Taking the Pledge to Pack – Decorating Canvas Bags

Yesterday afternoon, our Roots & Shoots club gathered to enjoy one another’s company while decorating canvas bags. It was part of a global effort to reduce our use of plastic.  Most of the girls enjoyed the activity and were focused for nearly 45 minutes on their bags… the boys on the other hand, were more interested in burning off excess energy. Amazing how boys and girls differ so much in this regard.

I had stencils & fabric paints readily available and as the children worked on their bags (everyone brought their own), I talked about the purpose of the activity (to reduce our use of disposable paper and plastic bags). Through a little research, we have learned that the production of both paper and plastic bags uses a tremendous amount of natural resources. There are pros and cons to both materials and thereby the “greenish” choice is to use re-usable bags or baskets (canvas, hemp or other natural fibers).

When the children had completed their bags and while we waited for the paint to dry, I had activity stations set up in the kitchen to allow the children an opportunity to explore how a bird’s beak/bill is specially adapted to eating specific foods. I found the activity in Ranger Rick’s Nature Scope Birds, Birds, Birds! activity book. I also found an adaptation available here a a PDF download, Fill the Bill.

It was a great hands-on activity extension to our nature study focus area on birds. Earlier that morning, I also did a read-aloud from our Wildlife Fact File on “How Birds Build Nests”. I’m loving our new home school schedule! 🙂

Our Iditarod Unit Study – A Summary of Our Activities

We have recently completed our unit study on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. We enjoyed learning about the Arctic and the history of the race. We also enjoyed charting the progress of our mushers each day and learning more about sled dog racing. This post serves as a summary of the many activities we incorporated. I owe many thanks to the homeschooling families that preceded me and posted their activities on their own blogs. They are an invaluable resource and I turned to them most frequently as I planned our own activities. Sweetie also enjoyed looking at their blogs and would occasionally ask if she could also do one or more of the activities they shared.


Math – We printed musher stat sheets to record the progress of each musher. We also created probability graphs for this years participants. I walked Sweetie through the calculations and we used tiles to create a visual to represent each group. I didn’t expect her to understand much of the process but I wanted to at least expose her to circle graphs and probability. I was very surprised when DH came home that evening and she excitedly narrated what each graph represented and who she predicted would have the best chance of winning. She remembered what each graph represented and what the numbers were communicating. I was very pleased. iditarod unit studyArt & Handcrafts – We studied the artwork of Pacific Northwest Indians and Inuits. We still working on a carving a family totem pole in rock (more on that later). We carved Arctic animals in ivory soap. Sweetie created watercolor paintings of Balto, Arctic Wolves, and an Aurora Borealis.

Science – We watched a few movies about the Arctic. Sweetie made a coloring book about the animals from Alaska. Buddy sorted pictures of Arctic Animals with Sweetie’s help. We joined our COOL friends for a guided snow shoe walk. The walk was led by naturalist volunteers with the Forest Service and they pointed out many things in relation to winter adaptations, the water cycle and climate.

History / Social Studies – We added the Serum Run and inaugural Iditarod to our Book of Centuries. We learned how the musher prepares for the race, including the supplies needed, clothing, food and equipment. Sweetie made a model of a dog sled with Popsicle sticks and labeled the parts of the team. We scanned the newspaper for articles about the Iditarod. As a family, we enjoyed a REAL sled dog ride near Mt.Bachelor.

Geography – Created a wall map with all the checkpoints marked. We checked on the progress of each of our mushers daily and marked their location on the map. We discussed the climate and other characteristics of several of the checkpoints.

Language Arts – We read several books about the Iditarod, the Arctic and Alaska (see resource list below). Sweetie did several pages from Draw Write Now! (Arctic Loon, Arctic Fox, Polar Bear, Walrus, and The Polar Regions). She did a few worksheets with related spelling/vocabulary words. She used many of the little books & worksheets to put together her Iditarod Lapbook.


The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford
Whale in the Sky by
Iditarod Spirit by Kim Heacox
No End in Sight by Rick Steber
Arctic Lights Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller
Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart
Kiana’s Iditarod by Shelley Gill
Polar Animals by Wade Cooper
Akiak by Robert J. Blake
The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller
“Iditarod” Bend Living magazine Feb 2008
Animal Survivors of the Arctic by Barbara A. Somervill
Arctic Babies by Kathy Darling

Blogs & Websites:
Official Site of the Iditarod
Martin Zoo (homeschooling family)
Toad Haven (homeschooling family)
Scholastic (lesson plans)

Free Iditarod Insider Video
Arctic & Antarctic (Eyewitness Video)
Arctic Bears (PBS Nature)
Eight Below
Snow Buddies

To see how we began our unit study, see my earlier post Our Iditarod Unit Study.

Our Family Totem Pole ~ Part One

Shortly after reading, Whale in the Sky, and making a large paper totem pole to represent the one in the book, we coincidentally came across an activity idea in local newspaper… choosing animals to represent each member of the family to make a Family Totem Pole. As we’ve been exploring the art of Northwest Coastal Indians alongside our Iditarod unit, I felt this was the perfect extension to our studies. One of the books we’ve most enjoyed is Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart. We browsed through the book together and guessed what was depicted in the photos/sketches before we read the captions. We talked about the mediums the Native Americans would use in their artwork and what the animals symbolized to them. We talked about the animals we liked and which most represented each of us.

Beaver – The builder, a symbol of security and activity. Creative, Artistic and Determined. Me
Wolf – Symbolizes family, loyalty and endurance. Intelligence and Leadership. DH
Hummingbird – Symbolizes love, beauty, luck and is a joyful messenger. Sweetie
Otter – Trusting, inquisitive and bright; loyal friendship. Buddy

Sweetie and I then brainstormed the media we wanted to use. We wanted to create a totem pole that would become a family keepsake… not a paper craft that we’d likely toss in the near future. I suggested getting a small piece of wood to carve… she suggested carving on stone. As I’ve done some stone carving with my Dremel in the past for gifts, we decided to go this route. I had made several wall plaques for friends and family but had yet to create one for ourselves… this was the perfect opportunity.

I’ve stopped by a couple of local stone and landscape places but haven’t yet found the right piece. Ideally, we would like it to be rather narrow and long; maybe 2′ x 8″. This project is turning out to be more time consuming than I had anticipated. I will thereby post pictures of the final product when we’ve completed it. Stay Tuned! 😀

Dragon Theme Birthday Party ~ Another Success

Several weeks before his birthday, I showed Buddy the Wilton Yearbook and asked him to select a cake (and thereby a theme) for his party. My assumption was that he would select Diego or Lightening McQueen from Cars and that I would thereafter purchase the specified pan … a relatively simple undertaking. However, the cake he selected was 3-dimensional and required both fondant and buttercream icing. Substantially more involved than I would have liked. I certainly couldn’t refuse, however. So, Dragons it is …

Dragon Theme Birthday Party

I spent some time researching ideas on the internet… games to play, foods to make, unique treats for the goody bags. I found a very cute graphic online that I used on the invitation and on the goody bags.


  • I found a candy mold with a dragon image so I made hard candied lollipops for each of the party guests (banana and orange flavored).
  • A Dragonology bookmark
  • A Fourth of July ‘popper’ (more left over fireworks from the summer)
  • A scratch-off ticket I designed whereby all tickets were winners. The kids exchanged their winning tickets for a mini dragonology figurine which I discovered on Clearance at Fred Meyer. This was a huge hit!!


  • Egg Carton Dragon Craft

Before the party, I cut purple egg carton cups down the middle, into long, 6-cup, rows. I hot-glued google eyes onto plastic easter eggs for the heads and DH drilled two small holes into the back end. Finally, I cut green pipe cleaners into small lengths. When the kids arrived they poked a piece of pipe cleaner into the back of the head and twisted it through the hole in the egg carton to attach it. They then decorated the body with glitter glue and sequins and stuck a red feather into the mouth for fire.

  • Dragon-Foot Relay

Before the party, I cut four claw-foot shapes from cardboard. Divide your guests into two equal lines and give the first person in each line two feet. These feet become the only thing they can step on as they travel from the front of the line, around a chair, and back to the start. Begin with the first two players placing one of their claw-feet on the ground and stepping on it; then, they place the other foot on the ground and step on it. They continue this all the way around the course and then return to the line. When they reach the finish line, they hand the two feet to the next person. The relay continues until everyone has a turn. The team that completes the course first wins!

  • Dragon Tag

Basically, the kids line up and hold onto the waist of the child in front of them. The person in front is it and tries to tag its tail (the last child in the line). Once he succeeds, he moves to the end of the line. {We didn’t actually play this one as we were inside – certainly didn’t want anyone getting hurt or something getting broken.}

  • Dragon Egg Relay

Again, divide your guests into two equal lines and give each child a spoon. Each child has to carry a dragon egg on their spoon to the other side of the lawn and back again. If they dropped it, they could just pick it up. We used glittery easter eggs I found at a local party store.

  • Hunt for the Dragon’s Lair

I showed the children a page from Dragonology that describes how dragons hoard treasure in their lairs. I had made up a treasure map before the party, and told them that an old dragon-hunter had given it to me. The map wasn’t very specific, and as most of the children can’t read yet, I embellished our hunt orally as we went along. I wanted to make sure that the children weren’t scared. As we followed the map, we found dragon scales in the desert (small abalone shells in the sand box), and a few jewels that the dragon dropped along the way (plastic treasure jewels). We knew that we were getting near the lair when we found all the baby dragons out playing (small plush dragons). Inside, the kids found the dragon’s treasure: more jewels, chocolate gold coins, and Mardi Gras necklaces. I think that this was the best part of the party in the children’s eyes. They LOVED the treasure hunt! The kids put everything that they found in the dragon’s lair into their goody bags.


I am generally pretty critical of my creative endeavors, but I was very pleased with how the cake turned out. Certainly room yet for improvement but I actually enjoyed making this one and I didn’t stress out about it! Everything came into place in time. Buddy loved it! Looking at the pictures now, I am actually surprised how similar the cake and invitation/goody bag graphic are… the cake just needed wings!

In the end, the guests enjoyed the games and my little man was all smiles.  The dragon theme birthday party was a roaring success. 

How Will We Begin?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals and expectations for homeschooling. I actually spent some time coming up with a schedule that alloted a specific amount of time for math, reading and writing each day as well as an hour for theme studies (social studies 2x a week and science 2x a week), nature walks, and picture studies (Charlotte Mason approach to fine arts). Looking back on it, I realized it was too constrictive and would take away from what was most desirable about homeschooling, flexibility.

Through my research, I have discovered that there are probably as many different approaches and styles to homeschooling, as there are those that choose to undertake the responsibility themselves. In other words, I know that I can do whatever works for us and that what we do will most assuredly evolve and change over time. As a teacher, it will be difficult to change my approach… difficult to not schedule specific time for each subject.

However, I know that we all learn best when we are hungry for knowledge… when something has excited us and we want to know more. I’ve therefore decided to let my children lead the way… while I sprinkle the 3Rs daily.

I am very intrigued by the Charlotte Mason philosophy. While some of her ideas don’t necessarily fit with our lifestyle, we already incorporate others. Some of her ideas that I will be integrating into our studies include:

Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc. I definately want to do more of this… so frequently when I finish a story or book, I close it and set it aside. I am now going to make a more conscious effort to ask the kiddos to give me a narration of what they have heard.

In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, we will go out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. We will each have a notebook or artist sketchbook in which we may draw plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.

In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, we will continue to take our daily walk in the evening with Daddy for fun and fresh air, no matter what the weather.

Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week. Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have her take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have her narrate (tell back) what she’s seen in the picture. I love this! I never had the opportunity to study art (with the exception of one art class I took in high school).

There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.Couldn’t agree more… why else would I be blogging? 🙂

Daily copywork provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc. Especially for the younger kids, it is a great way to practice writing without having to do tedious pages of a single letter. A great resource I was introduced to by a homeschooling friend is Draw Write Now. DD has already done 2 pages! After reading the book Stellaluna, I asked if she would like to do the page about bats and she jumped up with enthusiasm! The next day, she asked if she could do one at bedtime rather than color in her color books (as she usually does at bedtime).

A Book of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc. I love this idea, too! Even if I choose to later enroll my children in public school, I know this is something we will continue to do as it will enable them to see the big picture and see how events impact one another.

My hope is to finish daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest. Of course, some academics will also take place in the evening as we enjoy reading aloud to the children or sharing stories of our childhood with them before they go to sleep. This is important for DDs favorite activity is doing craft projects and if you recall, “Scrapbooking, Knitting, Stitching and Painting” are the things she wants to learn most.