Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sculpey Clay Vole Skeletons - Owl Pellet Follow-up

The virtual owl pellets were great, and less messy than the real thing, for certain.  But, I still felt like we should have some kind of hands on activity before we moved on.

So, I gave the older girls (ages 13 and 15) a couple of vole bone charts, enlarged to full page size, and slipped into plastic page protectors (after the Canadian map sheets were removed), and asked them if they wouldn't mind making, and baking up a couple of polymer clay skeletons for their younger siblings... piece together, glue down...

...and label...

...on sheets of construction paper.

Printing the bone charts out in a full page size made the tiny bones a lot easier to form out of clay, but it did make for super-sized skeletons.  It would have taken quite an owl indeed, to have made a meal out these mice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Virtual Owl Pellet Options

For those of you studying owls this fall, and contemplating the pros and cons of real verses artificial owl pellets, before you clear the kitchen table, and prep your oven for sanitizing the regurgitated remains of an owl's lunch, you might want to consider your virtual options.

We tried out a couple this evening, and found them fun, informative, and mess free. offers a free virtual owl pellet.  As you move, and click the mouse, you dismantle the pellet, and can move the bones inside to a labeled, or unlabeled bone chart to fill in a small skeleton, while interesting facts about owls flash across the screen.  D (age 11) worked happily through the site this evening, and gave it a positive review.

We also tried out an Owl Pellet Adventure app on the Kindle from  

The Owl Pellet Adventure is the first in what is supposed to be a series of K-6, interactive science apps.  It provides information about owls in a short story form, allows children to virtually dissect three pellets, and put together three different skeletons - a vole, a shrew, and a mole, as well as fill in a food web, and take a short, self-grading quiz.

We found the video story a little hokey, and a bit glitchy, but the dissection portion was interesting, the bone charts, and food webs informative, and I appreciated the short quiz at the end.  We paid $1.99 for the app on Amazon.  It was worth it for my younger two (ages 8 and 9), but for older children I'd probably stick with the free options available online.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Playdough Mat Maps and Furry Distractions

Getting ready to head into two different novels set in Canadian provinces, Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family, in Saskatchewan...

...and Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name, which takes place in British Columbia... seemed like a good time to throw in a quick country study.  We normally begin our country studies with a sugar cookie map project.  This morning though, noting from a number of posts in my blog reader, that it was play dough appreciation day, and seeing at the same time a couple of interesting mapping ideas from Die fantastischen 5, and angelicscalliwags  I decided to take an easier route, and follow the crowd.

Before the children got up this morning, I printed out a couple of maps of North America, one with the provinces, and states colored and labeled, and another that was just a blank outline.  I slipped the maps into plastic page protectors, and placed them on the breakfast table with a couple of cans of Play-Doh.

C (age 8) took right off covering the provinces, and a few states that matter to her, with Play-Doh...

...while E (age 9) began covering all of Canada with a single color of dough.

I had great plans for having them mark capital cities, and add major rivers, and such, until I spotted the baby bunny trapped in one of our basement egress window wells, and all thoughts of Canada were forgotten, in favor of a full scale rescue mission.

Which is not in anyway to say Canada is boring, or even the least bit uninteresting.  But, really how could any country compete with so much cuteness?

I had my hands full convincing the children, that unlike Farley Mowat's heroes, they could not keep their rescued "pet", and that wild animals, no matter how soft and cuddly, belong in the wild.  Thankfully for my cause, the only owls we've seen since moving into the neighborhood have been either on the pages of our books, or the walls of our dining room, or I'm quite certain we'd have a stowaway rabbit being "kept safe" in somebody's closet tonight.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Macrame Owls and Canadian Set Fiction

For some odd reason, I can't quite explain, I decided it would be fun to make macrame owls, this weekend.  My original intent was to craft alone, but after finding a 2010 post from That Artist Woman detailing a 4th grade art extension project, to go along with Farley Mowats Owl's in the Family...

...I decided it would be fun to bring my younger four (ages 8-13) in on the project, as well.  The owl pattern That Artist Woman used with her class doesn't seem to be available online anymore.  But, our library did have a copy of Owls in the Family on the shelf, and the after a little trial and error, I settled on a simple, easy to follow pattern from for us to use with it.

We made our owls from yarn, because we have a pretty good selection of fall colored yarn on hand...

...and the children raided the button box, trying out different combinations of yarn, eye, and beak colors until they were happy.

Having a very limited knowledge of macrame, I needed a pattern that was simple.  Somehow, I managed to live the entire first half of my childhood through the 1970s, without ever tying a single macrame knot (or doing any of those nail and string pictures, either).  Fortunately for me, the pattern we found, only uses four different knots: a larks head knot, for fastening the yarn onto a stick, or necklace string...

...a series of square knots for forming the top of the head...

...double half hitches to outline the face, and form the wings, and a couple of standard overhand knots to attach the bottom stick (broken chopsticks, in our case).

Each of the knots are explained, and demonstrated in the instructions in a way simple enough for even my eight year old to follow, with the smallest amount of help.  We worked on our owls on top of cardboard box lids, attaching them to the cardboard with bread ties, and using small pieces of clear tape to hook the yarn to the back of the board, when it needed to be kept at a certain angle, or pulled tight.

I worked with the children one at a time, and one step at a time, throughout the weekend.  It is a small project, that could have been completed all at once, but we took our time, and really enjoyed the whole process.

Finally, taking one last bit of inspiration from That Artist Woman, we displayed our completed owls, hanging them with clear tape on either side of their top sticks...

...perched on the branches of our fall to-do tree.

While the younger children and I enjoy Farley Mowats tale of life, and wildlife in rural Saskatchewan, I've picked another owl themed, and Canadian set story to read together with my teens...

...which I haven't read since I was a teen (in Saskatchewan, strangely enough) myself.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coloring Overlapping Leaves

For a quick time killer this evening, I put together a simple leaf-themed coloring activity in our Paint program, modeled after some of the overlapping circle projects I'd meant to do with the children this summer, but never got around to (like these).

First off, I started out by sketching out a rough maple leaf, and then copying, and pasting it across the page.

Then, I drew a sort of aspen-type leaf... copy, and paste over the top of the maple leaves.

I printed out a few full page copies for my younger girls (ages 8 and 9), and they colored them in, picking one color for where the leaves overlapped... for the parts of the aspen-type leaves that were not overlapping the maple leaves...

...another for the parts of the maple leaves that were not being overlapped...

...and a final color for the remaining background.

They really enjoyed the process of seeing their pictures change from a jumble of lines to recognizable leaves and patterns as they added to them color by color.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Leaf List - Things To Do Before the Leaves Fall

With fall crafts, and baking starting around our house this week, and since we've been on a leaf kick anyway, it seemed like a good time to put together our fall leaf list.

As usual, we taped up, and pieced together a paper bag tree (cut from a single grocery-sized paper bag). 

Then, we covered it with construction paper leaves, that each have one item from our fall to-do list written on them.  The leaves on our tree will  "fall" as we complete each item on our list.

A (age 13) took charge of the list, this year.  So far, this is what she's come up with for us:

  • Watch Mr. Peabody and Sherman on Amazon (releases 9-23-14)
  • Watch Maleficent (releases 11-4-14)
  • Celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving
  • Mom's birthday
  • Dad's birthday
  • E's birthday
  • Make Owl Cookies on the first day of fall
  • Make homemade candy corn
  • Make apple muffins
  • Gut a pumpkin
  • Make pumpkin muffins
  • Have pumpkin pie for breakfast
  • Make homemade applesauce
  • Donuts on a string
  • Unpack the last box
  • Spot a wild turkey
  • Get driver's permits (G and T)
  • Roast pumpkin seeds
  • Find a new fall festival
  • First snow
  • Make gingerbread men
  • Pumpkin science day
  • Drive to the nearest Starbucks for a pumpkin latte (Mom and Dad)
  • Make paper bag owls
  • Re-read Beverly Cleary's Ramona series (so younger girls will understand paper bag owls)
  • Watch How to Train Your Dragon 2 (releases 11-11-14)
  • Spot a turning snowshoe 
At least we think the little rabbits we've been seeing all over town are snowshoes.

Time, and the first real snowfall, ought to tell.  In the meantime, I've got some serious unpacking to do, if the "unpack the last box" leaf is going to fall before Thanksgiving, when we traditionally take down our tree.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fall Leaf Lesson Cookies

After covering the patio with fall sidewalk chalk leaves yesterday, the girls were cold, hungry, and ready for a snack.  I figured they'd appreciate a plate of warm, fall scented cookies fresh from the oven, and so had slipped inside to mix up a quick batch of sugar cookie dough, with a fall twist.

I mixed together our usual 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1 stick of butter, and two eggs, but left out the standard teaspoon of vanilla.  Instead, I divided the dough into fourths, and added a different flavor, and coloring to each portion of dough.

I chose baker's cocoa (about 2 tablespoons), maple pancake syrup (about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons) with red food coloring, and enough additional flour to offset the stickiness of the liquid, instant hot cider mix (about 2 teaspoons) with yellow food coloring, and pumpkin pie spice (about 1 teaspoon) with yellow and red food coloring to make orange.  To be honest, I didn't really measure the add-ins, but just added enough to make the dough smell good.

And, it did smell good - delicious in fact.

I gave the girls some of each color of dough to blend together, and roll out, along with a few freshly printed fall leaf identification sheets (from here and here) to use as guide for cutting leaf shapes from the dough with butter knives.

They didn't really try to match the appropriate colors to the shapes on the sheets, but did have fun discussing which type of leaf they were trying to copy.  And, thanks to a leaf anatomy sheet from the forestry section of

...they could name features, such as the midribs and veins, as they added them to their cookie creations.

The cookies smelled wonderful while baking (350°F for 13 minutes).  The children were skeptical about mixing the flavors together, but they blended nicely, and tasted as good as they smelled.

And, here we were thinking that with no trees in our new yard we'd be left without a leaf pile to dive into, this fall.  Problem solved.

Now, we just need to find a local fall foliage guide, so that as the leaves change around town, we can take a drive, and hopefully be able to identify some of the trees that are new to us, in this region of the country.