Friday, November 29, 2013

Making Perler Bead Keepsake Christmas Ornaments

Every year, since our oldest was a baby, we've given each child a special ornament to hang on the Christmas tree.  We started out with store bought, keepsake ornaments, trying to match them to the children's interests each year.  Then, as the family grew, we switched over to mom-made ornaments some of which you can see here.

I was a little surprised to find out how much more I liked the homemade ornaments than the store bought variety.  They just mean more.  Then, a few years ago, we switched from mom-made to child-made ornaments, working from kits to create a family activity, as well as new sets of ornaments.

This year, I picked up a big bucket of Perler, fusible beads, thinking we'd create ornaments following a Nativity scene pattern from the Perler website.  The children had other ideas.  As soon as they saw the beads, they were abuzz with project ideas.

It just so happens that the beads, once fused, give a wonderful, pixelly impression, perfect for creating old video game characters, or bringing Minecraft creations to "life".  It might not have been quite what I had in mind, but when your sixteen year old son asks if he can be the first to work on a Christmas craft project...

...or when older sisters are more than happy to give their younger sisters a hand...

...well, you don't complain.  Besides, it was interesting to see what each child chose to create for their ornament.  They created a few of their patterns themselves, and found a few they liked online.

When they were satisfied with their designs, I ironed them following the normal instructions to melt the beads together.  Then, while they were still hot...

...I used a darning needle to poke a small hole through the plastic, near the top, so they'd be...

...ready for hooks...

...and ready for the tree.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Readers Theater

The children were good enough to perform a readers theater version of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" for us, after our own Thanksgiving dinner, today.

Actually, I refused to serve the pie until they agreed to perform - but once they got started they all had a good time with it.  The script, which you can find by clicking here, is aimed at 3rd to 4th graders, though I think it might be better for students in the 5th-6th grades, as some of the parts require longer stretches of reading, with a few large vocabulary words thrown in.  With children on the both sides of that age range, it worked pretty well for our family.

There's a blogged sized snippet of the performance below, you know - for the grandparents. I think we might have hit on a new Thanksgiving Day tradition for our family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mystery Holiday Tea Tasting Game

We played this game this week, to put a little "mystery" into a mystery/masquerade tea, birthday party. It turned out to be enough fun (for adults as well as children), that it might make a nice addition to any holiday party.

First of all, I picked up an assortment of holiday teas - ones with crazy, and fanciful names, like "Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride" or "Nutcracker Sweet".

Then, I prepared paper cups - enough for each player to have one cup for each type of tea, labeling them with letters on the sides, and the names of each tea on the bottom.  I mixed it up for each player, so what was in cup "A" or "B" or "C" for one player wouldn't be the same for the player next to them.

I brewed a mug of each type of tea (easily enough for 8 players), being careful to keep track of which tea was which... I could ladle a little of each tea into the cups with the matching names on the bottoms.

I served the samples up to the players with a playing card - a piece of paper marked with the letters of the cups, and the names of the teas.

Then, while I read the description of the teas from the sides of the boxes, the players sampled the tea from the cups, and tried to match each of the cups' letters to the correct names.

Some of the teas were pretty obvious, while others were a real surprise.  It proved to be a great way to have some fun together, get a little sample of a number of different teas, and pick a holiday favorite (Celestial's Sweet Pumpkin Harvest for us) at the same time.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Egg Carton, Mix and Match, Thanksgiving Playset Craft

Need a craft to keep little hands busy while your cleaning and cooking for Thanksgiving?

Grab an egg carton (12 egg, not the 18 carton pictured) a few sheets of construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, crayons and markers...

...cut apart the egg carton, and pre-cut a few hat brims and feathers...

...and let children go to work coloring (for younger children you might also want to pencil in general details first)...

...and gluing together turkeys, Pilgrims and Indians...

...for acting out their own version of the Thanksgiving story...

...or just some mix-and-match, keeping-busy-and-out-of-the-way, Thanksgiving fun.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fall Science for Children - Pomegranates

I considered entitling this post, "How to Throw Together a Unit Study Before Breakfast", as this particular chain of experiments came about after the children talked me into buying a couple of pomegranates, and a quick Internet search informed me, that November is National Pomegranate Month.  But, I decided instead, for the sake of brevity, rather than to tell you about funny coincidences, and mornings with extra minutes, and too much coffee, I'd just present an outline of a lesson plan - as if I'd had plan all along, and actually knew what I was doing. 

As it turns out pomegranates make a great centerpiece for a science focused unit study, with plenty of jump off points into geography, linguistics, history and literature along the way.

Materials needed:
  • 2 or more pomegranates, depending on the number of children participating
  • a large bowl, preferably glass, filled with water
  • a Ziploc-type bag
  • a rolling pin
  • scissors
  • one paper cup per student
  • planting soil, enough to fill each cup
  • a large package of clear plastic cups
  • items for testing pH such as lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, milk, etc.
  • a produce scale
  • measuring spoons and cups
  • paper and pens for recording information
  • coffee filters (optional) for making pH indicator strips
  • a bag of fresh cranberries (optional) for comparative observation
  • a number of clean spoons or straws for stirring
  • paper towels
Book Suggestions:
  • Pomegranates a Delicious Fruit by Veda Boyd Jones - an easy reader, good for younger children, but fact filled enough to be of interest to older students.  Contains a useful glossary of pomegranate related vocabulary.
  • Any version of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone.  We chose Demeter and Persephone, A Tale of Love by Megan Musgrove from Publication International's Treasury of Best-Love Children's Stories.  The myth explains how Hades, the god of the underworld, used a pomegranate to trick and trap Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, into spending six months out of every year in the underworld with him.  It works both as a literature tie-in and as an additional science starter for an investigation into the science behind the seasons.
Additional Media:
  • Good Eats Season 10, Episode 14 "Fruit 10 From Outer Space" (can be purchased for instant view from Amazon).  While the pomegranate episode is informative, entertaining, and rated TV-G, I would suggest previewing it if you plan on showing it to younger children.  There is an alcohol reference/recipe, and Mr. Brown's humor can tend toward the morbid and somewhat bizarre on occasion.
Target Age

Early elementary - high school, depending on the depth and scope of the research and discussion. Pomegranate lessons work especially well for mixed aged groups with plenty of information for older students, and lots of hands on fun for younger children.

Lesson Plan:

  • Watch the Good Eats pomegranate episode.
  • Weigh the pomegranates, before peeling them.  Then, weigh the arils/seeds, once they have been separated, zeroing out the weight of whatever container you put them in, to determine what percent of the the pomegranates' weight is from the "seeds".
  • Read about Hades and Persephone (mentioned in the Good Eats episode), while peeling the pomegranates, using the underwater method from the episode (also mentioned by Veda Boyd Jones). If you are working with a mixed group of ages, have an older child read the myth while younger children peel the pomegranate.

  • This is a good opportunity to compare pomegranates to cranberries.  Cranberries (filled with air) float in water, while pomegranate arils (filled with sugary juice) sink.

  • Plant some of the pomegranate seeds in dirt filled paper cups, as suggested in Jones' book.  This is also a great time to compare the seeds of the pomegranate to the tiny cranberry seeds (if you cut one open to look at the air pockets inside, you will be able to see the seeds as well).

  • Place some of the pomegranate arils into a Ziploc bag, and roll a rolling pin over the top to juice them.  Snip a corner off the bag to allow the juice to pour out.  (This is the method suggested by Veda Boyd Jones.  Alton Brown suggests several additional methods.)

  • Explain that anthocyanin is a pigment often responsible for the red color we see in things like
    cranberries, fall leaves, and flowers such as poinsettias.  
  • Children familiar with anthocyanin might remember that it can be used as a pH indicator.  You can dip a coffee filter into the juice, and then cut it into strips once it is dry, or just mix solids or liquids directly into cups of the juice.
  • Allow opportunity for children to test a number of household solutions such as milk, lemon juice, baking soda, soap, and so on with small amounts of the juice.  It will turn pink (not very dramatically because the juice begins as a red) when mixed with an acidic liquid, and dark purple (with bubbles, because the juice is also acidic to begin with) when mixed with a base.

  • Once children have tested several liquids with the juice, have the arrange their cups (labeled with a sharpie) in order, from darkest to lightest.  Cranberry juice, made by steeping fresh cranberries in boiling water, can also be used as a pH indicator for comparison.

  • Instruct children ahead of time not to taste the juice from any of their cups.  We used all edible ingredients, but even so, many would not have been pleasant tasting.  Be sure though to set aside some of the seeds, and juice for sampling, or for an experiment that can be tasted.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Turkey Tree - Thanksgivng Countdown

It seems to me like fall has just begun.  But, somehow there are already more fall-to-do-leaves under our paper bag tree, than left on it. And, the first two of our thankful turkeys have already taken their places in the branches.

The turkey tree (another Peanuts nod) is our way of counting up our blessings as we count down the days of November until Thanksgiving.  Each day, one of the children prints something they are thankful for on a hand print turkey, and tapes it to the tree.  That way, by the time Thanksgiving comes around we've got a tree full of thankful turkeys to remind of us of exactly what we are celebrating.

We started the tradition when the children were a good deal smaller. Over the last couple of years I've had to seriously expand the branch space of our tree to ensure enough room for the increasing size of our hand print turkeys.

It's probably a little odd to ask teenagers to join in such a craft, but I have to say, looking at the crayon colored, construction paper birds lined up on our piano top ready to be placed on the tree...

...I'm thankful for teenagers who are good enough sports to do a silly hand print craft for the sake of carrying on a family tradition long enough for their younger siblings to enjoy, too.

It's great to be a homeschooler.