The Collision of Art & Literary History

My children and I love historical reenactments and living history. Not only does it literally bring history to life – it captures our emotions and connects us to the stories of individuals who have made a difference in the lives of others.

In my post last week, Traveling Through Time, I shared with you a little snippet of our experience at a recent Civil War reenactment. Living history volunteers worked together to recreate aspects of a Civil War, sharing with us tales of battles, living conditions, and hardships they faced. We loved singing songs from the era and learning about their pastimes.

Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time.


Pictured here are my children dressed as Snowshoe Thompson and Marie Curie and their friends dressed as Anne Sullivan and Ole Kirk Christiansen in 2013.

Each year, I coordinate a living history day for our local homeschool community.  The event is always a highlight of our homeschool year and we look forward to “talking with the historical people we meet”.

Living history is an art form whereby performers connect art and literary history.

In my post, Bringing History to Life, I share a video of the presentations my children did as Irena Sendler and Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller earlier this year. Sadly, the video I captured of their presentations the preceding year was very poor so I am unable to share that presentation with you.

My kids have just begun to think about the characters they wish to research for their presentation in 2015. I won’t reveal just yet who they have selected, but I will give you a hint. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the man who rediscovered the lost art of the guara, a kind of aboriginal center-board used by the indians of Peru and Ecuador for navigation.

I encourage you to consider hosting a living history event of your own. In my post, Bringing History to Life, I share guidelines and tips for success.

If you have taken part in living history performances or have enjoyed local reenactments, I would love to hear about it. Share your story in the comments! 🙂



Traveling Through Time: Civil War Reenactment

Last month, we had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a field trip coordinated by a friend of mine to a local Civil War reenactment.

Organized in 1991, Reenactors of the American Civil War (RACW) is a non-profit living history organization based in Northern California.  One of their goals is to stimulate interest in the historical significance of the period in our history termed “the War Between the States”.

Comprised of Confederate, Federal and civilian representatives, the group recreated the drama and realities of life during this pivotal time in American history — portraying life as it was for members of both armies in the camps, on campaigns, and in battle.


We were able to watch history come to life with reenactors wearing the clothing of the period, using the speech and mannerisms of the time, and playing and singing the tunes of the 1860s!

Much to our delight (as we had been enduring a drought) it was raining fairly heavy. Many families I discovered were canceling plans to join us due to the rain. The brave men and women who fought in the war and continue to serve and protect us today, did/do so under all extremes of weather.

I did not let the rain keep us indoors. Forging ahead on this field trip gave us a better appreciation of the hardships they endured/endure.

To learn more about the Reenactors of the American Civil War, visit their website. Here you can also find a printable guide for students to help them engage with the volunteers and learn more about the Civil War era.

Don’t Let it Loose: Lessons and Resources to Combat Invasive Turtles

Families nationwide are getting excited about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. If your kids are asking for a Michelangelo or Donatello of their own, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

The most commonly sold turtles in the U.S. are red-eared sliders, an invasive species in the Pacific Region and other parts of the U.S. They are illegal to own in Idaho, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Protect Native The red-eared slider, also known as the red-eared terrapin, is a semiaquatic turtle belonging to the family Emydidae. They get their name from the small red dash around their ears. The “slider” part of their name comes from their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water quickly.

As with other turtles, tortoises, and box turtles, individuals that survive their first year or two can be expected to live generally around 30 years. Understand that adopting a turtle as a pet is a life-long commitment.

Turtles can also carry salmonella, a hazard to immune systems. Before taking home a pet turtle, please consider the hazards and responsibilities of pet turtle ownership.

If you choose to welcome a turtle into your home, remember, Don’t Let It Loose! It’s bad for your pets and bad for the environment.

These turtles damage aquatic ecosystems and compete with our native turtles, like the Western painted turtle and Western pond turtle.

Check out the alternatives to pet release:

For further inquiries check out American Tortoise Rescue.
Don't Release

Invasive Species Resources

If you are interested in learning more about invasive species, the following online resources are a great start.

  • Invasive Species Lessons Plan – Adaptable for students in grades 3-12, students will explore the effects of invasive species.
  • Don’t Let it Loose – Come along on a virtual field trip to learn more about invasive species in South Florida
  • Invasive Species – Video podcasts from Explore Biodiversity
  • Ultimate Invader – Students learn about invasive species and in this activity design the ultimate invader

Turtle Lesson Plans & Resources

If you are interested in learning more about turtles, I’ve gathered a few online resources to help you begin your quest.

  • Sea Turtle Conservancy – Find facts about various types of sea turtles. Track sea turtle activity. Discover ways people are helping endangered species of turtles.
  • Share The Beach – This organization aides in the conservation and protection of nesting sea turtles on the beaches of Alabama. Great info about sea turtles. Tracking information. The site, also, includes information on how you can help in the the conservation of sea turtles.
  • Sea World – Sea turtle information on the Sea World site.
  • Lesson Plans – Sea Turtle lesson plans for grades 6-12 from
  • San Diego Zoo – Activities for grades 6-9 to learn about biodiversity, saving energy, and ecological footprint. This link defines the difference between turtle, tortoise and terrapin.

Moths & Super Moons: Night Science for Families

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Have you ever seen bats darting above your head when your sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows?

The warmer evenings are the perfect time to get outdoors and observe nature after the sun has set. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the summer months.


National Moth Week

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.


Super Moons

The summer of 2014 also provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about our nearest celestial neighbor.  The earth will be bathed in moonlight as three perigee “supermoons” occur in consecutive months: July 12, August 10, and September 9. The scientific term for the phenomenon is Perigee Moon, the point in the Moon’s elliptical orbit closest to Earth. 

Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”).  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.

On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occur every August, peaking around August 9-13. The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. However, a waning Gibbous Moon (the Moon’s phase after a full moon) may make it harder for observers to see the shower.

Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Check with local astronomy clubs and park centers in your local area to learn more about public astronomy events.

Just for Fun

Some activities you might also want to consider are:

  • Join up with a park ranger for a guided moonlight kayak tour.
  • Lay on beach or lake shore and enjoy gazing at the stars. How many constellations can you name?
  • Go for a nature walk on the night of a full moon. Can you find bats or other nocturnal animals?
  • Observe the moon each night for a month and record your observations in a moon journal. Get creative and include art and poetry as you feel inspired.

Wings of Freedom Tour

Serendipitously, the Wings of Freedom Tour came to our area just days after we had read about Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Pacific, and ultimately World War II. It was a great opportunity to tour the authentically restored aircraft and immerse ourselves in living history.

We arrived just a few hours after they were scheduled to appear.  We were able to tour two of the three (the P-51 Mustang had not yet arrived).

wings of freedom

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps.  The B-17 went from design board to flight test in less than 12 months and was the first Boeing military aircraft with a flight deck instead of an open cockpit.

In the Pacific, the B-17s earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them four-engine fighters. The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings. They sometimes limped back to their bases with large chunks of the fuselage shot off.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was one of the principal heavy bombers used by the US Army Air Force during World War II. It was produced in larger numbers than any other American aircraft and its exploits ranged the world over, seeing action in a variety of roles in all major theaters of the war.

The Wings of Freedom Tour is sponsored by the Collings Foundation, a non-profit, Educational Foundation (501c-3). Founded in 1979 to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. The original focus was transportation-related events such as antique car rallies, hill climbs, and carriage and sleigh rides. During the mid-eighties, these activities were broadened to include aviation-related events such as air shows, barnstorming, historical reunions, and joint museum displays.

The B-17, B-24, and P-51 are on the 25th season of the Wings of Freedom Tour, bringing historic aviation to your community!

Flights aboard one of the three for the B-17 or B-25 are also available – an ultimate immersion in history! You can see their 2014 schedule and book flights online at The Collings Foundation: Wings of Freedom.

Field, Forest, & Stream: Forest Ecology

Our STEM Club focus the past few months has been ecology and we recently concluded our three part Field, Forest, & Stream study. As a part of the forest ecology focus, we partnered with the USDA Forest Service to hear first hand how a forester manages a forest and to get a chance to use the real tools of the trade.

I met with the Forest Service staff a few weeks prior to our outing to discuss my goals for the lesson and to visit a couple of different study sites.  We were thereby able to choose the site best suited for the lesson and for our comfort.  Of the two sites we visited, one had experienced a severe forest fire about 10 years prior and though it was a great visual for forest succession (one of the topics we have been covering), there was little to no shade cover as it was still in the shrub stage.  We thereby selected a site nestled in a forested area on the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake.

This post contains affiliate links.

forest ecology

Forest Ecology

From an ecological perspective, the definition of a forest includes all the living components of an area, from the trees to the bacteria, and along with the non-living physical factors, from the soil type to the microclimates. One of the goals of the Forest Service is to provide science-based research, instruction, and extension that supports forest and wildlife conservation and management in an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable fashion.

Tools of the Trade

Upon our arrival, the foresters described the area (noting that plants on the north side of the peninsula were significantly different than on the south side) and instructed the kids in how to determine our pace for 100 feet, information the kids would need to determine the height of the trees.  They then demonstrated the use of a variety of tools – increment borer (to determine age and growth factors), clinometer (to calculate the height), and D-tape (to calculate the diameter of the tree at DBH or diameter at breast height).

forest data

The kids were then divided into groups and walked out to one of four trees that had been previously marked.  Using the tools described, the kids took a variety of measurements and used the data to calculate the approximate value of the selected trees. [The data from two of the trees is shown in the table above.]  What I loved was that the foresters discussed that the tree may be more significant to the health of the overall ecosystem than the monetary value. They then pointed out a tree that had a large number of acorns stashed into the bark by acorn woodpeckers; this was just one of many additional factors that foresters use to manage a forest.

If you would like to undertake a more in-depth forest ecology study, I highly recommend the Tree Study F.I.E.L.D. Kit® by Forestry Suppliers.  The complete kit includes a Tree Finder illustrated manual to determine species, a tangent height gauge and 50m measuring tape to figure heights, and a diameter tape. With these tools, students can study annual growth rings by extracting a core sample with a professional model 8″ increment borer (with 10 core holder cards).

Students can also determine the volume of wood in a tree by using the tree scale stick. The kit also includes biodegradable roll flagging and stake wire flags to delineate research areas. Six plastic handheld magnifiers, six packs of six tree cookies, 12″ ruler, lesson plans correlated with National Science Education Standards, and carrying case box are also included.

Interested in undertaking this study yourself? Field, Forest, & Stream is part of the Life Logic: Ecology Explorations unit that I have developed for middle school students. What better way to learn about ecology than to get out there, collect data, and experience the physical factors that influence the animal and plant communities first hand.