I love to supplement the literature-based approach of Sonlight with hands-on crafts and extension activities. Besides the Hands-on History kit available for purchase, I like to add on even more projects inspired by the great books we read. I find that besides keeping my daughters happy, creative, and busy, the fun we have inspires their own book-based pretending during their free play time.
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children is one of my favorite books from Sonlight's History / Bible / Literature A. Besides the delightful collection of stories, each page has beautiful illustrations. The lovely art and the heart-warming stories of pets and farm animals inspired these extension activities, projects, field trips, and learning activities listed below, organized chapter by chapter.
I hope you enjoy them as much as my daughters and I did! These ideas will probably inspire your own creative activities based on whatever craft supplies you have on hand and what interesting locales you have in your community.
Chapter 1 Moses the Kitten: Enact the Chapter
I bought kitten stuffed animals from the dollar store for acting out the story of Moses the kitten. First he was lost and abandoned, then found by my little girls, and finally taken home to be cared for and cuddled. I had my girls practice a few times, and when their father got home, we put on a little play to narrate the story.
Chapter 2 Only One Woof: Charades
In this chapter, Gyp the dog manages to live without vocalizing. We had a short talk about muteness and why some people can’t speak. Afterward they practiced communicating without speech. I gave them a variety of situations to express without words:
- needing help
- being hungry
- wanting to take a nap
- feeling lost or lonely
Although we had several false starts, eventually they were able to express themselves without saying a word.
Chapter 3 The Christmas Day Kitten: Draw a Picture
For chapter three, one of my girls came up with a simple activity. She suggested we draw a picture of a Christmas gift suitable for a cat.
Chapter 4 Bonnie’s Big Day: Pretend Pet Show
In chapter 4 of James Herriot’s Treasury for Children, Bonnie wins an award in the pet show. My activity was an at home pet show, complete with awards.
Instead of actual animals, I improvised with photos I found online of children with animals or pets. My girls had to judge the animals in the photos, arrange them in winning order and award the two blue ribbons (also simple paper crafts) they felt were the best.
Later that afternoon, they grabbed their own stuffed animal menagerie and began lining them up, awarding ribbons to their favorite pets. They did this imaginative book-based play several times, with my 6-year-old taking special pains to make sure that each animal won at least one award.
Chapter 5 Blossom Comes Home: Making Butter & Safety Pointers
When it came time to read this story, I poured half and half and a dash of salt into a glass jar. I had my girls take turns shaking the bottle as we read chapter 5. I told them to keep shaking it until the liquid turned solid.
When our story was done, our container was still sounding rather liquid, so we spent some time talking about safety, namely what to do if you are lost. We discussed these actions:
- looking for someone safe to ask for help (someone in a uniform, or a woman with small children in tow)
- waiting and not wandering around because their father and I will always start looking for them in the last place we saw them
- staying calm and trying to think and pray, instead of crying and screaming
- memorizing mom and dad's telephone numbers and full names
- never going away with strangers
- always sticking with their buddy or sibling, so they are never alone
When we finished this talk, we opened our container and discussed dairy products. I had my children compare the bit of half and half in the bowl, tasting and touching it, comparing it with the butter we had just made. We then spread our butter over cinnamon rolls and had a snack with milk.
Chapter 6 The Market Square Dog: A Trip to the Market
We live in Mexico, and almost every day, the tianguis are open, so we have a nice open-air market to visit all year-long. We took my girls to the market, and gave them each 20 pesos (about $1.50 USD) to spend. On our trip, we even managed to see a dog in the market, just like in our story.
If you have an open-air market of any type, including a farmer’s market, take the time to take your children on a quick field trip. Look at items you normally don’t peruse and experience it through fresh eyes by paying attention to all the surrounding sights, being careful to look for any animals. Or you might enjoy going to a kennel or a dog pound, pet store, or anyplace new or interesting where an animal might be walking about.
Chapter 7 Oscar, Cat About Town: Decorate Hats
The hat-making competition in this story from James Herriot’s Treasury for Children inspired own hat-making project. At the dollar store it was a cinch to find cheap straw hats, ribbons, fake flowers, and hair bows. After we read this chapter, I put my 5- and 6-year-olds to work, making their own hats for our competition.
When w judged the hats, one of my girls won the award for most creative hat, and the other won the award for using the most decorations. Printed paper blue ribbons were the prize!
Chapter 8: Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb
This chapter would have been a great time to visit a petting zoo, but we didn’t have time for a trip like that when we read this story. Maybe you will!
Instead we made our own lambs from these simple craft supplies:
- paper and foil
- glue gun
- cotton balls
- toothpicks or matchsticks
- small googly eyes
We rolled paper into a ball shape for the body of the sheep, taping down the edges to help it hold its form. Then using a cold glue gun, we glued cotton balls over the surface of the ball to create the sheep's fleece. Toothpicks formed the legs, and construction paper scraps became the head. We glued on the eyes, and our little sheep were complete to run and play as little sheep do.
After the Book: Even More Extension
James Herriot also wrote several other books, and although many of them are for adults, if your children love animals, they may enjoy hearing you read them as long as you’re willing to edit out some long passages or sadder details. There are also two movies and a TV series about his adventures as a country vet. My girls found them hard to sit through as they are geared toward an older audience, but a true animal lover might enjoy them.