New Pterosaur Exhibit at the Natural History Museum

Digital visualization of flying dinosaurs

Like most kids, my children have interests that pass. I thought dinosaurs and woolly mammoths would pass. I nurtured the interest like any good parent and expected the next year to bring a new love. And it did. We have added many new loves to our list, but one thing that has not passed is dinosaurs. In fact, it has grown into a love of paleontology and archaeology. A fascination that stays with us in a way that we are often pinched with the bug to find new ways to feed our fossil fire. Where can we dig? What can we watch? What’s in that rock?

This year we purchased an annual pass to the Natural History Museum, which also includes admission to the Tar Pits and the Page Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum. We were planning a trip anyway to explore, and we wanted to see the Mummies exhibit before it left so it made sense to just purchase the annual pass knowing we would get several uses out of it.

We’ve wondered what might take the place of the mummies that occupied the space downstairs near the cafe, and we were excited to learn of the Pterosaur exhibit. We were surprised through, that the exhibit is near the main member entrance and the space downstairs is still behind covered windows.

We entered the new exhibit on a member-only preview day so the crowds were limited once inside. It was sort of magical for us because we have such a polished appreciation for the age of dinosaurs and other creatures from long ago. We walked into rooms filled with fossils, and replicas, and informative plaques, and short films, and life-sized models of the Pterosaurs that once took to our skies. Some hover overhead, similar in size to the school bus in the parking lot. Some were smaller than your cat.


There are interactive screens, like a video game, where you can dive for fish or hunt for bugs. My son loved that part. My daughter liked using the joystick to learn how the Pterosaurs used their wings to harness the wind during flight. I liked the room near the end with the Pterosaur replica soaring over the water. Such a beautiful display.


I expected to pass through quickly, as my kids often do, jumping from one display to the next. But this one lasted. They took their time. They explored. They watched. They enjoyed. This one is definitely not to be missed.




New Articles at Dandelion Moms!

So it’s been awhile since I posted here, but it isn’t because I haven’t been busy. I’m also the educational contributor over at Dandelion Moms and I’ve posted a few things there. Check out what I’ve been up to! Just click on the image to read the articles:


A lesson in the desert is an article about our experiences and education from our camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park. So much fun!

Portrait of happy mother and two daughters cooking in the kitchen

Here you’ll find a few fun activities that will keep your kids brains working this summer. Don’t let them get caught up in hours of video games – get them moving and keep their heads in the game so they are ready for the new year that lies ahead!

I’ll be posting again soon with some of our favorite activities that are educational, but don’t feel too much like school. Stay tuned!

Exploring Route 395

route 395 cover

We recently went to Mammoth for a long weekend to see the snow. But some of the best parts of the trip were the places we stopped along the way. And the best part was that each of our stops was a mini science lesson.

Fossil Falls

Located on the east side of the 395 off of Cinder Road, Fossil Falls is the byproduct of volcanic activity and a rushing river. Thousands of years ago, the nearby cinder cone erupted, splattering the surrounding desert with lava and rock. As the lava poured into the Owens River, the rushing water sculpted and polished the rock. Today, with the flow of Owens River diverted and Owens lake now dry, all that remains is the fossil of what was once a majestic waterfall. Stone cliffs and ballasts and holes bored out of the center of giant rocks show years of erosion and is truly amazing to see in person. Photos do not capture the depth or the detail that you find at Fossil Falls.

fossil falls from above

There is a small parking lot with restrooms at the trail head. It is a short hike from the parking lot, maybe half a mile. It is rocky though so wear appropriate shoes. Also, this is not the place to let your kids run free. Little ones should be kept close and supervised at all times. There are steep drop-offs, and it’s a long way down. Lots of holes in the rocks so watch your step!

fossil falls.jpg

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

You can read the history of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns here. It’s located off 395 just north of Cartago. There is a small Historical Landmark sign on the road. When you turn onto the road you will see the commemorative plaque, but you can not see the kilns from this location. You must continue down the road about one mile to see the kilns. They are surrounded by a fence now, but it is interesting to look at and think about the history and the changes that were made to the landscape because of the gold rush, the mines, and the kilns. An area that once featured a flowing river and plentiful trees is now barren and dry. Just past the kilns is a passageway through the hillside but we did not drive that direction to further explore the area, so I’m not sure what lies beyond the kilns. Although it was interesting to see, it felt a little creepy out there.

cottonwood charcoal kilns

Hot Creek Geological Site

This was my second favorite stop and I wish that we could have spent an entire day exploring this area. You can read all the details about Hot Creek here. We saw and explored the main stretch from the photo but there are trails along the gorge that go much further than we were able to discover given our time-frame. But the warm water and the blue-green algae and knowing the background of the ancient volcano piqued my interest and the scenery was stunning. I will go back here and spend time exploring. There are restrooms in the main parking lot, although they weren’t pretty when we visited and only two of six were open. The walk down was a bit steep so wear appropriate shoes for this one.

hot creek 2

hot creek 3

hot creek 1.jpg

Mt. Whitney Hatchery

My husband loves fishing and so we are often subjected to trips to area fish hatcheries. Not so bad when they have the quarter machines to get food to feed the fish, but sometimes a trip to the fish hatchery can be less than amusing. Our third and final fish hatchery for this trip was the Mt. Whitney Hatchery (yes, I did say third). Fortunately, this was the most exciting hatchery we’ve been to. The Mt. Whitney hatchery is no longer operational, but some areas are still open to visitors. The hatchery is located on an alluvial fan and receives a lot of natural mud flow from the nearby mountains. The hatchery and several of the buildings were destroyed years ago and the rainbow trout were killed, so the hatchery function was shut down. However, this is one of the most stunning hatcheries you’ll find complete with fish pond, castle, and fish food machines. I’m not lying when I say there were some seriously large trout in that pond. Check it out if you are ever out that way. Pack a lunch, it’s a great spot for a picnic. The visitors center slash museum is open from April through September. Unfortunately we were there in March so we didn’t get to go inside but it’s still worth the stop. Learn more about the Hatchery here.

mt. whitney hatchery.jpg


What’s your favorite side trip on your way to Mammoth? Share your hot-spots!




Homeschool Holiday at Aquarium of the Pacific

Aquarium of the pacific

One of the things I like about being a homeschool mom is taking my kids on field trips to local venues that offer educational experiences at a discount. In December we attended the homeschool event at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. The admission rate is deeply discounted for homeschool families and you can purchase tickets in advance online. Typically, the Aquarium has two homeschool days per year: one in the spring and one in winter. We attended the spring event last year.


During homeschool days at the aquarium they do not take reservations for regular school field trips so it is only homeschoolers and the general public, which means a much less crowded experience. They have tables set up with educational information and homeschool-related material. They also open the classrooms from 9:00 to 12:00 for kids to experience the touch tanks and there are tables set up with games and activities to teach students about the animals of the ocean. My four-year old loved holding the starfish, and my seven-year old loved examining the skulls.

penguin habitat

We fed the lorikeets, watched the sea lions and seals, and spent lots of time at touch tanks with jellies, starfish, sea cucumbers and so much more. My daughter has really been interested in learning about penguins lately so we had a lot of fun checking out the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. Something that we have been having fun with since our visit is keeping an eye on the penguin habitat from home by tuning into the webcams on the Aquarium’s website. They have an under water and above water webcam of the penguin habitat so we get to see them from different angles.

I’m also really excited about the new lesson plans that the Aquarium has linked up to some of the webcams. You can find the Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits here. There are lots of other great teacher resources available on the Aquarium website too, so take a few minutes to browse through their wonderful educational offerings. I also like the many resources that are available on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website. Especially the Sea Searchers Handbook. Many of the resources are meant to be used when you can visually observe the exhibits, but I think the materials are flexible enough to be used as teaching tools without being there. If you haven’t been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I highly recommend it. That was my son’s first aquarium adventure when he was a baby.

What is your favorite aquarium or marine science exploration activity?

Explore more with these amazing books:





Informational Text Worksheets

informational text worksheets

My kids love to read. Chapter books, picture books, comics, nonfiction. You name it, they’ll read it. Sometimes when I am going over an assignment for school, my son will ask, “Can’t I just go read?” Sometimes I say no and require that the assignment gets completed, but other times, I say “What the heck, go for it.” I mean, really, he’s reading. My response to the “go ahead and read” theory is that I need something that he can put down on paper when he’s done reading to show that he is learning and making progress in critical thinking and writing skills. So I am putting together a few different worksheets that I can print up for him to complete when I decide that reading time is over. So far, I have made a 3-2-1 Summary worksheet and a Main Idea & Details worksheet. These are mostly to be used with informational text, but can also be used with other books with educational elements. For example, my son reads the Extreme Adventures chapter book series and these include informative passages about animals and geographic locations, so these worksheets could work.

We read a lot of short nonfiction books too, so these are great companion worksheets that can be completed quickly after independent reading or story time, when we read together as a family. For my little one who is four, I have her write a few words about the subject, like the names of the animals or planets, then I ask her to draw a picture about what we read. I always write the words for her on a separate piece of paper, but she copies it onto her own page and then draws her pictures.

You can download the worksheets here for free!

3-2-1 Summary: 3.2.1 Summary

Main Idea & Details: Main idea

New! Who, What, When Worksheet: Who.What.When.Where.How.Why


See our nonfiction and picture book selection here.

Sensory Fun

rainbow rice

I’ve been planning on starting a few sensory bins for my preschooler and have a long list of favorites that we are going to try. The other night, we made rainbow rice. This was a fun activity for my little to help make, and she is really enjoying the finished product. We looked at a few different suggestions, but here is the technique we used.

We added 1 cup of white rice each to six Ziploc baggies. To each baggie we added a different color of Wilton Icing Colors. Then we added 3 to 4 squirts of hand sanitizer to each bag. We sealed the bags and shook and squished them until the colors were mixed through. We poured the rice into a glass pyrex dish and let it sit out overnight to dry. Some of my icing color was chunky so I removed the chunks that didn’t dissolve. The next day we had beautifully colored rice that was ready to dig in. We got a little bit of color on our hands, but not much. And now that it has dried completely, it doesn’t transfer to our hands at all.

rainbow rice


Last year we made “snow”. You can find that recipe here. Here are a few of the favorites from my list that we will be trying soon:

What are your favorite sensory bins or activities? We love trying suggestions from friends!

Learning to Read

This year my 4-year-old is very excited about preschool. I have made an extra effort to ensure that she has her own special work to do for preschool. Sometimes it’s as simple as pattern block puzzles or color by numbers. Other times, she gets special projects like mixed-media art and using buttons to spell her name.

One of her favorite activities though, is learning to read. When my son was in kinder his teacher gave him a sight word ring and we use that to practice some of our words. Then she uses the tiles from All About Spelling to copy the words onto the board. But what she enjoys most is Teach Your Monster to Read.

Start to Read Pack

Teach Your Monster to Read is an online game that pairs up with the Start To Read pack from Usborne Books & More. The game is free and anyone can register for an account to play, but it works seamlessly with the Start To Read pack. The pack comes with 8 beginning readers, a parent guide, and an alphabet poster to track our letter-learning progress. The readers are dual readers, meaning that the page on the left is meant to be read by the parent and the page on the right is read by the child. The child pages focus on letter sounds and identifying letter combinations that were taught through activities in the parent guide and through practice on Teach Your Monster to Read.

teach your monster to read

My daughter could already identify most of the letters when we started the program, except for the tricky ones that look different in certain fonts, but this has been our first real practice in learning the phonemic sounds. This is new territory for me as my son learned to read without any real instruction. He told me he could read one day and that was that. Now at age 7, he reads well beyond his age. I don’t have an educators background so some teaching experiences seem scary, but the Start to Read pack has been a great guide. I don’t have to guess what to teach, it is laid out for me. I also purchased the Phonics Workbooks and these are fun ways to reinforce learning the letter sounds while using hands-on interactive activities.

phonics workbook 3     phonics workbook 4

I’ve heard of several other programs that I am interested in trying for reading, but for the time being, I am very happy with how this program is working for us. And when my daughter asks me if we can practice reading, it makes my heart smile.

What is your favorite reading program to use with your kids?