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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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:

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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!

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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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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.

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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.

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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?

5 Math Books That Make Math Fun

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Math is fun! Studies show that math is one of the most popular subjects among kids in preschool and elementary grades. But the new math curriculum, and math for older students shows a decrease in popularity. But even if your elementary student doesn’t like math, these books will make math so much more fun. With these books they’ll be learning math without even realizing it.

this is not a math bookThis Is Not a Math Book:   Art and math collide as children are encouraged to doodle and pattern their way through number-based activities. Learn amazing facts about math while creating artistic designs.

First Illustrated Math Dictionary: We actually get this book out intentionally. We have used it to make 3-D shapes, draw reflections (symmetry), practice using different units of measure, create number lines, and so much more. Don’t let the words “Math Dictionary” scare you. This is a must have for every early elementary student.

How BHow big is a millionig is a Million?: Pipkin is my favorite penguin and this story takes him on a journey to find out just how big a million is. He discovers lots of things about numbers and quantity on his adventure and the pocket at the back of the book includes a poster to give readers a visual of just how big a million is.

Lift-the-Flap Times Tables: Yep. It says times tables right on the front, but kids love lifting flaps and finding out what’s underneath. They’ll keep flipping and keep reading, which means they’ll keep learning. Easy and fun all in one.

50 brain games50 Brain Games: Flashcards, not a book, but all included in one box with a dry erase pen. This set includes lots of number and logic puzzles that keep minds working and learning. Who knew word problems could be fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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