Review: Out Of School And Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

One book that is a staple in many homeschoolers’ personal libraries is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.

Comstock’s Handbook deserves its own review but today I wanted to share a picture book we have thoroughly enjoyed here.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan, is a wonderfully put together introduction to the life of Anna Comstock.

It shares the story of Anna’s childhood love of exploring nature, and how this love matured along with her, into a life’s passion for studying nature.

Anna did not marry right away, but went to college (in a time when this was not the norm) to learn more about plants and insects.

“Such thousands of insects I never saw before.” Anna Comstock

She spent time developing her art skills, drawing insects. Her drawings were even used by a professor in his lectures, as well as by farmers identifying insects that were destroying their crops.

Some of the lovely illustrations in the book.

She also used engraved wood prints to produce very detailed images. One thing that I love in this book is the recreation of these wood prints – some can be found in her Handbook of Nature Study.

Side-by-side view of the illustrator’s rendering of Comstock’s wood stamp drawings, and the images from The Handbook of Nature Study.

Anna Comstock wasn’t just a scientist and artist though – one of her passions was getting children out into nature. She worked hard to convince teachers to include nature study – real study with children getting OUT into nature and not just reading about it at their desks – in schools.

“Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful.” Anna Comstock

I think The Handbook of Nature Study is an essential addition to any homeschool library, and we so enjoyed learning about this remarkable woman who made this work possible.

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This book gave an abbreviated introduction to Comstock’s life – but you can read more at Britannica,  and wikipedia includes references and external links to check out.

Two resources worth mentioning that use The Handbook of Nature Study:

The Handbook of Nature Study: The Outdoor Hour

Exploring Nature With Children

 

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Review: Teaching Character Through Literature

One way we cultivate character in our children is to expose them to beautiful, quality literature.

Well-written stories allows our children to experience things, good and bad, in a safe environment. We may find literary mentors that guide us in our personal development, and characters may embody personality traits or behaviors that we want to incorporate into our lives.

While there are wonderful reading lists available elsewhere, I wanted to share one particular resource that I am excited about.

teachingcharacter1This past year we have been exploring the study guides from Beautiful Feet.

Can I just say how impressed I am with these study guides?!

This particular one, Teaching Character Through Literature, is such an incredible resource.

The study guide would be worth the cost of purchasing just for the wonderful leveled book lists. These are quality works of literature with characters to relate to and lessons to learn.

There are two levels of reading lists – Primary and Intermediate. Within each level, there is a list of favorite authors (along with some of their more notable titles), as well as a list of favorite titles.

But the “meat” of the study guides are the lesson plans (entitled Study Notes in the guide) that are included. There are two sets of lesson plans – one for Primary (PreK through grade 3) and one for Intermediate (grades 4-6), each with age appropriate books selected.

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Each lesson includes a reading selection (either some number of pages, or chapters) followed by a couple of questions. These aren’t simple comprehension questions, they are designed to promote thinking and reflecting. Several lessons include a suggested scripture passage that can be included and ties directly into the reading.

You can view sample pages of the study guide here at the Beautiful Feet website to see how the lessons are laid out.

Even though the lessons are ordered and numbered, the lessons for one book do not necessarily build on a previous book. So in our case, we have actually jumped around in the study guide as we have obtained the books. And because I have a 4th grader along with three younger children, I am  selecting books from both the Primary and Intermediate book lists.

I typically use the questions from each lesson to guide discussion during and after our reading. The questions also work well as essay or journal prompts, and in fact I have asked for written responses on occasion from my 9-year-old.

This study guide is versatile – use it as merely a book list, use the lesson questions to direct discussion, or for more formal written assignments.

After using this guide, I have been so impressed that we are switching to the History Study Guide for Ancient History in the fall. I’ll put together more details as my fall planning comes together.

We are also starting our History of the Horse study this summer. Look for a full review of this study guide soon.

Review: Reading Rainbow App for iPad

We love using our iPad in our schooling. I am always looking out for education apps that Kyri will enjoy.

A friend recently suggested Reading Rainbow for the iPad. I grew up with Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow, and I have always loved the way the show brought stories to life.

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The Reading Rainbow app is more than just a continuation of the now-retired television show. It is an interactive library of books which have had animations added, and field trips which are video clips covering a wide range of topics. Many of these video clips are from the original show, and there is also new content as well.

When you subscribe to Reading Rainbow, you enter the names and ages of all the children who will be using the app, as well as three areas of interest for each child. Each child then has their own “backpack” where they can have up to five books downloaded at a time. Books are recommended based on the child’s age, but you access to all the content. You return books to the libary in order to check more out. There is no limit to how often you can check out a book. Backpacks can be personalized by choosing from a selection of patterns and designs.

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In order to select a book, your child clicks on one of the several floating islands on the main screen. Each island is basically a category of books to choose from. The islands include:

Action Adventures and Magical Tales

Genius Academy

Awesome People

National Geographic Kids

Animal Kingdom

My Friends My Family

There is a new island that is labeled Coming Soon – I am excited to see what the new content will be!

When the child select an island they are presented with a sliding selection of books in that particular category. Below the book selections are relevant video field trips.

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After choosing a book to read and downloading it to the backpack, the child can choose to either read it themselves, or have it read aloud. Often it is Levar Burton who is reading the book.

As the pages are turned, the words are read and there are select animations that have been included. These animations may be as simple as the wagging of a dog’s tale, but for many of the National Geographic Kids books geared toward younger kids, there is a lot more interaction with the book – selecting items on the page, counting items, etc.

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Each book has a game that can be played as well. This is a matching game, with snapshots from the book covered under each tile

When a book is finished, the child gets a sticker for their sticker book. The sticker book is accessed through the reward ribbon icon, and each island category has its own page in the sticker book. Stickers can be selected and placed on a picture of the island – and these stickers can be removed and placed again as often as the child wants.

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This is a great app – there are plenty of book selections, the animations really capture the imagination of the reader, and the sticker rewards are a big hit. I love having book categories presented as islands to be selected. As an added bonus, I can go into the settings menu and check on her reading progress. There is a report that tells me what books have been read and what length of time was spent on each book.

Now the details… downloading the app is free. When you download the app, each child you list will get to select one book to try it out. Reading Rainbow has a paid subscription to continue downloading books. The regular rate is $9.99 a month, but you can get six months for only $30 – this is a great deal! I am always a little hesitant about spending money on apps, since there are plenty of free ones out there. In this case, though, I think it is worth the investment. A lot of effort has been put into the app, making it easy for children to use and enjoy.

Curriculum Review: Intellego Unit Studies

We will be schooling year around here, but with Spring in full swing there is a certain feeling that we are approaching the end of the school year. Our social studies/science co-op will wrap up at the end of May and I’ll use that as an opportunity to switch over to our summer school schedule. I’ll also use the schedule change as an opportunity to evaluate what has worked (or not worked) for us this first year, so I can plan accordingly. This week’s writing prompt over at The Homeschool Classroom  – what resources have not worked for your homeschool – got me thinking ahead a little bit on what hasn’t worked for us (so far), so I wanted to evaluate one of our resources that we started off the school year with, but have not continued using at this point.

We started our Fall with a full schedule of material to cover – Math, Reading (with Five in a Row), Language Arts, Story of the World and Elemental Science (both in our co-op), and I had ordered three unit studies from IntellegoGeography:Maps for K-2, Civics:Symbols of America for K-2, and Science:Astronomy for K-2. After our first 6 weeks of class, we did not continue to use our Intellego unit studies. Our reasons for not continuing with the unit studies were more for scheduling and not reflective of the quality of the materials.

The main reason we did not continue with the unit studies had to do with our schedule. I think our school was a bit overloaded for Kyri’s age – there is a limit to how much you should schedule for a young kindergartener (she turned 5 in November), and I honestly put too much on our schedule. Can you tell I’m a first year homeschool mom and just want to do it ALL (smile)? On paper, it looks like it will all fit, but realistically, two hours of schoolwork a day is MAX before whining sets in. This gives us time to do our core subjects – Math and Language Arts are a must. We do our Five in a Row reading two or three days a week, and Mondays and Tuesdays we do our Story of the World (SOTW) chapter reading, additional selected readings that go along with SOTW, and Elemental Science book readings. Additional selected readings for SOTW and Science are spread out through the week, and Wednesdays are light days because we spend the morning at co-op. After a couple of weeks of trying to cover our Intellego unit study topics at the end of the week, and feeling stressed that the work was not getting done, I didn’t even both to put them on the schedule.

There are some pros and cons that I have come up with while mentally evaluating the Intellego unit studies – these are subjective so what I find doesn’t work for us may be right up someone’s else’s alley.

Pros:

– The unit studies are well organized. I found the outline of materials (organized into chapters and subchapters) and the progression of lessons, very well done. For example, for the Geography:Maps study, the lessons start with maps and the many different types available, and goes through cardinal directions, hemispheres and the poles.

– The table of contents allow you to navigate to each lesson with ease. This is not just one very long pdf – it is designed to be easily navigated through the chapters and subchapters.

– The unit studies are interactive web-linked pdfs, meaning they are filled with links to external websites which contain videos, activities, reading, etc. Had I put together my own unit study, I would have had to go in search of all these sites and would most likely not have found half of them. Some of the links are expired or may have moved, but Intellego is very good about keeping them up to date, and make it easy to report if one is found.

– There are suggestions for fun activities (example- I had never even heard about Letterboxing until reading in the Geography:Maps unit study).

Cons:

– Like I mentioned above, the unit studies are interactive pdfs, so most of the material is online material. We don’t do a lot of online schooling, with the exception of Starfall, so being online can be more of a distraction. It is also easy to lose Kyri’s attention if I am fiddling with a website trying to get something to load or trying to show her how to play an online game. More than once, she has wandered off while I was getting something set up online for her.

– Because it is primarily an online unit study, there are no book lists to go along with the units. We do A LOT of reading here for school, and honestly, I think we get a lot more out of our reading than we do from online activities.

– The KWL (Know, Want to know, Learned) worksheets did not really work for us. At the kindergarten level, a lot of what we are doing is new, so I did not include in the lessons we did cover. These might be helpful for older students, however.

I think when I was first planning out our school year, I had intended the Intellego unit studies to be supplemental material. The unit studies cover a lot of material, and to be fair, should not be relegated to a 20 minute session one day a week. I really do like the unit studies, and want to make them work for us. In order for that to happen though, I need to give them the space on our weekly schedule that they require. Because our summer school schedule does not include a social studies or science lesson plan (our co-op is following a traditional 36 week school schedule) my plan at this point is to use the three Intellego unit studies we have purchased as our Social Studies and Science material over the summer. I am going to use them knowing their pros and cons (from our point of view). What this means is that I will need to plan ahead a little better each week.

Some modifications we will make:

– We love reading actual books, so I will follow the topic outline in the units studies and request books from the library that cover these topics. We can do our reading through the week and plan to use the online activites included in the unit studies for reinforcement and fun.

– I will go through the online links BEFORE our lesson time, and have the ones we will be using opened up and ready to go on the laptop, so there is no lag time. This should prevent me from losing Kyri’s attention.

I think the Intellego unit studies are well designed, and I do want to make them work. They did not work for us during the school year with everything else I had on our schedule, but I am going to try them again this summer. With the modifications I mentioned above, they will hopefully be a great resource for us to use.

Starfall – Our favorite homeschool resource

I have written a review in the past about Starfall, but I wanted to revisit this resource in response to The Homeschool Classroom’s writing prompt for this week. We love Starfall around here. In our homeschool, I consider reading, language arts and math as our foundation for the school day. Some days we need a bare bones day out of necessity – whether it is errands that need to be run, pressing household needs, or unexpected visitors. If I have to rearrange our school plans for the day, I make an effort to get our foundation work done, and then I can shuffle whatever else I had on the schedule over the rest of the week. I cover our foundation work briefly and then I let Kyri get on the computer and do Starfall. This is a great tool to introduce new material and reinforce reading and math skills.

Starfall is a wonderful resource for teaching phonics, early reading, counting, place value, and early math. It is very interactive – flash generated graphics are used for animated stories, CVC word machines, counting, addition/subtraction machines, geometry and measurement. There is a large selection of stories, books, activities, and songs to engage younger children. Starfall is very engaging so I don’t worry about Kyri “vegging” out in front of the computer screen – she is animated, giggling, reading and singing along. She loves to play on Starfall, and to her it doesn’t feel like she is doing schoolwork. But in the year that we have been using Starfall, I have seen such positive results. We first got a full subscription to the online content this past Spring, at the end of her preschool year (as we were transitioning to homeschool). Starfall does have a lot of free content, but I recommend paying the year subscription cost. It is not expensive at all, and allows full access to all of the web content (and there is A LOT!) as well as the teacher resources, such as worksheet generators, many more early reader selections, and the Kindergarten curriculum. I have seen Kyri’s reading skills blossom over the past year, and I really credit Starfall for engaging her in fun activities online to reinforce basic phonics and early reading.