Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Great Books for Halloween

One of the funnest parts about Fall is all the great picture books available out there full of illustrations with fall colors and fall themes.  I thought those of you spending most of your time with Elementary kids and younger might really appreciate a book list of some of the best books for Halloween - and related "spooky" themes.  Numbers at the end of a paragraph will signal you to my top five picks.

The classic poem "Over in the Meadow" has inspired two sweet books with the same rhythmic sense and pattern as "Over in the Meadow".  "Little Goblins Ten" by Pamela Jane is really fun, but my favorite is "Over in the Hallow" by Rebecca Dickenson.  It might be my favorite because of the two it was the one I encountered first, or it might be the cartoony, almost doll-like creatures in the illustrations, or maybe it is because in keeping with superstitious tradition, instead of ending at twelve, this one goes all the way to thirteen.  Both book are Great, but unfortunately for "Little Goblins Ten", "Over in the Hallow" is my all-time favorite Halloween picture book.  #1

Another spooky parody was written by Rick Walton, though the name listed on the cover is Ludworst Bemonster and aims at giving the classic Madeline tales a scary run for their money.  In this clever take, instead of winding up in the hospital for a broken bone, Frankenstein winds up in the hospital because he literally loses his head hence the name, "Frankenstein".  Alice thought the twist was pretty funny.

If you have a budding ballerina on your hands, she might enjoy, "Vampirina Ballerina" by Anne Marie Pace.  Its message that practice makes perfect is a great one and the illustrations of the little Ballerina not quite staying on her two feet at the beginning of the story give the illustrations a sweetness.

"The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches" is a wonderful early reader's chapter book in which the young witch gains empowerment through the knowledge of her own special talents and the lack of the requirement that magic be performed with perfection.  This book by Alice Low could also result in a great conversation about decision, consequence, love, friendship and respect. 

"The Haunted Ghoul Bus" by Lisa Trumbauer is super cute, uses strong verbs and was published in that format with pages not quite as thick as board book pages but thicker than the pages used in most books and with embossing so kids in that in-between can enjoy feeling the pages while Mommy reads the story to them.  For kids who might actually hop on "The Haunted Ghoul Bus", the story is a magical journey through fear to comfort and fun.  I'll be watching to see if I can hop aboard somehow on the 31st myself.  #3

"Creepy Carrots" by Aaron Reynolds is a great one to use for Halloween, but its also a good one for helping kids deal with night time fears of shadows and monsters under the bead.  This book has to be one of my top five picks for a great and laughable twist at the end.  It had Alice on the edge of her seat, totally still, and totally silent right up until the last page when she let out the breath she'd been holding with a snort and a chuckle followed by her big toothless smile.  #5

"Boo to You" by Louis Ehlert has illustrations in her typically whimsical collage style.  This book is a great one to introduce your little one to traditions from All Hallow's Eve because the mice throw a party with lots of treats and play a prank.  "Halloween Mice" will offer up similar fair for a similar age group with super cute mousy illustrations.  In "Halloween Mice" by Bethany Robers how trick or treating works is more evident and clear and she uses wonderful onomatopoeia which always intrigue young children.  "Halloween Is" by Gail Gibbons is another fabulous book for introducing your youngest child to all the symbols and excitements of the holiday and although it is less whimsical than either of the two about mice, it is more complete if an introduction to traditions is your goal. 

"By the Light of the Halloween Moon" by Caroline Stutson falls at number two for "favorites".  This is a cumulative rhyming poem with just the right amount of suspense to be "spooky", without being so spooky it results in nightmares.  The repetitive action of these kinds of cumulative poems is always popular with kids, but in this case, it adds to the suspense somehow as well.  The illustrations also tow the line between spooky and scary hitting just the right note for you preschool kids on Halloween.  Make sure your kids get to experience this one over and over and over and over again. #2

Choosing to use books about bats and other nocturnal animals is also a popular way to go this time of year.  First of all, it gets dark enough, early enough that kids might actually get the opportunity to see some of these critters when they definitely would not be seen during the summer months when kids are usually headed to bed before or only shortly after the sun has gone down. 

"Sellaluna" by Janell Cannon, and "Nightsong" by Ari Berk are both wonderful bat books that are neither spooky nor about Halloween, but make for fabulous reading anyway.  Stellaluna definitely fills the remaining slot of number four in my "top five" selections for October picture book reading with "Bats at the Beach" a close sixth.  "Bats at the Beach" is actually part of a series that also includes, "Bats at the Library" and "Bats at the Ballgame" by Brian Lies.  All of the books are wonderful but there is just something about "Bats at the Beach that strikes me as particularly fun for some reason.  # 4

Of course there are a gazillion other wonderful books and resources.  Halloween is addressed in the Corduroy, Biscuit and Arthur series as well as others I'm sure.  Plus, I just haven't read everything there is out there anyway.  If you have a favorite not listed here, PLEASE share it in a comment!  There is nothing better than experiencing a great classic or brand new story for the first time together.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rocks, Minerals and the Rock Cycle

Educational Innovations Rock Collection Educational Kit

Rocks and Minerals are such wonderful things for kids to collect.  They practice observation skills, learn some science and geologic vocabulary (which helps them with their reading), and it helps get them outside finding the rocks they wish to collect.  Here are some great resources for getting kids excited about Geology.

First, an introductory kit is particularly nice to have.  One can make their own sorting chart similar to the one shown above, but then you also have to find the rocks to go with it.  Instead, I purchased the kit pictured above (and cut out the egg carton bottom) from Educational Innovations at  Such a kit allows kids to look at the features geologists commonly use to distinguish one rock or mineral type from another and introduces them to such properties as cleavage (where a rock shears and breaks away from another), hardness and color.  Once they've established the skills using the introductory kit, it isn't hard to expand outward to rocks they find elsewhere.

DK Publishers: Eyewitness Rock and Mineral as well as Eyewitness Crystal and Gem  are wonderful visual resource for kids to learn the basics with.  I love this series of books and have yet to find a DK eyewitness book I didn't like.  Apparently DK also offers project books and between the fact that I trust these publishers at this point and that on first glance the project book for rocks and minerals also looks great, I'll recommend it here despite not having actually used it myself (I hope to in the future though). 

Reader's Digest Series: How the Earth Works  This is another one of those book series I love.  The particular book listed here, is not specifically about rock collecting.  However, it is full of geologic information and includes important things to know about rocks such as the rock cycle.  Each page layout has at least one experiment or demonstration you can try with your kids - most pages have two or three.  All of the activities use relatively easy to find materials and the visuals help understanding how to complete the project while the text describes the scientific phenomenon the activity is illustrating.  Plus, the layout of the book welcomes all types of readers to it with it's clear graphics and minimal and concise texts.

Peterson's Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals  Of course if you plan on getting serious about rock collecting, a field guide will be needed.  Although Peterson's guides are not designed for kids, they are pretty simple to use and contain a vast array of photos with simple descriptions which will help kids grow their vocabularies and identify the rocks and minerals they find.

 A Rock is Lively  I discovered Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long through their book, A Seed is sleepy and had loved reading Hutts poems while pouring over Long's gorgeous illustrations in all of their books since.  A Rock is lively did not disappoint.  The text is sweet, concise and accurate while the illustrations are so accurately made you almost feel you have the rocks in hand, yet you are also looking at a piece of artwork - something not quite so accurate as to feel like a photograph.

Rocks in His Head This picture book is a sweet biography of the author's father, who is a geologist.  What was nice about the story for us was that bits of history with which Alice is somewhat familiar are alluded to as the father lives through early and mid-century events of the twentieth century.  The truth of the story about how life takes us from one thing to the next, but we all have our separate passions as well is great for kids to see.  It can take a long time for our avocations to meet with our vocations. 

Video Resources

Bill Nye Rocks and Minerals The ever goofy and fun Bill Nye makes Rocks and minerals memorable through his silly antics, advertisement spoofs and crazy music videos.

The Rock Cycle  Two and a half minutes long, this video summarizes the basics of the Rock Cycle quickly - a good introduction.

Make me  This one takes a minute to get down to it, but as it is designed to present the information to elementary aged kids, it is clear and simple.  The order in which the information is presented is also the clearest way for kids to really understand all the parts of the rock cycle.

Activities and Other Resources

Mining Matters: The Rock Cycle This is a fabulous activity that clearly shows how the three major rock categories are distinguished from one another.  The activity is designed for young elementary school students, but I'd do it with middle school students as well.

Science Kids: Rocks, Minerals and Soil  As your kids play around with the rock tester, they learn the characteristics of important rocks and minerals such as granite and talc (which they refer to as chalk).  Proper terminology is not used through-out so to test for cleavage, kids are asked, "does it split?"  This feature can be a good thing for very young kids, but does not stretch vocabulary for the more advanced kids.  Conceptually and informationaly a good activity.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Colonial America

When  I began the daunting task of preparing a deep and complete unit on Colonial America to use centering around Felicity, I didn't know how lacking my own education had been.  I know a lot of my education of Colonial America focused on the Pilgrims and what would become the thirteen revolutionary British Colonies, and I'd bet I'm not alone.   However, because the focus had been on Plymouth, Jamestown and then the Revolutionary War Period in my own education, I found I had some gigantic holes in my understanding of what Colonial America really was.   With Alice, I endeavored to cover this (quite long) portion of US history more fully which has meant forgoing Felicity for the time being and covering the earlier colonization as its own unit first, then covering the Seven Years War, and finishing with the Revolutionary War Years.  Here was my justification for making that decision and what we did as "Pre-Felicity America" or The Early Colonies.

Colonial America - A long period in history and a variety of colonies:

Colonial America existed as long as the US has at this point.  Jamestown was founded in 1607, but attempts had already been made even prior to Jamestown.  The Roanoke Settlement (established in 1585) may not have survived but it remains a part of the history that had influence on, and resonated with other settlers that followed as well as the population that already lived there at the time. 

Additionally, there was more cultural variety than we usually care to acknowledge.  Northern sites along the St. Lawrence river (that eventually would lead to the formation of Quebec) were already being explored by the French as early as 1535 and New Orleans along with many other French Settlements were established along the Mississippi River throughout the early and mid 1600's (about the same time New England was being formed - Plymouth was founded in 1620).  St Augustine Florida was originally founded as a Spanish colony in 1565 and Santa Fe (the first of many Spanish Missions in what is now the Southwest) was founded in 1610.   Even the Russians got involved with their colonization in Alaska (though admittedly many years later).

With the revolutionary war not even declared until 1776, covering life in Colonial America with your kids spans at least 150 years but it could be argued it spans closer to (over) 200 years depending on how you decide where that history starts.  Colonial America may also usually refer to the original 13 colonies (that were British). However, to give your kids an accurate idea of the influences in the building of this country, at least mentioning that France and Spain had colonies here too becomes a critical clarification for later events in US History.  Lastly, we cannot forget the colony of New Amsterdam (1609), now one of the biggest cities in the world (New York) and the fact that its foundation was mostly Dutch.

Key Objectives for the Units:

By the time we finish with Felicity, The Student Will:
  • Compare and Contrast Life in an Early British Colony, to life in the British Colonies just before the Revolution.
  • Compare and Contrast the attitudes of different Sovereigns toward their colonial citizens
  • Compare attitudes toward slavery, and the native population between French, Spanish and British colonies.

Specifically during the first Colonial Unit, The Student Will:

  • Be able to relate details about the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth colonies.
  • Understand that the settlers had an inaccurate impression of the number of villages and people that had lived on North America prior to their arrival because illness brought by explorers had decimated the native population and reduced it astonishingly before the arrival of permanent settlers.
  • Review how various tribes reacted to, and interacted with the three colonizing major powers and their settlers.
  • Name key leaders in the foundations of colonies such as Captain Smith, and Chief Powhatan, Tisquantum (also known as Squanto), Walter Raleigh, (and more) and identify a little about what they are each known for.
  • Describe the life of an early colonialist in New England, Jamestown, New Orleans and Santa Fe.
  • List the various reasons colonists left their homelands to come to the Americas.
  • Identify Key Locations on a Map of the Area.
  • Create a Timeline depicting important events.

 During the Mini Unit on The Seven Years War the Student Will:

  • Describe causes and outcomes of the French/Indian War and how it affected life in the British Colonies, as well as why the American Indians joined in the battle.
  • Describe a little bit about the daily life of a Frontiersman during this time period.
  • Identify Key locations on a Map of the area.
  • Add events of the Seven Years War to the already established Timeline from the prior Unit.  Events should at least include  and The First Treaty of Paris.

 During the Revolutionary Colonial Unit, The Student Will:

  • Describe what King George did for the colonies and why he felt it fair for them to pay taxes.
  • Describe why the colonists felt taxation was unfair.
  • Describe a day in the life of a colonialist in the north as well as one in the south.
  • Compare and Contrast differing attitudes toward slavery and toward the American Indian population that existed within the colonies.
  • Identify Key Locations on a Map of the Area.
  • Add events of the Seven Years War to the already established Timeline from the prior Unit.
  • Identify important leaders and courageous people in the political and real fight for independence such as King George William Frederik, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, Joseph Brant, Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, George Washington, the Marquis De Lafayette, General Howe, and so on. . .
  • Describe key events, their causes and outcomes such as the The Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, The Siege of Boston, Meetings of the Continental Congress, Various Battles, Signing of the Declaration of Independence, The Second Treaty of Paris . . .

 Pinch of Everything Activities and Lessons

Watch for these lesson plans and activity instructions in the coming months as I post descriptions and instructions about what we do and where to find further resources.

Online Resources

History World - The French Colonies in North America  A brief description of French Exploration and Settlement in North America.

The Virtual Museum of New France offers a view of what life in a Northern French Colony would have been like and has pages relating to exploration into the interior of the United States (they made it all the way to the Rockies before Lewis and Clark did, also in search of a water passage across the continent.

21 California Missions While there were also missions outside of California, this site provides information about life in a Spanish Mission, as well as Life for the population that already lived nearby at the time of the missions. 

The National Park Service offers Quite a bit of text information about the Dutch Colony at New York as well as Revolutionary War sites in the area.

Virtual Jamestown Interactive Maps, Panoramic Views, and a host of things to check out.  This would be a good site for an online scavenger hunt with your kids.

PBS Colonial House was something Alice, her dad and I all really enjoyed watching together.  The project set up a location where modern people had to live as thought they were settlers to the New England colonies back in the 1600's  religious concerns, sexism, racism, illness, food and exhaustion are all a part of the discussion in the months they spend trying to live as the pilgrims did.  The heading link takes you to the PBS home page about the series, but if you click on the teachers link you will also find lesson plans and activities related to learning more about the time period.  Although it is possible to watch on You Tube, navigating all the parts and episodes correctly and completely can be difficult.  We were able to order the whole series to be sent to us through Netflix, or you can purchase the series through PBS.

Office of the Historian  The French/Indian War/Seven Years War, its causes and how it would lead to the discontent and Revolutionary War is summed up in this article.  Good back-ground knowledge for the educator.

PBS The War that Made America The PBS series about the French and Indian War really does a good job of presenting the French, British and American Indian involvement, reasons for being involved, atrocities, mistakes and victories.  It is intended for an older audience and includes graphic visuals.  Watch on You Tube

Interactives is a History Map of the United States.  You can see which countries had colonies where, or set a map showing where different American Indian Tribes were originally located.  Among other things.  If you click through the colonists maps, you get a pretty good idea of how much land each country originally claimed to hold and how relatively small the British Colonies were in comparison to the space settled by the French and Spanish.  Then, finish it off by taking the interactive quiz including the lightning round!

The American Revolutionary War - This site offers a timeline of events and battles, pages addressing causes and the role of slavery in the British Colonies and the war and offers all of this alongside images of paintings depicting events and people of the time.  This is a good one for the instructor to go over before hand and choose a few screen shots to highlight, or set up a research scavenger hunt, if you are working with elementary kids so it doesn't become overwhelming.

The American Revolution - comprehensive in regard to the revolution, it has links to resources, lists of battles, important people and documents.  It even has a list of helpful videos to watch.  Intended for high school and adults, it was a good resource for me to go through in preparation for Alice's lessons.

Liberty's Kids  Not only is this cartoon series exciting and educational on its own, but there is a host of related materials for parents and teachers too.  You could introduce your kids to the Revolutionary Period in United States History with this website and cartoon series alone.  For Cartoon Viewing Click Here