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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 shown in the photo, but there are trails along the gorge that go much further than we were able to discover given our time-frame. 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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

Homeschooling with Netflix

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We’re Netflix watchers and like many homeschooling families, we’ll be using a lot of Netflix content to explore the topics we are learning about this year. Fortunately, Netflix has a plethora of educational content. From preschool cartoons to documentaries, there is something that covers almost every subject you can think of. In general, most of the shows my kids already watch on Netflix are educational cartoons.

Here are our favorite educational cartoons right now:

The Adventures of the Young Marco Polo – Follow the young Marco Polo on his journey along the Silk Road. The kids were instantly excited about this one as we had been talking about famous early explorers. Seeing what the journey might have been like in a kid-friendly format makes this an entertaining and educational cartoon we love.

Justin Time – Justin travels around the world in his dreams with a few good friends learning about nature, culture, and how things work. This show keeps the kids tuned in and they always have an interesting fact to tell me when the show is over.

Octonauts – This has been a favorite for years and when it finally came to Netflix we were ecstatic. We don’t have cable so this gave us the chance to catch up on old episodes and see what we had been missing. The kids love learning about lemon sharks and loggerhead sea turtles and I am constantly amazed at the informational content they are able to pack into their heads. One mention of the midnight zone and I get a 5 minute review of what it is and what lives there. I love it!

Magic School Bus – The Magic School Bus is consistently fun and educational. Mrs. Frizzle takes these kids on whirl-wind adventures to learn everything about science from weather to suspension bridges. This was on repeat in my house for a good six months and we still go back to watch episodes that complement or science topics.

Peg + Cat – Peg and Cat embark on adventures, all with a basic math foundation at the center of their problem. This is perfect for my preschooler who is learning early math skills, and serves as good repetition to keep my second grader thinking in a mathematical perspective. It’s good for kids to see math being used in a variety of situations. And we love the Peg + Cat songs.

There really are so many great educational cartoons to watch on Netflix. Here are a few more of our favorites that are currently available for streaming (August 2015):

Little Einsteins

Wild Kratts

Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman

Dinosaur Train

The Cat In The Hat

Monster Math Squad

Sid The Science Kid

Special Agent Oso

 

Netflix changes their titles occasionally and I am really looking forward to turning on Reading Rainbow for them. The first season of the award-winning show was just added to the Netflix list and it was one of my favorite shows growing up.

 

We will be using Netflix for a lot more than cartoons this year. We are studying exploration, early America, general math and science, and a little bit about everything else. Here are some of the titles we’ll be watching to complement our studies:

Lewis & Clark – A documentary chronicling the Lewis & Clark expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. Visit the National Geographic website to learn more about the expedition and find kids activities.

How the States Got Their Shapes – A documentary covering history, politics, geography and more that explains why the states have their current borders. Visit the website to play the Place the State game.

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents –  This documentary covers the role of the President through time from Washington to Obama. Visit the website and click on U.s. Presidents to learn more about each president and watch additional videos.

The Men Who Built America – From railroads to automobiles to oil, this series covers the men who mastered the technology that helped grow America after the Civil War.

Human Planet – This series covers what life is like in different parts of our planet, plus the challenges that are faced by both people and animals.

Bill Nye the Science Guy – Who doesn’t love the fun and educational Bill Nye? We’ll be using this show to learn more about science! Visit the Bill Nye website for home experiments and printable activity pages.

Brain Games – This series covers all things brain! Learn how your brain processes information, from fear to optical illusions. This one is great and keeps my kids interested. Also, if you go to the Brain Games website you will find activities to try out to test your brain. Can you be fooled? Note: Some episodes may not be suitable for the younger set. We skipped the one about fear so that the littles didn’t have bad dreams.

 

What are your favorite educational shows on Netflix?

Our Book List: Reference Books We Love

reference books

One of the things that we have an abundance of is reference books. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and subject specific reference guides are some of our most used books. And the benefits extend beyond homeschool. Every student should have access to reference books that are easy to read and understand. Our reference books help us fully understand concepts and subjects we aren’t familiar with. This year I expect we’ll be using our reference books even more as we get into more difficult subjects. I’ve even got a list of books that I’ll be ordering to add to our collection. Here is the short list of the essential reference guides that every elementary student should have.

Illustrated Dictionary – 288 pages with over 1000 illustrations. Inside the Illustrated Dictionary you’ll find a user’s guide, parts of speech and their roles in forming sentences, hints and guidelines for writing and spelling, and a brief history of the English language.

Children’s Encyclopedia  – 320 pages with over 1,500 images. Packed full of information and includes hands on activities and experiments plus downloadable images, quizzes and activity pages. Features all the world maps and flags with facts and records and over 600 hand-picked internet links for additional exploration.

Encyclopedia of World History – 416 pages of history from prehistoric times to the 21st century. Includes a 12,000 year illustrated timeline, over 100 maps, and amazing facts and illustrations. We use this as our history book and will be developing several lessons from it over the course of the year. This book also includes Usborne Quicklinks and additional links to hand-picked websites featuring information and activities related to in-text topics.

The Science Encyclopedia – 448 pages of science with over 140 experiments, activities and observations. Brilliant images throughout the book with information on everything from atoms to energy to plant life. Quizzes for each section are available in the back of the book plus additional Quicklinks and internet resources. We love this book and are using it as our science book this year.

First Illustrated Math Dictionary – This book clearly explains math concepts, breaking them down into the most basic elements and helping you understand math step-by-step. This is for the early grades from pre-k to 3rd or 4th grade and uses fun illustrations and easy to understand terminology. If you have a student who has a hard time in math, this book is for you. If your student is 2nd grade or above, consider the next level up: Illustrated Elementary Math Dictionary. Just as fun and just as helpful but geared for 8 and up.

Our Book List: What We’re Using for Preschool

preschool booklist

This year we are officially starting preschool with my daughter. While I won’t be forcing any work on her, I want to be prepared with preschool-level curriculum that she will be able to use and learn from. Last year was our first year of homeschool and she loved sitting at the table with us while we did first grade work and I spent a lot of time searching for things for her to do and modifying 1st grade work to fit her level. While my preschooler will spend a lot of time doing creative activities and playing with play doh or sand, this year we’ll be more prepared with other learning activities.

Reading:

Start To Read Pack – The Start to Read Pack introduces letter sounds and follows the synthetic phonics system. It comes with 8 beginning readers, an activity book that reinforces the letter sounds, and a colorful poster to help us identify and master our letters.

Very First Reading Set – This 15 book set includes level one readers that focus on shared reading – the parent reads one page and the child reads the next. The pages that children read helps them master word sounds and builds up reading confidence. The end of each book includes story review activities, sequencing, and phonics lessons. The set also comes with a parent guide and online resources for additional learning resources.

Start to Read Pack

Math:

First Illustrated Math Dictionary – We’ve got this on our shelf already but we’ll be using it a lot more this year. The math dictionary introduces basic math concepts from counting to shapes and so much more (great for pre-k through 2nd or 3rd grade as it covers fractions and symmetry and lots of other advanced topics). It includes activity ideas as well. We’ll focus on learning the concepts and use our math manipulatives kit (bear counters, rulers, pattern blocks, etc.) that we got for our math program last year. If you want to know more about how we use our manipulatives kit (because we use it all the time) read my math post here.

Wipe-Clean First Math – This wipe-clean activity book comes with its own dry erase marker so kids can practice their early math skills in a fun way. We have others from this series and they get used constantly around here!

first illustrated math dictionary   first math

Spanish:

My First Spanish Word Book – We’ll be using this book to match words with pictures as we begin our adventure in preschool Spanish. She’ll get additional practice from the books her brother and I use that are closer to his level.

My First Spanish Word Book

Writing:

For writing practice we’ll be doing a lot of pencil and paper, but we’ll also have these two wipe-clean books on hand: Get Ready for School abc & 123 and Ready for Writing.

get ready for school abc & 123   ready for writing

 

What will you be using with your preschooler this year?

The Quest for Curriculum

quest for curriculum

So the search is on. I am on a mission for the next two months to pin down the products I want to use to kick off our school year in September. I say kick off because we used a significant amount of our first grade curriculum by winter break last year. Now I have a better idea of the types of things I want to include, the things I can leave out, and what we will be able to add and vary throughout the year. For anyone considering homeschool or also searching for educational material for the upcoming school year, here are some of the choices I’ve got on my list, though I haven’t narrowed it down  to the finalists yet!

Language Arts:

All About Spelling – Last year we used level 2 so we’ll be moving on to level 3. This was one of our most enjoyable curriculum purchases. There are lots of little magnetic letters and word cards, but they make learning so tangible and interactive and easy to digest. Kids need to do more than listen to rules and read sight words and this set gave us lots of tools to work with. The pre-scripted teacher’s guide is also one of the easiest tools I had for first grade. All I had to do was pull it out, open it up, and we were ready for our lesson. We usually only needed about 20 minutes for a spelling lesson which is so doable any time of the day.

All About Reading – I’ve heard a lot of great things about the All About Reading program, and since I love the spelling side, I may try this out for my 4-year old.

Write Source – I like the way these are laid out to teach different writing traits and styles. I was going to purchase this last year but never got around to it. I hope to include it for our second grade studies.

 

Math:

Saxon Math by Houghton Mifflin – We used Saxon Math 1 for first grade and we purchased the manipulatives kit which we love and use often (read more about our math manipulatives here). I think we will end up using this program again but I’ve got a few others on my list that I may try in addition to this program.

Life of Fred – I’ve heard a lot of good things about this program and it takes a different approach to teaching math. Might be a fun twist to our traditional routine. Last year I tried to break our math studies up – using curriculum a few days while focusing on telling time, counting money, learning measurements, etc. – on other days. Life of Fred could be a fun alternative.

Math-U-See – Another program I have heard good things about. I haven’t done a lot of research into this one yet but I’ve got it on my short list.

 

Science:

Science Fusion –  This is the program we used last year and my son loved it. It comes with a work text that the student can write in plus online access to interactive online lessons, experiments, and additional printable worksheets and learning material. I liked the program but the only drawback was that I found it a bit difficult to navigate some of the online content and it took me a lot of time to get our lessons together because of this. Someone more savvy may find this program easier to use. We may go ahead an choose this program again for the simple fact that it was one of my sons favorite parts of school.

Houghton Mifflin Science – This is the other science program by Houghton Mifflin (also publishes Science Fusion) and we got the first grade set by mistake last year so I was able to see the difference between the two. This is more expensive but it has its benefits. For example, the printable materials and teacher resources come on a cd-rom that is much easier to navigate and you can quickly select and print the resources you want to use for the lessons. This is the same text that many schools use for their science curriculum and there is a homeschool version as well as a teacher’s version.

Apologia – This creation-based curriculum is on my short list. I like the areas of emphasis like botany, astronomy, and zoology.

 

Social Studies:

Harcourt Horizons – For first grade we did a little bit of everything for social studies. We didn’t have a specific curriculum to follow. I like the idea of having it all in one place when I want it, but being able to branch out when we are feeling adventurous. I’ve heard good things about this one so I may consider it for our 2nd grade studies.

 

What are your favorite curriculum programs to use? Do you buy specific and structured programs or do you use other resources? Please share your favorites (and your least favorites)!

Summer + Giveaway = Best Summer Ever!

summer giveaway

I have a lot to be excited about right now. A – It’s summer vacation! Today is our last day of school and I look forward to spending time unhurried and unplanned. B – I found a great character building activity book that I love and the kids love, so we’re going to add those activities into our days when we’re hanging out at home with nothing to do. C – I’ve got a giveaway going on for some of the fun activity books I sell as an Usborne Books & More Independent Consultant. I wanted to be sure to tell you about the giveaway with plenty of time to enter. If you win, you’ll get 3 activity books – Optical Illusions Activity Book, What Shall I Draw?, Awesome Doodle Pad – and a set of Brain Games wipe-clean reusable flash cards. The books are super fun and perfect for introducing to the kids when they start complaining that they have nothing to do. To enter the giveaway visit Dandelion Moms here.

Yes, I am excited about not having to plan for lessons every day, but we are a learning house and we will continue to add educational elements to our days. One thing we will be doing is continuing with our character building activity book. Daily Character Education Activities (affiliate link) has 180 lessons that focus on citizenship, compassion, fairness, honesty, respect, responsibility, self-discipline, integrity, trustworthiness, and perseverance. This week we talked about how being a good citizen means respecting all creatures – including animals. We talked about how we can help the animals around us, and how we can respect their space. We are also learning a song that is included in the book about character and the kids really enjoy learning the new verses every week.

daily character education activities

The book gives several ideas for making bird feeders including pretzel hangers, pine cone feeders, and apple treats, but we decided to try the cereal feeder. We took a long piece of yarn and strung it with Cheerios and hung it on our tree that is frequented by bird friends in the morning hours. This activity was great for both of my kids. My first grader still enjoys activities of this nature and it’s a good fine motor skill workout for both of them (ages 7 and 3). We didn’t spot any birds feeding from our cereal but both strings were empty the following day – I’m guessing from the opossum or rats that hide quietly in the tree. Either way, the kids were excited to see that their feeders had fed something.

 

cereal feeder

 

Happy summer! How do you plan to pass the time?