Resource Review: National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds

One of my favorite activities to undertake with my kids is heading out into nature and taking a look at what different forms of flora and fauna we see. I’ve been meaning to build a collection of field guides so I can help my kids to identify the different things we see. When I was offered the chance to review National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, I was happy to do so.

This volume is a really great reference to have on hand – both for any nature studies and just for watching outside of your windows. I wish I’d had it on hand months ago when we had a large bird of some sort hanging out on one of our trees (I think it was a hawk). There are greatly detailed illustrations of the different birds, depicting adult birds and their young. Each entry has a map showing where the bird is commonly found – to help with identification – and a little summary of the bird. I’m sure it will come in useful many times in the coming years, and I would argue that good field guides are must-haves for anyone teaching biology and ecology at home.

About Field Guide To The Birds Of North America

• Paperback: 592 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 7 edition (September 12, 2017)

This fully revised and updated edition of the best-selling North American bird field guide is the most up-to-date guide on the market.

Perfect for beginning to advanced birders, it is the only book organized to match the latest American Ornithologists’ Union taxonomy. With more than 2.75 million copies in print, this perennial bestseller is the most frequently updated of all North American bird field guides. Filled with hand-painted illustrations from top nature artists, this latest edition is poised to become an instant must-have for every serious birder in the United States and Canada.

The 7th edition includes 37 new species for a total of 1,023 species. Sixteen new pages allow for 250 fresh illustrations, 80 new maps, and 350 map revisions. With taxonomy updated to recent significant scientific rearrangement, the addition of standardized banding codes, and text completely vetted by birding experts, this new edition will stand at the top of the list of birding field guides for years to come.

Social Media

Please use the hashtag #fieldguidetothebirdsofnorthamerica and tag @tlcbooktours.

Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Resource Review: The Splendor of Birds

I have a confession: I don’t like birds. I mean, I think they’re absolutely beautiful creatures, but for some reason, they terrify me. That said, every one of my kids has been fascinated with birds – and with good reason. They fly, they’re beautiful, and they’re covered in feathers. National Geographic’s The Splendor of Birds is the first of two resources on learning about birds that I had the opportunity to review  (the second resource will be reviewed later this week).

This volume goes through the history of art and photographs depicting birds in National Geographic. This is a visually stunning volume. In addition to the imagery in the book, there are excerpts from National Geographic covering birds. My kids enjoyed looking through the book and seeing the vast variety of birds that there are in the world. This is a great volume ot have in your homeschool library for artistic reference (for kids wanting to draw birds), biology reference, and just for kids who are curious about birds to look through.

About The Splendor of Birds

• Hardcover: 512 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic (October 23, 2018)

An elegant collection of the best artwork and photography from the National Geographic archives depicting the magnificence of birds.

Bird, nature, and art lovers alike will treasure this sumptuous visual celebration of the colors, forms, and behaviors of the winged wonders who share our world as they have been explored, displayed, and revealed throughout the years by National Geographic. The book moves chronologically so readers witness the tremendous growth in our knowledge of birds over the last 130 years, as well as the new frontiers in technology and observation–from luminous vintage paintings and classic black and white photographs to state-of-the art high-speed and telephoto camera shots that reveal moments rarely seen and sights invisible to the human eye. The wide diversity of pictures captures beloved songbirds outside the kitchen window, theatrical courtship dance of birds of paradise, tender moments inside a tern’s nest, or the vivid flash of a hummingbird’s flight. Readers will delight in seeing iconic species from around the world through the eyes of acclaimed National Geographic wildlife photographers such as Chris Johns, Frans Lanting, Joel Sartore, and Tim Laman and reading excerpted passages from Arthur A. Allen, Roger Tory Peterson, Douglas Chadwick, Jane Goodall, and other great explorers. Exquisitely produced and expertly curated, this visual treasury displays as never before the irresistible beauty, grace, and intelligence of our feathered friends.

Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Resource Review: National Geographic’s Space Atlas

My kids love space and all things planets and astronauts. I suspect a lot of kids feel the same (I know I did as a kid). When I was offered the opportunity to review National Geographic’s Space Atlas, I was thrilled to do so. This volume is nothing less than stellar. The illustrations are vivid and informative. Who knew there was so much of the surface of Mercury mapped? As I flipped through it with my nearly-three year old looking over my shoulder, I appreciated how the book provides a nice visual aid in teaching about our solar system on a very basic level, but then it also provides a nice reference resource for middle schoolers and high school students.

In addition to mapping out the universe, National Geographic’s Space Atlas also has information about the history of astronomy, the origins of the universe (The Big Bang), and the history of space travel. It makes for an outstanding reference resource for all homeschooling families.

About Space Atlas

• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 2 edition (October 23, 2018)

Space Atlas combines updated maps, lavish photographs, and elegant illustrations to chart the solar system, the universe, and beyond. For space enthusiasts, science lovers, and star gazers, here is the newly revised edition of National Geographic’s enduring guide to space, with a new introduction by American hero Buzz Aldrin.

In this guided tour of our planetary neighborhood, the Milky Way and other galaxies, and beyond, detailed maps and fascinating imagery from recent space missions partner with clear, authoritative scientific information. Starting with the sun and moving outward into space, acclaimed science writer and physicist James Trefil illuminates each planet, the most important moons, significant asteroids, and other objects in our solar system. Looking beyond, he explains what we know about the Milky Way and other galaxies–and how we know it, with clear explanations of the basics of astrophysics, including dark matter and gravitational waves. For this new edition, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his moonwalk, astronaut and American hero Buzz Aldrin offers a new special section on Earth’s moon and its essential role in space exploration past and future.

Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Resource Review: Visual Atlas of the World

Every household should have an up-to-date-atlas, especially if that household is a homeschooling household. Recently, I received National Geographic’s Visual Atlas of the World to review on this blog. The book is rather large (as an atlas should be) and it comes with a slip box to help keep it looking nice. In addition to containing many maps, the atlas has sections on how to use an atlas and geographical features.

The illustrations and photographs are gorgeous, of course, one expects nothing less when it comes to National Geographic. What really impressed me, however, is that the educational value of this volume goes much deeper than just looking to see where things are. My preschooler poured over the pages while I was flipping through, pointing at different landmarks and asking what they were. It’s going to be an invaluable resource, both as we learn geography and as we learn about history and current events through the years.

About Visual Atlas of the World

• Hardcover: 416 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 2 edition (September 19, 2017)

Uniting National Geographic’s incomparable photography with state-of-the-art cartographic technology, this is the most compelling, authoritative, and up-to-the-moment visual atlas on the market.

Reimagined and completely updated for the first time since 2008, National Geographic’s visual atlas of the world will delight and inspire. From spectacular space imagery to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this stunning book showcases the diverse natural and cultural treasures of the world in glorious color. Featuring more than 200 fascinating maps, more than 350 new photos, and state-of-the-art cartography and satellite imagery, this is a must-have reference for families, travelers, students, librarians, and scholars. Each page was created in collaboration with the world’s premier scientists, geographers, and cartographers and is populated with the most up-to-date information available, making this book the most beautiful and authoritative visual atlas available today.


Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

How to Get Started Planning Your Homeschooling Year

Plan Your Homeschooling Year

I’m a big fan of lesson planning. I know, I know, there are many people out there who do not enjoy the planning process, and many balk at it. I find that planning is a key component of having a successful year and combating that malaise we get when the excitement of new curriculum wears off. It helps to ensure that your child is having all of her or his educational needs met. The best part of planning: You can always change things if they’re not working out. After a couple of years, you’ll have a good idea of what works for your family and what does not work for your family. Here is how I plan my homeschooling year.

1. I look up state standards, Common Core standards, and Core Knowledge standards

Every state varies a little bit in what they expect for each grade level. I know, it’s super-annoying to me, too. It’s one of the reasons I think a standardized list of standards is important (say that five times fast). The reason I start my planning by looking at and noting standards is I want to guard against holes in my kids’ knowledge. It’s also important to know where children “should” be at for their grade level – just in case anything happens and I have to send my kids into a traditional school setting.

I live in Kansas, and a lot of the standards are a little more behind other state standards, so I also pull up California, Pennsylvania, and New York.  I know. It seems like a lot of work. A lot of the standards overlap. But some standards do not, and some topics in science and history, in particular, have radically different state standards in Kansas from the standards in Pennsylvania and New York.

I also look up the Common Core standards. I know a lot of people thumb their nose at them, but it’s still important to be aware of what the actual language is and what the “Common Core” actually says. Finally, I look up the Core Knowledge standards.

2. I enter those standards into my record-keeping software.

I use Homeschool Tracker. I do have some qualms about using it, but I’ve also found that it’s the best for what I want to track and for how my mind works. I’ll do a post soon about different types of homeschool planning programs.

This is such a tedious step, but if you use a program that allows you to enter standards in, you’ll be able to create assignments and pull in the standards. When the assignment is completed, it marks that that skill has been worked on. That’s super useful in putting together an end-of-year report and portfolio. Yes, I live in a state that doesn’t require any of this stuff. I want to know where my kids are at and what they’ve learned. I like being able to print off a report on that.

3. I review my curriculum and make note of how it aligns to standards

By the time I’m sitting down to plan, I’ve already purchased my curriculum. BUT! When I’m entering in standards, I’ll sometimes find holes that I need to fill. I make a note to find resources for these things so they don’t get skipped. I then search my local library, the Internet, and Amazon to see if I can find resources to make sure that I don’t have significant gaps in the education my kids are receiving. Oh, and sometimes, I find that a field trip or an outside class will do just what I need it to do.

4. I have a composition book for my records for each kid

I don’t want to be glued to my computer while teaching. It’s too tempting to go into Facebook world or trying-to-get-things-done land. So, I created a notebook for each child. At the front, I have a list of the courses we’re studying, then a list of resources with abbreviations I’ll use. At the back, I paper clip off some pages so I can write down the titles of any books we read so I can add those to the record-keeping software. Each day, I’ll write what I want to accomplish & any extra we do.

When I’m planning the next year, I have a more realistic picture of what my child does in a single day and a single week. This helps me to better plan for that child. I highlight what was planned ahead and leave the extra that was done alone. If we don’t finish what was planned, I put a small dot next to it and carry it into the next day.

5. I sort my resources by course

This goes without saying. Sort resources by course.

6. I figure out what our homeschool schedule will be

Kansas asks for 186 days and not less than 6 hours per day for grades 1-11. Since we’re doing Kindergarten and Preschool this year, I don’t need to worry about so much, but I do try to schedule out at least 186 days just so we’re in the habit.

7. I outline each course by topic

I select one course resource to be the main resource by which I outline the entire course. Other resources then become the supplemental resources. I go through and ensure that everything matches up. This means some jumping around in some resource materials, but it also makes for much easier scheduling. I put this outline into a Word document.

8. I create my lesson plans

I enter in my lesson plans into Homeschool Tracker. I used to plan out the whole year at once. Now I only do that if I’m absolutely certain that a curriculum works for us. Otherwise, I enter the lesson plans for the next month. That way, if something’s not working for our family, I didn’t spend a lot of time entering stuff from a resource we won’t continue to use. Also, a month’s time gives me a good idea of how fast/slow we’re going to move through the material I have planned, so I can make adjustments for the next month.

How do you plan out your homeschooling year?

Share your thoughts in the comments. I’m always looking for ways to tweak my system!



Gardening with Kids When You Don’t Garden – Guest Post at Minnesota Country Girl

I am participating in the blog tour over at Minnesota Country Girl, where I provided a guest post for her series: “Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging, and Nature Studies”

Simple Coffee Photo Recipe Pinterest Graphic.pngIn preparing for writing the post, I was faced with a little bit of a dilemma:

I run. I hike. I love the outdoors, but I am not a gardener. Sure, there was that fluke summer, years ago, where I managed to grow a vegetable garden in my dad’s back yard, and it was successful. I think, though, that my dad may have been behind the scenes helping that garden to boom.

We bought our house wanting to garden. I would really love to put a kids’ garden area in, and it would be awesome to give my kids the skills that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I just didn’t pick up. So, the question is: How does one teach children the skill of gardening when one is not a “green thumb?”

Most of the advice I found for gardening with kids assumes that you already sort of know what you’re doing when it comes to gardening, or at least that you haven’t killed every plant you’ve attempted to grow over the last (mumble) years of adulthood.

To solve this problem, I came up with a way to create a lesson plan and “course” on gardening that would benefit both myself and my kids this summer. I’m really excited about it, and I decided that I would share my planning process in the guest post. I’m a classical homeschooler by nature, so I was already familiar with one of the resources from when my oldest and I tried (and failed at!) gardening when he was 8.

Join me over at Minnesota Country Girl where I have the privilege of guest posting for Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging & Nature Studies.

Book Review: My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of that purchase at no additional cost to you. 

Recently, I received a copy of  My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth to post an unpaid review on this blog. This book is a fun counting story featuring various animals who can be found in a tree. In addition to providing children with a charming story of a bluebird in a tree, the story allows preschoolers the opportunity to practice counting with 1-to-1 correspondence. The picture book also has an authors note that describes some of the characteristics of the animals depicted.


The illustrations in this picture book are simple, but that’s not a bad thing. My four-year-old enjoyed the images as well as the story. I think it’s an important thing for using the book as a preschool math enrichment resource that the animals are all uniform. This makes it easier for children to make the 1-to-1 connections necessary for developing number sense. The illustrations are also colorful, with each of the animal species having its own vivid color distinct from the others.

Enrichment ideas

In addition to asking the child to count along while you read the book, here are some fun ideas to stretch the book into learning and play:

  • Collect some animal figures such as these by Safari, Ltd. and identify a squirrel, bear, owl, bat, mouse, opossum, frog, snake, bee and bird. My local zoo gift shop has a bin where you can select your animals to fill a Toob for a discounted price. Have your child match up the animal figure to the animal in the book.
  • Ask your child to count how many animals all together are on each page. Once you have the two black bears join the blue bird, you could phrase it like this: “There was one bird in the tree, now there are two bears in the tree also. How many animals all together are in the tree?”
  • See if your child can recall the different animal sounds from the animals who join in the tree. Play “who said it?” Make a noise and see if your child can remember who made the noise – or try the reverse – name an animal and ask if your child remembers what sound that animal makes.

What activities would you come up with to have your children do alongside reading this book?

Downtime Is Just As Important as Time Spent Learning

Parents, especially those who homeschool, can get really caught up in ensuring their kids are always learning. Whether this is through ensuring that every toy is “educational” and every television program consumed teaches something or it’s through carting children from one enrichment activity to another, it’s a mistake.

“What?” you may say, “but I thought that we’re supposed to teach our kids!”

Yes, we are, but part of teaching and guiding children includes teaching kids how to just be. College Boy spends some of his time at home laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. Princess Boogie plays with her Ponies and flits about running in what seems to me to be pointless circles. Sometimes we all just zone out on the couch to some silly kids’ movie or TV show.

Kids can suffer from burnout

According to the article, “The Downside of No Downtime for Kids” from PBS News Hour, we should not  be packing every free moment of our kids’ lives. The article quotes Alvin Rosenfeld (author of The Over-Scheduled Child) as saying:

“First, I’d ask myself what kind of adult you want your kid to grow up to be,” Rosenfeld said. “And then I’d ask how you get there. How do you balance academics, athletics and character?”

Most parents Rosenfeld encounters say developing a strong character is most important. “Unfortunately, actions don’t always follow aspirations in terms of saying character is most important,” he said.

When you don’t allow children to have unstructured time, they never have the opportunity to test out their character – or even really get to know who they are when they’re not playing soccer, practicing violin, and working on the next awesome robot club creation.

Instead, a child may be left feeling lost when he or she can’t be constantly busy.

How much downtime is enough?

Every family will be different. While the author of the PBS New Hour article believes that for every week of structure a child needs three weeks of unstructured time, not everyone agrees. Susan Bartell, in “Is Your Child Getting Enough Real Downtime?” points out that screen-time, can be problematic:

Video games and all other screen-related activities require a child to be fully engaged in problem-solving, competition or socializing – and sometimes all three. A primary reason why kids have trouble falling asleep is that they’re staring at screens too close to bedtime. The activity is overstimulating, rather than calming, and the light from the screen tricks the brain into staying awake, rather than preparing the child for sleep.

If video games aren’t “real” downtime, then what is? For Bartell, true downtime is time spent doing not much at all – daydreaming, creative play, creating art, or even playing in the bath – for at least 20 minutes a day.

Dr. Claire McCarthy, author of “Does Your Child Get Enough Downtime?” believes that the answer to this question is more nuanced. She recommends that instead of a set time that parents watch their children for signs of distress:

Since every child’s different when it comes to what will upset her, it’s important to be watchful. An overscheduled child may be moody, or clingier than usual. She may have trouble sleeping, or experience a dip  — or an increase  — in her appetite. She may also lose interest in the activities she usually enjoys, or start to struggle in school.

If you see any of these changes in your child, talk to her right away. Let her know that the most important thing to you is that she’s happy. Spend some time trying to figure out with her what exactly is upsetting her, and change it.

How do you find balance?

Finding balance can be as simple as being strict about the total number of activities that each child is allowed to participate in as well as watching how many hours you’re spending in “on-task” learning activities. One of the great things about homeschooling is that we are able to adapt our programs of learning to each child’s needs. This allows us to be more efficient in our time as well. That also allows us to take a much-needed day off when it’s warranted.

So, how do you handle downtime in your homeschool? Do you have set hours? Do you have a cap on the number of activities you allow your child(ren) to participate in? Share your thoughts below.

Recommended resource:

The Over-Scheduled Child by Alvin Rosenfeld, M. D. and Nicole Wise.

(This is an Amazon Associate link. Should you choose to click on this link and make a purchase, I will receive a small fee at no additional cost to you. Providing such links helps me to support my family.)

Music: Violin Practice

Miss 4 loves music, and she’d been begging us since forever for a “pretty little violin.” I did a lot of research, and last year, she started taking violin lessons. While I know that she enjoys her violin, sometimes lessons are a struggle (as anything at 4 could be expected to be).

Do your children take music lessons?

What do you do to get them to practice?

(I’ll write more about the Suzuki method of learning music soon. For now, happy Friday!)

Throwback Thursday: The Cat in the Castle

In 2012, my oldest built this castle from a kit as we studied the Middle Ages. Our family cat (well one of our cats) decided that it was the perfect spot for her to lounge, so lounge she did. This castle found a home in my husband’s work office for a long while.

One of the awesome things about homeschooling is how fun the projects are for the whole family. This is still one of Mr. College’s favorite projects he put together.

What projects have you done that have been a lot of fun?