More Biographies for Young Readers

Great biographies for young readers from Lone Star Signers!

One of Goodreads’ most helpful features is the “related books/recommendations.” Whenever the girls and I stumble across a great book at the library, we like to follow up with similar books.

After enjoying fantastic biographies about Roget, artist Horace Pippin, and poet William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet earlier this year, we recently read Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (also illustrated by Sweet).

Great biographies for young readers from Lone Star Signers!

I love to read biographies in a picture book format because the author and illustrator work so closely together to bring the time period to life! Here are a few other juvenile biographies that we have really been enjoying:

  1. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? (Elizabeth Blackwell)
  2. Miss Moore Thought Otherwise (Anne Carroll Moore, librarian)
  3. The Boy Who Loved Math (Paul Erdos)
  4. Manfish (Jacques Cousteau)
  5. Noah Webster and His Words

Great biographies for young readers from Lone Star Signers!

Have you read any great children’s biographies?

San Antonio Book Festival 2015: 3 Great Biographies for Young Readers

When the San Antonio Public Library announced its lineup for authors and illustrators visiting the Children’s Tent at the upcoming Book Festival, we immediately requested as many books from the list as possible. (Getting a NEW book from the library can be cutthroat sometimes–there are a LOT of great readers in this city, so you’ve got to be QUICK!)

3 Great Biographies for Young Readers (Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet) from Lone Star Signers

One of our favorite books from the stack was The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Addie, my six-year-old, said: “I liked the middle of the book when Roget married Mary Hobson. I also liked the picture of his daughter Kate in the yellow dress. My favorite illustration was the part with Napoleon’s soldiers in the city, because I learned about that in my timeline at Classical Conversations. Roget was a doctor, and doctors are very important. He also made lists of words starting from when he was a little boy–I like to make lists, too. I love to read our thesaurus.”

The Right Word is one of three children’s biographies written and illustrated by the awesome team of Bryant and Sweet. We’ve also borrowed A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (2008) and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (2013). We genuinely love them all!

Catch Jen Bryant at the San Antonio Book Festival | April 11, 2015

Here are a few reasons why I LOVE these books:

  1. The subjects chosen (Peter Roget, William Carlos Williams, and Horace Pippin) aren’t “common” for children’s biographies. Personally, I really enjoyed learning more about all three men.
  2. Jen Bryant’s words are perfect for reading aloud!
  3. Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are beautifully detailed. Her collages add so much to the story.
  4. It’s clear that the relationship between Bryant and Sweet is a fun one–they even took turns dedicating their work to the other (Sweet to Bryant in A Splash of Red and Bryant to Sweet in The Right Word). Addie and I have had interesting discussions about the publishing process.
  5. All three men had “other” careers (two were doctors!)–their writing/art was a form of personal expression, not to become rich and/or famous, which is a great lesson for us all. As a mom, I also appreciate that Bryant included information about all three subjects’ childhoods–my six-year-old thinks of herself as an author and even started a “writing club” for some of her young friends. When she reads these books, she can visualize herself in the shoes of the main character and dream about a future making lists, writing poems, and creating paintings.

Selfishly, I’m hoping for another collaboration between Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet in the future–these sophisticated stories prove that picture books can be valuable for older children and adults, too!

Don’t forget: you can meet Jen Bryant in the Children’s Tent at the San Antonio Book Festival THIS Saturday at 12:45 p.m. You can be sure that we’ll be there, too!

Why Saxon Math Works for Us!

We are nearing the end of our second year using Saxon math as part of our homeschooling curriculum. I know many families are making plans for next school year, so I wanted to share my thoughts in case anyone was interested.

Please note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links to products we have purchased and enjoy. 

A is currently 6.5 years old and in the first grade. We chose Saxon last year for Kindergarten because a veteran homeschool mama gifted us with the Teacher’s Manual, and I wanted to give the program a try. I had heard from other families that the early years of Saxon math is “easy”–that was true for us last year. Personally, I liked the short (and easily-combined) lessons, the repetition of important concepts, and the fact that we didn’t have to do written work–a plus for a child with fine-motor delays. Since we were just starting homeschooling and adjusting to the rigorous rhythym of Classical Conversations, I was content with “easy” for our first year of math. I wanted to be sure that we built a strong mathematical foundation.

Why Saxon Math Works for Us | Lone Star Signers

Fast forward a year–we are just past lesson 85 of Saxon Math 1, and I am loving it! I’m planning on ordering next year’s materials shortly (plus a Kindergarten meeting book for our preschooler). Here’s why Saxon Math works for us:

  • I see it working! Our precious first grader does a practice page in each lesson, filled with consistent review. I don’t worry that she’s going to forget how to tell time or make tally marks because I’m not teaching it directly this month.
  • Saxon’s scripted lessons give me confidence. While I personally *love* math, I want to be sure that I’m not missing any foundational concepts or using incorrect vocabulary when I teach.
  • Saxon “gets” homeschoolers–I have the freedom to skip, combine, or repeat lessons as it benefits my student. Do I follow the specific meeting script every lesson? No! Is it there if I need it? Yes!
  • Saxon is timeless. I LOVE that I can use the same curriculum with multiple children and not have to worry about it being out of date! Do I supplement with a few ten-frames activities from Teachers Pay Teachers? Sure, I want to be know that our daughter is meeting the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills–but I don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater to get there.
  • Most of all, I love that my girls can learn math in a real-life, hands-on manner TOGETHER. My three-year-old has absorbed a lot of math this school year, simply from sorting pennies and dimes or unifix cubes next to me while I teach her big sister.

I know that Saxon math is NOT for everyone, but it works for us in this stage of life!

What about you? I’d love to hear how you teach (or re-teach) math with your children.

Traveling Tips for Kids: Choosing Which Toys to Bring Along!

Our family recently took a weekend trip to Houston–my husband had a singing competition, and I knew the girls and I would be spending a lot of time in our hotel room. (It was raining, the hotel was located in an industrial area surrounded by a construction zone, and we wanted to be available to spend time with our favorite tenor during his breaks–so we didn’t “day-trip” much on this getaway.)

Before we left, I packed a tote bag full of our (current) favorite Discovery Toys. Each item had to meet the following criteria:

  • Open-ended, with multiple ways to play for both our preschooler and our 1st grader.
  • Compact and easily contained.
  • Easy to share.
  • Educational.
  • Fun!

There were times throughout the weekend when each girl needed to bring ONE activity with her down to the conference center (attached to the hotel) for one of the competition’s public shows. It was important to me that all loose pieces could quickly be picked up and moved to another location–something that my girls are already pretty good at!

Traveling Tips for Kids: Choosing Which Toys to Bring Along!

Here’s what we brought:
(Note: I am a Discovery Toys Educational Consultant, so this post does include direct links to my online shop. Please let me know if you need specific recommendations; I’d love to help!)

  • Exact Change (all ages)

    Exact Change combines an excellent teaching lesson with fun, fast paced action that the entire family will love. The goal is to play all of your cards first. You can discard cards by matching the color of the last card played, by matching the currency value (eg. play a penny on a penny), or by making EXACT CHANGE. Making exact change allows you to discard multiple cards that add up to the value of the last card played. For example, if the last card played shows a quarter, you can make exact change by playing two dimes and a nickel- allowing you to discard three cards in one play! (Our littlest girl matches the color or number without worrying about making change.)

  • Giant Pegboard & rubber band ball (19 months and up)

    Giant Pegboard from Discovery ToysSide one features a pegboard for sorting, stacking, counting, and matching the 25 easy-to-grasp pegs of various sizes and colors; the flip side features a raised peg geoboard for creating geometric designs. Updated set includes 12 two-sided pattern cards, with activities for both sides of the board! (Both girls had a great time making designs and letters on the pegboard side all weekend long. Our colorful rubber bands (purchased separately) added an extra layer of patterning fun!)

  • It’s a Match! Deluxe Set (recommended for ages 3+)

    It's a Match from Discovery ToysSelf-checking learning system designed exclusively for preschoolers. Snap the colored frames onto the answers, then pull down the tray to check the results. If the color of the frame and square are the same, it’s a match! (Our preschooler LOVES this one!)

  • Playful Patterns (recommended for ages 4+)

    An early childhood pre-math and pre-reading learning center in an heirloom wooden box, made of durable eco-friendly materials. Logic and spatial thinking will blossom with the 132 wooden geometric shapes and 34 progressively challenging designs. Match the design cards or create your own open-ended patterns and images.

    Box can double as self-contained work space. More activities included. Box and shapes made of beechwood and water-based paints. Labels and pattern cards printed with soy based inks. (We recently purchased this beautiful wooden set–our previous set contained foam pieces. I love all the discussion about colors and shapes that develops while doing this activity together. Plus, more than one child can build a design at the same time!)
  • Tac-Tiles (recommended for ages 3+)

    Tac-Tiles from Discovery ToysTouch & guess: Is it a star, a submarine, a koala bear, or perhaps a guitar? Boost visual AND tactile skills, critical thinking and memory with this hands-on set of wood tile frames and matching shapes. This versatile set features 32 fun, familiar shapes, 32 matching tiles with the shape punched out, and a canvas draw-string bag. Have a blast identifying objects by touch alone, sorting by feature, or tracing. Play alone or with friends. (This incredible toy fits all of my trip criteria–it’s our go-to traveling activity!)

    What toys do you like to take on a trip?

Why Classical Conversations Works for Us!

Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links to products we have purchased and enjoy. 

We are nearing the end of our second year in the Classical Conversations Foundations program! I know many homeschooling families are making plans for next school year, so I wanted to share my thoughts in case anyone was interested. 😉

Classical-Conversations Works for Us! from Lone Star Signers

A is 6.5 years old and in the first grade. Some families choose classical education (and/or CC specifically) based on principle, but we ended up on this path because it suits our daughter’s personality and learning style. (I feel like that’s an important distinction. If CC was not a good fit for our daughter, we’d be seeking out another approach.)

  • She is an auditory learner and memorizes nearly everything she hears.
  • She is a perfectionist.
  • She is NOT shy.
  • She is comfortable around adults and eager to please.

The auditory nature of Classical Conversations works well for both of our children. It’s simple to turn on the CD while they play or when we’re in the car–they both absorb the memory work without a lot of effort. (I am a visual learner and much older than 6, so I don’t remember half of what they do!) We’ve also made a memory work box and spend about 10-15 minutes reviewing our flashcards a few days a week.

I love that the content cycles every three years, so we don’t feel the pressure to memorize EVERYTHING this year. Even with our fairly relaxed approach at home, I’m impressed by the amount of content that our girls seem to be retaining–AND how frequently we stumble across mentions of our memory work in other areas of learning. (Most recent example: our listening to the tall tale of Paul Bunyan included several mentions of our geography terms, which elicited excited gasps from the backseat.)

I truly believe that the Classical Conversations memory work is giving our girls a strong foundation in both history and geography, two subjects that our family is passionate about. They’re also learning important math facts, Latin, science, and English grammar. We enjoy the science and fine arts components of our day, plus A is benefiting from weekly presentations and social time with other children. Best of all, we are part of a wonderful community of local families!

If you are considering Classical Converations for your family, I hope this post was helpful for you. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can answer for you.

P.S. You can read more about our first grade curriculum choices here–we’ve also swapped out some of our other language arts workbooks for the Spelling You See (Jack & Jill) program.