One of the things I get asked most about is what books my kids read. There isn’t an easy (or short!) answer for those questions. I told my oldest I wanted him to start gathering his thoughts for a guest post about his favorite books. Hopefully I can get him to write that soon. Until then, I thought I would share about how I incorporate books into what we are learning in ‘school’.

Both my kids and I am fans of ‘living books’. In a very basic sense these are books that bring to life what you are reading typically using a narrative form. Instead of a dry text book on the American Revolution, I provide my kids with books that teach about the American Revolution but through a narrative form.

While teaching the kids historical facts, I then find living books that will make those facts come alive and help them remember what they are learning.

In a nutshell, my kids read a lot of historical fictions, biographies and autobiographies. My oldest actually prefers these types of books, so that makes things really easy for me.

This year we will be studying ancient history. The middle shelf holds the books my kids will be reading to themselves or I will be reading aloud during the first 12 weeks of school. I am still working on organizing them and have some more to add. My oldest can’t handle new books on the shelf. He has already read almost all of them. I can’t keep up.

9.15books-02I added red washi tape to each book we will reading for school and added a number to mark which week they will read the book.

Note to fellow CC parents: The red signifies “Cycle 1” and the number is which week of the cycle. I use a different color of washi tape for Cycle 2 and Cycle 3. This will allow me to quickly find what books go with what cycle and week when my younger kids are ready to read them.9.15books-01Since I am picking my books based on specific things we will be studying, I found booklists that other parents created. The main list I used is by Half A Hundred Acre Wood. I printed that list (it is several pages) and put it in a binder. I then found a few other lists and cross referenced. If a book was mentioned on three lists, I highlighted it as one I wanted to find. Other books I saw recommended that looked good, I penciled in at the bottom of the lists. All the lists were so long, this was a way for me to narrow it down. You got to start somewhere!

From there I made two main lists: books to own, books to check out. Since I needed certain books at certain times, I could not depend on the library. I purchased books from Bibliomania in Tulsa – I highly recommend that place….a homeschoolers dream. Discount books from wall to wall. I did order a couple from Amazon and the rest we will check out.

9.15books-04If you look closely, you will also see stickers on the bottom of each book spine (right picture). These are date stickers – a genius idea I gained from my friend Amy. She wrote a more detailed post about this {click here for her post}. All this organization makes me ridiculously giddy. No joke.9.15books-06Another book series that my oldest enjoys is The Story of the World. I bought these to read aloud small sections, but he likes to read them by himself. There is actually tons of extra stuff that goes along with this series, but we just like the books.9.15books-08Behind the cabinet doors is all of our other school books. I still have lots of organizing to do and the kids have all their other books in the house. It is all a work in progress. We are constantly finding good book deals – like abridged versions of classics in the Target dollar bins (so great for early readers).9.15books-09All that to say, a lot of the time when you see pictures of my boys reading it is something I’ve purchased with intention of them learning something (historical, character traits, etc.) as they read. The great thing about well written living books and classics is they are so interesting my kids can’t put them down. It doesn’t feel like assigned reading to them – I am so thankful for that! Of course the kids also have favorite books that they are reading just for fun too. I’m really trying to get them to help me with that post soon!

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  • Shan - Reading your post has brought back SO many memories of homeschooling! Oh, the books! It’s been about 7-8 yrs since we’ve homeschooled and I am just not getting to purging all my books. It’s been tough. I love all your organization skills. Keep up the good work. You guys are great!

  • Kelseykelseyquiring - Great strategy! Your oldest may enjoy Sofie’s World

  • Alicia B - We are in our 2nd year of homeschooling (8th grader, 6th grader and 1st grader). We are absolutely in LOVE with it! This post has given me such great ideas!

  • Lisa @ This Pilgrim Life - We are just starting homeschool this year and I so appreciate the tips. We already have a ton of books because I used to be a teacher and we all just love them. I love how you have yours labeled with stickers and when you plan to read them.

  • susie - Thanks for the list! It’s hard for me to find books for my boys the same ages as yours. My girls will read anything though! why I left a comment is that you have to check out “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah and read for yourself. It is about two french sisters during WWII when the Nazi’s took over. You probably are like me, loved to read as a kid but don’t have the time to read much now so what you read has to be a good one- and this one is!

  • Ange - Thank you for sharing! Please continue to share what you are reading- I have a 11, 8, and 4 year old and all are voracious readers and homeschoolers. We are always looking for good books to read, and it’s great to have them vetted already so I don’t have to try to read ahead of them πŸ™‚

  • Lisa - I plan to homeschool my 3, who are now 4, 2, and 7 mo so I’m several years away from this…but I’m curious how you handle discussing all their reading with them? I’m pretty sure you aren’t able to read all the books as well (or if you do, what is your secret?!? I haven’t read a book in 4 years and I used to read 3 a week!). So how do you discuss the content with your kids? I feel like I’m going to have to read everything my kids do so we can discuss it and learn the information but I have no idea how to fit that into my life. I’ve thought about this a lot and I’m curious what your approach is since you have voracious readers in your house.

  • Emily - All of your organization makes me giddy! My kids are in a Reggio preschool but moving to public elem (hopefully the dual language program!) but I know that public school can’t meet the needs of all students all the time so I plan on doing a bit of “afterschooling” and summer schooling at home with them to round out their interests. Your tips are priceless. Thank you so much!

    PS – I’m sure you’ve heard of it (because there are 80bajillion posts and I only just discovered it) but the podcast Things You Missed in History Class is pretty fun. It’s free on itunes. If y’all are into podcasts, which I am. I’m also completely addicted to freakonomics, which is basically a bunch of thought experiments with a bunch of data to back up their findings. πŸ˜‰

  • Ashley - Thanks for this Ashley! We are doing CC this year and the hundendered acre wood list, although wonderful is SO overwhelming.
    Every time I have looked at it I get a wave of anxiety and walk away! You had such an awesome idea comparing the list and narrowing it down! Is there any way you could share the other two list you used or your final list? That would be extremely helpful!! I love the fun tape idea too. We did that for so light when I used that. How did you deside what books to buy and what to get at the library too? I have one in CC, one in School, one 3 year old, and a baby coming soon so I’m trying to keep it simple. Again love, love, love, your idea of simplifying the list. Thanks a million!!

  • Jenny B. - Love all the books! My oldest has read Detectives in Togas and Mystery of the Roman Ransom, and really enjoyed them. We also have Galen and the Gateway to Medicine on our list for this year. We use Story of the World also, but I like to get the audio CD’s. It’s a nice break from all the reading (my throat would get sore from reading aloud when my oldest was younger), and my boys can listen together. πŸ™‚ So fun that your studio could now also be called your schoolhouse. πŸ˜‰

  • LisaAnn - Two historical fiction that we’ve really enjoyed (my 5 kids are really close in age to yours) are Johnny Tremain and Carry on Mr. Bowditch (both Newbury winners). You may have already read them but if you haven’t you should check them out. πŸ™‚

  • Megan - These look like great books! I’m curious if/how you discuss the biases that memoirs and novels inevitably have in their representation of the past? e.g., the Little House on the Prairie series was heavily edited to appeal to Great Depression audiences – so it’s not really a historical text so much as a fictional one. I loved that series growing up, and my daughters love it now, but I have struggled with some aspects of it, especially the representation of Native Americans. Louise Erdich’s Birchbark House series is an attempt to fill in some of those gaps.

  • Rena Frey - Dang! Your organization is beautiful! I’m impressed. πŸ™‚ Where is your white cabinet/bookshelf from? We are adding on and it looks like the perfect thing to put in our office.

  • Ashley Pickrell - Have you heard of the ‘Dear America’ series? Each book is a different time period written from the perspective of a young girl in diary form. They were my favorite growing up, made me fall in love with history. There is a boys series too, called ‘America Writes’ I think. I have a few of the girl books already and I plan on getting the boy books for my son. I hope to pass on my love of reading and history to him. πŸ™‚

  • Jamie - Great post. I love when you have a post related to Homeschool. Thanks!

  • paula - My daughter *loved* story of the world! We took turns reading it when she was in 2/3rd grades. She also *loved* Apologia Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day; –that was the only science book we bought as my girl went back to school for 4th grade (catholic school so a little better, but…)I was uncertian of the apologia books because I heard they were really christian..but they’re okay. They’re not overly…

  • Tobi - Your oldest son reminds my of our oldest! I also wanted to share a great source for cheap (often used) books I’ve found: I order books from there when my school (I teach in a public school) or public library don’t carry them. Most books I’ve found for less than $3 (plus shipping, which sometimes makes it double that, but if you buy more than one book from the same seller, it reduces your shipping costs). You can also sell your books there if you need to make room for more. You won’t get rich, but it’s nice to know they’re not going to waste. Have a great school year! Your blog is so inspiring to me!

  • Laura - My mom used Sonlight curriculum for most of the years she homeschooled me. They were the exact approach – a list of living books on a period of history. I loved every single book! I noticed many of them in your pictures!

  • shareeann - well as a CC mom, I just found that rather inspiring and helpful=thanks sweet momma:)

  • amber - Goodness we loved those dollar classics from target this summer! And we have a deep love for living books here too. We’re doing American History this year & I think I’m more excited than my kids! Ha!

  • Rikki - Ashley, this is so great! Thanks so much for sharing! I feel as though I can never get enough good advice and inspiration for organization and teaching kids at home, both of which I absolutely love from you!

  • MC - You are so organized! Thank you so much for sharing! We don’t homeschool but these are awesome book recommendations.

  • Ashley Pickrell - An update to my previous comment: I just discovered the boys series of the ‘Dear America’ books is called ‘My Name is America’. I found one in my thrift store today πŸ™‚

  • Amy - I absolutely love this blog! You are truly an inspiration and I have loved your ideas, creativity and love for life! I am interested in what other book lists you used in correspondence with Half a Hundred Acre Wood… there a way to get links to those? I really want to incorporate more books in our school curriculum πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  • Kate - Hi Ashley! Thanks for sharing the washi tape idea–it’s brilliant! I love hearing more about your homeschooling adventure. We don’t have a CC group in our area, but we started a little co-op with a few other families and are using a lot of CC resources among other things. I went ahead and bought the Cycle 1 memory work app. I’m curious if you do the memory work at home and how that goes for your littler ones?

Once upon a time I was a gatherer.

I gathered future projects. Supplies. Things I liked. I gathered at thrift shops, Goodwill, garage sales, estate sales…anywhere I could find a treasure for deal.

Then kids started growing. Games took over my Saturday mornings. Life became really loud. All the time. LOUD even when no one is talking. My gathering stopped as I began purging and looking for quiet in the realm of less is more. There is an old table in the garage full of my ‘someday’ projects. Slowly I’ve been clearing out those items – sending them on to friends that will use them now. I still relish the chance to wander around a flea market or dig through piles in an antique store. I just tend to come home with far less.

A friend asked me how I decide to buy something or not and what I am looking for when I head wander around those places. Well, this weekend I got a little time away and I thought I would share my ‘thrifting’ process.

First – I give myself a few guidelines:

1. I don’t NEED anything. I might like it. I might really, really like it. I might super want it, but I don’t need it.

2. I only buy stuff that I can put to use right now. No more buying and hoping to use it in the future. It must have a purpose now.

3. I usually won’t spend more than $10 on anything. Typically, it is less than $5.00 though.

4. When I see something I think I want to buy, I pick my price in my head before looking at the actual price. I decide what I would pay first.

The last one is the most effective guideline for me. It has saved me a lot of money. I would say 6 out of 10 things I think I want to buy, I end up setting back down because the price ends up being more than I want to pay. If I say in my head I would spend $5 and the item ends up being $10, I walk away. If it is equal or less than $5.00, I have a little party in the aisle. I’ve walked away from so many things I really wanted. However, if you were to ask me to name one of things I couldn’t. Obviously, none of it has been something I couldn’t live without. That being said, if the item is something I really want I might still get it, having the price guideline helps me evaluate if I really want to spend the extra for it.

8.15thrifting-01I thought I would share what I picked out and why.

  • I’ve been collecting large metal containers for my kitchen. I find these all over for $20+, but I’ve decided to only buy the ones I can find for $7 or less. I use these as kitchen decor, but I also use them for party decorations and put plants in them on the front porch. Multiple uses.
  • If I find a metal box in a great color for less than $3.00, I buy them to wrap gifts for friends in or I use them as storage containers for me.
  • I am a sucker for old jars and labels. I told myself I would spend $2.00 on this jar. The price ended up being $2.50. I had planned on grabbing a coffee later, but decided to skip my coffee and get the jar. Yes, I could have gotten both (it was only $.50 more), but sometimes it is like a game for me. And it just good money sense to practice budgeting even in small amounts.
  • 8.15thrifting-03Classic children’s books. We have SO MANY books. We got to the library weekly, but now that we homeschool I can’t keep up with all the reading that is going on around here. If I can find classics for a good price, in good condition I buy them. These books were $1.50 each and in like-new condition.
  • Vintage landscape puzzles. I have a few of these and am hoping to fill a wall with them one day. This is a multi-purpose purchase too. My 7 year old is a huge puzzle fan. He gets to make the puzzle and I get to enjoy the final product. AND I get a cool canister to use for something else once the puzzle is complete.8.15thrifting-05The next two were purchased with very specific purposes. We are finishing up our outdoor tables and I have wanted to cushion the wood benches. I’ve been keeping my eye open for thick quilts that I could fold over as cushions. The fabric on the right is a quilt top, but for $3.00 I figure I can add some filling to it and it will work perfect. The second is a very worn quilt (so it was cheap) and it is the perfect size for the bench.8.15thrifting-07Things that I can use right now….8.15thrifting-09Maybe when my kids are out of the house I will open a booth at a flea market. I could become a gatherer again!


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  • Cheryl - Am I picking up on a couple of philosophies from the little book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? That whole “will I use it now?” question has really grabbed my thought process. It is an excellent way to look at purchases or things that others want to give you. It’s very freeing. Great post!

  • Aja - I feel like my thrifting (and all shopping!) has changed in the exact same way. No more frivolous, just-because-like-it purchases… both because I no longer bring in much income for our family and because with kids and toys everywhere, I just want LESS! In this season it feels better for me to purge a closet than buy trinkets or a shirt that I kind of like that’s on sale. πŸ™‚ Love your finds and tip for making it a little game to only spend a certain amount. PS- I can’t wait for my kiddos to get big enough to do real puzzles with me!

  • Loren - I have my own silly little thrifting rule.
    For anything that is not consumable, I have to be able to use it as many times as the dollar amount on the price tag.
    Cute $20 quilt to place on couch & be used for cuddling & movie watching – Good purchase
    Awesome $10 cast iron skillet that I probably won’t use since I already have a couple skillets in different sizes – Bad Purchase

  • Angela Storm - girl! I need to come thrift where you thrift! Everything near where I live is SO expensive. But I really love those rules… I’m getting ready to to Canton (TX) and I’m totally going to keep your guidelines in mind!

  • AshleyAnn - Cheryl – I haven’t read it, but I have heard lots of people talking about it. I didn’t realize that was in the book…I should read it!

  • Ingrid - I know what you mean about decluttering when life is busy! It does help πŸ™‚ Also The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a great book πŸ™‚

  • amanda - Such good finds !!! xo

  • Rose - This sounds like something I could embrace

  • Holly - I like that you set a price before looking at the price tag. That’s a great tip.

  • Katie T - I simply cannot wrap my mind around the fact that you can find such beautiful quilts (heavily worn or not) for $3…!!

Three years.

Yesterday marked three years since we have been a family of seven. So much has changed in three years. Every member of our family has grown in multiple ways. I woke up early yesterday and headed to the gym in the dark. As I drove I thought about the emotions and feelings of that day three years ago. It is incredible how quickly time really does pass and how different a day can be three years later. So, unexpectedly different.

Three years ago I was a hot mess of emotions. Three years ago a beautiful, scared baby girl was placed in my arms. She was a hot mess of emotions too. Three years ago I held her, but I didn’t know her. Three years ago, she felt my arms around her, but she didn’t know me.

Everything is different now. I know her. She knows me. The scared little girl is gone, replaced by a confident, persistent, very opinionated four year old. A four year old that knows how to melt me and how to push my buttons. A four year old that has great empathy for others, loves to tell people she is from China and is the most athletic tot I’ve ever seen. She often looks at her baby pictures and points out how her cleft lip was so cute. She likes to smile, flex her muscles and prefers not to pick up her messes.

Adoption is a treasured thread in the tapestry of our family, yet it is a thread that is so woven in with all the others it we often are not mindful of its presence. Yesterday we celebrated that thread. We celebrated our story, her story. She opened a present we bought for her three years ago from the town of her birth. She helped me make cupcakes and watched too many episodes of Angelina Ballerina because it was a dark, rainy day.Β  Yesterday, we celebrated the day we became a family of seven.

She agreed to let me snap a few pictures of her on the porch. She did not agree to change out of her yogurt spilled shirt. You win some, you lose some.

It has been a beautiful three years.

8.15threeyears-018.15threeyears-028.15threeyears-038.15threeyears-04You can click here to read the post from the day we met.

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  • Suzanne - “Adoption is a treasured thread in the tapestry of our family” – wow that is so simply put but has such a powerful message. Thank you for taking each of us on this journey with you. Your words are spoken so true and your God centered heart resonates in your written feelings. Enjoy the day!!!

  • Tanya - Just simply beautiful. Beautiful story, beautiful girl!

  • Sarah Gartman - I love how in the last picture it looks like she is signing I Love You! And the yogurt stained shirt reminds me of your post about her using a spoon and eating yogurt. Than stain is a battle wound you have fought for her and won. I love your family. So sweet.

  • Heather - Love every inch of this post! Love!

  • Rae - Wow, it’s already been three years?? She’s grown even more beautiful <3

  • Melissa - Your anniversary probably means I have been reading your blog for 5 years. Its been so nice watching Little One come into her own and see your family expand. Thank you for sharing, I love reading your blog each day, its the first thing I do with my cup of coffee before I start work!

  • Krystina - Yay for three years! I can’t believe that it’s been three years already! I read that sentence a few times to make sure I read it correctly. It seems like just a few short months ago you were going to get her. Where does the time go?

  • Emily - Congratulations on your anniversary! Thank you so much for sharing with us <3

  • beth - Gosh, Ashley, I can’t believe it has been so long! But look at her….it’s obvious! She’s turning into quite the Little Lady! No longer a baby! Blessings to you and your family!

  • Erica - I remember that day three years ago too. I can’t believe it’s been that long! By God’s grace she has blossomed under the love of her family. I’ve learned so much from you about adoption. Thank you for sharing his beautiful story with us.

  • Jessica - She is so precious, and lovely, and spunky! I’m so glad she’s home and thriving!

  • christina larsen - Happy Gotcha Day!!!

  • amy jupin - love the pics, love the girl, love the momma!

  • amber - Just beautiful. Love everything about this story.

  • Linda - Just plain awesome!

  • Elise - beautiful!!!! I am so grateful that you have allowed us to glimpse into your beautiful family. I have followed you even before you became a family of seven. Blessed by you then, and blessed by you now!!!! Blessings to you!

  • Kathleen - She is so beautiful, then and now, and the glimpse into the story unfolding is so encouraging. Thank you.

  • Lacey Meyers - My goodness … I can’t fathom that it has been three years already. If feels like just yesterday I was praying for your paperwork to come in the mail and now look at your little girl right there! I am so glad she’s home. <3

  • deneen_elizabeth - She has grown so much! I started following your blog through your adoption posts. Crazy how the years go on. I think she has her big sisters cheeky smile πŸ˜‰

  • Emily Betzler - So special!!! <3 <3

  • Kim B. - In addition to your wonderful post, Ashley, I love the reflections that Sarah Gartman made in her comments. Congratulations to you all on Little One’s three-year anniversary as being a physical part of your family. I know she was part already long before emotionally and spiritually.

  • Michelle - I love how this cyber world sometimes connects us in ways that fills our hearts up and makes the world feel smaller. As I read your post I smiled because although we have never met we share a special connection. This month you celebrated 3 years and we celebrated 15. Both girls born in China. Adoption is indeed miraculous!!

  • Jenn - that crinkled nosed face. oh my. what a beautiful story

  • Miriam - Beautiful and heartbreaking. It may sound weird, but she reminds me of her big sister. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It means a lot to me, more than I can express in words.

  • Carla - I will always remember the day your daughter first found your arms because I read your post about it as I was labouring with our third child, the final addition to our family. I sobbed when I saw the photo of your hubby holding his baby girl, tears running down his face. I think the photos of your daughter three years later are stunning, yoghurt stains and all.

  • Sherry - Such a great perspective. I love the way she’s holding on to her foot in each picture.