All Aboard! The Transcontinental Railroad

All Aboard the Transcontinental Railroad

I hope all the moms out there had a fantastic Mother’s Day. I took the weekend off from the computer, but I’m ready to get back on track. Speaking of tracks, did you know that this month marks the anniversary of the connection of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads, creating the first transcontinental railroad. The golden spike was driven in a ceremony in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. The decision to link the east and west coasts was driven by the discovery of gold in California, and while progress was slow, the decision to move forward with the railroad changed the lives of all Americans. It took seven years to lay tracks from Sacramento, California to Omaha, Nebraska. Imagine the work that went into this development: blasting through mountains, building bridges over rivers, the clearing of forests. It’s both astounding and sad – amazing because of the huge accomplishment the development of such a railroad is, but sad because of the destruction of wilderness. The beginning of an uncontrollable trend.

By 1850, there were already some 9000 miles of train tracks in the east, but some wanted easier access to the west coast. Before the railroads, people were forced to push through dangerous wild lands and mountain passes, fast-moving rivers and scorching deserts. The alternative was to travel by sea on a six-month journey around the tip of South America. The transcontinental railroad increased opportunities and decreased travel costs.

Transcontinental Railroad Information


Questions for Conversation

How did Americans benefit from the creation of a transcontinental railroad?

What types of opportunities may have appeared with the creation of the railroad?

What do you think train travel was like in the early days?

How do you think the view from the window of a train is different today from 1869?


Books (click on images for more information)

big book of trains   look inside trains   on the train   see inside trains   trains sticker book   trains


World Red Cross Day: Thank You!

world red cross day

May 8 is World Red Cross day. But I have learned that the Red Cross is so much more than just a disaster relief team. The Red Cross is part of a movement called the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day honors the 7 Principles of the Red Cross – Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement consists of more than 100 million volunteers and supporters in 189 National Societies. They collect and donate blood, they assist people in emergencies and disasters all over the world regardless of race, religion, or wealth, and that is only a fraction of the assistance they provide. They’re putting in the hard work right now in Nepal following the major earthquake that occurred nearly 2 weeks ago, just as they pitched in at Ground Zero on American soil the day the World Trade Centers fell.

We recently studied Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, during Women’s History Month (read more about that here). It wasn’t until tonight though, that I learned that the original movement began in Switzerland with Henry Dunant. Dunant wrote a book about the Red Cross concept, presented it at a conference with the Geneva Society for Public Welfare and several other European nations, and the Geneva Convention was soon signed creating a global society that assisted those in need. Clara Barton learned of this concept, and adopted the idea for America after seeing the soldiers being lost and wounded here during the Civil War. The Angel of the Battlefield began her work in 1861, and officially founded the American Red Cross in 1881. The U.S. Senate ratified the Geneva Convention a year later.

Today the Red Cross helps people every day. Whether they are delivering meals, collecting blood, or teaching others how to be prepared for an emergency, the Red Cross is making a difference in lives all over the globe.


Questions for Conversation

Are you prepared for an emergency? What emergency skills do you have?

Do you have an emergency/disaster plan with your family? If not, talk about how to develop one. Need help? Here is some guidance:

What could you do to help others during a disaster?


Resources and General Information


Emergency Preparedness for Kids

Click to access KidsPreparednessGuide.pdf

Click to access color.pdf



emergency services   rescue missions   earthquakes and tsunamis   storms and hurricanes   weather   true stories of heroes

Walking Among the Wildflowers

walking among the wildflowers

I love hiking. And one of my favorite things to do is take my kids hiking. It was tough during the early years but now, with no stroller requirements or restrictions, we are blazing trails all over Orange County. I love seeing how the trails we travel change, especially the ones we frequent. And when the flowers begin to bloom it’s like a magical transformation. We see them popping up at the nature centers that we visit, and along trails and hillsides throughout Irvine and Laguna. California’s state flower is the California poppy and one of the best places to see this flower in all its glory is at the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve.

Do you notice wildflowers blooming in your area? I can identify a Redwood tree and a poinsettia, but beyond that, I’m pretty uneducated about plants and flowers. On our last hike at Laguna Coast we picked up a guide to the local plants and flowers on the trails. I hope to take a trip out this weekend so we can focus on learning about these plants. What are their names? What are their uses? It surprises me every time we go on a guided hike at the nature center and they pull pieces of a plant off and eat it, explaining how it’s great in salad or to use as bug repellent. I should know these things!

What wildflowers are common in your area? Do you take time to explore the open space and enjoy walking among the wildflowers?


Where to See Wildflowers


Education and Activities



flowers to color   wildflowers to color   how to grow flowers   gardening for beginners

Celebrating Cinco De Mayo!


cinco de mayo

Cinco de Mayo comes around every year, and people celebrate with Mexican food and drink. As if we really need a reason to enjoy tacos or carnitas. But do you know why Cinco de Mayo exists? What is the celebration all about? Some common responses I’ve heard are Mexican independence day and the day Mexico became free from Spain. Cinco de Mayo is actually the day that celebrates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Mexico was already free from Spain, but they owed a lot of money to France and other European countries thanks to the loans they received during the Mexican War with the United States and the Mexican Civil War. Mexico got tired of paying their debt in the early 1860s and stopped sending payment to France. On May 5, 1862, Napoleon III’s army faced an ill-equipped Mexican troop who defeated the French, postponing Maximilian I’s title as Emperor of Mexico. A year later, the French returned and accomplished what they had set out to do, but the underdog’s victory at the Battle of Puebla is what we celebrate every Cinco de Mayo.

Questions for Conversation

Can you think of any other battles or disputes in which the underdog won?

Why do you think the Mexican army was able to defeat the French?


General Information

Home ALT


Activities and Printables




Download the May 10-Minute Teacher Calendar and follow along with us this month as we teach and talk with our kids everyday! May 2015 10-Minute Teacher

Celebrating Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press

Freedom of speech

Today’s discussion about Freedom of Speech is a topic on the May 10-Minute Teacher calendar. Download a copy from the link below, hang it on your fridge, and use it to initiate a conversation with your kids anytime. 

May 2015 10-Minute Teacher

Today, people are always expressing themselves. Sometimes we do it in a blog post, other times we share our thoughts on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. We also talk to friends, family, and strangers about our religious beliefs, our political views, and everything in between. Freedom of speech is one of the most basic elements that allow us to continue in a democratic state. We have the right to talk about our choices and share our opinions with others, and to oppose things that we feel are detrimental to our liberties. With this freedom, we can speak out when we feel there is a wrong and ask others to help us make things right.

The first amendment was included in the Bill of Rights, a document that was created to address important elements that many felt were missing form the new Constitution and was implemented in 1791.

The First Amendment to the Constitution includes Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Here is a brief description from

Freedom of Speech. This freedom entitles American citizens to say what they think, provided they do not intentionally hurt someone else’s reputation by making false accusations. Neither may they make irresponsible statements deliberately harmful to others, such as yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. There are many issues about which Americans disagree, from child-rearing practices to baseball teams to Presidential candidates. Freedom of speech enables people to state their opinions openly to try to convince others to change their minds.

The First Amendment also gives you the right to disagree with what others say without fear of punishment by the government authorities. However, if you make an outrageous statement, such as, “The earth is flat,” free speech will not keep people from making fun of you. If you express an unpopular opinion — for example, that students do not get enough homework — don’t be surprised if your classmates avoid you. The First Amendment does not prevent social or peer pressure to conform to what others think.

Freedom of the Press. This freedom makes it possible for Americans to keep informed about what is going on in government. It helps them to be responsible citizens. Reporters and editors can criticize the government without the risk of punishment, provided they do not deliberately tell lies. Newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as television and movie scripts, do not have to be submitted for government inspection before they are published. This censorship would violate the First Amendment.” (Source:




Questions for conversation:

1. What do you think life would be like if we did not have freedom of speech?

2. What kind of news do you think we would see in the newspaper if there were no freedom of the press? Do you think there would be a newspaper?

3. What kind of speech or communication is not protected by freedom of speech?



Rhinos and the Empire State Building

save the rhinos

Did you know that the Empire State Building opened on May 1st in the year 1931? At 102 stories, it was the tallest building in the world. With the push of a button by President Hoover, the lights came on and the building was ready to go. Have you ever been to the top of the Empire State Building? I had the opportunity to go, but it was cloudy the day I visited. And between myself and the other three girls I was with, we talked ourselves out of it. I blame it on the nerves.  That day, we blamed it on the clouds.

Learn about the Empire State Building here:

Recreate the Empire State Building in Legos


The 10-Minute Teacher Calendar mentions Rhinos as the discussion topic for the weekend. Rhinos are one of the most endangered species in the world. There are less than 100 Javan rhinos left, and when all five species of rhinos are combined, there are still less than 26,000 animals alive to date. Did you know that there was a woolly rhino? just like the woolly mammoth, it is now extinct but you can learn more about this and other rhinos at the International Rhino Foundation website.

Rhino Information and Education:




Social Studies Project Activites

As we near the end of the school year, our original curriculum has been mostly used up. We’ve been making due with the books I have here at home and using some online resources here and there but I wanted to find something that helps us put what we’re learning on paper, that isn’t just filling out a worksheet or answering reading comprehension questions. My son is a hands-on kid and likes to focus on a project rather than write everything down in paragraph form. I do make him do writing prompts and reading comprehension now and then, but I want to help him learn in a way that is fun for him, because I can see the thoughtfulness in his eyes and in his work when he is doing something that he enjoys.

While I am pretty good at developing writing prompts and putting together general lessons, my creativity lacks when it comes to projects that display what he’s learned. There’s really only so much you can do with a paper plate. And while I love looking at pinterest, I get lost in the images sometimes and find that some of the projects require so many special materials that I don’t have on hand. And I’d really like to cut back on the time I spend browsing the internet. So I went and browsed the local teacher supply store and found these two books packed full of creative project ideas. Perfect!

40 social studies activities   25 social studies avtivities

Friday is our adventure day so I didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon, but I found an easy activity in 40 Fabulous Social Studies Activities that my son thought would be fun. He’s reading about Japan right now, so he started his own Band Book about Japan. Here is some of his work:

Book of japan


The band book is a few pieces of paper cut into strips, folded over, and you cut triangles off at the corners leaving the pages connected by the middle section  at the fold. Wrap a long rubberband twice around at the fold and fold the pages over so you get a book with a rubberband binding at the top. Easy, cute idea that he thought looked fun and he is choosing to add things about Japan like Mt. Fuji and the raccoon dog. Tomorrow he plans on adding the Japanese words that he knows.

There are tons of other great ideas in these books. If you are like me and need some help with project development, I definitely recommend these!

What are your go-to resources for project ideas?