Category Archives: Activity

Storytime: Back to School

Theme Storytime Banner

Storytime is a series that you can use to get your homeschool day going. If you don’t open with a circle time (we don’t), keep it in your back pocket for one of those days when you need something to fill 20-30 minutes or when you want an enriching activity but don’t want to plan anything yourself. See this post for more detailed information about the series. 

Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom, as a printable/downloadable pdf version of the storytime is available there. 

Back to School

Opening Song

“If You’re Ready for a Story”

Sung to the tune “If You’re Happy and You Know It”

If you’re ready for a story, clap your hands.

If you’re ready for a story, clap your hands.

If you’re ready for a story, if you’re ready for a story,

If you’re ready for a story clap your hands.

(nod your head, sit so still)

Book

School’s First Day by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

  • Be sure to open out cover and show the wrap around cover art
  • Look at the end papers
  • Talk about what is happening on the title/dedication spread

Finger Play

“Two Little Houses”

Two little houses closed up tight (hold up two closed fists)

Open up the windows to let in the light (open fists)

Ten little finger people tall and straight (wiggle fingers)

Ready for school at half past eight (walk fingers along arm)

Alphabet Game

Read LMNO Peas written and illustrated by Keith Baker

  • Before you begin reading, explain that you will be looking for letters that start the names of people in your family. 
  • Write their names out on a piece of paper or whiteboard.

Flannel Board

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons written by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

Goodbye Song

Teach the signs for “good bye” (waving right hand goodbye by folding fingers up and down) and “friends” (touch tips of pointer fingers together). Sing through twice.

“Good Bye Friends”

Sung to the tune “Frere Jacques” 

Good bye, friends.

Good bye, friends.

Good bye, friends.

It’s time to say goodbye.

Click here to download the Back to School Storytime

Van Life: Tent Camping with a Baby

Van Life BannerWe had a good run with the van over the winter and then took a break from camping because we had a baby. Then in April we camped overnight at the Woodland Celtic Games which was a lot of fun and the baby did beautifully. She was just over a month old at the time. It was supposed to be a test run for the summer. 

The grand plan was to spend the entire month of July driving up California, Oregon, and Washington and camping in the van along the way, but three things happened. One, the van is having transmission problems and a long trip like that is sure to be the death of the current transmission. We were going to fix it, but then the second thing happened. My husband, tired of putting up with a ton of crap at work, decided not to renew his contract which means we’re living off a smaller amount of money so we decided not to spend the $8,000 just yet to replace the transmission. Then the van needed a couple minor repairs which my husband is in the process of doing himself. Not a big deal, but we can’t drive the van right now even on easy expeditions.

Not wanting to give up on camping we busted out our tent and transferred some of our camping gear to our car and headed out into the Tahoe National Forest this past weekend. With our four month old baby. And you know what? It was just fine with a couple hiccups- primarily sleeping on the ground is not fun when you’re our age. 

Here are some tips for camping with a baby:

  1. Pack light. I know the impulse is to pack every last little thing you *might* need, but resist that urge. You will be miserable trying to fit it all in the car, more miserable trying to find a place for it in camp, and mad when you don’t end up using 95% of it. The purpose of camping is to get out and away from everyday life, so don’t recreate your house. Plus the baby will be fine getting a bit dirty. That being said, keep reading for the things we found essential. 
  2. Have a place they can lay/sit outside the tent. Since our baby is not yet sitting, standing, crawling or walking we could fairly easily corral her. We had bought a folding wagon to schlep stuff from the car to the campsite (it was a 5 minute walk). When we were done unloading we laid out her blankets and put her down in it. But to be honest, we could have thrown some blankets on the ground (enough to cushion her little baby head) and called it a day. Blankets are washable as are babies so it’s okay if they get a bit dusty. For older, more mobile babies, consider a folding chair with a tray. They make one that looks almost exactly like a camp chair, but it has a tray and is super short. However, I don’t think this is a necessity. Baby can sit on your lap for meals and may not want to be confined to a chair at other times. 
  3. Consider co-sleeping with your baby. For us that was me not using a pillow (I don’t at home either) and laying out several blankets next to my sleeping bag for the baby’s sleeping pallet. I opened up the sleeping bag and draped it over us much as I do with a blanket at home. 
  4. Borrow a good carrier. We have an awesome baby carrier. It cost $20 and we have now used it with both our girls. The problem is, it’s best for around town errands and not so great on a hike. We needed something that would do a better job supporting the baby while we hiked. Ergos are, in my opinion, way to bulky and hot for around town, but it worked well for the hike (it was still bulky and hot for all involved, but the baby isn’t big enough to sit in a hiking back pack). We borrowed one from our neighbor because it isn’t something we’re going to use all the time and I refuse to spend $120 on it. Once the baby can hold her torso up better we’ll see if we can borrow a baby backpack or buy one used. Again, a super expensive item that really won’t be used all that often. Going back to tip #1, don’t bring a stroller. Unless you’re in a paved campsite and have all the space in the world, you won’t use it and it will just be annoying to maneuver and take up space in the car. 
  5. If you are breastfeeding, bring extra snacks and water. I know for me I get hungry between meals while breastfeeding and I need to constantly drink water. We eat light while camping and I felt hungry a little more often than I normally do. Extra snacks would have been perfect. Along the lines of water, you might want to pick a site close to the bathroom so getting up in the night (or running over during the day) isn’t a big production. The site we were in didn’t have any water and as a result I drank less than I wanted to. It worked out, but I wish we had brought more. 
  6. Pack a sun hat. If you’re going to be outside, which you’re camping so you will be most of the time, make sure the baby is covered. Malin seems particularly prone to burning on her nose and cheeks and despite my best efforts she still got pink. Having the right kind of protective clothing is essential and remember, you’re outside for nearly all the activities you are normally inside for. 
  7. Diapers might be a hassle, but they might not. So the site we went to had no trash. Because of this I brought along cloth diapers which we normally use. It was fine, kind of a pain, but we were going to have to trek the dirty disposables out too, so why bother? In retrospect, though, there was a pit toilet. We have gDiapers that make a flushable/compostable insert and I could have used those and thrown them into the pit toilet. You might consider biodegradable diapers so that when they go into the trash at the campsite, they will eventually break down. If you cloth diaper, know that it wasn’t really much more of a hassle than it is at home. 

Honestly, the best thing you can bring with you is a flexible attitude and a sense of humor. Camping with a baby is not impossible, so don’t let your youngest family member deter you from getting outside. 

Book Club: I Love the River by Maya Christina Gonzales

Book Club Banner

Book Club is a series dedicated to extending the reading experience either through an activity. Activities will tie in with other areas of study or cross over subjects. 

Today we’ll be looking at art style. Maya Christina Gonzales is a phenomenal author and illustrator that you should know about. She and her husband run Reflection Press which publishes diverse stories that promote equality, peace, and freedom. The website has some sobering and incredibly important statistics about the state of children’s publishing and while this is only tangentially related to the activity in this post, I encourage you to check them out and reflect on what that means for you as a parents, educator, and consumer. 

I Know the River Loves MeWe were particularly drawn to her book I Know the River Loves me when we ran across it on display in our library. The white space and bold illustrations with bright, vibrant colors were really inviting.  On picking it up I discovered it was written with the Yuba river in mind, which is near where we live and somewhere we’ve been. The story of the connection between the little girl, nature, the river, and the seasons was especially appealing. The activity below is how we used the book to extend the learning experience. 

What You’ll Need:

  • Paper (drawing paper, scrap paper, whatever is around the house)
  • thin markers or Sharpies
  • I Know the River Loves Me written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzales

Together read the book I Know the River Loves Me written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzales. Pay particular attention to the art style as you read. Point out colors, patterns, and lines. While the illustrations appear simple, they are incredibly beautiful and impactful.  

When you are finished reading get out your art supplies. Together you can think of pieces of nature that speak to you. for the drawing prompt we filled in the sentence “I know the ________ loves me.” Maybe it’s mountains. Maybe it’s a river like the little girl in the book. Maybe it’s clouds, the sun, or the rain. Using simple shapes and lines draw an outline of that thing. Then fill the shapes in with swirls, colors, dots, and waves just as Gonzales does. Flip through the book and study the pictures as you draw. 

Here is a glimpse of how Gonzales uses lines and patterns to embellish her illustrations.

Here is a glimpse of how Gonzales uses lines and patterns to embellish her illustrations.

Not only does this encourage your child to look closely at the art in the picture book, but it also helps them draw connections between their own lives and experiences and the story. Take it a step further and get outside! Is there are creek nearby that you can walk to? A hike you can go on together? Or a park to visit? The point is not to find a secluded nature area, but to find a natural space that can welcome you. If you have a pad of paper and a bag to pack up your markers, head over there to draw what you see using patterns like Gonzales.

Montessori Infant: 3 months

Octahedron MobileA number of years ago I created a scope and sequence of sorts of Montessori materials, games, and concepts. I did one for infants and one for toddlers up through about age 6. You can find those here. Since we decided to have another baby I dug out the infant chart and have been using it to select materials to have out for the baby.

In the newborn stage you don’t need much. A topponcino, a place to change diapers, a mirror, a floor bed (or in our case a handmade side car crib). Around two months you can introduce black and white pictures, fabrics, and patterns. This is also the time to hang up the Munari Mobile.

3 Month BasketI have three areas set up in the house: one in the girls’ room, one in the classroom and one in the living room. Each features a pad or blanket for her to lay on and a few materials (right now, black and white art cards and pictures of baby and kid faces). Some of the materials are divided up and others move around with us because she likes them so much. This book is a particular favorite: My Face Book.

Malin turned three months on Friday and I thought I would post some pictures of the things we have out for her that align with Montessori principles and materials. I have a small basket with a small rainbow grasping toy, a wooden grasping ring with ribbons, and a small frog lovey (pictured to the right). The frog was originally Camille’s and lived on her changing table where we used it to distract her if necessary. We called it Changing Frog. It’s soft and large enough for a young infant to practice grabbing at so I included it this month in her materials. The rainbow grasping toy is similar to the Montessori grasping beads, which are in a line instead of a ring. The wooden ring is probably still a little heavy for Malin’s tiny hands to grab onto, but I like the ribbons attached to it. She can gum the ring and touch the ribbons until she’s strong enough to really get ahold of it. Also, I’ll be honest, the Montessori grasping beads freak me out. While I know they technically should be strong enough not to break off their string, they still seem like a choking hazard. More so than the two grasping rings I have put out. That’s just my comfort level, though. 

Room Set Up at One MonthThe last two months we’ve had up the Munari, or black and white, Mobile and it’s been a favorite of Malin’s. You can see it hanging over her in the picture to the left and see her fixating on it even at five weeks. I have now changed it out for the Octahedron Mobile (which makes me kind of sad that she’s already out grown something, but also excited to try out new materials; see it in the picture at the top of the post). I made both mobiles while I was pregnant. It was a fairly simple project. I found a pattern and instructions on Etsy for the Munari and I think I found the Octahedron for free online.

 So that’s a peek at what I have out for the baby right now.

 

Van Life: New Adventures

Van Life Banner

So, about two weeks before the end of 2017 we bought a Eurovan. Our big plan, that we’ve been talking about for nearly a year now, is to take off all of July and head up California, Oregon, Washington and into Canada with the two kids, the two of us, and the two dogs. Ultimately we’d love to do this every year and get out to explore the U.S., Canada, and maybe ultimately Mexico (although we’re hoping to head north to cooler climates when it’s blazing hot down south). I’m not sure we’d ever be the family that sells our house and lives full time in our van while traveling, but a change of pace for one month a year sounds about right for now.

We took our first trip on the last two days of the year and headed down to Yosemite. It was my first time in the Park and it was really lovely, if a wee bit chilly. Also, camping while seven months pregnant was little challenging. I wish our campsite had been closer to the bathroom. We plan on taking a lot of overnight and weekend trips in the van as well since there’s plenty to see within a few hours of where we live. And because my husband runs on a school schedule he gets dedicated winter and spring breaks plus a handful of three day weekends that will allow us to go out on longer trips.

I am really new to the whole camping thing (I did go to summer camp a few times, but it was all tent cabins and mess halls, no tents or camp stoves or even really campfires) so I am learning as we go along. In fact the last, and maybe only time, I went camping was nearly 30 years ago. I would like to post about van life, camping with kids, and traveling/camping with dogs. Tips, tricks, thoughts, etc in case anyone else wants ideas or inspiration. If you’ve done the math, our July trip will involve a three month old baby. It could be the world’s best idea of the world’s worst idea. We’ll find out. I think we’re going into this with an open mind and a sense of adventure that will hopefully allow us to take everything in stride.

Science Weekly: Yeast Experiment

I was recently making soft pretzels at home and realized I have a huge tub of yeast. Since the dough was rising while Cam was asleep I thought she might get a kick out of experimenting with the yeast by itself.

Our question was, what are the best conditions to get yeast to activate? I set out a number of bowls and put yeast in each of them. I also set out some salt and some sugar. Cam added salt and sugar and nothing to the yeast in the bowls. Then we poured in hot, cold and warm water. Technically you don’t need to have sugar in the water, but without adding anything else the yeast never activated. 

It took a good five to ten minutes to really start seeing results, but once it got going, it got going. She had lots of questions about what was going on and wanted to start mixing sugar, salt, and yeast to the bowls and doing a little experimenting of her own. She realized the more sugar you add, the quicker you see results and the more foam you get. 

I think the most interesting take away from this was an interest in our own digestive system. Cam asked where the gas from the bubbles was coming from and I explained that the yeast was eating the sugar and producing gas. That was funny to her because it’s basically a fart. :) But it lead to A LOT of questions about how our bodies work to process food. I explained a little and then got out our Eye Wonder Human Body book to read more. 

Science Weekly: Making Crystals

I kind of fell apart this summer on Summer of Science. Oh well. I’m picking up the thread and instead of trying to do one thing a day I’m going for one thing a week. Last week (as this series will run a week behind) we did a little experiment with making crystals. If you follow me on Instagram you will recognize the pictures and the activity. The series here on the blog is intended to document what we’ve done and make it possible for you to recreate it at home. 

Why I chose this project: Cam found her rocks and crystals and has been playing with them. We started talking about minerals and rocks and reading up about them a bit. I thought she might be interested to see how crystals form. 

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What we did:

The set up was pretty simple. String tied to a stick and dangled in a jar. I mixed equal parts hot water and three different substances: table salt, sugar, and Borax. I had Cam help mix up the solutions and then dip the strings into the jars.

We left them out for a week and she would check them periodically throughout the day, every day. The top right picture shows the Borax crystals after about 30 minutes. The picture on the bottom shows them after a week. The sugar solution only developed mold, no crystals. I think next time I would go for another type of salt, kosher or sea, instead. Either that or made the sugar solution more concentrated. 

I had Cam draw pictures of the results in a journal and dictate comments to me about what had happened. She enjoyed that part of the experiment too. Next up is talking about how this relates to actual rock and crystal formation.

Summer of Science: Round Up 4

Again I didn’t go with a theme or anything this week. I also let some of our science “lessons” emerge organically from what Cam was doing on her own. Please se the widget in the sidebar for pictures from each day. 

Day 1: I See a Pattern Here by Bruce Goldstone

This is an awesome book for slightly older readers. It’s more than a concept book about shapes or patterns and has good vocabulary and lots of different types of patterns. I had checked the book out a few weeks ago and, while I was enticed by all the bright colors and patterns, Cam hadn’t clicked with it. Then she saw it sitting out and asked to read it. Hooray!

Day 2: Pattern Play

Inspired by one of the pages in I See a Pattern Here we got out these little quilt-like fabric puzzle pieces I had made years ago (if you’re interested in the pattern I used you can find it here). For the longest time Cam was using the little squares as blankets and pillows and rugs for her My Little Ponies and in her barn, but we used them as the puzzle today. She really enjoyed making patterns and having me copy them. 

Day 3: Garden Harvest

Our garden is going gangbusters right now. There are a lot of peppers and tomatoes ripening or needing to be picked. There are squashes growing and hopefully we’ll see some beans soon. Today we went out and harvested what was ready. One teeny tiny strawberry made it. The plants are leftover from last year (they were shoots that the plants sent off the bales and into the ground) and because they are growing on the ground they are being munched by slugs. Yuck. 

Day 4: Train Set

Cam got our her wooden train set today and Went. To. Town. Building a town. I think I had misconceptions about what age she would start really using her building materials. They seem to have taken off in popularity with her in the past six months or so, but I had expected it sooner. Either was we have a TON of these wooden tracks, trains, and buildngs (thanks to my husband’s grandmother who saved every last toy of his and IKEA who makes them super affordable). 

Day 5: Poetry Friday

I am really liking this idea of reading STEM based poetry on Fridays. We often eat out on Fridays (it’s the one day I work and it’s often much less stressful to let someone else do the cooking, especially considering we still have all our farm responsibilities on Fridays in addition to a working mama). It’s so easy to pop a poetry book in my bag and bring it into the restaurant to read while we wait for our food. It is also getting us to get out our poetry collection and read the books. This week it was Turtle in July by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The cover features a red-eared slider and we have one of those so there was hook for Cam. The poems themselves were short and simple and follow through the seasons (one of my favorite kinds of books)

Day 6: Another Garden Harvest

 There were more tomatoes and tomatillos waiting for us today. And an ENORMOUS squash. 

Day 7: Homemade Tinkertoys

Tomorrow I start teaching my Makerspace class and I’m going to begin with some construction activities and challenges. Today I have to make some homemade Tinkertoys with toilet paper tubes and a hole punch and I’m going to have Cam help me test them out before I put them out tomorrow. If you want to make your own check out the instructions here.

Summer of Science: Round Up 3

I didn’t really go with any type of theme this week. We just sort of found science in our everyday lives. For pictures see my Instagram feed to the right. You can click on it to bring up the website and see larger images. 

Day 1: Polymer Science

Cam had a friend over today and I amazed them both by sticking pencils through a water-filled plastic bag. I got it all set up and then asked them what they thought would happen if I stabbed a pencil through the bag. Of course they thought it would burst or leak, but it didn’t. Read about why and see where I got the idea here on Tinkerlab.

Day 2: Sick Day

Cam was sick all morning so all plans went out the window. 

Day 3: Telescope

We got out the telescope tonight and looked at the moon and Mars. Tom is still figuring out how to use the telescope so sometimes it’s easiest to just point it at the biggest, brightest thing in the night sky- the moon. 

Day 4: Garden Harvest

More of our tomatoes and tomatillos were ready for picking. We’ll be making salsa this weekend!

Day 5: Poetry Friday

I love the idea of combining the language arts piece with science! I recently bought the Poetry Friday Anthology for Science to use with Cam and in the library this next year. 

Day 6: Legos

Cam has really been into Legos for the last few weeks. We’ve been getting the little $5 sets at Target when we go and she comes right home and builds them. To me it’s amazing. She sits down, opens the packages of pieces, lays them out, puts out the direction booklet and then builds. We recently swapped out her Duplos for the smaller traditional Legos, but she hasn’t been as interested in building from scratch and her mind. I know she will get there though watching how she loves to build and play with these sets. 

Day 7: Aerospace Museum of California

Today is Father’s Day and we’re two of Cam’s four grandpas to the Aerospace Museum of California. We went two years ago and even at almost three Cam had fun looking at all the planes and models. I think she’ll be even more excited this year.

Summer of Science: Round Up 2

This week we did a bit with water. It is summer after all. For pictures see my Instagram feed at the right.

Day 1: Moon Phases

Today was the first day of Ramadan. Since the Muslim calendar runs on a lunar cycle you know Ramadan has begun when the new moon is sighted. Today we read a little bit about moon phases so she would understand how the month of Ramadan would progress. It gave us some good new vocabulary too- waxing, waning, crescent, etc. 

Day 2: Shaving Cream Clouds

This was a very simple but exciting experiment the combined a chat about weather and about color theory. Fill a glass with water and spray the top with a pile of shaving cream. You then drip food coloring into the “cloud” and slowly it leaks through into the water. The color initially swirling into the water is fascinating and beautiful and if you do more than one color they mix together in a very dramatic way. I got the idea of Pinterest and it was a hit.

Before we started I asked Cam if she knew why/how clouds rained. I was very surprised to find that she does. I suspect she got it off one of her PBS videos, but I was impressed she recalled it. During the experiment we made predictions of what colors would form if we mixed red and yellow, red and blue, and blue and yellow. Most of the time she had no idea so I might try some other fun color experiments this summer. 

Day 3: Do Oil and Water Mix?

We explored how oil and water repel each other using an ice cube floated in a glass of oil. This was fun because to make the water more visible floating in the oil we dropped food coloring onto the ice cube. As droplets melted the food coloring mixed with the water and dripped into the oil. The end result looked a lot like a homemade lava lamp. It helped that I poured the oil into wine glasses. :) 

Cam is into the experiments where you do the initial set up and maybe even a bit of observation then come back to them over several intervals and make more observations. 

Day 4: Thursday

Thursdays are tricky. If I can plan something very quick and simple and Cam wakes up early enough, gets breakfast and over her process of waking up, then we can do something. This week after getting up late we had swim lessons again and then Cam went to my mom’s house for the afternoon. We didn’t manage to do anything especially science-y today.

Day 5: Water Sings Blue

Today we did a little Poetry Friday. I read several ocean themed poems from the beautiful book Water Sings Blue. I love the blend of information and imagery in this book and it’s very appealing to young audiences. Cam can sit through several poems before wanting to move on to something with a bit more narrative, but those few poems are so worth it. This was perfect too because I brought it with us to the restaurant where we ate dinner and it gave us a few minutes of something to do while we waited for food.

Day 6: The Save Water Game

 A fun little board game in our book How Things Work. Water is always a big deal out here in California and our family likes to talk about conserving it. This was a good little reinforcement of that. 

Day 7: Harvesting

I started our tomato plants from seed way back in January and today we will harvested the first fruits!!! Home-grown, homemade salsa here we come!!!!!