Field Trips Feed

Is Chocolate an Element?

Well, it really should be, don't you think? I mean, I figured something so basic to human life surely must have its own square on the periodic chart. Probably right next to hydrogen, or maybe even oxygen. But just to be sure I pulled out our handy dandy chemistry book to check, and sure enough:

I found CHoCoLaTe on the Periodic Table of Elements! ;)

Can you?

All right, I confess this is all just a rather silly way to introduce a post about Bookworm's morning chemistry class AND the delicious hot chocolate cake we baked this afternoon ...

But first let's address the chemistry portion of this post. (The chocolate part is still simmering away in the slowcooker; I have to wait another hour to elaborate on that.)

Well, in the picture below you see our Bookworm smiling from the front steps of MIT this morning. Bill took him in for a chemistry class, one of a series of fabulous homeschool classes the college offers. Though lots of homeschoolers I know have participated in this program for a while now, this was our first experience with it. It's been one of those things I've kept in the back of my mind - for someday, you know - but when I read they were teaching chemistry (which we're covering this year) using LEGOS (which we've had underfoot since Bookworm was four), well I knew the time was right to check it all out!


And below you see our son in the lab, in the the midst of an experiment with his teacher and partners - goggles and all! (He's in blue on the far right.)


Back at home, Bookworm pulled out some Legos to show us what he learned. These three Lego pieces represented oxygen (black) and nitrogen (gray) ...


... which, when stuck together, formed nitrous oxide (more commonly known as laughing gas).

When Bill and Bookworm came home (just ahead of that heavy rain and wind, by the way) they were full of praise for the class (and the campus) and hoping to look into future offerings. Will do. Where's my clipboard?

Now, about that chocolate I promised.

Well, as I type up this post my husband has a delicious chocolate cake baking in (of all things) the slowcooker. Oh, I wish I could make this blog scratch and sniff - you would not believe how good my house smells right now.

The Hot Fudge Cake, as the recipe is called, is a test run for the "Slowcooker Cookoff" to be held in Bill's department tomorrow. (Last year it was cookies, this year it's crockpots.) Bill was keen for me to enter the competition again, but truth be told, I have very little use for my slowcooker - other than the occasional Sunday pot roast. (I know I should use it more - I'm open to suggestions!) And since I had no slowcooker "specialty" to speak of, I told Bill I should probably sit this one out. Well, he'd have none of that, lol - so together we poured over my Fix-It-and-Forget-It Cookbook looking for something to try. I'm a baker at heart, so we stuck to the dessert section and finally landed on this one:

Hot Fudge Cake

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups boiling water
  • vanilla ice cream
  • (We added whipped cream, chocolate jimmies and a maraschino cherry!)
  1. Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, flour, 3 Tbsp. cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Stir in milk, butter and vanilla. Spread over the bottom of slowcooker.
  3. Mix together 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. SPrinkle over mixture in slow cooker.
  4. Pour in boiling water. Do not stir.
  5. Cover and cook on High 2-3 hours, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  6. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream (and if you want to really go all out, a spray of whipped cream, a sprinkle of jimmies and a cherry on top!)

Sounds good? Well, you should see how it looks (the timer just rang!):


No, that picture doesn't do it a bit of justice. You should really see how it tastes: YUM!

This was just our trial run, remember, so tomorrow Bill will bag up all the ingredients (premeasured where possible) and pack up all the equipment and make it all on his own at his office, before judging gets underway around noon.

So please wish him luck - he's up against steak tips and barbecued pork, after all - and I'll let you know how it all goes down tomorrow! ;)

Have a good night, and ... sweet dreams!

Out & About: Aquarium School!

It was back to Boston today for our marine science class at the New England Aquarium. First though, we had to get that online reading assignment done ... this month's theme: conservation and fisheries.


We got into the city a bit early so we stopped in at the famed Aquarium gift shop before class started. The boys spent a good deal of time checking out all the stuffed animals. Bookworm particularly liked the golden hammerhead shark. (Paging Santa!)


Penguins are a HUGE part of the Aquarium experience, and the gift shop definitely showcases them, as you can see from this giant stuffed penguin chick! Earlybird would love this, but we didn't even dare ask how much he cost!


I'm sure you know this, but penguins are big Patriots fans.

This is just a shot of the city from outside the Aquarium. I think I posted almost the exact same one last month, but it always takes my breath away when I see it.


Once our class got underway, the kids got down to work. Bookworm is in the older class (which my friend Lisa helps to chaperone) and Crackerjack is in the younger class (where my friend Beth and I help out). I am so glad I volunteered - I am learning so much!

Here is CJ with his friends, coloring pages of animals that might end up in fishing nets - swordfish, oysters and lobsters to name a few ...


And speaking of lobsters ~ we got to visit with one! (Side note: are my kids the only ones who insist on "saying hi" to the lobsters at the grocery store?)


Well today was their chance to really get up close and personal. We learned all about them - their color range, their life span and fishing regulations regarding their size. This particular lobster was six years old, a lifetime resident of the Aquarium. The oldest lobster on record was 100 years old! Who knows how old lobsters in the wild can grow to be.


Here we have a demonstration of a lobster trap in action (complete with lobster puppets). It was fascinating to learn how the traps were invented - how fishermen realized the lobsters can get in and out with relative ease. Rather than build a smarter trap however, they just limit their catch to whatever ends up inside when the trap gets pulled.

We learned a bit about the history of lobsters too - how they were once considered cheap and unsavory and were fed mostly to prisoners (by law "only" three times a week!). Today of course they are an expensive (and delicious) delicacy.

Our teacher also showed us how a buoy works, and explained that if a buoy comes loose, the trap is lost. Fortunately the trap is secured with clasps that break down in the water, so it eventually all comes apart (letting loose any widlife).


The subject of this picture is very hard to see here, but there is a large fishing net suspended from that silver pole at the top of the shot. We were shown how the gills of a large fish get caught in the holes, but smaller fish can swim on through.

Such a net could possibly trap a dolphin however, a mammal which needs air after a time. To prevent this from happening, a pinger is set up, a small device that sits beneath the net and slowly and repeatedly "pings" a sharp sound (fueled by the natural electicity in the water). Dolphins have excellent hearing and avoid the rather annoying sound, and therefore the net traps as well.

Next we played a very interesting game, one that combined trivia questions based on our day's lessons and the concepts of overfishing ...


Each table began with a foil pan filled with a mixture of beans, raisins, popcorn and candy bars. These items represented fishing grounds and its stock. Each child was given an empty cup and a straw as fishing tools. On go, they were to use their straws to get as much of the stuff in the pan into their cups. It was harder than it looked, but after a few "fishing seasons" (30-second rounds) the pan was emptying. The teachers would come around and survey the "fishing grounds" assessing whether they had been overfished or not. If the stock was still plentiful, they added a bunch more back in, but if the stock had run low, they added only one or two more pieces (symbolizing diminishing populations).

By answering questions correctly the kids earned bonus points and the ability to upgrade their tools from straws to spoons. Now the pans were really getting emtpy!


To be honest, our table was getting highly distracted by the amount of chocolate being fished, lol. (Or more precisely, who had how many pieces and how many pieces were still left.)

By the way, I know I only have pictures of Crackerjack's class, but that's where I spend my time. I might have to ask Lisa to take pictures of the older group for me one month! Though the classes do follow, roughly, the same lesson plan, the materials are presented at grade level. Each class ranges in size from 18 to 20-odd students. All homeschoolers from all over the area.

Here's our gang, posing among the dolphins ...


Oh, and here are a few shots of urban wildlife on our way out ...


A Proper Bostonian Sparrow. ;)


And a gorgeous, um, seal (?) in an outdoor exhibit. (Please excuse my ignorance here, I didn't actually check to see what kind of animal this was - it could perhaps be a sea lion, or maybe a leopard seal. I really have no idea. I will verify next month.)

Oh, and I forgot to mention - we talked quite a bit about cod, a local and historic fish here in New England. A Sacred Cod hangs in the chamber of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a golden cod hangs in front of our favorite restaurant. Seeing as how Legal's is a stone's throw from the Aquarium, I popped over for a quick snap:


And still speaking of cod, I picked up this fascinating book at the gift shop: The Cod's Tale. It will be a great way to extend our Aquarium School lessons at home.


So there's the Aquarium School report for this month! Next up: sharks!

On the Autumn Trail ...


Oh my goodness, what a day! So lovely and mild for mid-October. It began misty and cool, but by lunchtime, the fog had burned off and the warm autumn sunshine broke through. Just in time for our Nature Club Meeting!

Now prepare yourselves - I took SO many pictures! Really ~ even for me, this is a lot. But I just had to share the story of our day, and it is one best told through pictures. If you must skim over the lot of them, do be sure to see the seventh one down - it was the highlight of the day for me. :)

So what is Nature Club you may wonder? Well, check this post for more information, but suffice it to say it is a monthly gathering of homeschooling friends who also happen to be nature enthusiasts. Yesterday afternoon, 15 of us (families, that is) met at a local Audubon wildlife sanctuary for a few hours of birding together. We first gathered in the Nature Center buidling where we checked in, received handouts and a few tips regarding birds we might spot. Our attention was quickly drawn to a large bank of windows that looked out on a secluded bird garden ...


There were mourning doves, white throated sparrows, downy woodpeckers and an adorable chipmunk cleaning himsef (just there on that front rock). I could have spent a long while just absorbed by the view, but I knew there were even larger landscapes to explore ...

... such as this field of milkweed (and possibly withered goldenrod, I'm not sure). It was swarming with ladybugs and bees, and one brilliant Monarch butterfly that floated overhead (too fast for my camera, I'm afraid).


The large group of us broke up into smaller groups and set off along the myriad trails. Ours took us deep inside the autumn woods ...


... and past wetlands buzzing with life, and ripe with vivid fall color:


As we trekked along, we suddenly came upon two families absorbed in a very interesting activity. They were keeping very quiet and still, and their hands were stretched out in front of them ...

We tried the same thing ...


The most important thing to mention is that we all had pockets full of birdseed just for this moment ...

And here was my big moment:


That's MY hand, and that is a real live little chickadee, eating right out of it! I could have fainted away, I tell you.

Everybody tried. Crackerjack didn't have much patience, at first:


But Bookworm's persistance paid off!


This was his face immediately after the bird left his hand:


We carried on, crossing a bridge ...


And before too long we had entered "The Rockery." It was so shady and cool; it felt rather primeval. It was really neat (if a bit strenous) to climb all around.


Very hard to see here but take my word for it, there is a red squirrel in that tree pictured below. He was making such a racket for such a little guy! He wasn't quite as bold as the chipmunks and chickadees.


A lovely scene below ... we were headed across that pond!


I walked right by this beaver lodge till a friend of mine called my attention to it:


A bunch of the kids acquiesced to pose for a quick picture. There were 16 kids in all (ranging in age from infant to 13), but by this point they were spread out all over the Sanctuary. (I'm hoping to photograph each meeting and assemble a yearbook of sorts at the end of our Nature Club year.)


While the rest of the kids tried their hands once again at hand-feeding (many if not all of them succeeding), Crackerjack took a bit of a break. I think he was a little disgruntled that a bird had yet to eat from his hand.


It was drawing near time to head back to the Nature Center and meet up with our fellow Nature Club members. We hiked up and out of the woods ...


When along the trail we came upon a small gathering of chickadees, and Crackerjack gave it one more shot ...



The butterflies at the Sanctuary were so beautiful, and at last I "caught" a monarch, sipping from this lovely zinnia (cosmos?) ...


Oops, that's a Viceroy, a clever Monarch mimic ... Thanks Marcie!

I'm not sure what this type of butterfly this is - it's much smaller than the monarch but still very pretty in her yellow garb:


Update: Thanks to new reader Kim, we know it's a Clouded Sulfur!

If you look very closely there is a flash of brown fur in the middle of that low wall, below. That would be the chipmunk I chased all over trying to get just one photo. The little imp.


Plenty of bees to be seen. Bookworm said this photo reminded him of the opening scenes of the Beatrix Potter movies. High praise indeed! :)


Once our walk was concluded, the kids played a game called Pop-up Tag for nearly an hour. We mums stood nearby, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and wishing we had brought thermoses of tea. Next month we will - November will surely be colder than this!

Here's one last photo I took as we left the Sanctuary. Such a perfect day. I'm so grateful we had it to share with our friends, and in turn, I'm grateful you all let me share it with you.


Our Nature Study Club


We've been nature nuts enthusiasts as long as I can remember, and our backyard will always be our favorite place to observe nature - as you can tell from my nature notes it provides a steady stream of interest! - but there's something to be said about getting out in "the wild," and observing nature in larger, less civilized places. And when you get a whole bunch of kids together for just such an expedition, why the enthusiasm is downright contagious!

So, this idea had been rattling around in my brain for well over a year: an organized monthly nature study club for homeschooling families. I happen to belong to a terrific support group, with many active and enthusiastic members. I wondered, though, how many people would be interested in nature study? My April support group meeting on this theme drew only a very small crowd. Well, I put the idea out in our group's summer newsletter and arranged an initial meeting to discuss ideas. I was so excited when I had many responses (25 in all) from old friends and new faces alike!

Our first meeting was just for parents - we met at a local coffeeshop one evening to discuss how the group might be organized. We decided once a month was a good starting place. We narrowed it down to a convenient day and time, then set about planning our themes.

Our first meeting in September (the pictures from which are below) was organized by yours truly: a fall scavenger hunt held at a nearby forested reservation. Now, as much as I'd love to organize every month's meeting, I don't have the time, nor should I have all the fun! So future months will be organized by other members. So far our themes include:

  • October: Autumn Birds
  • November: Late Autumn Nature (Squirrels and Hibernation)
  • December: Winter Solstice
  • January: Animal Tracks in the Snow
  • February: TBA
  • March: Maple Sugaring
  • April: Tidepools
  • May: Water Ecology
  • June: Insects

I'm so excited for each and every month's meeting! It's great to know we will be doing a nature walk at least once a month! An added bonus - the themes give us a framework for our own nature study at home.

Below are pictures from last month's gathering. It was a perfect day - sunny, warm but not hot. Glorious early fall.


Working with our scavenger hunt lists, we found something to check off right away - a flower still blooming:


Jewelweed! One of the moms showed the chidlren how the pods will pop open to reveal a tiny jewel inside. I remember this plant from my childhood, it grows wild all over New England.

There were interesting examples of fungi all over the place, especially on trees:


Way up high ...


And way down low ...


It was everywhere we looked!

One of the clues on our list was a three-colored leaf. On this one we counted four shades!


Animal signs included large nests in the trees (possibly squirrel dreys):


And we also found two kinds of fur, the first being identified as skunk by its appearance and odor ...


While the second was harder to identify. It was light yellow in color, but did not appear to be dog fur. A mystery!


We also found some scat, but I won't post a picture of that (yes I took pictures!). It too was hard to identify, though one boy had brought an excellent field guide that showed many kinds of mammal scat.

At the end of the walk we gathered under a gazebo to do some leaf and fern rubbings. Then most of the kids ran off to play a neat game about the food chain.


Someone found an interesting yellow caterpillar:


Someone else found a cocoon that had burst open - there were tiny dead caterpillars all over it. Wonder what caused them to die?


This was very neat: a salamander! Look closely and you can see him inside this observation jar:


We capped the day off with a little rock climbing ...


... and, I think, a good time was had by all. Look at those shiny faces!


At our September meeting we had 15 families participate, and at today's October meeting we will have 15 again! Fifteen homeschooling famlies translates into a lot of kids! But they were so well-behaved and enthusiastic. We can't wait to see everyone again later today.

You can be sure I'll be taking lots of pictures. :) The weather is quite Octobery here. ... a dense morning fog is just moving off and the sun seems to want to make an appearance. It's actually quite mild, and as far as I can tell (from multiple sources) the rain should hold off until tonight. Well, I'm off to pack up our birding paraphernalia, and will be back later to report in ...

Have a great day, everyone!

A Big Day (and a little craft) for Earlybird!


He got his very own library card yesterday!

Well, September is National Library Card Sign-up Month, don't you know?

I've had it in mind to bring EB to the library one day this month for a card, but I was waiting for just the right day. We're still working on those skills that make library visits do-able: not running (but walking), with mama (not ahead of), using inside voices (whispers, even), handling books gently. Those kinds of things. :)

Well, yesterday was the day. Earlybird had an hour's worth of occupational therapy in the morning, a really good, productive session. He was very relaxed when his therapist brought him out - "organized" as they call it. And it just so happened I had a book on hold at my local branch ... so we headed on over!

At our library a child must be 4 to get a card. At one point they also had to be able to sign their name or some such nonsense, but that rule's no longer enforced. We all walked up to the counter and I said hello to the librarian and explained that my littlest guy was ready for his own card. So she leaned over, smiled at him and said, "And what is your name?"

"I see a book all abowt twains?" came the eager reply.

"Oh, we have lots of books about trains!" the librarian said with a smile. So, card in hand, we started perusing the shelves. We kept it to three books for this first time - two about trains and one about planets. Twenty minutes later we headed home, EB's oversized Space Atlas cradled in his arms, a huge smile on his face.

After lunch, I decided to make a little felt pouch for EB to keep his card in. Mind you, I have very little sewing skill, so I kept the craft as simple as possible. ;)

I began with woolen felt, colorful yarn, embroidery floss and buttons, all things I had on hand (I have a curious amount of fiber art materials in stock for a non-sewer, lol):


Naturally, I got lots of help with measuring and choosing buttons:


While I worked, Earlybird folded his own felt pieces. There's just something about woolen felt, it feels so good in your hands.


I cut the piece of felt and pinned it into a pouch shape.


Once the edges were sewn (please excuse the messy stitches!) EB chose a green button and I sewed that on, too. That was an adventure, lol! :)


Finally we had the pouch done. I attached a length of yarn so EB could "wear" his card when we visit the library.


Even our cat, Penny thought the pouch was great!


And here's my Earlybird sitting by "his" library shelves. The bottom two shelves of this bookcase are reserved for his special books.


Well, I already have orders for two more pouches - both Bookworm and Crackerjack thought it was a spiffy idea! (Isn't it great when the older kids think something the youngest has is really cool?) I'll make theirs without straps though - they can just keep their card pouches inside their backpacks.

So, to continue our fun (and skill practice), I'm going to set up a library-themed dramatic play corner for EB. I'm also thinking about arranging a short library tour with our children's librarian (who is the sweetest lady and who personally welcomed EB to the library yesterday). But of course, the best part of all is that there will be more and more books to read!

As the ALA says, your library card is the most important school supply of all. :)

Our First Day of Aquarium School!


As homeschoolers, we are blessed to live within driving distance of Boston. There are so many resources available to us - historic sites, museums, theater, national parks etc. I like to think that as my boys get older we will tap into the city's attractions more and more.

Tops among places to see (with families and tourists alike) is the New England Aquarium, pictured above. Shamefully we have not been in years (not since Crackerjack was in a stroller!) but this year will change all that! We have signed up for Aquarium School, a series of classes offered exclusively to homeschoolers, and it just kicked off today!

So, you know me, you're not going to get a quick synopsis here, lol. No, I took lots of pictures, and as a parent volunteer I've got the inside skinny to share. :)

First, the picture below shows my two older boys on our way in to class (Earlybird stayed home with Nana). They don't look too thrilled, but honestly they were! I think we were all a little nervous though. We didn't know what to expect, and of course, for me, there was the whole "getting into Boston thing," lol. Happily, we did know two other families (best friends of ours) who would be there, and spotting those familiar faces took the edge off considerably.


There are two classes held at the same time - one for 6-8 year olds and one for 9-12 year olds. Both cover the same content, but obviously at age-appropriate levels.

Here is Crackerjack with his friends, Kurt and Abby. They are working on the first activity together - inventing their own invertebrates.


Crackerjack's creature, the one in the in the middle, was called a "Tom" Jellyfish and those pipe cleaners were really poisonous stingers! In the background is Kurt's "Thunderfish" and in the foreground is Abby's (decidely gentler and friendlier) "Bunnyfish."


Our next activity was really neat - each table received a touch-tank filled with tidepool animals for the kids to explore! Crackerjack was fascinated, but a bit squeamish to pick the creatures up. I'm sure that will change as the classes go along. ;)

Here are two starfish and a spider crab just beneath:


There were also fiddler and hermit crabs, snails, scallops, mussels and sea urchins. Very, very cool.

The last part of our class was spent inside the Aquarium itself. What an amazing place!


Our first stop was the Salt Marsh tank and the kids all worked on a scavenger hunt list: "find an animal that has a shell," and "find and draw an animal that has spines."

CJ chose a snail and an urchin, respectively.

Before leaving the area, we took a minute to marvel at some larger ocean specimens. In the center of the Aquarium is a giant ocean tank that reaches from the bottom floor all the way to the top. At each level you can look inside at the myriad coral reef creatures who call the tank home. (You can watch the live webcam here.)

The kids were utterly transfixed: 


We saw a couple of sharks:


And a manta ray:


And check out this giant sea turtle! We thought he was a rock!


Walking up to the third floor we passed through a hallway with cool glow-in-the dark lighting, but the giant whale skeleton suspended above us was really something to see! 


Our next stop was the "Edge of the Sea, the large tidepool exhibit. Here's our friend Abby sharing her observations with me:


The children were allowed to pick up any creature they wished, but they had to be gentle, and they were asked to hold the animals under water.


Here we saw starfish, crabs of all kinds, (including horseshoe crabs, a recent fascination for us), mussels and sea urchins. The kids continued their scavenger hunt looking for things that "had sticky feet," things that "used camouflage," things that "could climb out of the tank," and an "animal with a long tail."

Crackerjack got right down to work:


Everything was so touchable, but the jellyfish were kept, naturally, under glass:


Lion's mane jellies - these pictures don't do them an iota of justice.

So tomorrow the boys will write about their experience in their science notebooks, and I'll print some of these pictures out for them to add, too. I am really thrilled to be participating in such an amazing educational experience, right alongside my boys. But the best part is, they loved it too, and you should hear them talking their Daddy's ear off right now! :)

Have a great night, everyone!

A (Free) Museum Day!

Have you heard about this? I just read about Museum Day in my homeshool support group's newsletter. You can learn more at, but the gist of it is:

"Museum Day is a nationwide event taking place on Saturday, September 29, 2007 where participating museums and cultural institutions across the country offer free admission to Smithsonian readers and visitors, allowing for one day only, the free-admission policy of Smithsonian's Washington, D.C.-based facilities to be emulated across the country."

You can find out what museums are participating in your state here. Here in Massachusetts we have a LOT to choose from! I am very torn between the MFA and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We've been to the former (though not in many years) but we've never visited the latter. Either would be great fun!

This, of course, means I'll be making up a basket full of books about museums! A few I have in mind:

Oh, and I just might stick in a copy of Night at the Museum for a fun movie night, too! ;)

I also remember a wonderful article on museum trips in an old issue of Martha Stewart Kids (why, oh, why they ever stopped publication is beyond me). I couldn't find a link to it, so here are some tips I gleaned from the article, which was authored by Theresa Robinson. And I must note, I offer these tips fully realizing that many of you are, in fact, seasoned and intrepid museum visitors; city-driving chicken that I am though, we are decidedly not. ;)

These are not my words, but straight from the article itself. I'm just quoting the sections I zipped with my highlighting pen:

(Some) parents seem to believe that a gallery-by-gallery six-hour grand tour is the only way to "get their money's worth" from the trip. In truth, the best way for you to benefit from museum visits with kids is to reset your priorities. Make it a goal to find one astonishing sculpture, one painting that prompts a conversation, one eye-opening exhibit. Then, leave if you'd like.

"Establishing a relationship with museums is the first step for children in their development of an aesthetic sense - their idividual appreciation of artistic beauty," says Sharon Shaffer, executive director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center in Washington, D.C.

Gather information from the library or Internet about the exhibits you will be seeing, and talk about them in advance.

The museum's education department is a great resource for guides and brochures.

If your child will want to draw pictures or take photographs, call ahead and inquire about any restrictions.

(Neat website:

When you arrive, take a few moments to look over a map of the museum with your child.

Ask open-ended questions about what she is seeing. Jot down your child's own questions as they arise; part of the fun will be going home and finding the answers together.

A plastic sandwich bag hung on a clipboard with binder clips keeps colored pencils close at hand for making sketches or jotting down details like names and dates.

When you get home ... Set up a museum shelf or corner in your child's room where she can hang her own artwork and arrange exhibitions of objects ... Many children have a natural tendency to "curate" their own little exhibitions - selecting and arranging favorite items from among their possessions so that they go together somehow. Support and encourage this instinct; it teaches kids that by grouping objets in certain ways, they can tell particular stories.

I love this last idea most of all! I think a museum-themed learning center would be a great way to follow up our visit. Wherever we end up going, I am sure it will be a fun day -once we get past all that traffic, lol. So where do you think you'll go?

Before I go, I want to link to Cindy's Loveliness of Summer Vacations Fair. What a perfect week to relax and reflect on that time-honored tradition of family togetherness. I will have to live vicariously through all of Cindy's links since we, ahem, have not had a vacation in ... um, years? Yes, we're all about the day-trips around here, and speaking of - we're heading to the beach at the end of the week! Still, there's nothing quite like a summer vacation, is there?

Also, one more bit of housekeeping - is anyone having trouble with my blog loading or being slow? My friend Tami is having a terrible time with it (particularly, it seems, with my banner) and we want to figure out if the problem lies within my blog or her computer. Thanks in advance for your help.

Well, I'm off for now - to shuck some corn, grill some burgers and wash up a dish or two. I hope you all have a great last week of summer. :)

Morning on the Farm


Today is National Agriculture Day!

It would be a fine day to visit our local farm and check in on the animals we have not seen in so many months ~ except that it's only 21 degrees! We could make a quick trip to the market and look for locally grown or raised products. I've been meaning to ask the store manager about this ~ supporting our local farms is ever more important these days!

Or, we may just stay in out of the cold and explore farm life at home! We've always wanted to have a little pocket farm, and even though our yard is not nearly big enough for even "pocket" status, we can pretend ... how fun would it be to brainstorm a name for an imaginary farm? Have you ever done that with your children? Even sketched out on paper what you would grow and raise?

We can talk about what farmers do in the early spring. Well, we just learned about how they tap their sugar maples. (Notice our tree above has a small tin bucket hanging from a limb.) They also start seedlings indoors (we can do that) and repair machinery (we've got some toy tractors around here, including a large antique tractor my grandfather painted for Bookworm when he was just a wee one). Lambing is just around the corner, too. Time to start thinking about wool crafts, perhaps?

We can also talk about what we eat today. How many things came from the farm? It would be a fun and educational activity to brainstorm all the things we use in our everyday life - food, wool, candles, honey - that come from our national farms! Do you know what agricultural products are produced in your state?

Here's a short list to get you started. What do we get from:

  • dairy cows
  • beef cattle
  • sheep
  • pigs
  • goats
  • chickens
  • horses
  • turkey
  • ducks/geese
  • rabbits
  • bees
  • gardens
  • orchards

Am I forgetting anything? :)

Here at home we will be reading our farm books today and most likely playing with our farm set (pictured at top). We have a wonderful book called A Farm through Time, which shows the history of an English farm from medieval times through present day. That would be a very fine history lesson today all on its own! I also have a coloring book of the middle ages that shows many scenes from feudal life. Gee, I love it when our lessons plan themselves! :)

A few other favorite farm picture books:

Farm machinery is big with my boys as well. Earlybird is particularly obsessed with fond of tractors right now. We have a show on our Tivo list recorded off The RFD Network that is literally just a parade of old-fashioned tractors. He could watch it for hours! Instead of that, though, for quiet time today we might watch Babe, an old farm favorite. :)

Finally, I put up an old photo album from last year's first farm trip of the season! It was fun to look through it and see how the boys have grown (and my hair, lol!).

Have a grand day, my friends ... and Happy First Day of Spring!

Blessings and Books: What We're Up To ...

Here's our bulletin board for this week:


Notice the letters at the top? :) I used those small flat wooden letters you find at the craft store (I'm a little addicted to them these days), painted them a pale blue and glittered them. Blessed. A nice word for the new year, don't you think? The frosty blue will be nice for the winter. I will change to a new word next season ...



  • "The Whole Duty of Children" by Robert Louis Stevenson (Crackerjack)
  • "The Kraken" by Lord Alfred Tennyson (Bookworm)
  • We'll also pore over this beautiful page of bird poems and illustrations, with particular focus paid to "The Chickadee" by Emerson.


History/Social Studies:


  • Twelfth Night (Bookworm)
  • King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (as above)
  • Little Women (This will be the family read-aloud once King Arthur is finished -  we may not start till next week.)

Science & Nature Study:




Sorry this is a bit dark - it's so hard to capture candlelight. The paper craft was an idea from The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions for Children's Faith Formation. The holy card is a beautiful gift from a beautiful friend - someone I cannot think of without feeling the mantle of Mary wrapped around me. :) The candles are just wrapped with some lace ribbon. (Side note - these would be a really pretty decoration for a First Communion. There was some less-feminine white ribbon I might use for CJ's party this May.) And if we have time, I aim to make cupcakes such as Alice's or Elizabeth's today or tomorrow. 

Art Study:


  • Listen to the Kids Classical Hour on Saturday morning.
  • "We Three Kings" (sing and play)

Science Fair Day!

Stef is hosting the 4Real Science Fair today and the boys and I happen to be kicking off our winter astronomy study! According to the Handbook of Nature Study, our timing is perfect:

"The natural time for beginning star study is in the autumn when the days are shortening and the early evenings give us opportunity for observation. After the polar constellations are learned, we are then ready for further study in the still earlier evenings of winter, when the clear atmosphere makes the stars seem more alive, more sparkling and more beautiful than it does at any other period of the year."

We've been on an outer space kick for some time, due to Earlybird's intense interest in this subject. (Remember this post?) But now we will officially begin a "study" of the stars, planets, sun, moon and many other aspects of astronomy. We will use many different living science books and hands-on activities to supplement our study. I will follow a portion of Behold and See 3 as a spine (or a framework), breaking the subject down into one section a week. As a fun kick-off we gathered up our solar system resources and set them out on display:


Above you see some of the resources we'll be using - coloring books, field guides, notebooks, fiction and non-fiction materials alike. This display is set up just below the planet posters we borrowed from my good friend Beth, whose oldest son (now 11) was also into space stuff when he was a little guy. We have been the lucky recipients of many wonderful space-related materials from our friends:


No sooner did I have our science fair set up put together when EB caught wind of the plan.


Excuse the belly shot, but I had to show you his much loved, hand-me-down, space shuttle sweatshirt. (More thanks to Beth!) EB loooves his "blast off" shirt and he also loves wearing this backpack, which was handmade by Beth's mother:


EB wears this bag out sometimes, but mostly just around the house! Next, I asked EB to show me some planets in one of his favorite planet books ...


Here is EB pointing out Neptune. (This boy loves his planets.)


Then the older two boys tried a quick experiment to illustrate how the sun can be bigger, and yet look as small as, the moon. They first compared the size of their thumbs to each other's heads. Then they stood apart from each other; it was further apart than shown below, but for photography purposes I had them stand closer. Next they each closed one eye and held up their thumb in front of the other eye. They noticed that their thumb could "cover" their brother's head!

Reason being:

"Your thumb looks the same size as someone's head if the person is far away and your thumb is close. It works the same way with the moon, which is close to the earth and the sun, which is far away and bigger." (Behold and See, p. 76)


And what would a science fair be without a little bit of light saber action? Actually the boys were using them as pointers at that moment - the very next it was all Star Wars again. I think I asked "Which planet is made entirely of gas and if it grows in size would become a sun?"

Answer: Jupiter! Or as EB calls it - Memaju. (If you ask EB which planet is his favorite, he places a finger to his nose and says "Mmmmmm ... Memaju!")


These are so neat - rubber ball planets! Crackerjack got to play with each ball as we read about the planet it represented. These are great preschool science for EB, too (who was napping for this part).


I asked the boys to line the planets up in order - note the asteroid belt in between Mars and Jupiter and the shooting stars off to the left and right. :)


A few of the planet posters up close:


As we read about the planets, I wrote down the boys' narrations and at long last made up fact cards for our planet posters. I'd like to share what the boys said:

Sun: "The sun is just a big star but it is special to us because it helps us see and it helps things grow."

Mercury: "It is so hot it can cook a pizza! It would be a strange place to live - no air, no clouds, no weather, no blue sky."

Venus: "Venus is hotter than Mercury even though it's farther away from the sun. Its clouds act like a heavy blanket."

Earth: "Life can grow here so it is special and perfect. Only earth has continents (there are seven)."

Mars: "It might have once had life. It is very windy and sandy. It is known as the red planet because it is made up of red sand."

Jupiter: "It has a big red spot on it. It is the biggest of all the planets we know."

Saturn: "Saturn has the biggest moon in the solar system, called Titan. The rings are made up of chunks of rocks and ice and moons that keep those chunks from escaping into outer space."

Uranus: "It spins on its side. It fell over because a giant something the size of the earth crashed into it and bam!!!"

Neptune: "It is blue and windy and is hard to see because of a thin layer of fog."

Pluto: "Pluto is made of rock, not gas like the other outer planets. It is no longer a real planet, but a dwarf."


Two more items from Earlybird - above you see his most favorite (and gigantic) space book, open to the page about space exploration.

And below you see the wooden star he decorated with markers and stickers. (These plain wooden stars are less than a dollar at the craft store. Add a package of stickers and EB is all set for some fine-motor crafting!)


And finally, I caught this snapshot of EB just falling asleep - clutching the foam crescent-shaped moon from a craft kit we'd worked on.


A few future plans:

  • visit a planetarium
  • participate in our homeschool group's science fair
  • learn about the history of space exploration
  • put on a planets play
  • set up our telescope
  • set up our astronomy notebooks
  • create a moon chart
  • redecorate EB's room in an outer space motif. (He's getting a huge solar system mobile for his birthday next month.)

I hope you enjoyed our Science Fair post! As we are just starting our study, I am sure we will have more to share along the way. Thanks for stopping by!

And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; He made the stars also. (Genesis 1:16)

Tea and a Field Trip on Michaelmas!

Usually we do "tea and a craft" on feast days ... and though we did have our tea, the craft part will have to wait for another time because today we whiled away the afternoon hours in a CASTLE!

As you can imagine, this field trip was right up our home-learning alley! We were joined today by our closest friends and fellow co-op-ers (new word alert!) at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Our group was led on a program called "Life in Medieval Society." (And HUGE thanks again, Wendy, for setting it all up!)

Now as you might expect, I took many, many, many pictures at the castle today - so I thought instead of posting them all here in this post, I would make up a photo album just for this field trip. It is parked over there on the right hand sidebar; its title, plainly enough, is Castle Field Trip. I will slowly be adding notes to this photo album, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy our pictures! :)

Before I move on, though, a quick note first about the Castle. To prepare for our field trip, we showed the kids an episode of Fetch with Ruff Ruffman (a new-ish PBS show kind of like Zoom) in which the contestants played out their game at none other than Hammond Castle! Of course their visit was set at night and the castle was all tricked out to appear haunted (we had to reassure a few of the younger ones that the castle was not really haunted nor in the least bit scary) but the neatest part was - the man in the show who acted as their tour guide - was the very same man who led us on our tour today! And he was very nice, very informative and more than a bit of a riot! :) (Some inside skinny - the Fetch episode was taped this past June over a period of two days and nights. The scene where the kids had to go down in the dungeon so badly scared one of the young girls they had to have her parents come to the castle to reassure her! The part where another girl drank from a soup bowl was completely ad-libbed (and regretted). And there was a terrible lightning storm right in the middle of filming!)

As for Michaelmas, well, I think this was a really fun way to honor this feast day! Any kind of festive activity is a great way to mark the special days on our liturgical calendar! Considering St. Michael's role as a protector and defender, knights and armor (particularly swords) really fit in with the day. Plus, the castle was surrounded by wild Michaelmas daisies (we were thrilled to discover) and the gift shop sold swords, dragons AND an archangel statue! (We bought a plastic sword and a small purple dragon; the angel statue was beautiful but out of our price range!)

We did manage to start our day off with a delicious blackberry tea. Because we had a busy afternoon planned, I decided to serve our tea at breakfastime. It began leisurely enough until it dawned on me we were starting Earlybird's Friday speech therapy today - beginning at 8:45 a.m. - and here I was just pouring tea at 7:30! So we ate up rather quickly but not before talking a bit about the archangels (Michael, Raphael and Gabriel) and saying a prayer to each of them. I also found a lovely prayer for this feast day in a book recommended by Elizabeth, called Let's Say Grace: Mealtime Prayers for Family Occasions Throughout the Year. My copy came just the other day, just in time to start our day with this beautiful blessing:

Holy God,

Your care for us is more than we can imagine, and your love touches us in so many ways. As once you sent your archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael to guide and protect your chosen ones, let them be our companions, to lead and watch over us. As we begin the season of autumn may we celebrate your presence in the beauty of nature, and be messengers of your love to all whom we meet.

Bless this meal we now share, and bless all we do in Jesus' name ~ Amen.

Now about that Michaelmas-blackberry connection. :) Well, legend has it that when the archangel Michael threw Lucifer out of heaven (on what would become Michaelmas), the devil landed in, of all places, a blackberry patch, where he promptly spat on the berries, rendering them inedible! So by long held tradition on Michaelmas you should eat your fill of blackberries before they're no good! This is a charming British custom, one I'm only too happy to incorporate into our feast day celebrating.

Now if I had my way, I would take my blackberries in the form of Rebecca's Michaelmas Blackberry pie, but for today we kept things a bit simpler.


This was our Michaelmas breakfast ~ Blackberry Harvest Yoplait (a rare treat for my boys who generally only see Stonyfield Vanilla), biscuits with thick blackberry jam, and mugs of Bigelow Berri-Good herbal tea, sweetened with honey (this is really good iced, btw - and has plenty of vitamin C to boot).

I have to share with you a lovely site from our autumn garden this morning. Remember a few days ago I mentioned that our Easter lily plant seemed on the verge of re-blooming, after spending the whole summer relegated to its pot, and left to its own devices parked by the front gate? Well, today it bloomed! And this lily - the symbol of purity and the archangel Gabriel - looked just lovely against all the autumn blossoms.


We also found what I like to call Michaelmas daisies blooming behind the back fence the other day. (Technically they may be New England asters - but they do bloom just around Michaelmas!)


And so begins a most busy and festive autumn feast season! There are so many upcoming special days to enjoy ~ The Guardian Angels (10/2), St. Francis of Assisi (10/4), Our Lady of the Rosary (10/7), All Hallow's Eve (10/31), All Saints Day (11/1), All Souls Day (11/2), Martinmas (11/11), Thanksgiving (11/24) ... and at long last the beautiful Advent season beginning the most holy and beautiful time of year, as well as the new Church year. There are just so many wonderful opportunities to embrace our faith and celebrate our traditions - such a rich tapestry of colors, flavors, stories and prayers to be woven!

As this day comes to a close, may I wish you all a most blessed Michaelmas and autumn season!

"This day, which comes as the nights grow longer and longer, is the Church's fearless welcome to the dark and the cold." (A Companion to the Calendar)