Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Story of North Carolina: NC Museum of History

With a Grandma and Great Grandma in town and the need to find something to do, but not too strenuous, we decided to head over to see the "Story of North Carolina" exhibit at the NC Museum of History. This exhibit has been open since April of this year, but I had yet to make it inside until yesterday. It was definitely worth our time, and you can't beat the fact that it is all free!

The creators of this exhibit start with pre-history (about 4,000 B.C.E.) and work their way toward the present. Interspersed with the artifacts are hands-on displays, and lovely touches like a reconstructed Native American hut, a real house from 1742, a cow to milk, little detailed, miniature scenes, and much more.
My kids had enough hands-on to keep them engaged, while the older people were able to read and learn about this State's varied and fascinating history. Here are a few more pictures to give you an idea.

Some of my favorite parts were the little moving figurines and the detailed miniature scenes interspersed throughout.

 All time periods of American history are covered, from Paleolithic times, Colonial, our four major wars (Revolutionary, Civil, WWI and WWII), the depression, and a great video at the end detailing current facts and figures of a state starting to diversify and change. It's a great way to start on any history lessons you may be planning, and not a bad afternoon.

If you are interested, and are a plan-ahead kind of person, an Exhibit Guide can be found here.

The North Carolina Museum of History is at 5 East Edenton Street in downtown Raleigh, NC. Their phone number is 919-807-7900.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


 Happy Holidays to all!

This photo is of our new ornament for the year. I try to get a new one each year, and this one seemed appropriate. For some reason, dragons have been big in our house the past couple of years and I love the way this dragon seems to have taken possession of the candy cane (MINE). Anyway, with dragons on the mind, it seemed like a good time to share some of our favorite dragon stories. Here's a pretty good list if you have a dragon lover in your life!

On the little kid, picture book front...

Trafalgar True (A Serendipity Book) by Stephen Cosgrove (A sweet book with a lesson on sharing) 5 and up

Dragons Dragons by Eric Carle (...a fun rundown on mythical beasts) 5 and up

Saint George and the Dragon adapted by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen (A retelling of an old story with lovely artwork. A little violent, but I had to include it in any list of dragon stories.)

The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie Paola (... a lovely little picture book showing how you learn from books and sometimes work things out in ways you didn't expect.) ages 4 and up

The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash (...another cute rhyming book about bravery). ages 3 and up

Beginner chapter books and Juvenile literature:

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi
 (semi-beginer chapter book about a little rabbit and his new friend. It's a rehash of The Reluctant Dragon in essence.) ages 8 and up.

Magic Tree House Series #37: Dragon of the Red Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne (Jack and Anne go to ancient Japan and learn some Japanese mythology) ages 6 and up.

Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke (a boy, a dragon, and a brownie set off to save all of dragon kind) ages 9 and up.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (I of-course must include this one, which was just made into movie. It is indeed an entertaining story.) ages 7 and up.

Hatching Magic and The Dragon of Never Was by Ann Downer (These are entertaining stories that will take you in unexpected places. I enjoyed them myself, and for Harry Potter fans, wizards are involved.) ages 9 and up.
Dragon's Milk,  Flight of the Dragon Kyn, and Sign of the Dove and by Susan Fletcher (A young girl finds herself a surrogate mother to a small group of baby dragons while trying to find a cure for her sister. This series of books are great fantasy reading.) ages 9 and up.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (No list would be complete without this classic. Is has been made into films and theatrical productions. A story where the dragon would rather not fight and the message is to not judge people, or dragons, before you meet them.) ages 8-11

Dragonsdale, and Dragonsdale #2: Riding the Storm by Salamanda Drake (Another cute set of stories about a young girl and dragons. Maybe not my favorite, but fun.) ages 8 and up.

The Fire Within, Icefire and Fire Star (and more in this series) by Chris D'Lacey (These books were not my favorites. I found them rather predictable and not super well written, but my daughter enjoyed them. Clay dragons that come to life and another spunky little girl heroin.) ages 7 and up

The Dragon Princess by E.D. Baker (A princess with a dark secret. She turns into a dragon when she is angry. An endearing series of books about Millie the princess and her adventures.) ages 8 and up.

Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons. (Every thing you might want to know about dragons from the true expert, Dr. Earnest Drake. This book is full of cool little pockets, maps, and other extras.) ages 8 and up.

Dragon SlippersDragon Flight and and Dragon Spear by Jessica Day George (Yet another spunky female heroin. A very fun series.) ages 10 and up.

Dragon Slayer's Academy by Kate McMullan. (Comedic little books with a boy for a young hero. Zany and good for kids just starting on chapter books.) ages 7 and up.

The Last Dragon by Silvana DeMari. (This little gem was my daughters favorite book for a whole year. It is funny and sweet and will charm you.) ages 9 and up.

Young Adult and Adult books:

Eragon, Eldest and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. (These, of course, were made into a movie recently. The author was at the time of writing a teenage homeschooler, so that is a bonus. I've read enough fantasy at this point to find these a little predictable and shallow character-wise, but still fun.) ages 12 and up.


Dragons of Pern series Anne McCafferey and now Todd McCafferey (Dragonriders of Pern series, Harper Hall trilogy, and many more books set in this fascinating world. (I've read Anne McCafferey's books voraciously and love the world she created. It's a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit a fantasy, and well developed and likable characters. Her son has recently taken over and tried to continue the saga. Still my favorite series to this day.)

I'll end with The Unexpected Dragon by Mary Brown (This is a lovely trilogy, engaging, fun and surprising. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy. I don't usually keep my fantasy books after I read them, but I couldn't let this one go.)

Happy holidays to you all and happy reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



I've heard this term "tween" a lot but not payed much attention to it in the past. After all, until I have one, it's not worth worrying my already crammed and overworked head with it. However, recently my daughter, who is just starting to show signs of leaving little-kid-hood, asked me with great trepidation if she was a "tween" and I had to go in search of some clarification in order to answer truthfully. There is actually a wikipedia page on this. It says:

tween is a North American neologism that describes a person who is between the ages of 9 and 12 years old (grades 4-7).[1] The term is often described in popular media as referring to a pre-adolescent (usually female) who is at the "in-between" stage in their development when they are considered "too old for toys, too young for boys".[2][3][4] The "tween" stage ends with the onset of puberty.

Tweens are "in-between" being a child and a teen. They are children in the sense that they are not yet teenagers, but they differ from small children in that they are not primarily occupied with play.[5] They are often going through a period of rapid social, physiological and emotional development. The tween years are a time of the most rapid and dramatic change in development since conception.[5]

Well, I'd like to know why this applies mostly to girls, but I will agree that it is an awkward stage. Too young to be a teen or do all the things open to teens, and yet not quite wanting to do "little kid" stuff anymore either. It seems like a no-man's-land of human development. I see this in the sudden thoughtfulness and real helpfulness in my daughter. She'll surprise me by offering to do something truly useful for me or for others in a way that is so mature, I have to wonder where this new person came from. At other times she seems to revert back to toddler-dom with completely irrational tantrums and fears. Having a bad cold this past week, she was convinced that the congestion in her throat was going to suffocate her, and no matter what I said or did I could convince her otherwise (this is just a sample of the kind of craziness we used to get a lot). A couple of weeks ago a loud wail brought everyone running just to find out that she was in tears over another dredlock-like knot in her hair. I'm glad it wasn't a broken bone, but geese, the hysteria definitely didn't fit the situation!...Oh the drama!

Another aspect is that, even though she has always been "strong willed" and tenacious (don't you like that word?) when she wants something, lately she seems to be getting a perverse pleasure out of arguing with me. It's almost as if the actual argument doesn't matter, but the sheer joy of not backing down and trying to get the last word is really the point. The completely perverse flip-side of this is that she suddenly can't seem to make her own decisions anymore and frequently wants me to make her decisions for her. Someone please tell me this is normal!!

I do remember Middle School and how painful it all was. I thank my lucky stars that she doesn't have to go into that morass of hormones and growing up too fast at the schools. She can continue to socialize with the amazing girls we already know through homeschooling and decide to grow up at her own pace. For now I guess I'll sigh and chant "keep calm" in my head and hope that I can help her while she tries to figure out who she is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Antarctica - a lesson plan

I just did a class on this topic for a co-op we are in and thought I would share my lesson plan and some of the resources I gathered. Antarctica seems an appropriate topic when it is getting chilly outside, and it's a really interesting and exciting topic too!

This lesson was aimed at third graders and assorted smaller siblings and lasted about an hour in a group discussion format. I decided to break down the information into four topics: geography and weather, animal and plant life, Antarctic exploration, and current research.

I. Geography
  a. Where is it on the globe? Temperatures, day and night cycles, summer and winter, desert-like conditions. It is the 5th largest continent and as big as the U.S. and Mexico combined.
  b. Some major features. Transantarctic Mountains, Ross, and Ronne ice shelves, Antarctic Peninsula, geographic and magnetic south poles. The land is mostly below sea level, and yet the ice is high enough that it is the highest continent on Earth. Glaciers, icebergs, seasonal sea ice, winds, aurora australis. Fun facts.
  c. Ocean currents

II. Antarctic Life
  a. mostly ocean based - upwelling causes an extremely productive ecosystem (4 times more than any other ocean), the food web (phytoplankton, zooplankton and krill, birds, fish, seals, whales)
  b. very little land life- a couple of plants: moss, lichen and one kind of grass, one flightless midge
  c. types of birds - shearwaters, petrels, skuas, albatross, fulmars, prions, storm petrels, cormorants, gulls, terns
  d. types of penguins - Adele, African, Chinstrap, Emperor, Erect-crested, Fiordland, Gentoo, Humbolt, King, Macaroni, Rockhopper, Royal, Yellow-eyed
  c. types of seals - Weddell, Fur, Crabeater, Leopard, Elephant
 d. types of whales -  Southern right, see, minke, blue, humpback, sperm, killer, hourglass dolphin, four tooth whale, right whale dolphin, southern bottle nose whale

III. Antarctic Exploration
  a. 1772-1775. British Captain James Cook spent three years trying to reach the continent, but was unable to get past the ice.
  b. 1820's. People began hunting fur seals on nearby islands for oil and fur. When they were almost wiped out by the 1830'2, they switched to whales.
  c. 1841. British Captain James Clark Ross discovered Mount Erebus and the Ross ice shelf . The ice on the shelf can be 1,000 feet thick, and 600 miles long.
  d. 1895. First man to step foot on Antarctica was whaler Henryk Bull on Cape Adare.
  e. 1911. The Race to the Pole! Two expeditions went out to try to reach the south pole. Norwegian Roald Amundsen left on October 19 with four men and 52 dogs. They reached the South Pole on December 14, planted a flag, spent a couple of days making sure it was the right spot, and headed back to the coast. They made it back on January 25, 1912 with all men and 11 dogs. British man Robert Scott set out on November 2 with four men, sled dogs and ponies. Unfortunately, the men were unexperienced with sled dogs and couldn't control them, the ponies died, and they ended up pulling the sleds themselves. They did reach the South Pole, exhausted, on January 18 only to find the Norwegian flag already there. They headed back, but none of them made it.
  f. 1914- 1916. Sir Earnest Shackleton and his voyage on the Endurance. Wanted to be the first to cross the Antarctic on foot. They were well prepared, but things went wrong. They got caught in the pack ice in the Weddell Sea. When their boat was eventually crushed by the ice, they set off with everything they could carry across the ice until they reached open water. They made it through rough seas and reached an isolated island where they made camp and weathered the worst of the winter storms. Knowing they were not going to be rescued and starving, six of them, including Shackleton, set out in one of the boats with a jerry-rigged sail to try to reach an island where they knew there was a whaling camp. Two weeks of fighting some of the roughest seas in the world and they made it! Only, they were on the wrong side of the island. Starving, frostbitten and in rags, they hiked 26 miles across mountains to reach the settlement. Amazingly, they were able to rescue their shipmates two months later and all were returned alive after two entire years lost. Not a man died.

IV. Government and Research
  a. the Antarctic Treaty - Signed in 1959, 12 nations agreed to designate Antarctica a research preserve. It is owned by no one nation and mining, oil exploration, and military activity are all banned.
  b. research stations - 30 countries currently operate research stations on the continent. The United States has three: McMurdo Station, the Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station, and the Palmer Station on the Peninsula. The McMurdo station is the largest, with as many as 1,000 people there in the summer.
  c. current research - touch on each of these
    1. climate
    2. fossils and paleohistory
    3. meteorites
    4. astronomy
    5. study of ocean life - antifreeze
  d. What would you bring to the Antarctic? Break up into groups and make a list of things you might bring with you if you were to spend 6 weeks at Palmer Station. You can only bring two bags (max. 70 pounds) and a carry-on. When they have their lists, come back together and talk about it.

Resources and materials (some used for this lesson and some just great sources!):

a globe
a good map (I used a National Geographic map of the Antarctic I had as well as passed out a copy I found on the internet)
March of the Penguins (movie)
March of the Penguins (book summary)
Here is Antarctica (Web of Life) by Medeleine Dunphy and Tom Leonard
Antarctica (book) by Helen Cowcher
TED talk by Paul Nicklen: Tales of Ice-bound Wonderlands. National Geographic photographer shows his photos and shares his stories. The end of this talk he shares his experience of getting into the water with an enormous leopard seal. This part of the talk starts at about 13:16.
TED talk by Ray Zahab: Ray Zahab treks to the South Pole
for more mature readers: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing and
South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance by Earnest Shackleton
shorter accounts for kids:
Spirit of Endurance: The True Story of the Shackleton Expedition to the Antarctic (This is a tall book with some great illustrations and maps.)
Trial by Ice: A Photobiography of Sir Ernest Shackleton

...and a small sprinkling of websites:
Discovering Antarctica:
Cool Antarctica:
New Zealand Antarctic
NOAA's Antarctica Page:
Antarctic Lesson Plans

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Off the Bookshelves: The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket

If you are talking about holiday books, I LOVE this one. Probably because it is as mixed up and schizophrenic about the holidays as we are in our house. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, and every year it gets all mixed up and confused. This book captures that SO well. I get a great laugh every time.

Lemony Snicket is the author of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books. His droll humor comes out in this book, as is evidenced when the latke (a traditional Jewish potato pancake) has to tell the Christmas lights that he is NOT A HASHBROWN! Underneath the humor and screaming (AHHHHHHH!)  is an educational message about what Hanukkah is and what some of the traditions are. It also provides a perspective on what it's like to be a non-Christmas celebrating person in a country absorbed by Christmas every year. In this respect, it's a fun and educational book, even for those with simpler and more straight-forward traditions. There is even a recipe for latkes at the end! Yum!

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Improv Everywhere: Fun video rehash

I recently watched this TED video and really got a laugh. It's Charlie Todd talking about his project, Improv Everywhere. The idea is that a lot of people get together and stage seemingly random events in public places where they all do the same thing. The goal is to get people to laugh, or sometimes just be mildly bewildered and stunned out of their normal lives (small warning: the first video shows the "Pants-less Subway Ride" and mentions that the poor girl being duped is reading a book called "Rape").

I know these videos came out two or three years ago (or more) and went around the internet, but sometimes it's great to rediscover things. The day I watched the TED talk I spent the next hour or so watching a whole series of these hilarious pranks and having a good laugh with the kids. Since it's the holidays and supposed to be a time of good cheer, I thought I would share some of our favorites.

Frozen Grand Central Station

Star Wars Subway Car

The Human Mirror

Ghostbusters in the New York Public Library

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Off the Book Shelves: The Seven Silly Eaters

 Ok, so I make no secret of the fact that I am a bit of a book junky. I was a book junky before homeschooling, and now after five years of homeschooling... well, maybe it's gotten a tad out of hand.:) This is why I say "bookshelves" and not "bookshelf". I know I'm not the only homeschooler complaining of the mounds of books taking over the house, but at the same time I have to admit I'm a little bit proud of it. After all, these books are not for show. We are actually reading these books... well, most of them anyway.:) Not only have I gone to book fairs, used book stores, and homeschool stores, I also inherited a great number of books from family (we have the first and oldest grandchildren) and bought a fair number online. I do periodically go through and try to cull them a bit, and so, all appearances aside, what we have now is mostly our favorites plus the ones we still need to read or will review at some point. Since I have so many books I love, I thought I might share a few with you here and there, especially the ones you might not have heard of before.

 My shelves are not neat and tidy, but I like to think that there is a wealth of beauty and knowledge in the mess anyway.
Does your house look like this? If not, don't tell me.

Well, last night we weren't able to do our usual chapter book reading at story time, so my daughter brought out a couple of her old favorites. This one was given to us as a birthday present and it's been a favorite ever since.

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee. What I think we love most about this book is it's detailed and amusing illustrations. It's a really fun book to read out loud as well, and after some of the books I've read out loud lately, I really appreciate a book that has great rhythm to it. The kids love to hear about all the personalities of the kids (and I keep thinking MY GOD, is it possible to have that many kids that fast!?). It's just a fun book all around, and it hits obliquely upon a few worthwhile topics, like helping out and working together. I also love that the mom and dad seem to be modern do-it-yourself kind of people. The mom plays cello in her spare time, and the dad helps out too. 

This is a picture book good for any kid three and up and a terrific pick for family story time.