Monday, November 21

Shine on Harvest Moon (Rosemary Clooney)

On a unusually empty Saturday, as we bumbled around town looking for something to do...a garage sale to crash....something to pass the time....we came across this storage box and began a new project.  If we'd been thinking clearly, we'd have taken some decent 'before' photos...but alas.
The box was made of real wood and had great bones, but someone had painted it this terrible chartreuse color...that's not a color anyone needs in their kitchen.  Or pantry.  It also had hinges that were rusted in place and needed a thorough scrubbing.  Completely do-able in a weekend.
The boys helped to break it apart into all of it's little pieces, and give it a nice coat of off-white paint.  We cleaned it well beforehand.  While the paint was drying, we soaked the hinges in WD-40 to loosen them.
A bit of bright red paint for the covers brought life to our piece and gave it a vintage feel.  We also stapled wire mesh to them, instead of the thick plastic, to open them up and let the food inside breathe.  For the top of the box, we pulled out our old Tupperware stencils and livened it up with the boys' vision of a pastoral scene. 

And voila!  A root box to hold potatoes, carrots, beets, apples, and the rest of your fall harvest.

A few Potato Recipes...

Friday, November 18

Feet on the Ground (Ruby Velle)

Do you have children who seem to notice and respond to every sight and sound around them, including those that you had not noticed? Do your children have a hard time getting homework or chores done because they seem to lose track of what they are doing?

Some children are highly distractible, noticing every sight and sound around them. When working on a task, they are often side-tracked and have a difficult time focusing. On the positive side, this trait also refers to children’s perceptiveness. Highly distractible children are keen observers of the world around them.

I'm not applying labels here....ADD, ADHD...who needs them?  We all have our own issues, and distractibility is sometimes a blessing in disguise...once you get pass the classroom setting.

As a distractible child myself, I have also been blessed with a distractible child.  My mother is amused....  

Distractible children have no filter, so we need to help them limit their distractions.
Use movement to activate learning.  Mindless and repetitive movement will help to keep the body occupied and allow the mind to center and focus on learning.

Movement ideas while learning alone :
  • Skip rope while doing times tables.
  • Hop while doing chants, like Song School Latin.
  • Walk on a treadmill while reading.  I learned to study while using an elliptical trainer, and found that I retained considerably more information.  Research shows that exercising while learning activates different areas of the brain.
Movement ideas while listening to a story or other teaching in a group :
  • Play with silly putty
  • Make a pattern with Legos
  • Organize toy cars by size / color
  • Braid a doll's hair
Understand that they may have to move.
  • "Normal" people stop and pay attention to listen.  Distractible children are no longer listening if they're stopping and 'paying attention.'  I had a professor who finally understood this, and allowed me to doodle all the way through class.  She knew that if I was looking at her, I was zoned out and gone.
  • Give them something to do with their hands, if they need to be still and listen for a while.
Have them take responsibility for their learning.
  • If they don't understand, they have to say so, rather than pretending that they do.
  • They have to try to learn, and try a different method if the first way doesn't work.
  • Ask every so often if they are understanding.
Try different learning styles.
  • Some kids need movement-centered learning (see above) and hands-on (kinesthetic) activities.
  • Others are very musical, and can learn anything put to music.  Try chants and ditties that they can sing and dance along with, such as the ones on Ditty Bugs.
  • Some kids can learn anything from a movie (audio/visual) - most distractible children are going to need to move around while watching a movie.
  • Find what works best for your child.  (You probably already know, just from observation!)
Teach them to develop focus.
  • You may have to remind them to refocus several times a day, but try to do so without anger or condescension.  This isn't a character flaw, and they don't need to be disciplined.  They just need a gentle reminder.
  • Break large tasks into smaller bits, and recognize the completion of these smaller tasks.  Even if your child is a pre-teen, they need to learn to break things down into manageable bits.
  • Use charts to help keep them focused on the tasks at hand.  We use these elementary and middle school daily charts to help remind the kids of what is left to be tackled.
Further Exploration

Wednesday, November 16

Rocky Top (Osborne Brothers)

I dare you to read this post without humming along to Rocky Top at some point.....  *giggle*

One of the coolest parts about our trip through the Rocky Mountains was all of the different geological structures we discovered!  Our son was working on his Geology Merit Badge during this trip, and so we went a little more in-depth than a typical unit study.  It was a lot of fun!  In the photos above, we are looking at a sedimentary structure and the tree line.
Having spent most of our lives at or near sea-level, the plant life zones of Colorado were fascinating to our entire family.  Seeing the timber line, seeing snow in the summer...these were new to us!  This visual helped us as we looked out to the mountains themselves.
At one of the local rock shops, the boys spent well over an hour discussing various geological samples from the local terrain.  We learned about feldspar, quart, and selenite.  The selenite towers were their favorite - as there were some that looked like magic wands!
Another neat thing about this particular store was how they provided written materials to go along with each piece they sold, and the approximate date of the rock itself.  What a cool, hands-on lesson in geology!

Geology Unit Study

Related Trips


Classroom Resources


Hands-On Resources

Monday, October 24

Mountain Time (Joe Bonnamassa)

When we told the kids we were heading to Colorado, the only place they really wanted to visit was the Garden of the Gods.  Granted, they didn't really know what else was out there, but they had a one track mind on this.  So it was our number one 'must do.'
At the entrance of our parking area, there was a trail guide pointing out all of the various geological 'structures,' like the Kissing Camels shown in the second photo.  We had fun renaming almost all of them!
This was one of our last stops on the Colorado trip, and we had told the boys that it may not happen...you know...keep them on their toes a little bit.  So they were pretty stoked when we got there!
Ah, but the disappointment quickly set in when we made them get down and stop climbing.  Without a permit and (naturally) the correct gear, climbing is not allowed.  We had not come prepared to climb, but we did spend a long time watching the ones who had.


We spent a lot of time walking the trails and exploring the plant life in the area.  It's pretty different from what we're used to seeing at home and on our east coast jobs.  It was morning, not too hot yet, and the day was shaping up to be a beauty!
As we were leaving, we discovered the area that is set up for climbing.  We had watched the rock climbers from the trail, and the boys were a little disappointed that they weren't able to climb, so we let them crawl all over this area.  All four of us enjoyed that hour!!
What you can't see in this picture is that the oldest has just fallen off a rock and disappeared into.....well, apparently a mini-cave that he found.  
Isn't the view stunning??

Rocks & Minerals Unit Study

Thursday, October 20

Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin)

As I’ve begun making my own home cleansing products in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a trend among all the ‘recipes,’ namely that they use castile soap.  So I got a bottle and decided to try my hand at it.....and it was really much easier than I had feared!!

Maybe you’ve heard of castile soap, but aren’t really sure what you can do with it?  Here are several different options of how to use this one simple bottle (see extra notes below) :

  1. General Cleanser :  Mix 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon castile soap, 1 tsp borax, ½ tsp washing soda (NOT the same as baking soda), and lemon or other citrus essential oil (just a few drops) in a spray bottle.  Shake it up, spray it, and use as an all-purpose cleanser.
  2. Fruit and Veggie Wash :  Mix 1 tablespoon castile soap with 2 cups of water; shake it up, squirt it on, and use it to wash produce so that it will last longer and remove pesticide residue.
  3. Shampoo : Mix 1 tablespoon castile soap with 4 tablespoons of water (or mix up a spray bottle with that ratio).  Throw in essential oil (a few drops) for scent – rosemary is good for the scalp!
  4. Soft Scrub : Same ratio as shampoo, but without the essentialoils.  Sprinkle the spots you want to scrub with baking soda first and let it sit a minute.  Then, spray with soap solution and use a brush to scrub it all away.
  5. Carpet Cleanser :  Mix ¼ cup castile soap with  1 cup of water.  Scrub into carpet and let it soak, then scrub it out.  Does the same job, but without the harsh chemicals!
  6. Soap (for dish washing, body wash, or hand washing) :  Mix 1 cup castile soap with 2 cups water.  Shake up well and use as normal.
  7. Floor cleanser :  Mix 3 tablespoons castile soap with 1 gallon hot water.  Wash it suds up and work just as well as that harsh stuff you’ve been using.
  8. Laundry Soap :  Grab a gallon-sized ice cream tub for this one.  Mix 1 ¼ cups vinegar (white, not apple cider), 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup washing soda (NOT the same as baking soda), 1 cup borax, and ¼ cup castile soap.  You may also use a couple of drops of essential oil, if you want.  Mix them _in this order_ and stir, stir, stir.  At first, it’ll look like a big, goopy mess, but if you keep stirring, you’ll get a powdered detergent.  (And if you don’t keep stirring, you’ll get a rock hard mess when you go to use it.  Think of it as an upper body workout…)  Use ¼ cup for each load of laundry.  (No, I don’t know if it’s okay for HE washers or not.  But here is some information about that from someone who does.)
  • Two good brands of castile soap :  Natural Way and Dr. Bronner's
  • A note on spray bottles :  Glass bottles will not react with any of the ingredients, and just look nicer around the house.
  • A note on essential oils : As these are not going to be ingested, you can use a lower-quality one that is a fraction of the cost of the big name brands.  I recommend Plant Therapy, because they smell good, and we've had no skin issues from them.

Wednesday, October 12

Path of Thorns (Sarah McLachlan)

Our trip through Nebraska took us right by Chimney Rock.....the same one that we used to stop off at when playing Oregon Trail on the old Apple II-E.  
We also stumbled upon the Chimney Rock Cemetery...where many loved ones were lain to rest during the trek Westward.  The cemetery wasn't as full as we'd predicted, but there was probably hundreds of settlers lain to rest beside the trail in unmarked graves...

Oregon Trail Unit Study
Reading Resources
Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

Thursday, October 6

Everybody's Got a Mountain to Climb (Allman Brothers)



At the park entrance are all fifty state flags.  It's quite a long walk to get to the trail that wraps around the mountain.  The day we stopped by was absolutely gorgeous....not hot or cold, beautiful Carolina blue sky...perfect day.
Inside the museum, you can watch a video about the sculptor (Borglum) and the history of Mount Rushmore, from inception to completion.  There are also several exhibits showing the various phases of construction and talking about the project from a geological standpoint.
We took the trail around the mountain, to get a closer look, and the boys worked on their Junior Ranger Program workbooks.  We love this program - they get a small token for completing the day's schoolwork!  This is the same spot on the trail where National Treasure 2 was filmed toward the end.
It's a pretty impressive mountain....you know that it's huge, but you can't really fathom just how big it is until you've stood underneath the faces.
“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can...their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were.” ~Gutzon Borglum

Mount Rushmore Resources