Putting History on the Line

I love history.  My favorite genres have always been historical fiction, biographies, autobiographies, and journals.  However, I have always had a challenging time remembering the sequence of time periods; this was the same for many of my students in years past. I do strongly believe, though, that we will spend a life time organizing historical facts as we continue to make new connections and reflections during our journey through life.

A friend of mine, who is a veteran homeschooling mother, said, “Just have your kids read . . . read the classics and read the Word of God.  Their ‘historical timeline’ will be defined by the books they read; they will plot these fascinating people and their experiences onto their own personal timelines.”  This really caused me to ponder on how I was teaching my history to the boys.

If you are not familiar with learning styles, I highly recommend that you research and identify how each of your children learn best.  One of my boy’s learning styles is visual, but my other son is a tactile, kinesthetic learner.  And so, the above hands-on historical time line is working well for the both of them.

For those who are not on a tight budget, Sonlight has a timeline that you can purchase for 24.99. However, if you are on a budget, I highly suggest making your own.  My friend created a template of the dates, put them on tag board, and placed them inside a three ring binder. We keep a running list of famous people and events on a word document, adding images (clip art) as we progress through our weeks. Once the page is filled, we print, cut, and paste the pictures into their timeline books!




Autumn Beginning

“[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

There is no doubt that the above quote describes my September.  It is hard to watch summer vacation fade and embrace a new season of schedules.  However, life is a journey, and we do grow from our mistakes.  And now, the third year of homeschooling is upon us.

A Blessing: Homeschooling is Peaceful.

  1.  My youngest son has started two new programs: Math-U-See and All About Spelling.  Both of these are teaching him the needed skills to overcome his dyslexia.
  2. My oldest son has  is using Teaching Textbooks and values all of the one-on-one explanations that he gets.  Both of us are loving the Vocabulary from the Classical Roots.
  3. We are doing a Maine Studies unit and love the freedom of exploring different parts of Maine.  Our reading time has been  novels (i.e. Lost on the Mountain in Maine, Dear America: Like the Willow Tree (about the Shakers) and the Sign of the Beaver; we have also been reading many Maine children’s books.  Being able to incorporate geology, genealogy, World History, and writing  has made schooling more simple.   Here’s my son’s writing blog: http://jmp2.edublogs.org/2012/09/14/jakes-sequel-to-like-the-willow-tree-by-lois-lowry/
  4. My oldest will be a teenager in December and is growing up fast. He made the soccer team for our local public school.  He has taken the leadership role by encouraging his team mates to join him at youth group.
  5. My oldest daughter went back to the Christian school; she did not want to be homeschooled.  Though she misses mommy, she loves the social part.  Her only complaint is that she wants more homework!
  6. My youngest daughter (adopted in 2011) is now in preschool.  Her English is progressing very quickly! She also likes being home and participating in our home school activities.

“There was something of jubilee in that

annual autumnal beginning . . . “



Watching our sons be baptized this past Sunday definitely was a jubilant occasion.  When my youngest son said, “I should have done this sooner, mom.  I feel different . . . so clean in the Lord.”, I knew that this Autumn was a new beginning for us all; last year’s mistakes had been forgiven.

Back-to-School: Basement Style

So, we’ve spent the last three months (Thank-you, Jeff!) converting our daylight basement into a living space.   My oldest son has a bedroom downstairs; the remaining part of the basement now houses a laundry room, a family room, and a homeschooling room.  Even though we still need to install the pellet fireplace (later in October), paint, hang new lights, and tile the floor, I still feel like we’ve moved into a mansion!

I wish I had taken pictures of what the basement had looked like prior to the organization frenzy.  But, you will just have to take my word for it: the basement looked like a dumping ground for an antique, athletic, toy store!

In one very long week, I organized, reboxed, and labeled our entire storage section.  Some of my kids really thought we were having Christmas!  Darn, I should have hidden those toys better; you know . . .  the ones, that parents, like you and me, hide in hopes that our kids will forget about them?  Anyway, we also found old pictures of great-grandparents, my Grampie Jake’s sailor cap and journal from World War II, and even a poem written for me by my paternal grandmother.  I am still shocked that these memories were stored in our basement.  To me, cleaning out the basement really became a ceremony of cleansing, a time of reflecting and renewing one’s identity in Christ.

So, here is what our homeschooling room presently looks like!  Jake and I had a blast spray painting our “free” filing cabinet and stuffing our “free” bookshelf with homeschooling materials.  Really, this homeschooling room also holds my scrapbooking and craft supplies, too.  I used my Gram’s antique dresser to keep school supplies and other items handy.  If you look closely, you will see a quilt, draped over the dresser, made by my Gram. Each fabric square tells another story of the past–a special Christmas, eighth grade graduation, college life, and my wedding.


Fortunately, after many years of teaching, I had accumulated a lot of “school”  items to use in yet, another classroom of mine.  I am excited that my word wall does not have to be on our fridge and that we have this expandable buffet table where the boys can spread out and do their schoolwork.  If we need more table space, we simply add leaves to the table.   Thank-you Gram for buying this for me twenty years ago.  You were right–a versatile piece of furniture!

Now, that the room is set up and ready to go, it is time to hit the books . . . basement style!  Let the school year begin!

Children’s Book, Part V: The Finished Book


Have you ever read the dedications in books?  Each one has a style of its own.   I have always told my students that you can tell a lot about the author by reading these.  Can you tell that these children had their mom for a writing teacher?

Sample #1: This book is for my family: Jeffrey, Jennifer, Jacob, Juliese, Joelle, Edward, and Susan.  A special thanks goes to my mom for helping me with the children’s book.

Sample #2:  To my mother who has taught me to treat others how you want to be treated

Sample #3:  This book is for all the flower lovers around the world

About the Author

This paragraph teaches children how to use

  • third person,
  • practice formal writing, and develop
  • the journalism style of writing.

A Sample

Author Jake Padgett was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Boston with both his two sisters and parents.  Playing basketball, collecting sports cards, and reading are his favorite hobbies.  Recently, he started an Ebay business selling baseball cards; he hopes to make enough  money to go to college.  In his spare time, he likes to listen to both the Boston Celtics and Red Sox on the radio.  He also loves the Boston Bruins and New England Patriots.  In the future, Mr. Padgett would like to play high school basketball and have a part-time job working at a sporting goods store.  Padgett wrote the children’s book Coming Up For Air because he wanted to teach kids to be kind to each other.

This sample refers to the author with these third person descriptions:

  • he,
  • Padgett,
  •  and Mr Padgett–notice the first name is not used.

About the Author also includes two important facts about each of these:

  • past
  • present
  • future

Readers enjoy seeing a picture of the author and  hearing  the author’s purpose for writing the story:  Padgett wrote the children’s book Coming Up For Air because he wanted to teach kids to be kind to each other.

The Cover

I told my children that the cover can either make a reader pick up the book or choose another one.  The cover should include the following:

  • Title
  • Words: Written and Illustrated by _?_
  • An illustration, symbolic of the story


Typically, a week should be spent on drawing the final illustrations.  My children had between 10 to 12 illustrations; they did two a day.  In the evening, they chose to do the extra ones so that the weekend would not be consumed with drawing.                                                                      


  • Complete the drawing in pencil first
  • Outline the illustrations with fine tip markers
  • Using crayons or colored pencils, shade in neatly

In the past, I have had students use these artistic mediums for their illustrations:

  • collages for illustrations (using different textured papers)
  • water colors
  • pastels
  • black & white sketches (this pertains to one who is skilled in sketching not the one who is trying to get out of coloring )

Putting the Book Together

There are many ways to bind a book.  We simply purchased folders that had three prongs and cut away the folder part.  Next, we attached the required number of protector sheets (three hole), placing an illustrations (with text) inside.

In the past I have had students:

  • sew their book together (this needs to be done prior to the illustrations)
  • use yarn and tie the book together
  • professionally bind the book

Thank you for reading this five part series.  If you have other questions about this project, please email me.

  Other Children’s Book article links:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Children’s Book, Part IV: The Storyboard

See Children’s Book, Part III

For those who are reading this series on Writing and Illustrating a Children’s book, thank you! I am not really sure why I am so compelled to write about this except for the fact that I have spent the last eighteen years or so teaching others about the joy of writing.  I am hopeful that home schoolers will be inspired to put away work books and do a family project.


Individually, each child reads his story aloud.  This is the best way to teach your child how to be an editor and proofreader of his own work. 


Once the editing is done, it is time to divide the text into pages.  The goal is to have at least ten pages of text.  Here is how my son divide his pages:

Example (Taken from Coming Up For Air by Jake Padgett)
Page 1
One night, in the Olympia Sports store next to Family Dollar, Burt, the Baseball, had just climbed down from the big shelf where all baseballs were kept to be sold.   Burt was going to meet his friend Ernie, the Basketball, to talk about the spacing issue that was causing such a problem in the store.
Page 2
As Burt was walking to the other side of the store to see his friend Ernie, the Basketball, he met Sully, the Soccer Ball, and Ferdinand, the Football, who were fighting and pushing to see who would get to the air pump first.


Next, we shrink the text down to fit onto a story board.

These are some of my children’s storyboards.  Notice that the typewritten text can be on its own page or with the picture.  Two of my children did the text with a picture on each page whereas my oldest son did the text on one page and the picture on the corresponding page.

Storyboard Art

“Mom, I can’t draw.  My hand is so tired from drawing these pictures!  Why do we have to do a storyboard before completing the actual book?”

Storyboards do the following:

  1. Creates the visual picture for the author
  2. Allows the author to review text again
  3. Permits the illustrator time to practice, experiment with colors, styles of art, and a variety of mediums.
  4. A rough draft for the illustrations
  5. A way to make sure the text and the pictures complement each other and are on the same pages

Weave the story around the characters  you feel comfortable drawing. My daughter loves drawing flowers, so both her story and characters were based on a garden theme.  Because my oldest loves sports, his story takes place in an athletic shop where different types of sports equipment are personified.  My youngest son loves trail mix, and yes, his characters were a raisin, a peanut, a pretzel, and a piece of Chex cereal. 


Destroy the Power of White activity is where my children discovered who some of their characters were going to be and what they would look like.

Once the story board is done, I had my children sit down with me and talk about their story boards, carefully making notes on pages that they wanted to change.  For example, my daughter wanted to change a flower’s color, and my son wanted to take a minor character out of his story.

What’s Next?

  • Drawing their final illustrations
  • Writing the dedication and about the author
  • Putting the book together

Children’s Book, Part III

Click here for Children’s Book, Part II

Writing the Rough Draft

All children process and write differently.  For some, like my oldest (Jake, age 12), he can sit down, with a pen in hand, and write a story.  Because he learned and used cursive early on, his pen could keep up with his ideas.  Note: Children who only learn to print  become more frustrated with writing because they simply cannot write fast enough.     This year, Jake took keyboarding and has been able to type his essays and stories without the use of a handwritten rough draft.  Though he may brainstorm and formulate his ideas into a rough outline, he just lets the words come write out of his fingertips!  I think he inherited this skill from me!

My six year old daughter and eight year old son  just learned cursive this year–Handwriting without Tears.  Even though they learned the basic cursive letters, writing is still a slow process.  By the time they figure out how to spell something and write the word out, their story ideas and how to compose these into sentences, are long gone.  And so, for this lengthy assignment, they verbally told me the story, and I typed their words.

Sample Dialogue of Writing the Children’s Story

Me:  So, Jonah, I see (Looking at his Destroy the Power of White activity) you have a great idea for your story.  Have you thought about how you will start it off?  Where is the story going to take place (setting)?

Jonah: Yes, it will take place in a school.

Me:  Do you have a name for the school?

Jonah: Bowlnut Elementary

Me:  Wow, that’s a clever name for a school.  It makes me think that some of your characters could be different types of cereal?  Is there a main character who will be introduced at the beginning?

Jonah: Yes, his name will be Petey, the Peanut, and kids will not let him play Dodge Bowl.

Me:  I love the creative name.  Can you tell me what the first sentence will be . . . how would you like to start it?

Jonah:  One day, at the Bowlnut Elementary School, there were three first graders name Chet, the Chex; Petey, the Peanut; and Pippy, the Pretzel.  At recess, they loved to play Dodge Bowl with the other kids at school.  Everyone could play except for Petey, the Peanut.

Me:  Slow down, Jonah, I can’t type that fast . . . Okay, I have this down: (This is when I would reread what he has told me allowing him to add or delete anything he does not want.  This is also a great teaching time to point out non-specific words and use a thesaurus for a more juicy word choice!)

Me: Why won”t they let Petey play?

Jonah: They are afraid that Petey will lose the game for them or may break his shell.

Me:  Can you put these ideas that you just told me in a sentence?



                                           on . . . 

We would keep this dialogue going until the story was written.  For a children’s book, I tell students to aim on having at least ten pages of text (words of the story) and some dialogue between characters sprinkled in there, too.

While writing or typing, my children had these handouts:

1.  300 Ways to Say Said
2.  Transition List

I am constantly modeling the editing process with them–meaning, I vocally describe the dialogue that is going on in my head.  In the educational world, the buzz word is called a “think aloud”

Here’s an example of a Think-aloud:

“Petey was mad?   Hmmm . . . we already used the word “mad” in the last sentence.  How about we look that word up in the thesaurus and choose another word?  We want each sentence to sound different and paint a detailed picture in the reader’s head.”

Next time, I will discuss how to shrink the story down to fit on a storyboard as well as share some “artful” hints to help even the most reluctant artist.








How to Write and Illustrate a Children’s Book, Part II

  Click to read Children’s Book Part I

Is it true–once a teacher, always a teacher?  Can a parent home school their children successfully even though they spent the last eighteen years teaching to the masses–in particular, eighth grade language arts?  Believe me, I have my doubts!  Teaching writing to elementary aged children is still  intimidating, but apparently, I have nothing to fear . . . I just need to relax, let the Lord lead the lessons, and . . . color all over their writing–really?

To Recap: After modeling how to identify themes (the “moral” to a story) as well as discussing why an author writes about specific topic (author’s purpose), I have been pleasantly surprised with the ongoing conversations about theme during our daily reading times.  So, I guess you could say there is hope for this good ol’ secondary teacher! For the last several weeks, we have recorded an ongoing list of themes found in children’s books.

Next, it was time to choose two possible themes for their own books:

My Children’s Themes:

  • Love others while  you can
  • Treat others how you want to be treated
  • Don’t give up–keep trying
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover

Destroy the Power of White Activity

Written & Illustrated by . . . David Melton is a fantastic resource when teaching kids how to write and illustrate children’s books.  In fact, I love Melton’s “Destroy the Power of White” activity.  Basically, this lesson teaches kids to not be intimidated by the white paper (a.k.a. writer’s block).  It is a delightful story of a dog that wants to become a writer and tells everyone that he is writing a book, but he hasn’t.   Later in the story, this dog interviews a real author and hears about Sir Winston Churchill, who wanted to become an artist but was afraid of the stark white canvas–until his wife took globs of blue, red, and yellow paint and smeared them all over his canvas! After that, Winston had nothing to fear because the “white” had already been “destroyed”.  Sir Winston, then, began to paint.

After reading Melton’s story, I took my bright red, blue, and yellow Crayola markers and wrote all over their papers and gave these suggestions:

  • Begin writing the ending of their story (resolution), or
  • Start describing a character/draw the character, or
  • Start writing in the middle of the action (climax), or
  • Describe the setting, or
  • Write about the problem/conflict in the story

Each child approached this activity differently.  My youngest son, who struggles with both spelling and reading, amazed me the most!  He laughed that I drew all over his paper with the colorful markers and just started to write.  My oldest son, who wants to have a perfect story immediately struggled for quite sometime.  He could not get over the fact that he could write the ending first; not surprising, he started at the beginning of the story.  And my six year old daughter?  She started with her title, then began to draw some flowers, and later, developed her three characters based on the unique characteristics found in the detailed drawings.

Even though my kids each approached this activity differently, they all discovered a new way to avoid writer’s block and began to unravel “their” individual stories.

Note: When kids are writing, do not worry about spelling–just let them write.  If you start to edit and/ or comment about grammatical issues or other writing concerns, you will end up with a very frustrated writer. 


Next time?  The writing of the drafts . . .

Keeping Art Simple and History Alive

[Read more…]

How to Write and Illustrate a Children’s Book, Part I

Every year my teaching partner Cheryl and myself would have our eighth grade students write and illustrate a book. I would like to dedicate this post to my dear colleague and loyal friend Cheryl who has been an ongoing support when I changed my career to a homeschooling mom!   This project was a wonderful way to use the self-directed, student-led approach.  Students would learn the following:

  • creative writing
  • critical analysis of both literature and artwork
  • learn the life of an author and illustrator
  • explore different artwork mediums
  • become an editor

Step 1

We celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by going to see The Lorax.  After the movie was done, we went to the library to collect a multitude of books including The Lorax.  One way to teach analytical thinking is to use a t-chart (a type of graphic organizer).  On one side of the chart,  children write out of the similarities that both the book and movie share.   On the other side, they write down the differences.  Having a family discussion works well, too; however, I find that visual learners seem to always benefit from “seeing” the words arranged conceptually as well.

Graphic organizers require children to organize their thoughts and categorize them in different ways.  Many think that writing has to be in a form of a paper or story, but using graphic organizers to classify thoughts about a history concept, science experiment, or novel is considered writing, too! 

Here is free graphic organizer site: http://freeology.com

Step 2


Avoid counting books but . . .

here are some books with identifiable themes and authors’  purposes.

  • I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose A. Lewis (Author’s Purpose: To teach children about the adoption process in China)
  • Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (Theme: perseverance)
  • The Cat’s Tale by Doris Orgel  (Author’s Purpose: To teach children about the Chinese calendar)
  • I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse (Theme: sibling differences)

Above are just a few of the children’s books that I read to my children during the month of March.  Due to the heritage of my daughters, I  incorporated books from their country that will culturally educate and may deal with adoption issues.  The other two children’s books in this picture have common themes of sibling differences and perseverance. 

While reading  children books, have these ongoing discussions with your children :

  • What is the setting?  Place and time?  What clues has the illustrator used to demonstrate this?
  • Who is the main character(s) in the story?  What personality traits do you know about this character?   For example, Ellie, the elephant, feels left out.  The other elephants will not let her play their games at recess, and her brother ignores her on the bus.  She feels different because she only has one tusk instead of two.

Note:  Point out that children’s books have limited characters–I always tell my students–oops, I mean my sweet children , to use no more than four characters in a short story–one to two main characters is ideal.

  • Who are the minor characters? Notice that minor characters have only one personality trait.  For example, Billy likes to play mean tricks.  This is what the reader sees him as–the trickster.
  • What is the problem or conflict? How is this solved-the resolution?
  • What is the moral to the story?  At this point, use the words theme and moral interchangeably.
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?  Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax to teach  . . . (children to care for the environment).
  • When children have opinions and comments from the book, always ask, “What made you come to that conclusion?  What words did you read that made you think that?  Let’s read those words together.”  This is a great way to model inferencing (teaching children to use the context clues from the text to figure out meaning or “reading between the lines”).

Stay tuned for Writing and Illustrating a Children’s Book, Part II!

The Truth in a Peanut Butter Jar

Like any type of teaching, we all fall short in some area.  Unfortunately, for me, it has been in the Biblical training.  And so, for Easter, each child was either given a Bible with their name embossed on it or a new devotional to complete each day.  Every morning, since Easter, we have made a point to have our devotions; the kids go into their rooms for a quiet Bible time  After, we all reconvene to the living room to pray and continue reading from the book of Matthew–our goal is to read the four gospels before the end of the school year–well, I am hopeful, anyway!  Sometimes, as I am reading about the Lord’s truths, I really feel like I am the only one getting something from it–sound familiar?  My three year old will be trying to make everyone laugh while my youngest son is standing on his head.  Of course, my serious children just sit there with glazed looks on their eyes; are they even listening?  While they are answering every question correctly, I have to wonder if they can feel God’s Biblical truth penetrate their soul?  Only time will tell. Isaiah 55:11, So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Today, though, I was wrong about each of them.  My youngest son, the one who loves to stand on his head, came in with an ordinary peanut butter jar that had been cleaned out.  He was insistent on putting a note in it and sending it down our stream.  The note said, “Dear friend, Jesus loves you and He made you.  Please come to church and look for Jonah.”  Below we included our church’s name and phone number. Jonah was unsuccessful in getting the jar to float down our stream, but was so persistent that I felt a tug on my own heart:  I needed to surrender all of my “to do lists” and listen the Lord. We all then piled into the car to find a faster moving stream.  After each of us prayed for God’s truth to be found by someone, Jonah tossed it into the river.  I noticed that as we climbed back into the van; some were questioning if it would be even found.  My oldest daughter replied, “If the Lord can create the waters, He can certainly put the jar into the right hands.”  Whether in heaven or some Sunday morning, we believe that the Lord’s faithfulness will come through.