Archive for ‘Homeschool Activities’

November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Wreath

This is a Thanksgiving wreath that my son made last year…. 

We’re having a cozy Thanksgiving at home this year, and the only true activity we are doing besides cooking, eating, and reading our Thanksgiving books is make this autumn wreath out of cotton, natural items from our yard and natural items that my son’s cousin sent him last year from his yard in Colorado (a very cool X-mas present)! My son arranged these on some cardboard I cut in shape of a wreath and glued them down himself with a hot glue gun. 

For more autumn and Thanksgiving activities to do with young children, you can read the post I wrote two years ago: November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children.  If you have any activities you want to share, feel free to post a link in the comments section.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have taken the time to read my blog. I hope you are warm, safe, loved and happy.

August 8, 2013

Summer Scavenger Hunts

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

If you need some more activities to do with your children on these long summer days, try a scavenger hunt. Earlier this summer I made one up for my six- and three-year-old, and they had a blast. Kids love to have a mission.

I gave my six-year-old a list of ten items, and little did he know that I hoped he’d put some effort into reading the list. I was right – the game motivated him to read, and the three-year-old was in charge of carrying the bag, which he was proud to do.

My list included things they would have to search for inside and outside the house. I tried to think of fun things that my son likes too: A little seed, flower from the woods, pinecone, big seed, red crayon, string, little ball, something purple, something blue, and a bug.

I was worried that they would find everything in ten minutes, but my list was just the right size – it gave me about 45 minutes to sit on the porch and read! They were very proud of themselves when they reported back to me with all the loot.

Another variation of this game is great for preschoolers learning their numbers. When the six-year-old was four, I used to write the numbers 1-10 in chalk on the sidewalk. Then I would put dots under the numbers, which represented the amount. One dot under the number one, two dots under the number two, and so forth.

Then we would find things around the yard to put on top of the dots: one toy car, two flowers, three leaves, four twigs, five acorns, and so on…  He always had fun doing that.

Last year my sister-in-law sent the boys a Venn diagram with lots of fun trinkets for Valentine’s Day, and my boys loved it. We sorted those trinkets a half a dozen times. The other day I thought I would put a summer twist on it.

A Venn diagram is a visual way of sorting and comparing a group of things. Draw two or more circles and overlap them. Each circle will be labeled with one characteristic. If an object has that characteristic, it will go into one circle. If it has two characteristics, it will go in the area where the circles overlap.  If it doesn’t have any of the characteristics, it will go outside the circles. Is that clear as mud?

Let me explain.  I drew three big, overlapping circles with chalk on the pavement, and I labeled one “brown,” one “hard,” and one “curved.” Then the boys and I looked around the yard for what we could find with those characteristics. The first thing the boys picked up was a twig. It was brown, hard and curved, so it went in the middle of the diagram where all the circles overlapped.

A rock wasn’t brown, but it was hard and curved, so it went in the space where the circles “hard” and “curved” overlapped. We decided that a flower and a green leaf were only “curved”, so they went in that circle.

My son thought we should add a circle labeled “green,” so we tried that. After awhile, it was hard to find different kinds of objects outside, so I think this activity might have been more fun using toys or a variety of indoor and outdoor objects. It kept my sons busy for a few minutes, but the best part is that it got them outside, and as they searched the yard, other things caught their attention. Before I knew it, they were off exploring and playing on their own.

Do you love scavenger hunts? What versions do you play?

March 29, 2013

How to Make a Terrarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 27, 2013.

If you’re eager to plant some greenery, but you’re still waiting for the threat of frost to pass, you might enjoy making a terrarium for inside the house. My plant-loving six-year-old found instructions in First Nature Activity Book by DK Publishing, and he asked if we could make one. I didn’t see why not.

Luckily for me, it’s fairly simple to make.  Here’s what you need: a clear container with a wide neck and an air-tight cover, small pebbles, charcoal, peat-based potting soil, small ferns, different types of moss, lichen-covered twigs or bark.

We had the charcoal, and we had plenty of moss, lichen and small ferns growing in shady spots in our yard, but we didn’t have the other ingredients. At the garden store, I bought a bag of pebbles and the peat-based potting soil. At the pet store, I found a medium-sized Kritter Keeper, and I lined the top with cellophane to make it airtight. A decorative glass container would be prettier but more expensive, or you could easily use an old aquarium.

When you let the kids do the work, they have fun cleaning up after themselves. (Sometimes.)

First, line the bottom of the container with enough pebbles to cover it evenly.  The pebbles are there for drainage. Next, add a layer of charcoal. We put in a fairly thin layer, but we covered the pebbles completely and evenly.

This is not the way I recommend you put in the charcoal. By pouring it in, it covered the walls with black soot and we had to clean them. Just be more careful.

My six-year-old had fun when I put some pieces of charcoal in a baggie and let him pound them on the sidewalk with a hammer to break them into tiny pieces.  The charcoal is supposed to act as a filter, keeping the terrarium smelling good. I have read different opinions online about whether it’s needed or not, but for a closed terrarium, it’s probably a good idea.

Next, add a thick layer of the peat-based potting soil, but leave plenty of space for the plants. Now the terrarium is ready for the plants.

We had to do some trimming.

We found all our plants in our yard. There was a small, pretty wild plant growing next to our house under the monkey grass, and I never had the heart to pull it out. I thought we’d give it a chance in the terrarium even though I have no idea what it is.

I also found an offshoot of some Japanese painted fern, which I had planted years ago near our front porch.  My six-year-old and three-year-old had a great time going around the yard collecting moss – much more than we needed.  We also found a small piece of bark with lichen growing on it.

As we arranged the plants inside the terrarium, I decided my son needed a lesson in garden design so that he wouldn’t crowd everything together. Later, I also read that we shouldn’t put too much moss into the terrarium so that the moss doesn’t overpower the small plants.

Once the terrarium is finished, you need to water it well, but after that, you only need to use a spray bottle once in a while to mist the plants and soil. Keep the lid open until the sides of the container have no more water droplets on them, and then shut it tight.

The terrarium needs to sit in a well-lit area, but no direct sunlight should fall on it.  Remember, these are shade plants.  Fertilizer isn’t needed either.  You don’t want the plants to grow too big, and when they start to get too big or the leaves touch the sides of the container, you’ll need to trim them.

After a few days, I noticed our plants looked a little brown and yellow, so I snipped off those leaves and hoped for the best.  Now, it’s looking good, and I’ve noticed some new growth on the wild, unidentified plant and the moss!

This was a fun, easy project, and it’s a perfect for children who enjoy planting or who are learning about plants.

Have you ever made a terrarium? 

November 24, 2012

The Junior Ranger Program

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. 

Ever since I learned about the Junior Ranger Program, I’ve been looking forward to when my son could participate.  Any child age 6-12 can participate, and it’s a great way to get outdoors, explore nature and learn about Georgia’s history.  It’s also a good way to teach about setting goals and working toward something.

In order to participate, all you have to do is pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger Activity Book at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office.  You can also download the book online in pdf format at http://www.gastateparks.org/JuniorRanger

The book has a series of activities for children to complete, and a checklist for an adult to initial when they complete each activity.  Adults can help children with the activities.  There are three levels, and upon completion of each level, children will receive a junior ranger badge to display proudly wherever they want.

Level 1 is recommended for ages 6-7, and they must complete seven of the activities.  Level 2 is for ages 8-10 and requires 10 activities to be completed. Level 3 is for ages 11-12, and they must complete 14 of the activities.  Children may use the same booklet for each level, and the activities they did for their first level can count towards the next, if they want them to.

There’s information in the booklet for parents to read to the children so that they’ll become aware of things to stay away from when they hit the trails, such as poison ivy and venomous snakes. It tells you how to prepare and be safe while exploring the wilderness.  After this, there are several pages of activities for the children to complete.  Each page gives separate instructions for each level of participation.  My son is working on his first badge, Level 1, so the activities are fairly easy.

Some of the activities my son has done so far are identifying Georgia pine trees, taking a guided walking tour, observing wildlife, and visiting a historical site.  He only needs to complete three more activities to obtain his badge.

There are plenty to choose from.  He might identify plant and animal life in a body of water, or go fishing, go on a plant scavenger hunt, visit one more historical site, observe the night sky, or identify at least two nocturnal animals.  If my son isn’t into any of that, there are some other choices too.

With 63 sites statewide and a site 50 miles of every Georgia resident, it should not be hard for any child to participate in this program, especially since participants can take as long as they need to complete the activities.  You don’t have to do the activities in a state park either, although some of the activities such as visiting a historical site might require that.

When completed, all they need to do is present their checklist at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office, or there’s an address in the booklet to mail the page to.  Participants who mail their page in will receive their badge in 2-4 weeks.

Occasionally there are Junior Ranger day camps or workshops that participants can attend.  These usually happen in the summer, and will be listed on the Georgia State Park and Historical Sites calendar of events: http://www.gastateparks.org/events.

Recently they have also started a Get Outdoors Georgia Gopher Badge too.  This is for kids 7-14 years old, and there’s a separate list of fun requirements for this badge too.  You can download the requirements for this badge here: http://www.getoutdoorsgeorgia.org/downloads/JrRangerGopherBadge.pdf.

If you are interested in this program, you’ll also want to subscribe to the Junior Ranger E-newsletter.  My son receives it at his own e-mail address, and he has fun reading about wildlife, viewing photos and doing some of the suggested activities.

For families able to travel, there’s also a Junior Ranger Program for the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm.  I don’t know when we’ll get a chance to visit a national park, but my son has had fun using their on-line Junior Ranger program.  Children can play more than 50 games and learn about our national parks, monuments and historic sites. The website also tracks the children’s progress.

Whether you have some Junior Rangers in your house or not, I hope you get a chance to get outside and experience the healing qualities of nature this holiday season.

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

{Thanksgiving Wreath}

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!  

We’re having a cozy Thanksgiving at home this year, and the only true activity we did besides cooking, eating, and reading our Thanksgiving books was make this autumn wreath out of cotton, natural items from our yard and natural items that my son’s cousin sent him last year from his yard in Colorado (a very cool X-mas present)! My son arranged these on some cardboard I cut in shape of a wreath and glued them down himself with a hot glue gun. (This idea and the cotton was courtesy of Dotty at the William Harris Homestead – thanks, Dotty!)

For more autumn and Thanksgiving activities to do with young children, you can read the post I wrote last year: November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children.  If you have any activities you want to share, feel free to post a link in the comments section.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have taken the time to read my blog. I hope you are warm, safe, loved and happy.

 

September 29, 2012

Native American Day

Yesterday was Native American Day, and since my son has shown interest in learning about Native Americans in the past, I thought he would enjoy commemorating the day.  These are just a few easy things I was able to do without much planning.

(We have checked out library books on Native Americans in the past, so I didn’t feel the need to do it again. If you are interested, however, there’s a wonderful series that starts each title with “If you lived with…”  They are for older children, but my six-year-old enjoyed listening to me read parts of those books.)

  • We read a book from our own library, The Very First Americans.  We’ve read it several times, and it’s a great starter book for understanding who the Native Americans are.
  • I had my son watch this very short video on National Geographic.
  • We did this totem pole craft that you can see in the photo.  My son loved it, and he’s very proud of his creation!  You can get the easy instructions and template here.

This is my son’s story he made up for his totem pole: The eagle at the top is protecting a lake from the two monsters (just below him).  The two faces on the bottom help the eagle protect the lake and keep the monsters from stealing all the water from the animals!  Well, he told it much better, but you get the drift!

There were also some cool events happening at some Georgia State Parks today, but we’ve been so busy, I needed a day at home!  I also think it’ll be easier to attend things like that when my three-year-old gets a little older.

What are your plans this weekend? 

 

August 27, 2012

Gardening Experiment Success

{Growing Pinto Beans In a Jar}

Remember the pinto beans my son sprouted in a jar?  Well, we planted a few of the sprouts in our garden, and a couple of them have been growing well and are giving us beans!  Unfortunately, they have caterpillars eating the leaves right now, so that means we’ll have to learn a lot more about organic gardening in the future.  But I’m tickled pink that we got something to grow!  My six-year-old is very happy too!

UPDATE: I just found these instructions on how to harvest pinto beans!

May 19, 2012

Homeschool Science Classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia

I have already written about my five-year-old’s favorite knee-high naturalist class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA. Now it’s time to write about the other awesome classes they have that are just for homeschoolers!  We’ve been taking the Homeschool Science classes this past year, and we intend to keep taking them as long as we can.  I can’t sing the praises of the staff and volunteers at the nature center enough. They are a wonderful group of people who truly care about educating children.

Homeschool Science classes are once a month and last for two hours each.  There are two separate classes – one class for ages 5-9 and another for ages 10-15.  They are very reasonably priced (at this time: $4 per class for Athens-Clarke County residents and $6 per class for non-residents) and you can sign up for just one or all of them.  Parents accompany the students and many younger siblings tag along too.  Everyone I have encountered there has been easy-going yet eager to learn and help the kids.  Surprisingly, my two-year-old wasn’t too much trouble for me when I brought him along:

Every class begins with indoor instruction/activities and then everyone goes outside for a hike and other activity.  Classes are usually divided into two or more groups, depending on the size, and then they rotate the activities.  Quite a few people enroll in these classes!  

In our last class, we learned about fish, and the whole class got to go fishing! (Complete with safety instructions too.)  Another group went to another area and used small nets to catch critters in the pond.  Then the groups changed places.  The staff and volunteers always make sure that all the kids get to participate and receive any help they might need.  Parents also help as needed.  (I wish I had my camera when my son was fishing for the first time! The photos you see on this page were taken during two other classes.)

If you are a newbie to these kind of classes and have small children, you might find that a two-hour class is quite long!  At least, I felt that way the first couple of times.  I was quite tired at the end.  For some reason, it feels a little easier for me now.  Maybe that’s because I’m physically and mentally prepared.  I make these recommendations for you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes that can get dirty. Most classes include a hike in the woods. Strollers are not accessible.
  • Pay attention to weather and wear appropriate clothing. They WILL GO OUTSIDE EVEN ON COLD, RAINY DAYS.
  • Bring snacks/water, but nothing difficult to carry.  Students don’t eat during the class, but I’ve noticed several kids are ready to eat right after class.  My five-year-old doesn’t need to eat, but I usually have to give my two-year-old a snack, if he’s with us.  I keep water in the car for the drive home.
  • I wear a small backpack so that my arms and hands are free.  This makes my life easier all the time – not just during this class!  But I do recommend it for the class.
  • You may want to leave your toddlers at home with a babysitter the first time so that you can see how the class goes, but don’t worry if you need to bring them with you.

Please share where you live and your favorite classes available to homeschoolers.

February 22, 2012

January / February Activities with Small Children

One of my goals this year was to plan a lesson / activity around each of the holidays, and I wanted to try to start some new traditions too.  Unfortunately, I have not started off well in this 2012 New Year.  Though I’ve done a few projects for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and even Groundhog Dog, I didn’t feel very prepared, and I didn’t do anything for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Washington’s Birthday.  Oh well.  I plan to do this every year, so I’ll make up for eventually.  Since my boys are so young, I have probably done just enough anyway.

To help myself, I’ve just looked up and bookmarked some sites that will tell me the holidays.  Here they are:

2012 American holiday schedule:

Here’s a few visuals and notes about what I did accomplish these past two months. (I’ll repost this next year before the holidays.)

January 1, 2012 – New Year’s Day

For New Year’s, I thought it would be a good time to go over the months of the year with my five-year-old.  He has already learned the days of the week on his own.  I think he’s motivated because he likes to know what our plans are, and he understands that some of our routines happen on a weekly basis.  He almost knows the months of the year, but not quite.

I made these calendars with the boys and laminated them, but I admit, it was more for me than for them.  They had fun creating a list of their “favorites” for 2011, though.  It’s a great item to put into their keepsakes box.

We put a 2012 calendar on one side and their list of favorites for 2011 on the other.  I invited them to decorate the calendars, but the five-year-old wasn’t really into it.  (This seems to be typical of him.  I think decorating is more of a girl thing.)  He did want to cut out his calendar and list and paste it to the construction paper, though.  He also picked the color black – one of his favorites.

I also made this peace dove for New Year’s.  Again, I thought five-year-old might enjoy making it since he likes making so many animals out of paper, but it turned out I did the creating here.  And it turned out rather blah too.  Oh well.

February 2, 2012 – Groundhog Day

If it wasn’t for checking the Internet on the morning of the 2nd, I would have missed Groundhog Day altogether.  Athens has a pretty fun Groundhog Day celebration with Gus, the groundhog who resides at Bear Hollow Zoo.  We may have been able to make it there that morning, but it was cold, and I wasn’t feeling that energetic.  So, I turned to the Internet to help me.

I printed off some fun sheets to color, which you can access by clicking here.  Whereas in the past my boys have not been into coloring at all, I’ve noticed that changing a bit.  They had fun with these sheets, and we hung them on the bulletin board.

I told my five-year-old what the holiday was about, and we watched several videos about groundhogs and Groundhog Day on YouTube.  Here’s a couple, and you’ll find many more on YouTube.

  • Ground Hog Day (2012 HD) – watch a real groundhog take a peek outside his burrow.  I enjoyed the music on this one.
  • Groundhog Day – Get some more information about groundhogs and Groundhog Day history on this one.
It happened to be a lovely, springlike day, so we also went outside to see if we could see our shadows!!
Despite my lack of preparedness, I could tell that my five-year-old enjoyed learning and celebrating Groundhog Day.  At the end of the day, I said, “I’ll have to check the newspaper to see if Gus saw his shadow today.”  The five-year-old said, “I just don’t understand…..groundhogs don’t understand like people do.”  He’s a smart little guy.  I told him, “Yep. The groundhog has no idea what all the fuss is about.  This holiday is just for fun….”
February 14, 2012 – Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d get an early start (unusual for me, if you can’t tell), so we started making crafts a week or two early.  I made this Valentine’s mailbox, and the five-year-old helped me decorate it.  I wrapped a box with some old paper that they had already drawn on.  (I try to recycle whatever I can.)

The best part of preparing for Valentine’s Day was teaching my five-year-old how to make a heart: by folding a piece of paper, drawing half a heart with its center on the crease, and then cutting it out.  Once he opened it up, he was so happy to discover a perfect heart!

However, he couldn’t quite draw half a heart very well, so my five-year-old was very disappointed with his first attempts.  Since he can be quite a perfectionist, he usually gives up when this happens.  I was pleasantly surprised to watch him keep trying this time.  Soon, he mastered heart making, and once he could make some good hearts, there was no stopping him!  We strung his hearts up along the doorway to our activity room and also pinned them to our bulletin board.  It was really fun for me to watch him do the decorating on his own!

We’re lucky to own a few Valentine’s Day books, so we read those too:

  • My First Valentine’s Day Book - This a great book for 2~3 year olds, and my 5-year-old still likes it too.  It consists of simple rhymes, and there are little cards on each page that your child can take out of an envelope and read.
  • The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson – Also for youngsters. A cute book emphasizing how we make our own Valentines and give them away.
  • Valentine’s Day by Cass R. Sandak – This is a great book, but I got lucky and found it at a library sale. It has the history and customs of Valentine’s Day throughout history. It’s for older kids, so I only read my five-year-old a few pages.

We also made (and bought) some Valentines for each other.  I made each of the boys a special card with their names on it and described their personalities and things they like to do.  Similar to the calendar, and it’ll go into their keepsakes box.

Unfortunately, on Valentine’s Day, I was extremely sick with a bad cold and fever, so some other things I had wanted to do will have to wait until next year.  :(

So please tell me, what kinds of traditions do you have during January and February?  Do you celebrate these holidays and/or celebrate other holidays / traditions this time of year?

December 21, 2011

December & Christmas Activities with Small Children

These are snowflakes that we made last year for the tree. I hung them up in the entrance way of our activity room. They make a pretty decoration.

A while back I wrote about my desire to make new family traditions for my family, and December seems like a great time to do that.  However, I have to admit, I have kept this December extremely simple and I’ve done nothing to intentionally start anything new.  This might also be laziness on my part too.  But right now with a 5 and 2 year old, it feels like an accomplishment to get our regular chores done let alone begin new projects!  So I haven’t stressed.  I’ve just done what I could do easily and what the boys were receptive to.

(However, part of the reason I haven’t had to do much is because my husband initiated a new goal for the family!  I’ll be writing about this in an upcoming post. You can read about that here!)

So let’s see.  What have we done?  We have done what we’ve always done…..

  • We decorated a Christmas tree.  And this year, my five-year-old put all the ornaments on by himself!  That was special.
  • We also put a small tree in the five-year-old’s room.  We’ve done this the last few years, so I think we can call it a tradition.
  • This should have been written up under my “November Activities” post, but in early November, I always help my son write a letter to Santa Claus. This year I forgot to put a stamp in the envelope, but if you put a stamp in the envelope and address it to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” you’ll probably get a reply like we did last year!!
  • My five-year-old and I decided to make puppets with some extra cardboard I found and popsicle sticks.  We drew pictures on the cardboard, cut them out, pasted a popsicle stick on the back, and voila! a puppet!  We made some for my little nephews, and then my son wanted to make some for his friends. (A proud mama moment!)
  • We have been reading our Christmas books.  (I keep all the seasonal books tucked away so that we can pull them out around the holidays and they seem like new.)
  • Yesterday I baked one batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with the five-year-old while the two-year-old was napping, and yep, that’s the extent of my baking for the holidays.
  • This week I’ll let my boys watch some Christmas specials on T.V. if they want to.  We own the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
  • We strung up frosted Os for the tree.  We also did this last year, so maybe we can call it a tradition.  Frosted Os (or some kind of generic version) are big and easy for a little one to hold and string!  (That is, if he’s willing to do it.)  (Also, word to the wise: do not put them low on the tree if you have a dog.  Also don’t leave them on the kid’s activity table while the dogs are in the house.)
  • For an easy craft, I cut out the shape of a Christmas tree out of green construction paper, and then I cut out different colored shapes such as a star and circles, squares, triangles & small rectangles to make ornaments.  (My intent was to help my 2yo learn his shapes, but the craft didn’t hold his attention for very long.)  I put all the shapes and bits of paper into a plastic bag with a glue stick and a few extra Christmas stickers, and I told my boys they could make a Christmas tree whenever they wanted. I wasn’t sure my five-year-old wanted to do it, but he finally asked for it today.

So that is what I have done this December. There’s also a few things I didn’t do:

A simple craft: cut out the shape of a tree and several different shapes to use as ornaments. Stickers are also fun to add.

  • We didn’t decorate the outside of our house.  (Except for a small wreath on the door.)
  • I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. (Needed to save time and money.)
  • We didn’t do a lot of baking. (Except for that one batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.)
  • We didn’t drive around looking at Christmas lights.  (This was a favorite tradition of mine growing up.)
  • I didn’t buy a lot of presents (don’t have the money anyway), make any presents (except for the easy puppets), or invite anyone over for a Christmas get-together.

My main goal this December was to just enjoy the time with my boys, husband and keep up with our daily routine because when I don’t do that, we can all get quite frazzled.  Like I said above, with a 5 and 2 year-old, it’s an accomplishment to get anything done, and routine is important to them.  As their mom, I have to be ready for their mood changes (which can be swift), illnesses or whims (“I don’t want to do a craft, Mommy!”)  I also want to honor daddy’s ideas for family outings while he’s home on winter break.  So, not overwhelming myself with extra chores or expectations is key to making me a good mother.  (At least, most of the time.)

Whether you celebrate Christmas, another holiday, or none at all, I hope this winter season is warm, happy and peaceful for you!  Please leave me a comment and tell me what celebrations or activities you are participating in this December.

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