Posted on Leave a comment

It’s Spring! Ideas are Blooming…

This time, last year, I was leading an Earlybird Pages session using our Spring Stories thematic unit—such beautiful stories and pictures about spring. Every time we read a new story, we sensed the anticipation in the air. How exciting, to simultaneously see things growing, blooming, changing right around us.

Colors so bright, food so delicious, bugs and wildlife transforming.

I planted a garden of my about the same time with my family. We planted some vegetables from seedlings. But some of our vegetables and all of our flowers we planted from seed, and these have been so much fun to watch. The first breaking of ground. The first little glimpse of green as it slowly starts to unfurl.

I always research the authors and illustrators before any class I teach. Two of the authors we read about were motivated to write books about their gardens because of memories from their childhood. Monica Wellington wrote, Zinnia’s Flower Garden, and was inspired by her early childhood living in a small town in Switzerland, surrounded by mountains, woods, lakes, orchards fields and farms. Monica writes about subjects she knows about and subjects she wants to know more about. She constantly writes down words and thoughts and collects photos and pictures. She has a big box where she stores her “seeds of ideas”. She rustles around in it when she is thinking of her next book!

Grace Lin wrote her first published book, The Ugly Vegetables, based on her childhood experience of growing Chinese vegetables with her mother, while their neighbors grew beautiful flowers. When interviewed about her ideas for her books, Grace mentioned she travels everywhere with a sketchbook so she can always capture her ideas no matter where she is.

I love this idea of collecting words and pictures from right around us to fuel our big ideas! These ideas, once planted, grow inside of us and start to unfurl just like our own gardens. The more we tend to these ideas the more they grow and develop into something bright, open, strong, into something we want to share with the people around us. Our curriculum, over time, helps students collect “seeds of ideas” and supports them in planting and tending them.

Consider our brand new Operation Lexicon Word Collecting. Tied to the workbook, three beautiful books will guide students into the wonder of collecting words. Students learn to tease out word meanings and play with application. Words, like food, can be full of flavor and fun.

Last spring I talked to my students about starting their own “seeds of idea” box and carrying their own sketchpads. I shared with my family my desire to create my own idea box. My son Grady created beautiful flowers on the front. I expanded the ideas to include those of my family too! I am excited to continue the work of gardening my ideas this spring and watch them bloom.

There are no limits!

Strong words. Great stories. Beautiful illustrations. My ideas bloom forth!


~Clare Bonn

Posted on 1 Comment

Campfire for High School: Coalesce

Coalesce is a beautiful word. It means: to grow together; to unite into a whole. This word combines the prefix “co”, which means “together”, with the Latin verb alescere, meaning “to grow”. There you have it. Grow together. Combine. Unite. Fuse. When students reach high school, it’s time to put all they have learned about reading and writing and thinking to task. It is time to coalesce.

That’s what high school language arts is all about.


Tip #10

Use a pencil!

First things first. We recommend all journalling and rough drafts be composed by hand with a pencil.  Yes, even in high school. Especially in high school! The pencil is s technology that is much better suited to the art of writing because it is less passive than keyboarding and therefore creates a stronger connection to the processes we use when creating an idea. At this level, students should, of course, be typing final, polished drafts of their essay, but the pencil is primary!


Tip #11

Publish ideas.

Writing is not meant to be brought into shape simply as an exercise on paper, given a mark, then crumpled and tossed to a trash bin! Writing is an idea whose purpose is to be shared. When a high school student composes an essay and moves it to a polished state, its purpose is to be read. Think of publishing, at the individual level, as a beautiful final draft of an original idea. Share this idea with friends, with family. Share the idea via snail mail or electronically. Look for opportunity to get your idea in print! The goal is to find readers.

Tip #12

Jump into your idea!

YOU are ready! High school is the time to  take the plunge. So confidently dive into a novel and come out the other side with an original idea to share with the world…



Posted on Leave a comment

Around the Campfire: Essays and Tigers and Poetry, Oh My!


Let’s talk middle school.

In our CORE materials for middle school—Level 3 Reading & Writing Discovery Guides—students will continue the good work of writing ideas  they began in the Level 1 & 2 units.  With Blackbird & Company, your middle school students will develop the skills and confidence that will prepare them for high school reading and writing.

Tip #6

LOVE the red pen.

All writing comes into being through a process:
1. First comes the IDEA. Without an idea, the writer will simply stare at the blank page.
2. Once there is an idea in the mind of the writer, the pencil steps in to translate thoughts to words on the page.
3. When the pencil’s work is complete, the job of the writer is to become a reader. Encourage your students to RE-READ everything they write.
4. Empower students to use the RED pen as they re-read. Teach them to use strong words, to fearlessly re-arrange, and not be afraid to strike through.
5. Polish the draft, preferably in cursive…

Tip #7

Write in cursive!

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs in cursive. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her cursive was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Tip #8

Essays are ideas!

An essay by definition is an attempt or endeavor. An essay is an exploration of an idea, a meandering journey like following a river. An essay is an opportunity to simultaneously explore an idea and to navigate your reader through its wonder. Great essays have the power to encourage, empower, and enlighten. For this reason essay writing should never be treated as a mechanical endeavor, but rather,  a pathway for the writer to communicate the depths of the heart and mind.

BIG ideas can be communicated through a range of forms. The essay is a specific form. But often students hear the word and suddenly experience writer’s block! Some become frozen by fear. This should not be the case! Remind students, an essay is simply an opportunity to explore an idea in more depth.

Introduction to Composition: The Essay, for  middle school students, provides the scaffolding that will enable students to shape meaningful essays.

Tip #9

Read poems // Write poems

T.S. Eliot said: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Poetry is a close cousin to visual art. Poetry is an opportunity to paint—to paint with words. Writing poetry helps students not only learn that words have specificity, but that sometimes less is more. Writing poems help students discover, when it comes to words, possibility is vast. But the best lesson learned is this: it is always better to SHOW versus tell.

The snow is white.


Winter wind gently lifts sparkling flakes, little rainbows floating and drifting around my head.

Your middle school students will discover the delight of reading poetry and the craft of writing poems as they are guided through Exploring Poetry.



Posted on Leave a comment

Meet Clare

Clare Bonn

My best memories with my children are of us snuggled up together reading books. We would be on the bed or on the couch, blankets over us. Little bodies breathing evenly in my lap. Little hands touching mine or flipping pages. We would read for hours, baking banana bread, stopping only to eat and sit again.

During these early reading days, I had no idea I was going to homeschool my children. What I did know was that I didn’t want to send them to school, and I couldn’t find an alternate option that could satisfy me! Those days continued and the only thing that changed was that the children sitting on my lap were not only mine, but the tribe we formed along the way. Stories came with us as we journeyed out into the world. Books on CD played on the car radio, King Arthur, Greek Myths, Fables, Dickens….it was endless.

“Another one!” The kids would cry. I never thought of myself as teaching my children but learning right beside them. I loved books as a kid and found myself endlessly daydreaming. Not a good quality when you are in traditional school and the teacher is calling your name!

I loved the choose-your-own-ending books when I was young. I loved that idea of being able to write a story over and over with so many different possibilities. The adventure didn’t have to end—not ever! The Narnia Chronicles transported me to another world where good faced evil and prevailed. I can’t tell you how many times I would go into our closets at home wishing it would open to Narnia as the children’s wardrobe did.

My kids are older now, two in their teenage years. I still have shelves filled with books from their childhood. We have moved several times over the years, and I have cleaned out many of shelves. Every time I gather them to look through the books to see what they are ready to get rid of we are transported back. We have found ourselves cuddled up, bigger bodies and limbs, reading through stories that make us smile, laugh and yes, have even made me cry. We are not ready to let go of any of our treasured books and maybe we never will be. I still come home weekly with a new book, from the library or a used bookstore or a library box… I can’t help myself! I feel like I am holding a treasure in my hand. I feel the excitement before I even open the book. The possibilities are endless! Where will I go today?


Clare Bonn graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a BA in Sociology. She has worked for 22 years with school age children in childcare, recreational classes and classroom learning. She taught at Waterhouse Guild for 3 years utilizing Blackbird & Company materials. She believes every child’s voice should be heard, unique gifts valued, and learning differences embraced. Clare has three differently-abled children who all learned to tap into their giftedness through writing using Blackbird & Company curriculum. You can find Clare most of the time in her garden or reading a good book.
Posted on Leave a comment

Around the Campfire: Writing is a GIFT

Tip #5

Writing is a gift.

I’ve been teaching the art of writing for over 30 years. I DO NOT insist my students wrangle a lasso to subdue their grammar. Remember, Form follows Function. I DO insist they value their ideas, and engage in the art of communicating authentically. I tell them:

Wrap your idea like a gift you would like to receive.

Would a beautiful gift be wrapped in sloppy handwriting? Would it contain run-on sentences with no end marks e-v-e-r?  Would it be tedious to read with holes in the flow that confused the reader?

I don’t think so!

I tell my students: Your writing is a gift!

When it comes to learning language arts much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas. As we moms and teachers value these ideas and challenge them to catalog and craft these ideas over time, literacy skills soar.

Ideas spring from a wealth of knowledge tied to curiosity. During the elementary years students from grade 3 through grade 8 will read 36 (yes, THIRTY SIX!) novels!  Their discoveries from reading tied to their observations and inspired by imagination and curiosity will enable them to engage in the weekly writing exercise—a simple paragraph communicating an idea unique to the writer. Students will compose 144 paragraphs. What is unique about our approach is that the paragraphs being composed will be meaningful to the writer. Unique. Authentic.

Each of our Literature & Writing Discovery Guides is designed to guide students into the art of reading and writing and thinking.  But there is an added bonus, Section 5. Please don’t skip Section 5!

Section 5 sets aside a week to think about, absorb, and apply the story as a whole. The goal of Section 5 of is to create a project to remind readers that stories are gifts that  keep giving.

This project is tied to the story City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. This student used singular words related to the story, themes, and quotes to decorate the outside of a little box. Inside they found an object—a lightbulb vase—and filled it with glow-in-the-dark paint to visually represent the conflict of the story:

What will happen when the generator finally fails?

I love this little project. I love the story City of Ember. The takeaway for this teacher: If we were to reduce writing to mere mechanics, darkness would fall on ideas and we would be sorry readers!

Let then write ideas!



Posted on Leave a comment

Around the Campfire: Growth IS robust!

During my 25+ years in the field of education I’ve encountered teachers and administrators throwing around the phrase “growth is not robust” over and over and over again. This euphemism breaks my heart. They are referring to our children after all!

I’m thinking of a young person who became my student when she was in the 10th grade. When well-meaning colleagues found out, they called to give me a heads up: “She’s a nice enough person, but growth is not robust and I’m certain she will not amount to much. Kim, you are a saint for taking her on.”

A saint? Really?

In my eyes, this young person was seeded with ideas that simply needed encouragement, cultivation, to blossom. The end of the story is that she went on to win a National, Scholastic Arts and Writing Award the very next year for a really brilliant poem she composed. I called my friend and gently broke the news: Growth is robust.

All it ever takes for people to write an idea is:

1) a listening ear;  2) ENCOURAGEMENT;  and 3) an invitation to SHARE.

Here is a little secret that I share with my writing students:

Writing an idea is first and foremost a gift.


More on this to come midweek…



Posted on Leave a comment

Campfire: Let’s Talk Marshmallows

Sinking your teeth into a marshmallow is like biting into a cloud!

Let’s make marshmallows! Before we do, let’s ask a beautiful question: Where did the idea come from? Marshmallows, after all, are not naturally occurring.

If we want to encourage our children to engage in the work of writing their ideas, sharing stories of successful idea-making is a terrific inspiration.

Did you know that this treat has a long, sweet history?

Begin by teaching your children that marshmallow is a plant. It has a scientific name: Althaea officinalis. You might point out that scientific names are capitalized differently than names of people. Only the first name is capitalized. It got its name because it is a “mallow” plant and grows in marshy areas. Marshmallow sprouts light pink flowers and grows very tall.

Next share a bit of history. As early as the 9th century, Greeks used marshmallow medicinally by making a balm from the sap. They discovered it soothed wounds, stings, and tummy aches. Later the Romans discovered  marshmallow worked well as a laxative. By the Middle Ages, marshmallow was a treatment for a wide variety of ailments including insomnia! But it was the ancient Egyptians who made a sweet treat by combining marshmallow sap, honey, and nuts. The French took it from here. Their concoction was still semi-medicinal (used often as a throat lozenge), but interestingly it was also advertised as anti-aging cream! Eventually, through France, marshmallows landed as a sweet indulgent treat.

Marshmallows arrived in the USA in the 1800s. And we can thank the Girl Scouts for S’Mores.

Before you begin to cook, share this amazing fact: We consume 90 million pounds of marshmallows every year!

Here is a simple recipe:

For the syrup: Combine in a saucepan with a candy thermometer: 3/4 cup Water + 1 1/4 cup corn syrup + 3 cups sugar + pinch of salt

For the body of the confection: In a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle 3 tablespoons gelatin over 3/4 cup water


  1. Let the gelatin dissolve in the water in the mixer with the whisk attachment ready to go.
  2. Boil the syrup mixture to 240 degrees. Immediately pour the syrup slowly into the mixer. Increase to high and beat until very thick!
  3. Add flavoring—a tablespoon of vanilla, or 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond or peppermint. Here you can be creative!
  4. Now pour the marshmallow mixture into a greased with spray oil 13″ x 9″ baking pan. At this point you can sprinkle sparkle sugar to decorate. Let set overnight.
  5. Turn pan over onto a large cutting board heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Cut the set marshmallow into cubes. Roll each cube in organic powdered sugar—you will need about 1 cup.

Even if you have never made marshmallows from scratch, remember the kitchen is a classroom. Enjoy the adventure creating this campfire friendly confection!


~Kimberly & Sara

Posted on Leave a comment

Around the Campfire: Kitchen Tales

Let’s talk kitchen literacy.

That’s right.

Think recipe for fun and for learning!

In the kitchen, reading and writing and thinking is delicious!

Once upon a time we had a little wooden step stool in our kitchen that my four would climb up to help me stir up whatever was cooking. In the kitchen, everything your little ones are learning is applied—counting, fractions, addition, subtraction, reading, writing, sequential thinking and so much more. In the kitchen, children experience the complexities of chemistry. They will witness right before their eyes the difference between a mixture and a compound. They will watch matter change right before their very eyes! Like magic, chemical reactions lead to yummy treats!

Let’s talk kitchen words: measure, cup, spoon, knife, pan, water, sugar, butter. Encountering words in the realm that they belong is an excellent opportunity for students to put their language arts skills to task. I used to make moveable labels on 3 x 5 index cards and place them on kitchen nouns. After cooking (and clean up!) I would have them draw pictures on the back of the cards so they could have fun reading and spelling words using the moveable alphabet. The kitchen list of words is endless and will provide your little ones hours of academic fun. One word that is very important in the kitchen is dozen. This wonderful word is also an important mathematical concept  introduced in kindergarten.

About a dozen years ago, Sara wrote her first post. She imagined cooking from scratch akin to educating a child. This brilliant extended metaphor rings true all these years later:

I believe every child is like a blank recipe card and that our job as educators is to teach them how to bring their unique spice to a bland world. Each child possesses a unique cabinet brimming with flavor. One might be like chili powder (which you really need to make a good pot of chili), another cinnamon mixed with sugar, yet another oregano (which gives a great background flavor to many dishes).

And she left us with a brilliant question:

What if our job is to challenge our children to explore the potential of their flavor? Let’s help our children develop their unique recipe for life

So this winter, let’s get cooking!

~Kimberly & Sara

Posted on Leave a comment

Winter Campfire: Let’s Play!

During the primary years, the journey begins…

Tip Number 4.


Play is an opportunity to practice new academic skills.

Play is an opportunity to foster independence.

Play is an opportunity to grow confidence.



Once students understand that each of the 26 letters of the alphabet have unique sounds that can be combined to represent the words we speak, they will be off and running! But this is just the beginning. Use the Hatchling Phonetic objects and corresponding deck for matching games. Utilizing the moveable alphabet, the possibility for “play” is endless. Children will quickly learn that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card. That’s right, the  teacher is built in, and this helps students confidently enjoy their important work.


1st Grade

By the time students have reached 1st grade, they are confidently reading and writing simple three and four-letter short vowel words with consonants, consonant blends, and digraphs—cat, mug, splat, chin, this, shop, and more. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently practice the new phonics introduced each week, matching objects to cards and spelling the playful way. Children will have a longer attention span for this activity that is familiar from their kindergarten year. But even students new to Hatchling, will quickly catch on to the fact that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card.

Second Grade

In the 2nd grade, students have been introduced to the whole of phonics, have spent many hours in playful, multi-sensory practice activities and are growing  in their ability to apply newfound skills of reading and writing. During 1st grade students composed simple sentences—statements, commands, exclamations, and questions. They will have acquired a sizable sight vocabulary, words they were introduced to and practiced during kindergarten and 1st grade. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently review using the phonetic objects and decks from Hatchling. If your student is jumping in to 2nd grade without having utilized Hatchling, we recommend using the moveable alphabet to practice making words. Whether you are a seasoned Blackbird user or new to our program, this is the year to begin our spelling program (it’s free!). Remember, 2nd grade is the year to settle in to ELA skills acquired during kindergarten and first grade. It is the year to begin putting it all together—reading and writing and thinking.  This is the year to begin a word collection, the year to see just how wonderful a word can be!

Writing is an art that takes children on a journey through many, many years. We believe the best way to travel the path towards literacy is to PLAY—especially in the primary years of education! The road to mastery should never be arduous. Idea-making, after all is not boring!