Category: Book Love

Raising Confident Women with Joyce T. McFadden

By Mariah Bruehl,

Author Focus: Joyce T. McFadden

With two growing daughters, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to raise them to be confident, strong, smart, kind,  and comfortable in their own skin. Isn’t that what most of us work towards—feeling comfortable in our own skin? For it’s when we find that inner-most comfort, that everything else radiates from within.

As our daughters’ mature, their bodies change, feelings arise, and questions abound… Whether we address these topics head-on, discuss them as they emerge, or hope that school will do the job for us—as mothers of daughters, we are still teaching them life-changing lessons—whether we realize it or not. For they are taking in our explicit and implicit messages everyday—our ways of relating with our partners, our body image, our belief systems, and the secrets we hold…

In my quest to find guidance for the “tricky” situations that arise when raising tween daughters, I came across the work of Joyce T. McFadden and her book, Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. Reading her work was like a breath of fresh air as she explores the “touchy subjects” that others tend to skim over. Yet, as mothers who are in tune with our daughters we can’t skim over them, we need guidance on how to positively approach them—for if not us, then who?

I had a serendipitous meeting with Joyce (I was pleased to discover that we live in the same town and chased her down in a local grocery store parking lot!) a while back and she graciously agreed to do an interview and lead a book club at the studio. So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you, Joyce T. McFadden…

Mariah: Can you share a bit about the Women’s Realities Study that you conducted? What can we take away from your research?

Joyce: The Women’s Realities Study is an anonymous qualitative study of 450 women ranging in age from 18-105, with a handful of local girls in addition to that demographic.  It’s an unprecedented study because as far as I know, it’s the only one in which all of the content was self-selected by each respondent, giving women complete control over what they wanted to share.  Here’s the link to the 63 open-ended questionnaires so you can get a sense of their content–women could respond to as many or as few as they liked, and write as much or as little as they chose:

What I hope women will take away from the results of the study is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the realities of our lives–not the game face we usually show to the outside world, but what we girls and women experience internally and often keep to ourselves.  In order to get published, I had to narrow the scope of the results, so I did an analysis of the three most popular questionnaires:  menstruation, relationship with your mother, and masturbation.  It was the women of the study who chose female sexuality, as it’s impacted by the mother-daughter bond, as the topic of the book.

Mariah: Why is it important for mothers to play a proactive role in teaching their daughters about their physical and sexual development?

Joyce: Because when it comes to our girls’ sexuality, they report feeling like they’re working without a net.  Even very young girls know that their mothers share the things they are most proud of and excited about. It’s the things that are shameful or wrong that they keep secret.  So if we don’t teach our daughters about sexual development and how it affects their sense of self and their social landscape, we tinge it with shame and guilt that women report lasts well into adulthood.

Mariah: When it comes to discussing our daughter’s maturing bodies and emotions, why do we need to do more than provide informative books?

Joyce: Although they need information from us, it’s the emotional connection with us that girls are yearning for.  Books alone can’t provide that.

Mariah: In your book, Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Woman, you state that the more “basics” we can give our daughters when they are younger, the more we can build on them as they get older. How do you suggest we get the conversation going?

Joyce: It’s funny that we’re so afraid to start when they’re young, when it’s SO simple to do—far simpler than starting when they’re older and more self-conscious.  When our daughters are toddlers, the small act of teaching them the anatomical names for their body parts, during bath time, when they’re getting dressed, or when they ask “what’s this?” is the easiest way to start giving them a firm foundation.  To them, learning about their earlobe is no different than learning about their vulva. At that age they’re excited to learn about absolutely everything, including their bodies.

Mariah: What is your advice to mothers of tweens and teens who don’t know where to start?

Joyce: My book is loaded with examples for how to have these conversations. The most important motivator for mothers is that the study reveals daughters whose mothers don’t talk to them about sexuality report feeling disappointed in their mothers, and find it creates a chasm in the mother-daughter relationship that can last a lifetime.

Mariah: What are some practical ways that mothers can start to connect with their daughters at any age?

Joyce: Listen to them. Talk with them, not at them. Look over your own sexuality and consider its importance in your life. Let your daughters know you understand their sexuality will play a role in the quality of their lives, and that it’s your honor to support them in their quest for happiness in all areas: emotional, intellectual, physical, interpersonal, and sexual.


Playful Learning: Raising Confident Women


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Playful Learning: Parent Book Club

Join Joyce T. McFadden in discussing her book at the Playful Learning Studio

Dates: Wednesdays: 5/4, 5/11, 5/18 and 5/25

Time: 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Place: 46 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, New York

To Register, Click Here.


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Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art

By Mariah Bruehl,

MichelleTitleWhen I was a classroom teacher, one of the most relaxing, yet beneficial professional development opportunities I attended was a “Picture Book Read In.” After various speakers, such as a local librarian who had been on the Caldecott committee, teachers had an opportunity to peruse new picture books at their leisure. I was always able to discover new books that sparked new ideas and new lessons.

It seems like there is always a steady stream of amazing books being produced, and this year is certainly no exception. There are many exciting new picture books and three of these that caught my eye are autobiographies or biographies.  Aside from the interesting life stories, these books are especially attractive because they feature outstanding artwork, and they also focus on unique and diverse individuals in the fields of poetry, music, and art.  Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess is about the life of poet e.e. cummings. My favorite aspect of this book is the creative way the words themselves are incorporated into the illustrations. I love the use of the font style and the way the poems are presented throughout the book. Also, the book includes a nice chronology at the end.

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is an autobiography. This book will resonate with children because it takes place in modern times. Troy is 29 years old, and the book covers his accomplishments and musical drive as a young child. The watercolors and collage by Bryan Collier are amazing.

Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson is a biography of Benny Andrews and features his actual paintings as the illustrations. What a better way to introduce his life and his art to students than by using his artwork. The book also ends with an nice timeline, and a listing of each artwork including the title, medium (mostly oil on canvas are featured in this book), and date created.

With each book covering an individual from a different artistic talent, there are so many possibilities for activities after reading and discussing these books, all of which can be adapted for different age levels and abilities.

  • Write an autobiographical poem
  • Compose an autobiographical song
  • Paint a picture of an important moment in your life
  • Create a timeline of your life so far
  • Create an autobiographical collage

I have created a printable booklet to inspire some of the ideas listed above (click on the photo below to download). A quote of e.e. cummings that speaks to me is, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.  Children thrive on expressing themselves and exploring what it means to be who they are. Poetry, song, and art are wonderful ways to delve into this. The booklet also has a chart to compare and contrast the individuals featured in these three books. An important comprehension skill with non-fiction reading is being able to locate and process factual information. Use of engaging texts, such as these picture books, is an excellent way to introduce and practice this skill in an interesting way for children.

Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well, here are some links to use:

Me: In Poetry, Art, and Song

10 Books for New Kindergarteners

By Mariah Bruehl,

10 Books for New KindergartenersIs your child starting kindergarten soon?  Are you sobbing as you’re reading this?  Maybe your heart even aches a little.  Let’s face it—the transition into kindergarten is a big milestone for our children.

I had the privilege of teaching kindergarten for 8 years, but being on the other side was a very different experience.  This year, my daughter will be starting first grade (and yes, my heart still aches thinking about another school year), but I’m here to tell you that we survived the first few days of kindergarten.  Was it scary? Yes.  Was it hard to say goodbye? Yes.  Were there tears? A few.  However, we were fortunate enough to have THE BEST teacher we could have hoped for.  When the teacher tears up during kindergarten orientation and thanks you for sharing your children with her, it feels like you’ve won the lottery.

As a former kindergarten teacher, and now former kindergarten parent, I can tell you that the best advice I can give you is to have courage and be brave in front of your child.  If you are nervous, they will know.  If you have negative feelings about the transition, they will pick up on them.  Your child will follow your lead.  Don’t let them see you cry or worry.  Stay positive and tell them how amazing kindergarten will be, how much they will learn, and the new friends they will make.  

I have also found that the easiest way to introduce children to new experiences is through books.  Literature allows children to make connections to characters and talk about their fears and worries.  Books can validate our feelings.

As you prepare to send your kindergartener off into the world, take some together to read these books.  I promise they will help your child (and you) make it through the very first day… and maybe even the second day.

10 Books for New Kindergarteners


  1.  How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

What if a dinosaur came to school with you?  This book is a favorite in our house and always makes us giggle.  Besides being fun to read, it also allows children to think about how to (and how not to) behave when they are at school.    


  1. Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!  by Nancy Carlson

In this book, Henry can’t wait to start kindergarten.  He jumps out of bed, eats his breakfast, grabs his school supplies and has lots of questions for his mom.  But when he gets to school and sees how big it is, he starts to have second thoughts.  This is a perfect book to read with your child who may be hesitant to start school.


  1.  Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells

Who doesn’t love Rosemary Wells?  Timothy is looking forward to his first day of school, but then he meets Claude who seems perfect in every way.  Timothy’s insecurity creeps in until he finds a new friend who feels the exact same way.  Do you have a child who is a little shy or has trouble fitting into new situations?  Introduce him to Timothy!


  1.  The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

If you don’t share any other book with your incoming kindergarten, please share this one!  Chester Raccoon does not want to go to school and leave his mother.  So she kisses his paw and tells him that when he feels sad, he can press his paw to his cheek and feel the warmth of her kiss.  Are you crying yet?  Believe me, you will.  If you are worried about separation anxiety, this will help ease the transition.  It ‘s also a springboard for coming up with your own goodbye routines.  Sniff, sniff.


  1.  Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

I still read this to 2nd and 3rd graders every year.   Wemberly worries about EVERYTHING from the crack in the living room wall to whether there would be enough cake at the party.  So when school starts, she has a whole new list of worries.  Read this book and ask your child what their worries are about school?


  1.  Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate

This book introduces your child to kindergarten and gives a behind the scenes look into what her teacher may be doing to get ready for the first day!  It’s also an alphabet book.


  1.  The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing

A must read as your child is settling into bed the night before his first day.  I won’t give it away, but the ending is adorable and will hit home for parents as well.  I used to read this to my kindergarten parents during parent orientation and usually needed to pass out a few tissues.


  1.  Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Another book to help with separation anxiety and a child’s fear of being dropped off and left at school.  In this story, little llama is excited to see his new classroom but has second thoughts when it’s time for mama to leave.  He’s worried she may not come back.   


  1.  Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

I always buy my children a back to school book, and this is the one I gave to my daughter before starting kindergarten.  I love the review on Amazon: “For one brave boy, kindergarten isn’t just a grade – it’s a destination.”  My daughter was SO thrilled to start kindergarten, and I knew that it was the beginning of her lifelong journey through school.   Kindergarten is definitely an adventure into a whole new world, and this book takes that metaphor to a whole new level.    


  1.  First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg

Do you or your child already have that pit in your stomach?  Although this particular story is about a girl who is starting over at a new school, incoming kindergarteners will relate to having similar feelings of not knowing anyone.  The surprise ending will make you smile, and your child will realize that it’s not just children who experience the first day jitters.

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Water is Water: 3 Experiments for Kids

By Mariah Bruehl,

Water is Water: 3 Experiments for KidsConfession number one, I am a sucker for the water cycle. I’m not sure what exactly entices me about this scientific phenomenon, perhaps because it is something children can see so readily in their own world, but it is something I have always loved teaching. Confession number two, I am even more entranced by picture books. A person’s age does not matter when it comes to picture books. They draw you in with their illustrations, and capture you with their words. Picture books are a simple, beautiful way to teach so many lessons, concrete and abstract. So, when I stumbled upon a new picture book about the water cycle, I may have done a little happy dance.

Water is Water by Miranda Paul uses short rhyming verse to follow water through phases throughout the seasons, states of matter, and the water cycle. The lovely illustrations by Jason Chin are a perfect accompaniment to the story. The icing on the cake is what follows the story, “More About Water”! The author provides a scientific background to each page of the story sprinkling in important vocabulary words.

As it says in the book, “Water moves and changes often – just like children!” The water cycle is a perfect scientific learning opportunity for some playful, active learning. Through the following three easy experiments, you can use a cup of water to show evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. These may be simple experiments, but connecting literature, science, and hands on discovery often gives a more concrete understanding of new concepts. Use the printable to help children delve deeper into their understanding through these connections.

You will only need a few readily available materials to complete all of these experiments:

  • Four cups
  • Water
  • Marker
  • Ice cube
  • Shaving cream
  • Food coloring

Water is Water: 3 Experiments for Kids

Start with evaporation. Place a full cup of water in front of a sunny window. Use a marker to make a line at the beginning water level. Each hour mark the water level and begin to look for changes. As the sun heats the water, it should begin to evaporate. This experiment requires some patience, so while waiting, it is a great time to move on to the next two experiments.

Water is Water: 3 Experiments for Kids

After evaporation we have condensation. When the water vapor reaches the sky it cools to form clouds. Fill a cup approximately two-thirds full of hot water. Take another cup, flip it upside down, and place it on top of the cup with hot water. Then place an ice cube on top of the upside down cup. Condensation will begin to form at the top of the upside down cup, just like a cloud.

Water is Water: 3 Experiments for Kids

Finally, a precipitation experiment. Again, fill a cup almost full with water. On top spray shaving cream as clouds. Then, squirt several drops of food coloring on top of the shaving cream. As the “cloud” becomes heavy, the food coloring will “rain” into the cup.

Once you have read the book and completed all three experiments, use the printable to help children make the connections between the book, what they see in their own lives, and what they viewed in the experiments (click on photo below to print).


If you are looking to extend your activities, there are abundant resources in books and online covering the water cycle. Here are a video, a website, and an app all about the water cycle. You may just find yourself as hooked on the water cycle as I am!

Water Cycle Video

Water Cycle Website

Water Cycle App


The Power of Wordless Picture Books

By Mariah Bruehl,

The Power of Wordless Picture Books

A few months ago, I was at home perusing a stack of books that I was planning to share with the students in my 2nd/3rd grade classroom.  My kindergarten daughter peeked over my shoulder and nonchalantly said, “Mommy, is that a think book?” The question confused me, but I knew I needed to dig a little deeper because I could see her wheels spinning.  So I asked her to explain what she meant by think book.  She replied, “Well, because you have to think about what’s happening.” My first thought was yes, you have to think about what’s happening every time you read a book. It was then that I glanced down and realized I was reading a wordless picture book.  Now it was starting to make sense.  In her mind, reading a wordless book meant some serious thinking must be involved.  After all, there was no text to relay a message or in essence tell the story. This three-minute exchange with my daughter got me thinking about the power of wordless picture books.

Over the years, I have had many students tell me that wordless books are for children who cannot yet read. Their exact words are usually something like this: “those books are for babies because they don’t have any words.” So clearly, parents and educators have a responsibility to set the record straight and show students the beauty, and power, of wordless picture books. Perhaps my daughter can also help spread the message about these think books.   

In my opinion, wordless picture books are even more difficult to “read” than other picture books. In order to comprehend a book in this genre, children must be thorough observers and read with a very careful and thoughtful eye. Wordless picture books push the reader to summarize, make inferences, interpret and evaluate visual information, ask questions, and make connections without any support from the written word.

Young readers (pre-emergent, emergent, and early readers) can use wordless picture books to learn how the illustrations support and often drive a story. They can learn how to retell a story in their own words, which encourages creativity, imagination, language play, and vocabulary development. Wordless books also provide an easy entry for young readers to be the authors and illustrators of their very own stories. So many times we, as adults, forget just how vital pictures are to a story. Wordless books become a perfect model for explaining the significance of creating high quality illustrations and for inspiring young artists.

Older readers (fluent and transitional readers) learn how to think more deeply and critically about plot elements, the interaction among characters, cause and effect, the tone of the story, and the intended theme. These readers can add words to support the illustrations and author their own version of the story. The illustrations can become engaging writing prompts or a vehicle for making precise observations and perceptive inferences. Again, all of this learning happens without any textual support from the book.

As I was writing this post, I began browsing my own bookshelves to see which titles I might like to recommend to all of you. What I realized was this: I own A LOT of wordless picture books! I pulled all of them off the shelves and laid them out in front of me.  Then I took a moment to reflect why, over the years, I have been drawn to these books. I picked up Bluebird and remembered how my heart ached for the little boy when the other children were teasing him.  I reread Journey and remembered how it took my breath away when I turned the page and saw the little girl sailing toward that immense castle in the sky. I opened the pages of Flora and the Flamingo and giggled watching Flora mimic the movements of the flamingo – she so badly wanted to be friends. These books create true, heartfelt moments for the reader. They make us laugh, and cry, and sometimes feel at peace. All without one… single… word.  I think that’s pretty powerful.

Teaching with wordless picture books will:

  • Develop vocabulary and oral language development
  • Foster observation and critical thinking skills
  • Improve writing skills
  • Build reading comprehension skills
  • Enhance understanding of story elements (character, setting, plot, theme)
  • Promote creativity and imagination
  • Model the importance of high quality, detailed, and meaningful illustrations
  • Serve as an inspiration for a child’s own art work

Check out these wordless picture books (they’re some my personal favorites):

Looking for something to do with these books?  Try these fun activities!

  • For early readers, draw speech/thought bubbles on post it notes and write down what characters might be thinking or saying in the story.  Place the post it notes directly on the pages of the book as you read.
  • Use Post It notes to enhance observation and critical thinking skills as well as teach your students how to ask questions and make inferences.  Copy and enlarge key illustrations in the story.  Before you read the book, display these illustrations or hand them out to pairs of students.  Encourage students to use the post it notes to make observations (I see), ask questions (I wonder) and make inferences (I think) about what is happening in the illustration. As you read the book, students will naturally be drawn to these particular pages and will begin piecing together the story, asking questions, and building comprehension.
  • Ask readers to look through the illustrations and write down the story in their words.  Depending on their age and ability, have students draft strong leads, introduce characters, describe the setting, relay the sequence of events, use transition words, and consider word choice.

I’d love to hear how you use wordless picture books in your homes and classrooms!

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Playful Learning Book Clubs

Playful Picks: Poetry Anthologies

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Picks: Poetry AnthologiesWhen I first started teaching I was terrified of the month of April.  April means poetry in many schools. My exposure to poetry was not too much broader than Shel Silverstein in elementary school and Shakespearean sonnets in high school.  However, I did want to inspire my students to love poetry and knew that I needed to immerse myself in the genre in order to do so.  I began collecting poetry anthologies and made them my own personal reading.  Here are a few that I love.

Playful Picks: Poetry Anthologies

Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Paintings by James McMullan

I was fortunate enough to hear Emma Walton Hamilton speak about this book that she curated with her mother.  She shared that in their family poems are often given as gifts.  That is what this whole collection feels like, a gift of words, rhymes, and music.  The collection also includes a CD of poems and the beautiful watercolors of James McMullan.


The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury, Selected by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Meilo So

Published in 1999 this book features over 200 poems written during the 20th century.  Jack Prelutsky, one of the most loved poets in my first grade classroom, selected the poems.


The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson

After first paging through this collection I returned to the beginning to read the forward by Eric Carle.  Here I learned that Bill Martin Jr. couldn’t read until high school and was taught to read by a teacher using rhythms as his guide.  What an auspicious beginning to a career in education and children’s literature.  The book also features art by many award-winning authors and illustrators, with each poem having its’ own artwork.


Poetry Speaks to Children, Edited by Elise Paschen, Illustrated by Juldy Love, Wendy Rasmussen, and Paula Zinngrabe Wendland

This anthology comes with a CD featuring fifty of the poems from the book, making it a great way for any child to listen and read along.

Poetry Anthologies

A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme, Poems Collected by Heather Thomas

This collection, created for the Waldorf classroom, but appropriate in any, features chapters on the seasons, but so much more.  There are chapters of poetry featuring finger play, riddles, grammar, nature, meditations for teachers, and so much more.  The book is organized in a way that the poems become more developmentally complex the further you go on through the book so parents and teachers of six-year-olds through high school students can all find something appropriate.


Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year, Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Paintings by Marjorie Priceman

Like their previous anthology this collection features songs, as well as poems.  The book is organized by month and also by other holiday celebrations such as poems for birthdays, new babies, and rites of passage.


Poetry for Young People: The Seasons, Edited by John N. Serio, Illustrated by Robert Crockett

Part of the Poetry for Young People series this book begins each of its’ four chapters with haikus and then continues with longer poetry formats.  Each of the longer poems also has information about the poet and their inspirations.

Poetry Anthologies

Skip Across the Ocean: Nursery Rhymes From Around the World, Collected by Floella Benjamin, Illustrated by Sheila Moxley

This collection features lullabies, action rhymes, nature poems and more.  It features many cultures and often has the poems written in both English and the native language.


Tomie DePaola’s Mother Goose, Illustrated by Tomie DePaola

The classic Mother Goose rhymes featuring the bright and charming illustrations of Tomie DePaola, a favorite from my childhood.

Poetry Anthologies

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!, Edited by J. Patick Lewis

Stunning National Geographic photography and poetry together, need I say more?


Eric Carle’s Animals Animals, by Laura Whipple, Illustrated by Eric Carle

Featuring Eric Carle’s recognizable and iconic collages this book contains long format poems, haikus, and sayings about many species in the animal kingdom.

Poetry Anthologies

Noisy Poems, Collected by Jill Bennett, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Every time I read a poem from this book to my class I had their full attention.  Many of the poems inspired a laugh and it was a great teaching tool when introducing onomatopoeia and decoding nonsense words with older readers.

Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems, Edited by Georgia Heard

List poems are so very accessible to all levels of readers and writers, which is what makes this collection so great for the classroom, or for a family, that is exploring poetry.  Georgia Heard whose books on teaching poetry were huge inspirations in my formative years as a teacher edited this collection.


A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

Concrete poems use not only words, but also shape and design, to express their meaning.  This book is a visual feast and may help “hook” children who are otherwise adverse to poetry.

Book Love: Embracing the Seasons

By Mariah Bruehl,

Embracing the Seasons

As each new season rolls along for another three months, it is a special time to reflect on what the season brings, be in hibernation, endless days of sunshine or a time to be quiet calm and reflect, each season has a purpose.

In the Southern Hemisphere we are moving towards Autumn and a time for slowing down and allowing the daylight hours reflect the need for simplicity and a time for rest.  I adore the notion of not using lights throughout autumn and winter and using candles when it is dark and allowing our bodies to unwind and slow down and become attuned and receptive to mother nature.  In the northern hemisphere the days are getting longer, new growth is evident everywhere and the extra daylight allows for afternoon walks after the workmen day and the opportunity to meet with friends, have long lunches which, if you are blessed, then turn into an evening by the pool or local river.


As the seasons change I like to gather as many books as I can about the changing time and share these with my boys.
Embracing the SeasonsHere are a few books that look at different seasons and are beautifully illustrated…
After sharing the books it is a wonderful opportunity to set up a provocation filled with large sheets of paper, pots filled with fine liners and watercolor paints or pencils.  A case of flowers cut and gathered form the garden or neighborhood or even a handful of leaves called from the trees (if you are experiencing Autumn).  I believe in open-ended experiences and a gathering of the family to make connections, reflect and create.   No end product in mind, just the opportunity to reflect on the experience and create.  Clay is also a wonderful starting point. If clay is not something you have on hand a simple playdough recipe scented with essential oils works beautifully.
I also have a strong belief of shopping in season when possible and finding produce at local farmers markets.  This cook book by Donna Hay is delightful and divided into Seasons.

Backyard Science Investigations, STARTS MONDAY!

Backyard Science Investigations: Buy One. Give One.Offer Expires Monday, March 30.

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Author Focus: Keri Smith

By Mariah Bruehl,

Author Focus: Keri SmithFor the past three weeks, my daughters have been asking me “How many more days until spring?” The Midwest winter was long this year, so my girls know that spring means sunshine, warmer weather, bike rides, park play dates and long strolls around the neighborhood.

If your children, or students, are anything like mine, they love to collect things on those lazy day walks. We can’t get down the block without picking up at least a handful of leaves, acorns, rocks, and sticks. Our strollers, bike baskets and pockets become filled to the brim with tiny treasures. So to honor my little collectors, and the first full weekend of spring, we grabbed a few plastic bags, pencils, a notebook, a camera and Keri Smith’s book How to Be an Explorer of the World before we set off in the direction of our nearest park.

Now some of you may be asking, who is Keri Smith? On her website, the Canadian born Smith describes herself as an author/illustrator turned guerrilla artist. My teaching partner introduced me to her a few years ago, and I immediately bought Wreck This Journal (2007), which is arguably her best-known book. In it, Keri plays with the idea that imperfections are merely a part of the creative process. Imperfections are what make each artist’s work unique. She encourages the reader to let go of any inhibitions and do things outside of her comfort zone. The reader is told to tear pages out, color outside of the lines, and scribble wildly.  This book will remind you that creativity is about the journey and not always the end product.

In a November 2014 interview with Time magazine Keri said, “What I’m doing is trying to get kids to pay attention, to look at the physical world more, and to question everything.” On the initial pages of How to Be an Explorer of the World (2008), Keri does just that. She urges us to always be looking and to notice the ground beneath our feet. I love that one simple idea. So as my daughters and I began our walk this afternoon, I told them that we were going to go a bit slower today and look for things that we haven’t noticed before. Of course we would still collect any interesting objects we found during our exploration and then go home and observe them more closely. My six-year-old was looking forward to documenting her findings in a notebook and using her microscope to observe things more carefully.

Author Focus: Keri Smith

Before we reached the park, our collection included natural items such as a piece of bark, several pine cones, and a few different kinds of seedpods. However we also found some man made items like a page off a very small calendar and a curious piece of green string. We probably wouldn’t have picked them up had we not been noticing everything beneath our feet. Both discoveries surely had stories attached to them, and I knew this would be a starting point for another day’s activity.

It took us twice as long to reach the park. We stopped often, looked closer, observed longer, and talked more. Inevitably one of us would say something like, “I never noticed that hole in the tree before” or “Did you see those tiny white flowers growing up from the grass?”

When we returned home, I let my children’s interest level and desires drive what came next. Of course my six-year-old thought we should go around the circle and share what we discovered on our walk. She started by telling us: 1) what she found (and named it if she was able to), 2) described what the object looked like, 3) told us what the object reminded her of, and 4) shared why she liked the object or why she chose it for our collection. This is about the time that my four-year-old decided that she preferred to go inside and play.   The process of collection was enough for her, and I respected her wish to change direction.

Author Focus: Keri Smith

But my older daughter wanted to continue the exploration. She started out by making a list of what we found. Then our conversation was drawn towards discussing similarities and differences between the objects, which then led to sorting things into categories and labeling them. We decided to put everything into a box so that she can observe them again on another day. Tomorrow, I will show her how to carefully draw the objects and notice minute details that she didn’t notice today. I will encourage her to document colors and textures and ask questions. We may use the Experience Documentation Log or the Object Documentation Log at the back of Keri’s book. We might just create our own logs.

As you experiment with How to Be an Explorer of the World, I recommend trying all of the explorations, in any order, but here are the ones my daughters and I have at the top of our list:

  • Exploration #1 – Right Where You Are Sitting
  • Exploration #5 – The First Thing You See
  • Exploration #14 – Sound Map
  • Exploration #46 – Found Patterns
  • Exploration #54 – The Language of Trees

Be sure to check out more of these resources as you explore the ground beneath your feet!

Find Keri Smith’s website here.

More Books by Keri Smith…


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A Cinderella Study for Big Princesses

By Mariah Bruehl,

A Cinderella Study for Big Princesses

While we all get swept up in the happily ever after notions of today’s fairytale characters, it’s important to break open the concept of being a “princess” and widen the definition of what that might look and feel like for girls, both young and old. For deep within these tales are valuable lessons to be learned that go way beyond finding your prince charming.

My first year of teaching was in an amazing kindergarten classroom. We were very fortunate to have a guest teacher come to our class once a week over a period of time to introduce the children to a Cinderella Study. I watch watched, captivated each week, as Karen Balliett, shared Cinderella stories from around the world and lead thought provoking discussions about the universal commonalities as well as the cultural twists among them.

A Cinderella Study for Big Girls1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 /

Years later, the time was ripe for sharing the Cinderella Study with my daughters’ book club and it turned out to be a great experience! We gathered our favorite versions of the Cinderella tale (see above).

Playful Learning: Cinderella Study

Everyone had their own copy of the printable above and we started out by introducing the elements of story. Once the girls knew what each term meant, we read the different versions and took notes on each one. As we read, the girls started to notice different nuances in the story.

In some of the stories Cinderella had to look beautiful every time she saw the prince, in others that was not the case. In some versions the Cinderella figure marries the prince and in some she does not. In the versions where Cinderella does marry the prince, in some of them she shows forgiveness to her step-mother and step-sisters and in others she does not. Where the magic shows up and what is required to access it differs from tale to tale as well. The possibilities for discussion are endless!

Playful Learning: Cinderella Study

Once we finished our exploration we took some time to draft notes on our own Cinderella stories, which then led to final writing pieces. By the time we got to writing our own stories there was not moment of hesitation as each girl new exactly what they wanted to write. We ended with a lovely author share, as we munched on carrot sticks and hummus, and eagerly waited to hear each other’s inspiring tales…

To get started, click here for the printable.

Enjoy… and if you do this activity, we would love to hear any insights you glean!

A Book List for Animal Lovers

By Mariah Bruehl,

A Book List for Animal LoversWe thought it would be fun to share a list of our favorite books for all of the animal lovers out there…

1. Animalium by Jenny Broom. If I was giving out awards, this book would receive my Best Book of 2014 award!  It’s Magical, whimsical and ever so engaging for everyone. It is the most perfect book for pleasure and research and marries both areas ever so perfectly.  It is also a large format book (370 x 272mm), which makes it that extra bit special.  My schoolboy received this as his end of school year gift (In Australia we have school years according to the calendar year). My son is inquisitive and has a thirst for new information. He adores David Attenborough and therefore Animalium was the perfect gift for him to help foster the love of the world around us.  Animalium is the first in a series of virtual museums published by Big Picture Press and I long to find out what the next piece in the collection will be.  Each chapter features a different part of the tree of life and poses so many questions. Schoolboy and myself talked and talked about what we thought the differences between a plant and an animal are.  What a brilliant project to explore with your child. Our suggestion is to start with reading the opening pages and choosing a part of the tree of life to focus on: flightless birds, frogs and toads, colorful birds, the possibilities are endless.  Go on to sketch, research, gather, touch, create…

More to Explore…

2. Infographics: Animals by Simon Rogers and Jenny Broom

3. Animal Kingdom: Color Me, Draw Me by Millie Marotta

4. Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman

5. Bird by Andrew Zuckerman

6. Creature by Andrew Zuckerman

7. World Search: Incredible Animals by Lonely Planet

A Book List for Animal Lovers