Autobiography Maps: Our Life as an Island

I originally discovered this creative autobiography project activity years ago. When I shared it with my kids, they were excited to give it a try. I am now looking forward to using it in my ELL classroom this fall.

I started with a short questionnaire that got the kids thinking about important things that have happened during their lives, items or activities that represent them currently, and goals that they have for the future.

We spent a few minutes talking about our interests and revisited the essays they had written previously.

Gautobiomap   Jautobiomap
We then discussed elements of actual maps:

  • Scale:   Scale is used to show that a certain distance on the map represents the actual distance on the earths surface.  On a map, scale is represented using words (for example, one inch = 400 miles) or using a graphic (a line graph).
  • Title:   What the map is about. The title is generally the biggest, darkest, most noticeable text on your map.
  • Legend or Key:   Used for defining and understanding the symbols found on the map. It is usually in one of the corners of the map and is often enclosed by a box. It explains the meaning of the different sizes, shapes, and colors used in the map.
  • Symbols:   The things on the map which stand for or represent real things on the earth’s surface. Symbols vary according to 2 categories: color and shape.  For example: a star ê is often used to represent the capital city or yellow to represent a desert.
  • Compass:   The compass shows which way is up on the map. Nearly all maps are printed so that north is towards the top of the page.  This is shown by a compass rose using N, S, E, and W.
  • Location:   Where the place or places shown on the map are exactly location the earth.  Lines of latitude and longitude are used on the map to show the location.  You should have at least one line of latitude and one line of longitude.
  • Border:   The outside edge of the map. This is a thick, 1 inch straight line around the outside of the map. The border can be left blank if the entire ocean is colored. It helps direct people’s attention to the map.

Lastly, I set out the art materials and they got to work. They opted not to include all the map elements but using a rubric, each included enough detail to achieve a desirable score.

I did not use letter grades in our homeschool but did occasionally incorporate rubrics to keep them accountable as well as to prepare them for more formal courses. In my ELL classroom, I will use a simplified version of the rubric. I’ll share that soon.

Autobiography Maps is an activity I discovered on Ms. López in the Art Room. You can find the scoring guide and questionnaire I used here.

Summer Science Ideas for Teens & Tweens

For many families across the country, these past few months have been a struggle. I know keeping kids engaged and learning is not always easy.

Now that summer is here, I find kids are burned out on online worksheets. Fortunately, summer science can be more than hands-on. Grab a dip net and lead the kids on a fully immersive science adventure!

Here are a dozen or more ideas you can use with your middle level science students stay active and engaged in enrichment activities all through summer.

Community Science Opportunities

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and other insects.

Sadly, the number of pollinators is in decline. Other environmental factors are limiting the range of meadows and wildflower habitats, each of which have begun to show signs of succession.

Restoring native landscapes play a critical role in our ecosystem. Native plants provide shelter and food for pollinators, require less watering and maintenance, and add lasting color to any garden.

If you are concerned about saving bees, butterflies and other pollinators, #beecounted by helping the National Pollinator Garden Network reach one million bee-friendly gardens by National Pollinator Week.

The word citizen was originally included in the term citizen science to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists. Today, it is important that we recognize that the term has become limiting in some contexts. As a part of my commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, I have transitioned from using the term “citizen science” to the more inclusive term “community science.” 

The ninth annual National Moth Week, July 18-26, invites novice and experienced “moth-ers,” alike, to observe these fascinating creatures in their own backyards and contribute to our scientific knowledge as part of one of the world’s largest community science projects.

Find more community science projects and opportunities here.

image of teen setting a crab trap at low tide

Hands-on Summer Science

Take a walk outside or along a nearby trail and observe the natural surroundings. Encourage your budding naturalists to start a nature journal.

Consider journaling activities in the classroom or allow them to develop their skills independently.

Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a Rube Goldberg contraption, a skyscraper, or a bottle cap mural project.

Have students create a photo journal to document the trees, flowers, or common insects in your area.

Join Ms. Frizzle and her students on The Magic School Bus each month in exploring one of twelve different science topics through hands-on experiments with The Magic School Bus Science Club from The Young Scientists Club.

Practice your navigational skills using only a compass with orienteering! Set up a course in the neighborhood park and invite a few friends.

Virtual Field Trips & Movies

Summer is the perfect time for field trips. There are many benefits of local museums and science centers. Unfortunately, COVID19 restrictions have closed many popular museums and visitor centers.

Don’t worry! Many locations around the world offer ways to visit and explore their exhibits virtually. There are many movies to choose from to inspire further explorations of STEAM concepts. I will share my favorites soon.


What STEAM activities do you and your children enjoy in the summer months? Leave a comment below and share your ideas. 🙂

How Do Pets Help With Homeschooling?

Pets can be a distraction, but did you know they can also be a part of your child’s classroom? Many children love animals, and their interests can be used as motivation to read, write, solve problems, and create projects. 

Whether they can play along as a “student”, provide a source of comfort, or serve as a topic for a subject, pets are beneficial. Here are some of the many ways your fur babies can be a great addition to your curriculum.  

Teaches Responsibility & Pet Care

The first question parents typically ask when their children want a new pet is, “Are you going to take care of it?” With homeschooling, you can incorporate pet care and responsibility into their schedule. You can give your child essentials roles; tasks as simple as providing water and food to larger jobs such as walking and cleaning cages. 

You can take it a step further by outlining how to properly care for animals. When my daughter wanted a pet rabbit, I asked her to write a persuasive essay to convince us she was ready for the responsibility.

Students can research animal behavior and what type of enrichment items or pet toys are out there. Many retail and pet-related websites such as Pet Life have blogs that go into detail on pet care and safety. If students do their homework, they might even teach you a thing or two about animal companions. 

Provides Emotional Support

You have heard of emotional support animals. It is no different in your home – especially when it comes to facing challenges in homeschooling. The presence of pets has a positive impact on a child’s mental health. According to Pets in the Classroom, many children turn to their animal companions for comfort and emotional support, which is proven to relieve stress and anxiety.

My daughter has often expressed how much she relies on her fur babies to encourage her to work hard in her studies. Her pet rats will often curl up in the hood of her sweatshirt or climb into the pocket as she completes her math or chemistry calculations.

Your pets can comfort your children on their sick days, keep them company, and boost morale. The best part is that they can have them close during exams – pets are like a test buddy without the risk of cheating! 

Aids in Social Skills

Much of the social skills children develop comes from group projects, presentations, and interacting with others. If your home is lacking in peers, your pets can make for fun participants. If your little one struggles with public speaking and reading aloud, practicing in front of your cat or dog can help overcome anxiety and boost their reading skills.

Promotes Physical Activity During Breaks

Up until recently, recess was a perfect opportunity for children to run around and exert their energy through sports and playtime. A combination of being at home, not having peers to play with, and having access to tablets and smartphones is the perfect storm for a sedentary lifestyle.

If you have a dog, playtime can range from walks around the block to playing fetch at the park using dog toys. Otherwise, yoga and other fun kid activities are available online. This provides quality time outdoors with their animal companion and at times, much-needed stress relief.  

Incorporating Pets Into Your Curriculum 

Your pet can also serve as a midpoint between written assignments and hands-on training and observation. Here are some common school subjects and how animals can play a role in your child’s education. 

Mathematics and Finance

For younger children, simple math can be through giving treats or learning how to measure their weight or food. Having a pet is a financial responsibility. Older children can learn how to manage money by creating a budget. As important life skill is developed as they calculate how much it cost to care of an animal.

Biology 

Animals can also be showcased as part of a science observation. Students can research their ideal habitat, physiology, diet, and other needs to keep them healthy. 

Another idea is to undertake an animal behavior study. Older children can create what is called an ethogram or data table that lists the common behaviors of their pet. They can then use the chart to compile observational data as part of a larger study.

You can also help them take note of different breeds, traits, and characteristics of your pet’s pedigree and others. You and your child may learn much more than you expected about your animal friend. 

Psychology

Much of psychology and behavior was observed by how people and animals react to things. Pets are no different. Teaching a dog to fetch or sit on command provides learning opportunities for children. They can learn about processes such as positive and negative reinforcement as well as other terminology to achieve the desired behavior. 

Take it a step further by using safe psychology experiments on your pets! Can your hamster make their way through a maze to find their favorite treats? What does it take to teach your dog to shake paws with you? Many of these questions can be applied to your science and behavior studies. 

Art and Literature

If your child is young, they may have fun anthropomorphizing (giving human characteristics to) animals in their stories. You can encourage creative writing and illustrate the story together. There are many pet-related craft ideas online for your child to enjoy. 

When they are done, they can read the story to their pet. It is a great opportunity to teach literary devices and other story-telling elements involving their animal friends. 

My daughter wrote a book about an adventurous panda cub when she was in grade school, Mei Mei the Panda. I scanned her artwork and helped her to type up the story to publish in a bound book. It is now a keepsake we cherish.

History and Laws

Older children can learn how animal domestication came to be. They can also learn what purpose different animals have served and geographic origins.

Current events and local laws may be another great subject to touch on when it comes to your pets. Students can learn about animal rights and why specific exotic animals and testing are illegal. Learning about animal preservation can branch into protecting endangered species from hunting, pollution, and extinction. 

Conclusion

Going to class with your pet has to be one of the best perks of being homeschooled. Not only is it fun, pet ownership on its own is a valuable lesson that every child should have. Adopting pets into your child’s homeschool twill add interest, create amazing memories, and build relationships with their favorite animal companion. 

Multilingual Resources for Kids

I am on the cusp of a new season in my life. This autumn, as my eldest prepares to transfer to the university and move away from home, I will be returning to a brick and mortar classroom full time. I will be working with English Language Learners as the K-12 specialist. As such, I am on a quest to build a multilingual classroom library.

 My students come from all over the world and are a diverse population of students. They speak a variety of native languages such as; Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Palauan, Urdu, and many more!

Today, I highlight a few of my recent multilingual resources that I have discovered. I am excited to share these with my students in a few months.

Multilingual Story Books

Dylan’s Birthday Present

Dylan’s Birthday Present by Victor Dias de Oliveira Santos is an adorable story about a young polygot who desires a pet chicken for his birthday. The illustrations are a delight and children will be drawn into the creative and out-of-the-box story.

Dylan and his best friend, Emma, live in the USA. Both children have parents who came to the United States from foreign countries. The parents speak to their children in different languages. Dylan’s parents speak Portuguese, Ukrainian, and English while Emma’s parents speak to her in Zulu and English. As a result, the two kids became polyglots, people who speak more than a single language.

Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

As children enjoy the story, they will identify with the characters, realize that having friends is a good thing, and become inspired to study (realizing that skills acquired by study can be very beneficial), and perhaps learn a new language.

The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Chinese Mouse

The Fabulous Lost & Found … series by Mark Pallis and Peter Baynton is another delightful story and it is available in many different languages. I had the pleasure to review the The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Chinese Mouse.

The story features a little mouse who enters the Lost & Found. The little mouse speaks only Chinese though and thus the proprietors – Mr. & Mrs. Frog – endeavor to figure out what the mouse is has lost.

There is a special magic about learning words another language and using them: I truly think it warms the heart. ~ Mark Pallis

The target age is 2-7, but my teen daughter enjoyed the story and remarked, “I actually know all the characters!” The unique ‘story-centered’ language learning method combines humor and emotion to gently introduce kids to 50 simple and fun Chinese words and phrases. 

Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Multilingual Music

Una Idea Tengo Yo is the latest album by Latin Grammy winners Andrés and Christina – the music duo of 123 Andrés. The eleven songs feature upbeat Spanish language songs that seek to answer a child’s curious questions about science, technology, engineering, and math.

Available in CD or MP3

123 Andrés combine a broad sampling of rhythms and Latin American music genres with familiar tunes. The Farmer in the Dell, for example, becomes El Agua y el Viento with new lyrics to edu-tain children as they learn how water and wind affect the Earth’s topography.

Other STEM topics include the four seasons, outer space, matter, animal habitats, light & sound, and much more. Lyrics and translations are available online.

Frame from video for Diez Perritos

For more bilingual children’s music, check out my earlier post about  José-Luis Orozco.

You can also find their STEM videos on YouTube or visit their website 123 Andrés to see their other releases, including an adorable book Hello Friend, Hola Amigo!

What’s in My Naturalist Bag?

In my mind, nature journaling is the perfect hobby. It incorporates so many of my passions – a love for the outdoors, the challenge of a long walk in the wild, the joy of creating something beautiful, and an inclination to learn more about the world around me. As such, whenever I venture outdoors, my naturalist bag is never far from my side.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

I love to nature journal and have been teaching students of all ages how to begin nature journaling for many, many years. One of the questions my students always ask is, “What’s all in your naturalist bag?” “What all do you carry with you?”

My Naturalist’s Bag

Before we dive into the contents, a naturalist’s bag is simply a tote, backpack, or anything portable. Essentially it is a field kit with painting and drawing materials that you can take outside for a leisurely afternoon walk or a quiet morning on the beach.

Please don’t look at what I carry now and think that you must make yours the same!  Your naturalist’s bag is a personal reflection of your preferences. You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  We are each on a different paths and our journals – and even our bags – reflect that journey. For example, I still erase quite a bit but my daughter does not. She prefers to see how her lines work together to tell a certain type of story. 

“Nature journaling can be a quick fifteen minute sketch or an hour of painting and color immersion.”  

Getting Started

Tools are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to start with more than a few things: pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and paper. These may be any type of your choosing; the important thing is to start drawing! I find that an inexpensive .7 mm mechanical pencil is a great tool. They never need sharpening, they provide a fairly wide range of darks (depending on your paper), and they are easy to refill or replace.

In an earlier post, I share 5 tips for Getting Started Keeping a Nature Journal.

Whatever your materials, get acquainted with them. See what they can do, what types of lines they make — what darkest or lightest marks? If you’re brushing up on drawing skills and have an assortment of tools, use those that are most comfortable, at least to start. As you gain experience and get more comfortable, you can expand your kit.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

The Essentials I Carry:

Here’s an example of my naturalist’s kit. I tried to make it as portable as possible.

Travelogue Drawing Book – I love the small size of the square 5.5 x 5.5. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. It works well with many mediums: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and markers. The paper also accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. In the inside back cover is a clear pocket envelope perfect for tucking away feathers, leaves or other flat specimens.

Prismacolor col-erase blue pencil – My new favorite item is the col-erase non-photo blue pencil. It is the perfect tool to sketch out the basic shapes and create a framework for the finished work. When the piece is finished, the blue fades into the background and is less noticeable than a standard pencil.

Black Micron Pigmas – The smaller sizes are my preferred pen for stippling and fine detail. I use the larger nibs to journaling narrative.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Pan Set – I currently have the Vintage Pastel set. I love the colors, especially the sage and dark rose. I am considering additional palettes but my daughter is encouraging me to make my own customized set.

Waterbrushes – I have recently begun to use brushes which have a hollow barrel in the handle that can be filled with water. These are great tools for field sketching and more compact.

If you are interested in the online courses I teach, follow these links for more information. I teach Junior Naturalists Classes for youth & Nature Journaling in the Classroom, a course for adult educators.

Other Favorites I Carry:

Easthill Large Capacity Pencil Case – I love the larger size of this pencil bag. It fits an assortment of mechanical pencils, artist drawing pencils, a selection of colored pencils, an eraser, and pencil sharpener. I like the white erasers as they don’t leave a colored residue behind.

Prismacolor Pencils – I love Prismacolor pencils! They lay down color and blend together so smoothly – it’s like coloring with butter. For many years this was my absolute favorite medium. It was thereby economical for me to purchase the large set. I don’t carry them all with me in my naturalist’s bag however. If you haven’t used them before, consider buying them individually at an art store or a small set of 12-24.

Extras: I also keep a small ruler, a white birthday candle for watercolor resist, a portion of a cotton sock which I have cut to serve as an arm cuff, a small magnifying glass, zip-lock bags or empty Rx containers for small samples. NOTE: the Rx containers are not totally leak-proof, so keep them empty in your kit. As a precaution I keep anything wet or damp in a zip-lock bag.

It’s worthy to note that I also carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water.

Anti-Racist Resources for Home & Classroom

Across the nation, communities are feeling the weight of the recent tragic events with heavy hearts. The pain of these events is felt not only here in the United States but around the world.

As an educator and parent, it is important that I am attuned to the feelings and experiences of my children and my students. I have compiled this list of anti-racist resources so I educate myself and be a better advocate for diversity.

Image of a sunset to symbolize the the work of anti-racism to bring racism to a close. Text overlay reads "Anti-Racist Educational Resources"

As a family, we do not condone racism of any kind. We value diversity and equity. We are committed to improving our community.

During times like this, it is important to look inward and recognize that we can do better and how we can improve. As a family, we pledge to find ways we can continue to learn and help make a difference in our community.

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against racism that harms you. You are beautiful. Tell me how to do better.”

~ CAROLOS A. RODRIGUEZ

We acknowledge that we have a long way to go in addressing the issues of diversity and equity, but we are committed to doing this work. 

Anti-Racist Resources

1. Know Your History

Educate yourself on anti-blackness, systemic oppression, privilege, and the role you and your communities play in upholding systems of white supremacy.

Non-Fiction Books

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Color of Money by Mehrsa Baradarn
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations

Fiction Books

  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • Stumped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The national Black Lives Matter At School coalition’s brilliant Curriculum Committee put together lesson plans on each of the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter for every grade level. 

Where do you fall on the Racism Scale ?

Anti-racism Resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein

Anti-Oppressive/Anti-Racist Home School Options

More resources from Embrace Race

21st century, oh what a shame, what a shame
That race, race still matters
A race 2 what, & where we going?

~ PRINCE & 3RDEYEGIRL – “Dreamer”

2. Listen

Listen to resources from Black women, Black community, Black leaders, Black activists, Black authors, Black podcasters. Do NOT put the labor on Black people to educate you.

In response to current events, Warner Bros. is offering free streaming of its film “Just Mercy throughout the month of June.

Watch these films:

  • Hidden Figures
  • When They See Us
  • Dear White People
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • American Son
  • LA 92
  • Just Mercy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Hate U Give
  • Selma
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Malcolm X

Follow these activists on Instagram:

Array 101 ~ A four-part film that tells the harrowing story of the wrongful arrest and incarceration of teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise in New York.

3. Stay Updated

Follow the hashtags to stay updated on continuing action.

  • #BlackLivesMatter
  • #AhmaudArbery
  • #GeorgeFloyd
  • #JusticeforBreonnaTaylor
  • #iRunwithMaud

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

~ ANGELA Y. DAVIS

Call your family, friends, and community leaders in dialogue around anti-blackness and violence agains the Black community.

Unsure how to talk with little kids about racism, check out the post, Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

Also consider the ideas here, Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race

Donate to a cause:

I know the difficulties and pain of these events do not stop today nor tomorrow. Neither should the work that we are committing to do to ensure the values of diversity and equity.

If you have ideas or resources, leave a comment below.