Usborne: Books Children Must Read (and They Want To!)

Through all the ins and outs of homeschooling, the good days, the bad days, the long days and the occasional “never leave your jammies” days it’s interesting to see how there is a consistent core that centers around Usborne Books.

usborne homeschool books


We are HUGE fans of Usborne Books at our house because… oh man, there are so many reasons! The colorful illustrations, the quality of the writing, even the type of paper they are printed on. And of course, the wide range of really cool topics they cover. Usborne Books seem like a homeschooling family’s best friend because they complement curriculum choices so well.

Books Children Must Read

We make ample use of the local library, but the Usborne books are the ones we buy so that we never have to give them back!

Open a page and dive into a conversation with your kids.

Books Children Must Read

The pictures just make you want to drool.


The quality of the content? Top Drawer. No commercial tie-ins or movie characters, just lots of interesting facts, analysis, observations and info.


And there aren’t too many other books that consistently compete so well against the siren song of “technology.”

So what are my current favorites?

Greek Myths for Kids

Illustrated Greek Myths – Actually, I can’t say this is my current favorite, because it’s honestly my ALL TIME favorite.  It’s the first Usborne Book that we bought and it’s still top of my list.  I love the idea of introducing our kids to classic literature at an age appropriate level so that as they grow older the information will become more and more accessible.

Greek myths for kids

Illustrated Greek Myths does that for our six-year-old son…  He talks about Odysseus and Perseus like they are Super Man and Captain America.  He knows (an age appropriate) version of the plot lines and he’s enthralled by the pictures.  On a play date last month, he even sat down to “read” the book to his buddy so that they could re-enact one of the stories. Total Win.


Book of Famous Paintings – I can safely argue that homeschooling is a great way to redeem Mommy’s education.  I took an Art History class in college, crammed for the test and then proceeded to forget everything I learned.  This beautiful book of famous paintings is my attempt to make sure that our kids don’t suffer from the same fate.

Famous Paintings

Once a week we focus on one of the paintings – I ask them what colors the artist use, what the subject is, and I read the content on that artist or painting. We keep the book near the couch and I see the kids flipping through the pages to see “what comes next.”


I especially love the little “factoid snippets” that highlight information about the painting – it’s like the audio tour at an art museum that helps to unlock the image.  I totally love those!

Secrets of the Apple Tree

Secrets of the Apple Tree – Maybe because it’s fall, maybe because we’re studying ecology, maybe because I’m craving Apple Butter, but probably because this book is really, really creative.  It’s part of the Shine-A-Light series where the first page tells information about the story…

Secrets of the Apple Tree

…And then if you hold a flashlight to the back of the page it “reveals” an entire new set of information.


It’s like a secret decoder ring and every. single. time. my kids think it’s SO COOL. Usborne has one for Rain Forests and the Sea Shore as well – we’ll probably see those under the Christmas Tree at our house this year!

How about you?  What are your favorite Usborne titles?


Special Event!

Interested in learning more about Usborne Books?  You’re invited to join Crystal & Co for a Facebook Party on October 21.  You can learn more about Usborne Books, ask questions about what books might be the best fit for your family, plus you’ll have the chance to win a $50 Gift Card to buy your favorites!  The party will last 30 minutes and there will be two time options – October 21 at 12:00 PM EST and October 21 at 10:00 PM EST.  Simply fill out this form to receive an invite for the time that works best for you!

Activities for Kids Learning Letters: Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

Summer is quickly going to be coming to an end and that means that we will be starting a new school year.  I try to think of activities and games for my kids during the last weeks of summer that will start to get them prepared for back to school.  My boys loved our nature scavenger hunt for kids that I put together for them last summer, so I thought an Alphabet Scavenger Hunt would be a fun game and learning activity at the same time. 

This scavenger hunt can be played by young and old kids.  Younger kids will start to learn letter and sound recognition by finding things around the house that start with every letter of the alphabet.  The older kids that play will not only have some reminders and practice with sounds but they can also practice their handwriting.  All of these skills are beneficial to have a jump start on when you are headed back to school. 

alphabet scavenger hunt

How to Have an Alphabet Scavenger Hunt


alphabet scavenger hunt


Step 1 – Print out your Alphabet Scavenger Hunt and attach it to your clip board

Step 2 – Have your Kids go on a hunt around the house looking for items that begin with each letter

Step 3 – When they find an item, have them write it down on the list or help them write it down if they are younger


That is all there is to it!  This is such a simple activity that you can use in many different ways.  You could incorporate this into a birthday party as one of the games or use it during a school classroom party during one of the holidays.  I love games that are both educational and fun for my kids any time of the year. 

My kids love any type of scavenger or treasure hunt and if your kids do too be sure to check out our Nature Scavenger Hunt for Kids or our Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt.  Both of these are great outdoor activities to use during the summer months. 

About The Author

Chrissy Taylor is a wife, Mom, blogger and property manager. She and her husband of 15 years are raising two active boys in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Chrissy enjoys blogging about cooking, crafts, gifts and household tips.

You can connect with her at:

The Taylor House * Facebook * Twitter * Pinterest * Google+

Homeschool: Including Music into Your Day Can Be Easy

Do your kids struggle with learning notes and with learning how to read music? Trying to memorize all of those notes and the positions of each note can be so hard. Some children seem to pick it up more quickly than others.

For a very long time I have wanted my children to learn to play an instrument- like the piano. It is something I’ve wished all of my life I knew how to do. Now, we can test the waters at home using our electric keyboard and start exploring and learning. (What I love most about the keyboard is that we can put it away when we are not using it and it does not take up tons of space. obviously, you can also use a piano.)

Right Brain Music realizes that every child learns differently. The left brain child likes to work on their own, using workbooks, and can easily store information in their short-term memory. A child who is a right brain learner is more hands on and likes to discuss topics to help them learn and also work on projects in groups. A child who is a right brain learner also works best with more one-on-one time with the teacher or adult, and is stimulated with more interaction.

incorporating music into your homeschool day

At Right Brain Music they know what helps right brain learners learn, and have integrated those techniques into their teaching. Things like color, humor and pictures help the children store these items into their long-term memory. The system they use by incorporating these techniques allows students of all ages to learn quicker and remember what they have learned longer.

Right Brain Music has created various products, such as flash cards and memory games, to help the children learn music in a way that they can process more easily. As a mom, you will love that these products will help to build their musical abilities and will help you teach music to your children in a way that your right brain child can understand.

This entire program really has my children very intrigued and captivates their attention. It is a great shift in activity when we’ve been busy with homeschool books and assignments. This is something my twins, who are 7, and our fifth grader, who is 12, is enjoying and learning from.

right brain music memory work

Their clever note names were made with boys in mind, I just know it. For my kids who learn by associating things in their mind, this works great!

memory game right brain music

As a mom it can be frustrating trying to teach your child something and seeing the frustration on their faces when they just don’t get it. Right Brain Music products will help remove the frustration from your teaching sessions and allow your child to learn to read music quickly.

The Right Brain Music learning methods have been proven to be more effective for right brain learners than other, more traditional, learning methods. For example, their Music Flash Cards teach the musical notes by associating each one with the character that will help your child remember each note in a way that works better for them. The characters are very memorable and include a description that will help children relate it back to the musical note.

right brain music help you incorporate musuc into your homeschool day

The system includes 26 characters. They are not designed to be learned all at once. The instructions that come with the learning tools suggest certain notes that should be introduced first, followed by others that you choose. The peel and cling stickers can be applied and removed easily.

The learning activities are easy to read and follow. I have even had fun playing along.

I love the simplicity of first learning the notes that are just used with your right hand, then just your left hand and then the latter activities incorporate both hands used together at the same time.

right brain music practice activity



Right Brain Music would love to give one lucky Crystal & Co., reader one of their Note Learning Systems that is valued at $54.99! The system includes:

  • Right Brain Music Flash Card Set
  • Right Brain Music Practice Book, Levels 1 & 2
  • Right Brain Music 5 x 7 Laminated Note Card with Pen
  • Right Brain Music Laminated Piano Key Chart
  • Right Brain Music Piano Sticker Set
  • Right Brain Music Note Reference Chart
  • Right Brain Music Memory Game

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter the giveaway. (It may take a moment for the widget to load.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I was given a free kit from Right Brain Music to try out and let my kids play with and keep. All opinions stated are my own. Read my entire disclosure statement here.

Homeschool: How to Make Nursery Rhyme Pockets for Preschoolers

We have been homeschooling four of our children for a while. The three littlest one have been learning at home using Sonlight since last May. Then, this January we brought the 12 year old home to learn as well.

For our littlest guy, who just turned four, I enjoy using Sonlight’s Preschool Curriculum that is recommended for 3 and 4 year olds. I also like to add a little bit to it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we do not have a steady hard-core schedule for Matthew. He is only 4. There is not a strict schedule or even daily sitting down at the table for him. Right now he kind of leads the way and I do school work with him as he is interested. Some days he is not interested and some days he wants to do everything his brother’s are doing.

I am fond of the forums that Sonlight offers for their users and I am on there all the time looking for more resources (imagine that). I love these “pockets” that another mom suggested and it was a way for me to incorporate some crafts and worksheets.

nursery rhyme pockets for preschoolers

There are Literature Pockets, History Pockets, Monthly Theme Pockets and more. These are available by grade level and by topic. So, for example, you can get History Pockets for a 2nd grader that focuses on The Revolutionary War.

I found a Literature Pocket that is all nursery rhymes. This book covers some of your favorite stories like A Little Bird, Little Miss Muffet, Little Bo Peep, Rub-a-Dub-Dub and more.

preschool homeschool literature pockets

How it works is, you make a “pocket” using a large sheet of manilla paper. Simple instructions are included, but this is what it looks like.

Then, there are some worksheets and activities for each nursery rhyme.

So, our first story was A Little Bird. Matthew colored the pocket title and we glued it to the front of our pocket.

nursery rhyme preschool

Then, over a couple of days we did the little worksheets, crafts and projects.

There was a super simple little book we made simply from folding the sheet of paper and coloring each little page. He loved making his own book.

a little bird nursery rhyme

Then one worksheet was a poem that we cut out, colored and pasted to a sheet of construction paper.

I love that we can work on cutting skills and gluing skills. (I help of course.)

a little bird

There was a template to make our very own little birdy.

Again, cutting, gluing and following directions. I love that there are no crazy supplies that I have to run to the store and get. So far we have used common items that you likely already have on hand.

literature pockets for preschool little bird craft

And then everything is stored in the pocket.

As we move on to the next nursery rhyme we make a new pocket that can be attached to the first pocket as to make our own large book of nursery rhyme crafts and activities.

how to use literature pockets

I love that we get to spend some time together, works on basic motor skills, he can listen to me read and it is fun non-stressful learning.

We are loving it!

The Homeschool Buyers Coop: We’re Having a Twitter Party ($1,000 in Homeschool Supplies Will Be Given Away)

We started our homeschool journey here at Crystal & Co., last May with our three youngest boys. We really have enjoyed it. I was a mom who was terrified to take the plunge and make the commitment, but it has turned out to be something I have not regretted once and the rewards of teaching your children to read is just something I cannot put into words.

We have now brought home our 5th grader (my stepson) to be homeschooled. I am so excited to offer him what I know will be an elite education fostering his strengths.


homeschool buyers twitter party


With all of that said, I want to invite you to a Twitter Party I am co-hosting! Kelli, from 3 Boys and a Dog, and I are thrilled to share some amazing things from the world’s largest buyer’s club for homeschoolers!

We are offering over $1,000.00 in homeschool supplies as prizes!

What: @HSBuyersCoop Twitter Party

When:  January 29th, 2013 7:00 to 8:00 PM Central (8 Eastern, 6 Mountain, 5 Pacific)

Hostess:  Kelli @momof3boys3702

Co-Hostess:  Crystal @CrystalandComp

Panelists: To Be Announced Soon!


Party Room:  We recommend using TweetGrid:

To qualify for the deals on The Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op, you must be a member – no worries, membership is FREE!  Plus if you use my code KELLI, you will get 500 BONUS SmartPoints.

The Twitter Party is on January 29th so mark your calendar now. Who doesn’t love free homeschool supplies? One topic we will be discussing is homeschooling cheaply and on a budget. I imagine we are all on a budget, right?

RSVP to Participate

Please put your twitter id in the name section and a link to your twitter profile in the url section!

Homeschooling: My Twins Are Reading

As I have shared with you before, deciding to homeschool was not an easy choice. It was something my husband has pushed for about 4 years, but I was so reluctant. How would I teach them all of the things they needed to know? Especially the big things- like reading!

Now that we are in the throws of homeschooling, I can say the things I was most concerned about have come together pretty seamlessly. Last week, Nick and Luke read their first book independently. I was so proud and so were they.

Since our homeschool journey started, each week we focus on a letter. All of our Language Arts curriculum is centered around that letter for the week.

The first week we focused on the letter F. The next next week we added B. And then the next week M, then T, R and finally we added the first vowel, A. (I do want to add that Nick and Luke did know their letter sounds, or at least the majority of them, from attending Mothers Day Out last year.)

Once we added A, the curriculum instructed us to take the letters A and T and put them together and sound them out.

Naturally, this spelled at.

Then, if we slid the letter B in front of that and sounded it out, this spelled bat.

Then we could switch out the B for an M and that spelled…. mat.   And you get the idea.

Now we have added H, P and S and last week was their first week to read an official book without my help-  the book is called Pam. A short four page book that is included in this Fun Tales reader collection that came with our curriculum but is also available over on Amazon.

As each week goes on, we add a new letter and we get to read a new book that incorporates those letters.

And this is the story of how I taught my twins to read.

If I can do it, you can too!

Fire Safety Month: A Homeschool Field Trip to Our Local Fire Station

Did you know that October is Fire Safety Month?

Home Depot has partnered with local bloggers to help get the word out about fire safety.

hurst fire station

Home Depot arranged for my kids to take a tour of one of the local fire stations here in Hurst.

Homeschool field trip here we come.

fire safety month

The fire fighters were kind enough to show us around their living area as well. At this station they are on 24 hours and off 24 hours.

Here is the kitchen where all of their meals are cooked.

The fire fighters reminded us Watch What You Heat– fire happens in the kitchen too.

hurst fire station

Next we were off to get a close up look at the fire engines.

I did not realize how many compartments for storage are on the outside of the engine until the fire fighter began to show us.

Everything is very organized.

fire engine

Until this tour, I also did not realize all of the vast power tools and equipment they carry. There is also a generator on the truck.

Every Saturday all of the equipment and items on the truck come off and a thorough inventory is done.

They ensure all equipment is working. They never want to arrive somewhere without their tools or with broken tools.

Every second counts when you’re fighting a fire.

fire engine

Next we got a close up look at the masks the fire fighters wear.

There is over 70 pounds of equipment these service men wear each time they go out on a call.

That weighs more than most children.

Nicky tried to lift the oxygen tank the fire fighters wear…   it was so heavy!

Here is the driver’s gear. He keeps it in the truck just like this and he gets dressed at the fire scene.

The driver stays with the truck and runs all operations from the engine ensuring things are running properly for the other fire fighters.

The engine itself holds about 5 minutes worth of water.

The fire fighters begin using that water while the driver gets the other hoses hooked up to the fire hydrant.

Everyone is busy.

Matthew wanted to try out the hose.

The fire fighters reminded us to Get Low and Go when leaving the smoke filled house.

fire safety month

That blue lever on the hose adjusts the water flow from a wide fanning spray to a straight stream, much like the attachments you can put on the end of your water hose at home.

It is important to remind our kids to Get Out and Stay Out when evacuating the home during a fire.   Never ever go back into the burning house for anything- not a toy, not an animal, nothing.

One of the fire fighters asked, what do you think your parents would say is the most important thing in your house? It is you (the child)!

Remind your children where the family meeting place is outside of the home. Tell them this is where you will meet them.

For any reason should a child’s clothes catch on fire while escaping a burning home, remind them of the same saying we learned in school Stop Drop and Roll.

We were able to see inside the ambulance while we were at the fire station. They are equipped to help anyone in need as they quickly work to get them to the hospital.

These fire fighters are trained on the EMT side as well- they alternate engine duties and ambulance duties.

Before each shift each fire fighter does 5 repetitions of breathing recovery on the pretend person. They want to be prepared and ready to help when the first call comes in.

A fire fighters job is hard and important.

6 Fire Safety Tips:

  1. Make sure you have a working smoke alarm on each level of your home and in each bedroom.
  2. Install carbon monoxide testers on each level of the home as well. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and we must be proactive and take it serious.
  3. Keep a fire extinguisher handy near the kitchen.
  4. Never leave a cooking stove unattended.
  5. Have your chimney cleaned at least once a year.
  6. Make an evacuation plan together, go over it, practice it and revisit it often.

Here is a great flier you can print out. Just click on the image below and it will take you to the pdf to print for your home.

Visit your local Home Depot to see some of the helpful Kidde smoke detectors and carbon monoxide testers. They also carry evacuation ladders for two story homes and other affordable resources as you implement fire safety plans for your family.


The Home Depot partnered with bloggers such as me to help promote Fire Safety Awareness Month. As part of this promotion, I received a gift card for my time. They did not tell me what to purchase or what to say about the products used. The Home Depot believes that consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. The Home Depot’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations. You can read my full disclosure here.

Homeschool: On Schedules, Visits to the Country, Paper Roads and Fall Bakery Treats

We do not homeschool Monday-Friday from 8 am to 3 pm.

None of our learning is forced. I keep it as stress-free as possible- for them and me.

Obviously there is a certain amount of structure, but with boys our homeschool schedule does not always go as planned.

We homeschool for 2-3 hours a day most of the time.

Sometimes we start at 10:00 am. Sometimes it is 4:00 in the afternoon before school work occurs. We have even done homeschool “after dark”.

Sometimes we skip school work on a  Tuesday or a Wednesday and make a visit to our friends who live in the country.

My kids play with their chickens and goats and later spend the entire drive home begging to move to the country.

And then we  do homeschool work on a Saturday afternoon instead. It literally depends on what is going on each day and each week.

Today was a Saturday that we did school work and we honestly got more done today than we have in one given day in a while.

But in between it all, they needed a break after an hour or so.   I agreed.

Nick and Luke made these paper roads out of my computer paper and a black marker while they took their “break”.

They connected multiple sheets together to build a large city road.

Creative and awesome. Great team work, too!

Just remember, everyone homeschools differently.

I keep thinking over and over again what I read on a fellow Texas homeschool mom blog recently. Our kids do not have to put pencil to paper each day.

Personally, I think public school has trained our minds to believe differently…

And this evening we enjoy sugary treats from our local bakery for all of our hard work. Half of the cupcakes were gone by the time I took this photo.

Cookies shaped like full moons, witches on brooms, ghosts and cats.

So very festive!

I have two Halloween crafts to share with you in the next few days. Some super cute printable lunch box notes and a Hershey’s Kiss goodie!

(All pictures today are those I have taken and shared on my Instagram profile. Cool editing options and so easy to use! )

Have an awesome Saturday evening.

Homeschooling: He is Learning… and I Didn’t Even Teach Him

Homeschooling has been keeping me pretty busy. I have not given you guys an update in weeks…. because frankly I am still trying to work some of the kinks out.

There are easy easier days.

There are hard days.

I have not regretted our decision at all- not even once. But this process has not been a walk in the park either. I am learning just as much as they are.

We did decide in early August to also purchase Sonlight’s preschool curriculum for Matthew. This age group does not come with any workbooks, just a simple reading schedule and an amazing selection of books to add to our home library. I will share some pictures of all of this soon.

So far, I just let Matthew get up to the table with us while I am working with Nick and Luke. There are days he wants to and days he would rather watch Sesame Street or play by himself. I am not pushing it at all- on his timetable. Because really, I can read the books with him at any time- during the day or at night before bed. I see it as extra one on one time with him.

But, there have been many days these last few weeks that Matthew climbs up to the kitchen table with us and wants to do cool work too (school work). He wants papers to write on and workbooks to draw in. I have some preschool workbooks on my self that I bought 3-4 years ago when Nick and Luke were little. Some books are for tracing, some for cutting, some for coloring…. you get the idea.

Generally I hand him the book and he goes to town and makes up his own lesson. Well yesterday I opened the book to a page covered in triangles. There was a place to color and draw triangles and then there was a place to trace the word triangle. I just opened the book, gave Matthew his crayons and continues to teach Nick and Luke how to count by 10’s. We were smack dab in the middle of our Math lesson.

Well, Matthew sees Nick and Luke trace their numbers and letters in their workbooks. I had no idea this sweet little 3 year old knew how to trace. We all look over and Matthew has used his black crayon and traced the word triangle.


We were all so proud of him!

And he was so proud of himself.

Yay, Matthew!

Learning is not just by saying and doing, but from also watching. He watches his brothers every day and he is learning from them. Obviously I knew this would happen, just not so quickly. I am amazed!

Today Nick and Luke were doing their letter mazes with their dot dobbers. Matthew wanted a sheet too.

Matthew had seen where I wrote the letters  Aa on the dry erase board.

I never said Matthew, put dots on the Aa’s. I honestly just gave him the dobbers and the paper so he could be a part of what we were doing.

What do you know…. he yells,  “Momma, look. I do cool (school)  too!“. He was dotting all of the big A’s with his green dobber.

His motor skills even more developed then I realized.


This process is truly amazing to me!

Homeschool Field Trip: Dallas Blue Bell Distributing Plant

homeschool field trip

Yesterday we had a homeschool field trip. One of the local DFW Blue Bell Distributors was hosting a tour and canned food drive/box fan drive for locals in need thanks to Christian Community Action (CCA) . It has always been important for me to show my children how to be part of the giving process.

My friend Kim and I headed to the Lewisville Distribution plant with eight children in tow.

A local Christian radio station,  KLTY (@949KLTY on Twitter) , was there broadcasting live. Way cool!


We dropped off our canned goods and off to the tour we went. I was excited to show my children how ice cream gets to the grocery store and all of the people who work hard to make this happen.

The delivery trucks are parked in the back and pull into the dock.

Inside this truck it is 5 degrees below!

They load it up with ice cream and make their local deliveries to grocery stores and even some local school cafeterias.

All of that white stuff is frozen ice and frost!

Where do they hold all the ice cream before it gets put on the truck?

They have a warehouse that is twenty degrees below zero. Do you have any idea how cold that is? My flip flop toes were red in seconds! As a matter of fact, it was so cold in this frozen vault, Nicky cried and refused to go in. Personally, I could only handle it for about a minute and a half.

Immediately I wanted to know how their staff handles these conditions and how often they get sick. I was advised that they wear vault suits similar to ski suits and they only work in the vault in short shifts. I then told them I was with OSHA…. and quickly said I was kidding.

This frozen warehouse stores the ice cream they will put into those delivery trucks.

It was packed with levels and levels of sweetness.

And this only holds three days worth of ice cream deliveries.

How does the ice cream get to the distribution center? It comes to the distribution center straight from Brenham, Texas or Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where the ice cream is made.

I have been wanting to try this flavor- Southern Hospitality.

blue bell

Our crew was then treated to a delicious Blue Bell ice cream.

Thank you Blue Bell!

blue bell

We then drove home listening to an hour of useless information from Blake- the boy in the red shirt.

We learned:

  • When going hunting the #1 thing you want to pack is toilet paper. There are 101 uses for toilet paper.
  • We learned about 10 of the 101 uses for toilet paper- leaving a trail of notes when you’re lost, covering a wound, etc.
  • When lost in the woods always carry a CD with you to reflect light to airplanes in the sky if you ever need to be rescued.
  • Florida is the state with the most cats. Totally random. (I will sleep better at night knowing that.)

All kidding aside, I read She is Dallas to learn about many of the local events, like this FREE Blue Bell Tour, going on here in the DFW area. If you are a local it is a site worth subscribing to.

Are you a homeschool mom? Have you taken a fun field trip this summer? I would love to hear about it.