Archive for the ‘Wednesday Educational’ Category

For a while now, I’ve heard many recommendations in the homeschooling world for a DK book called Children Just Like Me:  A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World. It is often used as a jumping off book to study different countries and cultures around the world.  We finally got the book from the library to preview it and decided it needed to be part of our home library long term.

This book is by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley and is published by Dorling Kindersley.  Each two page spread in Children Just Like me features a profile of a child.   With each child, no matter where they live, we see a full page picture of them with a description of some of their clothes.  We see a picture of their house, their school, some of their school books.  We also see a picture of his family, a point of interest from their country and how he would write his name.

In many ways, the book is typical DK children’s book fashion.  Large colorful photographs, smaller captions.  Overall they are busy pages.  This isn’t a story book by any stretch.  More of a book to page through with your kids and look at the pictures, talk about the captions.  Older children can certainly read the parts on their own and will enjoy it.

Some of the countries included are:  India, Tanzania, Jordan, Thailand, Poland, Hungary, France, US, Australia, Argentina, Bolivia.  Each of the habitable continents are represented.  The book is divided by continent with a page introduction for each one.  I love that throughout the book, children of all socio-economic classes are represented.  Even if a child lives in a paper hut, it is presented the same as a child living in a fancy home.

We plan to use this book to direct our country studies throughout the year.  I will supplement each country with other non-fiction books from the library and we will hopefully make a family meal that will represent the country or region we are studying. But, if you aren’t homeschooling, I think this book makes a great addition to your home library.  It’s a great starting point for curiosity.  Children will love to hear about how kids their age live all around the world.  In addition there are other books to supplement, one about stories, celebrations, and even a sticker book to complement Children Just Like Me.

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Continuing my Math kick for this week, I wanted to post my review of a book by Greg Tang. Mr. Tang has written many math type children’s books and we’ve enjoyed each one that we’ve read.  The Grapes of Math:  Mind-Stretching Math Riddles is a fun but challenging book.  It is definitely for ages 5+ and unless your 5 year old is very advanced in Math, he or she may not be able to answer the riddles the way they are intended, but could have fun counting and listening to the rhymes anyway.

My first impression of this book is that it would be a fun read, lighthearted and interesting.  The illustrations are colorful and appealing to many ages.  The riddles on each page are creative and rhyming.  All of this while challenging children to find quicker ways to solve problems and to sometimes look for what isn’t there rather than what is there.

From the author’s note:  “The Grapes of Math introduces children to the art of problem solving through a series of engaging math riddles.  These riddles challenge kids (and parents!) to think creatively while teaching valuable tricks for adding more quickly and accurately.”

I always appreciate the attention to detail in books that allow the book to be used in a variety of ways.  For instance, each page of the book has a riddle with a corresponding picture to solve.  The riddle is just for fun.  Then comes the question…and what I love is that the question is in a different color and jumps off the page, so if you want to just flip through the book and try the problems without the riddles, you can easily do that.  So here’s an excerpt from the book:

Flying Seeds:

When summer days are really hot,

A watermelon hits the spot.

With every messy, juicy bite,

I spit the seeds clear out of sight!

Can you count each little seed?

Here’s a hint that you may need.

It’s best to pair them slice by slice,

Find a sum, and add it thrice!

Then the picture on the opposite page is of 6 plates, each with a slice of watermelon on it.  Half of the slices have 6 seeds, the rest have 5 seeds.

The book includes an answer section with explanations of what you should be encouraging your child to look for on each page.  The whole idea of the book is to get your child to think outside what he or she might normally look for in solving a problem.

I found this book to be just genius in it’s approach and fun factor.  As a homeschooler, I love the idea that I could spend an entire day’s math lesson curled up on the couch with my son paging through this book and discussing the concepts, and he just may never know he’s learning something.  Perfect for those days when kids aren’t feeling great, or toddlers are running rampant, or when your first grader informs you that if he has to write one more number in his life, it’s likely that he’ll loose all abilities in his hands, because it’s just. that. torturous.  Yeah, for those days…go get this book!  You can find a list of Greg Tang’s math books here.

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As promised, here’s my first math book review!

How do you combine teaching math concepts, corny puns, and knightly adventure?  Author Cindy Neushwander (don’t worry, her book is much easier to read than her last name!) has done so quite successfully.  Sir Cumference and the First Round Table:  A Math Adventure is a knightly tale that introduces children to the parts of the circle.  The cast of characters includes Lady Di of Ameter, Sir Cumference, King Arthur, and a carpenter Geo of Metry.

King Arthur is having some problems with his neighbors, the Circumscribers.  So he calls upon his trusted knights.  The problem is King Arthur’s table.  The rectangular table is too long.  Lady Di helps him come up with a square table, and we see the drawings.  But that table has it’s own set of problems.  Lady Di comes up with several solutions, making cuts and changes to the shape of the table, but each shape has it’s own set of problems for the knights.  Finally Lady Di, Sir Cumference and their son, Radius, set out for a ride and spot a tree fallen on its side.  Radius suggests it could be the new table for King Arthur.  Lady Di measures it with her body, from head to toe.  The table works out just perfectly, and they eventually find out that the Circumscribers aren’t planning an attack, they only wanted to measure the area of the kingdom!

What a clever book!  I love how the author used details about each characteristic of the circle and made them traits of the characters.  The illustrations clearly show how the cuts are made to change each shape to the next.  At the end, each character explains his role in the adventure, relating to his name.

It turns out that this publisher(Charlesbridge) has many other Math Adventure stories.  If you need a children’s story about the Pythagorean theoremFibonacci sequence, pi, probability, or measuring angles, Charlesbridge has a book for that and more.  I can’t speak to any of the others in the series, but if they are as creative and fun as this one, I highly recommend them.

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One plus One

My son just finished his first grade math book.  We’re going to keep trudging along, on into the 2nd grade level.  That’s the beauty of homeschooling.  But I wanted to find some fun books for my son to read in the next few weeks to review the concepts he’s learned in the last few months.  I’ve gotten a few math books out of the library in the past, but haven’t reviewed any here yet.  I came across this great website with a lovely list of living math books for addition and subtraction concepts.  I have a bunch of these on request at the library.  So check back next week for a review or two of some of these.  I’ve also added this to my sidebar for future easy access.

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I’ll admit it, I hate teaching my kids science.  It’s not the subject that frustrates me or is uninteresting, quite the contrary.  It’s that there is just so much out there and so many different ways to go about doing it that I get overwhelmed.  In our homeschool I tend towards thinking that a science lesson has to be a big production with experiments, museum visits, real life experience, record keeping, etc.  But the fact is, that sometimes the simplest presentation of a lesson works just as well.  Don’t get me wrong, experiments and big productions to teach a lesson are fun, but if a big production is out of the question (because you have sick kids, or a toddler that destroys anything in his path that might resemble a science project, or you simply have run out of time to plan anything), sometimes just finding a decent book to read is a great substitute.  Read the book, talk about it, point things out, ask your kid questions about what they think or to make observations from their own life.  Then if you’re feeling really school-ish you can have them write down something they learned and draw a picture.  That’s it!  Science is done for the day.  Nice and easy.

So where to find good science books?  Well, there are tons.  But if you need a good series to rely on for any topic, my favorite is Harper Collins’ Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series.

These books are appropriate for K-4 set, but I have a 4 year old who has enjoyed listening along with big brother for about a year or so.  This series has a book about virtually any science topic you can think of.  Archaeology, Biology, Botany, Geology, and many more.  They are written as a story, with the facts and ideas woven in.  There are bright illustrations.

Each one is written by a different author.  There are older books, I’ve seen ones as old as the 1980s I believe.  They are still writing books for the series.  The newer books are leveled.  Level 1 is for the younger kiddos, the books are more story-like with characters.  The Level 2 books are more detailed and have more words on each page.  They are more focused on the facts.

Most likely you can easily find many of these books in your library system.  Because they all have different authors, try searching under the series name.

You can find a complete list of the level 1 books here, and the level 2 books here.  At the Harper Collins’ site you can also search by topic if you’d rather narrow it down.

Let me know if your child has a favorite science book, I’d love to hear more ideas!

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If you are searching for some Christmas or December reading that isn’t necessarily about the holiday, you might try this one:

Regardless of how much you liked the politics of the former administration, former VP’s wife, Lynne Cheney is a great author of history story books for young children.  When Washington Crossed the Delaware:  A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.  Our drive through a cold Valley Forge Park today reminded me of this story.  It chronicles the battles of Trenton and Princeton in the Revolutionary War.  The noteworthy part about the story is that they made a rather perilous crossing of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey on Christmas Day.  The troops had a rough winter stationed at Valley Forge.

Cheney definitely succeeded in taking a historical story and making it engaging and interesting for young children.  As far as I can tell the story is accurate, although simplified.  I appreciate the portrayal of General Washington in this story, someone who bore the weight of his decisions to send men into battle in perilous conditions. The illustrations are stunning as well, in part because of the larger size of the book.

Here are some other books by Lynne Cheney.  Although I have read a few of the other ones and at the time thought the quality was somewhat lessened in comparison to this one.

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We are following a classical approach to studying history in our homeschool.  Since my son is in first grade, we focus on Ancient History.  A large part of that is Ancient Egypt.  There are so many great books about Ancient Egypt written for kids, and I hope to highlight more along the way.  But I’ll focus on just 2 of them for now.  One, I was reminded of after posting the Gail Gibbons Thanksgiving book earlier.

There is just so much material that one can cover when introducing Ancient Egypt to children.  The following book, is a great simple overview and introduction to ancient Egypt, and combining detailed and colorful drawings.  Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs:  A Book about Ancient Egypt is written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons.

Each page only has a few sentences, and there are labels and other captions with the pictures.  There’s a simple map of Egypt, including the Nile River Delta, and very simple intro to some of the gods.


There’s a description of the pyramids, and what was contained inside, and the last page contains a list of some ancient Egypt discoveries.  The book certainly isn’t sufficient for a study in Ancient Egypt, but it’s a nice place to start and pique the child’s interest.

The second book, is another good starting point, and may get a reluctant child interested in studying something so far removed.  Miles Harvey has a series of books entitled Look What Came From…. In this case, there’s Look What Came from Egypt.


There’s something about the style of this book that is, well, I don’t know maybe a little on the cheesy side.  Maybe it’s the font for the headings on each page.  I don’t know, but it’s not a big criticism.  The book is well done and talks about many ancient Egyptian contributions to our modern society.  Things like embalming, books, sailboats, games, certain domestic animals, foods, etc.  The end of the book includes a recipe to try, a pronunciation guide, and other books to read for more info.  The pictures are well done, usually real photographs and I like that each invention is in bold letters in the paragraph.  Another great book to start the study of Ancient Egypt with.

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When my son was learning to read, it seemed we couldn’t get our hands on enough easy readers to keep him interested and challeneged.  He finished the Bob Books and then we needed something else that was leveled, but that kept his interest as well.  One of the sets of readers that we enjoyed the most was the DK Readers. Also known as Dorling Kindersley Readers or Eyewitness Readers.  If you are familiar with other DK books, or DK Eyewitness books, you can immediately picture their style.  Glossy pages with many real photographs on each page.  The DK Readers are leveled, which means you can start at the lower levels with beginning readers, and as they improve, you can easily pick books from higher numbers.  One thing to keep in mind though, is that every company that makes leveled readers has their own definition of level 1 or 2.  So DK Readers level 2 may actually be the same reading level as Step-into-Reading Readers level 3.

These DK readers are non-fiction, but written in a way that is engaging so it’s not like reading a textbook.  For instance, one that my son enjoyed was Fire Fighter!

This one follows a specific firefighter throughout her day and explains the job from staying at the firestation to heading out on a fire call.  What I appreciated was that the text was at a level my son could read, but then most pages have a little extra box of text to explain a tool or fact.  The box is written at a bit higher reading level, so a parent can read those parts or kid can challenge himself.

The books also have a simple index which became another teaching tool.  Kids can find words they recognize from the reading and learn how to find them within the book.  There are many different topics to choose from, and there is even a Star Wars Readers subset if you have a kid that’s into that.  These books are also small paperbacks but sturdy to hold up to wear and tear.  They are cheap as well, usually around $3.99 new.  But you can find them used for, just a few cents, and at your library as well.

To see a complete list of the DK Readers, check out DK’s website list directly.

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