A Guide to Jean Fritz Books


Jean Fritz’ living history books are a terrific way to incorporate a narrative, storytelling approach into to your homeschool history lessons.  You probably know about her popular U.S. history books, but did you know she was a missionary kid who also wrote books about her time in China?

A few weeks ago, I went through my entire Jean Fritz collection — over half of the books she’s ever written — and put together a guide for the iHomeschool Network blog called How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book.  In this topical guide, I list the themes, geographical area, time in history, and suggested reading level for each book, so you can grab the title which best matches where you are right now in your history studies. You’ll see your favorites there, of course, but you just might discover some unknown gems as well, like books about Chinese history, a picture book with saturated 1950s art, and a number of longer novels for the middle grades.

What’s your absolute favorite Jean Fritz book? Mine — no surprise here — is Homesick. Click through to see the rest!

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book

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In Defense of Fidget Spinners


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In Defense of Fidget Spinners

There is a lot of social media furor right now about fidget spinners. In many of these posts, people talk about how stupid fidget spinners are, and brag about how glad they are they don’t need a gadget to focus. One blog post even went so far as compare fidget spinners with the fall of civilization, and called for anyone needing special accommodations such as physical movement to “overcome this need”. (Would the author feel the same way about glasses, hearing aids, or wheelchairs? I scarcely want to ask.)

The reality is, not all learners are wired the same way. Not all students fit into a neat and tidy box of expectations. Not all students are best served by sitting at a desk. In fact, when some children are required to remain motionless in order to learn, the child’s entire capacity for focus is spent on the enormous task of sitting still, and there’s very little left over to actually absorb the information being presented.

I am not advocating for permissive parenting or defying authority. I’m not calling for kids to disrespect teachers, or saying we can’t gently train the art of sitting still. I’m saying sitting still is more than just a matter of discipline. I’m saying that sitting still is harder for some children than others, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with providing these children the appropriate tools needed to equip them to succeed at the task of sitting still.

For children who wired a certain way, the physiological need to move is overwhelming. Since my daughter was in utero, she’s been driven by a relentless need to move. When I was pregnant, ultrasound techs would gather around and giggle at the nonstop somersaults of this tiny wild child. Within five hours of birth, she lifted her head off my chest, and looked around at everyone in the room. She’s made to move. God made her to move. This is who she is.

But society does not favor the wiggly wild child. At home, I can let her run laps around the living room while letting her answer comprehension questions and math problems orally. Outside the home, though, I often need to equip her with the tools she needs to fit in. Without the proper tools, my brilliant neurodivergent daughter — who could read before pre-K, scored in the 99th percentile on every single section of the IOWA test, and is academically many grades beyond her chronological age — will sometimes rock back and forth, scoot on the ground, hang upside down, spin repeatedly on one foot, chew on her shirt, tip her chair back, or engage in any number of other behaviors generally frowned upon by society at large. Obviously, this isn’t ideal in a public setting and poses a true distraction to those around her. But by equipping her with a hands-on focus tool, these behaviors can be minimized and controlled. 

So, to allow my daughter to blend in as discreetly as possible, distract others as little as possible, and still be able to focus on the task at hand, I often provide her with the tools she needs in order to overcome her physiological need to move.  This means allowing her to chew PÜR gum or a chewable silicon pendant, place a wiggle seat/balance disk on her chair (this is an air-filled therapeutic seat pad allowing the user to discreetly rock in place), quietly twist a Tangle, manipulate a puzzle fidget, squeeze Thinking Putty — or, heaven forbid, play with something like an actual fidget spinner.

This does not make her less of  a person. This does not mean she’s lacking discipline. She still has the self-control to sit in a classroom and engage productively in the lesson, read stack and stacks of books at home (yes, sometimes while hanging upside down off the side of the couch), teach herself new songs on the piano (while standing and dancing), play with LEGO bricks (while scooting around on the floor), or consume curriculum at breakneck speed (while gently rocking side to side on her wiggle seat).

Whether young or old, child or adult, male or female, all people learn in different ways. Some people need to move, and some don’t. Some people prefer to listen to an audiobook, others would rather read. Some people need see a concept sketched out on paper in order to understand, others prefer to approach new ideas in an audio-visual way.  Everyone is wired differently — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong is is to ridicule therapeutic items — which have a legitimate and beneficial use for individuals wired a certain way — as pointlessly distracting toys. What’s wrong is to demean the outliers who have a legitimate need to fidget in order to focus.

Fidgeting doesn’t signal moral failure or weakness. It’s not going to trigger the downfall of civilizationIt just means some people have a little bit of wiggle. It just means some people are wired a little bit differently. And that’s okay.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links above are “affiliate links” provided in conjunction with my participation in Amazon.com’s Associates Program. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.  Please be assured, I only recommend products or services I use personally, and I will always disclose any such links. 

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education


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Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

This school year, I’ve had the delightful opportunity to teach art history at our local homeschool co-op.  As we work through various techniques and employ different art media, I often steer the conversation to famous artists who weren’t recognized or appreciated during their lifetime, but came to be highly regarded and respected later on. As we create together, I try to help the students let go of misconceptions about art.

After all, why is this human inability to accept new kinds of art so common? Why were so many now-beloved artists dismissed outright at first, only to have the art critics reverse their position later? What is it that people fundamentally misunderstand about art — over and over and over?

Important Truths About Art to Emphasize in an Elementary Art History Class

Whether we are children or adults, we often come into a study of art really quite intimidated by it all. The glorious masters and their astounding reproductions of the natural world have left us breathless, and quite convinced that only someone who can paint a scene indistinguishable from reality can be considered an artist.

But that’s not true.

Art isn’t always photorealistic.

In my art history class — we have a history portion and a hands-on art project — students are not required to replicate reality.  Before you assume I’m going all Cy Twombly on you, think about it. You don’t hear anyone arguing that a Monet isn’t art, even though his waterlilies are a far cry from a photographic representation.

The truth is, most art takes liberties with reality. Even paintings in no danger of being confused with modern abstraction, like The Lady of Shallot, are not an exact photocopy of nature. And neither is much of ancient art, romanticism, sculpture, impressionism, or any number of other art styles.

I often encounter children (and adults!) who believe if  an artist is drawing an apple, the final drawing needs to be indistinguishable from a photo of an apple. While this is one style of art, it’s not the only way.

Freedom to interpret, not copy, a scene is an especially important point to emphasize to budding artists who struggle with perfectionism, become easily discouraged, or are just still working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination: a finished art piece does not need to be a duplicate of the object the artist has attempted to represent. 

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

Artists convey feeling, mood, emotion and meaning through color, form, line, and any number of other constructs, not just through photorealism.  (And if the painting or sculpture represents a feeling or an idea, there’s not even a concrete, pictorial reality to compare!)

After all, art is intensely individual.

While there are unchangeable laws of physics governing light, shadows, and shape, the truth still remains that no two masters, given the same scene, would have put it to canvas the same manner.

When we are all creating together, I look for opportunities to highlight the incredible, creative differences between my student’s projects. I emphasize the little details which make each piece of art — and each young artist — unique.

Sometimes, when a student begins to struggle with comparison, I’ll pull out one of my art books, and open up to different works of art — for example, Klimt’s Rosebushes under the TreeRembrandt’s The Three Trees,  Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, and Crola’s Oaks — and ask a series of questions reinforcing individuality and reiterating how wonderful it is that there is no one way to paint a tree.

Do these images all show trees?

Do these trees all look the same?

Did the same artist always paint a tree the same way?  (For more emphasis, I will ask them look at the difference between Klimt’s Rosebushes under the Tree and the Tree of Life, or Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom versus his Olive Tree series. )

I tell my students, it’s the same for each of them. Their art will not always match the art of the person sitting next to them, and that’s wonderful! Imagine a world in which everyone just imitated each other, never straying from what was expected or accepted. How boring and uninteresting would that be?

Ultimately, I want all kids to recognize how art allows individuals to express the same message in a very different way.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Myself: Portrait – Landscape”, 1890, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters

Henri Rousseau, I think, embodies these ideals of individualism quite powerfully.  He wasn’t like any other painter of his time, and his work was soundly rejected. Why? Because he showed us the world in a very different way. He didn’t paint the way people expected him to,  and critics didn’t like that.

[Click to download my FREE mini-biography printable of Henri Rousseau for grades K-3]

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

He had no artistic training, did not come from a creative background, and didn’t take up art into he was in his forties.

When he did begin to paint, he didn’t paint what he knew. Instead, he painted things he’d never seen. He never left France, yet painted elaborate and imaginary jungles.

He looked at houseplants and imagined them double, triple, and quadruple their size, and these became his jungle foliage.

He thought about what animals might roam far away lands, and these partly-fictional creatures became his Surprised! tigers and exotic monkeys. People called them “grotesque”.[1]

He was mocked when he entered the art scene — and yet, kept on painting.

He was laughed at — and yet, kept on painting.

People looked at his work and told him it seemed as though he painted with his feet —and yet, he kept on submitting his paintings to galleries, year after year.

He was belittled by the establishment. He was told to change his style — and yet, kept on painting.

“‘The place rocks with laughter’, one critic wrote” [2] after seeing Rousseau’s paintings in a public gallery — and yet, Rousseau never gave up.

Today, of course, no one is laughing, and the art world can’t get enough of his dreamlike botanical works and quirky tropical animals.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

The Best Picture Book about Henri Rousseau

“The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau” by Michelle Markel will introduce kids to many of Rousseau’s most famous paintings. Perhaps most importantly, it will offer a great lesson in individuality, empathy, and perseverance. Several of my more sensitive students were moved to compassionate tears by Rousseau’s life story — and then buoyed, encouraged, and motivated to keep on painting!

Every page of this book is saturated edge-to-edge in Rousseau’s trademark style. The publisher’s book trailer, linked above, is really wonderful as well.

How to Paint a Surprised Tiger Like Henri Rousseau: A Hands-On Elementary Art Project

Supplies Needed:

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Surprised!”, 1891, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Worried Tiger”, 2017, by Aveline (age 6)

Each of my art history classes also includes  — of course! — a hands-on project. After reading the mini biography of Henri Rousseau, and enjoying “The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau” picture book, we created our very own tiger hiding in the jungle during a sudden rainstorm.

With Rousseau’s iconic  Surprised! painting as the inspiration, I led the students in a guided pencil drawing on watercolor paper.

(Not sure how to execute a guided drawing? A white board works well. You draw a stroke on the white board, and have the students draw the same stroke on their paper. Since young students have a hard time translating a sense of scale from a huge whiteboard to a small 8.5×11″ or 9×12″ space, I find that using a hand-held white board approximately the same size as the students’ papers makes for a less frustrated class overall. We used Art Projects for Kids’ excellent “How to Draw a Tiger Face” tutorial for guidance.)

Rather than simply mimic of the sample drawing, I asked each child to draw the facial expression however they wished, after thinking about how a tiger caught in a storm might feel. Would the tiger be worried? Elated? Indifferent?

Once the students had sketched out their tiger, we turned to watercolor, using the simple concept of light to dark — filling in the tiger with yellow, accenting with orange, then red, and finally filling in the dark brown / black areas — before adding jungle foliage and grass. Since grass blades are generally wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, some students might have a better time at this if they flip their painting upside down. This way, they’ll be able to direct their brush strokes from top down, rather than trying to paint from the bottom of the page upwards.

If kids are willing to let the unexpected happen, they can add a drippy rain storm (there’s slanted silvery gray-green rain throughout Surprised!). Paint the desired storm color across the sky, then hold the art upright and allow the watery paint to “rain” down on the tiger and greenery. Not everyone will be willing to let the paint run or even want to paint a storm — and that’s okay!

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

It’s really fun to teach little ones about Rousseau! He’s such an example of perseverance in the face of odds. I especially think Rousseau can encourage kids who are hesitant artists, kids who doubt their own abilities, or kids who have perfectionistic tendencies.

Henri Rousseau never stepped foot in a jungle, but didn’t let that stop him from painting jungles.The animals in his art didn’t look the animals on anyone else’s canvas, but he wasn’t bothered by it. The images he created were flatter and less 3D than the art his peers were producing — but he kept on painting.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“The Flamingoes”, 1907, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“The Equatorial Jungle”, 1909, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Rousseau’s imaginative, stylized worlds have a fairy-tale feel about them — an atmosphere of suspense,  an element of danger, and an overarching sense of the unknown, yet all within the safe confines of the canvas.

These are all the ingredients for adventure.

This is where learning happens.

Sometimes as adults we can tend to be a bit of afraid of abstract, stylized, or otherwise interpretive art, since we aren’t quite sure what we are seeing.  But be not afraid.  And don’t pass that fear onto your children. As the wise Francis Schaeffer said,

“Christians . . . ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination. Great painting is not ‘photographic’: think of the Old Testament art commanded by God. There were blue pomegranates on the robes of the priest who went into the Holy of Holies. In nature there are no blue pomegranates. Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world ‘out there.’ The Christian is the really free person–he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

Be free, friends! And, as my daughter has said, go crazy with the paints.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

This post has been linked to  iHomeschool Network’s Birthday Lessons in May. Click through to find other #ihsnet bloggers’ lessons plans, unit studies and more for famous figures born in May!

If you found this resource helpful, why not click here to get this post’s Permalink, then pin it to Pinterest? :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links above are “affiliate links” provided in conjunction with my participation in Amazon.com’s Associates Program. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.  Please be assured, I only recommend products or services I use personally, and I will always disclose any such links. 

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia


I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former YugoslaviaI came to America after the tanks rolled in, just barely before they took Sarajevo. After the helicopter shadows moved across of the fields of buttercups and horseradish and daisies and wisteria, but before the mortars fell. I came to this country when the shelves started to empty of bread, of meat, of corn flakes. I came to this country after the money had already begun to crash, after sunken stacks of rubbery, hollow-eyed gas masks stared back at me at the check-out, but before pensioners had to stand in line to trade bag after bag of devalued coins for stale bread. I came here when the skies had already begun to darken, when the fear had started to slink down the quiet gravel streets.

I said goodbye before dawn. I said goodbye before the perfect pearls of dew on the weeping willow had broken. I said goodbye to the magpies who chattered and tilted their heads down at me, goodbye to the sparrows who hopped off the hedge and scurried after me as I walked away down Taborska Cesta. I held my daddy’s hand and thought it would all be okay and thought I’d come home to Ljubljana again.

America doesn’t remember.

It’s been twenty-five years since Sarajevo. Twenty-five years since the shells started falling and the buildings started crumbling and the cemeteries crept down the mountain, over the valley, into the alleys, the city squares, the hospitals, the banks, the churches, and the blocs. Twenty-five years since the blood flowed.

“Is there a time for keeping your distance?” Bono sang. “A time to turn your eyes away? Is there a time for keeping your head down, for getting on with your day?”

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia (A Personal account of the Balkan conflict after the fall of ​​​​​​​the Iron Curtain)

I came to America wide-eyed and homesick. There were hundreds of rows of light in every store, shining down in blindingly unaware excess. There were thousands of packets of food, all lined up. There was a whole aisle just for feeding cats and dogs. There were Cocoa Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs and Fruity Pebbles and cheese-colored spread and hot dogs in shrunken plastic and the shelves were deep, deeper than my eight-year-old arm could reach. People just tossed all these things head over heels, heap upon heap, into an enormous rolling wire cart.

There were rows of cars in everyone’s driveway and the houses swallowed us all. There were televisions and advertisements and everywhere, at every turn, America was a kaleidoscope of color and noise.

America forgot her. American forgot the Balkans, the conflict, the siege.

America forgot about the Iron Curtain, the fall of Communism, the rush of freedom and the rush of overload, and the way it felt when the bottom fell out, and millions upon millions of dinar tumbled down, worth less than the paper they were printed on.

Tonight, I remember it all.

I sat down at my desk on this side of the globe, underneath the oversized world map beside the glowing lamp, went to Google Earth, and for the first time, I walked my digital feet all over the streets I used to know.

It was all there, familiar and bruised by the passage of time.

I walked all over, and I cried.

“There’s a house, that’s not on a hill
And the paint’s chipping off
Of the old window sill
There’s a tree in the front yard
That’s older than me
And older than all of you…” *

I remember the yogurt and the brown-crusted bread, the sour cherries, and the apples that would fall on our concrete balcony. I remember how we’d say “Jupi!” when we were excited, and I remember the grey woven chair in the corner, the tapestry on the wall and the garish scalloped wallpaper, a vision in Soviet orange — an ode to egg yolks or perhaps sunrises.

Yupi soda beverage sticker label from Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia

I remember the first books I read, and my first American pencil, yellow, with the most beautiful pink eraser I’d ever seen. I remember how I had to learn about nickels, and didn’t see the point, because I only needed to use dinar and žeton. I remember letters from grandma, and my old green shoes, and laughter and boiled potatoes. I can tell you of bus tokens and ant-covered climbing vines and the way the trail twisted up to the top of Šmarna Gora, and how stubborn chamomile can grow up, dauntless, through even the rockiest gravel.

“But things they fade
Things turn to grey
As much as I try to save them
They turn grey
Just like the house, that’s not on a hill
With all of the rust on the gate
The chips on the sill
But I love it still” *

I remember the magpies, tottering on clay rooftops, calling out the hymns of the morning, and way the grey coal soot would filter down over the city, entangle with the mist, and settle down over every crooked branch, down into my lungs, over every window pane and into the crevices on every leaf.

“I remember her
I remember her
I remember her so well” *

But most of all, I remember the way I never worried, even in the dark.

FREE St. Patrick’s Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources


FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

Looking for an easy-to-read mini biography of Saint Patrick for kids K-3, and a quick Irish music and art study for Saint Patrick’s Day?

If you’ve seen my #oaxacabornarthistory posts on Instagram, you know I teach a first grade class every week at our local homeschool co-op. When I create co-op lesson plans for my art history class, I often write simple one-page overviews of whichever artist or topic we’re studying. These PDFs hand-outs contain kid-friendly information and are easy to read aloud, since they’re written in a conversational style geared toward kindergarten through about third grade.

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up, so we’re veering a little off the normal art history path to talk about Ireland and the life of Saint Patrick.

Download my FREE St. Patrick’s Day printable: All About Saint Patrick for Kids K-3.

Now that you have the free printable, here are a few more resources to expand your Saint Patrick’s day study.

Our Very Favorite Kids’ Books for Saint Patrick Day

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola
This is the definitive biography of Saint Patrick for kids (pictured above), by beloved children’s author Tomie dePaola. Richly illustrated and packed with details, this book will be a favorite for many Saint Patrick’s Days to come. I especially love how the first part of the book covers the true story of Patrick’s life, while the last part of the book explains many of the legends (snakes, shamrocks, and more) attributed to him. This is great resource which separates fact from fiction.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale by Tomie dePaola
When Jamie O’Rourke is too lazy to tend his sad little potato garden and strikes a deal with a leprechaun instead, hilarity ensues as “the biggest, finest potato plant…sprout[s] out of the ground followed by the potato itself.” Never were there a pratie as giant as this!

Irish Music for Saint Patrick’s Day

Gaelic Folk – Irish, Scottish and Manx Traditional Folk Music curated by Casper Lindholm

You can play this music for free on Spotify, by creating a free account and then either accessing Spotify via your browser, the free desktop computer app, or a smartphone app. (Note to Apple users: the free version of Spotify for iPad is wonderful, and lets you pause, skip, choose songs, and more. The free version of Spotify for iPhone is much more limited.)

And if you read Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato, you may also want to listen to this lovely 1930 recording of Irish tenor John McCormack singing “The Garden Where the Praties Grow.”

Irish Impressionist Art for Saint Patrick’s Day Picture Study

We’re all familiar with impressionists like Monet and Renoir, but have you every stopped to study the work Walter Frederick Osborne? He was an Irish impressionist known for his idyllic country scenes. Walter Osbornes’ paintings are in the public domain, so you’re free to print them however you’d like. (My favorite way is to save the high-res Wikimedia Commons file I wish to print, upload to the Office Depot or the UPS Store’s copy/print website, order a full-color print on 8.5×11″ cardstock, then choose the lamination option. Prices vary depending on your geographic location, but it’s usually under three dollars for durable, long-lasting art.)

FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

“Feeding the Chickens”, 1885, by Walter Frederick Osborne. (via Wikimedia Commons file)

FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

“When the Boats Come In”, ~1892, by Walter Frederick Osborne (via Wikimedia Commons file)

You may also wish to incorporate mapping into your Saint Patrick’s Day studies — page 91 of this PDF has a printable map of Saint Patrick’s Travels, and the end of this Give Your Child the World book club blog post has a printable map of Europe.

What other creative ways have you found to incorporate Irish studies into your Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations?

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