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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!


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New Year / New View


When my oldest son was a toddler, I watched him make his way toward our back yard fence toward a knothole. I watched to see what he would do. Funny thing, he just stood there. He stood there for the longest time in the silence of mid-morning. I wondered what my son was seeing. I wondered about the other side of the fence. So I tiptoed into the house, grabbed my film camera and made my way to the other side of the fence.

This is the face of wonderment.

 So her's to wonderment. Find a knothole. Have a look see.



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Ideas of the Original Variety


I've had the privilege of exploring his architectural scaffolding—Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species—with my apprentices during Science Discovery. 

There are four types of sentences: Statement, Question, Exclamation, and Command. Teachers are famous for jotting that last type—command—in swarms on their chalkboards.

But imagine your science teacher marching into class and scribbling this on the chalkboard:

Devise a system for naming and classifying ALL living things. 

Imagine the buggy eyes, the tilted heads, the groans, the tears.

Never happen.

Now imagine a time way before the technological advances that our computer age has to offer. Way, way back before our Declaration of Independence was conceived in the minds of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin there was a young man named Carolus Linnaeus. Born on May 23, 1707, in Råshult, Sweden, his father, a lover of all things botanical, introduced him to the joy of observational science. Young Carolus was encouraged to imagine possibility as he tended his very own garden over time. He looked back fondly on that garden as a place that "inflamed my soul with an unquenchable love of plants."

As Linnaeus continued to observe nature, he developed a passion for order.  Over the course of his life, Linnaeus accomplished a great many things—research, publication of scientific papers, a medical practice. Greatest of all, he devised a binomial system for naming and classifying all living things… without the prompting of a teacher's command!

Way before computers, Linnaeus was an information architect.


It's taken the better part of the year to appropriate the great lessons we chip away at on a daily basis—value silence, process is a slow and steady pacing, your-ideas-matter, work works—but now, like a spring bloom, I marvel at the fragrance of their progress. In a few short weeks, you too will be able to flip through the Science Discovery Journals to experience the wonder of this important work.

So much of education is couched in the promise that technology will ensure success. But so much of what we really desire for our children cannot develop without the passion to care about an academic work at hand and the longitude to explore. Challenging children to engage in the work of idea-making and providing the time to Discover just what it takes to bring shape to that idea, time and time again, leads to Critical Creative Thinking. Truth is, technology is a tremendous asset of our age, but the art of learning is a low-tech endeavor.

Ideas of the original variety begin with a spark of curiosity, not a command, and rarely a click.

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Observing Pumice


A few years ago Sara brought me a handful of pumice from Mount St. Helens and so I began the lesson with research of the volcano. We moved from there to the chemistry of carbon. When it comes to Observation, the possibilities are limitless. At last, directed the group of Observers to create a close observation drawing in conduction with the research in their Observation Journals—including a close focus section.

This little jar of fodder has proved more valuable than any textbook. This drawing by Marlo began with value—organic shapes of darks and lights. Once she was satisfied with the large shapes, she began to look for texture, began to mimic what she saw with varied lines on the page. Smaller still, she added dark marks to represent the deep bubbled areas on the volcanic stone. Most significantly, Marlo kept going—she kept looking. Perseverance is a skill that can not be be taught from a textbook.


Can anyone learn to draw like Marlo?

Indeed, YES!

Yes, yes you can. You can draw like Marlo, but first you must learn to observe.

Observation is a foundational academic. Learning to "look closely" across all domains of learning will strengthen the student's Creative Critical Thinking skills. For this reason, Observation exercises should be integrated into the weekly routine to transform this crucial skill to a Habit of Being


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Important Work: the Art of Integrating Literacy


Blackbird & Company Discovery Literature Guides are designed to integrate the skills of reading and writing. 
Over time, the curriculum will enable your children to develop the tools necessary to independently analyze and respond to great stories. Our goal is to help the child work independently freeing up the mentor’s expertise. Each week, the mentor has two tasks:
1. Read the section to facilitate discussion, helping your readers tap into the heart of the story. Our guides have discussion questions built into every section, providing the framework for weekly interaction between you and your children. Questions are designed to spark student’s memories, trigger their interpretations, and get them thinking beyond the page about how a story can relate to their actual lives. In time, students who participate regularly in a discussion circle will become excited and amazed about what they glean from books.
2. Conference with the writer, lending expertise necessary for the emerging writer to gain the skills necessary to articulate an original idea on paper. Encourage young writers in Levels 2 through Level 3 to develop the skill of self-conferencing —having drafted, re-read, and made self-edit marks in red. 

Establish a routine. The comfort of routine, once established, will set roots deep into soil, establishing a framework for the tree to grow strong. The following schedule—45 minutes to 1 hour per day—will allow your children to pace (not RACE) through the Discovery guide and establish the Habits of Beings specific to literacy.  

Saturday & Sunday – Read the new section over the weekend… Create a tradition of cozy reading!
Monday- Complete the vocabulary Acquire and begin taking notes in the Journal (Characters, Setting, Plot)
Tuesday- Complete notes Journal (Characters, Setting, Plot) and begin comprehension Recollect
Wednesday- Complete the rough draft Explore, re-read and make edits with a red pen
Thursday- Conference with an adult mentor and complete comprehension Recollect
Friday- Complete the final draft, carefully re-reading and implementing all edit suggestions 

We remember the things we discover for ourselves. As your children grow, the intensity of the important work that will enable them to discover, increases. Work is GOOD!

Remember, no child is able to do the work of bringing an original idea into the world without the tools. You can present a child with oil paint, for example, but without the skill to utilize the tool properly—color theory, practice mixing, good brushes and so on—the child will produce muddy colors.

Nothing fosters the higher-level thinking that allows students to form new ideas and opinions about real life more than hashing through a story in a discussion circle. What begins as an imagining in the mind of the writer is translated to story, and in turn, transferred to real life through group discussion. Integration is a powerful tool.


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Linda’s Little Earlybird

Linda has two little boys, has always dreamed of
homeschooling but she’s brand new to the Guild Method. So she flew to
California this summer so that Sara and I could help her shape her the lessons.
Her oldest son, Zach, was ripe for Kindergarten and so was she!

Back home, when school days arrived, she was ready and so
pictures of little boys water coloring apple trees, little fingers writing
words in salt, little paint brushes encoding CVC words in tempera on butcher
paper in the bright sunshine, and little minds constructing giant floor puzzles
delighted my email inbox. SO cute! Linda's BoysSure, there were tiny kinks to adjust here and there, but
the transition to school days was a beautiful thing in Linda’s little Ohio Guild.

But we all know what’s coming, right? The very first one of those
best-laid-plans days. So here we are,
nearing October. And a different kind of email was grimacing in my inbox, “…it
turned out to be a super frustrating experience…Grrr.” It seems Zach recognized
that he was face-to-face with a pencil-to-paper challenge and he took an about

I smiled, “There it is…!”

 Linda was super excited to begin our Fall Discovery Guide with her son. I still am. I am super excited for
her rocky beginning because it tells her precisely where Zach is strong and
where Zach is weak. Now the trick is to slowly strengthen him so he sees the
uphill climb as an adventure.

Our Earlybird Discovery Guides are recommended for a range
of Kindergarten and lower level primary (grades 1 and 2) children who are in
the process of acquiring foundational decoding and encoding skills, but not yet
reading and writing independently. What this means is that the material must be
approached with the child’s ability in mind. The important thing at this stage
of academic development is to challenge the child to press into work that
requires discipline without crushing the marvelous innate passion for learning.

Here are the tips I
offered Linda—Easy as 1, 2, 3:

1. Pace important work over 5 days.

Tackle the writing in
15-minute increments. Shrink some of the responsibility for writing, but not
the problem solving and idea making.


Read the story.

Have Zach draw the characters and to describe their
personality traits—how they think, act, feel. Capture three “trait” words from
his stream of communication and write them out so he can copy them into his
guide. Give him 15 minutes to do the copy work. 


Work on the vocabulary matching exercises together. Then,
read the sentences with the missing words and have Zach choose between two of
the vocabulary words to complete the sentences. Write the words that complete
each sentence for Zach to copy during his 15-minute “Important Work” time.


Read the story again, this time stopping periodically for
Zach to tell you what is about to happen.

Work with Zach to complete the comprehension sentences from
the Word Bank. Write the words that complete each sentence for Zach to copy
during his 15-minute “Important Work” time. 


No reading today… unless, that is, Zach asks you to read the
story again!

Today, for the sentences in the Comprehension section that
are to be completed with original phrases—dependent clauses—let Zach dictate
while you inscribe. That’s right, NO writing for Zach! As you complete each
sentence, write slowly, and say each word aloud as if you are sounding out
letter that forms the word. In doing so you will be modeling the art of
encoding language.


Have Zach re-tell the story in his own words. Then, read the
creative writing prompt for the Writing Exercise. Pass the Earlybird Guide to
Zach and let him “draw” his story with colored pencils. When he is done
drawing, let him dictate a two or three sentence to you. Inscribe his ideas…NO writing
for Zach!   

2. Think Longitude.

As Zach becomes more comfortable with writing—and this
will take time, think longitude—allow him to take over bits and pieces of the
writing you are doing for him.

3. Reach for the Stars!

Create a Star Chart and a prize box filled with
dollar-store trinkets. For every ten stars, Zach gets to go shopping. Here,
Linda came up with the terrific idea to use beans in a jar, clink clink clink,
what boy would not love this noise? Thanks Linda!


There’s a phrase I’ve learned to grip tightly over the
years. Recently, my dear friend, Christian, added a quirky little “whoa,
horsie” sass to the phrase. This made me chuckle, “Yes!” The phrase is
“stagger, tortoise.” Now you try it. That’s right. Now, say it again, only
louder, “S-t-a-g-g-e-r, tortoise!” 


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“Tiny Magical Spheres of Wonder”

These curious little balls commonly known as water pearls (I prefer my name) are in a word…captivating.

Their usefulness in exploring science and math are obvious and you can find tons of great ideas all over the Internet for incoroprating these little gems into your learning adventures.

Or maybe simply playing with and marveling at them holds just as much educational value.

Sometimes poetry can be found in the most unexpected places.


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Seven Ways to the Wonders of Chemistry

Chemistry is much more than a table
of elements, complicated theories, and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the
foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is
at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word
chemistry and they will run! That’s
why this year I chose to introduce my elementary and middle school apprentices
to the subject before it was too late.

Honestly, chemistry is no
more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly
NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking
its wonders.

Here are some ideas to
get started.

1. Transcend the Textbook
There are all sorts of
wonderful books available to help simplify this expansive subject. Chemistry: Getting a
Big Reaction
, by Simon Basher, is a really good introduction for children.

In his book, The Periodic Kingdom, P.W Atkins transforms the periodic table to a
fictitious kingdom where we can explore the potential of its topography. This
is the perfect, albeit heady, way to move beyond the mundane and journey into
the wonderful territory of chemistry.

2. Go Digital
One of the best resources
available on the web is hosted by The University of Nottingham. Trust me, The Periodic Kingdom of Videos is AMAZING, crazy-haired scientist and all! Your apprentices will want to watch
every single video and once they do, they will never be bored by chemistry

Element videos

3. Demonstrate Virtually
These ChemDemos from James Madison University help kids to visualize chemical concepts. (The Gummy Bear Sacrifice is particularly dramatic.)

4. Experiment
Experiencing the wonders
of chemistry is to experiment. But keep it simple. Focus on the concept of
chemical reactions. Teach the budding chemist to hypothesize.

You can purchase a
chemistry kits all over the Web:
Thames & Kosmos and Carolina both have tons of great resources.

Or purchase a book of
experiment recipes like, Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid: 101
Easy Experiments that Really Work
Janice Van Cleave

5. Play

The Elements Puzzle: 1000 Pieces, by Theodore Gray
The Periodic Table of Elements Magnets, by Smart
Memory Art
Elementeo Chemistry Card Game, by Alchemist Empire,

Periodic Table Playing Cards, by Les Entreprises SynHeme

6. Sing Along

They Might Be Giants – Meet the Elements from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

7. Research and Make!
This past week I assigned each of my 22 science
apprentices an element to research. Each would write a three-part paper. The
research paper would begin like all good research papers should, by
communicating the history and basic scientific characteristics of that element.
The paper would move on to discuss the element’s purpose and uses in the wide
world. But I saved the best for last. The third section of the research paper
would move on to a larger discussion of what the element teaches human kind
about human nature. I helped them to begin this consideration by asking, “If
you were an element, what element would you be and why?” The group smiled and
the conversation got lively. Ultimately, this is the challenge that my
apprentices liked best of all because this is the sector of their research
where they were invited to engage imagination. 

I provided each of my apprentices with a frame from
my local craft store—only $1.00 each—and gave them specific instructions to
stain the frame with a color that would best represent or compliment their
element (I, of course provided the watercolor). They were to put periodic table
information on the front of the frame and amazing facts on the back of the
frames. The frames would not only guide them in an oral presentation of their research,
but in the end become a larger than life game for our guild, “Scramble them up
and see how fast you can order them!” 

Here are some wonderful resources to have on hand
during the research:
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
, and The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements: With Big Beautiful
Photographs of All 118 Elements in the Periodic Table
, by Theodore Gray, and The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher.

PS – And just for a little more Periodic Table fun!

– Kim

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Sugar Cube Construction

I have vivid and happy memories from my elementary school years of building my California mission out of sugar cubes. Being that my brother is five years older than me, I was lucky to always have a preview of what was to come for various school projects. Willie was (and is) a master builder, inventor, and maker of all things cool and mechanical and as a faithful little sister, I basically worshipped him, and everything he did and made. His creations were my inspiration and although I never quite matched him in precision and craftsmanship, I am grateful for what he showed me was possible.

Sugar cubes aren't quite as common at the supermarket anymore but if you come across them, snatch up a box or two for a "sweet" construction session. They provide a great exercise in self-control…and hold magical potential for architects of all ages with their sharp edges, sparkly whiteness, and grainy texture. After all the hard work, don't forget to reward your young builder with the thrill of crunching through one perfect cube of 100% pure sugary goodness!

– Tracey


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Leaving Ticonderoga In the Dust

We use a whole-lotta-lead in our little cooperative school. This year I got wise, I go directly to Dixon for the goods! But sometimes, especially as young ones are honing their reading and writing skills, they need work that does not involve gripping a pencil. We call this type of work “Discovery” because it affords the opportunity for the primary student to make a choice, attend to the work involved in that choice, and ultimately, discover something in the process. 

We dedicate shelf space and time in each day to this type of work. Discovery provides an opportunity to focus on an independent activity without dividing the effort between two skills, the academic task at hand and the developing fine motor, which is a task and a half for many children.

Discovery activities are usually hand made, or assembled from treasures found at the dollar store or at yard sales. We also mix in prepared materials designed for the Montessori and Waldorf style classroom. The possibilities are truly only limited by your imagination. Once the work is complete, the student has the work checked then attends to the task of placing the materials back in its place on the shelf until next time.

Here are some ideas from our little group, and as time goes by we'll be sharing additional activities. Please contribute your own ideas too in the comments section…learning from eachother is a gift!


Sock Paring Basket

– medium size basket
– 8-10 pairs of colorful ankle socks (easier to fold together)

Mix up sock collection in basket. Child finds pairs and folds them together. Talk about what a pair is, count the pairs aloud together, talk about the colors and patterns, etc. When finished, child separates socks and places them back in basket.


Pom Pom Sorting

Pom poms are by definition fun and full of delight! Now something to do with that large bag from Michael's that was calling your name…

– small basket
– muffin tin
– pom poms in various sizes and colors
– small tongs

Child builds fine motor skills by using tongs to sort pom poms into muffin cups. They can play with sorting by either size or color. When finished, child places pom poms back in basket.