Read It! Addressing Hunger and Homelessness

We like to use picture books to teach and learn just about anything. This topic is a particularly good example of just how essential picture books can be for learning. Often it's difficult for adults to wrap their minds around the hows and whys of hunger and homelessness. Explaining it to a child can be even more challenging. I think most of us have encountered someone we assume is homeless. And even more of us have encountered someone who is experiencing food insecurity, though we will never know it.

Hunger and homelessness have many faces and many stories. Here are a few titles that offer various perspectives and situations to help start a dialogue about this topic. Most of these books are still in print and available for free at the library. I like Better World Books for great deals on used titles. I also included an Amazon link. Warning: After reading any of these titles, the hows and whys just might turn into...
Why aren't we doing something about this? How can I help?

DiSalvo-Ryan, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.3

"A straightforward fictional view of an urban soup kitchen, as observed by a boy visiting it with his 'Uncle Willie,' who works there every day....The difficult lives of those fed (including children)--as well as the friendly, nonintrusive attitude of the kitchen workers toward them--are presented sensitively but without sentimentality."

The Can Man 
Williams, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.4 

"As Tim ponders how he might earn money for a skateboard, he hears The Can Man down the street collecting empty cans. This gives Tim an idea. By the end of the week, Tim has almost reached his goal—until a chance encounter with The Can Man changes everything. --Told with honesty and respect, this timely story shines a perceptive light on current social concerns. Readers will be encouraged to think beyond themselves and celebrate the simple acts of kindness that make a difference in people’s lives."

Fly Away Home
Bunting, 1991 | Fiction | Level 2.7

"A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal and trying not to be noticed, is given hope when he sees a trapped bird find its freedom." 
Bunting, 1997 | Fiction | Level 2.9

"Simon and his mom don’t have much--the cardboard house they built for themselves, a tiny Christmas tree, and a picture of an angel from a calendar pinned to one wall. The angel’s name is December. Simon’s mom says she sings to them when they’re asleep. On Christmas Eve, Simon and his mom take in an old woman who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning, Simon wakes early to find that the old woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, their Christmas angel, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?"

The Lady in the Box
McGovern, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.1

"It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness."

Marie Plays Homeless
Ross, 2010 | Fiction | Level 5

"Marie wants a new Jeannie doll, but her dad won't give her the money. She has a plan to acquire the money, but she never dreamed that the plan would change her mind. Some things are more important than either money or dolls."

Circle of Friends
Carmi, 2006 | Fiction | All Levels

"In this wordless story, a boy anonymously shares his snack with a homeless man, and inspires a cycle of good will."

I Can Hear the Sun   
Polacco, 1999 | Fiction | Level 3.7

"Fondo's life is sad and lonely until he meets Stephanie Michele. She takes care of the geese who live on the shore of Lake Merritt, and when Fondo shows up there one day, she lets him help. But now the geese are preparing to fly south for the winter, and Fondo says that they've invited him to join them. Is hope enough to accomplish a miracle? Patricia Polacco masterfully intertwines themes of friendship, homelessness, and faith to create a beautiful modern myth."

Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco
Brenner, 2011 | Fiction | Level 5

"In this empathetic tale of hope, understanding, and the importance of family, children face the difficult issue of poverty and the many hardships of being homeless through an inspiring young heroine named Ivy. Ivy is a young girl who finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco when she and her father, Poppy, are evicted from his artist loft. Struggling to survive day to day, Ivy and Poppy befriend a dog who takes them to the ramshackle home of quirky siblings Eugenia and Oscar, making the start of some amazing adventures. The story relates a hopeful but realistic representation of homelessness that will appeal to young readers and give adults material to discuss with children." 

The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge: Helping Children Understand Homelessness
Huff, 2007 | Nonfiction | All Ages
*Kindle Only

"This book captures all that Tim has seen in his years working on the street with the homeless in a form children can easily understand. Homelessness has been called one of the greatest tragedies of our time. In an age of prosperity and plenty, hundreds of thousands of people, continue to find themselves homeless. Tim Huff has been called, by several national papers, as 'not just another outreach worker, but a tireless activist for the cause of the homeless.'”

The Lunch Thief
Bromley, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.1  

"Rafael saw Kevin, a new kid in his class, sneak his lunch bag from underneath his desk and tuck it in his backpack. But how can he do something about the theft without picking a fight? Inspired by his mother's advice to use his mouth before his fists, Rafael bides his time, but other kids' lunches are disappearing, too. Rafael discovers Kevin's family might be one of the families who lost their homes in the recent wildfires."

Just Juice
Hesse, 1998 | Fiction | Level 3.8 

"Realizing that her father's lack of work has endangered her family, nine-year-old Juice decides that she must return to school and learn to read in order to help their chances of surviving and keeping their house."

Rosie the Shopping Cart Lady
Martin, 1996 | Fiction | Level 4

"For any parent, grandparent or friend who has tried to explain homelessness to a child, this book will be an invaluable resource. It paints the picture of Rosie through a child's eyes, and shows the magic power of simple love. Makes a perfect gift for the child who is beginning to examine the world around him or herself and ask intelligent questions." 

A Shelter in Our Car 
Gunning, 2004 | Fiction | Level 3.2 

"Since leaving Jamaica for America after her father died, Zettie lives in a car with her mother while they both go to school and plan for a real home."

The Quiltmaker's Journey
Brumbeau, 2005 | Fiction | Level 4.7 

"Escaping from the protective walls of wealth and privilege, a young girl discovers the harsh world outside, where some people don't have as much as others. When she realizes that she has the power to help them, the young girl finds a strength and peace she never knew before. Making the loveliest quilts in all the land, the young girl decides to give them away."

After I put this list together, I found that A Mighty Girl also offers a list of books that address social issues, including homelessness. Here is that list of additional titles, which feature stories about strong female characters and selections for higher-level readers. 


Santa's Secrets

We ran into these guys today, when we dropped off toys for Porter-Leath. We've heard that Santa's reindeer will only fly on Christmas Eve, which explains why this one stays in his containment area. Flying around Union Avenue would cause quite a commotion anyway! 

We were still a little skeptical about the abilities of this reindeer, as we were warned not to get too close. Perhaps, he is an alternate reindeer "helper"? You know, like the various Santas we see around town. We plan to further investigate the Rangifer tarandus. Our local library is a little lacking in this area, but Amazon Kindle Unlimited has a lot of selections. Time for a free trial!

We got a chance to have a little chat with the jolly old elf himself. No luck with details about the taxonomy of flying caribou. However, Santa did disclose (and I hope it's okay to share this) that he no longer enters homes through chimneys. Turns out, he was advised by the EPA that too many chimneys are just too dangerous these days. Wood smoke can not only pollute the air, but also impact our heath (and Santa's)!    Are reindeer and caribou the same thing?

The EPA's Burn Wise program has a lot of good information on how to prepare wood for burning in fireplaces and updating or replacing old wood stoves, including this plan for building a wood shed.  

This PSA has been brought to you by Peachy Skeen... and Santa Claus.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Service Learning

If you have a child that is interested in active service in our community, please consider joining our group of Service Learners. Kids as young as 5 and as old as 17 can sign up to participate in any number of meaningful service projects for youth volunteers, throughout the month of January! Participants can earn service hours, develop a sense of civic engagement, and learn through active and meaningful service to others.  

While many kids have experience with indirect service like fundraising and soliciting donations, participants in this service learning opportunity will actively engage in direct service.  The efforts of this service will focus on members of our community who are experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness and hunger or food insecurity. Details about each volunteer opportunity are listed below. 

Participation in any of the Service Learning events can be applied to required service hours for students, scouts, etc.  Service Learners who complete 8 hours or more of volunteering with the group will receive a Service Learning certificate and will be invited to an exclusive event, recognizing their community efforts. 
Click here to sign up!


Who was Dorothy Day?
Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (Ages 5 and up)

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) provides temporary housing and support to families who are homeless. There are many causes of homelessness, but very few options for families to stay together through hard times. DDHH believes that keeping families together while homeless gives them a better chance of rebuilding their lives. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality depends entirely on monetary and in-kind donations from private donors and charitable organizations. Each Monday night, volunteers prepare and share a meal with the residents of the home.

There are two different dates for which Service Learners may sign up to either prepare or serve a meal (or both). Meals will be prepared at the Skeen House, in East Memphis. Meals will be served at DDHH, located on Poplar Avenue, in Midtown. **Anyone signed up to prepare a meal will be assigned an ingredient to contribute.

Where is Room in the Inn?
Room in the Inn - Memphis (Ages 7 and up)

During the winter months, Room in the Inn (RITI) operates through various churches to provide overnight shelter for homeless members of the Memphis community. From November 1 through March 31, RITI provides dinner and breakfast, a shower (depending on the facilities available) and a warm bed to sleep in for guests one night a week.

The Service Learners will support RITI on four different dates at the Trinity Education Building, located in Midtown. Supporting tasks include setting the table, arranging sleeping quarters, and making beds. How well does your child make his/her bed? After volunteering at RITI, that's sure to improve! Guests of RITI will not be present while Service Learners are preparing the facility. However, you can contact me for details on serving/attending dinner and staying for evening entertainment, such as board games.


How can I volunteer at the soup kitchen?
St. Mary's Soup Kitchen (Ages 5 and up)

St. Mary's Catholic Church Soup Kitchen has been operating continuously for 144 years. Six days a week, the organization serves the poor, homeless and less fortunate in the Memphis community. They average more than 300 servings a day! Every guest of the soup kitchen receives a meat sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a 16oz. cup of soup, and a snack.

The Service Learners will support St. Mary's Soup Kitchen by preparing peanut butter sandwiches... A LOT of peanut butter sandwiches! But we're not just going to make the sandwiches, we're going to engage in a little friendly competition, challenging participants to work together to prepare and package the best peanut butter sandwiches EVER!  **Anyone signed up for this event should bring a minimum of two loaves of bread. Please feel free to bring more!

Check back often, additional Service Learning dates will be posted!!

Why We Homeschool

It's an inevitable question that will be asked countless times. Any homeschooling family knows this. It doesn't matter if the kid(s) left a traditional school setting or if if they've never spent any time in a classroom. A homeschool parent will always, without fail, hear a variation of this question,
"What made you decide to homeschool?"
I imagine there are as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it. In fact, there are so many factors that contributed to our decision to leave traditional education that my answer might be different every time I'm asked.

When I decided to blog about our home education experience I thought it would be helpful to include a little background on what lead us to homeschooling. However, I could never really sum it up. So, I put it off until I felt there was something worth telling, which I will post here as a running list.

Service learning is one reason I homeschool my child. Service means contributing or helping to benefit others and the common good. Learning means gaining understanding of a subject or skill through study, instruction or experience. Combining the two  concepts creates learning through active contributions that help meet the needs of our community. This isn't something promoted by traditional schools, public or private. Many schools encourage volunteerism or partner with non-profits, but what it often amounts to for students is a collection of donations with little emphasis on learning through an experience. After all, serving others will not show measurable outcomes on standardized tests and college entrance exams. 

And the list of reasons goes on...


Thanksgiving Without the Teepee

Every year in November, in a multitude of ways, Americans distort the story of Thanksgiving. Are you guilty of blending the facts and myths? Do you perpetuate the stereotypes and generalizations? The answer you are looking for is, yes. Isn't everyone guilty of this at some point? I know I am. After all, most of us grew up with only partially accurate stories about the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Even in some of today's classrooms, students only learn about Native American culture during the month of November. Because all American Indians are alike? Were they all at the first Thanksgiving? Yes, I know. I'm exhausting all possible labels for America's indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving as a jumping-off point for studying American Indians, yes! I've just never really seen that happen. It's more like that one time that all the Native American tribes- usually referred to in past tense, as if there are no Indians left in America- had dinner with the Pilgrims. In recent years I was even in a classroom where the teacher pulled all of her Thanksgiving books into one section for easy access for the students. Among the titles was a book about Pocahontas and another about the Cherokee Nation, neither of which was remotely relevant to the history or tradition of Thanksgiving. I don't think the teacher believed that all of these books were related to Thanksgiving or that all American Indians are the same. However, like so many of us, she either didn't care or want to take the time to think about the implications.

Now that we're homeschooling, I wanted to do my best to set the record straight in our house. I planned to go all Howard Zinn- dialed back a notch for age appropriateness. I'm sharing some of my favorite references here in hopes they might assist others in breaking the cycle of misinformation and also so I can easily access them for the future.

Education World: Teach the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving" is a helpful guide for positive teaching strategies, avoiding stereotypes, and considering the Native American perspective.
The REAL Story of Thanksgiving by Susan Bates provides details about what a day of "thanksgiving" really meant in early colonial days.

Native Child: Teaching Kids the Wonderful Diversity of American Indians offers teaching strategies, facts, and statistics about American Indian cultures. While it is not a Thanksgiving reference, it does shine a light on some of the stereotypes reinforced by not teaching it accurately. 

The Wampanoag by Kevin Cunningham  This nonfiction book is part of A True Book: American Indians, published by Scholastic. The reading level is 5.4 and offers a deeper look into Squanto's life and the decades of war that ensued after the first Thanksgiving.

explores what life was like for a Wampanoag boy. The reading level is  4.6 and the photographic story includes Wampanoag words, with a glossary and pronunciation key.

We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower is episode one of a five-part PBS television series and it is so phenomenal I plan to keep watching. The episode is long and may be best suited for older kids. We watched it in segments and I paused it several times to discuss the dialogue. This film was more enriching than any other program or book I could recommend, offering an opportunity to hear Algonquin dialect and interviews with Wampanoag people. It's a must see, even if you aren't exploring the first Thanksgiving, which takes a backseat to all of the other history.


Veering Off Course

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that learning can be very fluid. Being the type A that I am, I always have a plan. However, I very rarely have a time limit and we never have to worry about veering off course. In fact, we change course quite a bit, usually because we've stumbled on to something that is too fascinating to file away for later. The latest example of this was what I've been referring to as The science we learned from Squanto.

Scroll down for more Mayflower resources.
For several years, I've been using a Peanuts episode to provoke discussion about events leading to what we all think of as the first Thanksgiving. This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, is a surprisingly accurate account of what the experience must have been like for the pilgrims. It's lighthearted enough for early learners, but it doesn't gloss over the hardships of the journey (though it completely glosses over the annihilation of the Patuxet people). 

Comprehension and Discussion Questions for the movie.

Every time I watch this flick, discussions always take a different path. Last year, a group of first graders turned it into a math lesson, using the counting up/counting down method for  determining how many voyagers actually made it to the new world. Before that, a group of 2nd graders turned the discussion into an issue of wants verses needs, analyzing what the pilgrims might have taken with them on the journey.

This year was my first time watching it as a home educator and there was one part that really jumped out at me. Squanto taught the Peanuts, I mean Pilgrims, that the best time to plant corn is "when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear." Since I've always stayed away from the Native American content in the program, I hadn't really given that quote much thought- until now.

The Patuxet understood that plants and animals take cues from local climate, using their observations of seasonal changes to make astute agricultural decisions. This is something we learned when we investigated Squanto's instructions for the Peanuts  pilgrims. We also learned that this adage is a principle of a modern-day science called phenology.
Have you ever heard of phenology? 

 And just like that the course of investigation changed from pilgrims to phenology! By the end of the day, we were official citizen scientists, signed up to document our native plants and animals for the National Phenology Network. The organization calls on amateur naturalists to join its Nature's Notebook program to help scientist gather valuable information on plant and animal phenology.

Nature's Notebook is a national, online program where participants record observations of different plants and animals, generating long-term data sets- in the name of scientific exploration, discovery and decision-making. Once signed up, members can scroll though the online database of species to select plants and/or animals specific to their own backyard or community. Finally! There is a reason for letting that scurry of chipmunks live in the chicken run!

Oh yeah, back to the Mayflower. Here are some other resources... 

See ship and learn what the voyage was like with Scholastic's Voyage on the Mayflower  

Take a look at the inside layout with this cutaway diagram of the Mayflower. 

Check out the History Channel's movie Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower or view it here with a subscription to the Streaming Digital Media Library.

My favorite books about the Mayflower, 



Service learning is one of the perks of homeschooling my child. Service learning can mean different things to different people. To us: Service means contributing or helping to benefit others and the common good. Learning means gaining understanding of a subject or skill through study, instruction or experience. Combining the two concepts creates learning through active contributions that help meet the needs of our community. 

I like to think that all children are compassionate and want to make a positive impact on the world. My husband and I try to nurture that inclination with JK as much as possible. It started with a lemonade stand. Then a week-long Volunteer Odyssey introduced us to hunger and homelessness in our community and really ignited Janie Kathryn's desire to help others. We became regular volunteers at a local soup kitchen and seasonal shelter... that is until school started.

I was student teaching and JK was in second grade. There was no time for volunteering. There was no time for anything, except for the seemingly endless amounts of homework. I often found myself thinking it would be so much better if, instead of useless homework practice, she could apply what she is learning in the context of something she enjoys. Taking a step further, we could do this through serving our community. What a dream, right?

Well, with homeschooling that dream is a reality. Among other service-oriented activities, we have a weekly shift at the soup kitchen. You might question how a child can replace homework by volunteering at a soup kitchen, but it happens. And I contend that the learning that takes place is more meaningful and authentic, with a much higher retention rate than anything she learned in school or practiced at home. 

There are obvious life skills that are practiced- kitchen safety, food preparation, serving, cleaning tables, washing dishes, sweeping and mopping floors. There is a very valuable social aspect. From working with a diverse group of volunteers to connecting with people whose lives are very different than ours. And people always question the "socialization" of homeschoolers. 

Then there are less obvious ways to learn. For instance, we once practiced mean, median, mode, and range using the numbers of people served at the soup kitchen. We've practiced multiplication and division (really, it was algebra) using the peanut butter sandwiches we so often prepare. The possibilities are limitless. You have 15 loaves of bread. Each loaf has 24 slices. How many sandwiches can you make, using 2 slices per sandwich?

It isn't always a dream come true, believe me. Some days 7:15am seems earlier than usual and one or both of us is not up for finding ways to practice newly acquired skills, but we always manage to get ourselves to our shift and make the most of it.  Still, service learning is one of those things I have to file under Why We Homeschool.  

Now that we know the ropes of this learning through service, I hope to invite more kids to join us. Be sure check the happenings for service learning opportunities! 


Read It! Historically Accurate Thanksgiving

Allow me to clarify, before you scroll through these thematic suggestions. I do not mean to imply that these books provide historically accurate information about the events surrounding the first Thanksgiving. On the contrary, I chose some of these books for my Thanksgiving unit because I wanted to have opportunities to identify cultural stereotypes and historical distortions. 

This is our reading list and discussion topics for a well-rounded discussion about the story most Americans cite as the first Thanksgiving. Most of these books are still in print and available in paperback. All of them are likely at the local library if they're not checked out (good luck with that).

 Mayflower  1620: A New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage
National Geographic Society, 2003 | Nonfiction | Level  7
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
McGovern, 1991 | Nonfiction | Level  4.2
How Many Days to America
Bunting, 1988 | Fiction | Level  3.1

Cunningham, 2011 | Nonfiction | Level  5.4 
Waters, 1996 | Nonfiction | Level  4.6
(Let's Read About) Squanto 
Black, 2002 |Nonfiction | Level 2.9

Osborne, 2005 | Nonfiction | Level 4.2
Harness, 1992 | Fiction | 4.4
Waters, 1989 | Nonfiction | Level  3.4

 National Geographic Society | Nonfiction | Level  7.1
Koller, 1999 | Nonfiction | Level  4.0
Dalgliesh, 1957 | Fiction | Level 4.1