Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Works for Me: Books to Have on Hand

I wasn't all that into bugs before I had children. I wasn't all that into reptiles before I had children. And I wasn't all that into birds before I had children.

Then I had children.

One of the best ways to encourage a love for learning (a top objective for our homeschool and family) is to tack it onto something most kids are curious about from the get go-


All children like animals of some kind, whether it's furry, feathery, fishy or freaky.

Encourage that God given wonder and foster a love for learning by giving them a way to identify and dig up more about the critters they find.

One of the best ways we have found to do this is to buy good field guides on insects, reptiles & amphibians and birds for your area and keep them in an easy to find and easy to get location. Go ahead and buy a set or a quick guide to keep in your vehicle for trips, play dates, park days, and other "who'd a thunk we'd find a really cool animal today, but there it is!" moments.

We bought this one and asked for this one for Christmas and this one for her birthday when HB was only three.

While Google is another great option for identifying critters, we go to the field guides first, for several reasons. They help my kids learn to classify (and they don't even know it), look for details (and they don't even know it), and read for information (and they don't even know it). Best of all, they are hands on.

I have many sweet memories of the kids and I on the ground with a book and a bug in our sights discussing what exactly we had found or of times the kids figured it all by themselves and came to show me.

I think it has helped foster a love for learning in our children that has carried over into other areas of life.

Having field guides on hand Works for Me/Us this Wednesday! Check out We are THAT Family for tips on all kinds of things.

From Our Family to Yours: Buy a set of easy to use and appropriate for your area field guides for insects, reptiles & amphibians, and birds (and wildflowers and trees, if you like!). As soon as your kiddos find a creature, grab the book and start trying to identify it. Even if you (the parent) already know what it is, walk through the steps of figuring it out with your children. After awhile, you won't have to be the one initiating this activity. Your kids will be identifying critters and coming to show you after the fact.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall Fest

Our crafts turned out delightful ...

...and delicious.

I had my hands full with 12 kids here participating, so I didn't get a lot of photos of the painting and gluing craft. Imagine that. The kids were pretty serious about donut holes, toffee and chocolate icing. Who can blame them?

How was your first day?

If you did something, I'd love to see it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maps and Kids

(This is a cross post from my personal blog, Grateful for Grace.)

Years ago I was on the hunt for something and then just out of the blue we were given exactly what I was looking for, times ten! We received a box of National Geographic maps. A big box. A nice big box. I was thrilled. Seriously.

We have done lots of things with those maps, but the main reason I was so excited was because maps are wonderful ways to encourage learning.

Give a kid a map and then start talking. Look for mountains. Look for lakes. Look for silly city names. Look for anything.

Keeping up a world map and a country map (the one you live in… maybe not just any random country ;-) ), encourages children (and adults, actually) to go look for whatever place was just mentioned in the news, in the conversation, in the book, in the FB note, whatever.

An easy way to enhance whatever your child is studying (be it in your homeschool or in public/private school) is to put up maps that are related. You can download them and bring them to Office Max/Kinko’s/any print shop and have them enlarged or just print them out at home. It really depends on you, your kiddo and the topic.

It works for me and I think it would work for you to look for maps to enhance your child’s curiosity and education. The internet is full of crazy maps, even if they aren’t wall sized, and I’m pretty sure you can find something for any topic your child is studying in history or geography. For example here a few I found:

Map of Lewis and Clark’s Route

Map of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Homes/Travels

If you can Google it, you can most likely find a map of it. Try it. What are your kiddos studying?

A few weeks ago I got a killer bargain on a wall map set just like the kind my teachers used when I was in elementary school.

Actually, it might be the actual one my teacher used, ahem. Whatever. This darling was one dollar for the wooden support and twenty-five cents for each map. Suh-weet!

Sure, the Asia map is out of date, but now it makes for a history lesson (USSR vs Russia, for example).

Sure, the dust is probably as old as I am, but these maps are huge and wonderful.

Add them to the ones I bought at Costco for only $7 each (the world map is behind the USA map, ran out of wall space), and I have a wall full of maps for my kids to look over that stay up year round. Our focus of study this year is a bit easier to find extra maps for (besides the big box of National Geographic maps in my cabinet, wahoo!) since we are studying a different country or region every few weeks. I put up maps about our area of focus for the week(s) to help them. I had two for Australia, so they got two views: city and topographical.


Texas stays up because… well… hello! It’s Texas.

This night view of the world map has sparked several conversations.

Putting up a map gives a topic a different perspective for us and for own children. It’s a visual. Literally. And we all known visuals enhance learning.

Go forth and find some fun maps for your kids! I bet you all end up learning something and having fun at the same time.

From Our School to Yours: Find some great maps for year round use and some specific ones for current studies. Maps often help kiddos understand an event better than talking about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

First Day of a New Season

There's nothing like a craft and a snack to help kiddos remember something. Anything, really.

Back in March, I wrote about our first day of spring activities. It was a blast, but didn't help any readers too much since I posted that day. Not like anyone was going to run right out and grab items to do a last minute first day of spring event, right?

So, this time, I'm giving you a head's up.

Wednesday is a new season. The first day of fall. Autumn arrives. A quirky season, in my opinion.

Anyhoo... after a quick Google for activities and a food craft that use items I have here already or don't mind picking up, here is what we are going to do with some fellow homeschoolers on Wednesday: (this is the one that will get booted if I'm not in a messy mood, just keepin' it real with you)

and... no way this one's getting booted...

I pick activities that are easy (meaning few steps and nothing complicated that the adult has to do for every kid) and fun. I also believe having a first day of the season craft or snack helps younger kids remember the season change better. Central Texas weather certainly doesn't clue them in, so eating an acorn will! A donut acorn, of course. Though... a real one would be more memorable probably.

From Our School to Yours: Choose a "simple for you" craft and/or snack to do with your kids this Wednesday to acknowledge the start of autumn. Your kiddos will be able to answer the question, "What season is it?" and, even better, it will be a family memory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Old Wildlife Tunnel Again and Again!

I can't believe we did it, but... we saw a colony of bats twice within twelve hours!

I posted photos awhile back of our trip to the Old Wildlife Tunnel in Fredericksburg on my blog, Grateful for Grace. It was great! The view was spectacular and the photos reflected that.

We sat at the top section because it was $5 a person to go to the lower section. Uhhh... $40 for our family? Not gonna do it.

BUT groups can reserve the lower viewing area (holds 70 people) on Monday through Wednesday nights for $40 total. Uhhhh.... $4.56 for our family. Yup!

Our homeschool group went last night. Wowza! What an experience! While my photos are not spectacular this time (I haven't mastered low light/lots of movement photography), the evening was for sure!

The Texas Parks and Wildlife volunteer spoke to the group first about bats in general, bat emergences, Mexican Free Tail bats, and such. It was delightfully educational and not too long.

Then the bats started emerging and jaws dropped. We were so stinkin' (pun intended... guano smell, ya' know) close to the bats it was startling at times. They swirled and circled and rose right before our eyes.

Three million bats.

This photo was taken with my camera zoomed in all the way, but not with a telephoto lens this time. We were seriously close to the bats.

Honestly, it was beautiful.

In a, "Wow! Three million little animals are flying right by my face" kind of way.

I didn't know that bat emergences can actually be seen on radar because of the amount of animals suddenly filling the sky at a precise spot! This photo shows what it looks like, on radar, when bats start coming out across a small area of Texas. This changes once the bats disperse, about twenty minutes later.
We've watched bat emergences four times (Lamar Street Bridge, Round Rock I-35 Overpass, and Old Wildlife Tunnel three times [third time is last on this post... keep reading!]). Old Wildlife Tunnel is so different. You can see the large river of bats, but you also have the option of seeing the bats up close. Each way of watching has its advantages. I'm glad I've been able to take the kids to see it both ways.

If you can get to The Old Wildlife Tunnel, I believe it's worth the drive. If you don't have a large family, it's worth the $5 a person. If you do have a large family, consider getting a group together to reserve the lower viewing area and splitting the price.

I'd recommend watching down at the lower viewing area for half the time (ask the volunteer how long it should last since this varies through the summer) and then, while it's still light and bats are still emerging, walking up to the higher area so you can see the long river of bats in the sky.

AND just when I didn't think it could get better! We went back this morning! The volunteer talked last night about how in the morning it's amazing to watch all the bats come home. She said it "is like it's raining bats" and that the "zoop!" sound they make as they tuck in their wings to dive down is awesome.

She was soooo stinkin' right, plus some!

We sat and were slack jawed for minutes just taking in the fact that bats were streaking right over our heads and all around the sky dropping into the tunnel entrance below. It was seriously astonishing.We arrived at 7am and couldn't believe our eyes and ears. Bats everywhere and, yet, seemingly from no where. They were simply dropping out of the sky, it seemed. Then we started to notice clouds of bats in different directions coming in from far off. They came home in shifts just like they had left.

I can not express how cool it was! It was worth leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning, in the dark, foggy of mind, to arrive and sit through such an unusual event. Wow.
My photos don't do it justice since the bats were flying at thirty-five miles an hour! I was able to capture one as it zoomed just four feet over my head, per chance, seen in the first photo. We were closer than these photos make it look. If you go, bring a video camera to capture the sights and sounds. You won't regret it!

The "breakfast with the bats" is free and a one of a kind experience. Again, The Old Wildlife Tunnel offers something special for your family that I believe will be talked about for years.

From Our School to Yours: Look for a bat colony site near you where you can watch an emergence. If you are in Texas, your chances for one nearby are very good! Take the time to go watch this crazy amazing event. It's still the right season for a month or so more. It's a wonderful field trip and it's usually FREE!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Break for Homeschoolers

We started school the first week of August. We were excited (and by we, I mean me) and in need of a schedule again (and by we, I mean them).

For the last eight days, we have been on our yearly vacation to the beach. For more than seven years, we've gone after Labor Day. It fits my husband's work schedule (he helps run a summer camp) AND the prices drop significantly the day after Labor Day. If you can take a vacation after Labor Day, you should seriously look into the price difference. It's crazy! (and by crazy, I mean good!)

The schooling benefit I've seen is that we get a break at a really wonderful time:
We've had school for four weeks, so we have tweaked to perfection (and by perfection, I mean works for us) our schedule for the year.
We have learned a good amount already and feel like we are really doing school.
We have been working hard and a break feels nice.

From Our School to Yours: No matter when you start school, consider take a mini-vacation after you've done a month or so of school and treat your students to a fun break. You don't have to go somewhere for a week, but have a stay-cation of some kind. You could even drive by a public school honking and waving, like we did.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Warlpiri Painting

Studying Australia for two weeks have been wonderful. What kid doesn't like to hear about kangaroos and koalas? Throwing in Aborigines and the need for workers for the harvest and you have a combination that doesn't quit.

The older three students and I read Red Sand, Blue Sky and watched (skipping one scene) Rabbit Proof Fence, along with more of our Sonlight Core 5 work. We all talked about Aborigines though.

I decided an easy hands on activity for Australia would be to do some (tweaked) Warlpiri painting. We already had the paints, thanks to some great friends, and some fabric.

We tried making little dots with the puff paint on white fabric, but the effect was nothing like Warlpiri.

So, we then used Q-tips and each child made their own paintings. Much more authentic looking. I loved it and the kids had a blast. Super cheap and super easy school art project.

Here's what we did:
Paint a black oval on paper (you could use any shape, but having a shape instead of a whole piece of paper gave it a more authentic look).
Put a Q-tip in each little container of poster paint. Reviewed again what Warlpirit painting is and what it looks like (we had a laptop near with images AND blessedly some gifts from friends: a digiridoo, a boomerang and some fabric all with Warlpiri on them).Let the kids' imaginations do their things.
They certainly haven't grasped the whole idea of Warlpiri, but they got a good taste and simple understanding. I think it's something they'll request to try again down the road. After their little pieces, they also have an appreciation for the effort and patience Warlpirit artists have to do their art. A wonderful side benefit to our art project.

Have you done any crafts lately?

From Our School to Yours: If you aren't much of a craft person (and believe it or not, I'm not), choose crafts that have as few materials as possible and simple steps. If you are a craft person, remember there are those of us out there that look at your craft room and shudder. Every homeschool can benefit from a craft every once in awhile. Try to take time to do it. I've found that putting it on the lesson plans ahead of time helps me follow through. Again, Google is your friend.