Snow, Snow, Snow!

As I type that title, in my mind I hear the song “Snow” from Berlin Irving’s movie White Christmas (1954). So wonderful!

Like many other midwest natives, I admit that I love snow when it comes but am ready for it to magically melt away after the new year. 😉 But for now, winter is just beginning, which means I am ready to welcome the snow with sparkly-eyed delight! Thus far we’ve had some flurries but nothing that has stuck. Still, with our Christmas decorations up and the tree lights glowing, I pulled out an old favorite to read aloud as a family: White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt.

This is a classic children’s book for winter and boasts the Caldecott Medal for its nostalgic illustrations. I like the book because it focuses on 3 characters from a town as they prepare for a big winter snow to come. There are is also ample opportunity for using this with older students for language arts mini-lessons on descriptive language and personification.

Whether you have snow or not where you live, I’m sure you and your children/students will like this book!

Best Ages: kindergarten and up

For Parents:

  • Do you like the snow? If it snows where you live, talk to your child about what you do to prepare for big snow storms and winter weather.
  • Cut out paper snowflakes from construction paper or coffee filters. (Remind your child to fold in quarters and only cut along the lines.) Tape them to the inside of windows in your house and listen to the song “Snow” from White Christmas.

For Teachers:

  • Show your class the clip of the song “Snow” from White Christmas. If appropriate for your region, ask students what they enjoy doing in the snow. Or ask what they would like to do if it snowed where you live. Make a list on the whiteboard.
  • After reading aloud the book, choose a winter art project for your students to complete. (This is a link to one of my favorite websites, created by an elementary art teacher.)
  • For older grade levels, choose several lines from the book that demonstrate personification and descriptive language. Have students work in pairs to identify which ones are examples of each. Review as a class.



Poetry Challenge!

My preschooler really likes to listen to me read aloud poetry. Something about the language and rhythm of poetry captures her interest. She will snuggle against me on the couch and contentedly hold her favorite teddy bear as I read through an entire anthology of children’s poetry.

And I’m really enjoying reading poetry aloud!

So I’d like to give a challenge to parents and teachers out there to read aloud more poetry at home or in the classroom. And to make the challenge easier on you, I’m going to provide a list of 5 books of children’s poetry our family has especially enjoyed. 🙂

1. Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North by Eileen Spinelli
This is my favorite book of children’s poetry my daughters and I have been reading over the last month. The poems are short enough to hold my two-year old’s attention but detailed enough to prompt questions and discussions with my preschooler. Bonus: Further details at the back of the book for each of the arctic animals featured in the poems.

2. Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt by Patricia C. McKissak
This is a lovely compilation of poems based on the incredible African American quilt art that comes out of Gee’s Bend in Alabama. Can be used for an interdisciplinary unit on African American history and art. Bonus: An introduction to the book explaining the discovery of the quilt artwork and the history of Gee’s Bend.

3. A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters by Betsy Franco
Concrete poems that would be a wonderful addition to a poetry unit for any elementary school classroom. (Concrete poems are created by formatting words in an image that represent meaning. Lots of fun for kiddos!) The images are bright and bold and fun to read. My preschooler LOVES this book. Bonus: A list of books and websites to discover more about sea animals.

4. Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

A fabulous book to showcase different styles of poetry and robust vocabulary. To be honest, the first few poems in the book didn’t “wow” me, but the later ones really make up for it. My personal favorite is the porcupine poem, whose illustration is featured on the book’s cover.

5. Prayers for Children by Eloise Wilkin
A close family friend gave us this book as a gift when we were expecting our first child. Our daughters love reading this book and I enjoy the classic prayers written by famous poets including Ralph Waldo Emerson. This book has many formats of poetry and beautiful illustrations.

Best Ages: pre-k and up

Cultured Reads for Little Ones

Here are some of the latest board books our family has read that help introduce various topics to our children, from travel to languages to art.

Happy reading! 🙂

San Francisco: A Book of Numbers by Ashley Evanson

My husband and I traveled to San Fransisco once. We didn’t have a chance to ride on a trolley, but we were able to see many other sites featured in the book, including the Palace of Fine Arts and sea lions from the pier. Lovely book!

Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

As we currently live in an urban setting, my family appreciated this read. My favorite line and illustration was “Nine tasty dishes” for a multi-ethnic potluck… We have participated in and thoroughly enjoyed many of those at our diverse neighborhood church!

Sharing with Renoir by Julie Merberg & Suzanne Bober

The most delightful board book I have read with classical artwork! Beautiful paintings by Renoir are appropriately matched with rhyming text to read with young children.

DK Braille: Counting by Fleur Star

My two year old daughter loves the touch-and-feel illustrations in this book, which I find very tasteful and elegant. This book provides a great introduction to Braille and the celebration of communication through various methods.

How Gator Says Good-bye by Abigail Samoun

The “Gator” series is wonderful because it helps children learn how to say words in other languages. This particular book features 8 countries – along with phonetic clues for the pronunciation of “good-bye” in the languages of those countries. Plus, at the end is a world map that shows the location of each country Gator visited.

Best Ages: 0-3 years





Horses: Trotting! Prancing! Racing!

The highlight of our family trip to the northern woods last month was the trail ride we took on horseback. My youngest daughter rode with my husband, while my oldest daughter rode with me. (She chattered the entire time, she was so happy and excited!)

Our first horseback ride as a family.

When we came back home from that wonderful trip, my daughters continually talked about our memorable horseback ride through the beautiful autumn woods. They asked many questions about horses – so naturally we found a lovely picture book about horses at the public library. 🙂

Horses: Trotting! Prancing! Racing! by Patricia Hubbell is a solid book to teach about popular breeds of horses and to describe the array of duties and activities horses complete. From herding cows to dancing in the circus, children will learn about the many things a horse can be trained to do.

I recommend this book to include in an animal study unit or for children who are simply interested in horses. Enjoy!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Look in your area for horseback riding opportunities at local stables or farms. Or check out a local petting zoo that has a horse or pony. Hayrides and sleigh rides could be fun, too!
  • Go through the book after reading and ask your child to describe what the horses are doing in each picture. Ask: If you were a horse, which job would you prefer?
  • Create a fun and easy horse craft using paper plates and paint.

For Teachers:

  • Ask students if anyone has ever ridden a horse or seen a horse up close. What was it like?
  • Once you’ve read the book aloud, create a list of the jobs horses can do.
  • Bring in a horse in the form of a stuffed animal, puppet or toy. Have your class vote on what job they would give the horse if it were real, based on the examples in the book.
  • Cut out horseshoes from white or gray paper and have students paint or color. Hang the completed horseshoes up on a wall or as the border for a bulletin board. (Check out these free horseshoe printables for easy photocopying!)



Teaching Sensitivity to Young Children

We were walking home from the park when my preschooler loudly said, “That man is bald, just like Uncle B!” The man, who was on his knees gardening, looked up and then continued to work. My husband said hello and commented on the beautiful weather while I just smiled and felt my face heat up to a nice bright red.

Kids will just blurt things out, right?

But sometimes those blurted observations can be more hurtful than humorous. How do we teach our young children, whether parents or caregivers or educators, to be sensitive to others?

I don’t have a magic bullet or guaranteed method to teaching sensitivity (which you probably figured out by reading the anecdote above!) but I believe we can help them to learn to be sensitive to others by modeling it in our own speech and actions… and by intentionally selecting books to read that teach children sensitivity. Exposing our children to people who are different in books – whether those differences are in culture, interests, abilities or anything else under the sun – will provide a foundation to discuss how to be sensitive to others in life.

A great starting point is the book Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley. The book has bright and colorful illustrations, rhyming text and thought-provoking statements from a child’s point of view on having a friend who uses a wheel chair. Best Friend on Wheels can help you have conversations in your home or classroom about being sensitive to others.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • If you haven’t before, explain to your child that some people need extra help getting around and may use a wheelchair, just like some people use glasses to help them see better. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
  • Ask what things people found they had in common with Sarah even if they initially didn’t think they would be able to find something in common with a person in a wheelchair. Look back through the book together.
  • Print a picture of your child with his/her best friend. Pull out art supplies and make a collage with the picture glued on to the artwork. Hang it up or give it as a gift to that friend.

For Teachers:

  • Show your students photos of eye glasses, a wheelchair, training wheels and swimming floaties. Ask them why people need to use those items. Remind them that people need help sometimes to do things better (like see, get around or swim), whether temporary or permanent. Emphasize that while every person is different, we don’t need to be afraid, nervous or shy because of those differences.
  • Ask students to make a list of the things they like to do with their friends. Remind them that when we have things in common with others, we can have a wonderful friendship with them, even if they look different on the outside.
  • Create friendship collages in small groups. Have each student write down an activity they enjoy doing with a friend on colored paper (lots of ideas in the book!). Have student glue their papers on a pasteboard and use tissue paper, markers and other art supplies to decorate. Ask each group to share their friendship college posters with the rest of the class. Display in your room.

Learning about the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are recognized since 1978 by the United Nations as a World Heritage location. Located off the coast of Ecuador (and officially a part of that country), the Galapagos are a source of endless learning opportunities in geography, natural science and marine biology.

Kick off learning in any of those areas by reading aloud the picture book We’re Sailing to Galapagos: A Week in the Pacific, written by first grade teacher Laurie Krebs. This book has lyrical text with a tercet that repeats through the book:

We’re sailing to Galapagos, Galapagos, Galapagos.

We’re sailing to Galapagos.

I wonder who we’ll see.

The seven days of the week are also given, with a different animal discovered each day of visiting the Galapagos Islands. Collage illustrations add flavor to the discoveries readers make as they “travel” to Galapagos. Additional information is provided at the end of the book on the history and geology of Galapagos, a brief biography of scientist Charles Darwin and additional details on the animals identified in the story.

Here’s another post on a fantastic island book!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Help your child locate the Galapagos Islands on a world map. How far is that from where you live? Talk about how you would be able to get to Galapagos: walk, drive, take a boat or fly in an airplane?
  • Talk about the days of your week. What will your family and/or child be doing each day this week? If desired, print off a copy of this chart with the days of the week and write or draw in the activities your child does each day this week.
  • Practice the days of the week with a fun song! (If the video images are too juvenile for your child’s age, just use the song.)

For Teachers:

  • Using a globe or a world map, ask for a volunteer to find South America, Ecuador or the Pacific Ocean (depending on age of your students and prior knowledge). Then point out the Galapagos Islands. Discuss which types of transportation you can use to reach an island.
  • Make a bulletin board with printed photos of animals from the Galapagos Islands and facts if desired.
  • Invite a student from an older grade to come in the classroom and read the tercet of the book with you. Or print off the final line of the tercet (I wonder who we’ll see) and practice it with students. Then ask them to say it aloud each time you read the tercet for audience participation. 🙂




A Children’s Book to Make You Smile

I know the word “sweet” can be overused as an adjective, especially in a household with two daughters, but the latest read my two-year old loves is just that… sweet.

And with each read aloud to my little girl snuggled at my side, I fall more in love with the storyline of the book A Carousel Tale by Elisa Kleven. We chose this book at the public library because my two daughters have such a good time riding on carousels.

Riding “King Arthur Carrousel” at Disneyland earlier this year.

If you have a child who loves the carousel – or if the child within you does! – you will enjoy this book. The story also promotes imagination and has delightful illustrations, which are probably the highlight of the book for me and why I think my youngest daughter enjoys reading it aloud often.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Best Ages: pre-k to 1st grade

Introducing Hellen Keller

As a teacher, I have worked with children of varying ability levels and needs. And I find it very important to make my classroom (and as a parent, my home) a welcoming and safe place for every person who enters. It is a priority for me to teach my children to love and accept people of all backgrounds and I was very pleased to find this beautiful book at our local library to read with my daughters at home: Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle by Holly M. Barry.

The book describes Helen Keller’s childhood, including information about her teacher Anne Sullivan and the journey to discovering a world while blind and deaf. In a touching manner, Holly M. Barry describes the constant friendship Helen found with her dogs and most especially a dog named Belle.

Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle is one of the best non-fiction picture books I have read in recent months and an exceptional biography for the primary grades. The book includes information on the American Sign Language alphabet, braille system and further reading on the life of Helen Keller.

I hope that you are able to check out this book for your home or classroom!

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Review the 5 senses with your child. Imagine what it would be like to lose one or more senses (like Helen Keller did as a small child). Which senses would you need to rely on?
  • Find things in your home that you can experience with each of your 5 senses. Put them in a large bag and then sort them into small containers or shoe boxes with your child. Remind your child that some things can be experienced by more than one sense!
  • Read this article for more information about hearing loss and your child’s health.

For Teachers:

  • Have a discussion on the differing abilities all people have. Reiterate the need to demonstrate respect for everyone and not be afraid of those differences.
  • Review the 5 senses. Which senses did Helen Keller lose as a young child?
  • Set up learning stations with these wonderful ideas on 5 senses activities or select one activity for the entire class to do together.
  • Check out this funky learning song on the 5 senses.

5 Terrific Animal Board Books

Our family reads quite a few board books, although I search out those with more in-depth topics and longer text to keep my two year old and preschooler engaged. These are five of our favorite animal board books from the last few weeks.

For other board book ideas, check out this post. Happy reading! 🙂

Best Ages: 0-3 years

  1. A Parade of Puppies by Charles Ghigna

A book that shows different breeds of dogs with adorable illustrations. It also features an animal rescue center, sure to please anyone who has adopted a pet!

2. ABC Insects compiled by The American Museum of Natural History

Bright and colorful with stunning photographs of the featured insects from A-Z. There is a brief description of each insect for lots of insect learning.

3. Busy Birdies by John Schindel

Fun rhyming phrases describe what birds do from nibbling to jumping to nesting. Close-up photographs show a variety of species.

4. Who’s Hiding in the Pond? by Christine Gunzi

Young children love lift-the-flap books, and I like this one in particular because of its unique setting in the pond. It includes a few unexpected items, such as a jar of tadpoles, and ends with a mirror that both my daughters enjoyed!

5. Fox on the Loose! by Matthew Porter

My two-year old likes this book. The animals on the farm work together to stop a sneaky and ravenous fox from getting the chickens… All while boasting robust vocabulary words for little readers!