Black History Month Book Recommendations

In honor of Black History Month, I thought it would be fun to recommend some favorite books that deal with civil rights and famous African Americans. Each Wednesday throughout the month of February I shared a selected book on our Build Your Library Facebook page. Here is the recap:

2/1/2017: Today I’m highlighting One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. This novel takes place in Oakland CA in the late 1960s, and it is about three sisters visiting their estranged mother for the summer. Narrated by the eldest sister, Delphine, you really get to feel like you are there. Funny, heartbreaking, and powerful, this was one of my favorite picks for Build Your Library’s Grade 6 – American History, Part 2 curriculum.

2/8/2017: This week I want to share one of my favorite picture book biographies – A Weed is a Flower by Aliki. This is a story all about George Washington Carver’s life and achievements. Dr. Carver’s life is such an inspiration. He is a great example to teach our children about perseverance and striving to learn and be the best we can be. The prose is lovely, but my favorite thing about this book is the gorgeous artwork.

2/15/2017: For the third installment of my Black History Month book recommendations, I want to share a fabulous resource for poetry. I, Too, Sing America is a gorgeously illustrated book of African American poetry. It covers a range of poets, from Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to Countee Cullen and Gwendolyn Brooks. It also includes a brief bio for each poet. This book is a great way to add some diversity to your poetry studies.

2/22/2017: For my final Black History Month book recommendation, I thought I’d share a book for teens and parents to enjoy. I’m currently reading Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and it’s fantastic. Not only is it the first science fiction published by an African American woman, it’s a very compelling read. The story is about a black woman who lives in the 1970s who, against her will, time travels to the antebellum South whenever her ancestor, a white slave owner, is in trouble. I appreciate the genre-bending, it’s both historical fiction and sci-fi, and the story is very well crafted. I think it gives a very realistic and stark portrayal of life in that time period, and I highly recommend it.

Honorable Mentions: Here are a couple final bonus recommendations:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird – This is one of my all time favorite books – set in a small southern town in the 1930s, this book explores the idea of racism and what it means to be human.
  • The Story Of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary Edition – Beautifully illustrated picture book about a dark time in our history. Though it is about a hard topic – segregation in the 1960s south, this book is told in a way that even a young child can relate.
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man – This is another book scheduled into Build Your Library curriculum, this time in Grade 5 – American History, Part 1. This Newberry Award Winning story is a compelling read about Amos Fortune – a man who was captured by slave traders in Africa and sold into slavery in America, but never stopped fighting for freedom for himself and his people.
  • Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes – I’m a big fan of the Poetry for Young People series, and this month is a great time to study a famous African American poet like Langston Hughes. This is a great introduction to his life and work, and the illustrations are beautiful.

I hope your family enjoys these recommendations and can use some of them into your Black History Month homeschool studies. What are some of your favorites? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.  🙂

Related Article(s): Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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Read Aloud Sabotage

In case you just missed it, this past Thursday, February 16th was World Read Aloud Day. But I don’t believe we need a national day of recognition, everyday can and should be a read aloud day!

The picture to the right is in fact an actual picture perfect, but admittedly non-typical read aloud session at our house. It was taken several years ago… before an additional child, and somehow without an attention seeking dog getting in the way… Although I am pretty sure he must be at my feet, cropped out of the picture.

Nowadays, our read aloud sessions rarely look like this. With the exception of our yearly Night Before Christmas (and Zombie Night Before Christmas) reading on Christmas Eve. The above picture illustrates minimizing some common read aloud mistakes that can wreck havoc upon the greatest intentions. We had the right book, at the right time and everyone was in the right mood.

Here are a couple tips and tricks to prevent sabotaging reading aloud with your kids:

Don’t necessarily force your child to stay still. The picture perfect scenario is great in the few and far between instances that it works. But I have found some alternate ways to sneak in some read aloud sessions. One way is to peg the read aloud to other activities that occupy but not overly distract children from paying attention.

Breakfast (or lunch) is the perfect time to grab a book and read to your children. Typically they are a captive audience. They are sitting down, putting food in their mouths to prevent excessive chatter, and can easily accomplish both tasks at the same time. After they finish eating and clear the table, have them come back and sit down for a few minutes to discuss any topics of the reading that you want to cover, clarify and reinforce… before they take off in opposite directions.

Another option would be to allow them to do another “mindless” task while you read them a chapter or two. You can try using a coloring book, Play-doh, Legos, Etch-a-Sketch, Lincoln Logs, sand box or any of another countless activities that they can perform but still pay attention to what you are reading them. Perhaps just a change of scenery will do the trick. Maybe you can abandon the living room couch and set up some lawn chairs in the backyard, head out to the swing set or picnic table or bring the book in the car the next time dad is driving and mom can read from the passenger seat.

Book choice – You can please some of the children, some of the time… We have a 10 year age span in our household, so there are instances when we just can’t please all of the children, all of the time. There are certain books that will capture the attention of our 7, 14 and 17-year-olds all at once, such as the Hobbit, or Harry Potter… heck, even Where the Wild Things Are may make one of the teenagers linger. But the twin 14-year-old boys would be pretty restless during Anne of the Green Gables. So make sure you are inviting the right crowd for that particular sitting.

The choice of books is also important if you are specifically reading to one child at a time. If nostalgia is not kicking in, your child may no longer want to hear a book that is too elementary for their age, even if it was once one of their favorites. There is also a fine line between reading a challenging book and reading a book that is simply too hard for them. Read aloud time is an excellent time to read a book to your child that is a bit advanced for them. It may make them pay closer attention, expose them to a richer vocabulary if they have to use context clues to figure out the meaning, and even promote a healthy discussion afterwards.

But if you find yourself reading a book that is too advanced, it may overwhelm your child and cause their mind to drift, their body to fidget, or cause them to get up and wander away. If this is the case and they are struggling to listen, try that book again at a later time. Maybe with a few months or even a year break, they will be ready to tackle that story.

Or try an adaptation. If, for example, you are studying ancient history with an 8-year-old and want to expose your child to Homer’s The Iliad, the original text will likely be way over their head. Luckily there are many fantastic retellings available. Why not try reading Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of ‘The Iliad’ instead. Sometimes offering a retelling or adapted version of a classic work for younger children makes it that much easier for them to tackle the real thing when they are older. They’ll be familiar with the storyline already, so grappling with complicated text or literary analysis will be that much simpler.

Limit interruptions while actively reading. This relates to both reading a book that is too advanced and causes frequent interruptions to defining words and explaining situations to just simple questioning and discussions in the middle of the chapter. When at all possible, reserve all questions until the end. This will allow the story or chapter to unfold fully, possibly answering the questions itself, allowing context clues to sink in, and keep the flow of the passage intact.

If you are reading a science book, stopping periodically would be fine to further explain topics and possibly discuss concepts as they come up. But interrupting during a literature read can ruin the story.

Pick your battles. It will not be the end of the world if you have to miss or reschedule a read aloud session once in a while. If your children are excessively wound up, send them outside to run around and play for half an hour, then come back and try to do some reading. Have them do you other independent school work and do some reading later. Keep it a regular activity, but keep the schedule flexible. And if you find yourself reading a book that no one is enjoying, by all means, stop reading it and choose a better book. Even books that have hundreds of 5 star reviews will bomb once in a while. Not everyone will love every book, and it is perfectly OK to stop reading something that your child isn’t enjoying. Forcing them through it just because they are “supposed” to read it will only leave a negative impression.

One of the worst things you can do is force the issue and turn it into a chore or make it an otherwise unpleasant experience. I love this wonderful quote by Emilie Buchwald – “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” I truly believe this to be the case.

Bonus Related Video: How to be a Read Aloud Superstar!

I am a huge advocate of reading aloud to both younger children and teens alike, so I really hope your family read aloud sessions are as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. Do you have any other creative ways to prevent wrecking read alouds? Let us know below in the comments!

Related Article(s):

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Can You Teach Creativity?

Creativity can be defined as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. Or the ability to make new things or think of new ideas. “Thinking outside the box” is a commonly used phrase to characterize creativity. But not all “creative” people think or act the same, and judging creativity is highly subjective if not impossible.

“Art in the classroom not only spurs creativity, it also inspires learning.”
– Mickey Hart

There are several factors involved as to how creative a child is perceived. One of the biggest factors, especially in children is motivation. If a child just does not want to do that particular assignment, chances are you are going to get a bare minimum amount of effort. Another factor is personality. Asking “is that child creative?” isn’t really even a fair question. But is that child a visual learner or thinker? Is that child more into creative writing, drawing or speaking? There is a distinct difference in the problem-solving approach taken by any number of different individuals.

So, the big question and entire point of this article is: Can you teach creativity?

I believe a measure creativity lurks in everyone’s mind, but it isn’t always unlocked. In some instances, this goes back to motivation, if I don’t really care, I am not going to exert enough effort to truly think about a task and flow enough creative energy into it.

But another consideration is that fine art of thinking outside the box… but more importantly, did a particular creative approach even occur to you? How many times has someone else presented a better or “more creative” project than you? How many times have you struggled with a task, then someone else with a different set of eyes or experiences effortlessly shed some greater insight into it?

So I offer up this simple “creativity” experiment… we just happen to have 4 children in 3 different age brackets available.

Experiment Stage 1: A simple task

“Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”
– Earl Nightingale

Given a simple task, with minimal details: “I know it is February not November, but I need your help with an experiment. I need each of you to separate and make me a hand turkey. Don’t look at anything your brothers or sisters are doing, and use whatever supplies you need. I don’t want to waste all night, so you have 30 minutes?”


  • 17-year-old “writer”
  • 14-year-old “artist”
  • 14-year-old “musician”
  • 7-year-old “artist”

Stage 1 – the initial attempts

We got 3 perfectly acceptable hand turkeys. Our “writer” actually made him talk and gave him a speech bubble, our oldest “artist” thought he needed to brandish a sword, our “musician” made a standard run-pf-the-mill turkey, and our youngest “artist” spent as much time or more on other characters to keep the turkey company.

Experiment Stage 2: A different outlook

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.”
– Albert Einstein

For this, I fast forwarded a few seconds so the video started with the blank drawing page. I didn’t want to spoil the ending by seeing the finished product before it started.

As soon as the YouTube artist Proko started to draw a real turkey head over the thumb tracing, our youngest said “I want to erase my turkey…”

This stage wasn’t to criticize or compare, but to show a fifth viewpoint. It did not occur to anyone previously how creative or cool they could elaborate on a simple kindergarten arts and craft activity.

Experiment Stage 3: An enlightened view

“Creative thinking – in terms of idea creativity – is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.”

– Edward de Bono

“Ok, who wants to make me another hand turkey”?

“This time you have until dinner tomorrow. Again, use whatever supplies you need. By the way, there will be a prize for the “best turkey”.

This time I used a couple of “creativity kick starters”. Exposure to a different outlook, utilizing some friendly competition and enticing their level of effort with a motivational reward ($25 to spend on anything at Amazon).

Stage 2 – the follow-up attempts

This time, we got some more creative hand turkeys.  They took more time, and gave more effort into thinking about how to jazz up their interpretation. Our “writer” created a “fandom turkey” with Hogwart House colored feathers. Our oldest “artist” used Proko’s feather design, and instead of holding a sword, his cartoon turkey was on a plate with a place setting. Our “musician” set his turkey on fire, and our youngest “artist” spent more time on her drawing and made a really nice cartoony sketch.

Quite a difference from their initial renderings.

Experiment Conclusion:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
– Maya Angelou

Learning is a journey, not a destination… cliché I know, but learning is an ongoing process of gaining new knowledge or new skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing things.

Never stop reading books, looking at art or experiencing new things. You never know where inspiration will come from. The more “creative” things you see, the more “creative” thoughts will come to you when you are doing even the simplest and mundane task.

The true test will be what happens in 9 months when it is actually Thanksgiving again, and we bust out the hand turkey craft and see what level of creativity we get… to be continued…

Final comparisons of Stage 1 and Stage 3

“Education is the foundation for all we do in life, it shapes who we are and what we aspire to be. Creativity fuels innovation, and it’s what all states should strive to instill in the next generations.”
–  Jim Hunt

Related Article(s): How to Homeschool Art, Even if You are Not Artistic

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Happy Darwin Day!

Today is Darwin Day (February 12), a day to celebrate scientific ingenuity and bravery. Charles Darwin was just one of many scientists who strove to change the way people think about the world.

Charles Robert Darwin, (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882) was an English biologist, naturalist and geologist. He was best known for his theory establishing that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors. He published his finding on the theory of evolution with a great deal of compelling evidence in his book On the Origin of Species (1859). He was truly a fascinating scientist.


Here are some tips to help you kick off your own Darwin Day celebration!

There is a wealth of information about Darwin and evolution at the Darwin Day website. You can learn about Darwin’s life, as well as find links to many different websites and documentaries to learn more.

What better  time to begin using the Build Your Library Darwin and Evolution unit study! Teach your child all about the Theory of Evolution, as well as the origin of the Earth and the life of Charles Darwin. In this comprehensive, multi-age unit study, I have scheduled 8 books to help you explain these ideas to your children. They will create a huge Timeline of Life, journey around the globe with Darwin on the HMS Beagle, become a naturalist and study the world around them, learn about fossils and make their own, and much more.  While this study is best suited for children in 4th – 8th grade, I have scheduled several books for younger students and many of the activities are easily adapted for younger children.

And let’s not forget about some truly fantastic books to share with your children:

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin – This is a great introduction for younger elementary aged children to learn about the life of Charles Darwin. They’ve just released a paperback version for a very good price, but if you can splurge and get the hardcover, the illustrations are worth it.  (Recommended in our BYL Darwin and Evolution unit study)

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be – This book is a fantastic resource for explaining Evolution to children. (Scheduled in our BYL Darwin and Evolution unit study)

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth – This is a graphic novel, perfect for sharing with teens and tweens. Jay Hosler’s writing is witty, and he explains science in a way that anyone can understand.

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin – This historical fiction novel is a great book for those wanting a little more story to their history. Follow Charlie from his childhood in a boarding school for boys to his adventures at sea on The Beagle where he first began to realize his theory on natural selection and evolution. (Scheduled in BYL Grade 8)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – I adore this book. Calpurnia lives at the turn of the century in Fentress, TX, and is the only girl in a family with 7 brothers. She befriends her grandfather and decides to become a scientist. This book is hilarious, sweet and heartwarming. (Scheduled in our BYL Darwin and Evolution unit study and BYL Grade 6)

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate – The sequel to Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, this book picks up just a few months after the events of the first book. There is a lot of information about veterinary science, as well as the Galveston flood.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story – This is a perfect introduction to evolution for very young children. It’s beautifully illustrated, and makes a lovely bedtime story.

Perhaps you want to curl up on the sofa watch a movie or documentary to enhance your Darwin Day celebration? You could try one of these:

How do you plan on celebrating Darwin Day in your homeschool?

Related Article(s):
Purchase Build Your Library’s Darwin and Evolution unit study
Free Earth Day Mini Unit Study

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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Updates to Grade 2 – The Medieval World

Every now and then a book goes out of print – sometimes it happens to several books… It’s the downside of creating and using literature-based curriculum. But when that happens, I do my best to find replacement books that are just as good, if not better.

Unfortunately, three books in our Grade 2 curriculum recently all but disappeared from the market, both new and used copies. So I have scheduled replacements all of them and I’m excited to finally have updated Grade 2 – The Medieval World  available for purchase.

If you are interested in getting the update, please send me a message with the name and email you used to purchase and I’ll be happy to send you a new download link. Again, if you already have the previous required books in your possession, the previous edition is still valid and you can continue to use it, or use it again. If you want the updated teacher’s guide, you will have to purchase the three new books to match the new set of lesson plans.

If you are planning on purchasing Grade 2,  you will automatically receive the updated version.

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How to Homeschool Art, Even if You are Not Artistic

General Tips for Incorporating More Art into your Homeschool

There are tons of resources out there about how to do simple arts and crafts projects from popsicle stick houses to egg carton caterpillars… But what do you do when the extent of your art ability is somewhere between macaroni necklace mastery and building a cotton ball snowman army – and you need to “teach” art?

Children love to cut paper into small pieces and glue anything to everything… not to mention that obscene g-word (glitter)… But, no one wants to needlessly toil away at endless arts and crafts projects, just for the sake of working on “fun” hands-on activities. So how do you actually encourage and develop your child’s inner artist? It may not be as daunting of a task as you think.

My 7 year old’s Navajo sand painting – which we made using glue and cornmeal mixed with food coloring.

First, keep your expectations in check. You may or may not be grooming the second coming of Rembrandt, probably the latter and that’s OK. But if your child is showing an advanced interest or proficiency in art, that is a great hobby to pursue. Resist the urge to criticize or place unrealistic expectations on to their artwork. Especially when they are younger or particularly proud of a piece, but support and supplement their art education as much as you can.

Start them young and start them cheap. Early on in our homeschool journey we realized that wire bound sketchbooks can get expensive. $5 for 80-100 sheets of premium drawing paper? Sure they were convenient, but do you know what is far more cost effective? A $2.50 package of the cheap copy/printer paper. Typically you can buy it by the ream of 500 sheets at Walmart, or by the case at Amazon. Your young child can tear through this using crayons, lead pencils, color pencils or markers.

You can encourage your child to doodle until their heart is content, and don’t have to stress about mindless scribbles wasting “expensive” wire bound sketchbook pages. The down side is all of the loose drawing paper scattered all over the house, but you just need to keep up with saving the “masterpieces” that you want keep and throwing away the filler doodles.

Encourage artistic expressions on academic assignments. There are many places that simple drawing activities are presented throughout the Build Your Library homeschool curriculums and unit studies. Starting at an early age, students are tasked to color in maps, complete nature study sketches, populate field guides and design all sorts of posters and other art activities. Even in our Grade 9 curriculum, students complete a drawing program going through Mark Kistler’s book, You Can Draw in 30 Days.

The more practice they get and the more fun they have, the more that this will boost their confidence and increase their aptitude in drawing and art. Even without a formal scope and sequence, you can grab some paper and pencils and head outdoors and find something interesting to draw. You can set up a still life on the kitchen table. Let your child arrange some items like a stuffed animal, a piece of fruit and some other fun items. Draw, draw, draw.

Occasionally offer your child the option of creating an art based project. Instead of a one-paragraph summary of chapter 3, let them illustrate their favorite scene then verbally discuss what happened before, during and afterwards.

When studying Grade 1 – The Ancient World with my youngest, she wanted to “draw like an Egyptian.” So I put some butcher paper on the wall, got out our hieroglyphics stencils and let her have at it.

Optical illusion art

Sometimes messy, sometimes neat. Your child really needs to learn how to color in the lines. So practice coloring slowly and neatly in coloring books. Later on, coloring books are also great for practicing more advanced coloring techniques for older children such as creating a 3-dimensional depth and shading or playing with different lighting sources by adding correct shadows to existing line drawings.

If your child is drawing a mosquito in their nature journal, their slowest, neatest work should produce something that resembles a mosquito. But art also includes finger painting or other fun and messy projects. Mixing paint to learn how to blend other colors may not always be the cleanest activity, but it is quite educational. Purchase a color wheel and see how many different shades of certain colors you can make.

Abstract art is also a fun topic to explore and can easily be accomplished without a great deal of artistic skill. Look up some artwork by Picasso and see where your children’s creative juices flow. Simple pointillism projects with paint and q-tips is also a fun and creative activity. Look up some of the complex examples and attempt to create some simplified versions. This would also be a great activity to do along with your child.

Farm out some lessons to YouTube. There are thousands upon thousands of instructional videos out there, free to watch, available 24 hours a day and easily able to pause, rewind and watch again and again. While you won’t become a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do watching YouTube videos, you can end up mastering some pretty sweet moves in drawing, painting or other artistic disciplines. And this is a great resource if your child really wants to learn some advanced techniques that you as parent would never be able to teach them. Depending on their age, you may need to help them navigate YouTube to make sure they are finding appropriate art videos.

You can do a search for just about any art topic, but here are a couple of our favorites:

Build your library with some quality art books. Along with the enormous amount of resources available on YouTube, there are many thousands of available books on how to draw simple animals, the human figure, complex dragons and monsters, outlandish fantasy landscapes… you name it. Artists always say that you can never have enough reference material, although we might question that if we were ever to count books on certain topics. As dinosaurs were quite popular in our house at one time, I think we counted 62 dinosaur books at one time before we called for a purchase freeze.

Part of our overflowing art book collection… There are almost 80 books here… and this is not all of them…

Find a particular subject matter that your child is interested in and see what kind of instructional art book is out there. Amazon is full of customer reviews to help you weed out books that may not be a good fit for your needs, but here are some of our favorite artists who have some great art books:

  • Ed Emberley (beginning drawing for younger children)
  • Mark Kistler (intermediate drawing for elementary aged children)
  • Andrew Loomis (advanced drawing and sketching for older children)

While we do have more art related books than dinosaur books, but if you further categorize them in to specific drawing topics, painting and other genres, it doesn’t quite seem like we need an intervention. Yet.

Photography is art too. Almost everyone these days have smart phones, tablets, digital cameras or other devices that can take pictures, kids included. What is great about digital images, is you can take as many pictures as your storage space allows, then delete and retake pictures… unlike back in the day when you only had 24 pictures on a roll of film… that you then had to take it to the store and wait for them to get developed.

Start with the basics such as composition, camera angles, and proper lighting then add more techniques and concepts as your child’s interests blooms such as using the rule of thirds, taking panoramic shots or using black and white photography.

This may also springboard into digital image editing using applications such as Photoshop or other similar apps. Our youngest daughter has a ball snapping pictures with her Samsung tablet and just using the built in photo effects, filters and editing features that came with the device. But if you want more guidance, then check out these options below:

Painting by my 14 year old, completed in his Studio Art class.

Take a class, go on a field trip. Our oldest son walks to the local public school a couple days a week to take high school art classes. He just finished Studio Art, will be taking Sculpture this semester and is hoping to take Drawing, Digital Art, Digital Photography and Painting in the coming years. You can also find other community art classes at rec centers, community colleges or other locations.

Another idea would be taking a field trip to a local art museum to check out many different forms of art from oil paintings, bronze sculptures, ceramics and countless other mediums to lay the foundation for a deeper appreciation of the arts. Discuss the artwork you saw, talk about which pieces you liked best, research further when you get home. Look up local schedules to catch certain exhibits and see if they have a free admission days. One of the art museums near us has free admission on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon, then you can stay all day for free.

One of our personal favorites are attending Comic Conventions. Besides all of the other cool comic book and anime related exhibits, they usually have a huge section of professional and amateur comic book and fantasy artist booths. You can see some fantastic artwork, talk to the artists and get some cool swag. All while walking around dressed up as Pikachu or a ninja turtle!

Lastly, constructive criticism. This one goes back to our first tip and keeping expectations in check. If your child is just doing extra artwork for fun, this is less important. But if your child is doing some really exceptional work, but looks like there are some shortcomings, they should be addressed. One of the basic tenets of constructive criticism, is providing a “right” if you point out a wrong. Even without a trained eye, you should be able to look at a piece of art and see if something is wrong, even if your child can’t.

Some of the more common issues could be inaccurate perspective, awkward figure poses or some other anatomically incorrect rendering. This could possibly produce one of two mindsets in your child. One, “it’s fine” or two, “I just can’t draw hands or feet!” – both of which are not true. If there is a specific problem, there is a video or book describing specifically how to correct this particular shortcoming if you care to find it.

There are tons of general drawing books that quickly go over a broad range of topics, but there are also books such as Perspective Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide by Robbie Lee, Figure It Out! Drawing Essential Poses by Christopher Hart or any of a number of other books or videos can be found on very specific topics from just drawing hands, feet, faces, and clothes on people. Titles like these will give you everything you ever wanted to learn about that particular topic, but were afraid to ask.

The earlier you address this the better, before your child trains himself to draw something consistently incorrect. Then, instead of teaching a topic, you have to break a bad habit first. For far too long, our oldest son would draw some really good comic book style characters – except they were all just standing there… doing nothing. So we got him some books on drawing dynamic figure poses. Once he broke his habit of drawing statuesque figures, we noticed he needed some work on limbs. Apparently he knew that already, but decided that it was easier to just draw his characters standing still, instead of having them performing actions. Basically he said both “it’s fine” and “I just can’t draw hands or feet!” But after a few Jazza videos, he is correcting some of the issues he was having with foreshortening and hand and foot posturing.

As with any endeavor, “you only get out what you put in to it.” If your newly acquired art books just sit on a shelf and collect dust, or if instructional videos are watched once and then never practiced or tried, there will be minimal improvement.

Personally, we ended up with 2 very artistic children with above average art skills interested in pursuing advanced art studies. We also have 2 comfortable artists who can get by drawing simple pictures when necessary. Besides, it is really helpful when playing Win, Lose or Draw or Pictionary during family game night if everyone in the house can draw reasonably well. 🙂

But moreso, we have raised our children to see the beauty in the world. Because we’ve put importance on art, they have honed their observational skills, learned that different people can perceive things differently from themselves, and they know that even mistakes can become something beautiful. Art teaches our children to really see things, and gives them a new and different way to express themselves.

Related Article(s): Can You Teach Creativity?

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Melody via Facebook (1/30/2017) I am an artist who started art school at age 10. I have a degree in art. I feel very strongly about art education. Hearing someone say they don’t have an artistic bone in their body is like nails on a chalk board for me. I feel very strongly that anyone, even someone who has never picked up a paint brush as and adult, has just as much need to express themselves artistically as a classically trained artist. It’s not about recognition or feeling skilled (those are nice too) but the real point is process and brain power. Art is mostly about practice not flashes of inspiration. Your post really helps stamp out some basic principles & I think your curriculum supports it beautifully. Thank you for encouraging this essential part of education!

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School Choice Week Podcast: Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

It’s National School Choice Week 2017! All week the SEA Homeschoolers has been sharing their School Choice Week Podcast series, and today is my interview with Mari Buckroth, in which we discussed secular homeschooling with Charlotte Mason and living books.

Have you been wondering how to secularize the Charlotte Mason philosophy? How to make time in your busy schedule to read aloud to your children? How to choose living books or getting it all to work with reluctant readers? We chatted about all of that and more!

Listen to my Literature-Based Charlotte Mason Homeschooling podcast here!

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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What’s in the Box?!?

What exactly does the Build Your Library curriculum contain?

If you are new to our curriculum programs, you may not yet be familiar with the layout of our secular, literature based homeschool products.

Build Your Library prides itself on providing a time-saving and stress-reducing secular homeschool program for your family to use, full of meticulously chosen living books to enjoy with educational and fun activities to complete. When you purchase a full year Build Your Library curriculum, you are immediately sent an e-mail link to download your several hundred page lesson plan PDF. Contained in your lesson plans are the full schedule, activities, and a comprehensive book list and required supplies that you will need over the course of the year. All you have to do is purchase or borrow the books on the list and any supplies you might need. Boom, instant homeschool!

What? We don’t get one giant box in the mail to open?

Well, sort of… All of the required books are listed as hyper-links to, so you can purchase them all together and get your big box to open. Actually, with the way Amazon ships from their closest distributor, you will likely get several boxes to open. As a homeschool family, you must have Amazon Prime for free shipping, right?

But, we designed our products with homeschooling families with homeschool budgets in mind. Sure we could have cobbled together a complete single box for $700 or $800 or $900 for you… but what if you already had a couple of the books in your home library? What if you wanted to borrow some of the books from your local library or inter-library loan? What if you have a local used book store or homeschool co-op book swap and could get some of them for cheaper? Or what if Amazon was running some sort of deal or sale? Surely frugal homeschoolers would welcome the option of being able to find some bargains or buy only a few months worth of books at a time instead of all at once up front…

What? We only get a PDF, not a physical paper copy of the lesson plans?

That is correct. You immediately get an instantly available PDF download. Again, by design we opted to supply you a PDF for numerous reasons. First, instant access. Of course you will still have to order the rest of the required books and wait for them to arrive, but you will be able to browse through the lesson plans and immerse yourself into planning out the rest of your homeschool year right away.

Also, if any updates to the lesson plans are required, we would be able to quickly provide thousands of digital copies to our customers without having to reprint 350+ page books. Yikes! So whether we are fixing an occasional typo, replacing a now out-of-print or hard to find book, or just updating and enhancing our curricula… we can do so easily and conveniently for us and for you.

Not to mention the savings for you! By only selling our guides in PDF format, we are able to keep the costs low. As a homeschool parent myself, I wanted to be able to make our products affordable, because I know what it’s like to homeschool on a very tight budget.

You have several options how to use this PDF copy. Probably the quickest and easiest way would be to use it on your laptop or computer screen. If you did want to have a printed copy in hand, you also have a couple options. With your new purchase, you are allowed to make a printed copy for your immediate family’s use either at an office supply store such as Staples, or on your personal home printer. You would also have the flexibility to just print out a week’s worth of lesson plans and activities at a time, so you do not have to print out the entire book all at once. There are also several activity pages that you will need to print several on-demand copies anyways, so those will be printed when and as often as you need them.

No math included?

Math can be hard. Learning math concepts are very specific to each individual and different for each child. We have some good suggestions, but you will have to find the perfect program that works for your child. Personally, I have 4 children and have tried more than 4 different math programs with various degrees of success, depending on which child and which year they are studying. But this is quite possibly one of the reasons you are homeschooling your children in the first place… having the flexibility to try different options that are customized to your child’s exact learning style. We feel that every student should read The Hobbit, but not every student necessarily needs to try (or possibly struggle with) Math Program X.

You might want to check out our article about suggested math programs in which I review the various programs we’ve used over the years. Be sure to read the comments where several customers weighed in on programs they have used as well.

What else do you need to know about Build Your Library curriculum?

We also have a Frequently Asked Questions page. If there is something else you have a question with that has not yet been answered in either of these places, leave us a comment below (it will not be published, just sent to us). We will either send you an e-mail or add it to our FAQ list! Thanks!

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Steve N Jessica via Facebook (1/23/2017) I saved a ton of money buying used books on amazon and at my local used bookstore. While having “box day” is exciting, homeschooling should be teaching us to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

  • Build Your Library curriculum (1/23/2017) Exactly! We just bought a “used” book on Amazon for $0.24, plus shipping instead of the list price of $15.
  • Laura via Facebook (1/23/2017) Plus, I find so many of the books at the library! Huge money saver.
  • Tanya via Facebook (1/23/2017)  I agree, box day would be thrilling but since we buy used from many sellers we get many box days

Shannon via Facebook (1/23/2017) I love having the PDF version and the printed version (via fedex!) together.

  • Tanya via Facebook (1/23/2017)   Me too!

Kristin via Facebook (1/23/2017) Or you can get all the books and squirrel them away in one big box and have an unboxing day when they all arrive. 🙂

Kate via Facebook (1/23/2017) – Before BYL, we spent hundreds of dollars in shipping from our previous homeschool provider to our home across the Pacific. It was really painful because 25 to 30% of each package was overtly religious content we didn’t use anyway. This year is our first time to do BYL and as a single income family, we really appreciate all the $$$ saved.

Shannon via Facebook – (1/23/2017) And it’s really amazing to be able to spread out the cost through the full 36 weeks too. Buy the books you need and/or can afford and then wait until you need the next ones.

Stephanie via Facebook (1/23/2017) I would much rather have a PDF than a physical work book, that way I can easily save it for my younger child. Additionally, I spent most of last summer ordering books for the year, and I rather enjoy getting multiple packages of “fun” mail instead of one big box!

Melody via Facebook (1/23/2017) I love this format. I was an unexpected homeschooler this year and bought most of my books (using the link in the BYL page) on Amazon the night before school started. As I get ready for next year I find that I am still using Amazon for the most part. Compared to the cost of private school this is a drop in the bucket. Plus we get to reread the books, which are wonderfully curated!


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Unit Study: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It is time to head back to Hogwarts for Harry’s fourth year with Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (Book 4)! I’m excited to share this newest unit in our Harry Potter unit study series.

This time around, Harry and his friends see the Quidditch World Cup, meet wizards from around Europe at the Triwizard Tournament, and battle Voldemort himself as he rises to power once more.  This book marks a distinct change in the series – what began as children’s books has matured into the Young Adult genre as Harry becomes a teenager. This book gets darker than the last three, so keep that in mind when deciding if your child is ready for this unit study.

In this unit, you will continue your Magical Terms and Spells Glossary, Magical Devices Guide, Travel Guide to the Wizarding World, and the Weekly Prophet. As always, there are copywork/dictation passages taken from the novel, as well as vocabulary and discussion questions to help you get the most out of the story.

As always, I have included a Hogwarts course for your child to study – in this unit we’re going to focus on Transfiguration! How does Transfiguration translate to a “muggle” course? We’ll be studying Chemical changes, states of matter, the basics of Physics and how things are made! Your child will conduct experiments, study the 4 states of matter, and create their own Rube Goldberg Machine with items they find around the house.

This unit will take approximately 3 weeks to complete and is appropriate for upper-elementary and up. The PDF file is 50 pages and includes a full schedule, project ideas and 15 activity pages. For a brief visual overview, check out our video below:

Purchase the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Unit Study – $5.99

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** Our PayPal e-Junkie powered shopping cart will process your order. All our digital programs are in PDF form. They cannot be returned or refunded. Once you place your order, you will receive a download link to your items.

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Harry Potter Unit Study Frequently Asked Questions:
Do we have to start with the Sorcerer’s Stone unit study, or can we jump in at any of the books?

Yes and no. While these unit studies are semi-standalone if they had to be, they are designed to be completed in the order that the book series ran. Like the storyline in the books, the unit studies continue to build off of each other as they progress. You will start several activities such as keeping a glossary of magical terms and spells or creating a field guide of magical devices, to name a few. These will be used through the unit study series and new activities and additional entries will be completed in subsequent lesson plan.

If we already read the book, do we have to read it again to complete the unit study?

The unit study is designed to enhance the reading (or re-reading) of the book. While you are going through the chapters, vocabulary words are pulled out and activities are performed that correlate with what you are reading. This is the perfect unit to complete on your first reading of the book, as well as a perfect companion for reading the book again and diving deeper into the lore and story.

Are you planning on writing unit studies for all of the Harry Potter books?

Yes, absolutely! But currently, we have the following Harry Potter unit studies completed:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Unit Study
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Unit Study
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Unit Study
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Unit Study

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Build Your Library on Tour 2017

My booth at the N.A.S.H. Conference in 2014

Two years ago, we went to the 2014 N.A.S.H. (National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers) convention in Atlanta, GA. Since then there really hasn’t been a good opportunity for us to attend a secular homeschool convention within a reasonable distance to us. But this year we are happy to announce two conventions we will be attending this year in March and June (so far)!

[MARCH 2017 – Virginia]
Build Your Library will be at the 2017 VaHomeschoolers Conference and Resource Fair on Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25, 2017 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, Virginia. Their annual two-day conference usually yields over 1,000 homeschoolers from all around Virginia and the surrounding areas. Attendees will enjoy dozens of sessions featuring speakers (Keynote: Julie Bogart) and topics ranging from a wide variety of homeschool philosophies and approaches, as well as an exhibit hall (with a Build Your Library booth), used homeschool resource sale and several social events.

[JUNE 2017 – West Virginia]
A few months later, the S.E.A. (Secular. Eclectic. Academic.) Homeschoolers will be hosting their inaugural SEA Homeschoolers Conference 2017  on Thursday, June 1 through Sunday, June 4, 2017 at Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

They have a full 4-day schedule of events, over a dozen speakers (Keynote: Blair Lee) and a bunch of secular homeschool related vendors. Besides hosting a Build Your Library vendor booth, I am also one of the featured speakers, giving a talk on Living Books and Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling on Saturday, June 3rd at 4PM.

(JANUARY 2017 – online)
Build Your Library will also be participating in S.E.A.’s National School Choice Week podcast, being recorded early January. They will be covering things like how to get started with homeschooling and various homeschool methodologies with speakers Meg Grooms, Blair Lee, Emily Cook, Kate Laird, and Jason Grooms. You can get more information on these talks and the speakers giving them on the SEA Homeschoolers’ website. I will post the link to my podcast when it is released during the 4th week of January.

EDIT: Listen to my podcast here: School Choice Week Podcast: Charlotte Mason Homeschooling (1/25/2017)

If any of you are anywhere near or within travel distance to either of these conferences in West Virginia or Virginia, we would love to see you in person at our Build Your Library vendor booth. If you have been looking for one of the few-and-far-between secular homeschool conventions, the SEA Homeschoolers Conference 2017 may be the one you want to make plans to get to. Both of these events have close and affordable lodging options for those traveling from out of town and are both packed with activities and talks to keep you busy.

2017 Build Your Library convention bookmarks


Please swing by one of our booths and say hello, grab some Build Your Library swag (we just ordered a ton of new BYL bookmarks, pencils, and catalog flyers) and talk to us about our homeschool products in person. See you there!




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