Autobiography Maps: Our Life as an Island

I originally discovered this creative autobiography project activity years ago. When I shared it with my kids, they were excited to give it a try. I am now looking forward to using it in my ELL classroom this fall.

I started with a short questionnaire that got the kids thinking about important things that have happened during their lives, items or activities that represent them currently, and goals that they have for the future.

We spent a few minutes talking about our interests and revisited the essays they had written previously.

Gautobiomap   Jautobiomap
We then discussed elements of actual maps:

  • Scale:   Scale is used to show that a certain distance on the map represents the actual distance on the earths surface.  On a map, scale is represented using words (for example, one inch = 400 miles) or using a graphic (a line graph).
  • Title:   What the map is about. The title is generally the biggest, darkest, most noticeable text on your map.
  • Legend or Key:   Used for defining and understanding the symbols found on the map. It is usually in one of the corners of the map and is often enclosed by a box. It explains the meaning of the different sizes, shapes, and colors used in the map.
  • Symbols:   The things on the map which stand for or represent real things on the earth’s surface. Symbols vary according to 2 categories: color and shape.  For example: a star ê is often used to represent the capital city or yellow to represent a desert.
  • Compass:   The compass shows which way is up on the map. Nearly all maps are printed so that north is towards the top of the page.  This is shown by a compass rose using N, S, E, and W.
  • Location:   Where the place or places shown on the map are exactly location the earth.  Lines of latitude and longitude are used on the map to show the location.  You should have at least one line of latitude and one line of longitude.
  • Border:   The outside edge of the map. This is a thick, 1 inch straight line around the outside of the map. The border can be left blank if the entire ocean is colored. It helps direct people’s attention to the map.

Lastly, I set out the art materials and they got to work. They opted not to include all the map elements but using a rubric, each included enough detail to achieve a desirable score.

I did not use letter grades in our homeschool but did occasionally incorporate rubrics to keep them accountable as well as to prepare them for more formal courses. In my ELL classroom, I will use a simplified version of the rubric. I’ll share that soon.

Autobiography Maps is an activity I discovered on Ms. López in the Art Room. You can find the scoring guide and questionnaire I used here.

Multilingual Resources for Kids

I am on the cusp of a new season in my life. This autumn, as my eldest prepares to transfer to the university and move away from home, I will be returning to a brick and mortar classroom full time. I will be working with English Language Learners as the K-12 specialist. As such, I am on a quest to build a multilingual classroom library.

 My students come from all over the world and are a diverse population of students. They speak a variety of native languages such as; Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Palauan, Urdu, and many more!

Today, I highlight a few of my recent multilingual resources that I have discovered. I am excited to share these with my students in a few months.

Multilingual Story Books

Dylan’s Birthday Present

Dylan’s Birthday Present by Victor Dias de Oliveira Santos is an adorable story about a young polygot who desires a pet chicken for his birthday. The illustrations are a delight and children will be drawn into the creative and out-of-the-box story.

Dylan and his best friend, Emma, live in the USA. Both children have parents who came to the United States from foreign countries. The parents speak to their children in different languages. Dylan’s parents speak Portuguese, Ukrainian, and English while Emma’s parents speak to her in Zulu and English. As a result, the two kids became polyglots, people who speak more than a single language.

Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

As children enjoy the story, they will identify with the characters, realize that having friends is a good thing, and become inspired to study (realizing that skills acquired by study can be very beneficial), and perhaps learn a new language.

The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Chinese Mouse

The Fabulous Lost & Found … series by Mark Pallis and Peter Baynton is another delightful story and it is available in many different languages. I had the pleasure to review the The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Chinese Mouse.

The story features a little mouse who enters the Lost & Found. The little mouse speaks only Chinese though and thus the proprietors – Mr. & Mrs. Frog – endeavor to figure out what the mouse is has lost.

There is a special magic about learning words another language and using them: I truly think it warms the heart. ~ Mark Pallis

The target age is 2-7, but my teen daughter enjoyed the story and remarked, “I actually know all the characters!” The unique ‘story-centered’ language learning method combines humor and emotion to gently introduce kids to 50 simple and fun Chinese words and phrases. 

Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Multilingual Music

Una Idea Tengo Yo is the latest album by Latin Grammy winners Andrés and Christina – the music duo of 123 Andrés. The eleven songs feature upbeat Spanish language songs that seek to answer a child’s curious questions about science, technology, engineering, and math.

Available in CD or MP3

123 Andrés combine a broad sampling of rhythms and Latin American music genres with familiar tunes. The Farmer in the Dell, for example, becomes El Agua y el Viento with new lyrics to edu-tain children as they learn how water and wind affect the Earth’s topography.

Other STEM topics include the four seasons, outer space, matter, animal habitats, light & sound, and much more. Lyrics and translations are available online.

Frame from video for Diez Perritos

For more bilingual children’s music, check out my earlier post about  José-Luis Orozco.

You can also find their STEM videos on YouTube or visit their website 123 Andrés to see their other releases, including an adorable book Hello Friend, Hola Amigo!

What’s in My Naturalist Bag?

In my mind, nature journaling is the perfect hobby. It incorporates so many of my passions – a love for the outdoors, the challenge of a long walk in the wild, the joy of creating something beautiful, and an inclination to learn more about the world around me. As such, whenever I venture outdoors, my naturalist bag is never far from my side.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

I love to nature journal and have been teaching students of all ages how to begin nature journaling for many, many years. One of the questions my students always ask is, “What’s all in your naturalist bag?” “What all do you carry with you?”

My Naturalist’s Bag

Before we dive into the contents, a naturalist’s bag is simply a tote, backpack, or anything portable. Essentially it is a field kit with painting and drawing materials that you can take outside for a leisurely afternoon walk or a quiet morning on the beach.

Please don’t look at what I carry now and think that you must make yours the same!  Your naturalist’s bag is a personal reflection of your preferences. You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  We are each on a different paths and our journals – and even our bags – reflect that journey. For example, I still erase quite a bit but my daughter does not. She prefers to see how her lines work together to tell a certain type of story. 

“Nature journaling can be a quick fifteen minute sketch or an hour of painting and color immersion.”  

Getting Started

Tools are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to start with more than a few things: pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and paper. These may be any type of your choosing; the important thing is to start drawing! I find that an inexpensive .7 mm mechanical pencil is a great tool. They never need sharpening, they provide a fairly wide range of darks (depending on your paper), and they are easy to refill or replace.

In an earlier post, I share 5 tips for Getting Started Keeping a Nature Journal.

Whatever your materials, get acquainted with them. See what they can do, what types of lines they make — what darkest or lightest marks? If you’re brushing up on drawing skills and have an assortment of tools, use those that are most comfortable, at least to start. As you gain experience and get more comfortable, you can expand your kit.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

The Essentials I Carry:

Here’s an example of my naturalist’s kit. I tried to make it as portable as possible.

Travelogue Drawing Book – I love the small size of the square 5.5 x 5.5. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. It works well with many mediums: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and markers. The paper also accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. In the inside back cover is a clear pocket envelope perfect for tucking away feathers, leaves or other flat specimens.

Prismacolor col-erase blue pencil – My new favorite item is the col-erase non-photo blue pencil. It is the perfect tool to sketch out the basic shapes and create a framework for the finished work. When the piece is finished, the blue fades into the background and is less noticeable than a standard pencil.

Black Micron Pigmas – The smaller sizes are my preferred pen for stippling and fine detail. I use the larger nibs to journaling narrative.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Pan Set – I currently have the Vintage Pastel set. I love the colors, especially the sage and dark rose. I am considering additional palettes but my daughter is encouraging me to make my own customized set.

Waterbrushes – I have recently begun to use brushes which have a hollow barrel in the handle that can be filled with water. These are great tools for field sketching and more compact.

If you are interested in the online courses I teach, follow these links for more information. I teach Junior Naturalists Classes for youth & Nature Journaling in the Classroom, a course for adult educators.

Other Favorites I Carry:

Easthill Large Capacity Pencil Case – I love the larger size of this pencil bag. It fits an assortment of mechanical pencils, artist drawing pencils, a selection of colored pencils, an eraser, and pencil sharpener. I like the white erasers as they don’t leave a colored residue behind.

Prismacolor Pencils – I love Prismacolor pencils! They lay down color and blend together so smoothly – it’s like coloring with butter. For many years this was my absolute favorite medium. It was thereby economical for me to purchase the large set. I don’t carry them all with me in my naturalist’s bag however. If you haven’t used them before, consider buying them individually at an art store or a small set of 12-24.

Extras: I also keep a small ruler, a white birthday candle for watercolor resist, a portion of a cotton sock which I have cut to serve as an arm cuff, a small magnifying glass, zip-lock bags or empty Rx containers for small samples. NOTE: the Rx containers are not totally leak-proof, so keep them empty in your kit. As a precaution I keep anything wet or damp in a zip-lock bag.

It’s worthy to note that I also carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water.

Muévete con José-Luis Orozco: Songs for Healthy Bodies

One of the most enjoyable ways to learn or practice a foreign language is through music. Folk music and children’s artists like José-Luis Orozco are a great place to begin for young language learners.

Although my children are fluent in Mandarin, I myself, am fluent in Spanish. I began my own language journey when I was in high school and I continue to develop my language skills today.

When I was first learning Spanish, one of my class assignments was to memorize the lyrics to La Bamba. I had to work in the evening so I wrote the words out on paper and taped them to the wall where I could see them. As I worked I would look up and read a couple of lines and repeat it to myself several times. I would then add another couple of lines and repeat this process until I had the entire song committed to memory.

The movie, La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips had been released that year and the song was popular on the radio. Having learned it so well in high school, it became my “go to” song at Karaoke a few years later in college.

When the kids were little, we would borrow music CDs from the library featuring artists from the cultures we explored in our geography club.

Getting to Know José-Luis Orozco

One of my favorite children’s musicians is José-Luis Orozco. Born in Mexico City in 1948, Orozco grew fond of music at a young age. He learned many songs from his paternal grandmother.

José-Luis Orozco playing the guitar as he leans under a tree.

I received a copy of Orozco’s new CD, ¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission.

At the age of 8, he became a member of the Mexico City Boy’s Choir. He traveled the world to perform and gained the cultural knowledge he now integrates into his music.  

Orozco moved to California when he was 19 years old and earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He continued his education at the University of San Francisco earning a Master’s degree in Multicultural Education. 

After completing his Master’s program, José-Luis dedicated himself to what he truly enjoys — singing and writing for children. He began performing for children and included bilingual songs in his repertoire even though his audiences were not Spanish speakers.

Award Winning Music & Bilingual Books

In 1971 he signed with Bilingual Media Productions label and released the first of 13 volumes for children, Lirica Infantil: Latin American Children’s Music. The album featured classic songs from Mexican, Central, and South American culture,  including Guantanamera and Los Pollitos. 

He has also written several successful award-winning bilingual books that feature an extraordinary collection of songs, rhymes, tongue twisters, lullabies, and games from various Spanish-speaking countries. His DVD releases feature live action and animation – all celebrating Latino culture.

  • De Colores (Dutton 1994)
  • Diez Deditos (Dutton 1997)
  • Fiestas(Dutton 2002)
  • Cantamos y Aprendemos con José-Luis Orozco (2003)
  • Rin, Rin, Rin…Do, Re, Mi (2009) 

¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

Earlier this month, his latest CD was released, ¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body, produced by Smithsonian Folkways. 

This new album promotes fitness for children. It is the perfect complement to his earlier release, ¡Come Bien! Eat Right!, which promotes healthy eating habits.

Amongst the 18 bilingual tracks is Clap, Tap, Tralalá an original song by Orozco, encouraging kids to express themselves through movement and to learn new words.

Caution! His lyrics are catchy! I find myself singing this Clap, Tap, Tralalá as I go about my chores in the house. I know kids will love his music!

The ABCs of High School Electives: Translating Passions on Transcripts

As the academic year comes to a close, you may be thinking of nothing more than your summer bucket list. Many students however, like my daughter, have their eyes set on pursuing opportunities that can better prepare them for their career choice or expand their extracurricular experiences.

image of teen girl giving an oral presentation or speech

This past summer my daughter attended a week-long engineering camp at the university. This opportunity not only provided her with insight into her field of interest but also connected her to key personnel in the department. She emerged with a greater understanding of the skills she will need to succeed in her field. She also collaborated with another teen on an engineering project and gave a presentation at the conclusion of the course.

Summer camps like the one I described and short courses in art or sailing provide youth with hours that can be used for elective credits. Unlike required courses, electives are classes the student chooses based on her interests. It is the perfect way to customize a child’s education.

ABCs of High School Electives

While most high schools offer electives that cover a wide variety of topics, homeschoolers have the opportunity to craft a transcript that is unique and the most reflective of a student’s interests and future career goals.

This past year for example, my daughter has been actively involved in the Debate Club at the local community college. While it is an informal group (they haven’t competed against other schools), they are engaged in forensic experiences. The hours she attends and the research she invests in preparing her speeches can be applied to her transcript.

The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

A – Art & Graphic Design, Aeronautics, or Architecture

B – Birding (Ornithology) 

C – Culinary Arts

D – Drama, Drones (Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems)

E – Electronics 

F – Forensic Science

G – Game Design (Coding)

H – Homemaking

I – Interior Design

J – Journalism

K – Kinesiology (Sports Science)

L – Languages

M – Music (Performance & Theory)

N – Naturopathy, Nursing, or Nature Studies

O – Oceanography (Marine Science)

P – Psychology

Q – Quilting (Fiber Arts)

R – Robotics

S – Sociology

T – Toastmasters (Public Speaking and/or Debate)

U – Urban Studies

V – Venturing (Scouting)

W – Web Design 

X – Xeriscaping 

Y – Yearbook 

Z – Zoology

It would be impossible for any single school – public or private – to offer every elective on this list; there are simply too many. Schools are forced to choose which electives to offer based on a number of factors including location, student population, resources available, teacher expertise, and student interest. Homeschools, on the other hand, are not restricted by these factors.

Translating Elective Hours on the Transcript

Translating the hours a child has invested in a particular area can be done with ease. Simply keep an activity log as documentation of the hours invested. Click on the image below to download a FREE copy for yourself.image of an activity log used to track hours of instruction

In Oregon, 1 high school trimester is equal to 1 high school credit hour. This translates to approximately 55 hours of seat time/instruction. Thus, the 61 hours my daughter volunteered at the art museum last summer earned her 1 trimester credit.

These hours can be accumulated by watching instructional videos, TED talks, attending local seminars, reading informative texts, taking a specialized course (either in person or online), or any myriad of things related to the field of interest.

Use the course descriptions provided by local schools as a guide as you write your own. Keep in mind that electives can have different names depending on the school offering them, even if they cover essentially the same topic (for example, a culinary arts class could also be called cooking, foods, or something similar).

On a related note, forensics has long meant the art of speechmaking and oral presentation. Debate clubs, on the other hand, involve students in researching a pre-selected topic and then trying to convince people of their position. It’s a cousin of forensics but not the same thing.

To add to the confusion, Forensics Clubs and courses in Forensic Science are popping up in many modern schools, inspired by popular television shows. Using an optional course description can help to alleviate any confusion.

Must See Art Museums Around the World

I have visited many art museums over the years and through seeing a variety of art I have discovered which periods of art that I prefer: Contemporary and Abstract. This has in many ways also shaped our decisions when deciding upon the art museums we want to see when we are traveling. Today, I would like to highlight a few of my favorite art museums around the world.

This is the first post in many years by guest author Geneva Varga. If you would like to read more of her work or see her original artwork – check out her digital portfolio.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Venice, Italy

Visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy was amazing, amplified by the fact that we had just moment before traveled by gondola. Our brief visit to this museum sparked my joy for the Abstract Art movement and several artists and collectors who contributed to it. In particular, Peggy Guggenheim, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali. After coming home, I did a research project on the life of Peggy Guggenheim, which was highly intriguing and made me desire to learn more about the lives of her friends, who are famous artists.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Boston, Massachusetts

When we were in Boston, my family and I decided to go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on more of a whim then anything. It had not been previously planned in our itinerary before we left for our trip but a brochure we picked up sparked our interest. Our main interest was a special event that they were putting on to get the community involved in art. They had provided a variety of things to do, but I was particularly interested in learning how to make homemade paper.

The building in which the museum is located was the home of Isabella Stewart Gardner, who thought that America was greatly lacking in art. Therefore, she made it her mission to collect a great many pieces, in fact 2,500 objects of paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, drawings, and so on. These pieces come from a variety of places, yet each and every piece fits perfectly in her 15th Venetian-style castle.

After each taking our turn in making a piece of paper, my family and I meandered through the museum enjoying the art, gardens, and the ambiance that flowed from the combination of the two. I particularly liked a series of watercolor pieces that were done on watercolor paper cut to the size of the small Altoids tins, altogether it was a miniature sketchbook and journal combined into one.

Even though, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a smaller art museum than others my family has visited, it was pleasurable to visit. I am extremely glad we took the trip to this art museum, it allowed me to realise that some of the best places are the smallest treasures not known to the public at large.

National Portrait Gallery: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

National Portrait Gallery: Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C. there are many art museums to choose from. Like many younger brothers, mine is not interested in art, in stark contrast dad and him were significantly more eager to visit the Spy Museum so Mum and I opted to visit the National Portrait Gallery which was nearby. She was delighted to see many of the works she had written about in her American Art History series for Bright Ideas Press.

In my opinion, the paintings by Albert Bierstadt were far more interesting. His landscapes of real life places, some that my family has even been to, had a fantastical element to them. At one point, I entered into a room with circular couches scattered throughout the floor. Hanging on the walls were several huge paintings by Bierstadt that left me in awe. I mindlessly laid upon one of the couches to simply gaze at the magnificent pieces of art. Often times, I am left in such a state and my family always becomes humored with it, not quite understanding the emotions going through my mind as I study the art.

Art Institute of Chicago: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

Art Institute of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois

Our most recent visit to a popular art museum was to the Art Institute of Chicago, obliviously located in Chicago, Illinois. When we arrived and made it through the ticketing booth, I immediately directed my family to the contempary art gallery, skipping over the other time periods and ancient art. We later returned to some sections, such as the medieval armory and Aztec art but we skipped the Greek and Roman sculpture section entirely as we had only last year visited both Italy and Greece.

I was excited to see a few more pieces by Pollock and Warhol. A few pieces in the Contemporary and Modern art section were amusing, to say the least, in their sense of normalcy of explicit content.

Guggenheim: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Manhattan, New York

When we moved back to Oregon in 2015 and during one of our first weekends back we visited our local art museum one afternoon. We happened to go when the Coos Art Museum was hosting a free Zentangle class for the community to participate in for the festival also going on that weekend, the Blackberry Arts Festival. While I enjoyed the class, I was more impressed the art at the museum and what opportunities the museum held. My family first visited when they had the Maritime Exhibit up, which is one of their most popular annual exhibits, yet we have continued to take a peek at the ever-changing galleries.

One of my favorite exhibits was when they featured the artist Jesse Reno. I spent a significant amount of time looking at each piece of art, in fact, I was looking at the art for so long that my mom started to get worried as to what had happened to me. Yet, after I returned to where mom was she chuckled, as I apparently I had a look of utter awe upon my face. That weekend I took a seven hour art class from Jesse Reno himself, the class was entirely about his process and was extremely fun and exciting. You are able to read my more in-depth post about the class on my page.

Local Art Museums: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.net

Coos Art Museum

When we were living in Redding, I always treasured the times we went to San Francisco or another big city as it was inevitable that we would visit a museum or gallery. Redding had only a small science museum focused on the local area. Yet, it seems the Oregon Coast is teeming with artists and with them, art museums, galleries, and studios.

As soon as I heard that the Coos Art Museum allowed youth volunteers I felt the urge to sign up. Initially, as I was just 13 years old, my mother was required to accompany me. Now that the staff have become acquainted with me, I volunteer alone most weeks doing behind the scenes work and Mum only joins me during CAM community days when more volunteers are needed. Volunteering at CAM has provided me with real work experience and job skills that will undoubtly help me succeed when seeking out employment in the future.