PARENTING, TRAVEL, AND LITTLE JOYS
I am, like, NOT a homeschool mom. But now, I am! The Reluctant Homeschooler's Academy for Mildly Adequate Learning has been open for 53 days, and we finally have a routine and a lot fewer tears on all sides.
These are our favorite books for 4-year-old homeschooling so far. To get selected for this list, the book has to be applicable to multiple days of our curriculum, be bearable for me to read multiple times, be interesting for the kiddo, and be either factually educational or a great and engaging story.
1. The Cat in the Hat Learning Library.
This is the gift that keeps on giving. Other than teaching us that ostriches live in Australia (which they super don't), this series has been fun to read, full of interesting facts, and applicable to almost everything we wanted to study and learn. Animals, insects, space, dinosaurs, the human body, health, food, pets, marine life, birds... it's seriously great. It's a fun mix of basic info, science terminology and facts, and Dr. Seuss-style rhymes. We have matched these to walks outdoors, to crafts, to science experiments, to toys, to art projects, and to other books, and we've read them on their own over and over. The price seems high, but you get 20 books and you will get a LOT of use out of them.
2. Where the Sidewalk Ends
Reading poetry with kids can be so fun, and it can also help them to internalize rhyme, rhythm, and any number of literary and rhetorical devices. You can sing these poems, clap the rhythms, act them out, draw pictures about them, find words that rhyme, or act them out.
Single poems from the book make fun supplements to lessons about body parts, hygiene, travel, animals, feelings, friendships, and any numbers of other curricula. You can easily photocopy a page and have kids write on it, circle or underline certain parts of speech, find rhymes, or color the black and white pictures. Or, just read it and have fun - it's actually a good read for adults too.
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: a Pop-up Adaptation
This is a BEAUTIFUL book. It's a book to read together. It's a book for getting kids to love books and stories and art and magical things. These books are more durable than you might expect, but they could still be ripped if they're not handled carefully.
We have been snuggling up with these pop-up books to enjoy the stories, but this is a great supplement to other lessons since it's such a classic story. (Plus you can get the audiobook and lots of supplementary worksheets, coloring sheets, and exercises online for free since it's in the public domain.) Learning about fiction, poetry, fairy tales, or characters? Wanting to celebrate an un-birthday or have a silly day? You can pin any lessons in reading, writing, coloring, or drawing to an Alice in Wonderland theme.
4. Grasshopper on the Road
This is an "I CAN READ" Book (level 2), with simple words and short stories. But guys. It's also one of the best books I've ever read.
It's not heavy-handed in morals, but the grasshopper encounters some real characters, and he continues on his journey and sticks to his values as he engages with them in interesting ways. We can always count on Arnold Lobel for books that are sweet and charming without being saccharine, and this is another one.
5. Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses
I thought this would be kind of a lame supplement to our learning about insects, but I was wrong. My son LOVED this book, and has gone back to it again and again to engage with it in different ways. My only (very small) complaint is that it seems to describe spiders, slugs, and other creepy-crawlies as "bugs" (which, of course, they aren't). BUT. The illustrations are beautiful and the poems are a rare combination of fun, mature, and silly. They are packed with interesting words and lots of onomatopoeia and action. They can stand alone or be read as a book. For a lesson on poetry or insects, they are a no-brainer. But this is also great for just a fun book for a rainy afternoon.
6. The Wonderful Weather Collector's Set
This set includes 6 short, easy-to-read books on topics such as snow and rain. It is SO HARD to find books that are at a beginner level (pre-school), that have charming illustrations and are fun to read, but include scientific facts. THIS BOOKS ARE THEM.
An example two-page spread includes drawings of different snowflake shapes and says "Each snowflake has six sides. They come twirling to the earth in a billion different shapes."
This affordable set is easy to read and gives quick facts. It's easy to build on these in a number of ways. For example, you could cut paper snowflakes, draw rainbows, learn about seasons, answer questions about snow, or write a story about the sun. This set is a bargain.
7. A is for Art
This is one of the more expensive solo books on the list, as it's only available in hardcover. BUT this book is worth it. I wrongly assumed from a glance at the cover that this was going to be a slapped-together collection of photos of artworks. (Why are so many kids' books about art so bad?!) Nope!
This book has the BEST descriptions of each artwork, packed with interesting words that start with each letter. For example, the page about C says:
"Countless colorful candied consciously collected, crammed, crushed, and confined crowd a clear circular container filled to capacity."
The artworks pictured were made by the author for this book. We can see why he's won the Caldecott Honor before. If it ends up inspiring you and your kid to make collages, sculptures, and paintings? Great. If it has you collecting items that start with the same letter? Cool. If you look up what all the words mean? Fun. If you just read it and read it over and over (which is all we've done so far)? Still good.
I think once you were done with it (if that ever happened), you could frame some of the pages for a cool room decoration or gift (spelling out a child's initials, for example), since each large page features one letter.
8. The Edible Pyramid: Good Eating Every Day
Let me start by saying that this isn't a good book (in my opinion). It uses the outdated food pyramid, it has no story, it's kind of awkward to read, and it spends the whole book just listing different kinds of foods and then quickly and confusingly jumps to how to portion them and combine them in the last two pages. It's a total missed opportunity and doesn't take advantage at all of the silly animals in the pictures or the restaurant setting. It's super weird, and not in a good way.
Then why is it on the list? Two main reasons. One, my son inexplicably loves it and reads it on his own all the time. He has learned lots of new foods and words from it, and I've been able to use it to get him to try a number of new foods that he wouldn't try before. That alone would get it on the list.
The second reason is that we've actually been able to use it in lots of activities. Sorting foods by food group in our kitchen, looking for foods for each letter of the alphabet, sorting play food, talking about what different types of animals eat, and drawing fruits and vegetables have been some of the activities where this book came back out. There's just something about the style of the book that lends itself to use in homeschool activities and engages my kid. Maybe it's a good book after all!
9. If You're Happy and You Know It
This version of the classic song is beautifully illustrated and features characters and scenes from around the world, including teaching how to say hello in a number of different languages. It is a great entry to learning about other languages and cultures around the globe, to talking about emotions, to getting moving and signing, and to an easy tune that can be easily adapted and changed to other words and themes.
10. Pizza Pat
We have read Pizza Pat SO many times. So many. Our copy doesn't have a cover anymore, and the pages are soft and leathery from being turned hundreds and maybe thousands of times. It still isn't annoying, which is saying a lot. The rhythm and rhyme are fun, it has some cute surprises, and it's a great tool for practicing everything from making a paper pizza to writing a recipe to rhyming words to adjectives.
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