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Around the Campfire: Inspired by Vivaldi

Encouragement for  Friday:


“Writing about music ties the languages together through translation.”

                                                                ~Pages Master Teacher, Taylor

The 5-week class format for our online Pages Music classes do not require reading, but do require learning to listen to, appreciate music. After a five-week exploration of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, 9th grader, Kingsley, translated her observations of the music to haiku.

Be inspired!

And, please be sure to join the creativity during Session 5 and Session 6.


Movement 1:

Birds chirp melodies,
Bees swarm, dancing with the wind,
Flowers bloom softly.

Movement 2:

Snow melts, sun rises,
Bunny hops out of its burrow, swarm,
Stretching in the warmth.

Movement 3:

Chilling winds whisper,
Snow melting in a warming light,
Nature’s song takes flight.


Movement 1:

They dread in the heat,
Aggression fuels their play,
Burning sun above.

Movement 2:

Heat stifles movements,
Unquenched thirst with every step,
Beneath the blazing sun.

Movement 3:

Bounding through the fields,
Friends laughing and running wild,
Sunshine and laughter.


Movement 1:

Frost brushes the glass,
Blizzard painting the landscape ,
Snow dances wildly. s

Movement 2:

Candles twinkle bright,
Their warm light dances with joy ,
Soft snowflakes drifting.


Movement 3:

Slipping fast on ice,
Annoyed steps betray my grace,
Snow piles up high, vast.


Movement 1:

Chatter fills the air,
Autumn’s vibrant twirl,
Yawning with tired eyes.

Movement 2:

Soft sounds fill the air,
Floorboards hum the lullaby,
A royal banquet.

Movement 3:

Feasting with old friends,
Laughter echoes through the halls,
A royal banquet.

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Around the Campfire: The Superhero Suit

Tip Number 11.

Encourage your student to BE the superhero!

Back in 2010, in the throws of educating my four alongside at least two dozen other children, I constantly doubted the path I was forging.  Doubting, that is, until being invited by a friend to the newly released film, Waiting for Superman.

The film’s title comes from a powerful memory recounted by education reformer Geoffrey Canada:  “ of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me ‘Superman’ did not exist…she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.

This resonated.

When I first saw the trailer, Sherman Alexie’s essay, “Superman and Me” came to mind. After viewing the film, a solid connection emerged. Where Waiting for Superman reminds us that an overwhelming majority of children are “not accepted” to successful public schools and leaves our hope dashed, “Superman and Me” picks up the pieces reminding us that the system cannot stop the individual from picking up a book and doing the work of developing a habit of being. What I wrote back then bears repeating:

This movie brilliantly reminds us that reform within the public system is happening in pockets all over our nation and leaves me grateful for those reformers. But it also leaves me with an image of all the children who will shrivel because they do not have Bingo Ball 78 glowing in the palm of their little hand.

The reality is that there are wide-open plains outside of the system waiting for Lewis and Clark—perhaps the sequel?

Reform Lewis and Clark style?

A voyage of discovery?

Yes, please!

As an educator, I for one, realized a long time ago I couldn’t wait for Superman any longer. I encourage my students to slip on the Superman suit before they begin each day, reminding them Alexie style: “The suit will save your life!” Geoffrey Canada’s mother may be right, Superman is not real, but every child has talents equal to Superman’s power—the gift of numbers, the gift of humor, the gift of words, the gift of song, the gift of compassion… an endless list.

Art is never finished, only abandoned,” according to the Renaissance sage Leonardo da Vinci

So what has art to do with a movie about the state of education in America?

Absolutely everything.

One thing this film fails to examine is the need to move beyond the workforce preparation model of education by addressing the deeper individual needs that are ignored in mass education. How can we provide opportunities for our children to develop literacy, not to mention creative thinking, if we starve individuality?

Leonardo da Vinci left us tremendous insight into his work habits. He knew first hand that, “it is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end,” still he painstakingly collected thousands of his ideas in sketchbooks, most of which would never be fully realized. But I will venture to say there is not one who would dare call him a slacker. There are academic skills that do not fall under the Three Rs umbrella—think rigor, resourcefulness, responsibility.

When my daughter Hannah was 10 she began working at Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum on the piano. One afternoon while I was scrubbing pots and pans in the kitchen, listening as she delicately worked through each new section, I called out, “Is that the Debussy?”

“No this is mine.”

I dropped the pot back into sudsy water, quickly wiped my hands, and walked to the piano, “Your piece?”


“Play it for me…” and she did, jubilantly, without hesitation. Hannah was composing.

When Hannah turned 13 things began to change. She began to depend on notes more than her ear. Simultaneous to her sight-reading ability moving into the bilingual realm, she became insecure with her creative voice. No amount of coaxing would console the teenage composer to come out of hiding. She wanted to create, but in her mind her ideas never sounded just right. Hannah became paralyzed by all the things we humans become paralyzed by.

Over the course of the next few years I presented opportunities and encouraged her to engage in the process of creating. I reminded her that creating something happens with little steps that begin with an idea, “Remember Da Vinci…’Art is never finished only abandoned’.”

Later, sixteen years ago now, an 18-year-old Hannah courageously took that tiny piece of music she imagined when she was 10 and pressed into the work of making it bloom. This process of polishing, which involved collaborating, led to more tears and more hugs than hands on the keys, pencil to staff paper, or time recording. The fact that the project was to be submitted for a competition made the work real but ultimately Hannah’s prize was persevering through the process of art making.

I will never forget her beaming smile the day we played back the final mixed recording of “Empty Halls.” The composition didn’t win a prize in the competition that year, but did receive encouraging notes back from the adjudicators. “Empty Halls” continues to whisper: “YOU, Hannah, and your beautiful ideas matter!” And it gives this educator—this mother—hope.

Empty Halls

So I’ll ask again, “What has art to do with education in America?”

Absolutely everything!

This said, we are proud to announce that late this spring we will be releasing an arts research unit focused on the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci!

Stay tuned for details!



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Around the Campfire: The Arts are NOT Extracurricular

Tip Number 10.

Make Good Art!

You might ask: How is a language arts connected to music and visual art?

Visual art via the craft of graphic design exists in the world everywhere we go. Music, too, is often in the background of our daily world, whether in a store or on TV.  Because both influence our daily lives, we should have a more active understanding of these two significant languages.

That’s right music and art are language!

Because music and visual art are significant branches of literacy., learning about music and art will not only help us understand, but also help us help us appreciate the arts we see on a daily basis. Learning the history of both disciplines can help us understand what we see and hear.

Our music classes concentrating on the history of music—especially in the classical and jazz era—to help students develop listening skills, an appreciation for appreciation. The historical background offers insight that, no matter the era, music brings community together. It can be daunting for a student to listen to music for half an hour that has no words. But the goal according to teacher extraordinaire, Taylor, is “to have my students enjoy music and know what they are listening too.” Our classes have a required writing element but this is always tailored developmentally. Writing about music ties the languages together through translation. The class format will not require reading, but it will require listening to music inside and outside of class.

Anyone familiar with Blackbird and Company curriculum and our philosophy, know that we promote the pencil work of handwriting from Kindergarten forward. Master teacher, Taylor, points out out that writing is a core to English, and that the the rules of phonics, for example, are presented to our students starting day one. Art on the other hand is not considered a core subject (though it should be) and most people want a free form class, want fun with crayons! Taylor agrees that free form art is important for play, but insists we need to teach skills of art-making, “We don’t just set a child down with high quality art supplies and watch them create amazing art.”

When students have a creative idea but lack the skills to bring shape to that idea, a state of frustration blankets the student.

There is a mechanics to art—a way to hold the pencil and how much pressure to apply. We are taught small finger movements to handwrite. In art we are taught to use the arm to assist in drawing a line as opposed to fingers. Wrist and arm movements can assist in making bigger lines. Learning the mechanics of art is skill learning.

Ultimately, writing is art making and so, what better pairing for an ELA curriculum than a study of music and visual art?

This year our Pages students have been learning art skills and techniques, settling down into the basic elements of art.

Students have had beautiful ideas inspired by the listening  skills and appreciation of music. They’ve gained the confidence to make beautiful, important work, that is authentically theirs.

Notice the connection between writing music and art?

Think s l o w i n g  down, actively observing, doing less but better, doing it well. Writing and music appreciation and art making—this all takes time.

It’s all important.

It’s individual work.

it’s your student’s IDEA.

The possibilities are endless.

Work from Pages online classes:

Story inspired by Vivaldi’s Winter movement:

Frosty silver snowflakes were drifting down from the skies. I was thrilled because we hardly ever have snow days in California. Everyone was super cold. Our teeth were chattering and our bodies were shivering, but we ran in excitement towards the small hill behind our houses. When we got to the top of the hill, we all fell on our backs in the snow and began to make snow angels. We moved our arms and legs side to side, while opening our mouths to taste the fresh falling snowflakes. After that, we decided to slide down the hill in our newly built sleds. There was a lot of laughter in the air.

Painting inspired by a five-week study of Paul Cézanne and engaging in the slow work of observation:

There are two more sessions of Pages online this school year.

Join the fun!

Make good art!

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Around the Campfire: We Are Here for You

Tip Number 9.

Stay Connected!

Sometimes being a teacher is a lonely job, whether we are in the classroom, the hybrid setting, or homeschooling around the kitchen table. From lesson planning to assessing growth, juggling daily lessons and independent work, not to mention pouring heart into each little person, teaching is a demanding job. And the demand falls squarely on the shoulders of the teacher.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” ~Albert Einstein

This is no small calling!

We are working diligently to provide you with support materials such as ELA Benchmark Tracking Worksheets, Yearly Planning Schedules, and, coming soon, plans to build these schedules into annual lesson plans—all this so you can have more time to join our online community, around the virtual campfire, and all year round here on the blog, on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

You are not alone!

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Around the Campfire: Negentropy

If my now adult children are talking about their homeschool experience, they will always say something like, “We homeschooled ourselves.”

I used to get offended and prickly. I’m older now, and have done some thinking about this analysis. The truth is, I purposed to produce learners who could self-feed. I knew that this goal would not be achieved without intentional planning. What my children, perhaps, do not have a full-orbed understanding of is how much time I spent purchasing, planning, preparing, providing and persevering along the way, keeping the perspective of their unique persons in focus.

Tip Number 8.

Promote Negentropy

Yes, negentropy.

The opposite of entropy.

Negentropy is the work of becoming less disordered, which will never happen spontaneously!

This is precisely the work that we engage in when we teachers set out to plan and prepare for a new school year. I have four things to suggest that you keep in mind as you move forward into planning:

  1. Laying out a big-picture plan
  2. Ordering the steps of the pathway
  3. Honoring the individual participants
  4. Expecting the unexpected detours

Whether your students are in elementary, middle, or high school, there is always a need for the big-picture plan. This is the first step of negentropy as you bring order and structure to your building plan. How the building blocks of learning are assembled has much to do with the end result. Skipping pieces or leaving gaps will leave weaknesses and create problems that will need to be addressed sooner or later. Referring to the bird’s-eye-view of the plan throughout the year will help keep you moving toward the larger goal being accomplished and will assist you in adjusting the plan each new school year.

The next step is to create a plan to accomplish the current year’s blocks for building. This will require some type of planning schedule or calendar. I used a master plan overview but also created separate schedules for each of my four children that were used by them daily and updated by me monthly. My oldest daughter, who now homeschools, has a master planner that has all of her children’s plans listed in one location that is shared by all. Choose a method that works for you with your style of education and engage in the work of negentropy by plotting out the daily work expectations for each subject. This detailed breakdown will allow you to look at workload, pacing, and interaction between subjects that makes sense for your students’ schedules.

One critical thing to consider as you plan is honoring the participants and their unique needs. Most programs provide some sort of suggested plan for getting through a curriculum. And Blackbird & Company ELA is no exception, offering yearly outlines, a five-weeks-at-a-glance schedule for our CORE Integrated Literature and Writing, pacing built into student guides, plus a longer planning offering coming this spring. Stay tuned. Generally speaking, at minimum you can take any text, divide its pages by the number of school days, and have some idea of how fast you need to move through the subject. But this does not take into account your family calendar, outside activities, other courses being conquered, learning struggles, or unique family situations that dictate schedule anomalies. Every year will look different. Every child develops at a different pace. One size can never fit all. This part of your planning is where you cater your plans to your people, exercising negentropy as you decide what is best for your students. This is hard work up front that paves a way for a smoother ride during the year.

Finally, expect the unexpected. This is negentropy in action—pushing against the chaos that will hit us if we fail to leave room for what we cannot know. And this is why all planning should always be done in pencil. The plan brings great benefit as a tool for purposeful progress, but there is wisdom in holding that plan loosely. From family crisis to great unseen opportunity, none of us knows what is around the next bend. We do well to allow the space and flexibility to bend with the wind when it blows, whether icy blasts or tropical breezes. And those winds will blow. This does not mean that you need to throw in the towel and give up. It means that you step back, look at the big-picture, and revamp the plan. It may mean that you readjust timelines. School can go year round, follow a traditional plan, or stretch out at a more leisurely pace into the summer. And that can look different every year!

Set the momentum of negentropy going in your home now. It’s never too early!

It starts with a BIG plan, one that gets fleshed out with good curriculum that serves your special people, that enables you to nurture, and to eventually launch your wonderfully unique birdies out of your family nest. I promise you, it will not look the way you thought it would, but it will be rich, and satisfying, and so much more peaceful with the help of a plan.



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Around the Campfire: How to Purchase Well

Tip Number 7.

Purchase Well!

Can you believe it’s that time of year when we teachers begin planning forward?

There are two ways to purchase your complete English Language Arts materials for the coming 2024/25 school year:


Our Grade Level Collections are carefully curated to give you everything you need for the school year when it comes to English Language Arts. At each level we’ve included six CORE Integrated Reading & Writing units, plus an appropriate collection of APPLICATION materials (vocabulary development, mechanics, style, non-fiction research, composition, creative writing).


Curate your own collection! Follow the link to our How to Buy guide and click through to build your own! A complete collection can be built with items from each of these categories: A) CORE Integrated Literature & Writing (Phonics, Reading, and Writing for K and 1st grade),  B) APPLICATION: Grammar, Mechanics & Style, and C) APPLICATION: Research, Composition, Creative Writing.

From Purchasing to Unboxing, we’ve got you covered!

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Around the Campfire: Play!

Tip Number 6.


Last year, around the campfire, we shared ideas about adding playfulness into your kindergarten and 1st grade routine. This tip bears repeating!


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 curriculum, will quickly catch on to the fact that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card.

Play is an opportunity to practice new academic skills.

Play is an opportunity to foster independence.

Play is an opportunity to grow confidence.

I truly hope your students are not afraid to ask questions, that they know they are learning and learning well. I hope they can use all the tools available and add more. I hope they find their mentors and tribes of support. I hope they have fun and play with sounds and words. I hope they treasure stories like you. I hope you both know that they are teachers too!

After talking with many parents I have put our list of extras down that we have shared over the years, that you can incorporate while doing this early learning or remediation work. Please keep checking back to our website for blogs, videos freebies and more added extras. We are making the guide for you!

Extra Playful Tool Kit

Gross Motor

  • Have your student write the letters they are learning outside with chalk, or paintbrush and water. It’s okay to use big fun strokes.
  • Have your student watercolor or paint letters -tracing a piece of paper.
  • Have your student collect stones, sticks or leaves and make the letters with materials.
  • Have your student write the letters in the dirt with sticks.
  • Put the card with the word or sound out on the floor or tape to the wall. Have your student hop or run or dance to the sound you say.
  • Have your student pick an animal and act like that animal while going to tag the card.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt around the house collecting or naming items that start with the sound you are working on.
  • Have your student make the shape of the letter with his body and make the sound.
  • Have your student throw a bean bag on a letter sounds or words you have learned—use the cards from Hatchling or put words on bigger pieces of paper.

Fine Motor

  • Glue buttons or beads onto a big block letter B written on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper.
  • Engage in a beading activity with pipe cleaners.
  • Draw wavy or zigzag lines for your students to cut, following the lines.
  • Use an eyedropper and colored water to drop into little soap saver suction cups.
  • Find pictures in magazines that start with different sounds, cut, and paste.

I Spy Sounds in Books while Reading

Find pictures in books that start with the sound(s) you are working on: “Do you see anything on this page that starts with a ___ sound?” Give your child time and patience. If your child finds a sound but does not start with the sound you asked for respond in an encouraging way, praising the sound they did find. If the sound was “p” but they found “b” you might say: “Wow, you found a picture with the “b” sound,  “ball” begins with this sound! Now ask if you can have a turn too. You can model finding the “p” sound. Look I found something round too, “pizza” starts with a “p” sound.

Moveable Alphabet tips and games

  • The letters in the Moveable Alphabet are organized in alphabetical order to help students process as they see, feel, touch and do. Ask your student to find the letter (or letters) that makes the ___ sound. You can do this weekly after learning sounds, to practice and reinforce. Always have your children find the letters to match sounds and to also put away the letters when possible.
  • Have your student take the letter sound you are working on or reviewing out of the moveable alphabet box. Have your student walk around the room or permitted area and put the letter in front of any object that starts with that sound. You can play this same game with first, middle and last sound. See game below.
  • Put out letters of moveable alphabet in a sequence on the table and have letters that are missing. Have your student fill in the missing letters (examples: a__ c,  d e __,  g __i,  j  k  __).
  • Ask your student to find the first sound in a word. For example, try the word hat (this list can be the same word cards you practice with Hatchling Volume 1 or Volume 2).
  • Ask your student to find the middle sound—this will be the short vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u) in closed syllable words. Closed syllable words have 1 syllable, one vowel, and are closed in at the end by a consonant or consonants. For example, the word “dog” or “stand” are closed syllable words.
  • Play the Magic “E” game. Spell out any of the following words in the lid of the Moveable alphabet:  cap, car, spar, her, them, kit, bit, pin, twin, rod, nod, hop, glob, hug,  cub. Have your student add the Magic “E” to the end of the word and read with the long vowel sound.
  • Play “My Mistake” with your student. Once your child has completed Volume 1C, CVC words (consonant/vowel/consonant words), you can play with the words you have learned and add new ones. Using the CVC objects, spell words and make mistakes. Ask your students to check your words and ask if they are correct. If they find the mistake have them change the letter to make it correct. For example, beside the object “bag” you spell “bog” with the Moveable Alphabet. Have your student correct your mistake.
  • Play “What New Word” with your student.  After completing 1C and 1H in Hatchling, Volume 1, see if your student can make new words out of words they have learned. For example, they learned the word “bag” in Hatchling 1C. How many words can they make if they take away the letter “b” and replace with a different sound (gag, hag, jag, lag, mag, nag, rag, sag, tag, wag, zag)? Let the words be nonsense or part of a longer word or names. Have fun and be playful. The point is you want your student to identify the correct sounds.

Have fun… the thing is, when it comes to PLAY and learning, the possibilities are endless!


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Around the Campfire: Asking Questions

Never be afraid to ask questions!

You can teach your children.

You can teach them well!

We’ve developed tools to help you and your students succeed.  However, when it comes to early English Language Arts, the vast array of terms that describe the scope and sequence children must assimilate on the path toward literacy is daunting. There are 44 phonemes (sounds) in the English language, but there are around 250 graphemes (letters or combinations of letters that represent single sounds)!

Tip 5

Ask questions!

As mentioned in my last post, having a mentor and a tribe of support was a wonderful part of my homeschool journey.  These are people who encouraged and cheered me on! These are the people I peppered with questions along the way!

We hope that you will consider us part of your tribe.

Anticipating your questions, we’ve developed a thin little Teacher Helps to accompany both Hatchling, Volume 1 for kindergarten and Volume 2 for 1st grade. Inside this volume you read all about the world of early ELA—phonics, sight words, journalling, spelling, and the scope and sequence of literacy! When it comes to questions, we encourage you to read through your Teacher Helps and to take a really thorough sneak peak into the student journals. Hopefully this material will answer many of the questions that you have about beginning and sustaining learning. But you will have more, I certainly did! Read again, underline, write notes in the margins.

Below are four questions as example of the many answers embedded in our Teacher Helps for Hatchling.


Why study phonics?

On page 9 in our Teacher Helps, we explain why phonics. Phonics is a method of teaching students to read and write (notice we mention these together, at the same time). Phonics is a method of teaching students to read and write by helping them hear, identify and manipulate phonemes. We start at the beginning the A, B, C’s when learning to read and write. Letters represent the sounds we speak and hear -this is phonemes! Phonics is an organized, logical system but the English language has 26 letters of the alphabet when combined in various ways create the 44 sounds or phonemes. In Latin/Greek phone means “voice or sound”. The written letters are called Grapheme’s. In Latin/Greek graph means “to write or written”. When referring to the name of a letter we put the letter in quotes, “a”. When referring to a sound a letter makes we put the sound between two slopping lines, /a/. With so many letters and combination of letters it is best to teach sounds over names.  This takes time, practice, play, visual and hands on materials.


Why spell through phonics?

On page 12 in our Teacher Helps we explain why spell through phonics. During the primary years (1-3 grades) students will spend a lot of time and effort understanding how to encode print words using the English alphabet. Encoding is essentially a writing process. Encoding breaks a spoken word down into parts that are written or spelled out. Decoding on the other hand breaks a written word into parts that are verbally spoken. Our approach moves the student from the concrete, familiar objects to teach phonemes easing them into the complicated abstract world of spelling.  Students get insight into the world of language, wowed that sounds make words, words combine to make phrases, phrases combine to make sentences and sentences combine to make passages.


How do I know if my student has mastered a skill?

How to review, practice, and check for understanding while learning these specific phonemes is listed on page 10 in the Teacher Helps. How to review High Frequency Sight Words is on page 13. We talk bout why handwriting is an essential skill on page 14, when it comes to early literacy. The art of handwriting promotes focus, fluency and flourish. The work of writing something down allows students to focus on form itself, enlisting executive function and promoting purposed attention. This focus transfers to all other learning. The work of writing something down strengthens fluency, fluency allows students to express ideas. Being imaginative and curious begins in our minds. Writing something down helps the student to flourish by elevating ideas and reinforcing the work of idea making.


What about pencil work?

Some students are not ready for the pencil right away. Some students need to remediate old habits. Students should first work with the touch and trace cards and the sand tray learning and practicing the strokes of each letter. Once you have built up this skill, slow focused strokes and stamina you can move to pencil and paper. We add in line and maze work as well. This may seem unnecessary but it will help students see the effects of pressure, position and speed on their line. A tip is to have the student change colors each line, which will help the student slow down and foster focus. For the line work in Volume 1, or the maze work in Volume 2, consider using transparent paper so your student can use the mazes more than once and increase their fine motor skills. On p.19 we give tips to painless or interactive journaling. Try to make writing playful, asking questions, listening, making observations, discussing, taking a “my turn” and “your turn” approach to learning.


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Around the Campfire: Learning the terms!

We never planned on homeschooling. Then suddenly our first child was getting closer to school age and the big question hung over our heads, “Where does she go to school?”

We were in our first small starter home, the last one we could possibly afford left in Orange County. We were not in a good school district. Let’s just say our local school was rated quite low. We thought of the private route and started doing research. That led to us to multiplying tuition times 3 children (our two sons following our beautiful daughter) and it seemed like a plan we could never sustain. On top of these realities, my husband and I were both quite aware that our daughter was going to learn differently—dyslexia ran in our family and we were noticing some of the signs.

Suddenly, paying for private school we couldn’t really afford and having my daughter away from us for 7 hours a day starting in kindergarten didn’t appear like the right plan. At this time, one of my best friends from childhood discovered homeschooling. Next thing I knew, I was ordering books, attending talks and learning about homeschooling. Up to this point I had never heard of anyone who homeschooled and it was quite a mystery to me.

What I did hear over and over from truly everyone was: “Read to your kids!”

This was no problem! Because I loved reading to my kids, this was an easy task.  I loved snuggling, reading aloud, discussing stories, making up stories, acting out stories, listening to stories while we drove. I was told if you read to your kids, they will eventually read. I read and pointed out words and letters, yet, my daughter did not read. Not only did she not read, but she couldn’t even sing the ABC song correctly, let alone identify the letters!  I would consistently sit in groups of other homeschooling moms who would say, “Don’t worry it will come.”

During this time, I met my mentor, friend, and eventually boss through another homeschooling parent. My mentor ran a private school and also had developed a unique language arts curriculum and ran her own publishing company—Blackbird & Company. During this part of the journey I learned why phonics is important. I learned terms like phoneme, grapheme, digraphs, CVC words, syllables and so much more. I think I knew these concepts on some level. I had attended public school and had done quite well in my elementary school years, I was even placed in the gifted programs. But like most people I don’t remember being taught to read.

In the homeschooling world, this concept of “being able to read” always boiled down to a natural process.

This is, of course, partially true. And maybe it is completely true for some children, but for others this “natural process” needs little coaxing. I felt rather lost and ill-equipped. Since this time, I have met many homeschooling parents at conferences. What I love about my job is that I feel I am just another mom talking to other moms about tools that worked for me. Many of the moms I talk to don’t know what a phoneme or grapheme is, or  what CVC even stands for (consonant, vowel, consonant)! I am honored and grateful every time they ask. It is not a sign of intelligence, or an indicator that you will be a good teacher if aren’t familiar with these terms.  I think quite the opposite is true.

I think the best teachers aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know!”  The best teachers readily say, “Can you help me?”

Blackbird & Company curriculum was a breakthrough for me and my children because it broke down the concepts and helped me understand these new terms via hands-on-tools. This led me to becoming Barton Trained, to a study of the Orton-Gillingham method, and a deep dive into the foundational terms that are the foundations of the English language.

This month we will begin to post videos of phonics tips and terms to accompany Hatchling, Volume 1 learning. In these videos we discuss terms you may not recognize and give you tips to support your student in early learning—especially when a student may need a little coaxing! We are adding pages of terms, extra words to work on, and extended lessons to accompany our materials. Videos for Hatchling, Volume 2 will follow late winter, early spring. Our beautifully simple, yet full, Teacher’s Helps is, of course, included in our curated Hatchling kits. Our videos will expand on the tools provided, allowing you to learn right along side your student.

When I met my mentor, I was so overwhelmed and everything felt so complicated. What Blackbird & Company curriculum did for me was take me back to the basics and kept it simple. We started learning what was important—all the right terms—together, slowly and well. You can too!

Tip 4

Learn the terms.

Stay tuned for more Campfire Tips!


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Around the Campfire: September is Near

Victor Hugo’s words were always in eyeshot when I was raising and educating my children:

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.”

September is just around the corner.

It’s time to start sketching out a plan for next  year—yes, NEXT year!

And we’re here to help.

Tip Number 3.

Planning Leads to Follow Through

Winter officially began December 21st. Spring will arrive March 2nd with summer on its heels!

Fall will arrive in the blink of an eye!

Now is the perfect time to begin thinking about the journey forward. As you get into the rhythm of winter, looking forward to spring, stretch your sights just a wee bit further toward the fall of 2024/25 and begin to outline for the coming school year! Begin by taking a peak at next year’s curated Grade Level Collection, or, if you are creating your own collection, make sure you choose both CORE and APPLICATION materials to round out a complete ELA course of study.

Here’s How:

1. CHOOSE 6 CORE Integrated Literature and Writing Guides

Blackbird & Company Integrated Literature+Writing Discovery Guides are CORE to our curriculum offering.

Our guides are tied to exceptional classic and contemporary novels across a broad range of genres. All levels — Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and 4 — are structured to guide students into the act of reading and the art of writing. This CORE offering follows a weekly format with ample room for students to catalog their unique observations and bring shape to their ideas.

2. Choose APPLICATION materials according to your student’s grade or skill level.

Skills are presented systematically from Phonics in the primary years toward Vocabulary Development (through high school). Grammar and Punctuation are thoroughly introduced in elementary, moving toward a four year exploration of Rhetoric in upper elementary and middle school.

Research Writing is introduced in late primary early elementary, and continues on through the first year of middle school. Creative Writing is formally introduced via Storymaker and again in the middle school three units exploring the art of poetry.

Compositional Writing, exploring essay form, is covered over 5 units beginning in middle school and culminating in the second year of high school. In the final two years of high school, students will put everything together that they have learned and practiced in the Long Research unit.

Stay tuned this week as we begin to focus on supporting and planning for Primary—kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade.