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April | 2014 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: April 2014

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For Your Bookshelf: Poetry Month

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I know April is almost over and I have already done one of these posts this month, but I decided I wanted to share a couple poetry titles for National Poetry Month.


Poetry seems to be one of those polarizing genres, you either love it or hate it. Plus it can conjure up some bad memories from high school English class where you had to analyze every line of some terrible (or terribly boring poem). But poetry is a really great way to introduce language- and word-play to children.

They may not seem like it, but those Mother Goose nursery rhymes are a form of poetry. And the rhythm and rhyme in them help kids hear letter sounds, find new vocabulary, and give them a sense that language can be fun. Nursery rhymes are also easy to memorize for you and your child so you can say them at any time. I like to use them for emphasis when we go places or see things. (“Diddle Diddle Dumpling” when Cam only has on one shoe or “To Market, To Market” when we go to the grocery store.)

We don’t just do Mother Goose, though. We read “real” poetry (it’s all real, but these are poems you would find in high school English class) often found in poetry anthologies for children. I have an old vintage Childcraft anthology that has poetry from Carl Sandburg to Emily Dickinson to unknown poets, but there are many collections for kids. There are also authors who have written poems for children and compiled them. Poems that are evocative and beautiful the way you would expect “adult” poetry to be. These kinds of poems are really wonderful for teaching children how to make pictures in their minds when they read (or are read to), a really important skill that all good readers do without thinking about.

So put those thoughts of the tortured, angst-y poems you wrote in your youth and the boring ones you read in English aside and give some of these titles a try with your child.

Poetry for Children

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman- I was really blown away by this book when I first picked it up. Obviously the illustrations are wonderful, but the poems are too. The thing is, they’re essentially non-fiction poems. They teach you something about nighttime nature which struck me as both clever and a great way to connect a younger child with science.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies- I love that this one moves through the year. It also gives you a wonderful appreciation for the outside world. It is even better for young readers because the poems are fairly short and very evocative of seeing, feeling or experiencing nature. The large format is also great for putting on the floor and poring over.

Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs – Another book I was totally blown away by. In some ways it makes me sad that people who write poetry for children don’t seem to get the same praise as people who write poetry for adults. This one is also incredibly evocative of the ocean and the beach and the language in it is so beautiful. It really shows what language can do. The watercolor illustrations also really add to the wonder of the poems.

Firefly July: A Year of Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko- This is another one that moves you through the year. I love that many of these are either famous poems or famous poets but they are incredibly short. They are also relatable poems for kids.

Reflecting: 2014/6



Creating: I decided that I didn’t want to just buy Cam summer clothes. So I got a bunch of fabrics and some patterns and have been busily sewing away. So far she has three new dresses and soon there will be four new pants/tops sets. She also got a trio of friendly felt snails in her Easter basket. 🙂

Healing: We have been sick for three weeks or more. This cold just passed between family members and wouldn’t leave. Finally, finally we are on the mend and can breath through our noses and aren’t so tired.

Celebrating: Easter was a low-key affair. An egg hunt, brunch and a dinner with all the grandparents coming and going. After being sick it was the perfect event. Plus the weather was gorgeous.

Thrifting: We have been finding a lot of wonderful floor puzzles, games and wooden bowls for next to nothing at our local thrift shops. It’s so much better not to pay full price!

Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm

I’m kind of traditionalist when it comes to learning for myself. I want to read about the topic I’m curious about. Then I like to reflect and think about it and discuss it if possible, although the pool of people I can talk with about pedagogy, especially alternative pedagogy, is pretty small.

Reggio Reading ListWhen I first began reading about the Reggio Emilia approach to education I picked up Authentic Childhood (see my discussion of it here). I can’t really remember why I chose this particular text, but if I had to guess it was recommended somewhere and it was available to me. Next I read Project-Based Homeschooling. This one came up on several “Reggio must read” lists and was available from my public library. Finally this past week, I finished my first read through Working in the Reggio Way.

In retrospect, not only were these good books to use as an introduction to the Reggio approach, but the order I read them in was also really useful and appropriate. Authentic Childhood was an excellent introduction. It gave a good broad overview of the approach and its principles. It could be dense and theoretical at times, but personally I like the authority these kinds of texts have. I also think the way my mind works I prefer to have a solid understanding of the bigger picture of something like this before I jump into the details.

Project-Based Homeschooling (which I mention a bit here) did a really good job of bridging the gap between the theoretical and practical application. It was especially helpful to me for setting up our atelier and shaping my thinking about how Cam might approach using the materials. It also nudged me further from the Montessori ideas I was (and am, to some extent) still keeping on the back burner. It isn’t specifically Reggio, but you can see the underlying principles in it.

Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers is, obviously, specific to the Reggio approach. It has been wonderful for guiding my reflection, forcing me to take notes, and think deeply about everything from our space to documentation and observation. Although it’s called a guide, I think it acted more as a workbook, providing prompts and questions that will help you work toward using the Reggio principles. I have yet to decide how much of my notes from the book I want to share here. They’re so specific to us that I’m not sure they would be helpful to my readers, but when I’m done I may copy some over. I will note it is geared toward teachers, but I don’t think that mattered much. It was easy enough to understand everything in context of the home. In tandem Project-Based Homeschooling and Working in the Reggio Way will shape how you think of educating your child and will get you up and running.

Honestly, the order you read the last two titles in doesn’t matter much. I think Project-Based Homeschooling would be best if you want a quick start up guide to start with and then move on to the deeper reflection. If you have time and want to do the reflection first go with Working in the Reggio Way first.

I do still have a couple books in my Reggio to-read list. They include the classic tome The 100 Languages of Children and The Language of Art. When I get around to reading those I’ll be sure to either update here or, if they are worthwhile, I’ll write up a longer review.

For Your Bookshelf: Elsa Beskow

Beskow 1

When reading about Waldorf education and poking around on Waldorf toy sites I came across a very whimsical author. I had actually heard of Elsa Beskow before, but did not know how popular or how long she had been beloved. She was a Swedish children’s book author publishing from the turn of the century through the 1930s. Her stories, which can be hit or miss, tend to be gentle and quiet. But it’s her illustrations that really make her work shine.

We already own several of her books, but I decided to read as much of her work as I could from the library to get a sense of what she wrote and if it was worthwhile. Several of her books that were my favorites revolved around the changing seasons or a particular season.

One especially nice thing about all these books was how nicely they were bound. All hardback, which usually I don’t prefer, but with cloth spines in various colors. There are also small (4×6?) versions of many of the books that Cam finds enchanting. Unfortunately I was not able to read them all so I figured I would list my favorites of what I did read as a good introduction to her works.

Beskow 2

Our Favorites: Around the Year, The Flowers’ Festival, Christopher’s Harvest Time, Children of the Forest, The Land of Long Ago & The Sun Egg

See here for more information about Elsa Beskow and a selected list of her works in the order they were published.


Thinking About Easter Traditions

With Easter fast approaching I’ve begun thinking about what we want to do for Easter. As with Christmas I want to draw from our German ancestry for how to celebrate without using the traditions that have become too commercialized or too candy driven.

The week before Cam and I will dye about a dozen eggs (fresh from our chickens). Eventually I would love, love, love to do the Eastern European pysanky eggs, but that’s a bit beyond Cam’s abilities now so it will have to wait. I suppose every year we can try a new style of egg dying. This year I want to use things we have in the fridge and pantry, natural dyes. It should be interesting to experiment, especially since our eggs are brown, with the exception of our Easter egger chicken who lays green eggs, which may change how the colors turn out.

We’re going to have a brunch with all the grandparents and a little Easter egg hunt for the eggs. I’m also putting together a couple Easter baskets for her that have little puzzles, some handmade toys, fun odds and ends, and even a little candy. Unlike Santa Claus I am okay with the Easter Bunny or Easter Hare as he is German in origin. I also really want to use one of our small maple trees as an Easter egg tree, another amazing German tradition. See this Wikipedia article for more information.

Lilies Rabbits EggsThere are two books I have found useful in

learning about what our options are for Easter (and other holiday) traditions. Lilies, Rabbits, and Painted Eggs by Edna Barth is from a series that talks about the symbols and traditions around a variety of holidays. Unfortunately they are out of print but you can still find them used and in your local library.


All Year Round

The other is, I gather, a Waldorf classic, All Year Round by Anne Druitt. This one is especially helpful with thoughts and reflections, ideas for crafts and food, and information about the holidays and their origins. Traditions Banner

Reflection: 2014/5

Sunny DayListening: Elizabeth Mitchell has been on a lot of mornings in our house. I love that her songs aren’t too cutesy, as if she takes children very seriously.

Reading: To Cam, Easter books. For myself two very different things. The first is a book about using the Reggio method. The second was a beautifully written young adult novel about life, death, and ghosts called Sorrow’s Knot. It was simply gorgeous.

Visiting: Last week we took another trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I think if she had to decide now, Cam would become a marine biologist.

Watching: Our yard is turning all shades of green as everything sprouts and grows. The much needed spring storms have been coming through punctuated by warm sunny days and everything feels fresh and new. Watching the seasons change is so lovely.


Activity in the Hive: April 2014

Just a little update on what has been and will be going on around here. Our shelves are staying pretty much the same, although I have swapped out or added a few activities. As a side note, I’m going to start putting a list of links at the bottom of these posts to where you can get the toys and activities we’re using. I won’t earn any commission from these; I am not sponsored by any of these companies. It’s simply that, I frequently find myself looking at other blogs and thinking how Cam might love one of their toys only to find they don’t name it or provide any way of finding it. I don’t think everyone needs to provide links, but I find this incredibly frustrating so I’m going to.April Hive

  1. Cam has finally (finally!) discovered the Magnatiles and light table. She isn’t great at manipulating them, but I’m leaving them out so she is encouraged to come back to them again and again so she’ll build that dexterity. I will say, I think the Magnatiles are neat, but I wish the magnets were a little stronger in them. They tend to flop around and if you make any 3-D structures they can be pretty unstable. Grammy Barbara has a set of Magnaformers and those seem to be a little better. I might buy the small set to add, although I’m not sure the two will work together. If anyone happens to know, could you leave a comment?
  2. We are doing a fair amount of painting. Water color and tempra. I’m struggling a little with how to show her she can use the paints to represent things that she’s observed or is interested in without being pushy and telling her to do that. For now, we’re taking the Waldorf approach and are just painting large swaths of color.
  3. Last week I pulled out the Magnetic Mighty Mind. We have a set of travel Tangoes in the car that Cam’s been very interested in (although she hasn’t figured out how to make figures with them). Based on that I thought she might like something inside. I was right. This one was a huge hit. We have the regular Mighty Mind (I bought both sets for under $5 at the local Goodwill) but I thought that the magnetic tiles would be easier to use because they are thicker and stick to the tin. I also got out our pattern blocks, but the Melissa and Doug ones are awfully slippery so they’re more difficult to use.
  4. The scoot bike has suddenly captivated Cam. She’s even begun incorporating her imaginative play into riding it around the front yard. We’ve had this bike for ages. We found it on a flash sale site before Cam was born and jumped on the price. Now that it’s become something she wants to ride around it’s become apparent why bikes tend to be outdoor toys, it’s just so big in our small house. That’s fine with Cam. She would rather be outside anyway. 🙂 This particular one is nice because it can be two or three wheeled, the seat moves up and down and the middle bar can flip around to make it taller (or shorter). This has been a blessing for a tall girl.
  5. The water table came out! The weather has been consistently nice enough (despite what you might think about California weather). Cam will play with this for hours on end. I am not exaggerating. We bought ours at Costco. Best $40 we have spent on her.

One thing I have noticed in observing Cam over the last couple months is that the strict Montessori activities do not hold Cam’s attention and don’t draw her in. I think they look inviting and aesthetically pleasing sitting on a tray, but I have to pull it out to have her do one. And even then she’ll go through the motions once and move on. It seems that Cam likes activities where the lesson isn’t so isolated, but is much more organically worked into her play. For example, a tray with two pitchers and some water to pour between the two is not something she wants to do, but if it’s pouring water between containers in the water table she’ll spend hours doing it. To that end I’m making sure she has lots of opportunity to play and find her own skills and lessons. Which isn’t to say I’ve abandoned Montessori, just that they won’t feature prominently for a little while.

I am also planning on encouraging her to play a little more with some of the activities she hasn’t really noticed yet or has forgotten about, namely, the threading beads, the scale, our number cards and counters, her Duplos, and the musical instruments.

Toy links: