20 Ways to Draw…

The Idea

Find a drawing book to bridge the middle years (ages 9-11).

The Execution

My littlest kids (ages 5-7) have always enjoyed Ed Emberley’s drawing books.  But one by one they would grow out of these books, or simply be ready for something a little more challenging, a little more realistic.  I spent years trying to find a good drawing book for ages 9-11, or even a book with simple drawings that weren’t childish.  One day I was browsing the book section at Cass Art in London when I found it!  A whole series entitled “20 Ways to Draw….”  So far we own 20 Ways to Draw a Tree (nature subjects) and 20 Ways to Draw a Cat (animals).

Art 75 Art 77

The Extension

The realistic nature of these drawings makes them a good reference for nature journaling.  Use these drawing techniques and ideas to learn more about leaf and tree shapes, bark texture, snowflake crystals, etc.

Art 47


Map Tracing

This year I’ve started taking my younger kids to a Classical Conversations group once a week.  I wasn’t sure how they would like it, but we needed a way to meet new friends in a new city.  So far they love it.  In the younger years it’s just memory work set to songs and games.  It’s right up their alley.  One of their favorite subjects is geography.  Each week they spend a few minutes tracing a map of the US in pencil.  It’s always very rushed, so they asked to try it at home, relaxed and with their favorite drawing tools.

The Idea

Trace a map.  This exercise is meant more to familiarize the student with the map, not for specific work in recognizing the states/countries.  That element comes later after familiarity is established.  (Maps below are from 2 of my kids, ages 7 and 9).


The Execution


  • Map
  • Tracing Paper
  • Tape
  • Fine Tipped Markers (we like these Sharpie ones, but any fine-tipped art marker will work)
  • Optional: a flat board, like a cutting board, to make the project moveable.

Tape the tracing paper to the map and trace.  At first, only trace one or two states/countries, especially if the student is still developing fine motor strength.  (My daughter who struggles with handwriting sometimes prefers this exercise to handwriting practice.  I’m completely fine with that, as she will spend longer, and get more muscle practice, with the map.)  Over time, add more pieces as the shapes become more familiar.  If the child has interest, trace the same map multiple times over a few weeks, or even longer.  If you meet any resistance or frustration, put the map away and pull it out later.  Do only one state a week if that pace works!

The Extension

Draw maps of different countries and regions.

Label maps.

Draw maps on clear plastic, such as sheet protectors.  Stack to create layered maps.


Trading Pennies 2

After the student is comfortable with Trading Pennies 1, and can do some simple regrouping addition on paper, you can move on to more complicated problems.

The Idea

Use pennies and dimes to practice more challenging addition problems with regrouping.

The Execution

Foundational Skills

  • fluent in Trading Pennies 1
  • fluent in counting by 10’s

Concurrent Skills

  • learning to count out money

Step 1 

Set up an addition problem.  In the example below, we are adding 25 cents and 16 cents.  Have your child count out the dimes and pennies.

Trade Pennies for Dimes 2

Step 2

Have your student rearrange the dimes so that they are all grouped together.

Next, have her rearrange the pennies so that there is one group of ten, and another group of the leftovers.

Step 3

Make a big show of trading the ten pennies for one dime.  Add the dime to the dime pile.

The Extension

Once your child is extremely comfortable with this stage of adding, start to moving increasingly to paper math.  If they enjoy counting with money, start to play with concepts like making change for a dollar.


PDF of this problem.
Word DOC of this problem.  Feel free to change and use.  (The formatting looks terrible online, but it should download and look right).
Clip art of Pennies and Dimes to create your own worksheets.

Trading Pennies 1

One of the foundational skills of early math is the ability to understand regrouping (also known as ‘carrying’ in addition and ‘borrowing’ in subtraction).

The Idea

Use pennies and dimes to expose your child to the interchange of ones and tens in place value.

The Execution

Foundational Skills

  • fluent in counting to 10

Concurrent Skills

  • 1 dime = 10 pennies
  • 10 + 1 = 11, 10 + 2 = 12, 10 + 3 = 13, etc.

Step 1 

Set up an addition problem.  In the example below, we are adding 7 pennies and 5 pennies.  Have your child place actual pennies on the illustrations.

Trade Pennies for DimesStep 2

Have him rearrange the pennies so that there is one group of ten, and another group of the leftovers.

Step 3

Make a big show of trading the ten pennies for one dime.

The Extension

Do the activity just to this point for several days.  You may need to park here for quite a while.  However, if your child quickly picks up the idea, take the next step of showing how the dime (10’s) and pennies (1’s) make the written answer to the addition problem.  Next, start adding bigger numbers using dimes and pennies (future post).


PDF of this problem.
Word DOC of this problem.  Feel free to change and use.  (The formatting looks terrible online, but it should download and look right).
Clip art of Pennies and Dimes to create your own worksheets.

Punch Art Fall Trees

I could write a blurb about how great glueing down tiny pieces of paper is for fine motor skills.  But the truth is that this art project was born out of desperation and wanting my kids to just sit still so I could unpack the house after a move!

The Idea

Pull out those craft punches you used for scrapbooking (you know, before your kids were talking) and create a scene for kids to make.  I had leaves, stars, and flowers, so we made a night sky with fall trees.

The Execution


colored paper
craft punches

I punched out the shapes for my kids, as the punches can be quite stubborn.  We used torn brown paper for the trees.

Art 31

Age 4. Gave up and took a nap.

Art 32

Age 5. The conscientious artist.

Art 33,jpeg

Age 7. The kid that has to be different. And also line things up.

The Extension

In spite of its dubious beginnings, we actually really liked this craft.  We used up some leftover bits to make solar system / night sky pictures another day.

Art 6 copy

Art 7 copy

Art 8 copy


Subject-Object Switcheroo

The Idea

A silly activity to learn more about nouns.

The Execution

Once my kids start to understand nouns and verbs, I introduce them to the concept of subjects and direct objects.  “Some nouns DO the verb; some nouns have the verb done TO them!”  And wouldn’t it be silly if they were switched…

Print out a picture from the links below and allow children to color them if desired.  Create small cards for each word in the sentence. (If you’ve done Grammar Gardening, try to be consistent in the colors you are using for nouns, verbs, etc.)  Have your child try to create the sentence that describes each picture.  Next, ask them to find the verb and the nouns.  Show them what happens when you switch the two nouns; explain the difference between subjects and direct objects.

For an older child who enjoys drawing, ask them to draw the picture; then ask them to draw the picture when the nouns are switched.

Subject:  Who? or What? + verb 

Direct Object:  verb + What? or Whom?

The elephant plays the cello.

The bear rides the bicycle.

The bird drinks the nectar.

The rabbit picks a flower.

The cat plays the fiddle.

The crocodile holds the balloons.

The mermaid rides the dolphin.

The duck wears a hat.

The lion eyes the cheetahs.

The squirrel eats a nut.

The Extension

If your child is doing copywork at this age, ask him if he can find a direct object in his next copywork.  What would his new copywork be if the subject and direct object were switched?

Build-Your-Own Math Curriculum

I’m going to start this post out by saying that Math on the Level (MOTL) is, hands-down, my favorite math curriculum for K-5. We still use it every week in our house. However, the price can be a challenge for some families, especially those beginning their home ed journey who aren’t exactly sure of their child’s learning style or their personal teaching style.

The Idea

Build your own math scope-and-sequence using internet resources.

The Execution

Scope and Sequence

A few years ago I was curious as to exactly what the US Common Core math standards were teaching.  I dug through them and created a chart to illustrate the progression of topics from year to year.  I don’t necessarily agree with their placement of certain standards, but I do find it a useful resource to see how a skill progresses over the years.

Common Core Math Standards Chart (K-5)

page 1

If this chart seems confusing, you can find the full text many places.  One of my favorite resources is Mr. Nussbaum’s page.  He has the Common Core text, plus links to online games and printable resources on this page.  (Scroll to the bottom of the page).

This is just one example of a possible scope and sequence.   Another good one is this visual chart of math topics.  Math on the Level also has a wonderful list of concepts with charts and ideas on how to progress through the sequence.

Use your outline as a rough estimate.  If other things pop up that you want to learn, write them in!


There are as many ways to teach as there are families; here I will outline how we do it.

First, I choose 2-3 concepts for each child.  Over the course of a month, I introduce those concepts to each child via games, manipulatives, and discussion. Sometimes we find a good book to read on the subject.  If the child seems to be grasping the concept quite easily, I will show them how that concept translates to paper work.  If they absolutely 100% understand it, I will add a page of those problems to their Math Binder (more on that below) and add in a new concept to the rotation.

My children seem to learn in spurts.  If they are primed and ready with a learning spurt, we may blow through several concepts in the month.  If not, we may tread water and do the same games and manipulatives over and over.  As long as they are enjoying it, we continue.  If I start to meet resistance, we put that concept on the back burner and try something new.  Don’t feel boxed in by grade levels … if you have a child that is loving addition, let them add 1, 2, 3, or 10 digit numbers!  Let them start multiplication in kindergarten.  Conversely, let them stay with the easier concepts longer if they need the time.

Among my children, I have all sorts of math learners.  My oldest daughter resisted math for many years.  However, around the age of 9/10, it suddenly began to click.  When it clicked, she caught completely up to grade level in 6 months.  I struggled with doubts, but looking back I realize that her brain development just had to catch up to the point where she was ready.  We continued many games, books, and activities during that time, trying to keep those math brain cells firing!  My second child learned math instantly.  He is the child that would do great with a workbook program, but I have tried to pull in some of the more creative things to stretch that part of his brain.  I want him to understand and play with math, not just do his pages and be done.  My third child tolerates math.  She usually understand the concepts, but doesn’t have the energy to do a lot of work.  She enjoys a lot of our math art projects.  My youngest enjoys math the most.  He watches big brother, and is determined to work at the same pace.  At 5 years old he wants to learn multiplication, so I make him worksheets with x0, x1, and a few x2 math facts.

Review – The Math Binder

As your child starts to become proficient in certain math concepts, it is important to continue review.  Repeated review over a long period will move the math knowledge from short term to long term memory.  Don’t move any concept to review until you are certain your child knows it.  These are problems she should never get wrong!

From Math on the Level I learned a concept called the “5-A-Day” review.  It’s very simple: start each day with 5 review problems.  There are a few different ways to do this: some parents like to handwrite a sheet of paper with 5 unique problems on it.  This method got to be a bit unwieldy for me with 4 kids, so I started what we call the “Math Binder.”  Details for creating the Math Binder are on my Math Skills page.

Once you have started a binder, you need a way to schedule which problems to review, and how often.  As your child grows the list of concepts can get quite long.  MOTL has a wonderful spreadsheet that we often use.  It allows you to input how often you want to review a concept (daily, every 2 days, weekly, etc), and spits out a schedule for you.  In lieu of that, you could simply keep a checklist By Week or By Day to track it.  For very new concepts, it is good to review daily or every other day.  As time goes on, you can move to once a week, every other week, or once a month review.


Blowing Trees

This project turned out to be one of our favorites this last year.  It was very simple for the little ones, but still fun for the older ones as well.

The Idea

Paint a background with watercolor paints.  Use straws to blow watered-down acrylic paint and create a tree shape. Add final details.

Art 24

Age 14

Art 25

Age 8

Art 26

Age 6

Art 27 copy

Age 5

The Execution


Watercolor paint
Paper towels (to blot off bits of paint and create cloud shapes)
Thick paper
Acrylic paint

Follow directions from That Artist Woman for How to Paint Spring Trees.  She has a similar tutorial called How to Paint Fall Trees.

The Extension

My kids continue to use this technique to create other projects.

Art 28

Grammar Gardening

The Grammar Farm is a classic Montessori activity to introduce children to the parts of speech.  We call it the “Grammar Garden” based on a long-standing family activity my kids created called the “Lego Garden.”

The Idea

Create a farm, garden, or other play-scene and label objects with parts of speech.

Farm 1

Nouns are orange, Verbs are green, Adjectives are yellow.

Farm 2

On this day we added learning about Direct Objects as nouns that come after the verb.

Farm 3

The 5-year-old boy version…

The Execution


Toys to build a scene (farm, legos, dollhouse, Littlest Pet Shop, etc)

Labels for the scene (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc); you can purchase farm labels to print at Montessori Print Shop, or just create your own as you go along.

See an Inexpensive Montessori Farm and other Farm Ideas

If you would like to proceed in the correct Montessori  fashion, search for “how to present the grammar farm” and you will find many articles like this one.

How we do it:

Build the scene. This can take a day or two if needed!  Don’t force it.
Ask your child to name the “things” in the garden.
Point out that “things” are called Nouns.
Write labels and place them.
Ask your child to name what the things do, or their “actions.”
Point out that “actions” are called Verbs.
Write labels and place them.
Ask your child to describe the things.  Point out that “describing words” are called Adjectives.
Write labels and place them.

Note:  Some nouns will also be adjectives.  Example: Pick an apple from the apple tree.

You can add on to this activity as the child learns more parts of speech:  Pronouns, Adverbs, Prepositional Phrases, complex Noun ideas such as common v. proper, concrete v. abstract, singular v. plural, etc. (A complete list of Grammar Concepts.)

The Extension

If your child enjoys setting up elaborate play-scenes, use them as a jumping-off point for storytelling. Choosing adjectives and verbs for the characters may inspire her to create a longer, more elaborate story.  Encourage your child to tell you her story, and write it down.  Later you might want to copy the story into a “book” (a small stack of paper folded in half and stapled). One of my children created many of these books, some of which were illustrated and read over and over again!