidbit:

There are plenty of picture books about the water cycle, but if you've been looking for a picture book about the carbon/oxygen or nitrogen cycle, you know those are harder to come by. Look no further than Why Do Elephants Need the Sun?  by Robert E. Wells. Using an animal with terrific kid appeal, the African elephant, Wells explores not only the water cycle but the carbon/oxygen cycle as well. He doesn't explicitly address the nitrogen cycle but it would be easy to explain using the illustrations in the book.

Why Do Elephants Need the Sun? would be a great book to introduce during week eight of Classical Conversations cycle 2 when the parts of the sun are introduced because not only does Wells discuss the parts of the sun and how they work but also how the sun drives the water and carbon/oxygen cycles. Astronomy and ecology often remain very separate subjects for young children, all of those distant objects and lights out in space versus the bugs, leaves, and worms it is possible to touch, gather, and collect. Wells does a great job of showing how interconnected the two subjects really are. The text also touches on the planets (week 9) and states of matter (week 13) making it an all around great book to use with your classical kid for reinforcement and review.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ancient Rome for Little People: a booklist

Created to accompany  the Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages, Chapter 1
Here is an alternative reading list to the one found in the companion activity book to the Story of the World Volume 2: the Middle Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. SugarPlum is in Kindergarten so it's geared toward early elementary students.
  100 Things You Should Know About Ancient Rome by Fiona Macdonald

Engaging illustrations and easy to understand prose. Facts are organized by category. Moves along at a clip which keeps little people engaged but still remains highly informative.
  You Wouldn't Want to Be a Roman Soldier!: Barbarians You'd Rather Not Meet by John Malam

We haven’t read this particular book. I have used multiple titles from this series in SugarPlum’s pre-k and kindergarten curriculum. The humorous approach and cartoon drawings make some of the less pleasant aspects of history accessible to young readers.
  You Wouldn't Want to Be a Roman Gladiator! by John Malam

Told in the second person. Follows the gladiatorial career of a captured Gaul from his enslavement to his untimely and unfortunate end in the arena. Humor and cartoon illustrations enable kids to engage with a tough subject without being overwhelmed.
  Roman Town by Hazel Mary Martell

Cutaway and bird’s eye views illustrate the order, beauty, and everyday life of a Roman Town. Look at the map on pages 10 and 11, then allow your child to choose which part of town they want to explore first.
  Ancient Romans by Daisy Kerr

Short and concise. Lots of illustrations. This series is a favorite at our house.
  Ancient Rome by Peter Chrisp

Even if this book is a bit much to read in it’s entirety, you can still enjoy the fabulous see-through pages and photographs of ruins and artifacts. It does contain an illustration of people fleeing Pompei. So take a peek at it first before you share with very young children.
Most books are available through the Roanoke Valley Library system.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sneak Peek: Classical Explorations Week 4

This week in Classical Explorations we will be learning about feudalism, Europe, the water cycle, and pronouns.

The Europe Geo Puzzle is fairly complex. We have a small enough group that the kids should be able to work together to complete it. We’ll review country names and bodies of water.
The Medieval Kingdom card game from Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational is a great way to help kids visualize feudalism and the layers of medieval society. If the game rules seem too complex we’ll modify them. 
  We were supposed to read I And You And Don't Forget Who: What Is a Pronoun? (Words Are Categorical) last week but we ran out of time. We’ll read it this week. There is an accompanying coloring page.
  All the Water in the World and Water Dance are two fun poetic picture books that describe the water cycle.
Water: Up, Down, and All Around describes the water cycle in prose with plenty of great illustrations. We’ll be doing an experiment to show how water evaporates, condenses, and falls as precipitation. .
The Coloring page of King John from Kings and Queens of England (Dover History Coloring Book) will probably be a take home project.
I’m planning some fun outdoor games related to our science and skip counting. We’ll also be adding some free play time so the kids can enjoy just getting to know each other and running around. I know a couple of kids are really looking forward to making a sword and helmet to go with their shield. Unfortunately, I accidentally returned the book with those projects to the library. So we’ll have to start those projects next week.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sneak Peek: Classical Explorations Week 3

Continuing with our African theme from the past two weeks, we’ll be using A Savanna Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in Africa as our starting point to learn about food webs and chains. It’s a choose your own adventure book. Every kid will receive an animal picture and they get to choose who gets eaten next. By the end of the book we should be pretty thoroughly tangled up in a web of string but hopefully the interconnectedness of organisms will be a whole lot clearer.
We’re making a whole army of Paper Soldiers of the Middle Ages: Vol 1: The Crusades. They’re supposed to be historically accurate so all of the paper clutter is for a good cause.
I and You and Don't Forget Who: What Is a Pronoun? is a fun book that we’ll read during one of our multiple craft times.
Each student will receive a coloring page of Richard I from Kings and Queens of England (Dover History Coloring Book).
Snacks will be chessmen cookies, fruit, and cheese.
During our main activity (no picture. sorry.) we’ll merge math and medieval. Completing skip counting challenges will allow the kids to rise in status from page, to squire, to knight. When everyone is knighted we will make cardboard shields and then go on a quest in search of hidden scrolls. When they’re all found, we will put them in order and read part of the story of Richard I. I'll have some books on Knights from the library that the kids and I will look through together.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

World Catch: CC Cycle 2, Week 1, Review

We invented this geography review game today. It was a hit. SugarPlum (5) burst into tears when I told her we needed to move on to another activity. 

Supplies: Inflatable Globe, Stickers (optional)

How to Play: If players are young enough that they have trouble identifying their right and left, you may wish to place a sticker on the back of the right hand so they remember which one they are using for the game.

Players toss the ball back and forth. When a player catches the ball they identify one of the continents or oceans under their right hand, then toss it to the next player who does the same.

Left: Obvious! Players identify one of the continents or oceans that their left hand touched when they caught the ball.
Drop: if a player fails to catch the ball, they must identify a continent or ocean specified by the player who tossed the ball to them. My kid found it useful (and hilarious) to make me try to catch crazy shots and then identify the continents and oceans she was having trouble remembering.
Right/Left: The person tossing the ball calls out “Right!” or “Left!” as they toss the ball forcing the catcher to quickly identify that hand.
Everything: Instead of identifying just one continent or ocean under their hand when they catch the ball, players identify every continent or ocean that hand touches.

Amazon carries inflatable globes at just about every price point. You can see from the picture that we're using something similar to this Animals of the World Inflatable Globe which I picked up at Goodwill for $0.99. If I were buying one new I would choose something with no color, writing, or pictures that would help with the identification process. When our globe pops, which it inevitably will, I’m considering purchasing one of these:
The earth from space. I love the beautiful colors but since there is no writing, political boundaries, color coding, or extra images SugarPlum would be forced to identify continents and oceans by the shape of the landmasses and bodies of water alone.
You can label this globe. It would be great for review when SugarPlum is a little older. Maybe she could even color it in with sharpies.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sneak Peek: Classical Explorations Week 2

ART: Last week, the kids made a paper diorama of the savanna. This week we'll be populating it with standing paper animals and reinforcing our art concept of mirror images.
SCIENCE: Active games to get the kids thinking about the types of consumers and who eats what.
SNACK: Sticking with the animal theme of art and science, I’m serving up this little parade.

Lions and Tigers and Bears - Yum! Yum! recipe
Savanna Snack
 Photo from
We'll build a motte and bailey style castle and perhaps assault it
 with marshmallow projectiles.
Kids will receive coloring pages for both King Harold II and
King William I.
A search and find book with minimal text that follows life in a castle
through a whole year.
Pages six and seven contain a great image of an early castle like the ones
built by the Normans shortly after they conquered the Saxons.
Plus there are lots of images to find.
We'll be reading If you were a Pronoun by Nancy Loewen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Backyard and Beyond: Hands on Exploration of the Ecosystem

Here are some books I'm using with SugarPlum (5) as we study our biome, the deciduous forest, and ecology right in our own backyard.

IF YOU CAN ONLY PICK ONE: Janice VanCleave's Ecology for Every Kid: Easy Activities that Make Learning Science Fun is my core book for our ecology unit. It covers the basics and several biomes.
BackyardA beautifully illustrated book which examines a single square foot in an average backyard. Great to get kids thinking about what they might actually find outside. Contains practical hints and experiments.
The Young Naturalist (Hobby Guides (Usborne Paperback))One of my favorite books as a child. SugarPlum loves it too. Not as practical as some of the other books but definitely one to get kids dreaming big. Contains information which is helpful if you get inspired by One Small Square: Backyard and decide to cordon off part of your yard and examine the habitat and it's critters in depth.
Backyard Pets: Activities for Exploring Wildlife Close to Home Don't add this book to your curriculum unless you are actually considering allowing your child to temporarily adopt a toad, turtle, worms, or other readily available backyard resident.
Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard explains food webs and chains using a habitat that most kids who've had a garden will at least be able to relate to even if they haven't observed it in real life.
Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard isn't a field guide. It is a hilarious cartoon style look at the what, when, where, how, and why of watching birds.
Your Backyard (Discovering Nature) each two page spread focuses on one aspect of nature in the backyard: soil, seeds, plants, birds, creepy crawlies. It contains step-by-step instructions for experiments and projects that are easy to follow, doable, and not overly ambitious. It's not comprehensive by any means but provides a great hands-on introduction that gets little people excited and thinking about scientific concepts.
I'm using Nature In Your Backyard to add to our list of nature based experiments. There is some overlap with Your Backyard from the discovering nature series.
You could probably do a lot of the activities and experiments in Woods And Meadows (Discovering Nature) in a suburban backyard, but I think it's a great resource to use to talk about adventures you've had in local parks and forests.
WoodsWalk: Peepers, Porcupines, and Exploding Puff Balls! Explores the forest and what you might find there season by season.
TOP PICK: If you have an early reader, Forest Explorer: A Life-sized Field Guide is a book you simply must check out. Two page spreads contain a collage of life size images from the forest and are followed by two page spreads which contain information about the organism. The best part about this book is its picture index which allows pre-readers and children just beginning to read to look up animals on their own.
I'm pretty sure that kids and brooks go together even better than peanut butter and jelly. The Brook Bookis a great text to accompany your kids' next excursion to their preferred summer habitat. It  isn't comprehensive, but it's a great introduction to the variety of life one can find in even the smallest streams.
Addition In The Forest (Math All Around) isn't an ecology book per se, but it's a great way to tie in math to our study of our local biome, the deciduous forest.
Don't let the simple kid-friendly illustrations of Pond Walk deceive you. This slender paperback contains far more than the story of a little bear's walk with his mom. It's a great book to get your kids excited about sketching nature.
FOR THE LITTLEST PEOPLE: Trout Are Made of Trees is a picture book that tells the story of the life cycle of trout and how we fit into it. Proof that science isn't (and needn't be) inaccessible for even the youngest children.
Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane - a Smithsonian's Backyard Book transforms the life of a chipmunk into an exciting story that I've read again and again. Check out all of the books in this series. They're wonderful.
Woodchuck at Blackberry Road - a Smithsonian's Backyard Book
is another great title in the series. Beautiful and accurately illustrated, this series turns each animal's life into a riveting story that your kids will want to read again and again.