Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Top 10 Book Series Picks for New Readers October 16, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:20 am

I’ve found that looking for books for new readers can be a hit-or-miss process.  The “level number” on the front of a lot of books in the easy reader section may or may not really mean anything, as there is so much variation in what those level numbers designate.   A lot of books I randomly find in the easy reader section at our library seem designed to promote guessing based on clues from the pictures or memorizing “sight words” — which is not particularly helpful if you are teaching reading through phonics rules and phonograms.

Here are my top ten picks for easy-reader books that I have found helpful and engaging for my early readers who are learning via phonics:

1. Now I’m Reading books by Nora Gaydos: These sets of small books are great starter books (at level 1), and progress gradually.  At least in the first couple levels, the books start out with just a couple words on the first page, and build to longer sentences.

2. BOB Books: These popular little books are also great for kids just starting out — Though for some reason neither of my kids (who have learned to read so far) have really “clicked” with the first set as beginners.  I used sets 2 and 3 from the library with both Miss M and Mr. E, and I just got sets 4 and 5 from the library to use with Mr. E once we finish up a few other books we’ve checked out.

3. Flip-A-Word Books by Harriet Ziefert and Yukiko Kido: We found this fun word-family based set of books at the library.  They have bright/bold  illustrations and fun “cut outs” that reveal new related words.

4. My Phonics Readers (Various Authors, New Forest Press): This is another series we discovered at the library.  My favorite feature of this series is a box at the beginning with “difficult words” that appear in the book.  I love that they don’t call these “sight words”!   Mr. E has read several of these and I appreciate being able to review these tricky words before he begins reading.

5. Sounds Like Reading: This Series by Brian Cleary each focuses on a word family, sound or type of word.  Each two page spread first gives the focus words for that page individually, then the words appear in a sentence.  Many of the sentences are funny, which is appealing to my kids!

6. Wonder Books Phonics Series:  This is yet another series we discovered at the library. Each of these books focuses on an initial consonant, vowel sound or blend.  I don’t like this series quite as much because it mixes some surprisingly harder words in with words easy for beginners, but as a plus in their favor, each page has one short sentence in fairly large print.   Mr E gets easily overwhelmed with too many words on a page, even words that he already knows.

7. Get Ready-Get Set-Read series by Gina Erickson: We only have one book in this series so far (that we found at a used book store — our library doesn’t have these), but I like that they are phonics based with just a few challenging words.

8. I See Sam:  I recently wrote about this set of free printable books.  I love having a set of books I can print out when we run out of library books to read.  These seem somewhat repetitive to me, but Mr. E finds them funny!  I like that the books in this series we used so far focus on words like “that”, “who” and “what” — common words that are just a bit trickier than CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, and introduce new words and phonograms slowly and logically.

9. Dr. Maggie’s Phonics Readers: We own several of these phonics readers, but mostly the later ones in the series.   Mr. E hasn’t liked this series quite as well as some of our other series due to longer sentence length and more words on each page.  But I think they are a solid series for readers who are ready for them (and I haven’t seen the first books in the series, so they may have fewer words per page).

10. Reading A to Z decodable books. Reading A to Z is a pay-for-subscription site, but they offer a seven day free trial, and also have an annual “try it out” day for educators.  I’ve downloaded and printed several of their decodable books a few years and used them with both Miss M and Mr E.   I don’t think I would get enough out of the site to pay their annual subscription rate, but I do like this particular printable product.

Have you found other series of phonics-based readers that your new readers have enjoyed?

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesday!
Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


Collage Friday (on Sunday): Just another week… October 14, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:22 pm

I think I may have discovered a new axiom of homeschooling (at least for us, this week): If nothing else is planned for the day, school (or at least finishing school for the day) can and will expand to fill the time allowed for it.  On Monday/Wednesday/Friday when we had no specific afternoon plans, we really didn’t get everyone’s work done until mid to late afternoon.  On Tuesday and Thursday when we had someplace to be right after lunch (gymnastics class and our co-op, respectively)…low and behold, work was done quickly and efficiently.  I guess I need to find some better motivators for the days we don’t plan to leave the house…or better incentives to not get distracted.  🙂

Here are a few highlights of what we accomplished this week for school:

Miss M (Age 8, 3rd grade):

Math: It must be a record for us — we completed six lessons of RightStart C (#s 131-136).  Miss M loves fractions, but thinks pages of multiplication are the equivalent of a medieval torture device.  😉

Spelling:  We completed lesson 12 in Logic of English Essentials, with Miss M asking to test in the middle of the week, and we also started lesson 13.  I am really liking the Logic of English Spelling Journal.  This week I tried combining it with the spelling lists by phonogram I discovered on the LOE site.  On two occasions this week I copied a list from the site (-tch words and -kn words) and asked her to read the whole list and circle any words she did not know the meaning of.  Then I had her copy ten or so words in the spelling journal.  I think this was a good exercise for her.  My intention had been to do dictionary practice on Friday with the words she didn’t know from the two lists, but we didn’t quite get to that!

History: We’re finishing up with colonial America.  We finished Witch of Blackbird Pond as well as finally finishing Struggle for a Continent by the Maestros, and reading a few chapters of Sign of the Beaver.  Miss M has been reading “Fire by Night”, a historical fiction work from an out-of-print series of chapter books called “The American Adventure”.    We’re excited to move on to the Revolutionary War this coming week!

Science: Miss M read Ch. 4 in Sassafrass Science Zoology and learned about the desert habitat and animals through the assigned chapter and supplementary readings.  I want to to the lesson on Rocks and Minerals from BFSU with the kids, but I keep forgetting to get my act together and order rock and mineral sample sets.

Mr E (age 5.5, Kindergarten):

Math: We worked on the material in lessons 30-31 of RightStart B on Monday, and made it through lesson 35 by the end of the week.  We didn’t linger on most of these lessons, allowing time to also work on pages from Singapore 1A and Challenging Word Problems 1.  In an ideal world we would play more RS math games, but he likes the workbook style problems too, so it works out well for the mean time to do this.

Phonics/Spelling: Mr E read from “I See Sam” books and another series called “My Phonics Readers”.   He finished up lesson 2 of Logic of English Essentials (we’re not doing the grammar portion at all, just the spelling).   We also tried out Explode the Code book 3, since he seems to like workbook-based activities.

Handwriting:  Six weeks or so ago, Mr. E though that “A Reason for Handwriting Book A” looked too hard.  This week, he thought it looked too easy.  LOL!  He really wanted to jump right into copying verses, and copied two this week, as well as asking me to help him spell a variety of statements about God that he wanted to write out for himself.  And he asked to start learning cursive.  We’ll see how that goes!

History and Science:  Mr E listened to Sign of the Beaver, and the boys picked lots and lots of science-related library books to read this week about deserts and about space!

Mr. K (3.5, Preschool):

Mr K likes to listen in on most of what Mr. E is doing.  He also started asking me to “do math”, so we are having a special math time together most weeks while the two bigger kids are in their gymnastics class.  Having done math the “RightStart way” for a few years, it’s pretty easy to just wing it and start teaching him some of the basic concepts without even referring to the level A lessons.

All together…The kids watched some of the new complete School House Rock video I bought them.  That counts for grammar, math, science, history…right? 🙂  They also enjoyed three more episodes of the PBS show SciGirls!

And for the fun stuff:

1-2:  Lego Fun, including a boat inspired by last week’s trip to The Works.

3:  Look where I can scoot under! (Yes we have an old-style crib…we zip-tied the sides so that the drop-side is secure!).  🙂

4:  More leafy fun this week…though most of our leaves have blown away!

5-6: The kids made more Halloween crafts of their own inititative

7: Enjoying a new stack of library books!

8.  My handsome boys on co-op picture day.  Miss M didn’t really want to pose for me!

9. Painting a model canon from a kit

I hope you’ve had a good weekend and are ready to face another week! Tony left this morning for a short work trip, so I am brainstorming about how to keep the next few days fun and interesting!

Linking up with Collage Friday and the Weekly Wrap Up!

Homegrown Learners


Book Discoveries this Week: The Witch of Blackbird Pond October 12, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:05 pm

Miss M and I continued our reading in the Puritan era of New England with The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.  This Newberry-award winning book takes place in Connecticut in 1687.  Things seem to have relaxed just a bit in the Puritan colonies compared to the time we read about in our last bedtime read aloud, Puritan Adventure.

(I just looked back at my last Book Discoveries/Read Aloud Thursday post, and I think we finished that one about three weeks ago…so this was a long read — though there were a few nights we missed reading together!)

But like Puritan Adventure, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the story of an outsider who doesn’t quite fit in.  Kit grew up in Barbados, raised primarily by her grandfather.  After her grandfather’s death, Kit decides to travel to New England to live with the only family she has — an aunt and uncle she has never met.

Kit often feels out of place, and befriends others who feel out of place — including an old woman living alone near the pond.  Hannah, the so-called “witch” of blackbird pond is really not a witch at all.  She is, however, a Quaker — someone the townspeople dislike just as much apparently (and this difference of belief leads many people to let themselves think she must be a witch).  Kit subverts her uncle’s desires and continues a friendship with Hannah, while meanwhile she tries to maintain a respectable face with her family and in the town.  She teaches in the dame school, and is courted a wealthy young man in town.

There are themes of romantic love in this story (both for Kit and for her two cousins), and of course the battle Kit faces between her free-spirited upbringing and the “respectable” life she should be learning to lead in New England.

Early on in the book I wondered if this book would be a bit much for Miss M to follow (the love stories are a bit complicated, as well as some of of the political disagreements the townspeople have), but she kept telling me she was enjoying the story and wanted to know what would happen, so we pressed on.  This book was much easier to read aloud than Puritan Adventure, since Speare made very little attempt at period dialog in her book!

I’m glad we read this book, though I think we easily could have saved it for our next go-around with American history in three or four years — I think a middle-schooler would really enjoy this as an independent read.  And very likely Miss M will read it for herself anyway when we get to that point.  🙂

Totally not important — but I really like the cover image above…the copy of the book we have (purchased at a thrift store) has this cover.  Much uglier!

I didn’t really plan it this way, but we have been reading another book by Speare — Sign of the Beaver — simultaneously.  Sign of the Beaver is a much easier read-aloud to follow, and I’ve been reading it to all the kids.   We’re close to being finished with that one, but not quite…so I’ll save discussing that title for a future post.  🙂

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word!


Collage Friday: Two Field Trips and Fall Fun October 5, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:21 pm

I never got a weekly wrap-up written last week, though I did get a post up on Monday with a few photos of the previous week.  This felt like a very laid back week for us.

We took two field trips:

The kids and I went to the Como Zoo on Wednesday afternoon.  In looking at the weather forecast for the week I saw that Wednesday was going be one of the last nice, warm days for a while.  It was nearly 80 degrees…it might not get that warm again until Spring!  So, after completing a reasonable amount of school work in the morning, we headed to the zoo!  The Como Zoo is a small zoo about 25 minutes from our house (with a “suggested donation” rather than an entrance fee), making it a nice destination for a short afternoon trip. Madeline’s favorite is the giraffes, while the boys love the gorillas.

Today my mom came for an all day visit, and we headed to The Works, a science and engineering themed museum located about 20 minutes from our house.  Somehow in over five years of living in this area, we’ve never made it to the Works before.   Everyone had a blast — kids and grown-ups included.  🙂  Buying a membership was not much more than paying for admission for the six of us (well, really five since the baby is free!), so my mom bought us a membership! We can’t wait to go back to play, explore and create again.  The Works has monthly “homeschool days” with hour-long classes, so we’ll try to hit some of those in the next year as well.   The Works seems like a great fit for our family — not as overwhelming as the Science Museum.  We could easily feel like an afternoon “after school” trip there would be worthwhile — you definitely don’t have to spend the whole day to enjoy it!

Here are a few highlights of the rest of our week:

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of our actual “school work” this week.  🙂  I shooed the kids out the door as often as possible Monday through Wednesday to take advantage of the beautiful warm weather.  The kids raked a big pile of leaves for the sole purpose of jumping in it.  After windy and cold weather yesterday and today, there is no longer any pile of leaves!

The kids also started on fall/Halloween themed crafts and coloring.  I let Miss M browse Pinterest for craft ideas, and she got to work on cats, ghosts, pumpkins and more.

We also enjoyed many fall treats this week.  Homemade apple sauce and homemade pumpkin spice lattes/steamers are in the collage above.  I also made apple butter bread/muffins and pumpkin cinnamon rolls.  Yum!

On Thursday afternoon (a blustery and cold day!), I popped popcorn, warmed up some chocolate milk, and called the kids to the table to start a new read-aloud — Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.  Mr. K wandered away after about 30 minutes, but Mr. E and Miss M begged for more and more and more.  🙂  Since we really had nothing else planned, I read to them for about 90 minutes straight (half the book!).   Needless to say this read-aloud is a hit.   I just noticed there is a movie of it available free on Amazon Prime Streaming.  Let me know how it is if you’ve seen it!

I love how history comes alive to the kids as we read living books.  I really like The American Story series of picture books by the Maestros. We’re currently reading The Struggle for a Continent about the French and Indian Wars.  Well, I actually finished reading it to the boys (they loved all the fighting in it!), and am about half way through reading it to Miss M.  She could definitely read it herself if she wanted to, but asked me to read it to her.  It’s a bit hard to see, but the picture drawn on large paper near the bottom of the collage is a drawing the Mr E. made of of a battle from the book!

We did a lot of the other “usual” subjects this week too, though I didn’t take pictures of most of them!  In spelling, Miss M took a week and a half on Logic of English essentials lesson 11 (-augh is a pesky phonogram that took extra practice!), and I started LoE lessons with Mr. E as well, who breezed through lesson 1 and is now part way through lesson 2.

We’ve played a lot of math games the last two weeks, and we’re making progress through our Right Start lessons.  In the past two weeks, Miss M completed lessons 124-130 of RightStart C (the end is in sight! Maybe we’ll finish up at the end of this month or possibly early November!).  In that same time period Mr. completed lessons 24-31 of Right Start B (though he still needs a bit more practice on some of the place value concepts in lessons 30-31).  That kid just cannot get enough math.  He begged to do math even last Saturday — and weekends are generally not “school days” for us!

In order to satisfy Mr. E’s appetite for math and possibly slow down our progress through Right Start B just a bit, I ordered Singapore Math 1A and Challenging Word Problems 1.  Some of this stuff is quite easy for him, but he find it fun. He loves “problems with a story” and math pages he can do on his own.  I am hoping that after my reading him some of the directions on the 1A workbook pages, he will be able to do the pages somewhat on his own for fun and practice — and having this book will keep me from having to print out new pages of some sort each day to fill his math desire after our time for working together is over.  I think if I had the time, he would sit with me and do math for an hour a day!

Have a wonderful weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday and the Weekly Wrap-Up!

Homegrown Learners


Resource Discoveries: Spelling City and “I See Sam” Readers October 2, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum,Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:18 pm
Tags: ,

Today I wanted to highlight a couple of free resources that have been very helpful to us recently!

First for Miss M, my steadily-improving-speller:

We’ve used Spelling City off and on for the past couple years.  It’s a great website, and you can add your own spelling lists for your student to practice or play games with their words. But I we are super excited that Spelling City now has a free iPad app as well.  That’s just an easier way to use this resource.   I’ve entered our Logic of English Essentials spelling lists so far, and plan to keep doing this as we go along (search for me under username aragon95 if you are also a LOE user and want to use the lists too!).  Miss M likes playing “Hang Mouse” and doing word searches.  I’ve also used their “spelling test” feature for a painless end-of-lesson assessment.   The app won’t give away the correct answer if she is struggling (something that I have, uh, been known to do in the past).  And it is very patient.  🙂

Then for Mr. E, my new reader:

I think especially for those of us teaching reading primarily via phonics (and using as few “sight words” as possible), it can be challenging to find appropriate easy reader books.  We’ve read a lot of BOB books, we have some Nora Gaydos readers, and I’ve found some books that work okay at the library, but Mr. E still needs lots of practice to develop fluency in this beginning stage, so we need more books! I have more on the way that I’ve requested from the library, but I also stumbled upon the I See Sam readers:

Aren’t the characters cute?  This set of readers was developed in 1972, but because of the type of government funding that was used they entered the public domain in 1977.

There are 52 short books in the set.   If you are teaching reading via phonics, you only have to introduce a few phonograms beyond the basic single-letter phonograms to have them make sense (ee, th, and wh are the three main ones I’ve seen so far, plus letters doubled at the end of single syllable short vowel words — ll, ff, ss). The level of difficulty increases very, very slowly and there aren’t too many words on each page — features I really appreciate!

Scans of the original books are available here.   Another website,, has re-formatted the books nicely and even created interactive flash animations/readings to go along with about the first half of the books.  We’re using the printable versions from this site.  It is a bit tricky to navigate and you have to create a free account to access the printable books, but I think it was worth it! (Once you create your account, select “levels”, then after you find the level you want, you can click “parents/teachers” to find the printable books for that level…at least that’s how I got there!).

Since Erik does have some reading experience, I started him out at book 18 (a bit of a random choice — easy enough to build fluency but far enough along to not be too boring).  He loves it so far and has read about five books.

The only downside is, of course, if you want your reader to be holding these books in his/her hands while reading, you’ll have to print them out.  I have a laser printer and the black-and-white pages are pretty sparse in terms of ink use.  The formatting of the books does not lend itself to duplexing, so we’ll use a big stack of paper to print these.  But compared to buying new sets of Bob or Nora Gaydos readers, I am pretty sure we are still coming out ahead.  I think it would be possible to read these on an iPad or other tablet/e-reader type of device, but I am not sure Mr. E would like that as much so we haven’t tried that yet.

Some (or maybe most) easy reader books can be a bit lame due to the limited vocabulary.  In one sense these are just as bad if not worse than others I’ve seen in regards to this measure.  But my five year old and his shadow (aka, Mr K, age 3.5) both think they are hilarious, so no worries about lameness from their target audience I guess!

Have you found any other printable phonics-based easy readers you like? Are there any other great spelling websites we should try?


Happy October! Happy Fall! October 1, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:33 pm

I just finished up another one of my quarterly freelance editing deadlines tonight.  Consequently, the blog has been a little bit neglected again these past couple weeks.

Besides my cramming in as much editing time as possible during the last two weeks, we’ve been busy in the past week or so…

Enjoying beautiful fall weather:

Reading books I really hope I find some time to write about at some point:

Picking apples:

Playing games:

Dressing up:

Looking cute (Baby J turned 11 months old this past weekend!):

Coloring and Creating:



Learning (These are sundials!):

With any luck I’ll find some time to write a “real” week in review at the end of this week…and maybe a few other posts too.  🙂