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The Sixth Annual Book-A-Day Challenge

Book-A-Day Summer Reading Challenge and Donalyn Miller

I recently read this terrific post (click here to read it), written by Donalyn Miller, on The Nerdy Book Club blog. Donalyn Miller is a teacher/author/reader whom I greatly admire. If truth be told, I have a teacher crush on her.


The post is a call to join her in her sixth annual Book-A-Day Challenge. The premise is very simple, and it is to read a book every day in order to create a pattern of daily reading, to share the titles of good books far and wide, to celebrate your “reading life,” and to maybe make a new reading friend.


Miller’s rules for the challenge (she also says they are guidelines), are simple and come directly from the blog post:

  1. Set your own start and end date.
  2. Read one book each day of “your” summer season.
  3. Any book qualifies
  4. Keep a record of the books you read, and if you want, share them often on a social networking site or a blog. Use the #bookaday hash tag when sharing.


Here is how we will take on the challenge at School4Boys:

  1. We will start today, June 2. Our end date will be August 15th. I picked that date because Big, Big, Brother is moving into his dorm on the 16th. It is going to be an emotional event at the house, and well, that will end the summer for us because we will all be too busy crying to read.
  2. We will record each title in a log. Also, in order to create a visual representation of each family member’s reading, A. and I are going to create a chart by printing out pictures of the covers of the books we read, and then taping them to the wall next to the name of the person who read the books.
  3. A.’s challenge is to both “read” one book (in his own way – which right now is a combination of “reading” the pictures and searching for known sight words), and to listen to one book each day.   BBB will be participating at his own pace, but is a self-motivated reader (hooray!), and The Littles read or are read a gazillion books each day (this is only a slight exaggeration), so they are already participating in their own way.
  4. I will post our favorite book of the day on my social media sites, along with a numerical rating of its quality (1-5), and the name of the family member who is recommending it.


First up on MY professional development “want to read” list is…


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller


The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, by none other than Donalyn Miller. I have had this book on my shelf and my mind for a while now, and I AM going to read it this summer!


I hope that you will join us in our reading adventure this summer! Follow along, or even better yet, share your favorite titles with us!


How about you? How are you approaching summer reading this summer?


Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)


The Big Big Homeschooling Decision – Part II: The Homeschool Epiphany

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

When you make a B I G decision, you really have to give it the proper consideration!

Recently, I wrote a post about finally feeling good about making the decision to homeschool A. long term. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The funny thing is, that I had an epiphany not long ago that made the pieces of my decision fall into place. I cannot express how grateful I am for this piece of mind. Here’s what happened that made me realize we were doing the right thing for him…


A. was bored. I am not worried about the kids being bored. I told him to find something interesting to do. And he did! As the afternoon unfolded, I was just blown away by his creativity, his ingenuity, and how much fun he was having. The best part was that it was 100% self-directed learning fun. I didn’t give him any ideas or suggestions. I didn’t make him continue. It was all him, and he had a blast.


It all started because A. loves donuts. He really loves donuts! His father takes him for donuts at least once a week, and it is a really important bonding time for them. He also likes to watch the employees make the donuts when they go to the donut shop. He decided he wanted to build a working model of a donut shop including a kitchen. He figured out how to do an image search for donut shop kitchens on the iPad by using a few known letter sounds and auto spell. He then selected his favorite picture, set the iPad on the window ledge, and went to work.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

iPad Research


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Gathering supplies!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Slight Setback!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learningng

Customer seating, and donut conveyor system!

He used large soft blocks to build the table areas.


homeschooling, self-directed and child-centered learning

Making the sign!

We worked together to make a donut shop sign. He asked me to write the words, and he drew the picture.


Homeschooling, self-directed learning and child-centered learning

Time to make the donuts!

He used the playhouse as the kitchen.


homeschooling, self-directed learning, child-centered learning

Making donuts is hard work!

He used play dough and silicone donut molds to make the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ding! We bake our donuts here!

He used a wicker basket as an oven to bake the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ready for Business!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Nothing better than donuts and conversation (can I have a coffee with that please?)

His shop was finally ready for business, and I got to be his first customer!


The whole process took over two hours. To say that A. does not typically stay with an activity for a long period of time is an understatement.


As I was watching this whole thing unfold, offering help or suggestions only when asked, it just came to me…This is the kind of learning opportunity I want for him on a regular basis! I want for him to have unstructured time and opportunity for exploration, and for creative play, for making discoveries, for solving problems, and for finding his interests. I want him to feel successful as a learner even though much learning is hard for him. He won’t be able to have unstructured time all day long. He still needs to learn specific skills, and he needs visits with specialized therapists. Learning to read, write, and process visual information are very difficult for A. It will take very specific and individualized instruction for him to learn, and to get better at these things. Homeschooling is working for him, and I want his schooling to work for him. Homeschooling is the right thing for him at this moment, and now, I feel REALLY confident that I am making the right decision for him.

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Getting my shield ready!


All I have to do now is put on my criticism shield, and get ready to fend off the mostly concerned and well-meaning people who think A. should be in “school.” Having true confidence in my decision is going a long way to make that shield stronger!

Happy Learning!

Tracy :-)



The Big, Big Homeschooling Decision!

Making the Decision to Homeschool

Something terrific happened last Friday. I finally started feeling like I had made a good decision about school for A. And that, my friends, is an awesome feeling.


You see I have been thinking about A.’s educational future for the whole year. I tried not to. You see, I wasn’t nearly as worried about this school year. I knew in my heart that A. wasn’t ready to start this year, and I had always figured that we would just put A. in public kindergarten in the fall of 2014. I gave myself permission to not worry about public school vs. homeschooling for the next year until at least January, but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. I started thinking about it in September, and I have been thinking about it A LOT ever since.


Mr. Mad Scientist and I made the decision in early February that we felt continued homeschooling was the way to go. As soon as we saw the kindergarten round-up signs go up around town, we knew we had to decide. Frankly, Mr. Mad Scientist was more secure about homeschooling than I was. Even though we made the decision, I was still waffling until recently. The idea of it just seemed so big, so unconventional, and put so much responsibility on me. Despite my outward confidence, I was fighting doubts that I was up for the full challenge.


Then on Friday it became crystal clear what we should do, and now I can own the decision! We are going to homeschool. If it becomes clear that A. just isn’t learning what he needs to learn at home, we will make different arrangements. We also still hope that A. will attend public high school, and very possibly middle school, but elementary grades will happen at home.


Here were the deciding factors:


  1. We are discovering more about A.s learning challenges, and feel they will not be well addressed in the public school setting.
  2. A. is responding well to me as a teacher.
  3. We are finding good social opportunities outside of school.
  4. A. is truly learning a lot by interacting with his younger brothers.
  5. Homeschooling is proving hectic, and sometimes difficult to manage, but it is working well for A., and it is doable for me.


We are getting both positive and negative feedback from others about our decision, but I’m getting better at tuning out the criticisms (still working on that).


To Be Continued…


I felt it would be too much to explain my homeschooling epiphany in one post, so stay tuned for my epiphany in part II.


Happy Reading!



Kindergarten Redshirting: The Difference Between Readiness and Redshirting

kindergarten readiness vs. redshirting

Spring is in the air, and so is the kindergarten round-up

This is the time of the year when many parents are making a difficult decision about their five year olds. They are asking themselves, should we send our child to kindergarten this fall, or should we wait until next year? It is also the time of year when the term “kindergarten redshirting” comes out.


Kindergarten redshirting…Just hearing those two words makes me bristle. It was one year ago, when I stood in front of the preschool asking the teacher for a re-enrollment form for Big A. She explained that the forms were only for students who were returning to preschool. When I said that I had decided to have A. wait for another year before starting kindergarten, even though he would be old enough to start, the fireworks began. His preschool teacher became very agitated, really far more agitated than I thought fit the situation, and after several comments she said, “It is just not fair to the other children when you redshirt a child, and I don’t think this school is the right place for A. next year!”


One of these children is going to get a red shirt

One of these best friends is ready for Kindergarten, but the other one isn’t.

In the end she was right, and I’m actually glad that his teacher and I had that “exchange” on the sidewalk. It made clear to me that the preschool he was attending was absolutely NOT the right place for him anymore, but that’s a different story. As for kindergarten, no, that wasn’t the right place either. I really agonized over the decision about what to do about kindergarten for A. I spent countless hours thinking about it, and discussing it with Mr. Mad Scientist. I had used all that I knew about A., and kindergarten, and what was expected, and I knew that he wasn’t ready. Looking back now, I’m surprised I worried about it at all, because I feel absolutely confident that I made the right call.


But getting back to “redshirting” and why I think that it is such an ugly term to use… If you are not familiar with the term, it comes from the world of big-time college athletics. College athletes only get four years to play sports. The rule is in place to keep colleges from using players for years and years without the slightest possibility that they would ever graduate. So, many universities “redshirt,” or bench, a player for a year, so that he/she can practice with the team and develop the strength and skill to compete, without losing a year of eligibility. I have no doubt that there are parents who wait to send their child to kindergarten because they want them to be the biggest, smartest, and most athletic in the class. That would be somewhat similar to college-level redshirting. I think most parents though, wait to send their children to kindergarten because they are concerned they are just not ready to be successful, and to me that is NOT the same thing. For most parents, delaying the start of kindergarten for their child is not a desire for their child to be better than all of the other children. It is a desire for their child to be successful in school.

These are things you should see in kindergarten

These are the things you should see in kindergarten.

Why is there a problem?

The real problem is that kindergarten has become too difficult for all five-year old children to handle. In my humble opinion this is utter nonsense and really, really destructive to young children and their long-term education. In the dark ages when I went to kindergarten, we learned to use glue, scissors and paint; we learned to sit in a circle; we learned to try to wait our turn, we learned to work and play in a room full of other children, we learned to follow verbal directions. We did these things by listening to stories, doing art projects, playing with dolls, blocks, kitchen things, play dough and playground balls. We also put on a simple play. There weren’t many kids in my class who couldn’t do these things. There are children, with disabilities, who need support and accommodation to do these things, but otherwise, a typically developing five-year old child can thrive in a play-based and truly child centered environment like I experienced as a child. The kindergarten of today is very different. There are new rigorous standards that come with expectations that are very high. There are also mandatory tests that loom three years down the horizon, and sadly many schools now start prepping children for those tests in Kindergarten. Many five-year old children cannot meet these standards. Some can, but many can’t.


I recently read this piece about a new Kindergarten screening program in Kentucky that went statewide at the beginning of the school year.

If you Google kindergarten screenings you will get many similar articles from all other states. Screening is not new. I am including this particular article because of a statistic that mentions:

“Based on last year’s data, only about 28 percent of students start kindergarten ready to succeed without additional supports,” ~Terry Holliday – Kentucky Education Commissioner

If I did the math right, which isn’t always a given, that means 72% of children in Kentucky did not begin kindergarten ready to succeed according to the screening criteria. What? How is it possible that soooo many children aren’t ready to be successful in their first year of school? So, if children are so far behind at the beginning of kindergarten, what will happen to them?


I used to teach kindergarten and first grade, and I will tell you what I saw…If children struggled mightily in kindergarten (in my experience many of these children were boys) the struggle often followed them for MANY years, sometimes for the rest of their educations. I don’t want to frighten people. Many kids ended up doing just fine, but school was often not an easy, fun, or engaging proposition for them. It was just hard. Some children got so defeated they began acting badly, gave up, or never discovered their potential. People like to do things that make them feel successful. This goes for kids and adults. If you constantly feel like you do something poorly, and you constantly feel incompetent, or like something is just plain too hard, how long will you keep a good attitude and keep plugging away? Many kids will not hang in there very long. Some will, but they never see themselves as students. How sad! Why on Earth would we create a kindergarten that is so difficult that 72% of entering children can’t do it without additional supports?????????? I am a huge believer in the idea that kindergarten should be ready for all children rather than children needing to be “ready” for kindergarten. Kindergarten should be a place where all children can be successful. Sadly, right now, this is not the case.


What to do?

I looked at several pieces of educational and economic research when I was making A.’s Kindergarten decision last year. It is a totally mixed bag, and seemed no help to me at all in figuring out what to do. The research that has been done, in my opinion, does not point one way or another on this issue, and has far too many variables to be useful for making decisions about individual children.

Another year of preschool can be a good thing

Another year in a child-centered preschool can be a good thing!

That leads to the dilemma…Start Kindergarten at five or wait? If you are a are concerned about your child’s readiness to begin kindergarten…my opinion is listen to what your instincts are telling you. Really listen. Follow what your instincts tell you. And if YOU feel it will be best for YOUR child, wait. I have never met a parent who had their child wait out a year before starting kindergarten tell me that they wish they had made a different choice. I can tell you from personal experience that an extra year made an incredible difference for my son, and that he is much better off for an extra year of maturation. I know many other parents who have told me the same thing. I’m not saying that all children need an extra year. If yours does, give them the gift of time. Let them go to preschool another year if that is an option. Let them do art projects, go to the park, listen to stories, play with blocks, play dough and playground balls. Notice the letters, numbers, words, and the world all around. There will still be so much time for rigorous academics, and then hopefully your child will be ready to take it on!


Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)

Our Top 11 Bunny Rabbit Picture Books

Great Picture Books about Bunny Rabbits - Just in Time for Spring and Easter

Spring is in the air, and with the spring temps come the “hop-hops” as my Littles lovingly call them.  My little boys are absolutely fascinated with bunny rabbits, and they LOVE reading about them in books!  I mean LOVE!  Here is an assortment of the bunny books we are reading and reading and reading at our house right now. 


1.  Tops and Bottoms – written and Illustrated by Janet Stevens

I can’t say enough about this book.  It is a clever, funny, and amazingly illustrated re-telling of a Trickster Tale.  It is a great read aloud for K-3.

Bunnies cover 2

2.  Bunnies – written and illustrated by Alex Kuskowski  ♥♥♥♥

Little Z. and Little B. absolutely love this book.  It is an early reader informational book, and is part of a series on baby animals.  Bunnies would work well as an introduction to the format of informational text, and because each page is short and and easy to read, it would be useful in teaching non-fiction comprehension skills as well.  The large and clear photographs of baby bunnies are a stand-out, and keep my boys happy for a long time!  This is a book that works on several levels.  (Baby-1)

 Zomo the rabbit cover

3.  Zomo the Rabbit – written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Another clever trickster tale (a favorite sub-genre of mine), that is funny, and so well illustrated.  This is another book that makes a great read aloud for K-2.

 Bunny Cake

4. Bunny Cakes – written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells

The boys love adventures with Max and Ruby!  The interaction between the siblings is priceless, and the gentle humor and preschool friendly illustrations make this a great toddler read aloud choice. (Baby-K)


5.  Knuffle Bunny – written and illustrated by Mo Willems

We are big Mo Willems fans, and this book is one of the tops.  It is fun for the grown-ups and kids alike.  The mixture of photographs and cartoon illustrations fascinates the kids, and we all love the humor. (K-3 + parents and caregivers)

so many bunnies

6. So Many Bunnies – written by Rich Walton and illustrated by Paige Miglio ♥♥♥♥

Walton and Miglio have collaborated on several wonderful books about bunnies with human characteristics, but right now the Littles love this one the best.  It is a rhyming and ABC book that works well as a bedtime read aloud.  My boys love seeing all of the places where the bunnies sleep! (Baby-pre-K)

  Bunnies Cover

7.  Richard Scarry’s Bunnies – written and illustrated by Richard Scarry

This is Little Z.’s personal favorite.  It is an old school Little Golden Book, but it definitely holds up for the toddler set.  It is very sweet and has subtle humor too.  It is a great lap book to read while snuggling a sweet toddler! (Baby)


8.  Too Many Bunnies – written and illustrated by Matt Novak

This book is funny and interactive and features a “fluffle” of bunnies who are trying to find larger quarters.  They hop from hole to hole only to fill each one to the brim.  The interactive features are much loved around here. (Baby-K)

 Bunnies Near and Far

9.  Bunnies Near and Far – written and illustrated by Sarah Jones

This is a wonderful concept book that features opposites and basic counting with a wonderful rhyming pattern.  Some rhyming books try too hard, but this one really works.  (Baby-K)

 The Bunnies' Picnic

10. The Bunnies Picnic – written by Leslie Jones and illustrated by Kay Chorao ♥♥♥

The Littles just had their first picnic a few days ago, and so this book about bunnies AND picnics is in heavy rotation.  The boys all love how the bunnies don’t give up when their delicious stew is ruined and they have to start over. (Pre-K – 1)

The bunnies are not in their beds 

11.  The Bunnies are Not in Their Beds – written and illustrated by Marisabina Russo ♥♥♥♥

 This book has a very inviting cover, the illustrations are fresh and fabulous, and features bunny kids who won’t go to bed no matter how exasperated their parents get.  It is a fun read aloud that features lots of fun sound words to spice up the engagement.  (Pre-K-1)

Pat the Bunny cover

+1 Bonus Bunny – Pat the Bunny written and illustrated by Dorothy Kunhardt ♥♥♥♥♥

A classic (written in 1940), Pat the Bunny is the original touch and feel book.  The interactive qualities and the simple illustrations and text make an absolute must have, and a real winner for babies and toddlers.  We are on our fifth copy right now because each one has been well loved by children who really want to pat the bunny over and over. (Baby-Toddler)

If you now have bunnies on the brain and want to keep the bunny magic going at your house…you could try this super cute bunny rabbit “jumping jack” craft.

Did you know that there were so many books about bunny rabbits???  Do you have any favorites that you would like to recommend???  I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Reading!

 Tracy ;-)












Mulitcultural Children’s Book Day: Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle

Pinterest collage - multicultural Children's Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day!  In the United States, there is sadly a significant lack of diversity in children’s book publishing.  Children’s books have just not kept up the pace with the diverse population of our country.   LEE and LOW Books are an independent publishing company focusing on multicultural children’s books, and one of the sponsors of today’s event. I found this wonderful post on their blog, about why the number of multicultural books being published hasn’t increased in the last eighteen years.  This post features thoughts from academics, authors, librarians, educators and book reviewers about why there are not more diverse books.  It is a thoughtful post with some wonderful points of view, lots of food for thought, and it is definitely worth a read.   One of my take aways from this piece is that it is not always easy to find multicultural and diverse children’s books, but if you actively seek them out, you will find them.  If you read them and then talk about them, others can find them.  If they are purchased, it helps publishers and book sellers to see the economic value of publishing and stocking even more books.  A happy cycle begins!   

Valarie Budayr, who writes the blog Jump Into A Book, and Mia Wenjen who writes Pragmatic Mom, have set out to give that happy cycle a big push!  They have created Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate and encourage diversity in children’s books by highlighting the wonderful books currently being published, and to help get them onto people’s radars, and into people’s hands. 

I am so pleased to be a part of today’s event, as bloggers from around the world are reviewing and reveling in multicultural children’s books.  As a mom, educator and passionate book lover, it is really important for me to both expose my children and students to many different people, cultures, and worldviews, and to support the people who are writing and publishing great books.   A wise mentor of mine often said that books can hold up a mirror and let us see ourselves, or open a window and let in something new.  Everyone wins when the books that we provide for our children feature diverse characters, settings and ideas because books feed our souls and our thinking, open our minds, and break down our barriers.  I want all children to be able to see themselves in the books they read, and to have many books open up windows that are new to them. 

Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle cover pic (picmonkey)

For my small part, I will be reviewing a book about Metis cultural heritage called Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Kimberly McKay.  It is the story of a little girl named Metisse, who is helping to prepare for her Memere’s (grandma’s) birthday celebration.  Metisse is to perform a butterfly dance with a group of other girls at the celebration.  The butterfly dance is accompanied by traditional fiddle music, and is an important part of the Metis culture.  According to the tradition, the girls dance and the boys fiddle.  The problem is, Metisse neither likes dancing nor is very good at it, and she loves and shines when playing the fiddle.  She wants to honor her Memere, so she tries her best to learn the dance.  Meanwhile, a loving and supportive Pepere (grandfather) also supplies Metisse with fiddle lessons.  In the end, the dance does not go well, but Metisse dazzles the party with her fiddling, and the whole family is pleased and encouraging. 

Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle features an empathetic and loving family, a little girl who perseveres in discovering her true talents, and warm and vibrant illustrations.  A glossary of Metis words used throughout the story is also included.  What a wonderful way for all children to experience a piece of Metis culture. 

Many thanks to Pemmican Publications Inc. for providing this book for me to review.  All opinions expressed here in this post are purely my own.

I encourage everyone to seek out wonderful multicultural titles today and everyday!  A great way to do that is to visit the blogs of the many wonderful people writing reviews on their sites today.  I am including a list of those blogs below.

Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)

2GirlsLostInaBook · 365 Days of Motherhood · A Bilingual Baby · A Simple Life, Really? · Africa to America · After School Smarty Pants · All Done Monkey · Andi’s Kids Books · Anita Brown Bag  · Austin Gilkeson · Barbara Ann Mojica ·  Books My Kids Read · Bottom Shelf Books · Cats Eat Dogs · Chasing The Donkey · Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac · Children’s Books Heal · Church o Books · CitizenBeta · Crafty Moms Share · Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes · Early Words · Flowering Minds · Franticmommy · Gathering Books · GEO Librarian · Gladys Barbieri · Going in Circles · Growing Book by Book · iGame Mom · I’m Not The Nanny · InCulture Parent · Itsy Bitsy Mom ·Just Children’s BooksKid World Citizen · Kristi’s Book Nook · Mama Lady Books · Mama Smiles · Mission Read · Mother Daughter Book Reviews · Mrs AOk · MrsTeeLoveLifeLaughter · Ms. Yingling Reads · Multicultural Kids Blog · One Sweet World · Open Wide The World · P is for Preschooler · Rapenzel Dreams · School4Boys · Sharon the Librarian · Spanish Playground · Sprout’s Bookshelf · Squishable Baby · Stanley and Katrina · Teach Mama · The Art of Home Education · The Brain Lair · The Educators’ Spin On It · The Family-Ship Experience · The Yellow Door Paperie · This Kid Reviews Books  · Trishap’s Books · Unconventional Librarian · Vicki Arnold · We3Three · World for Learning · Wrapped in Foil 

Martin Luther King, Diane Ravitch, and The Common Core: Musings on the Public School System

Image via Prune Juice Media

 Image via Prune Juice Media

warning symbol picture

Warning – Very Long, Potentially Soap Boxy Post Ahead!

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t have a plan to sit at the computer, for more much more time than I had today, and write about the Common Core Standards and public education.  But the juxtaposition of two things compelled me to start writing.  It started out as me writing a comment on someone’s Facebook post , but that comment quickly got so long that it grew out of control.  Then I started thinking about the fact that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  When I put the two together, I started to write about the things I am most passionate about other than my family: education and social justice.  And while what I am writing about today isn’t specifically about School4Boys, the issues surrounding public education are at the heart of my family’s decision to homeschool, and are a part of my heart as well.

Dr. King fought for the equality of all people, for all of his adult life.  He gave his life to and for the fight.  He knew that one of the keys to equality was access to educational opportunities for all children.  He also knew that the United States didn’t fund education appropriately or fairly.  Here in 2014, I don’t think that as a society we either spend enough money on education, or direct it to the places where it will do the most good in educating all children equally.   This honestly keeps me up at night thinking about ways to make it better.  Sometimes, I think I should get a hobby, but back to Dr. King…

In March of 1964, Dr. King gave a speech to The American Federation of Teachers in acceptance of the John Dewey Award.   He said many important things about education, but two statements that resonate deeply with me are these:

“The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second-class status. Therefore as Negroes have struggled to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education….




“…The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”



In 1964, when Dr. King gave that speech there was great inequity in the U.S. educational system both in terms of racial access and appropriate school funding.  In 2014, things are different, but our educational system is still troubled and underfunded.  How do we work now to help all children achieve, and access education equally?  Well, the Federal Government, as well as most state governments have pinned their best hopes on the implementation of The Common Core State Standards, and the assessment of the achievement of those standards, through standardized testing in judging the success and achievement of students, schools, and teachers across the country.  This is the first time there have been educational standards set for all students in all states.  These English and mathematics standards have now been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and The District of Columbia.  I am adding links to the Common Core State Standards website, and to an insightful article about the standards, entitled Everything You Need to Know About the Common Core, featured on the Washington Post website, written by Diane Ravitch.  Dr. Ravitch is a highly respected educational historian, professor, and activist.   I encourage you to read the article by Dr. Ravitch.  It is well-written and well-reasoned, and based on her extensive experience with the history of educational reform.  I am a great admirer of Dr. Ravitch, and this article was what started all of my thinking today.  I also encourage everyone to read through the standards.  They are the law of most of the educational land, and are now governing what is going on in public school classrooms.

In thinking about the Ravitch article, and the Common Core Standards, I have done my best to read the standards with an open mind.  I think the overarching goals of the Common Core are something to strive for.  I do think they expect more critical thinking, genuine application of knowledge, and creative problem solving than most state standards have previously required, and these changes are good things.  Although, I do agree with Ravitch, that there needs to be a mechanism for revision of the standards with professional input, which as of right now there is not.  My main issue with the Common Core is the intense, or “rigorous” in Common Core talk, and developmentally inappropriate standards in the early grades (pre-K-3).  There will be some young students who can meet these standards, but that doesn’t make them appropriate.  Most children WILL NOT be able to meet them, and in order to try to enforce them, I’m fairly sure teachers will have to remove more of the things that are most appropriate for young children.  I think this, because I have seen it happen before.

There are several parallel problems with the way that the standards are being implemented that are not actually about the Common Core Standards at all.  First, there is the corporatization of the public school system.  I have seen this happening with my own eyes at an alarming rate.  It is outrageous, and it has the capacity to dismantle the public school system if left unchecked.  A tremendous amount of money is being made from the diverting of public funds to charter schools (which are often “for-profit” endeavors), the purchase of testing materials and the hardware and software to go with them, as well as the purchase of new Common Core curriculum materials and test preparatory materials.  It is a ridiculous amount of money that could go toward real student learning.  The schools that are being hurt the most financially by the outlay of cash for all of these new tests, gadgets and materials, as well as the fees to score the tests, are the schools that serve children living in poverty.  Those schools tend to have far lower test scores than their more financially privileged peers, so their schools are the ones being robbed by charters, and the corporations that sell the tests, the scoring systems, the test prep materials, and new textbooks and curriculum guides now needing to be “aligned” with the Common Core.  If we as a society turn our public school mission into a for-profit capitalistic enterprise, we can’t keep the mission of educating all children.  These are competing missions, and our children, as well as our whole society, will lose if we turn education into a series of money making schemes. 

Then there is the testing.  There are so many things wrong with the way testing is being implemented right now, that it is hard for me to even describe them all.  The standardized tests are expensive, they are pretty much useless as an instructional tool, and they force teachers to throw out so much of what is important about education.  I have watched science, social, visual art and music education, and even school libraries, become mere blips on the schooling horizon.  Things that are not tested get lost in the push to increase test scores.  It makes sense, because if your performance evaluation, your paycheck, whether your school stays open, whether your school district stays accredited by the state, the housing values within the school community, and societal perceptions of your work are all tied to test scores, then you better believe that everyone from the superintendent on down through the school ranks is going to be pushing an increase in the time spent on the things that will bring test scores up. These test-crazy efforts are everywhere, but are most concentrated on the schools that serve the children who struggle the most due to language barriers, racial barriers, and the barriers created by poverty and disability.  It is a vicious cycle because teachers, afraid of the professional ramifications of poor test scores, actively avoid taking jobs in schools where scores are lowest, or leave the profession entirely.  This leads to the schools with the most need getting the teachers with the least experience.  I know many dedicated teachers who work tirelessly every day to help children in poverty or with special needs learn.  But, I wonder how many will stay with it as the demands of testing get more and more intense both personally and professionally.

I am very worried about the state and future of the public school system.  I think the Common Core can be revised and be useful if it is used as a guide post rather than an evaluation system.  It is the testing, the way classroom teacher evaluations and school funding are being tied to those tests, and the financial mechanisms connected to the testing, that I am really worried about.  I think it is important to separate them in both implementation and in critique.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I have a feeling that Dr. King wouldn’t like the corporations taking charge of public education, or poor and minority children getting less education, more testing, and more shame when they do poorly on the tests.  I also don’t think he would like the way that teachers are being held accountable for the failure of our society to do something productive about the vast inequity of our economic system that more often than not leads to children struggling in school.  Dr King once said that, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  I can’t be silent, but anyone who knows me, knows that all too well. ;-)  I feel like fighting for the education of all children is one very small way I can honor his legacy.

I encourage you to read Dr. Ravitch’s article, and if you are interested to follow her blog.  She writes eloquently, and prolifically, every single day about very important issues surrounding public education. 

You can find it here at

That’s a mouthful, but there is much more here than I could ever hope to scratch the surface of with one blog post, but it is something I am constantly thinking about, and the surrounding issues play prominently in my decision to homeschool right now.  So I will keep reading, thinking, and hopefully writing about it here. 

Happy Reading,

Tracy :-)



November is Picture Book Month

picture book of the month logo

I am a reader. I love to read just about anything. News-magazines? Yep! Celebrity mags? Yes (although I’m trying to work on this)! Non-fiction? Yes sir! Literary fiction? Absolutely! The owners manual from the cell phone? Um, yes.


I also am a passionate reader and advocate of children’s literature. Again, I love ALL genres of children’s books, but the one genre of literature that I love the absolute most, whether meant for children or adults, is without a doubt the picture book. Why picture books you might ask…? Well, they are a marvelous mixing of two different art forms. And when a well-told story, and beautiful artwork that tells its own story come together…watch out, you have something that is completely unique and genius! I have spent most of my life (as a university student, educator, and parent) reading picture books, learning about them, teaching with them and about them, and pushing the awesomeness of picture books down people’s throats.


That’s why I’m so pleased to share that today is the beginning of picture book month. Picture Book Month was conceived by a group of international authors, illustrators and storytellers to celebrate the print picture book all throughout the month of November. One of the highlights of the month is that each day in November there will be a post on the organization’s website ( ) that is written by a picture book “champion,” about why she/he thinks picture books are so important.


Here is a short and adorable trailer about Picture Book Month that you can watch.



We will be celebrating picture books this month at School4Boys, and I will be posting about picture books as much as is humanly possible (at least for this tired mommy/human anyway).  The Picture Book of the Day Group on Facebook, in which I participate, will also be incorporating Picture Book Month themes into the daily recommendations.


To get the party started, I encourage you to go to This site is your go-to source for all things Picture Book Month related. You will find so many fantastic resources there; the site has ideas, information, picture book love, and lots of ways to get involved in the celebration.


Happy Picture Book Month!  Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)












A Halloween Treat – The Spooky Box by Mark Gonyea


Tomorrow is Halloween, so I thought it would be a nice time to share a fun book that has become a favorite at School4Boys this week.

The Spooky Box

Written and illustrated by Mark Gonyea

Henry Holt and Co., 2013


What is inside the spooky box? It could be spiders, rats, or evil puppets, but the author/Illustrator won’t tell. YOU, dear reader, will have to just imagine that for yourself.


This book is fun, interactive, and just a little bit spooky. Utilizing just three colors and very simple shapes, the illustrations are bold and graphically stunning. Partnering with those fantastic pictures the text uses a nervous narrator, and the building of tension to tell the story of a box with unknown contents. The book invites reader participation by using sly humor, questions, and the reader’s natural curiosity to make for a rollicking good time of trying to figure out just what is inside the spooky box, and then the ever smaller spooky nesting boxes that are eventually found to be inside. The Spooky Box lends itself naturally to the making of predictions and inferences, creative thinking, and fun reading extensions.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥.5


The Spooky Box has provided a springboard for lots of fun for us at School4Boys.


A. really liked this book, and requested that we read it several times. He was drawn to the cover, amused by the premise, and liked thinking of possibilities for the contents of the box. After finishing this book’s open ending, I asked A. what he thought was in the last spooky box. He said, “ more and more boxes forever and to infinity.”


After our initial reading we decided to make some spooky boxes of our own.   A. had shown interest in Modge Podge while making some Halloween decorations last week. This surprised me because it is goopy and got on his hands, but he wanted to try it again. We decided to decoupage our spooky box. I purchased some nesting papier mache boxes specifically for this activity because it made it easier. You could obviously collect cardboard boxes in different sizes too.


Making Spooky Boxes

Having done this type of activity before, and wanting to improve on my last attempt (don’t ask), I began by covering the large box with black construction paper and Elmer’s glue. This didn’t take long at all. Then I set out black bleeding tissue paper, Modge Podge, and foam brushes. A. was happy to work on this for a while, but soon his hands were getting goopy and discolored, and he was done. I finished the messy tissue paper part, and then when it was dry, he was happy to put the final coat on the project. By using construction paper under the tissue, I only had to cover the box with one layer of tissue and Modge Podge over the top to get good coverage and opaque color.


For the second box we used paint (far less goopy, so A was happy to participate.) I sealed the papier mache box with Modge Podge and let it dry before adding the paint, and I found that this helped cut down on the number of coats of paint that were needed.  Cardboard and papier mache can really suck up the paint!


For the smallest boxes, I loved that A. wanted to make them “happy, not spooky,” so he chose to make them yellow.


After the boxes were dry, we devised some fun uses for them.


For our second reading of the book, I placed some Halloween themed party favors in each of the boxes. As we read the story, and the boxes inside the boxes got smaller I let A. open the boxes one by one and pull a trinket out of each box when appropriate in the story. This was a hit! I didn’t do this on our first reading because I wanted A. to draw his own conclusions about what was in the box on the first go-round.  A. also had fun stacking the boxes in different configurations.  Then he did something that I thought was great (but I am his mom, so I might be biased).  We had put an orange plastic table cloth on the table for our Halloween party pn Sunday.  It was both festive and functional as a table protector during our crafts, so I left it on after the party.  Adam noticed that the boxes on the orange background looked like the cover of the book, so he took some leftover scraps of black tissue and squished them together to make bats, and then recreated the cover illustration.   I love when spontaneous things like that happen!  I am always amazed at what kids come up with on their own if they have the opportunities of time, space, and materials.


Spooky Box collage 2


After reading it was time to play an inferring game. A. has already shown strength in making inferences, so I want to build on that during read-aloud activities. For the game, I found objects of different sizes that would go in the boxes. I created clue sets for each object (a series of four clues moving from broad information to more specific information) and taped them to the appropriate boxes. Then I read the clues one at a time. After each clue I allowed A. to make two predictions about what was in the box. He really enjoyed this activity. So much so, that he wanted to play the game too. So, he then selected secret objects and put them in the boxes. He gave me the clues orally, and really came up with some really good clues. He asked to play the game again tomorrow!


Here are two examples of my clue sets:

I am round.

I grow in the ground

I am orange.

I have a face and a smile.

I am a jack o’ lantern.


I am a toy.

I am made of wood.

I have wheels.

I run on tracks.

I am a train.


You get the idea.


The Spooky Box was a really fun read-aloud book, and it gave us the opportunity to work on comprehension, do crafts (great fine motor work), and have a good time without feeling forced. Not a bad deal!


My friend Jodie at the terrific early literacy blog Growing Book By Book, created a super fun book-themed game to develop inferring skills too.  You can find it by clicking here. 


I hope you check out The Spooky Box and have some fun with it.


Happy Reading!

Tracy  :-)




TEN TIMID GHOSTS – by Jennifer Barrett O’Connell

Picture book of the day - Ten Timid Ghosts


Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays (although I’m a holiday loving girl to begin with). So, I don’t know if I have forced my Halloween glee on Big A., or if I have just rubbed off on him, but it feels like Halloween central around our house. There are many decorations to be made, a party to plan, and of course, many super Halloween books to read. I just shared one of our very favorites (even Mr. Wizard loves it) as a Picture Book of the Day recommendation, so I thought I would add in a few of the activities that we have come up with to go along with this gem of a book.

A. and I are working hard to develop letter recognition and formation right now. On Monday A. actually asked me how to spell a few words so he could write them down. I was so excited about this because he has NEVER done this before. I thought this would be the perfect time to introduce a book writing activity that gave him the opportunity to write just one word on each page. He gets overwhelmed easily, so we will be doing this book over several days, and we are sharing the writing responsibility. A few of the words he is writing himself, and a few he is dictating to me. I made up this book as a School4boys rendition of Ten Timid Ghosts. I have left the pages black and white intentionally so that A could either color them in or use watercolor paint to add the color himself.  I am adding a few pictures of an example book.  I apologize that the pictures are awful, and that I did the first page myself.  The book is still a work in progress, so I didn’t have any of the finished pages that A. did to show you yet.  I promise to add better pictures with A. and his work as soon as they are ready!

Ten Timid Ghosts - homemade book cover Ten Timid Ghosts - homemade book first sample page


I am adding the template pages (including the cover) that I made for the book as a PDF.  If any of you might find it useful, feel free to use it. All I ask is that if you share it, please share the link to this post rather than the pdf file itself.

 Ten Timid Ghosts follow-up book


This book also lends itself well to many math activities. You could easily make addition or subtraction sentences with the ghosts. We are doing an activity with cardinal numbers (1), ordinal numbers (first or 1st), and number words (one, first).  To do the activity, print out the ten ghosts and the numeral and word cards.  Lay out the ghosts horizontally in either ascending or descending order.  Then have the child match the number and word cards under each ghost.  These could then easily be glued to paper.

Ten timid ghosts - math activity pic 2


Here is a PDF version of the activity if you would like it. Again, if you share it please share the link to the post. ;-)

Ten Timid Ghosts – number activity 


I hope Ten Timid Ghosts, or a related activity, find their way into your Halloween repertoire.  Happy Reading!

Tracy  :-)