Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Homeschooling Inspiration from Ms. Frizzle

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

These days, many of my mornings begin with the theme song of The Magic School Bus or The Magic School Bus Rides Again. My son usually comes into my room earlier than anyone should start the day, and so he crawls into my bed and watches some Magic School Bus while I try—or pretend to try—to get a few extra minutes of sleep. It’s safe to say that over the last few weeks, the Friz has become part of my morning life. This has also carried over into our library book choices, where he’s picked out some Magic School Bus picture books and early readers, and we even have a Magic School Bus chapter book for nightly read-aloud time.

I’d never seen The Magic School Bus before—I was a bit past the target demographic when it came out in 1994—but as a science geek, when my son started watching it on Netflix, along with the reboot The Magic School Bus Rides Again, I fell in love with the show. The way they interweave science knowledge and facts into the show and make it age-appropriate and fun is really neat, and who doesn’t love all of the dresses the Friz wears that complement whatever lesson she’s teaching?

There was just recently an article by Lauren Mechling in The New York Times about finding her “inner Ms. Frizzle” while getting ready to supervise her children’s remote learning again this fall. While I am homeschooling my son and not doing remote learning, I realized that the Friz was exactly who I hoped to emulate in many ways. I love homeschooling, but I tend to hit a creative wall sometimes…when all I really need to do, in the words of the Friz herself, is to “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

But thanks to the Friz, I’ve sought out ways to bring some unexpected approaches and colorful creativity to our homeschooling journey. While we do some workbooks, book work, and general preschool work, I also make it a point to incorporate hands-on, sensorial activities that we can integrate into each subject. I found a ton of books to help with this, and these are some of my favorites. I’d like to think the Friz would approve of my picks.

A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature by Asia Citro

I am not super outdoorsy or nature-y, but I’ve really been trying to be so, especially in the last year. It’s good for both my son and myself, and the benefits have been well-noted. I have multiple books with Forest School–type activities, but this book ties in nature, art, and science, which I really love, and feels less intimidating. There are things like mud pies, a flower press, creating bird feeders, making a terrarium, and activities with leaves.

Big Science for Little People: 52 Activities to Help You & Your Child Discover the Wonders of Science by Lynn Brunelle

I picked this up because I’d been seeing it a lot on other homeschool Instagrams, and as a science geek myself was pretty interested in it. It’s geared toward kids 4–8, which puts my son at the young end of things, but there are plenty of activities for us to do. Some of the suggestions include making “magic milk,” making bouncy balls, fizzy color mixing, egg geodes, and a seed hunt. With each activity, not only are the materials clearly listed, but Brunelle also explains exactly what’s causing the reactions in an age-appropriate way, making it relevant to everyday life. She also lists a question/suggestion on how to take the experiment even further, for the older kids.

Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

We loved A is for Activist, so this was a perfect way to go over numbers and get in a math lesson, while also talking about the importance of community. The illustrations are vibrant and each picture is a good conversation starter with my son—about being kind, about planting gardens and taking care of the environment, and about the value of diversity. Though this is a book of counting, there are lots of ways to make it about a lot more.

Look I’m a Mathematician! by DK Press

I admit: math is not my thing. Not at all. I had no clue how I was going to introduce math to my son besides workbooks. And while many workbooks now are kid-friendly and try to be fun, they’re still workbooks. I wanted something more hands-on, especially since my son is a visual and kinesthetic learner. This book has lots of pictures and visuals, along with activities kids can do with things around the house that bring the math lesson to life.

Mr. Shaha's Recipes for Wonder

Mr. Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder: Adventures in Science Round the Kitchen Table by Alom Shaha and Emily Robertson

This is a really fun science book with things you can probably find in your kitchen. Each activity has topics of discussion and variations on the activity, which can be really helpful. There are suggestions at each stage of the activities to change it up, which means the same activity can be done in a variety of ways to see different results and learn new things. The visuals of the book also make it a nice read for younger kids.

Kid Chef Junior: My First Kids’ Cookbook by Anjali Shah

Confession: I don’t love cooking. Not at all. I generally try to avoid it at all costs, though that is slowly changing. My son, however? Loves it. I can find him “cooking” in his play kitchen and we’ve started baking cookies together (okay, they’re break and bake but come on). Kids generally love helping out in the kitchen and this book is filled with lots of fun, healthy recipes that kids can be a part of making, with lots of pictures so they can pick what they want to make. Geared toward kids ages 4–8, there are things like Burrito Boats, Rainbow Pinwheels, Bunny Pancakes, and Sunshine Soup. You can make cooking part of the math or science lessons, and get a tasty treat at the end!

You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo

I’m always looking for new physical activities for my son, and yoga is a nice change of pace—not to mention the deep breathing is a good tool to use when he gets upset or needs to focus. This book is a fun, visual way to introduce kids to easy yoga poses. It makes it even more engaging when the text asks kids to make animal sounds, and the prose itself is gentle and nice to read, even if you don’t do the poses.