Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Science Resources and Competitions

Our family attended Science in Indiana last weekend and picked up lots of great information on science resources available to anyone. I thought I would pass this information along to my readers.


Entomology at Purdue: tons of resources including forensic entomology
Purdue University The Nature of Teaching: lessons plans, printables, photos, and workshops

Science News: concise, credible science news
Science News for Kids: for kids ages 9-14

You Be the Chemist: Activity Guides for K-4 and 5-8 (cost is $10)


Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars): for 6-8th grades
Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: for grades 9-12
Intel Science Talent Search: for high school seniors top prize is $100,000
You Be the Chemist Challenge for 5-8 grade students

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Homeschool Plan for Kindergarten

As the local public school students are getting ready to go back to classes this summer, we are already busy racking up days in our school year, but I thought I would take some time on here and our plan for the school year. Little BBQ is reading on about a 2nd grade reading level and he is very advanced with basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.) However, socially Little BBQ is energetic five year that knows no social boundaries. He has some trouble with not looking at people when talking and fidgeting. He is always moving. We also have an energetic two year old, Miss Bubbles, running around.

To accommodate his unique set of needs, I pulled resources from all over the place. Some of the texts that I chose are for much older children, but we will be working with him at his own pace. If we do not finish the advanced texts this year, then that is fine with me. We are also working on some character training. I want him to be aware of more than just himself.


First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise and The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer: I have heard wonderful things about both of these texts from other homeschooling families, so I am going to be trying them out on Little BBQ this year. I chose not to get the work book for Writing with Ease, so I will just pick out my own copy work from other things that we are studying this year. I will also be supplementing Little BBQ’s creating writing desires with some journaling. Little BBQ loves writing stories, so I want to encourage this behavior as much as possible.


We are not doing a formal handwriting program. I make my own handwriting sheets, and our English curriculum offers copy work, so we will continue to practice handwriting skills with other curriculum.


I will be making my own drill sheets for Little BBQ to work on increasing him math facts speed. I also do play based learning with him to teach him about money and real world problem solving. We play restaurant or grocery store to learn counting money and budgeting. I purchased a set of pattern blocks that I am waiting to come in the mail along with a Pattern Block Book for Little BBQ. We will also be working through Math for Gifted Childrengrade 1 and math analogies for K-2 students. As a real challenge we will also be using Calculus for Young People and Patty Paper Geometry. I do not anticipate finishing Calculus for Young People or Patty Paper Geometry since these are advanced texts. We will work through them over a few years.

Nature Study

This is has been one our favorite activities that I plan to continue. We keep nature journals, find plants that are in our regional field guides, and check out books from the library about nature topics that interest us. The best part about nature study is that Miss Bubbles can be involved as well. She has her own nature journal and flower press.


Aaron Copeland wrote a wonderful book entitled, What toListen for in Music, which is not geared towards homeschoolers, but I find that it is a wonderful basis for a music appreciation. I will be using the Aaron Copeland book as my guide for a music appreciation class for Little BBQ. We will also continue practicing the organ. We are currently using ProgressiveOrgan Method for Young Beginners which we love. The book is written for someone with no music background. The book is brightly colored, and very simple for even a young child to pick up. We will also be working on the recorder using Essential Elements for the Recorder. This text was recommended to me by a musician friend of mine who teaches private lessons. The book is also designed for someone with no music background, and it is very easy to follow. As an added bonus, this was a very economical book. I will also be taking Little BBQ and Miss Bubbles to free classes offered through our local symphony. They cover topics like rhythm and how to bow after playing.


One of the best parts about being in a homeschooling group is that other parents allow me to review their homeschooling curriculum before I buy it. One of my friends recommended Building Foundations of ScientificUnderstanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2. I have a very strong science background, so I was not looking a program that holds my hand through every step of the process. I love coming up with my own experiments, but I wanted a guide or a checklist to make sure that I am covering all the necessary topics. I loved the map that Dr. Nebel provides in his book to show exactly how things in science are layered and build on top of one another. I also love this plan allowed a lot of flexibility, so we can cover flowers during spring time or magnetism in winter time when going outside for a long period of time is not realistic. I will be supplementing our science with texts that we already own and library books. We will be doing lots of experiments as well.


We will be working on Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, and we will be studying a new artist from each of the fifty different states since we are studying the fifty states this year. The projects range from oil pastel clouds to printmaking to fabric dyeing. I am really looking forward to our art projects this year.

Sign Language

We watch Signing Time about once a week to review and learn new signs. I want to further introduce Miss Bubbles to sign language and keep Little BBQ’s sign language skills up.


I am teaching Little BBQ Spanish words, greetings, and conjugations this year. I am not using a set curriculum for this task.

Geography and History

We are studying the fifty states this year, so I am using TheSlightly Odd United States of America by the editors of Klutz as spine text along with library books related to each state. As a review Little BBQ will be getting Snapshots Across America Game for Christmas. We plan to make a three dimensional map of each state this year to help us visualize mountains, rivers, and towns.

Practical Life

As part of our state study Little BBQ will be making one recipe from each of the fifty states. This will teach him cooking skills. We will also be working on our conversation skills with The Art of Children’s Conversation.

Character Training

I want Little BBQ to become more away of other around him, so I am loosely following Teaching Your Children Sensitivity by Lindia Eyre and Richard Eyre.

Physical Education

Little BBBQ will continue with diving team. He practices two times a week and competes in meets as they arise. We also go bowling every other week with our homeschooling group. Little BBQ is really improving his bowling skills by practicing every other week. During winter Little BBQ will work on ice skating again.


For socialization we belong to a homeschooling group. We are very active in the group, so Little BBQ gets plenty of exposure other kids with our group.


Our Chinese class did not happen this fall, so we are working on putting together a Chinese class for English speaking students starting in January.

Spelling and Reading

We are not doing a formal reading or spelling program. From time to time we get new vocabulary works for our other texts and focus on learning how to properly spell and use those words. We read a lot at our house, so Little BBQ has plenty of time to improve his reading skills.

Posted on Simple Lives Thursday, Somewhat Simple, Catch a Glimpse

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Exploring Music and Science with a Wind Organ

I love recycled crafts especially those that cover multiple areas of study. These recycled wind organs cover music, art, and science. It took us a while to collect up enough plastic bottles because we are not big plastic users, but we finally gathered enough plastic to make this cool wind organ.

A wind organ will make music when the wind blows. Our wind organ did not make a loud sound, but you could hear it if you were standing about 1-2 feet away from the organ which was a nice treat when we were working in the garden.

We used alcohol based markers (Sharpie®) to decorate the bottles. The marker seems to be holding up well even after getting wet.

You can use these wind organs for some science exploration for your children. Some questions to ask them as they blow into individual bottles:

1.       Which bottles make a high pitch sound?
2.       Which bottles make a low pitch sound?
3.       What do you notice about the holes of the bottles with a low pitch sound?
4.       What do you notice about the holes of the bottles with a high pitch sound?

We ended up with a nice discussion on how our simple wind organ works vs  a pipe organ.

For more information on a how a pipe organ works, please visit Pipedreams® website

For more information on wind organs including sound files from different wind organs please visit Pastorgan

Materials inspired by Plastorgan

Assorted plastic bottles
Sharpie® markers
Twine or string


1.       Have an adult cut a skinny rectangle up the side of a bottle. I did this by inserting the knife in the bottle, then using scissors to cut the rest of the rectangle. You can cut different sized rectangles with varying heights but keep the width at the top and bottom the same to make the science questions are easier to understand for little children.

2.       Color designs on the bottles with the markers.
3.       Tie the bottles to a pole using twine. I found the easiest way to tie the bottles is to tie a loop around the neck of the bottle then tie another loop around the pole that you are attaching the wind organ to.

Posted on Simple Lives Thursday

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Designing Olympic Uniforms and the Olympic Village

We have been studying the upcoming Olympics here at our house. One of the things we discussed a lot was what being on a team meant since this year was the first time that Little BBQ played on a team with other kids. We discussed both the obvious things like uniforms and the more interpersonal stuff that team members do for each other. To celebrate team work we designed our own Olympic uniforms for team USA. This was also a nice introduction to fashion design. We discussed the different types of neck lines in a shirt. Little BBQ informs me that he likes V-neck shirts the most. We made a liquid water color background in sunset colors. 
Then, we cut out uniforms from scrap fabric. Next, Little BBQ drew a female and male for each of the uniforms. We pasted construction paper grass on the sunset back ground along with the athletes. Little BBQ added some details with tempura paints like the Olympic rings at the upper left hand corner of the page.

We also designed out own Olympic village out of a shallow card board box. The houses for athletes are represented by Legos®. Little BBQ got really into this project. He made a track, a pool, food carts, buses to transport the athletes, a river, and a soccer field. We discussed where different Olympic events would be held at his Olympic village. He also told me that there would be lots of carrots served at his Olympic village so the athletes can grow up big and strong.

Materials for Olympic Uniforms

2 sheets sketch paper
Liquid water colors
Oil pastels
Ball point pen
Scrap fabric
Green construction paper
Buttons and other accessories
Tempera paints


1.       Using the liquid water colors, paint a background on one of the sketch papers. Allow the back ground to dry.
2.       Draw two athletes on the second piece of sketch paper with oil pastels. Set the athletes aside.
3.       Using a ball point pen, draw the Olympic uniform on the reverse side of the fabric.
4.       Cut out the Olympic uniform and glue it on the oil pastel athlete.
5.       Cut around the two athletes. Set the athletes aside.
6.       Cut grass out of the green construction paper.
7.       Glue the grass on the back ground.
8.       Glue the athletes on the grass.
9.       Glue accessories to the Olympic uniforms.
10.   Using tempera paints, add extra details.

Materials for Box Assemblage Olympic Village

Shallow box without a lid
Crayons, oil pastel, tempura paints


1.       In pencil, lightly sketch the layout of the Olympic village.
2.       Place the Legos® to represent buildings.
3.       Decorate the Olympic village with crayons, oil pastels, and paint.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Craft: Olympic Medals

We have been doing a unit study in order to prepare for the London 2012 games. I am so excited to watch diving, swimming, and gymnastics again this summer, so I wanted to transfer some of my excitement on to Little BBQ. We have been reading a lot about the history of the modern Olympics and famous athletes. We even read about this year’s venue.

One of the hands on projects about the Olympics we did this week was to make our own Olympic medals. Little BBQ loved this project. The best part of the project was after the medals were finished when Little BBQ decided to award each of us in the family with a medal. I think these medals will be around for a long time as part of our dress up collection. Little BBQ has been walking around telling everyone that he is an Olympic medalist. I love it.

This is a simple multi day project. On day one glue is applies to wooden disks and allowed to dry to give the medals a three dimensional look. On day 2, the medals are painted gold, silver, and bronze. On day 3, a marker is used to add more patterns on the medals. Finally, an adult hot glues a ribbon the back of the medals.

Materials (for pre-school – 5th grade)

3, 4 inch wood circles (we got ours at Hobby Lobby for $0.79)
Elmer’s School Glue®
Gold, Silver, and Bronze paint
Paint brush
Alcohol based markers such as Sharpie
3 strips 7/8” blue ribbon cut to 24-30 inches depending the size of your child
Hot glue gun


1.       Apply glue designs on the wood circles. Allow to dry overnight.
2.       Paint one medal gold, another silver, and another bronze. Allow to dry overnight.
3.       Apply more designs on the medals using an alcohol based maker.
4.       Have an adult hot glue the two ends of the ribbon to the back of the medals.
5.       Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Free Homeschooling Curriculum, Textbooks, and Resources

It seems like everyone these days is trying to save some money, so I have been working on compiling a list of free homeschooling curriculum, textbooks, and general resources. I hope you find this list as useful as I do. Please leave me a comment if you know of any other free homeschooling resources.

Charlotte Mason Style Curriculum: these curriculums will require you to get books from the library and possibly buy a few texts (usually math)

1. Milestone Academy
2. Ambleside
3. Matter Amabilis for Catholics
4. Simply Charlotte Mason

Other Curriculum and General Textbooks

1. Old Fashioned Education
2. Core Knowledge
3. Free Ed
4. Kahn Academy*
5. YouTube Channels for Education*
6. Power my learning
7. Lesson Plans from Denver Museum
8. Lesson Pathways
9. Academic Earth*
10. Apples 4 Teachers (K-6)
11. SAS Curriculum Pathways: Variety of topics covered (registration required)


1. Chubby Cubbie Curriculum
2. Starfall*
3. Kinder Printables
4. First School
5. Little Little Otter Preschool Science: The Human Body

US Constitution

1. Hillsdale College

Language Arts

1. My Audio School
2. Parts of a Story: early elementary
3. Writing for College: high school

American History

1. Early America
2. National Archives
3. Digital History
4. U.S. History
5. Outline of US History
6. History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web: high school level with lots of primary documents
7. American Heritage: Excellent on line magazine written by top historians on a wide range of topics; subscription required to view full website although there is a healthy amount of free resources on this site
8. Historical Thinking Matters: 4 unit studies (Rosa Parks, Spanish American War, Scopes Trial, and Social Security) on thinking critically using primary historical documents
9. Exploring US History: supplementary exercises on US History
10. Civil War Unit Study: elementary, middle, high school, and gifted and talented
11. Guest Hollow: includes schedule, book list, and supplementary materials list; one curriculum for grades 2-6 and a second one for 2-8

Social Studies

1. Making Sense of Oral History: high school level but mature middle year students could benefit from this resource
Go Social Studies
2. World History
3. Historical Games
4. Lang Media
5. A Survey of Modern European History
6. Europe in Retrospect
7. Kings and Queens of England: late elementary level
8. echo: exploring and collecting history online-science, technology, and industry: large collection of articles on the history of science and technology
9. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web: excellent full length book written in plain language for the budding history enthusiast
10. Women in World History: curriculum for high school students
11. World History Sources: Unit studies about world history topics using primary resources
12. Children and Youth in History: Unit studies about children all over the world in different time periods
13. Making the History of 1989: Unit studies to explore communism in Eastern Europe
14. Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide: This resource is great for even younger students with parent's help
15. Guest Hollow: Ancient History: Supplementary literature based approach for grades 2-6

Current Events

1. History News Network:* This website is not a curriculum or textbook instead it is a current events web site that puts current events into historical perspective for high school students


1. Making Music Fun
2. Music in Math, Science, and Literature
3. The Piano Student: free music curriculum including recorder lessons
4. Lesson Plans from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
5. Vh1 Lesson Plans: also includes past shows
6. Classical Music and the Music of the Classical Era: for primary and secondary students
7. The Music of the Romantic Era: for middle school students
8. Composing with Computers I: for advanced music students
9. Popular Musics of the World: for advanced students
10. Creating Musical Sounds: how vibrations are harnessed to make sounds and music
11. Fundamentals of Music: from MIT
12. Hip Hop: from MIT
13. Music in Movies: for grades 7-12 from ReadWriteThink (takes about 2 hours to complete)
14. Music from Across America: for grades 3-5
15. Free Music Drills: from eMusicTheory
16. Levy Sheet Music: all sheet music from before 1923 are in public domain and free
17. Free Music Quizzes, Games, and Worksheets
18. Listen by Instrument: for young children


1. Drawing
2. Performing Arts in Art: K-12 focusing on four themes: art and accessibility to music, art and ancient tradition of storytelling, art and depiction of dance, art and influence of theatre
3. Art Unit Studies for Elementary Students: covers a wide range of topics and mediums
4. Kinder Art: free art lesson plans for K-12
5. Artyfactory: free art lessons for older students includes art lessons, design lessons, and art history
6. Artists and Their Art: Sharing Visual Stories: 10 free lessons for grades 1-7
7. Lesson Plans from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: grades K-12
8. Lesson Plans from Smithsonian American Art Museum
9. Incredible Art Department: lessons for preschool-12


1. TED Videos
3. Biology: late elementary to middle school level
  Gray's Anatomy*
4. Human Physiology
5. Anatomy and Physiology of Animals
4. Electronic Book of Dermatology
5. On Line Biology Book
6. Physics
7. Physics Study Guide
8. Modern Physics
9. This Quantum World
9. Origin of Species: Classic text from Charles Darwin
10. High School Earth Science
11. Proteomics
12. Engineering Acoustics
13. Acoustics
14. Otter Elementary Science: The Human Body: Literature based approach for grades 2-6
15. Big Otter Science: The Human Body: Literature based approach for high school students
16. Otter Science: Chemistry: Literature based approach for grades 2-6
17. Otter Science: Physics: Scroll down the page to download
18. Solar System Unit Study


1. Psychology 101
2. ePsych
3. Psychology: An Introduction 
4. Laughing: A Psychology of Humor
5. Party-Directed Mediation
6. Research Methods Knowledge Base
7. Old Age Psychiatry
8. The Many Faces of Psychological Research in the 21st Century
9. Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
10. Lucid Dreaming
11. Consciousness Studies


1. GeoGebra (downloadable program for Algebra and Geometry)
2. Homeschool Math
3. The Math
4. Mathematical Writing: advanced high school level textbook
5. Otter Math: Pre Algebra: Scroll down the page to download

Computer Science

1. Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation
2. C# Programming
3. Java Programming


1. Principles of Accounting
2. Accounting I
3. Accounting II
4. Bean Counter's Free Accounting & Bookkeeping Tutorial Site
5. Management Accounting Concepts and Techniques


1. Business Writing
2. Corporate Finance: 2nd Edition: not compatible with Internet Explorer
3. Democratizing Innovation
4. Industrial Organization, a Contract Based Approach
5. Innovation Happens Elsewhere: Open Source as Business Strategy
6. Managing the New Frontiers: An Introduction to the Fundamentals
7. The Principles of Scientific Management

Practical Life

1. First Aid
2. Dance Mat Typing

Bible Study

1. The Lives of Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints

Grade Level Specific 

1. Second Grade Curriculum: need to register to get full access

Homeschool Management Software

1. LearnBoost
2. Homeschool Skedtrack
3. Homeschool Tracker

Study Guides

1. Sample questions for AP exams

Photo taken by Ivan Prole. Copyright free image. See here for details.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wild Forest Plants

Yesterday we went on a nature hike with an awesome guide who knew all sorts of edible plants that are found wild in our local wood lands. Here are some of the plants that we identified on our hike:

Snake root:
Wild grapes that will grow up the tree (leaves and fruit are edible):
Violet (state flower for Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Illinois):
Wild raspberries (fruit is edible):

May apple (fruit is edible in June):
Wild plum tree (fruit is edible):

Black locus tree flowers that have an amazing sweet scent:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mushroom Hunting

We went on a super cool field trip this morning. We went mushroom hunting! We did not find a lot of mushrooms, but we had a blast. We had an excellent guide that knew every plant that we came across on our hike. Here is the fungus that we saw on our hike:

Unidentifiable little brown mushroom:

Rhizomorphs which kills trees, so this is bad news for our forest:

fungus that kills trees

Phellinus robiniae growing on a black locus tree:

shell mushroom growing on a tree

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paper Mâché Bluebirds

We have been continuing to work on our bluebird studies. I decided to take a big leap and have us attempt paper mâché bluebirds.  For me this is a big step in our homeschool because I am not particularly artistic, and this is a very messy multi day project. I was nervous to say the least, but how could I turn down trying the beautiful paper mâché birds as seen on Art For Small Hands?  Little BBQ had been requesting more three dimensional projects, so I thought this would be a nice creative project to attempt. Our birds came out surprisingly cute even though we forgot to use card board for the tail feathers.

We used regular all purpose flour and water for our paper mâché, and we attempted to fill in some of the holes left by the newspaper with dryer lint pulp mixed with our mâché paste. The dryer lint pulp was also good for forming a beak. We used Crayola washable tempura paints to paint the birds which did not completely cover the newspaper which really bothered me at first, but then I realized that seeing the newspaper under the paint gave the bluebirds a Jasper Johns feel. We did not put wire legs on birds because I did not feel that Little BBQ had the coordination to bend wire right now without hurting himself. Instead we opted to put our bluebirds on nests made from paper Easter grass.

For bluebird inspiration we used the kids book from the North American Bluebird Society, a photo from the blog Content in a Cottage, and a gallery on 12 beautiful bird photos


Newspaper, cut into strips and 1 whole piece for the body
Thin card board
Half inch masking tape
All purpose flour
Dryer lint
Paint brushes
Rinsing bowls
Paper towels
Card board box large enough to fit the bluebirds
Goggles or safety glasses
Easter grass


Day 1:

1.       Wrinkle the whole sheet of newspaper into a ball to form the body of the bird. You can shape the ball into more of a tear drop shape which is close to a bird shape than a ball.
2.       Cut the wings and tail feathers out of cardboard using the scissors. Use your bluebird pictures for inspiration. We cut a semicircle for the wings which was probably not the best shape to use. Next time I think I would cut each wing individually.
3.       Tape the wings and tail feathers to the newspaper body of the bird with the masking tape.
4.       In a bowl, make a paper mâché paste with flour and water. We used 1 part flour to 2 parts water for our paper mâché paste. You can make your paste a little thinner or thicken depending upon your preferences.
5.       Dip the newspaper strips into the paste and wipe off the excess paste. Drape the newspaper strip on the bluebird.
6.       Continue with step 5 until the bluebird is completely covered.
7.       Dip the dryer lint into the paper mâché paste to form clay like substance.
8.       Use the dryer lint putty to fill in holes in the paper mâché and to form small details like the beak.
9.       Allow the bluebird to dry. We dried our bluebirds on a plate. We dried the bluebirds on their belly which was a mistake because we ended up tearing a little bit of the paper mâché when lifted up the blue birds after they dried. Net time I would have let them dry on the flat surface of their wings.

Day 2:

10.   Paint the bluebirds. We made male Easter bluebirds using photos for inspiration. In general, male Easter bluebirds have a blue head and wings, a white stomach, an orange neck and a black beak.

Day 3:

11.   Place the bluebirds in a cardboard box. Spray the bluebirds with spray polyurethane while wearing goggles or safety glasses. Follow the directions on the spray can for best results.  I did this part for Little BBQ outside because I was not comfortable with him using the polyurethane. Allow the bluebirds to dry.

Day 4:

12.   Display the bluebirds on a nest of Easter grass.

Posted on Link and Learn, Science Sunday
Carnival of Homeschooling

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Activities for The Secret Life of Walter Kitty

Toddler Cat Mast Activity for The Secret Life of Walter Kitty

Little BBQ has requested that Miss Bubbles participate more in our school which is a challenge since Miss Bubbles is only 2 years old. Miss Bubbles calls our school, "special school." I love that she is enthusiastic about school, and I love that Little BBQ wants her involved but making lessons that are challenging for Little BBQ and engaging for Miss Bubbles is not easy, but a common challenge for many homeschooling parents. She does not have the ability to sit through a book with too many words, so I read lots of picture books around her and have her make a craft based on the book. Little BBQ also has the option to make the craft as well on top of his writing assignment based on the book. For the book, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty by Barbara Jean Hicks, Miss Bubbles made a kitty mask and Little BBQ wrote a story about the secret life of his kitty, Bullwinkle.

The mask is made from a plate, cotton balls that Miss Bubbles pulled apart, and construction paper for the ears and nose. There was also a mouth drawn with a marker by Little BBQ, but Miss Bubbles decided to cover up the kitty's mouth with fur instead.

Little BBQ wrote a story about me catching Bullwinkle in the school room. Bullwinkle was not a happy kitty with me catching him. In the story I put the kitty in the guest bathroom. I asked Little BBQ why I put the kitty in the bathroom forever. He me told it was so he can play with the kitty forever. Bullwinkle is our new kitty that is still scared of humans. Apparently he was brought to the animal shelter at a very young age so this has made him very scared of everything. He has been coming around to me the best, but he is still scared of the kids. He lets the kids hold him, but he will not show them his wonderful kitty side. Hopefully over time he will warm up to the family.

For more activities with The Secret Life of Walter Kitty please visit Barbara Jean Hicks's website.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Melissa and Doug Pinterest Giveaway

Melissa and Doug is doing a giveaway on Pinterest! All you have to do is make a board called "Spring Wish List" and pin 10 Melissa and Doug items that you like. At least 5 of the items have to be in the new Sunny Patch Collection. On your board description explain why you like Melissa and Doug toys. Lastly, leave them a comment with your pinterest board.

Our family really loves the wooden dish sets they sell. We have found that the wooden dishes hold up much better than the plastic dish sets of other companies. What are your favorite Melissa and Doug toys?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Building Secondary Cavity Nesting Bird Nests: Bluebird, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, House Sparrow

We have been studying birds as part of our nature study in the past few weeks. In particular, we have been focusing on the Bluebird. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters meaning that they can not build their own nests. Instead they find homes that woodpeckers (primary cavity nesters) or humans leave behind for them. Bluebirds are part of the Sialia genus of the thrush family. Gardeners love Bluebirds because they are primarily insectivores (insect eaters) and dine on garden pests.

The trouble is that many other birds will also reside inside of a Bluebird house, so it is important to be able to identify birds by their nests. Some other birds that can make their home in a Bluebird house are House Wren, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, or House Sparrow. For the Bluebird enthusiast, there is only one type of bird that really poses a threat and that is the House Sparrow. The House Sparrow is not native to the US and is very aggressive. The House Sparrow can and will kill a Bluebird. The House Sparrow has been partially blamed for declining Bluebird numbers along with humans destroying their habitat.

To help Little BBQ learn about potential birds that can make their home in small cavities we decided to do a hands on project where a built sample nests from secondary cavity nesters. Each type of bird has an unique nest. We built out nests in foam cups with one side cut open so you can see inside the "cavity."

Eastern Bluebird Nest


dry grass
pine needles

The details:
One or both types of materials maybe used depending upon availability. The nests do not fill up the entire cavity, so there is plenty of head space in this cavity.

House Wren

finer plant material (we used crumbled leaves)
feathers (we used paper feathers since we could not find any real ones outside)

The details:
The bulk of the nest is composed of twigs with some feather and finer plant material lining the inside of the nest as well. The cavity is usually filled to the top.

Tree Swallow

feathers (we used paper feathers)

The details:
The bulk of the nest is made out of grass with feathers lining the top. The nest has lots of head space and does not fill up the entire cavity.

Carolina Chickadees

very fine plant fibers (we used crumbled leaves)
animal hair
dryer lint

The details:
A Carolina Chickadee is flexible about what type of material the bird is willing to use to build its nest. We used animal hair, dryer lint, and crumbled leaves for our nest since we could not find any moss in the backyard. A Carolina Chickadee builds small soft nests that are meticulously built. A Carolina Chickadee is most likely to settle in a Bluebird house.

House Sparrow

The details:
The House Sparrow will fill their cavity to the brim with a wide assortment of found materials.

"House Sparrow Kills Eastern Bluebirds" Journal of Field Ornithology. Summer 1984. pp 378-380.
North American Bluebird Society Educational Packet: information on nests found on pages 18-19

Photo Credits
All "nests" were taken by me
Bluebird Photo: Ken Thomas released to public domain
House Wren Photo: Calibas released under GNU Free Documentation License 
Tree Swallow Photo: John Benson released under Creative Commons
Carolina Chickadee Photo: Dan Pancamo under Creative Commons
House Sparrow Photo: Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Monday, March 12, 2012

Toddler Nature Journal

It seems that everyone is talking about nature journals these days. They are a very popular tool for teaching children drawing, observation skills, and science. At our house, we use nature journals for even the smallest hands. A lot of people ask me how I manage to teach Little BBQ while having Miss Bubbles running around. Some things we do while Miss Bubbles naps, but there are some things that she participates in. Nature journaling is great for little hands. We use a combination of collected items, drawing, and photos for Miss Bubbles’ nature journal. Most of the photographs are of Miss Bubbles interacting with nature. I will also take photos or let her take photos of things that interest her. In the sample page above Miss Bubbles sampled some wild green onions, picked up lots of sticks, and hugged lots of trees.  She glued a feather into her book that she found while walking. We use basic white glue for her book. If you look closely you can see her excessive use of glue that is the toddler trademark, but luckily it dries clear so no harm to the notebook is done. I add the date and sometimes the location to each page.

Pictured below is Little BBQ’s nature journal page from the same day. For Little BBQ’s nature journal, we use found items (although he did not find anything that he felt was worth collecting on that day), photos of things that he finds interesting, drawings, observations, and photos of him interacting with nature. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pinecone, Lard, and Bird Seed Winter Bird Feeders

We have been having an usually mild winter this year, but we decided to give the birds some good winter time bird food anyway. In general, birds need more fat during winter time, so we used lard in our winter bird seed this year instead of peanut butter because we got a half pig last year. Pigs have a lot of lard on them, and I have been struggling to figure out what to do with the all the lard. After a few batches of tamales and tortillas I still have lots of lard. I decided that the birds would probably enjoy some nice bird seed and lard since I was told by a local farmer that birds love lard.
To make these simple bird feeders, you just take some fallen pine cones and rub them in lard. Then, you can sprinkle some bird seed on top of the lard. We use a generic wild bird seed mix that attracts lots of different birds to our yard. Finally, hang up your easy bird feeders outside.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Weaving A Pot Holder With a Loop Loom

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One of the best parts about homeschooling is that you can pick and choose different styles of education that you like and work well for your family. One of the things that I really liked about Charlotte Mason style of education is the incorporation of handy crafts that are practical. As Little BBQ’s first handy craft we decided to have him make a pot holder for his play kitchen using a loop weaving loom.
Loop weaving looms are very inexpensive. I found one a few days before Christmas on clearance at Michaels that came with a weaving needle (you can use a crochet needle if your kit does not come with a needle) and cotton loops. I showed Little BBQ how to weave the first row. Then, he tried to weave by himself but he lacked the coordination to keep track of the over and under pattern and get the loop to where he wanted it, so I helped him with his first weaving project. Next time I will help him weave less until he can finally complete a pot holder on his own. Our kit came with enough loops to complete four pot holders. I predict that he will be able to weave by himself by the forth pot holder. This project took us 3 different sessions to complete. The first time that we weaved Little BBQ only had enough patience to weave for 4 rows. The second time that we weaved, he again lasted 4 rows. However, on the third session he was able to finish the rest of the pot holder. I finished off the sides for him since it was not clear even to me while reading the directions how to finish off the pot holder. Next time I will show Little BBQ how to finish off the sides. The only thing that surprised me about the weaving was how much the pot holder shrank when we took it off the loom. The pot holder really is only good for play dishes.
A loop weaving loom is great for early elementary students. Concepts that can be explored by using a loop weaving loom include counting by twos and pattern making. Weaving is also good for fine motor skills that early writers need to develop in order to write clearly.

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