Sunday, December 24, 2017

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Reading aloud with my children when they were younger was always delightful, even when my voice and eyes became strained and tired from responding to the "one more" refrain. Sharing stories and images from the pages of favorite books created experiences and memories we treasure.

This year, as I was initially looking for our Nutcracker book, with the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffman, to clarify the many versions and character changes throughout the history of the Nutcracker, I pulled out a few other favorites from our picture book collection, as well, just for the joy of it.


Jonathan Toomey's story by Susan Wojciechowski is a bit of a sad one, but ends on the happy note of finding love again. A sweet story with detailed illustrations by P.J. Lynch, it may provide inspiration for trying some handcrafts, as well.


St. Francis is a saint who is easy to relate to, with his love and compassion for creatures great and small. Robert Byrd introduces St. Francis with a charming four legged companion and wonderful illustrations.



And one of my favorites, as far as art and illustrations go, The Story of Christmas, with pictures by Jane Rey. The images are gorgeous with golden accents, highlighting the glory of the season.

Merry Christmas 

May you find joy and delight in all of your Christmas traditions in the company of loved ones this season.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Learning with the Nutcracker - A Holiday Tradition Is the Lesson

A family holiday tradition of ours, of attending a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet, has become a tradition of performing in the ballet, for my teenage daughter. This year was her second opportunity to perform in a production of the Nutcracker. My homeschool plan for her, this late fall season, was to mold this experience into a comprehensive unit study covering; some classical musical pieces and composers, a little western civilization and some Russian history mixed in with her dance experience.

As most home school moms, any parent really, knows, any big idea for family and learning often ends up needing to be scaled back. Way back! The best laid plans....

So I began repeating to myself, the advice I've frequently repeated to homeschooling moms with a new baby "the new baby is the lesson" in an altered version. "The Nutcracker is the Lesson." In the case of a dancers participation in a production of The Nutcracker, it is most certainly true!

Rehearsing for The Nutcracker.

Following are some of my points of proof, of the learning that happens while participating in a full out production of a ballet.
  • First up: Time management. The amount of rehearsals required for dancers to learn and execute their part(s) is extensive. Maintaining a healthy schedule of rest and good nutrition is important in keeping up with the demands. Added to a dancers rehearsal schedule is time scheduled for costume fittings and learning the proper make-up application.
  • Music appreciation and music history. Appreciating classical music requires exposure to classical pieces. We added some research of Tchaikovsky and the creation of the music for the ballet.
  • Research about the creation of the music and the ballet led us into history generally and western civilization. Specifically the late 1800's, the era in which it was written.
  • And it all came full circle with conversations with my mother-in-law. Her own mother had danced in the Nutcracker herself in the late 1930's in Estonia. The connection brought personal meaning and depth to the historical aspect as well as validation to an aspiring dancer. Family history has been, for us, an excellent way to approach and make history appealing to my children.
All of these learning activities happened naturally as a result of planning for, rehearsing in and performing in the production. My plans to use additional reading, writing or listening resources didn't always come to fruition, but the learning happened regardless and the results were delightful.
From the late 1930's a Nutcracker performance in Estonia.

As a mom, I am delighted to see my only daughter pursuing the study of dance. At the young age of sixteen, her journey has already led her through competition gymnastics to this recent opportunity to perform in a local production of the Nutcracker. As a family, we enjoy our tradition of attending The Nutcracker with the added joy of watching a family member perform. For all of us, (performing or attending), The Nutcracker is the lesson.

Siblings and friends enjoy the performance and
support our daughter as a ballet dancer.

Many mandatory rehearsals requires
time management skills.

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