Uncategorized

Egg Carton Nature Scavenger Hunt

I recently created this Nature Scavenger Hunt egg carton cover using my own illustrations, and it’s yours for free if you want it!

The kids each carried their own box around as we hunted for the corresponding nature items. They both enjoyed this a lot and I’m sure we will do it again!

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CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE FREE PDF

I printed mine on to card stock, laminated it, cut it and glued it to the top of an egg carton. 

Get those kiddos outside and enjoying the natural world, and be sure to tag me (@the.silvan.reverie) in photos if you post it because it would bring me lots of joy to see this in use!

 

 

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DIY Real Flower Resin Cabochons

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Why Cabochons?

This past winter one of our favorite reads was Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day where two girls have a lovely fantastical winter adventure. Chirri and Chirra, hanging out with some woodland creatures in an igloo, play with frozen marbles that have flower buds in the middle, then later take a hot springs bath and drop the marbles in to the water only to watch the buds melt and the flowers bloom! It’s gorgeous and basically I KNEW when we read it in the drab and cold winter that, come springtime, I would make our own real flower glass marbles. And so we did!

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Collecting Flowers

All of the flowers we used were freshly picked.

A couple things to note:

  1. Some flowers wilt fast so you do not have much time before getting them in to the resin mix.
  2. Any blue or pink or purple flower lost its color almost immediately upon contacting the resin mix. They turned colorless. Yellow flowers seemed to do just fine.
  3. An alternate method to keep the flower color in tact would be to use flower press first, and then later cast the dried flower in the resin. I have not tried this yet.

Resin Casting Supplies

How-To and Some Tips

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This is NOT a kid-friendly process. Epoxy resin is not something to mess with. My kids helped collect the flowers and then just watched me do the resin mixing and pouring.

That said, this is not really a difficult process, just something that requires a little attention to detail and patience.

  1. Have all your supplies ready before you start. I would even have everything ready before going out to pick some flowers.
  2. Mix the resin according to instructions EXACTLY. Your mixing ratios need to be spot on. The curing process is also temperature and moisture dependent. If you get the ratios wrong or under-mix the resin or it is too hot in your work space then the resin will not fully cure and you will have a sticky result (not solid and glass-like).
  3. Work in small batches! I worked with just 2-3 cups total of mixed epoxy resin at a time, filling 4-8 molds, depending on the size of flowers I had.
  4. Cover your mold with an upside-down plastic bin so no dust gets attached to your cabochons as they cure. Read your resin instructions but it takes approximately 24-48 hours to cure fully.
  5. You do not need to fill the entire mold. Note that the flowers will start to float to the top so if you have a lot of resin in there the final effect of the domed half-marble will not be as clear if your flower is now at the bottom of a massive half dome.
  6. The smaller molds actually turned out the clearest (less bubbles), so I would fit your flower in to the smallest mold possible.
  7. For cleanup: use vinegar. It works like a charm to clean the mold and cups for re-use. Or you could just toss the cups you used and start with a fresh set the next time you do some casting (this is what I did).
  8. Vinegar also cleans the resin off your holds should you get any. You could also work with gloves.
  9. If your finished cabochons have minor sticky parts or parts where the plant material sticks out a bit, you can cover these areas in clear nail polish to finish it off!

That’s it! you can also look at other shapes & molds available (making flat pieces instead of half domes). These could be added to necklaces and earrings to make jewelry which could also be fun!

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Forest School Backyard Play Supplies

“Daily exposure to the outdoors stimulates the brain in many ways: (1) There are no expectations. Children are forced to use their imagination in order for that stick, rock or pinecone to become a part of their world. (2) There are endless possibilities. The outdoors challenges the mind to constantly think in new ways. (3) There is no pressure. When engaging in active free play, children can play with others or not, make up their own rules or follow someone else’s, be rough-and-tumble or quiet and contemplative.” (Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom)

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The Heart Behind This Post

Lately I have been reading lots of books about nature engagement, and have been particularly inspired by ideas for backyard play.

I have been asking myself questions like:

  • What if we had no toys but only sticks and rocks and whatever else we could find in the great outdoors?
  • What if I had no predetermined expectations for outdoor play?
  • How can our outdoor play foster connection?
  • What materials can I provide in our outdoor play space to foster independent, creative, and limitless play?
  • What are things we do indoors that could be done outdoors instead?

Think: Roxaboxen. This book is exactly what I am going for: children in the desert imagine an entire town with a wide range of open-ended activities using nothing but sticks and rocks and crates and other random things they find.

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What Our Backyard Looks Like

I am particularly drawn to Play the Forest School Way and play activities similar in that style because we live in a forest. We live on a camp property in southern Indiana. It is a 2,500 acre woodland property–the center of camp has a lake, natural wetland areas, several creeks, a vernal pond, and even fun camp structures that are fun for my kids like challenge courses and a play house and an amphitheater.

Often I find that our daily outdoor time is spent hiking and exploring the woods. This absolutely makes sense for us to still do, as we all love it. But, lately I was sensing a need to put some more thought and effort in to our backyard play environment. And, truthfully, our “nature treasure” and loose parts pile was getting out of control and I needed motivation to get our stuff organized!

So, while we live in a forest and access to natural loose parts comes as an everyday thing, I do think what I am about to share will still be relevant for those of you that live in suburban or rural areas NOT in a forest! I just wanted to be clear about our particular context.

For those of you who live in an urban area, nature engagement with your children is going to be a totally different ball game for you. I recommend the last chapter of How to Raise a Wild Child if you live in the city.

I also want to mention that I think The Backyard Play Revolution has so many great ideas for open-ended loose parts play for the backyard that’s not so forest-school-ish.

Our Outdoor Play Supplies

Below I will be sharing a list of all our outdoor play supplies. I organized most of the smaller items in to an IKEA TROFAST storage system on our front porch.

Mud kitchen supplies stay in a crate with that area of the yard. Other large items like tree stumps, ramps, crates, and tubs stay either in the yard or in our storage shed in the yard. A few other things will have to stay inside the house in the dead of summer because of humidity issues–I don’t want mold growing on things!

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(1) Natural Loose Parts

The term “loose part” has become a bit of a fad. Basically it means something that can be played with in a very open-ended way. The opposite of a loose part is a “fixed toy”—a Mickey Mouse figurine can only ever be Mickey Mouse (and always happy because he is smiling). A pinecone or “loose part” can be currency or an ice cream cone or a mixer or a bug or a rocket ship or … even a Mickey Mouse!

Here’s what we have for loose parts play:

  • Tree slices (large & small)
    • We made ours but you can purchase these at craft stores or Amazon
  • Sticks (various lengths and widths)
  • Rocks (a variety of sizes)
  • Tree nuts
  • Acorns
  • Pine cones
  • Large movable tree stumps
  • Flat wooden boards

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We also have some non-natural loose parts in the mix like old tires and rope. I’m also including a traditional wood block set made for us by my father-in-law.

We actually have a gravel driveway and the rocks there have proved to be a favorite yard toy for years.

Shells, dirt, sand, mulch, wood chips are just a few other ideas for natural loose parts.

We have small wood scoops for use with the small loose parts.

(2) Imaginative Play

Note that I’m including a separate list for imaginative play BUT the idea with the loose parts listed above is that they could also be used for pretend play. A pinecone can be a hand mixer in the kitchen or currency at a shop. A stick can be a horse or a wand or musical instrument. Small loose parts can be built in to small worlds like castles or bug villages.

 

  • Play Silks (be sure to see this list for the play possibilities with play silks if you are not already familiar with these)
  • Bow & Arrow
  • Butterfly Wings
  • Crowns (handmade, could be crafted or made with nature items)
  • Wands (just a plain stick or one that is crafted)
  • Bubbles
  • Pinwheels
  • Sheets, Tarps (for building shelters)
  • Garden tools (hand rakes are fun!)
  • Wheelbarrow (kid sized)
  • Wagon
  • Baskets
  • Buckets

You can also construct stick shelters or use play silks or tarps for shelters to go along with imaginative play. As mentioned earlier, I also think imaginative play can include building small worlds for wooden peg dolls or other toys–e.g. build a camp site or fairy houses.

I will also say: if you have a tent, you can always set it up in your backyard for a couple of days for your kids to just play in! We did this last summer for maybe 5 days and the kids were obsessed and so engaged and absolutely loved it. I would not leave the tent up for a really long time, but was nice to change up the play for a week.

(3) Mud & Water Kitchen

Note that you won’t find a Pinterest-worthy mud kitchen in our backyard. Here’s how I put it together: I scrounged around for items we already had. I spent no money. Remember you do not need elaborate & beautiful mud kitchens: you just want something your kids will want to play with!

The hose is nearby so the kids have a water source they can manage on their own to make mud.

 

  • Pots & Pants
  • Muffin tins, cake pans, pie pans
  • Plates, Bowls, Cups
  • Mixing spoons
  • Pitchers
  • Canisters
  • Scoops
  • Buckets
  • Spray Bottles
  • Watering Cans
  • Larger tubs for holding water

Again note that the natural loose parts listed above are often used as ingredients in our mud kitchen or used in water play.

(4) Nature Study, Art, & Handcrafts

I created a category for nature study and nature art because I find that we will bring back a variety of nature treasure from hikes to our yard and I wanted to have materials accessible to explore and play with those nature finds some more.

 

(5) Games

I am aware there are a wide variety of lawn games but I wanted to share what we have: my preference is for (1) traditional games with not a lot of bells & whistles and no plastic parts, (2) games that can be used by small children and (3) games that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, the boards for our bean bag toss game can also be used as a ramp, or if they are standing upright can be pretend archery targets. Rope rings can be used for ring toss, or they could just be bracelets or something to fish out of the kiddie pool with a stick.

 

  • Rope Rings
  • Bean Bags (we have a bean bag toss game with boards)
  • Wood Ramp
  • Kubb
  • Balls (a variety)
  • Wood Block Set
  • Old Tire
  • Movable Tree Stumps
  • Rope
  • Clips
  • Buckets

Other ideas for games are making water ramps with old gutters or PVC pipes. Make a pulley system. Make a scale. Create an obstacle course.

(6) Practical Stuff

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  • Blankets **
  • Water
  • Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Rags & Towels
  • First Aid Kit

** I love this style of outdoor tarp blanket because it is light enough to be used to make a play tent and it is really easy to clean if we spill food on it while picnicking (you do not have to put it in the laundry, you can just wipe it down or hose it down). Also, it compacts down small so it is easy to travel with.

Books for Inspiration

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For further reading, see my other posts on nature engagement:
Books · Uncategorized

Books to Inspire Outdoor Play & Learning

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“Nature offers us a sanctuary, a place where, we can find peace and wonder…. For children it is the greatest playground of all, with all its diverse structures, smells, textures, its creatures of all shapes and sizes, its abundant plants, some edible, others toxic. Nature offers a myriad of opportunities for risk taking, for a wealth of learning and amazement, and for freedom, separate from the adult world.”
(from Play the Forest School Way by Peter Houghton & Jane Worroll)

IN THIS POST

I’d like to share a few details about the books that I have lately been drawing inspiration from—books that inspire us as parents to get our children outdoors, and books that provide some wonderful ideas on HOW to actually do that, especially if it does not come naturally or easy.

THREE CATEGORIES OF BOOKS

For clarity, I have organized my stack of nature books into three categories:

  1. Books on why nature engagement matters, which are books to enjoy reading cover to cover
  2. Books with action-steps and specific ideas for creating outdoor play environments  in your own backyard, engaging with the natural world, and cultivating independence in nature
  3. Books for nature study, which means providing a closer look at the natural world, things you may observe and want to explore further as you get out in nature

So, with that, here we go…

1. WHY NATURE ENGAGEMENT MATTERS

Last Child in the Woods

Much has already been said about this book. If you haven’t already read it, I’m sure you have heard of it. This would be my number one pick for a nature-inspired book to read cover to cover. Most other books in this same category will reference Richard Louv at some point. It is just a great place to start if you have never before really considered nature engagement as a daily, practical thing for your family.

How to Raise A Wild Child

This book draws from many of the same themes developed in Last Child in the Woods, and Sampson admits to it. I do think this had a little added focus on experiential discovery, and the role of the parent in guiding our children to fall in love with nature. I will say the latter part of this book gets a little repetitive, so some friendly skimming may be involved.

Balanced and Barefoot


Angela Hanscom comes to the conversation with an occupational therapy perspective — in the book she discusses the effects of restricted movement and lack of outdoor playtime  on overall sensory and motor development in children. This book reveals the therapeutic importance of uninterrupted independent outdoor play. I was stunned, enlightened, and inspired reading this. This book would be an essential read for anyone in the occupational therapy field or parents of children with various disabilities and/or chronic illness.

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather


News flash: Sweden does the “kids in nature” thing way better than anyone else. This can be a bit depressing, in a way. What this book has going for it is it’s readability–it is lively, insightful, and engaging. This is from a mom figuring it out. There are “tips” at the end of each chapter that summarize how the Swedes do it and also a few interspersed practical tips (like what kind of clothing to buy) that do allow for this book to have a something to walk away with. That way you are not just sitting there thinking “I don’t live in Sweden, so what the heck can I do about it?”

Honorable Mention:

  • The Nature Fix  — This is a great read for analyzing the science behind the human’s connection to the natural world, but it is not focused on children–though, the final chapter does bring in this topic a little bit (and of course references Richard Louv). This book is neither diagnostic nor prescriptive and should not be compared to Last Child in the Woods–it is not trying to do the same thing. It is more an interesting take on modern day science as it relates to human health and nature.

2. ACTION STEPS: BOOKS WITH SPECIFIC IDEAS & TIPS FOR OUTDOOR PLAY AND LEARNING

First I want to share on online article that has great inspiration and a nice checklist for creating an outdoor play space for children:

Wilson discusses the value of loose parts in outdoors playgrounds and the difference between a manufactured play space versus a natural one. At the end of the article is a “Checklist for Evaluating an Outdoor Play Setting for Young Children” which I found to be really helpful when I started drawing up my plan for our own yard play space. This gave me some great new ideas!

Play the Forest School Way


This book has a wide range of ideas for nature play. Many of these activities you may have already seen on Pinterest, BUT the attention to detail provided here is so wonderful and helpful. It can be especially useful for those of you that have nature exploration groups or do more of a classroom style learning outdoors. That said, the ideas at the beginning for games and crafts are absolutely doable for my 4 and almost-3 year old, and I plan to do several with them this spring. An essential book for a nature-engaged family.

A Year of Forest School


This book is a new companion book to Play the Forest School Way with lots of similar but new ideas! This book is grouped by seasons, which I really appreciate.

The Nature Connection


This book has a myriad of hands-on activities and observational exercises aimed at children 8 to 13. It certainly is for the whole family though! With a 4 and almost-3 year old I’m obviously not going to have them go through this workbook and do all the activities and write down their observations. However, I draw so many great ideas for WHAT and HOW to observe nature. Clare Walker Leslie is basically my hero. She really brings the nature thing down to an everyday level that is so inspiring.

The Backyard Play Revolution


This book has specific practical ways to transform your own backyard into a natural play kid-friendly area, with lists of ideas for loose parts and how to build up your supply. The author even provides suggestions for alternative materials–for example, when sticks from a forest are not easily accessible, what can you use instead? The book contains ideas for what to do with a rope or old tire and how to hunt for items at garage sales that can be used in your backyard for open-ended play. So fun!

Nature’s Art Box


Nature art ideas! So many great ideas with loads of photos so you aren’t left with any questions as you read the instructions. The age range here is wide, but many of the projects would need adult supervision for littles. I will say a couple of the projects seemed like something I would never do, but overall I really enjoy the ideas here.

Vitamin N


A follow up to Last Child in the Woods. So, honestly this book can be super overwhelming! There are so many ideas: 500, actually. So, my strategy here is to just kind of read through it a bit at a time if I am in the mood and pick ONE thing that sticks out to me as something I can do. I appreciate that this book focuses not solely on the individual family but tries to find ways in which we can come together as communities and improve the state of “nature-deficit disorder.”

OTHER NOTABLE BOOKS:

  • The Stick Book – Many ideas here are pretty intuitive to me here but this is a nice thing to flip through if you are in a bit of a rut for play ideas. Lots of photos to show you the ideas–I showed this to my 4 year old and he wanted to create everything in here!
  • I Love Dirt – This book is not just about dirt play! It is about getting outside, quieting down, paying attention to the natural world, and asking questions. The book provides prompts for families to get outside and to explore in such a gentle and meaningful way. I appreciate that this book is less about “doing something” in nature and more about using all our senses to really be present while we are outdoors.
  • Last Child in the Woods is mentioned above for a book to understand the “why?” behind nature engagement: but, at the back of the book is also a massive list of ideas for connecting more with nature. Lots of practical tips that cost nothing and will inspire more and more nature engagement. Don’t be overwhelmed by massive lists like this: pick one thing at a time that sticks out to you and do that.

3. TAKING A CLOSER LOOK: BOOKS TO ENHANCE & INSPIRE NATURE STUDY

Nature Anatomy


This book is just a true gem, more field-guide style of a book than on a how-to book. But this can be a great place to start with questions about the natural world & things you see on nature explorations. Right now this is more of a book for me than my kids. I pre-plan what pages we look at together based on what topic is particularly interesting to them at the moment.

How to Be a Wildflower


I dare you to flip through one page of this book and not fall totally in love with Katie Daisy’s artwork. It’s beautiful and inspiring. Not a book to read cover to cover and not really something my children will care about at the moment. This also only have a few pages of “tips” for nature engagement—it’s mostly just a beautiful thing to behold. A coffee-table style book for nature-loving mamas.

Hello, Nature


This book is Nature Anatomy meets adult coloring book. I do not see this having any direct meaningful connection for my kids (4 and almost 3), but I personally am enjoying it. It inspires nature study, some pages are informative and some are more open-ended prompts. Most pages provide invitations to doodle and draw: something an older nature-loving child would adore! Not just for adults.

Later in April there are activity cards similar to this style being released that look fun!

Nature’s Day: Out and About


This pairs with the book Nature’s Day but comes with specific prompts for activities and things to look out for by season. There are several activities for each of the four seasons. Overall this is quite simple, and for that aspect I appreciate it! This book, just like Hello, Nature invites you to write in it.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature


This is a book to inspire young kids to discover the world around them in all the seasons. It’s not a picture book to sit and read with your kids all the way through because it’s too long, but you could pick out a season at a time to enjoy and study further. It feels more like Nature Anatomy meets a poetry book, actually.

The Natural World


This book is a large & awesome reference-style book with a wide range of topics (covering the whole world) and beautiful illustrations. This is not something my kids just flip through to explore often since it is quite extensive, but if we are looking at a specific topic in nature I can usually flip through and find something relevant to what we are learning and read that specific page.

OTHER NOTABLE BOOKS:

  • Nature All Year Long (This book is a wonderful 12-month guide to “What’s going on in the natural world right now?” I LOVE this book! Again — not a great book for my kids to enjoy, but I personally like pulling it off the shelf when I start to plan out seasonal activities or learning themes.)
  • The Curious Nature Guide (Another one from Clare Walker Leslie which pairs nicely with nature journaling. I appreciate that the focus on the natural world involves being present. Clare Walker Leslie helps inspire me to engage all my senses.)
  • The Handbook of Nature Study (This is a supremely helpful reference for me as we continue to learn about the natural world as a family. I do think you can find all of this information on the internet: but personally I prefer having a physical book to peruse)

…AND FOR THE KIDS!

Be sure to check out my picture book lists for inspiring a love of the natural world in your read aloud time with your kids.

Uncategorized

Our Inexpensive DIY Movable Alphabet

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WHY A MOVABLE ALPHABET?

We have had our movable alphabet for about a year now and have used it off and on as we have been going through The Peaceful Preschool curriculum. Up until recently I have mainly incorporated it in more gentle and playful ways (and still do with my youngest).

Just recently have been able to use the movable alphabet more on a regular basis using a more traditional Montessori language learning approach. I cannot say enough how much I love having this as a part of our school supplies. We use it now multiple days a week for letter recognition, spelling, and reading. I used to keep it stored up high so my 2 year old could not reach it (and dump the whole thing out), but now keep it down low on a shelf with some language-learning baskets for ease of access. Both kids have been enjoying this!

Keep in mind I that a movable alphabet is not just one letter for each letter of the alphabet: the purpose is to eventually be able to spell and build words and so you need multiples of each letter.

THE TRADITIONAL MOVABLE ALPHABET


I do love the gorgeous traditional Montessori movable alphabets that are in the shape of the actual letters and appreciate their value. However, I wanted to have BOTH uppercase and lowercase options and to go this route purchasing traditional movable alphabets I would be looking at spending anywhere between $100-250 to obtain the uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and storage boxes.

Enter in: mom craft fest.

SUPPLIES

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*NOTE: I already had these items and therefore did not include the cost of these in to my total cost estimate for our DIY movable alphabet.

THE HOW-TO


1. I stamped the wood circles first to get a near-perfect letter shape on to each circle:

  • Uppercase on one side, lowercase on the opposite side of the same wood circle
  • Vowels in blue, consonants in red (follows the traditional Montessori movable alphabet)

2. Then, I went over the letters with the paint pens to make sure the letter was uniformly & boldly colored (the stamps alone weren’t 100% colored).

3. Last, I coated the finished craft circles with a wood waterproofer. This should help the craft coins last longer.

This took me probably 2-3 hours in small chunks over several days.

INEXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVES

Last, I wanted to share some other DIY options:  Deb Chitwood over at Living Montessori Now has an amazing compiled list on her website of inexpensive and DIY movable alphabets.

Hope that helps!

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Uncategorized

Spring Preschool Activities

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The Plan for Spring

My plan for this spring is to:

  1. be outside as much as humanly possible, and
  2. not plan ahead for any official “school days” but have a mix of fun activities on-hand to do together

Spring is a great season for us to enjoy the woods where we live since the weather is ideal and new spring wildflowers are blooming every week.

That said: I do not want to ignore all the school things we enjoy like reading books, counting games, play and just expanding our nature-learning. We also have been switching our letter-learning to more of a Montessori approach and I would like to continue with that. I just mean that for several weeks I would like to have a more relaxed, spontaneous approach to our days.

SO: my idea for this spring was to do a lot of up-front preparation and planning and just make a list of OPTIONS of activities for us to do through the next several weeks, and we may or may not do them as my kids show interest.

Any given day we may do 3-4 things off of that list, or nothing at all!

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To start: in order to gather ideas for seasonal activities I looked to the following three books for inspiration, drawing ideas from the natural world:

The spring themes I’m centering the activities around are:

  • Easter
  • Flowers
  • Insects
  • Bird Nesting
  • Spring Weather
  • Gardening
  • Pond Life

This is A LOT!!

Again, I more want to just have activities related to spring available. I also see this going on for likely 4-5 weeks (or possibly longer) before I move on to something different.

Below I’ve detailed what I’ve prepped for each theme and will continue to add what we do to my Pinterest boards.

Before I lay out the details for each theme, I wanted to first provide my free printable Spring Life Cycle photo cards because this set crosses several themes including flowers, gardening, birds, insects, and frogs.

Life Cycles

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I recently created this free Spring Life Cycle card set (and a Life Cycle control mat). I laminated each set and cut each card out so the kids can place the cards on to the blank mat, depending on which life cycle we are looking at.

Easter

Obviously we will cover the real story of Easter, but we will also include some fun bunny & egg themed activities.

BOOKS
ACTIVITIES
  • Alphabet egg uppercase and lowercase matching (free printable via Teach Mama)
  • Easter count and clip cards (free printable via Fun with Mama)
  • Paper plate bunny craft
  • Easter mini eraser math, sorting, patterns (I found my mini erasers at a local Meijer dollar spot) — The kids will transfer the mini erasers with tweezers
  • Dye Easter eggs
  • Easter egg hunt
  • Easter egg scissor skills practice
  • Easter themed “color volcanoes” fine motor skills activity: baking soda + a few drops of food coloring inside the Easter eggs, then the kids add vinegar with eyedroppers
  • “Five Little Bunnies” singing game from Games Children Sing and Play

See my Spring: Easter Pinterest Board for more details

Flowers

We naturally are in love with our local Indiana spring woodland wildflowers, but this year I wanted to include some more common garden flowers in our springtime fun.

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BOOKS
ACTIVITIES
  • Hunt for our favorite spring wildflowers in the woods & use the home-tailored scavenger hunt I made!
  • Match our flowers from the Safari Ltd Flowers TOOB to 3-Part Cards (free printable via Treehouse Schoolhouse)
  • My Number Garden counting activity (see below for free printable)
  • Play with our Flowers Families Game
  • Life cycle of a flower (daffodil and sunflower)
  • Parts of the Plant nomenclature cards printable (via The Helpful Garden)
  • Cork stamped flower art project
  • Paper plate flower art project
  • Flower garden sensory bin invitation to play
  • Dissect flowers and sort parts
  • Visit our local daffodil garden

See my Spring: Flowers Pinterest Board for more details

MY NUMBER GARDEN – FREE PRINTABLE

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I created this My Number Garden printable with the idea that the kids would add pom poms to each flower, and count the total number for each card, then write the numeral with a dry erase marker. This activity combines counting with number-to-numeral matching and some fine motor skills. You could also skip the numeral writing part and cut that off the card, leaving just the flowers to transfer pom poms. The kids could transfer pom poms with their fingers or with tweezers.

Insects

ALL THE BUGS. I have really enjoyed celebrating insects in a number of ways with my kids since we have begun our homeschooling adventure. It feels like we don’t let a month go by without doing some sort of insect related activity.

BOOKS
ACTIVITIES
  • Beehive Counting Cards (see below for free printable & details)
  • Butterfly Symmetry Puzzle (see below for free printable & details)
  • Invitation to Build an Insect with Natural Materials and Insect Silhouette Cards (see below for free printable & details)
  • Insect Life Cycles (butterflies, bees, ants, ladybugs)
  • Pattern-making with our hand-painted rock bugs
  • Sensory bin to play with our hand-painted rock bugs (play/pretend ant hills, bee hives, etc.)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar activities from Simply Learning
  • Insect Symmetry Coloring Pages (via Art For Kids Hub)
  • Visit a Botanical Garden to view butterflies
  • Visit our local Honey Bee Farm
  • Plant native plants for pollinators in our garden
  • “Caterpillar Crawls Along” singing game from Games Children Sing and Play

I’m still debating about purchasing the Safari Ltd Insect TOOB, and if I do we will pair it with the Insect 3-Part Cards via Treehouse Schoolhouse.

See my Spring: Insects Pinterest Board for more details

BEEHIVE COUNTING CARDS – FREE PRINTABLE

Back for our Letter B Unit, I made these Beehive Counting Cards. We used our rock bees that I had painted, and also Honeycomb cereal to count and fill the cards. I printed them on yellow card stock paper and laminated them. You could also use bee mini erasers or bee stamps.

BUTTERFLY SYMMETRY PUZZLE – FREE PRINTABLE

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For this activity I printed our Butterfly Symmetry Puzzle on to white card stock, laminated the page then cut out the squares of each butterfly. Then, I cut each butterfly in half, and glued the left half of the butterfly to a yellow piece of card stock. I then provided a basket of the right side of the butterflies to match to the sheet. A fun way to explore insect symmetry.

INVITATION TO BUILD AN INSECT – FREE PRINTABLE

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This is a favorite activity! We have built ants, bees, butterflies, and spiders using only natural materials. For this spring I decided to create a whole set of Insect & Spider Silhouette Cards, which I’m sharing with you. So, this way the kids can select which insect they would like to try and create rather than me saying “we’re making bees today.”

If you do not have natural materials on-hand, you could use craft sticks and toothpicks and wood circles, or just cut circles, ovals, and lines for legs out of construction paper!

Birds Nesting

My husband is an avid birder & nature photographer, so we are pretty in to birds on a regular basis (we did a whole B is for Bird unit last summer), but I thought it would be fun to celebrate nesting birds in the spring. There are about 20 bird houses for nesting birds on the camp property where we live, and we will try to keep track of the nests, eggs, and baby birds in them throughout the spring.

BOOKS
ACTIVITIES

See my Spring: Nests Pinterest Board for more details

Spring Weather

Rain, rainbows, wind, clouds, splashing in puddles, flying kites. LOVE.

BOOKS
ACTIVITIES
  • Cloud art with cotton balls
  • Rain in a jar
  • Rainbow art and/or rainbow play dough
  • Count raindrops with blue play dough
  • Outdoor rain art
  • Measure amount of rain outside
  • Wind sock or wind chime craft
  • Origami boats to float in puddles or the creek
  • “Here is a Tree With Leaves So Green” singing game from Games Children Sing and Play
  • Fly a kite, blow dandelions, play with pinwheels!!

See my Spring: Weather Pinterest Board for more details

Gardening

We did a lot of fun gardening activities last spring, and I’m all for repeating exactly what we did. Why not?

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BOOKS
ACTIVITIES

See my Spring: Gardening Pinterest Board for more details

Pond Life

We’ve been hearing frogs already and I’m so excited to spot some turtles on property (my favorite animal). Last May we encountered a snapping turtle the size of a small child, no joke.

BOOKS
ACTIVITIES
  • Life Cycle of a Frog
  • Build a pond Invitation to Play with play dough & natural materials (pictured above)
  • Frog craft
  • Turtle craft
  • Frog & Toad coloring pages
  • Find frogs & turtles in nature!

See my Spring: Pond Life Pinterest Board for more details

One Last Note

I know this seems like a ton of work … but because I did up-front prep work, I’m honestly feeling very relaxed about spring and hope to be able to enjoy the outdoors and free play as much as possible. On a stormy day or a day where we all need a little indoor boost, I’ll just go to my little arsenal of fun activities and grab something to do! Or, I’ll let the kids decide based on what’s available on our learning shelves.

Happy Spring!

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Uncategorized

A Few Blog Updates

New 3-Part Card Sets Available

I added Letters T through Z 3-Part Cards to the Free 3-Part Cards page.

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I also added lowercase versions of some of my free themed sets! I’m slowly making may way through the other sets and hope to have them all up soon. I also will add my Penguins Breed set from our Antarctic Unit.

Bible Lessons by Letter Unit

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I updated this page and added our Bible Lessons for Letter Units O through S.

Updated Book List

love of nature books

I added Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies to our Seasons Book List on our Nature-Inspired Book List page. A wonderful nature book celebrating all four seasons!! I will continue to update this page and add books by theme as we discover new ones so be sure to check back occasionally.

Update to Daily Rhythm

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We have switched to using ABC See, Hear, Do every school day for our beginning letter sounds and I’ve updated our daily rhythm and resources page to reflect that change. I really recommend checking out the ABC See, Hear, Do website for letter learning inspiration!

Books · Uncategorized

Selecting Preschool Books

*Updated January 26, 2019

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The Logistics

I wanted to give a run down of how I go about selecting books for each of our Letter Units and provide all the book lists I regularly reference.

We are following The Peaceful Preschool, so of course I always use their book list to start with. They usually have 2-3 books for each Letter Unit.

Typically, two weeks before we start a new Letter Unit I begin reserving a number of additional books from the library that go beyond The Peaceful Preschool. These books are themed around a Letter of the Week. It may be just that the book I reserve is appropriate for that corresponding letter of the alphabet and I want a new fun book for us to read, or that I have a specific themed topic in mind that my kids might be interested in (e.g. C is for Camping).

I do not always directly connect letter unit books to activities: most are just for reading.

I initially reserve a LOT of books from the library but also immediately return a LOT!! It’s hard to really know if a book someone else recommends will be one I like or that I think will be age-appropriate for my kids until I actually have it in my hands. It’s also very rare that I will purchase a book without having seen it first from the library and read it with my kids to be sure they enjoy it.

Generally speaking, I tend to gravitate towards nature-inspired stories as well as living books. BUT, of course we do also go for a few look-and-find type books and other simple tv-character stories that might not be on anyone’s award-winning list. I have no problem with these books, but I do limit the amount of these types of books we have in the house to maybe 2-3 at a time.

So, with that in mind, here’s my list of go-to resources when I look for books.

The Peaceful Preschool

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The Peaceful Preschool Book List (free download on their website)

The books from this curriculum are almost all books that have stood the test of time. They’re classics for a reason. We just finished Letter R right now and there have only been one or two books from this curriculum so far that my kids did not really enjoy.

Honey For A Child’s Heart


Honey For A Child’s Heart is a book about books! It has an annotated list of books by age and topic that is absolutely incredible. I cannot say enough about how great this book is. I went through this once and pulled out book titles that might fit in with a specific letter-of-the-week theme, but also revisit it often to look for seasonal-related books.

Living Books

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Simply Charlotte Mason has an awesome list of Favorite Read Alouds for Ages 3-5 — many of these books crossover with The Peaceful Preschool curriculum, which is part of why I adore that curriculum so much.

What is a “living book”? — This idea was originated by Charlotte Mason. It basically means the story has a true narrative that is engaging and alive. There’s nothing “dry” about it. And it’s not dumbed-down or gimmicky. The best way for me to tell if a picture book is a living book is whether or not we can find a way to retell the story in a fun and engaging way, either through pretending to be the characters ourselves or building small worlds with toys or figurines. The story opens up imaginative possibilities rather than limits us.

A-Z Unit Book Lists

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I often reference the following lists to find books based on Letter Unit themes. For example, we took the “Make Way for Ducklings” unit from The Peaceful Preschool further by having an entire week of D is for Duck, so I found some other books to read on this topic by reviewing the following lists:

Reviewing these book lists in advance of a Letter Unit also helps me get an idea of what themes I might explore with my kids in upcoming weeks.

You can see all the books I use by Letter Unit by viewing each Letter Unit page individually.

Note that sometimes I get nature books that are *older* that where my kids are at but keep them for the pictures & general learning (these tend to be more science-driven than story-driven), and I also keep some that may skew *younger* than preschool because I have a 2 year old who still enjoys some board books.

Alphabet Books

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These are a few of my personal favorite whole-alphabet books:

Read Aloud Revival

Most of you are probably aware of these amazing book lists, but if not, here’s Read Aloud Revival‘s free book lists month-by-month. Sometimes I reference this to find books that might fit within our Letter-a-Week theme (and not just stick to whatever Month the book is in).

Sarah Mackenzie also recently published The Read Aloud Family, which is a wonderful read (even if you already consider yourself a read-aloud family), and includes a thoughtfully curated book list for different age groups at the end. This is worth owning!

Chapter Books

50 Chapter Books for Preschoolers — this is a great list for those of you delving in to chapter book territory for the first time.

The Read Aloud Family also has a great selection of chapter books for littles.

Our favorite chapter books right now are Winnie the Pooh, The Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, and Beatrix Potter.

Classic Tales

Fairytales By Age (this list comes from Beyond the Rainbow Bridge — an excellent and inspiring Waldorf education read!)

We absolutely love classic tales. Most of our favorites are the Paul Galdone versions.

Cynthia Rylant also has some great retellings of some classic Disney fairytales.

Another great option: Heather Forest Sing Me A Story

Story collections:

Eventually I would like to have a treasury of Grimm’s fairytales when my children are older, but not enough of those are age-appropriate at this point.

Nature Inspired Stories

love of nature books

This page has my LONG list of favorite nature-inspired books for children.

I’ve put together book lists for each of the following themes:

  • Nature Anatomy
  • Birds
  • Insects, Spiders, Worms
  • Camping
  • Pond Life
  • Trees
  • Food From the Wild
  • Woodland Fantasy
  • The Spirit of Adventuring
  • Celebrating the Four Seasons
  • Animals in Winter

Poetry

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I incorporated a poetry tea time in to our days awhile ago, and while we have rotated a few poetry books on and off from the library, the following are the ones that we own and regularly turn to:

Reference Style Books

I generally don’t like have too many reference-style books around because I prefer to just read stories. That said, there’s just a few books that I have really enjoyed owning to regularly explore together as we encounter a variety of topics. Occasionally my son will explore these on his own, but mostly it comes by way of my initiation.

The Latest Greatest Picture Books EVER

Like many of you, I do enjoy the newest publications out there, mainly because there are so many great books today that feature stories that broaden cultural horizons, help recognize privilege & grow empathy towards marginalized communities. Books like the following are ones that immediately come to mind:

To find recent publications I usually just pay attention on Instagram or literally Google “Best Picture Books of 2018” or something equivalent.

That’s Not Too Many Books, Right?!

I will say that my 4 year old LOVES books. He will get excited about any book I bring home. Every book we’ve read from The Peaceful Preschool he wants to re-read 3 times before doing any activities. And then he’ll want to read 3 more books when we’re done. My 2 year old is not the same. She may change her tune, but I suspect when I do The Peaceful Preschool with her, I will probably not get so many books at a time and rather focus on getting her to read enjoy the main 2-3 books from the curriculum.

My hope is that this blog post is a helpful resource to you, and know that I do not intend to overwhelm you or make you feel that you HAVE to get a ton of books at a time! Go with what works for you.

Happy reading!

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Uncategorized

Beginning Watercolor Resources

ABOUT

I started a Nature Journal last year and have opted to use watercolor & ink, but this is really something I have had to teach myself as I go. I remember doing some watercolor in high school but definitely have needed a refresher.

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NOTE: I have several of my nature journal resources listed on this post under the “Nature Journaling” section.

I found the following book on Amazon to gift to myself at the start of 2018. It’s a 30-day self-directed “course” on watercolor techniques. This book is wonderful!! It is concise and practical: from color theory to brush stroke techniques to composition … it has it all! Each lesson (“day”) takes only between 20-60 minutes. The book is meant to be done in 30 days but you could certainly pace yourself to go longer if doing 30 minutes of art every day for a month is not practical for you. And, obviously you can repeat and spend more days on any one of the lessons.

The author provides tips for supplies in her book, but I will also share below what I have been using to get you started.

THE BOOK

Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

Here are some examples of my exercises from the book:

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PAINT SETS

I have two personal watercolor sets: the first one is my favorite. It is a large set so it doesn’t require as much mixing. The second set listed below is born out of practicality: I needed a compact set I could easily travel with since the top set is quite large. For some of the exercises in the Beginning Watercolor book, I have used this compact set to practice color mixing.

Click on the images below to be taken to the product on Amazon

PAPER

I will say I think the Strathmore brand paper (yellow cover) listed below is better quality so I reserve that for when I have a true art piece I’m working on.

For going through the “Everyday Watercolor” book for 30 lessons I needed sheets of watercolor paper that I cared less about (but still decent quality because poor quality paper lends to poor quality results). So, I picked this Canson brand (blue cover). Many of the exercises in the book are just that: exercises. They are not meant to be final art pieces to be framed because the idea is that you are not worried about making the piece perfect—rather, that you are working on brush stroke and color mixing and composition. I’ve been happy using this Canson paper for the book exercises and will go to the Strathmore paper when I want to work on more of a true art piece.

Click on the images below to be taken to the product on Amazon

BRUSH SETS

Round brushes are key! I prefer the set listed here and use it the most often because they are smaller brushes. The watercolor tutorial book often suggests using a size 6 brush but personally I don’t like using anything bigger than a size 4 brush. It’s just preference. I do like having options, though, especially when playing around and learning new techniques!

Click on the image below to be taken to the product on Amazon

 ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • This notebook is what I use for my nature journal
  • I almost always use these pens for adding detail
  • For more nature journaling resources you can visit this post and find the “Nature Journaling” section!

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Uncategorized

Animals in Winter: Preschool Unit Resources

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Overview

For an Advent devotional this year my husband and I read All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss, which provides a lovely and meaningful glimpse into the natural world in winter. I also adore the book Nature All Year Long by Clare Walker Leslie — she spends January looking at animal adaptation & hibernation in winter. I have been wanting to explore some of these same themes with my kids, but December was naturally filled with LOTS of Christmas reading so I decided to wait until after Christmas to delve in to this.

I started prepping for January by doing a massive library book grab and then read and pared down the stack to what you’ll see listed below. I mainly want to just read books with my kids and learn about it in a playful way. In addition to reading books, here is my list of possible activities that we may or may not get to:

  • Find and match small animal figurines to 3-Part Cards
  • Sort 3-Part Cards: animals that hibernate vs. animals that adapt to winter
  • Animal track memory game
  • Make animal tracks in snow play dough
  • Build a cave out of blankets & pillows and add hibernating stuffed animals & animal figurines. Pretend to hibernate.
  • Build a small winter forest world out of play dough and natural materials — add animal figurines and play.
  • Hibernating animals puppet shows (I love puppet shows for building language and imaginations)
  • Hibernating animal crafts (probably using paper plates & paint with some cutting skills involved)
  • Build mini winter dens for animal figurines using toothpicks & mini marshmallows
  • Freeze hibernating animal figurines in ice cube tray. Use warm water + eye droppers to bring spring time and wake up the animals.

I’m sharing below what resources we’ll be using in January to explore this theme. We will also be exploring the Poles in January: the Arctic and Antarctica. My son gets little confused sometimes between a “winter animal” and an “arctic animal” so I think it will help to focus on these themes in January. We are embracing the COLD this month!

Free 3-Part Card Sets

If you click on the images below you will be taken to a PDF file of those 3-Part Card sets I created. I use all uppercase letters in my 3-Part Cards because I still have non-readers in my home.

If interested, I have an extensive post here on all the ways we use 3-Part Cards (with a preschooler in mind) and you can also find other free 3-Part Card sets I’ve created here.

HIBERNATION

Note that I’ve tried to mainly focus on animals we might see where we live in the Midwest (with some exceptions)–animals my kids are familiar with already. I included only insects that hibernate as adults (other insects hibernate as eggs or nymphs, and others migrate).

ADAPTATION

Obviously there are a lot more birds that adapt to winter, but I included a few of our favorites (and ones that are easily recognizable).

TRACKS

For simplicity sake, all the bird tracks are the same but I went ahead and made each one a card so they could be matched with the animal photo cards above. Obviously fish make no tracks so there is one empty spot!

See the end of this post for some more resources on animal tracks.

Books

The following is a book list for what I’ve gathered to read about animals in winter, focused on adaptation and hibernation.

I did not include migration books because that felt like an entirely new topic to me (though some of the books listed below do address migration a little bit–they may mention geese or butterflies or other birds). The few migration books I checked out from the library seem to deal with worldwide animal migrations (including whales, for example) and that felt like more than what I wanted to do with my kids. Those were also more information-driven and less story-driven. I think for the topic of migration we can just keep it simple and learn more experientially: my kids can notice what birds come to our bird feeder or other birds we see around in the woods, and then we can talk about how most birds we aren’t seeing fly south for winter.

So, with that said, here are books that we will be reading for winter animal adaptation and hibernation.

My Top 5 Favorite Books for Animals in Winter:
Over and Under the Snow (Kate Messner)

I like that this book has an easy to read & follow story that invites you to WONDER. It’s a magical picture of winer. It has vivid illustrations and also features a great set of winter animals. There is also some extra information in the back of the book for older readers.

Animals in Winter (Henrietta & Richard G. Van Gelder)

More informative but also an engaging read. This features a wide variety of animals. A great one for summarizing migration, hibernation, and different forms of adaptation.

Not A Buzz to Be Found: Insects in Winter (Linda Glaser)

I love that there’s a book focused solely on insects in winter!! The illustrations are wonderful. The story is informative but also engaging. This covers a wide variety of insects and is very clear about what phase the insect is in during winter (adult, egg, nymph, etc.) Very well done!

Secrets of Winter (Carron Brown & Georgina Tee)

This is a Shine-A-Light Book from Usborne, which we have had mixed results with. This one is probably my favorite. I like that the story can be read on its own, regardless of the use of a flashlight (but of course that is super fun!). There are also extra tid-bits of information that can either be read or left out depending on the interest level (and attention span) of your child. The illustrations in this are vivid and engaging.

The Big Snow (Berta & Elmer Hader)

An absurdly wonderful book from the ’80s! This feels a lot like reading Thornton Burgess but in a picture book format. The stories are well done, clearly inspire a love of the natural world, and each page is paired nicely with simple illustrations.

Additional Books on Animals in Winter:
A Warm Winter Tail (Carrie A. Pearson)

This puts the reader into the perspective of the animals: baby animals ask their mamas if humans do the same things they do to keep warm in the winter. The illustrations are wonderfully realistic. I’ll admit the reading can get a little choppy–it seems to have a rhythm but was a bit off for me. At the end of the book are several pages of more detailed educational material for older kids.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen)

POETRY! So great. There are twelve poems inspired by a variety of winter animals. The illustrations are gorgeous (as evidenced by the cover). There are also some extra blurbs of information on each page to read that are well written. I almost included this one as a Top 5–I love it!

Winter Dance (Marion Dane Bauer)

Perfect story for my kids’ age range (2-4) — and spot on in terms of addressing a variety of adaptations to winter. Lovely illustrations. New as of October 2017 and worth checking out if your library has it! A sweet story.

Tracks in the Snow (Wong Herbert Yee)

A fantastical story of a girl alone in the winter woods following a trail of footprints and wondering what the animals she normally might see are doing. A rhyming and easy-to-read story that’s not bogged down by too much science or information: just a fun trek in the winter woods!

When It Starts To Snow (Phillis Gershator)

Simple, rhyming verse with a bit of humor. This includes farm animals, not just woodland animals. The illustrations are not my favorite but the story is engaging so I kept it in our book pile.

Hibernation Station (Michelle Meadows)

This simple story just takes a fun spin on winter animals. It is not at all science-driven: there is no distinction in the story between animals that hibernate versus animals that adapt (some slow down but are not true hibernators)—though, the author does make a note of this fact at the end of the book. It’s a silly enough story to read with a light heart, though.

Bugs and Bugsicles (Amy S. Hansen)

Another book solely dedicated to insects in winter. I will say the text on these pages is way too long and detailed and information-driven to hold my kids’ attention. I kept this for just another book to look at since my kids do love bugs and there’s a couple of great spreads. I will also say that I wish more of the illustrations included depictions of winter and not just details of the various insects. In my opinion, the Not A Buzz to Be Found: Insects in Winter book does a better job on this topic. Older kids may appreciate the content in this one, though!

Winter Lullaby (Barbara Seuling)

A pretty simple lyrical read — nothing too elaborate. The page spreads are beautiful. Not a huge variety of animals depicted here but overall I appreciate its simplicity.

Mousekin’s Woodland Sleepers (Edna Miller)

I found this book from a Charlotte Mason “living books” list, and it is as wonderful as it seems. Great story to follow — covers animals that hibernate and animals that are active (the ones Mousekin should be careful to avoid). It’s an older publication, so I hope your library has it!

When Winter Comes (Nancy Van Laan)

Beautiful illustrations and just the right amount of text for a preschooler. This book includes plants, animals that migrate, and animals that stay and adapt. Story-driven and imaginative.

Time to Sleep (Denise Fleming)

The illustrations in this book are not my personal favorite. What I do love about this book: every animal featured is an animal that hibernates!! It can be confusing (for adults, even!) to distinguish between true winter hibernation and those animals that slow down but still remain active for parts of winter, so I really appreciate that this book just sticks to one thing: hibernation. An easy read that is great for kids who may not tolerate the length of some of the other books on this list.

The Animals’ Winter Sleep (Lynda Graham-Barber)

A nice easy-to-read story that doesn’t spend time distinguishing between hibernation and adaptation–it just invites the reader to imagine how animals might stay warm in winter. This book does a great job naming the various winter homes, e.g. den, cave, log, or lodge. In the back of the book is more detailed information and a page with animal tracks.

Winter Animal Tracks in the Snow

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Considering animals that adapt to winter naturally lends itself to a lesson on animal tracks. Again, I’m mainly focusing on learning this with my kids in a playful way. I created a wood craft coin memory game [DIY below] that we have already played several times. This gets the kids to focus on the shapes and patterns looking solely at a black-and-white images. Later we will pair the footprints with the printed animal cards and our animal figurines and also make tracks in snow play dough.

Learning Materials
These woodland animal footprint rocks are wonderful! I cannot say enough about them. We play with these in play dough all the time. They are a great size and sturdy, and the 3-dimensionality is perfect for hands-on learning. Great for little nature-lovers. There is a farm animal set as well.
Animal Track Books

Other Helpful Resources: Animals in Winter