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Yes They Can!


This past week my students completed reading the first book of the year, The Family Under the Bridge. I was delighted that my youngest son not only knew what to do but dove into the work headfirst! He began by removing all the sandwich bags from their box in the drawer, piling tape, glue, scissors, colored pencils and a plethora of art paper on the kitchen table. I watched him move from idea to finished product as I washed dishes and prepared dinner. In the end he smiled with satisfaction and proclaimed joyfully, “Tomorrow I will write a report to go with my diorama.” My son just turned 10! Not only is he self-motivated, he is delighted to do the work. Why? Routine. 

No matter the subject, establishing a routine is a painstaking process, but once rooted, students thrive. Our literature products are developed with this truth in mind, providing students with the framework to guide them through the discovery process in a consistent manner that will, over time, develop the disciplined routine that leads to self-motivation.

With our approach, each book is read and explored over the course of four weeks. During the fifth week, students develop a creative culminating project with options that provide a variety of ways for them to demonstrate deep understanding of the book. Students not only get a chance to demonstrate their originality, organization, clarity of purpose, and critical thinking skills, more importantly this culminating endeavor will allow them to show off what they have learned in their own, uniquely creative way.

Whether you are using our literature discovery guides in an individual mentoring situation or in a group setting, students really love sharing their culminating thoughts about great stories. Encouraging readers to create final projects with a high level of execution teaches them that their ideas are valuable and builds integrity into their work habits. Connecting your students with other students and the work produced in response to great stories is motivating and raises the bar on the end product. For this reason, we have created a Flickr group where students can share visuals of how great stories spark creativity. We encourage you to join this group, to add your own work samples, and to visit often!

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Pages From a Third Grade Observation Journal

Almost exactly a year ago we posted about observation journaling (A Closer Look – Part 1 & Part 2). Working on this kind of journal is an important and holistic endeavor that builds science, reasearch, art, and writing skills. At the end of the year, if done with regularity, you'll find it's not only a precious memento of pictures and words but a rich and informed body of work.

Revisit our posts for a how-to, and be inspired by these pages from Hannah's third grade journal. I especially love how she takes note of her "fore frecels." Precious indeed!



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No Rules Animal Poetry

Eb_florian_bnd_LRG Douglas Florian is a poet and artist extraordinaire!

Winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and recipient of an ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, he is the author and illustrator of many delightful children’s books.

Douglas Florian believes there is only one rule when it comes to poetry, that there are no rules.

Your youngest students can explore scientific and silly facts about creatures of all kinds with our Douglas Florian Earlybird Guide, and even try their hand at writing their own animal poetry. The results are fantastic!


Ate a thousand fish

In the white bathtub

In the night when the people were sleeping

To grow as big as the house

– Jedd, age 5



Jumped and did a back flip

Under blue and white water

At snack time

To have fun

– Cameron, age 6



Met a friend

At the light blue drop off

Early in dark morning

To not have to wait as long

– Maddie, age 6

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Creative Writing and The Periodic Table


A few days ago Søren shared an idea, “am going to write a story using all the letters on the periodic table.”

What in the world? After a summer of focusing on the garden—tilling earth, planting seeds, and harvesting fruit—the periodic table of the elements? But in the end, I realized that Søren’s idea has everything to do with the garden.

Last year I taught chemistry in my guild to a handful of high school students. We read The Periodic Kingdom, and “journeyed through the land of chemical elements” with P.W. Atkins. We watched the periodic table. Yes, watched. This was mad science in action. Chemists from the University of Nottingham have created a short video about each of the 118 elements. Stoichiometry, polarity, and biochemistry entered our discussion, and we concocted reactions in our little make-shift lab, extracted DNA from a variety of sources. But our explorations of the table itself was most amazing. And where was Søren? The little hovering bird was gathering seeds, of course.

So this morning, I woke up, hobbled sleepily into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, and saw our favorite coffee table acquisition from the chemistry class: The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, on the table along with a writer’s toolkit—pen, paper, dictionary.

Søren had an idea and was brave enough to engage the work, even during the last week of summer.

Thanks Leonardo.

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Home Ec: Tools & Measuring (with CUPCAKES!)

Whenever I make a recipe like lemon curd or custard I freeze the left over egg whites in a freezer bag and label it with how many whites are in there. When you get five stored up, that’s a great time to make white cupcakes. Just thaw the whites in a bowl of warm water on the counter before proceeding. Or, conversely, when you make lemon curd, make white cupcakes! They are wonderful together!

Before begining, here are the basics of measuring for baking. Start teaching these simple methods to your kids to build their confidence in the kitchen.

Type of ingredient:            How to measure:

Cake Flour                          Sift flour, spoon into dry measuring cup
                                            and level with straight edge

All Purpose Flour                Use dry measuring cup, spoon in
                                            and level with straight edge

Granulated Sugar                Use dry measuring cup, spoon in or scoop
                                            and level off with straight edge 

Brown sugar                        Use dry measuring cup, pack it down,
                                            it will come out in a mold

Confectioners Sugar           Use dry measuring cup, sift sugar,
                                            level with straight edge

Baking Powder, Cocoa        Use measuring spoons, dip in and level off

Liquids                                 Use liquid measuring cups at eye level

Shortening                           Pack into dry cup and level off

If you will follow these guidelines, it will make your recipes come out better because you won’t be using too much or too little of the ingredient. For instance, if you scoop flour with the cup you will use too much because scooping packs the flour down. For tastier treats, carefully measure!


Now let’s talk tools:

I have quite a selection of measuring implements. I like to collect them! I bake a ton and like to have several sets on hand so I don’t have to stop and wash them. I keep all the measuring spoons in a little crock so they are handy.

Some sets of dry cups have more than just 1, 3/4, 1/2, and ¼ cups. It’s nice to have 1/3 and 2/3 cups as well.

It’s the same with measuring spoons. I love having 1/8 teaspoon, 1 ½ teaspoon, 1 ½ tablespoon etc.

A variety of liquid measuring cups is important also. One cup, two cup, four cup and eight cup are all helpful.

Okay, now here’s the cupcake recipe:

White Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream
This recipe comes from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. It is a wonderful basic white cake recipe. It is perfect for teaching the basics of cake making and how to properly measure ingredients.

• 3¼ cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
• 1½ tablespoons baking powder      
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature
• ½ cup plus 6 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1¾ cups sugar
• 5 large egg whites, room temperature

For the Frosting:
• 1 cup unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons lightly packed finely grated lemon zest
• 3½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Making the cake:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir vanilla into milk.


2. With an electric mixer on medium-high, cream butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until just combined after each.


3. In another bowl, with electric mixer on medium speed, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Fold one third of the whites into the batter to lighten. Gently fold in remaining whites in two batches.


4. Divide batter evenly among cups, filling each, three-quarters full. Bake until a tester inserted comes out clean 18 to 20 minutes.



Note: I never trust any time given in recipes for cooking. I always start checking at least 5 minutes before the minimum time they give because ovens often run hot. Over baking cakes makes them dry and tough so always start checking early!

Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins to cool completely before frosting.

Making the frosting:

1. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and lemon zest with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar in batches and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and beat 1 minute. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.


Note: I piped lemon curd into the center of my cupcakes (about 1 teaspoon or so). I then piped the frosting over the cupcakes and sprinkled them with yellow candies.


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Our City Garden

Tomatoes I’ve been watching our garden grow. The boys have learned so much about attention as they tend this living and growing thing. When little green tomatoes appeared they beamed with satisfaction. And when it was time for the first harvest (which was sizable for these city dwellers) I could not get them to stand still for the photo!

Since the garden was also abloom with basil and zucchini, we decided to make our first meal, Italian-esque. We can dream Tuscany, right?

We set a pot on the stove and waited for the water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, we chopped tomatoes and basil and sauteed them in olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. We let the harvest settle into flame just long enough to wilt the vegetables. Then we put the chunky goodness into our food mill and cranked until the base for our sauce emerged.

Spinn We poured the tomato basil puree into a sauce pan, reduced it slightly, and added some cream. We served this over our pasta with grilled slices of homegrown zucchini on the side.

Trust me, this was a first for our family.

Seed. Earth. Water. Sun.

Galvanized trash containers and a front yard planter converted to a vegetable garden.

My boys are still amazed.

– Kim


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Home Ec: Lemon Curd

Whipping up all those tasty meringues got me going on an egg theme! You know that the meringue recipe left me with left over egg yolks so, what to do? Of course, lemon curd! It’s one of the yummiest things in the world! And it’s a gorgeous color of yellow!

Lemon Curd Recipe
– 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
– ¾ cup granulated sugar
– ½ cup fresh lemon juice
– 3 tablespoons lightly packed finely grated lemon zest
– Pinch salt
– 6 large egg yolks

Curdd Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sugar, lemon juice, zest, and salt. Whisk in the yolks until smooth.

CurdcReturn the pan to medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. To check if the curd is thick enough, dip a wooden spoon into it and draw your finger across the back of the spoon; your finger should leave a path. Don’t let the mixture boil.

Curda Immediately force the curd through a fine sieve into a bowl, using a rubber spatula. Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally, or place plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate, covered until ready to use. That is, if you don’t eat it all standing right there at the counter!

Curde Tip: The secret to success with this recipe is to use med-low heat. You are making a custard of sorts. Heat causes the yolks to thicken beautifully but if you get impatient the eggs with curdle and scorch. The hardest part of this recipe is grating all the lemon zest. You need a microplane grater! Use a light touch and only remove the top layer of peel. Directly under the yellow is white pith. It is bitter! I once made a beautiful looking lemon tart that tasted terrible because I didn’t know about the pith thing yet. Very sad experience, but I never did that again!

So make your lemon curd and get ready for some yum!

Stay tuned later this week for a sweet back-to-school recipe…lemon curd-filled white cupcakes frosted with delectable lemon butter cream.

– Sara

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Da Vinci Summer II: Spontaneity

Sir Ken Robinson has all sorts of ideas about creativity:

“You can be imaginative all day long and never do anything.”

“To be creative you have to do something.”

He defines imagination as, “…the process of having original ideas that have value.”

Creativity is is the work of bringing an imagination to shape.

Perfectionism and procrastination have the power to silence an idea by simply stopping imagination in its tracks. I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. So has Sir Ken:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

As a mom and educator, I design opportunities for creativity to occur on a daily basis. Other times—and I am thankful for these moments—spontaneity does the work for me.

Last week my two youngest sons, Liam and Søren, spent the day at the office with Uncle Brian who gave them a challenge: Make something.

He provided:
• Gaffer’s Tape
• Bubble Wrap
• Zip Ties

And they spent the next couple hours creating.

They marched into the house that evening beaming with pride in their accomplishment.

Thanks Uncle Brian.

PS I couldn’t help but notice some whispering of you-know-who in their creations!

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Sweet Tradition


When Hannah was little, one of her favorite books was The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear. We read this story over and over! The story is clever, rhythmic and provides terrific opportunities for garden and kitchen fun. We grew a pot of strawberries, picked them and popped them into our mouths as we read, we made strawberry shortcake, strawberry tarts, strawberry sundaes. But by far Hannah's favorite was strawberry freezer jam because she got to SMASH the berries in a bowl.


Recently I pulled the book from our collection of read-alouds, and placed it on the counter next to the supplies for freezer jam. Twenty-one-year-old Hannah was delighted. She flipped through the pages, but “read” the story from memory!

The fruit of tradition is sweet as any strawberry!

This recipe is SO easy and super fun to make…. red ripe strawberries, sugar and pectin… voila! Follow the instructions on the package of Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin.

– Kim