30 January 2009

Martin Luther King Jr.: Show and Tell

Here are some belated pictures of our African-American history quilt that is mentioned here. Gracie says, "It has famous people. It's black and white. It's kind of like a book. It has string on it to tie it together. The pictures are glued on."

29 January 2009

Chinese New Year: Activities

Language Arts:

Compare The Lion Dancer with Why Rat Comes First and discuss realistic fiction vs. fantasy. (LA.R.3.1)


We made this book and practiced writing, too.

Make pictures with tangrams (MG 2.1, 2.2)


Explain that the Chinese New is determined by the moon. Keep a moon journal. Draw a picture of the moon at least once a week for a month and observe the changes. (S 4a, 4e)

Compare and contrast the lion of the lion dance to a real lion. (S2b)

Social Studies:

Learn to identify China on a map. (SS.K.4.2)

Ancestry is an important part of the New Year celebration. Make a family tree of your own.


Make a scroll with simple Chinese characters like the ones here.

Make a dragon like this one.


Create your own dragon dance with your handmade dragon, a scarf, or a piece of ribbon. (PE 1.10)


Have a Chinese New year feast with your favorite dishes or try some new ones. The ingredients for these are in my fridge right now!

Go to Chinese New Year parade or celebration. We'll be going to this on Saturday.

Check out youtube.com for really cool lion dances like this one.

27 January 2009

Chinese New Year: The Books

Lion Dancer by Katie Waters and Madeline Slovenz-Low

A great look into Chinese-American culture and traditions, especially the celebration of the Chinese New Year. It would be very easy to probe deeper about cultural aspects such as Chinese writing, martial arts, cooking, and Buddhism. Vocabulary: Buddhism, honor, firecrackers.

Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith

This book is somewhat similar to Lion Dance in that it follows actual Chinese-American boy during the period of Chinese New Year and looks at varying aspects of the culture and celebration, but they are each unique enough to make both books worth a look. This one may prove to be a bit long and wordy for my kindergartener, so we may choose to focus on the pictures and my own summaries. Check out the glossary in the back for vocabulary words and definitions.

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

This fictional account of a young boy deciding what to do with his New Year money is set in an urban Chinatown in the midst Of New Year celebrations. Becoming familiar with some of the customs and traditions of the New Year celebration first will prevent being distracted from the heart of the story, a tale of generosity and unselfishness. Vocabulary: leisees

Why Rat Comes First by Clara Yen

A funny little fable that could be summarized as children love a giant rat. This book introduces the 12 zodiac animals and the concept of fable. Vocabulary: clever, popularity, banquet.

Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer

While not specifically about Chinese New Year it features a Chinese dragon reminiscent of the holiday. A fun basic reader book based on imaginative play. Lots of tricky nonsense words good for sounding out practice.

26 January 2009

ABC book: ABC

Each week we focus on one letter of the alphabet. We do a couple of things with this letter.

This is the letter we practice printing throughout the week. (I get printing worksheets here and here.)

First, we fill up a bucket with items starting with that letter that we have found in the house. We have an initial hunt, but inevitably we add to it throughout the week. At the end of the week we take a picture of these items.

We also make a letter out of something that starts with the letter. We made a b out of beans, for example. I three-hole punch each page and put them into a simple 3-ring folder, making Gracie's own ABC book! (I might need to graduate to a binder. Our folder is getting pretty full!

Once we finish the alphabet I plan to attach the pictures of the objects on the page opposite the letter to complete our book and have a fun resource and keepsake our school year!

A is for Animals. Gracie made an animal collage, but sadly, gave it away before I decided to make an ABC book.

B is for beans.

C is for circles.

23 January 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Bible Connections


The parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37 expresses well the idea of treating others fairly and with kindness, even if they are different than you. We read this story and acted it out. The characters are the man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, the robber, the Good Samaritan, priest, Levite, the Good Samaritan's donkey, and the innkeeper. Sounds like a lot of people are needed, but we managed with just three. Amaryllis was the man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, Gracie was the Good Samaritan, and Greg got to be everyone else. The girls especially enjoyed being the wounded man and getting to go for a donkey ride!

Next week's theme: Chinese New Year

Gong hei fat choi!

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memory Verse

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

This is what the LORD Almighty says, "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another."

Zechariah 7:9

21 January 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Resources

We love making mini-books! Here is a cute “teeny tiny book” about MLK.

Lots of good ideas for kindergarten lessons including books to read can be found here.

Celebrating the election of our first African-American president is an appropriate way to honor the work of MLK. The Crafty Crow has some great ideas for an Obama inaugural party.

Another mini-book. This one is about famous African-Americans and their achievements. We used this one for our paper quilt.

Ruby Bridges is a great movie that builds some background knowledge of the civil rights movement. This movie is not rated, but I found it to be appropriate for my kindergartener. There were definitely some hateful words and racial slurs in the movie, but I think it is important to the message of the movie. Be sure to watch this one with your kids and pause at crucial moments to discuss things with them.

19 January 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Activities

Social Studies:

Look on a map for places significant in MLK's life such as Atlanta, Georgia.

Compare and contrast the childhood of MLK and that of children today.

Watch MLK give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on Youtube.com.


Make a timeline of MLK's life. Use increments of 5s on the timeline to teach counting by fives. Practice ordering numbers (focus on the last two digits of the years) by placing significant events on the timeline.

MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech refers to a check marked "insufficient funds." Practice math skills by playing store, making pretend purchases and making sure there is enough money.

Figure out a way to treat everyone equally by passing out cheerios or other objects fairly among everyone in a group (of siblings or stuffed animals!) and introduce simple division.

Language Arts:

MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech is full of figurative language. Introduce the concept of word pictures by having student(s) make sentences following this pattern: The _____ is like a ______.

Write your own "I Have a Dream" essay/sentence.


Experiment with mixing different colors of paint together to see the results.

Social Studies/Art:

Make a paper quilt of significant African-Americans in history that may have inspired MLK. We used the pictures from this mini-book to make our quilt. Look for pictures of the finished product later in the week!

Martin Luther King Jr.: The Books

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King (Jean Marzollo)

This book is a very good introduction to the youngest students about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life. I wasn't quite sure where to begin with my kindergartener, who really has no background knowledge of racial inequality or segregation, but this book seems like a good starting point. It explains in very simple terms the injustice experienced by African-Americans during the civil rights movement without being too graphic. Vocabulary: divinity school, laws, freedom, justice.

My Brother Martin: A sister remembers growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Christine King Farris)

The unique perspective of this book gives readers a down-to-earth view of Martin Luther King as a child. We are able to see how his early experiences shaped his passion for an integrated nation of true equality. It's also a lot of fun to see MLK not just as a serious activist, but as a little mischief-maker at times! Vocabulary: prank, unsuspecting, obedient, Negroes, segregation, pulpit, nourishing.

I Have a Dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

MLK's famous "I Have a Dream" speech makes up the text of this book and is accompanied by beautiful illustrations by 15 different artists, all of whom are recipients of the Coretta Scott King Award or the Coretta Scott King Honor Book citation." I don't think it would be age-appropriate to read this book to my daughter in its entirety, but I will definitely read selected passages. Not to discount the words of MLK, but the pictures convey such vivid messages in themselves that they alone make this book worthwhile for a kindergartener. Your child might notice picture by artist Brian Pinkney, who also illustrated Happy Birthday,Martin Luther King.

17 January 2009

Printable kindergarten standards

One of the most valuable references I use regularly is a list of the California kindergarten standards in language arts, math, science, and social studies. They are available online, but they span several pages. I copied and pasted the standards into a much condensed form and added a column to serve as a checklist. I printed them each subject on a different color of paper and slipped them into page protectors. I will be adding the first grade standards soon, and eventually I hope to do all grade levels. Here they are for your use. Enjoy!
Kindergarten Language Arts

Kindergarten Math

Kindergarten Science

Kindergarten Social Studies

16 January 2009

Choosing a theme for a theme unit

There's literally an endless supply of things to study in a theme unit. So how do I choose what we're going to study?

  • Look at the standards. If you do nothing else, do this. Before we started school, I printed out a copy of the California State standards for kindergarten, each subject on a different color paper, and put them in a page protector. I find myself turning to these very often. It's probably my most used resource. Though I sometimes find the standards lacking in depth or developmentally inappropriate (subjects for another post), they are a great guide to help you see the big picture and identify any gaps in your child's education. This year we did a theme on shapes because of the math standard that says students should learn to "identify and describe common geometric objects". Our theme on national icons was inspired by the social studies standard that reads, "students recognize the national and state symbols and icons such as the national and state flags, the bald eagle, and the Statue of Liberty." The science standard, "students know changes in weather occur from day to day and across seasons, affecting Earth and its inhabitants" led us to do a theme on weather.
  • Study something outside the box. There are some things that are just not taught in schools. Homeschooling is a great opportunity to study even the most bizarre subject. It may be difficult to find information. Great! A lesson in doing research! It may be tough to find the necessary supplies. Terrific! An opportunity for resourcefulness! While I very much appreciate the standards, schools are now churning out cookie cutter students, where each one knows the same as the next. One of the most memorable lessons I experienced was my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Green, teaching us how to draw a cartoon figure. It's not the most life-changing skill, but it's something I know that you probably don't! Learning unique skills adds to our children's wonderful individuality and on a very practical level, their income potential.

  • Let your child choose. I'll be honest. This year it just didn't happen. She had never been in or done school before, so I wasn't sure if my daughter would be aware enough of just what school was to choose themes to study. But now that she's got a few months of experience under her belt she has requested a human body/doctors and nurses unit. I don't think we'll ever get to the point where she is the sole chooser of topics we study, but I definitely want to increase her involvement in the education process as she grows.

  • Choose a book or author you love. When I was taking my credentialing classes I created a theme unit based on "Weslandia" by Paul Fleischman. I absolutely fell in love with this book! It was so rich with possibilities! When you are excited about something it shows, and that excitement is contagious. And for me, that is one of the most important things I want to pass on to my children through homeschooling, a true love and excitement for learning.

  • Stretch yourself and chose something you really aren't that excited about. I also want to pass along self-discipline to my children. Sometimes we may not be thrilled about a task, but often it turns out to be not so bad. Maybe we (or our kids) aren't excited about a topic because we just don't know enough about it. It might develop into a hunger for more. It might be enough to satisfy us for a lifetime. I think both outcomes are valuable. When I was planning the community helpers theme I was NOT excited. I couldn't find any great books, the curriculum I ordered hadn't arrived in time, and I wanted to move on to our next theme. But you know, it turned out to be my daughter's favorite, not because of the books we read, or the worksheets she did, but because of a really cool tour of a hospital our friend took us on. And that theme led my daughter to want to know more. If I had skipped that unit it wouldn't have been the end of the world, but we would have missed a valuable experience.

  • Consider events or trips you're already planning on attending. My husband attends a conference every year and we usually tag along and make a mini-vacation out of it. We knew the conference would be held in San Diego so I thought about field trip opportunities that would be unique to that area. I had always wanted to visit a tide pool and realized that this was the perfect opportunity. So we did a unit on tide pools and Eric Carle's "House for a Hermit Crab". We took a week and a half to prepare ourselves for the trip, so we could focus on being observers once we were there. My daughter was very excited to see the animals in real life that she had learned about in books! Take advantage of any travel opportunities. One of the beauties of homeschooling is being able to do school anywhere. If you find yourself anywhere out of the ordinary, look for opportunities to learn! Museums, landmarks, monuments, memorials are just the tip of the iceberg. So what's near where you're going?

  • Work around holidays. Every teacher knows that the week before Christmas is useless. So why fight it? Incorporate it into your studies. Learn about the history of modern traditions. Find out different ways the holiday is celebrated around the world if at all. Study math by planning, buying, and preparing a special meal or dish. And it's not just Christmas. Do a theme unit on a lesser celebrated holiday like Arbor Day or Columbus Day. You don't have to do every holiday during the year, but a adding a few can be a fun way to mix it up. It's valuable to take time to reflect on these holidays that very often pass us by as just another day of no work or school. A theme unit is a great way to go deeper than just a President's Day crossword puzzle.

15 January 2009

Transportation: Memory Verse

It hit me last just before I went to bed, of course! The phrase "where can I go" jumped to the front of my head and after some searching I was able to track it down. It might be a bit of a stretch to make it fit with the transportation theme, and it's probably a bit too long, but don't you think it's such a great verse! Such good stuff!

Psalm 139:7-10

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths,

you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

14 January 2009

Transportation: Bible Connections

I am trying to incorporate more Bible connections into the themes we're covering this year.

We played a matching game by sorting the Bible character according to the type of transportation used. I made a 3 by 3 grid and wrote in each box a method of transportation: ark, boat, camel, chariot, donkey, marching, whale/big fish, walking, walking on water. Then I read off the list of Biblical characters and had Gracie tell me what kind of transportation they used. And yes, a lot of people walked in Biblical times, let me tell you! Some are just a little more associated with that mode of travel. Gracie was unfamiliar with several of these stories, so it was a great opportunity to read them to her.







Whale/big fish


Walking on water

  • Balaam: donkey
  • The disciples: boat, walking (especially on the road to Emmaus)
  • Egyptians: chariots (pursuing the Israelites)
  • Israelites: walking (wandering in the wilderness)
  • Jesus: walking on water, boat, donkey (entering Jerusalem)
  • Jonah: big fish/whale
  • Joseph (with the coat of many colors): camel (with the caravan to Egypt)
  • Joshua: marching (around Jericho)
  • Mary: donkey
  • Noah: ark
  • Paul: boat (to Rome)
  • Philip and the Ethiopian: chariot
  • Wise men: camels (not Biblical that I could find, but traditional)

    I'd like to also have a memory verse that goes along with our theme, but that isn't too "out there." Judges 5:10 is nice and all, but not quite memory verse material for a 5-year-old! I'll try again with the next theme!

13 January 2009

Save “Flying” for last

Even though I had already read "Flying" before we began our unit on transportation, I noticed something new. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Donald Crews included several subtle references to his other books. Keep your eyes open for the truck from "Truck", the train from "Freight Train", a school bus inspired by "School Bus" no doubt, and the tugboats from "Harbor". I really appreciate these little things, along with the "I Spy Donald Crews" game. It's like Mr. Crews is sending us a little note of appreciation for being so thoughtful and observant while reading his books. Thank you, Mr. Crews!

12 January 2009

Transportation: Resources

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has an on-line exhibit called America on the Move. Most of the activities are not geared toward kindergarten students, but there are some cool images, games and lesson plans that could serve as jumping off points for more ideas.

An easy-to-read printable book called "Go Car Go!" is available from DLTK.

Mrs. Nelson has a lot of great ideas for her transportation unit.

Ecole Whitehorse Elementary has more links than you can shake your tailpipe at including a nice list of learning objectives.

More good stuff on lessonplanspage.com.

10 January 2009

Transportation: Activities

Language Arts

  • Create a transportation ABC book. (A is for airplane, etc.) Use magazine pictures, drawings, or downloaded images plus a simple sentence or word. We did Q is for quarterhorse, X is for Xterra, and Z is for zeppelin. Any other ideas? (K W1.1)

Match transportation pictures to word cards. We used a lot of the pictures from this activity for our ABC book.

Use transportation pictures (again) and sort by characteristic. (i.e. number of wheels, number of passengers, etc.)(K R1.17)

Social Studies

  • Take a bus ride. Just a loop around town can be exciting to a public transportation novice.

  • Check out youtube to see some unique modes of transportation in action like unicycles, dogsleds, and the space shuttle.
  • Create a map of your neighborhood or a made-up one including road signs and significant places. (SS K.4.4)

  • Talk to a local train buff (grandpa is ours!) for more info than you could imagine!
  • Look for various types of vehicles while on the road. We saw a truck hauling a load of grapefruit and a tanker truck. Horse trailers, cement trucks, oversize loads can make for some great teachable moments.
  • Discuss transportation methods used in other parts of the world (gondolas, elephants, rickshaws, etc.).
  • Discuss earlier versions of transportation methods used in other time periods (biplanes, steam trains, early cars, etc.)


  • Have a race event using toy cars. Engage some scientific curiosity by changing some variables. Tip a board or flat piece of cardboard to change the angle of the race surface or add a blanket to change the texture of the race surface.


Introduce counting by twos or fours by figuring out the number of wheels on a group of bicycles or cars.

  • Other

Make a stop sign model, both with paper and red, green, and yellow M&Ms on a frosted graham cracker!

09 January 2009

Transportation: The Books

This theme unit turned out to be a bit of an author study as well since all but one of our books were by Donald Crews. His books are very simple and fairly readable even for a new reader, but they are so packed with vocabulary! I learned some new words myself! (Do you know what kind of boat a lighter is?) In a few of his books (Sail Away, Truck, Bicycle Race, Flying, School Bus) we found what we interpreted to be self-portraits "hidden" in the illustrations. I also learned that his daughter is author Nina Crews!

Literature (all by Donald Crews, unless noted otherwise):

Freight Train is a classic Caldecott and probably his best well-known work. (Vocabulary: caboose, hopper car, gondola car, tender, steam engine, trestles)

Harbor is packed with vocabulary relating to boats. See the last page of the book for a good picture glossary.

Bicycle Race is good for practicing reading number words. Tricky, though because they're out of order!

Truck, a Caldecott Honor book, at first glance seems like a wordless book, but is full of environmental print. A great way to learn traffic signs (SS K.4.3).

School Bus has a bit more traffic sign-related environmental print and is a great way for my homeschooler to live vicariously through all those lucky bus-riding, public-school kids.

Flying can be used to learn to identify relative location of objects (SS K.4.1). Very readable for new readers. (Vocabulary: taxiing, boarding).

Sail Away uses onomatopoeic words that can give listeners a chance to participate by making the sounds. (Vocabulary: moored/mooring, dinghy, swell, port, lighthouse).

Are We There Yet, Daddy? by Virginia Walters introduces basic map reading skills (SS K.4.2) and counting by tens, but backwards!