Our Favorite Poetry Books

I had a guest post today over at I Can Teach My Child about memorizing poetry with young children, and Lori asked a great question:

Besides the poems you listed above, do you recommend a certain book of poems or resource to find good ones for kids to read?

Lori, my first recommendation would be to go to that shelf of children’s poetry at your library (ask the librarian where it is, or look up Shel Silverstein, that should be the right section). Just browse around and check out the ones that look best to you. After trying 5-10 books, you and your children might have a favorite you want to buy.

Here are the favorites at our house:

1. Treasury of Poetry and Rhymes, Paragon Publishing. I love this one because it works from babies up to, I don’t know, age ten? A long time. It has everything from “Hey Diddle, Diddle” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”  to “The Owl and The Pussycat” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” It’s also cheap.  ($3 at Amazon, probably under $5 at a local bookstore if they have it.)

2. A Child’s First Book of Poems, pictures by Cyndy Szekeres.  This has beautiful illustrations and classic children’s poems like “The Puffin” and “Who Has Seen the Wind?” Amazon has inexpensive used copies, but it’s probably not more than $10 at a bookstore.

3. A Child’s Garden of Verses, compiled by Cooper Edens – This edition has gorgeous vintage illustrations that I LOVE. My kids like it okay, but only sit well for a couple of poems at a time. They tend to like the short humorous poems of the above book better. (They are ages 6 and 8. Maybe they’ll like it better as they get older?) I have used a few of his shorter poems for memorizing, like “The Swing,” “Rain,” and “The Cow.” This is a lovely book, but if money is tight, probably not the one to start with. (Hardcover on Amazon was about $15.)

4. One Hundred Best Poems, compiled by Marjorie Barrows. This  has wonderful, fanciful poems, but is an antique book, so it’s expensive. (Right now, there’s one copy on Amazon for $10, which is a steal, but if that one disappears, the next is over $30.)  Or keep your eyes out at used book stores. Our favorites are “A Fairy Went a-Marketing” and “Norse Lullaby.”  It makes you think of how childhood used to be. Lovely.

I like sometimes to read a poem at a meal so we can talk about it, especially a poem that fits the day, like one about Jack Frost on a frosty day, or one about mist on a foggy afternoon. So cozy!

Enjoy exploring these delightful poems with your children!

P.S. There is one other resource I want to mention–Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization by The Institute For Excellence in Writing. (Yes, what a mouthful!) The book is expensive ($65) and I haven’t personally used it, but I LOVE Andrew Pudewa’s talk on this topic. I’m mentioning it because if you have a chance to enter a giveaway for this book, DO IT. Andrew Pudewa often speaks at homeschool conventions, so if you have the chance to hear him speak on this topic or buy a CD of his talk (probably about $6), it will get you excited about why and how to memorize poetry with young children.

10 Second Autumn Leaf Bouquet

Do you ever gaze awestruck at the autumn leaves and have to
convince yourself they’re real? Maybe we’re all dreaming.

Sometimes in November I don’t understand how we aren’t all
lining up our lawn chairs in the driveway to watch the glorious show—the honeyed drops tumbling on the wind, the scarlet embers drifting down.

Here’s my attempt to capture a few sparks of their splendor, if only for a day.

1. Collect the best leaves you can find, the ones that make your heart skip a beat, as you walk down the street with your children.

Arrange them artfully in your fingers as you go, so as to be delightful.




2. When the time comes that you must go inside, wrap the stems with Scotch tape to hold them together.







3.Plunk them into a glass jar, vase, jelly jar or
anything you find. I added water in an attempt to slow the withering, but I don’t know if it will help.

4. Sigh in rapture every time you enter the room.


Note: I expect these will be withering by morning, but they are still nice and colorful as they dry.

This might be a project I give to the children on Thanksgiving morning to decorate up the house, if there are any leaves left by then. It’s a perfect project for a child—they can spend hours collecting their most special leaves, and the only adult help they will need is possibly to help them wrap the tape around the stems.

P.S. I have to just tell you the lovely green grass in the above picture is our neighbor’s. Ours is a nice crunchy brown.  Theirs is much more photogenic.


5 Simple Ways to Teach Children About Government on Election Day

Tuesday is election day, of course, and we’ll probably all be heading out to the polls with children in tow, to stand in long lines with whiny kids and try not to be jealous of all the other moms whose kids are in school and who get to stand in line all by their own selves.

But wait! This is actually a fabulous opportunity to teach our kids about government.

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Let our children feel the excitement. The whole nation is buzzing with anticipation—yard signs, bumper stickers, endless news coverage. My son is really into the election due to his co-op government class, so he’s always on the lookout for bumper stickers. We can point those out and ask them who they think will win.
  2. Answer their questions. Lack of questions is rarely a problem at our house. Friday mornings I usually go on an early morning run to McDonald’s before we head off to co-op, and this week I let my eight-year-old son come with me against my better judgment, only after he promised to be very quiet because Mommy just woke up and she really wanted some quiet alone time.
    “Promise?” I asked him.
    “Oh, yes! I’ll be super quiet!”
    We got in the car. I turned on the radio. It was a piece about Romney giving a campaign speech. Approximately three seconds in…
    “What’s Medicare?”
    I tried to explain in one sentence. Three second pause.
    “What’s health insurance?”
    I tried to explain briefly.
    I turned the radio back up. Three second pause.
    “What’s Obamacare?”
    I sighed, gave up, and turned the radio off. We had a nice fifteen-minute discussion about health insurance and government regulation.How do we help the poor and weak like Jesus commanded, and what is government’s role and what is personal responsibility?Not really what I was hoping for on that drive, but I realized it was that teachable moment. That’s when my son was listening.This is real life. This isn’t government in a textbook—it’s real, messy, interesting and our kids want to understand.My six-year-old daughter is asking much more basic questions, but I still try to take her questions seriously and help her understand the vocabulary she can at this age.
  3. Lay out the bait. If your kids don’t ask such copious questions, here’s one way to get them to ask more (but be careful what you wish for).

    Just use some word in a sentence, like they already know what it is. Mine almost always take the bait.

    I’ll say to my six-year-old daughter, “We need to get in the car to go to the polling place.” She’ll put on her shoes, mulling this over in her head for a while, then within a minute usually asks, “What’s a polling place?” (See some of the vocabulary in my top graphic for ideas on words to explain.)

  4. Color a map. I printed out this CNN map this weekend and we discussed it. Actually, I had my son look at it while my husband and I tried to guess the swing states at dinner (my husband won), and then which of them had the most electoral votes (he won again). My whole point was to have fun, let the kids see us discussing the election, and understand that this is important. They did actually learn something though.

    I printed out this plain map for the kids to color in as we watch the election results.Both of those maps help explain the number of electoral votes in each state.I’m planning to make popcorn and let them watch the election results for a while, though we might have to go to bed before it’s all over, so we will probably have to finish in the morning.

  5. Keep the right attitude. They learn more from what we say than what we do.
    • Pray – God is in control of the whole thing. He guides leader’s hearts as he guides a river. He is sovereign. We can pray for our nation, our leaders, wisdom and grace.
    • Serve others – we can go to the long lines at the polling place looking for ways to serve and be a blessing. I’ll probably pack a backpack with books, flag coloring page, and snacks just in case. I’ll try to remind the kids in the car and pray with them about how to act—being quiet and thoughtful of others, kind and respectful. I’ll try to encourage them to hold doors, pick up things people might drop, smile and answer grown-ups nicely and politely. Not that that will all happen, but we’ll do our best.
    • Be thankful. I will try my best to be careful not to grumble, but remind my kids what a privilege it is to vote and how thankful we are to live in a free country. When the winner is declared, even if it’s not my choice, I can rest knowing God is in control and I can pray for that man.
    • Celebrate afterwards. I saw a sign that our McDonald’s is giving out free coffee and pie on election day. Woohoo! In 2008 Starbucks gave out free coffee. There’s bound to be something fun going on in your neck of the woods. After you all survive voting, you can sit around and have some good old apple pie (and for us gluten-free people, we can have some yummy apples) and talk about America.

These are the moments our children are learning from our lives. These are the real issues. And it’s so much more interesting to learn about our government this way than to just read about it.

Remember, if your children were in school they wouldn’t be with you on Tuesday. They wouldn’t be seeing this with their own eyes. (But if your kids are in school and you’re reading this, you could always go after school is out.)

What a privilege!

Tina at Being Made New has a review and giveaway of my book this week – you can enter to win (and give it away as a Christmas gift if you’ve already read it!).   Enter the Giveaway  >


Quiet Places

Do your children have trouble focusing? Sometimes my kids will get distracted by conversations in the other room.

One very effective strategy we’ve found is to simply find a quiet place for them. When we’re upstairs in the schoolroom, my son will often go to the guest bedroom upstairs and work there. If he’s still getting distracted by us, we’ll shut the doors to both rooms. (And to be fair to him, it’s hard not to be distracted when your little brother is running across the room and doing flips into a beanbag chair.)

My daughter will sometimes go out into the hall into a little green chair to study her Awana verses away from us.

Things that typically make a good quiet place:

Nearby me, but in another room. This way I can check on progress every fifteen minutes or so.

Away from any toys. For this reason, sending my kids to their rooms would not work.


Away from distractions (like windows). If we are in the kitchen and I have my son go to the dining room, I face him away from the window. Fewer squirrels to watch.

I heard of a kid that did some schoolwork in the bathroom—very few distractions! My kids will sometimes work in the hallway outside the bathroom while I give my toddler a bath.

Other ideas we have not done, but could be used to minimize distractions:

  • White noise machine (or fan) to block out sounds
  • Ear plugs or headphones to block out sounds
  • Tri-fold posterboard thing like you’d use for a science project to put around their work area to cut down on visual distractions
  • Sticky notes over the other areas on the page they haven’t gotten to yet (to help them focus on the problems they are on)

Other great ideas for highly distractible children can be found at: http://www.westfieldacademy.org/adhd/ (This is Carol Barnier’s SizzleBop information.)

What quiet places work well for your kids? Or can they actually concentrate with everyone in the same room together?

Family Song: Ten Commandments Song

Many days our house rings with laughter. Other days it is filled with tears. Some days are crazy busy, and some are spent cozily at home. But almost every night before bed, we all gather in my daughter’s room and sing Family Song.

Some nights my husband and I have to interrupt the singing to tell someone to stop jumping off the bunk bed ladder (again). We usually have to tell someone to put away the LEGOs (again). It’s unbelieveable how often we have to make people stop glaring at each other.

You’d think we would have this figured out by now. You’d think the kids would sit down, sweetly hold hands and obediently sing the song. Usually it’s not quite that neat and tidy.

Nevertheless, we do it. Every night. When my husband is out of town traveling, we call him for Family Song. If I am sick, they all come pile (gently) into bed with me. We’ve missed maybe a handful of times over the past three years.

I love this simple tradition. My parents divorced when I was in junior high (remember, the book is fiction, and the parents in the book were made up), so we had very few (pleasant) family traditions.

This simple act is important to me. We are a family.

Every night, no matter who yelled at whom that day, no matter who cried, no matter what has happened, before bed we come together and sing as a family.

If my children remember nothing else from their childhoods, I want them to know that through all the storms of life there are some contstants. Every night the sun sets. And every night, we gather together as a family and sing praise to our God for that day.

Usually we do hymns, and it’s about time we change to one, but for the last three months or so this has been our Family Song.

The Ten Commandments Song
(I can’t seem to find a decent version of the tune online–we learned it from the Classical Conversations CDs.)

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Not make unto thee any graven image.
Not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,
Honor thy Father and Mother that thy days may be long upon the land the Lord Thy God giveth thee.

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.
Thou shalt not kill.
Not commit adultery.
Not steal.
Not bear false witness, against thy neighbor.
Not covet.

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.


Of course we all are familiar with the ten commandments, but I find that those basic commands have really reminded my heart of God’s standards. Am I setting God’s day apart and keeping it holy? Am I honoring God first in my heart? Am I being thankful for my blessings or coveting the lives other mothers have?

What simple family traditions do you have?


If Mama Ain’t Happy . . .

Not a Danish fjord, but fjord nonetheless. (From my optimistically titled book, Iceland: The Warm Country of the North.)

Last Thursday afternoon was one of my babysitter afternoons, during which my three darling children go to a babysitter’s house for a few hours and I do … whatever I want.

It took me a while to figure out what I even wanted to do. I had that odd sluggish feeling hovering about.

You know how when you have postpartum depression it feels like an enormous gray cat is sitting on your brain? And you feel overwhelmed with life, and can’t even think of what the next thing to do would be, but you know you don’t have the energy to do it? And the least little thing makes you burst into tears?

That’s how I feel by the end of the homeschool week. It’s a passing cloud, not a lingering blackness, but I usually do seem to be in a bit of a fog by the end of the week.

I am so worn out from the constant demands for my time and attention (and food, always food), from breaking up fights, and for having to make sure everyone gets their
school done that I really look forward to some alone time. (I am an introvert,
so I get recharged by time alone; you might enjoy time with a friend more.)

I tried to go home and be productive this past Thursday afternoon, sorting through the kids’ outgrown clothes, boxing up summer clothes, vacuuming up the ten pounds of debris on my living room carpet. But when the vacuum cleaner started making strange sounds and not working properly, and this caused me to almost burst into tears, I knew it was time for an intervention.

I made myself go to the YMCA.

And, oh, it was glorious. I didn’t have to settle any fights in the car on the way over. I didn’t have even one single child to shepherd into the children’s area. I got to run on the treadmill. The treadmills have TVs with cable, so I got to watch House Hunters International about a sweet American couple trying to find a house on a fjord in Denmark.

It made me exceedingly happy.

Sometimes it seems like a luxury, doesn’t it? To take time for ourselves?

But the alternative, with me at least, is to keep going, chugging along getting grumpier and grumpier at “all the work I have to do,” even though I know it wouldn’t be spiritual to admit it, and then I get crankier and crankier at all the people around me.

“You want a piece of cheese? Didn’t I just feed you, like, four hours ago?” Sigh.

My kids spill milk. I grit my teeth and try not to be mad.

They fight. I gripe at them to be nice.

I’m not saying there’s ever an excuse for me acting that way. I should pray, and I do. I should read my Bible in the mornings, and I do (some days).

But sometimes, it really helps to go for a run.

Those endorphins helped lift my cloud. I could see sunshine again.

I was able to think and analyze some of the changes I needed to make in our lives. I suddenly had all kinds of plans for the next few weeks, most of which taking time to slow down, stay home (and off the computer), and make things in the Crock Pot.

(I was also inspired by the couple on my treadmill TV who were moving from California to experience the slower pace of life in Denmark with their two young girls. I want that for my kids.  I was yearning to nestle us all down by a Danish Fjord (with no TVs and maybe limited electricity), but since my husband and children are rather attached to Oklahoma, we’ll have to be content here.)

I’m not saying any of us “deserve” time to ourselves, or that it’s a requirement to be happy. Amy Carmichael chose to be joyful during persistent health problems. Corrie Ten Boom chose to be thankful in a Nazi prison camp. Many women have much harder situations in life than I do.

I do think it makes sense, though, when it is feasible in my own situation, to do those things that make me a stronger, better wife and mother.

When I picked up my kids that evening, after a nice run and a healthy dinner, I felt refueled. I was happy to see them. I was glad to get to go home and be their Mommy again. I was glad to see my husband when he came home, and I had energy to talk with him.

Life can be stressful and exhausting.  But when we choose to make time to do something that makes us happy, to renew and refresh, I think we are stronger and more
joyful women for our families.

What makes you happy? How do you make time to do it? Do you feel guilty for doing it? 


Ridiculously Simple Autumn Leaf Art

Autumn Leaf Watercolors

Step 1: Have your children collect interesting and colorful leaves on a walk or while in the backyard.

Step 2: Give them paper and watercolors. They trace a leaf on the paper, then fill in with watercolors however they want.

If they get carried away and just start painting the paper with color, fine. It’s really about them interacting with the colors and lines and making art that is beautiful to them.
I like to sit at the table and paint with my kids. It gives the project a bit more importance, and besides that, it’s relaxing and fun.

Optional Step 3:
They can sprinkle salt on the wet paint. Let it dry. Dust off the salt. You can
see the interesting patterns the salt made as it absorbed the water.

Note: I love watercolors because they don’t stain clothes or people, so if your three-year-old paints his face green, and he surely will, it cleans right off.

Autumn Leaf Collage

Step 1: Use your collected autumn leaves.

Step 2: Give the child paper and glue. Have them glue down the leaves in any arrangement they find fitting.

Step 3: Hang up and have bejeweled walls.

As you can see, these are the types of projects that are really about the children interacting with God’s amazing creation, and form and color, more than making a certain product. Glorious.

Remember, it’s the process, not the product. Have fun!

Sorry, I accidentally posted this twice, once without pictures, so you might have gotten a repeat post in your email. Sorry!

{ rest }

Once a month or so, I want to simply share a beautiful picture and words of truth. It is a reminder to all of us to take time and space in this frantic world to take a breath,
drink deeply of God’s goodness, and just rest. It’s okay.

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach,
patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition. 2 Tim 2:24

This verse is a continual reminder to me to correct my darling, headstrong little ones with gentleness, patience and humility. They are trying so hard, aren’t they?


Teaching Our Preschoolers to Serve

A while back Kristen Summers asked if she could use a snippet of something I wrote in an upcoming eBook. I said sure, then promptly forgot about it.

Well, imagine my surprise when last week she emailed me and let me know the
eBook was ready! She sent me a free copy for review. I have to tell you, I loved it.

The book is Teach Me to Serve: 99 ways Preschoolers Can Learn to Serve and Bless Others.

In a culture that teaches kids that the world revolves around them (or should), this book is a breath of fresh air with practical, simple ideas for helping our littlest ones grow their hearts to serve others.

I appreciate Kristen’s honest tone. It’s not one of those irritating, “I’m perfect and if you do these things you can be too!” type of books. She is very real in her writing. I like that.

It’s also a fast read, well laid-out, and bulleted, which is nice for a quick skim or going back to look at ideas. Chapter 1 gives the Biblical basis for serving, while Chapter 2 looks at our own example, which is always the key, isn’t it?

Since your kids will model your example, let’s do a quick heart check: Does your child see you having the heart of a servant? Do they see your kindness, compassion and
care for others as they shadow you? Are you helpful? Are you deliberate? Are
you a cheerful giver? When you see a need, do you act? Your children will be
able to sense your concern for others by the way you act in word and deed, and
also by the way you pray for the needs of others.

The book is divided into areas in which to serve:

  • Home– LOVE this, because this is where we live. Why not start here?
  • Neighborhood
  • Community
  • Market
  • The House of God
  • Trips and Travel
  • Going Global

I originally thought 99 ways to serve sounded exhausting (99 more things I should be doing?) but the book didn’t feel that way at all. It felt quite manageable and practical.

You can tell the book is written by an experienced mom of preschoolers. The ideas aren’t those that make you tired just thinking about them. She gives small, simple ideas, perfect for little hands and hearts.

For example, I loved the simplicity of:

7. Ask your preschooler to help you (Mommy or Daddy) with one of your chores.
Maybe there is yard work or dusting to be done. Remember, we are not going for
perfection here, just developing a willing heart. Praise your preschooler’s good effort and thank her for being so helpful.

10. When a sibling is sick, allow your preschooler to help take care of his brother
or sister. Give the sick child a bell to ring whenever something is needed. Put your preschooler in charge of finding out what is needed when he hears the bell ring.

20. Your preschooler can help younger siblings by playing the “How Can I Help?”
game. When the younger sibling is frustrated or unable to reach something, have
your preschooler ask, “How can I help?” While a baby will be unable to answer,
your preschooler can pick up the fallen toy or spoon and hand it to her. Making
this a game will help your preschooler become quick to help.

[Love this one. One of my big pet peeves is when adults sit around and talk after a
meal while one person does all the work of a meal or clean-up. I want
to teach my kids look around and see what needs to be done or to ask, “What can
I do to help, Mom?” ]

 37. Are you hosting a garage sale? Let your preschooler hand out cups of free
water. Use a dispenser for ease of pouring.

 73. When a person drops an item, teach your child to help pick it up.

 I have to stop because I’m going to give away the whole book!
There are so many more great ones though.

I love that the author always brings it back to serving others to serve Jesus.  There are verses on serving sprinkled throughout.

I happen to think preschoolers don’t need much academic work. My preschool goals for my third son include things like learn to obey, be sweet, play, go outside, and get read to a lot.  (If he picks up some letter recognition and number awareness along the way, well, that would be okay too.)

But if a preschooler is doing some of these ideas in the book, they’ll be learning the whole time. They’ll be developing those motor and self-regulation skills, and doing it with a purpose. They’ll be learning the most important things.

I’ll end with the prayer Kristen gives at the end of her book, because it’s so wonderful and it makes me cry:


We thank You for the privilege we have of raising our young children. They are a gift and blessing to us and we are grateful. As we embark to teach our children to follow You and raise them in the faith, would You strengthen us to be the parents You intend? Help us to love and train them the way You would. Give us a heart ready to teach and persevere through the easy and rough days of parenting. Guide us in our discipline and consistency. We want to raise godly children.

Father, mold the young hearts of our children into hearts that chase after You and not the things of this world. Cause them to hunger for You even at their young age. Give them a heart to serve You and others, to deny selfishness and to be rich in compassion. Help us to take these tasks and the many teachable moments to demonstrate to our children the concept of serving others and following Your example of loving people. Fill us with Your love. May our minds and hearts grow in the things of God.

In Jesus’ Mighty Name,


Disclosure: Kristen provided me a free sample of the eBook in exchange for my honest
opinion. I do not make any profit from sales of the book.

Buy the book here in PDF format.  The list price is $3.99 but…

For the next two days (Sept. 25th and 26th, 2012) you can use the
code: homeschool30  
for a 30% discount.