PreK – K: Birthday

This past week was my daughter’s birthday. So, this theme includes a few books we found at our library that revolve around birthday celebrations.

Please click here to see how I select books for my lists.
  • If A T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum
    This book explains all the ways that a misbehaving T. Rex could ruin your celebration.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Birthday traditions
  • Happy Birthday, Jamela! by Niki Daly
    This story tells about a South African girl who is shopping for clothes for her 7th birthday. She wants “Princess Shoes”, but her mother buys her sensible school shoes instead. So, the girl bedazzles the shoes, which makes her mother mad. However, a local artist likes the shoes and invites the girl to make more with her and sell them. So, the girl earns enough money for her mother to buy her new school shoes and the “Princess Shoes”.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: South Africa, Xhosa language, entrepreneurship

    ART: Creativity, craft markets
    MATH: Prices, budget choices
  • The Birthday Queen by Audrey and Don Wood
    This book uses very colorful illustrations to tell about a fairy-godmother-like woman who makes sure that everything is perfect for your birthday party.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Birthday traditions
  • Happy Birthday, Cupcake! by Terry Border
    This story follows a cupcake and a muffin as they try to come up with ideas for Cupcake’s birthday party. The book uses real photographs of foods made into figures and set in real scenery.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Considering the needs of individuals in a group
  • Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf by Frank Asch
    In this spin-off from the Three Little Pigs, a young pig mistakenly thinks that his family is throwing a surprise party for the wolf. His parents have to play along to avoid being eaten.

    LITERACY: Retelling a fairy tale
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Birthday traditions
If you liked this list, please check out my other Book Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Units and subscribe to get updates when I post new lists.


PreK – K: Snakes

This theme is all about snakes. The list contains both fiction and non-fiction books. We read these books before attending a presentation on snakes from our local nature center.
Please click here to see how I select books for my lists.
  • Snakes: Slither and Hiss by Fiona Lock
    This is a DK Readers Pre-Level 1 book with photographs of real snakes in various environments. Each page has a fact of about a different kind of snake.
    SCIENCE: Facts about snakes with real photos
  • My Snake Blake by Randy Siegel
    This book is about a boy and his snake. The snake can twist his body into cursive words. The snake helps the boy with some things and the boy helps the snake sometimes.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Family and community life
    LANGUAGE ARTS: Cursive
  • Sylvie & True by David McPhail
    This book has four short chapters about a bunny, Sylvie, and a snake, True, who are roommates. Each chapter is a no more than 10 pages long with 1-5 sentences per page.
    HEALTH: Kitchen safety
  • Ben & Becky Get a Pet by Sindy McKay
    This book tells about a brother and sister who want to get a pet and the mayhem they cause in the mall when the pet store snake gets loose. The book is a “We Both Read” book where the left pages are supposed to be read by an older reader and the right pages by a beginning reader, yet, the story flows easily across both types of pages.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Making decisions together, owning a pet
    LANGUAGE ARTS: Contains some advanced vocabulary
  • It’s a Good Thing There Are Snakes by Lisa M. Herrington
    This book has pictures of real snakes accompanied by a few sentences of facts about snakes. It covers characteristics of snakes, how they eat and grow, and how they are useful to humans.
    SCIENCE: Facts about snakes with real photos
    LANGUAGE ARTS: Snake-related vocabulary
  • A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner
    This book tells about a lonely snake in a pet store and the boy who buys him. The snake goes to school and to the pool with the boy.
    HEALTH: Water safety
    LANGUAGE ARTS: Learning to spell
  • Elmer and Snake by David McKee
    This colorful book tells about a plaid elephant, Elmer, and a snake. The other elephants are trying to trick Elmer, but the snake helps Elmer trick the others.
    SCIENCE: Jungle animals

If you liked this list, please check out my other Book Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Units and subscribe to get updates when I post new lists.

PreK – K: Differences in Families

This theme focuses on diversity within and among families. I have included books that showcase various ethnicities, same-sex parents, and adoption, in addition to a couple of silly books.

Please click here to see how I select books for my lists.
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr
    This very colorful book uses child-like drawings and short phrases to illustrate the similarity and difference between family members and between family groups.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Illustrates diversity and includes single parents, same-sex parents, adoption, and step-parents/-children.
  • Hubble Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy
    In this book, a little girl tells about her grandmother who is a witch. The girl tries to get the grandmother to look and act more like other grandmothers, but then realizes that she liked her the way she was.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Accepting differences in others
  • Ten days and nine nights by Yumi Heo
    This book counts down the days as a Korean-American family prepares to welcome home the baby they are adopting from Korea.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: International travel, older sibling preparing for a new baby
    MATH: Counting down from 10
  • A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager
    This book is set up as a series of questions that a couple of friends ask a little boy about which of his moms does what. The illustrations are drawn from the kids’ perspective, so you only see the hands and legs of the adults helping the boy.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Same-sex parents, multi-cultural (the moms and the one friend appear white, the son appears to be African-American, and the one friend appears Asian)
  • Black is brown is tan by Arnold Adoff
    This book shows the everyday life of a family with a white dad and an African-American mom and their biracial children. It is written in a poetic style with all lower-case letters and no punctuation.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Racially diverse families
  • Who’s In My Family by Robie H. Harris
    This book follows a family through a whole day from the time they get up in the morning to go to the zoo until they go to bed. It discusses many aspects of family life in which families are similar and different, including where they live, what they eat, and who is part of a family. The illustrations include families from various cultures.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Diverse cultures, diverse family structures, diverse foods, community
  • All Kinds of Families! by Mary Ann Hoberman
    A fun rhyming book about human families, animal families, and families made out of groups of things found in nature, on shelves, and in the refrigerator.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Family relationships and family history
    MATH: Grouping and sorting items
    SCIENCE: Things found in nature
If you liked this list, please check out my other Book Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Units and subscribe to get updates when I post new lists.

Maryland Homeschool Law: How is it actually applied?

When I began contemplating homeschooling a couple of years ago, I started by reading my state’s legal regulation about homeschooling. I also was quickly made aware the HSDLA fear-mongering about school officials just itching to catch homeschooling families in some legal loophole. So, in trying to follow the Maryland homeschool law, I soon realized that several of the stipulations do not make sense and could be interpreted many different ways.
I am not a lawyer and have never been involved in a legal battle of any sort (aside from a speeding ticket several years ago). I just thought I would write a series of articles about how Maryland’s homeschool regulations have played out in my home education experience and how I have interpreted the laws. Leave me a comment if you have had similar or totally different experiences in this state. If you don’t live in Maryland, you might still have similar regulations to deal with and I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. I have been reading many other states’ homeschool laws and find it fascinating to see the wide variety that exists across the U.S.
My series on Dissecting Homeschool Law includes:

Book Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Units

I am creating lists of books for preschool themes that I am doing with my own child at home. For each theme, I searched out books on that topic at my local library. My list includes the books that I found to be appropriate for my child. I have personally read each of these books to my child. I have attempted to include books that are culturally diverse and that cover a range of subjects within each theme. Most themes will not contain books of a religious nature, unless the theme highlights the diversity of holidays in a season.

My review includes a brief summary of the book. Following that, I include the subjects (such as math or social studies) covered by the book. I have included an affiliate link to the Amazon page of the book, so that you can quickly read more about it, if it interests you. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase products using these links.

Sometimes, my lists will follow a common idea for a while. Occasionally, I will make a random list unrelated to the others because we had a reason to learn about a certain topic. The list of themes below will be expanded and grouped into units as I create new lists of books:

PreK – K: Helping each other in a family

This theme focuses on how family members work together on a variety of tasks. Some of the books expand this idea to include community members, in addition to the family.

Please click here to see how I select books for my lists.
  • Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
    This book uses short phrases to tell how a mom and her five children shop for groceries, followed by how they, together with the dad, prepare a meal at home for the whole extended family.
    MATH: Counting from 1 to 10 is used twice during the telling of the story.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Family life, African-American, grocery store
  • D.W.’s Lost Blankie by Marc Brown
    This book is based on the PBS series Arthur. It tells about a little girl who has lost her favorite blanket and how her father and brother try to help her find it.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Some discussion of community areas, like playground, library, and car wash. The family seems to include a working mom.
    HEALTH: Going to sleep.
  • Just shopping with mom by Mercer Mayer
    This “Little Critter” book tells about the mayhem the little sister causes during a grocery shopping trip. The big brother and the mother try to manage to get her through the trip.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Shows unacceptable behavior in stores, though the moral is a bit diluted by the fact that they all get a treat at the end.
  • I lost my bear by Jules Feiffer
    This book is partially in the style of a graphic novel and the pictures are funny. It tells about a girl who has lost her teddy bear and how she tries to find it by implementing her family member’s (not so helpful) suggestions.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Family relationships
    HEALTH: Feelings
  • Martha doesn’t share! by Samantha Berger
    This book tells about a little girl who keeps everything for herself. When her parents and brother do not want to play with her because of her selfishness, she realizes that it would be better to share.
    HEALTH: Selfishness and sharing
  • Day by day by Susan Gal
    Short phrases tell the story of a family of pigs who move to a new home and their interactions with their new community.
    SCIENCE: Planting crops and harvest
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Neighbors and community events
  • What a Good Big Brother! by Diane Wright Landolf
    In this book, a young boy learns why his baby sister cries and he helps to soothe her.
    SCIENCE/HEALTH: Taking care of a baby, including references and illustration of  a baby breastfeeding.
  • A chair for my mother by Vera B. Williams
    This story tells about a girl, her mom, and her grandmother who save up change to buy an armchair. It may be a bit scary for children because the girl talks about their house burning down and having to start over in a new apartment. However, she also explains how her extended family and neighbors helped them.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Jobs, saving money, working mom, community helping, banks
    MATH: Saving money, counting coins, exchanging coins for paper money
  • The Littlest Dinosaur by Michael Foreman
    This book is a very tiny dinosaur who has trouble keeping up with his bigger relatives. However, one day, he saves them all because he is so small and is able to get help.
    SOCIAL STUDIES: Family life
    MATH: Size comparison

If you liked this list, please check out my other Book Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Units and subscribe to get updates when I post new lists.

Dissecting Homeschool Law: Age for compulsory schooling

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.

During a recent conversation, another homeschooling mom expressed concern about the increasing compulsory school attendance age. So, I perused the laws to put myself at ease. I don’t envision the upper limit being a problem for me because my child turns 18 during the summer after his senior year, although the lower limit could affect my daughter.

In July 2017, the compulsory age of attending school is increasing to 18. Last July, it was increased from 16 to 17. The school district has sent notices to homeschooling parents about this law changing multiple times over the last 2 years. The age requirement is not actually included in the homeschooling regulation linked above.  It is contained in the larger body of laws governing all education in the state, which can be found here. The law states that:

“except as otherwise provided in this section, each child who resides in this State and is 5 years old or older and under 18 shall attend a public school regularly during the entire school year.” The exceptions include “a child under the age of 18 years who:

(1) has obtained a Maryland high school diploma, an equivalent out–of–state high school diploma, or a GED;

(2) is a student with disabilities and has completed the requirements for a Maryland high school certificate of completion;

(3) is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age;

(4) has completed an instruction program under item (3) of this subsection.”

Exceptions (3) and (4) together cover homeschooling. The wording in (3) is the exact same wording used in Maryland’s law for homeschooling. In my interpretation, there should not be any problem declaring that 17-year-old senior with a late birthday has completed his homeschool program. I can see how there may be issues if a parent tries to graduate a child earlier than that if the child has not completed a documented 13 years of K-12.

Another gray area I perceive in the law is the beginning of schooling at age 5. The school districts will only enroll children in kindergarten who turn 5 by September 1 (there is wiggle room to October 15, if the parent takes the child for gifted testing). So, any child born after that cut-off date has to wait until the next year to start school. However, the way the law way is written, it seems like on your child’s 5th birthday, bam, she needs to start school. There is an exception clause in the law that states “a child who resides in this State and is 5 years old may be exempted from mandatory school attendance for 1 year if the child’s parent or guardian files a written request with the local school system asking that the child’s attendance be delayed due to the child’s level of maturity.”  Is every parent with a child born after September 1 really filing this request?  More likely, the “shall attend a public school regularly during the entire school year” means that there is a grace period that covers the time from September 2 to the end of that school year.

If you are interested in my other thoughts on Maryland homeschool law, please check out:



Dissecting Homeschool Law: Regular, thorough instruction

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.
A homeschooling parent must provide evidence to either the school district or a homeschool umbrella that the child is receiving the following education:
“The home instruction program shall: (a) Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age; (b) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and (c) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.”
Let’s first look at the “regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age” in the eight specified subjects.  I am going to tackle them in reverse order than they are listed in the law.  My son spent grades K-4 in a public elementary school.  This is the education, on average, that he received in these subjects:
  • Physical Education happened once a week for about 45 minutes, unless there happened to be an assembly or field trip at that time.  The children stayed in their regular school clothes, whether it was sweatpants or frilly dresses.  Kids not wearing sneakers might not be allowed to participate in the gym activity.  While many activities were actual physical exercise, the class also included something that looked a lot like beer pong without the beer and bowling with duct-tape balls and small plastic dollar-store pins.
  • Health was not regularly scheduled and happened sporadically.  Sometimes it was taught by the classroom teacher and sometimes by the nurse or the counselor.  It revolved mostly around hygiene and anti-bullying.
  • Music and art each happened once a week for about 45 minutes, unless there was some other event.  We did not really see any output from music, except for one concert in 4th grade.  Art did not seem to produce much tangible output either.  We saw maybe 5 pieces of art work that came home each year, including one annually in a green plastic bag with a fundraiser attached to have that specific picture put on mugs, mousepads, and phone covers.
  • Science and social studies allegedly alternated, but also were both completely absent for at least a couple of months each year.  According to the school district’s website there were 4-5 units for each science and social studies to be covered each year, but my son could only recall working on maybe 3 of them in each subject.
  • Mathematics was done each day for about 45 minutes, unless preempted by other events.
  • English dominated the education.  In years when we were given a daily schedule of classes, at least 2 full hours every day were scheduled to include language arts and reading.
In public middle school, the regularity of all of the classes seems to be a little more assured. PE, health, art, and music each work out to about a semester-worth of time.  They are either taught on alternating days, alternating weeks, or one semester at a time.  Math, science, and social studies happen every day.  English also meets every day, plus remedial students get a bonus reading class and therefore have English twice each day.
In high school, things get complicated again, because kids don’t take all 8 of those classes even every year. Looking at the credits required to graduate from high school, the only class every student definitely takes each year is English.  Math, science , and social studies might happen every year, but many students only take each of them for three years.  Health and PE are lumped together into one course or are a semester course each, but definitely do not need to be taken more than twice during high school.  Art only has to be taken once, but a music class could be counted as art, so you don’t actually ever have to take both visual art and music in high school.
My interpretation of providing regular, thorough instruction in the 8 subjects usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age during the school year was as follows:
For elementary school-
  • Math and English every day.
  • Science and social studies each about 3 times a week.
  • PE, Music, and Art each once a week
  • Health sprinkled in about every other week.
For middle school-
  • Math, science, English, and social studies every day.
  • Art or music every day (either alternating days, weeks, or by semester).
  • PE or health every day (either alternating days, weeks, or by semester).
For high school, my plan is to figure out the credit requirements for college admission.  I will write out a plan of courses to take in future years and keep a transcript of courses already taken and provide both of those documents during reviews.  I have not homeschooled high school yet, but I will update how that plan works out.

Dissecting Homeschool Law: 15-day waiting period

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.

To begin homeschooling in this state, the regulations state the following:

“A parent or guardian who chooses to provide a home instruction program for his or her child shall initially sign a statement on a form prescribed by the State Department of Education which: … [s]hall be submitted to the local superintendent at least 15 days before the beginning of a home instruction program.”

What do those 15 days mean and who keeps track of them?  Are they calendar days or business days or even school days?  I assume the intent to allow time for the “local superintendent” to process the form. There is also no statement that the superintendent has to acknowledge receiving the form within those 15 days.  How would a parent know if the form got lost in the mail?

Does the child have to remain in school during those 15 days? If not and the child stays home immediately after the form is mailed, does that mean that the child is not allowed to be taught anything for 15 days?  Is this some attempt at legislating deschooling?  If the child is supposed to remain in school during that time, what about cases where that is not in the healthiest interest of the student?  We do not have a requirement of proving a certain number of days of attendance in homeschooling, so no one is actually counting back to that exact date 15 days from sending the letter.  So really, what is the point of this 15-day waiting period?

Here is the 15-day waiting period played out in my case.  I sent in my intent to homeschool at the end of May when my child was finishing the school year in public school.  That way, if I decided to start some kind of education at any point during the summer, I was covered.  It took until the middle of July for someone in the homeschooling office to send an email acknowledging receipt of my letter of intent.  That email stated that my child would be added to the homeschool enrollment in the next several weeks.  Then, sometime around the early part of August, I received my official letter from school district stating that I am homeschooling for that school year.  So, it took a good 2.5 months from the time I sent my intent to homeschool until I got an official acknowledgment that my child was not going to go to return to school in the fall.

The take-away from my experience is probably that if you plan on homeschooling the next school year, just wait until August to file the paper work.  I don’t know what happens when you file the notification form during the school year.  However, filing it at the end of a school year just confuses the minds that believe learning only happens between late August and early June. The school district does not care what happens during the summer anyway, because another stipulation of the law is that the education takes place “on a regular basis during the school year.”  That regulation will be part of my next article.


Homeschool Reviews with the School District

My state gives homeschooling parents 3 options to prove that the child is being educated at home in a sufficient manner.  The first option is to review with the local school system.  Secondly, parents can join an umbrella organization that handles the reviews and vouches for them with the state.  Or third, kids can be enrolled in a correspondence curriculum and have that organization vouch for the education.  I have chosen the first option, mostly because it doesn’t cost me anything.  At this point, I can’t see paying $150-$400 per year for a secular review.  I also can’t see paying any amount of money to a religious organization.  I find the term “correspondence course” to be really outdated and I am not interested in teaching an expensive boxed curriculum.

The school district’s review procedure is that twice a year, sometime between November and January and again between April and June, each homeschooling parent has to schedule a meeting with them at a local library. The parent has to show evidence that their child is getting “regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age”.  I have heard from several parents that the school district reviewers can be difficult; however, I am 3 for 3 in breezing through the review.  My approach to the homeschool reviews has been to look like I know what I am doing and to give them what they are looking for. The reviewers have been so impressed by the mere fact that I had my stuff organized that they barely even looked at any actual work my son did.  Seriously, each time, the reviewers have thanked me for being organized and have told me, “You wouldn’t believe the mess some parents bring to the reviews!”  Now, I am a little put off by their judgmental attitude, but at least they are not naming names or pointing out people.

My first strategy in looking like I know what I am doing to make a good first impression.  I probably go a little overboard, but I pretty much dress like I am going to a job interview. I put on make-up and do my hair. Actually, I plan on testing this first-impression-theory at my spring review, by dressing way down.  So, stay tuned for that.

Second, I provided them the information they want to see in the order in which they check it off their list.  I see a lot of parents come into the review lugging crates and bags of materials.  Ok, maybe they have 7 kids to discuss and I just have the one right now.  However, I have always reviewed with a minimalist portfolio of one 2-inch binder and my planner.  For my first ever review last fall, I also brought the science lab observation book and the history timeline book, but now they stay home.  My binder always contains the following:

  • the copies of my previous review checklists (obviously the first time, I didn’t have one of those)
  • the letter the district sends me at the beginning of the school year to certify that I am educating my child at home
  • a copy of the state’s homeschooling law (so they know that I know what they are allowed to ask for)
  • dividers labeled with each subject I am required to teach in the order in which the subjects appear on the reviewer checklist

Then, within each subject section, I provide a typed list of the resources we use.  That is just titles and authors of the textbooks, workbooks, library books, etc.  It is NOT a complete official APA bibliography citation.  That is followed by work samples in each of the four academic subject (math, English, science, and social studies) plus health.  For the elective subjects (P.E, art, and music), I provide logs of date, time spent, and a couple of words describing the activity.  I used to print out photos of the actual art work, but I did not bother with that this fall. The amount of samples I provide has varied.  The first time, I brought one sample for each week and one complete week’s worth of work (my interpretation of showing that I am providing “regular” and “thorough” instruction).  The second time, I gave about one piece of work per two weeks because it has been over 20 weeks since the last review.  This last time, I showed one piece of work per week.  The planner I had used for these reviews is a teacher planner with one week across each two-page spread.  There are blocks for each subject and space for field trips and activities.

Sure, it is a constant effort to maintain these records.  My son and I spend about 15 minutes each Friday night going through the week’s work and sorting it into subject binders.  He makes sure everything has a date on it.  I fill in the activity logs for the non-academic subjects.  Then, when it is time for the review, I go through each subject binder and pull out samples for the portfolio binder.  About once a month, I would add to the lists of resources, mostly for history and science books we got from the library.

My strategy might not work for homeschooling parents who are less schoolish than I am or for very young children.  We create a lot of paperwork (worksheets, essays, etc.) that is easy to file.  If you are doing more cross-curricular projects, it might not be easy to designate a subject for each item.  However, the reviewer is not going to know (or care) that a certain activity covered music, math, and history. If you file it under history for that week, that’s where it will be checked off.  For a young child, who can’t write much, I may relay more heavily on my planner and photographs than on papers.  I’ll have to put that to the test in a few years when I have a new kindergartener.