Please also check out my other blog:

Also check my other blog:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tall Tales

Today we read the first of three 'tall tales' in McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm by Sid Fleischman.  We have enjoyed other Fleischman's books, The Whipping Boy and By the Great Horn Spoon, so I expected that this would also be an enjoyable read.

A tall tale is a story with exaggerated, unbelievable elements that are related to the reader as if they were factual and completely true.  Tall tales are part of our American Folklore heritage and also part of my personal heritage, if you've ever had a conversation with my step-dad or uncle.  As McBroom (Fleischman) teases, "I'll tell you about the watermelons in a minute."

McBroom decides to move his wife and eleven children out west in search of a better piece of farm land.  Upon the way, he meets a sheister named Hector Jones who cons gullible McBroom out of his last $10.00.   But the joke is on 'Ol Heck, because the acre of land that the McBrooms are left with is so rich, you could harvest a crop in a matter of hours!  "I'll tell you about the watermelons in a minute."

The reading level of the book is second-grade, age 7.  My children are past this level but it was a book I kept hearing about and had never read so I read it aloud to my fifth grade boy, complete with the country accent it calls for. Of course he rolled his eyes when I said I was requiring the book, which for him can be completed in one sitting, but I saw him smile a few times at the outrageous events that take place in the tall tale. 

I would encourage you to read this book aloud with your early elementary children and add in some fun family activities like sprouting bean seeds, writing your own tall tales and eating watermelon then having a seed-spitting contest. Adding a character lesson about telling the truth would also be a great addition.

And about the watermelon, you'll just have to read the story to find out what happens.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rock Candy (a.k.a A Lesson in Saturation)

 Christian Kids Explore Chemistry   -     
        By: Robert W. Ridlon, Jr. & Elizabeth J. Ridlon

This morning my eight year old asked if he could make rock candy.  I said, "sure, let's get out the chemistry book and see how it's made."  If you know me, you know I cannot let such a terrific learning opportunity slip by without sneaking in every bit of knowledge possible.  At first, only Drew was participating, but it wasn't long before Sophie wanted to join in on the fun.

I acquired this book second-hand a few years ago but like so many other good intentions, it sat on the shelf just waiting to be used.  I searched the index for the section on saturation and voila!  The lesson included directions on creating a saturated sugar solution.  

To make the lesson even more valuable, I suggested that we use two jars, one with hot water, one with tap water.  

We added the sugar a few teaspoons at a time and recorded  on a small dry-erase board just how many teaspoons it took to reach saturation.  You can tell when saturation has been reached when the sugar crystals no longer dissolve.  Instead, they swirl around and settle on the bottom of the jar once stirring is ceased.  I plan to have them do a little math as well to see how many teaspoons makes a tablespoon so they know how many tablespoons were used, how many tablespoons makes a cup of sugar and did we use a whole cup?

Several interesting observations were made by the children during the sugar adding.  First, our wooden spoons began to float!  

That was unexpected and we will be doing more research to figure out why that happened. ( If you know why, don't tell, that ruins the fun of learning why for ourselves.)  Next, they realized that the water level was rising in the jars.  I expected this but it was fun to let them discover it on their own.  Finally, when we reached saturation, they wanted to add food coloring.  When added to the solution, the drop of coloring floated on the surface!  We had to stir to make it mix.  When we dropped food coloring in plain tap water, it began to mix on its own.   Another unexpected event that will be fun to research.

The hot water took much more sugar to become saturated. We can expand the lesson to explore why that happens.

We covered the jars with cheese cloth to allow the evaporation to begin but keep flies and other undesirables out of the jar.  Soon we will suspend a string into each jar so the crystals will have something to cling to.  
When we woke up this morning, we expected to be headed to a pool party.  The weather prevented that plan but  we made the best of it by sneaking in a fun experiment.  Who says elementary kids can't learn chemistry?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Scallop Season is Coming!

Bay scallops are bivalve molluscs that can be found on Florida's west coast.  They are usually found living in 4-8 feet of water and are bottom dwellers.   Previously harvested and sold commercially, they are now only available for recreational harvesting during a specific, regulated season.  A Florida salt-water fishing license is required for those over 15 years of age.  Open harvest season for bay scallops along Florida's Gulf Coast runs July 1-September 10. 

As a family, we enjoy harvesting and eating scallops.  Last year, we had a great time on Florida's Forgotten Coast, near Carrabelle, FL, in search of these fascinating and delicious molluscs.  My children floated for hours participating in this shallow-water treasure hunt. 

As we prepared for this year's trip, my ever-present thirst for knowledge reared its head and I began searching for information on the life cycle, migration habits, anatomy and any other information on scallops I could find, including recipes.  A unit study on vacation you ask?  Why not?
This is what we look for while gently gliding through the water with our snorkel, mask, fins and of course a mesh bag to stash the critters.

Maybe you've only seen a scallop sauteed in butter and garlic or perhaps battered and fried? Upon initial inspection, the bay scallop doesn't really appear fascinating while resting in its natural habitat.  But, wait!  

Bay Scallop Eyes and Gills
The scallop has eyes, brilliant neon blue eyes, lining the edge of both shells.  This picture does not do justice to the gorgeous color blue.   And how about those other little things (I WILL find out the proper name before my unit study ends)?  Makes it look like a venus flytrap!

When eating a scallop, the edible portion is just a tiny party of the whole scallop. It's actually the adductor muscle that opens and closes the shells.  (There are two shells, hence the name bi-valve mollusc.)   I intend to learn, right along with my children, about all the other parts that we discard when we clean these delicacies in preparation for dinner.

Ever seen a scallop swim?  Here is a great video showing the amazing maneuvers these molluscs can make.

   Below are the links I'm using as resources. We have some marine biology texts at home that we will also use.  Why not plan your own family trip to harvest scallops? 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a page on the anatomy and life cycle here.
Wikipedia Entry

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

They Are Just Like Us

If you had to choose, would you rather be blind or deaf?
How do they dance if they can't hear music?
How can they go bowling if they can't see the pins?
These are just a few questions that were asked today when the children and I visited the Florida School for the Deaf and The Blind for a tour of the campus.

Our tour was led by Mr. Rick Coleman, Parent Specialist.  Mr. Coleman, whose daughter is a graduate of the school, was a  knowledgeable guide and  extremely passionate about his school.  We began with a brief history of the school, which was founded in the late 1800's.  The original wooden buildings no longer stand but there are buildings dating back to the early 1900's.  The campus is vast and includes a hospital, bowling alley, police department, swimming pool, gym, libraries, state-of-the-art science and technology labs and much more making it a very desirable education choice for parents of deaf and blind children.  In fact, many of the children on our tour could be heard commenting, "I want to go to THIS school!"

Florida Residents do not pay to attend this institution and those that live on campus can take a charter bus home each weekend to visit their family.  There are about 400 students that live on campus ranging in age from 5 to 18.  Seniors in high school transition from dorms into independent living facilities so that they can prepare for life on their own.

One highlight of our tour was witnessing the rehearsal of a group of deaf  high school students preparing for a musical production. These students had more rhythm than many hearing people do!  They danced disco, swing and modern dance numbers all by keeping their eye on the instructor, who counts out the music in sign language.

On February 22, 2012, there will be an Open House for the community to come out and witness the outstanding achievements these students can make when given the opportunity.  Most of the sporting events are also open to the public, including games of Goal Ball, which is played by blind students.  The students have a case full of trophies representing their excellence in sports achievements.

Outstanding academics, sports programs, arts programs, a beautiful campus, a caring and dedicated staff and children who love to learn all contributed to an afternoon learning how blind and deaf students learn.  The children taking the tour were fascinated and pleasantly surprised to find out that they are just like us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Going on an ADVENTure!

Having grown up in a Baptist church, I had never heard of recognizing Advent until a friend recommended Arnold Ytreeide's Advent Trilogy.  Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means "coming".  It is a time of expectant preparation for the birth of Christ.  What a wonderful time to quiet and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah! 

As we are drawing closer to this season, I want to encourage you to pick one of the three Advent books and enjoy them with your family too!   All three titles, Jotham's Journey, Tabitha's Travels and Bartholomew's Passage, will transport your family back to the days leading up to the birth of Christ.  Suspenseful cliff hangers in the daily portions of the story leave your children begging for more!  (I have to admit, Tim and I would often be tempted to read ahead when they weren't looking.)

The idea is to read one of the three books each year and rotate them on a three-year cycle.  You can start with either book but Jotham was the first one written and is our favorite.  The author suggests these books for children eight and up because there are very intense action scenes.  Mr. Ytreeide weaves a wonderful historic fiction story yet manages to work in so many Biblical truths, names and customs.  Each night is also followed up with a short family devotional to talk about.  Instructions on making an Advent wreath is also included.

I hope you will enjoy one of the three books with your family this Advent Season.