Social Studies Archives - Page 3 of 6 - Eva Varga

February 10, 20124

Have you ever marveled at the differences between the natural environments of your home region and those of areas through which you travel?  I know I do.  I grew up on the southern Oregon coast, lived in the Willamette Valley through college, and we started our family while living in central Oregon.  Even within this one small state, the ecosystems are varied and thereby the plants and animals that reside there are diverse.   I now live in Northern California and I am amazed at how distinctly different the ecology is here.

To celebrate the diversity of the regions in which we live, I am organizing an exchange activity.  However, I will need your help.  I don’t have many followers so you’ll need to help spread the word.  I’ve also shared the project with my local homeschool community.   The activity is based upon Project Learning Tree‘s activity #20, Environmental Exchange Box (click upon the link for the PDF of the lesson plan).   Follow this link for visual ideas, PLTs Forest Exchange Boxes.

Essentially, each family puts together a box of things found in your local natural environment … a selection of pressed leaves and flowers, seashells, seeds and cones, a vial of sand, feathers, a few stones, a sound recording of local birds, stories the kids have written about their favorite things to do in their area, photographs, samples of non-perishable regional foods (maple syrup, walnuts, etc.), and/or  copies of newspaper clippings relating local environmental issues.

We can also use a webcam and/or YouTube to facilitate the exchange – allowing the students an opportunity to interact with their exchange partners to explain the contents of the box they prepared.    What you select and how you organize your box is up to you.  Be creative!

Everyone wishing to participate would be given the address of another family to whom to send their box. You mail a box just once.

Those interested in taking part should submit the information below via email.  I will thereafter assign each participating family a partner family with whom to exchange boxes.

  • Name
  • School Name (if you have one)
  • Address
  • Telephone Number (include area code)
  • Age of Students
  • Email Address
  • Preferred state or region with which you would like to exchange (not guaranteed)

This exchange project has concluded.

January 30, 20121

As students of Mandarin, we celebrate Chinese or Lunar New Year.  The biggest event during Chinese New Year is the family dinner on the eve of the lunar new year.  The dinner consists of dumplings (represents wealth), fish (for abundance), and new year cake (for prosperity).  Children receive ‘red envelopes’ or (Hóngbāo 红包) with money inside as blessings.


Chinese New Year is a time when families and friends wear new clothes from head to toe (symbolizes a new beginning in the new year) and greet each other. Traditionally, people would set off firecrackers to scare off the mythical beast called Nian 年.

This year, the kids learned a song as well (sang to the tune of Ol’ My Darling). It was such a fun lesson. We had earlier learned to sing Silent Night in Mandarin and thereby we had that melody in our heads, causing us to goof up occasionally (hence his comment at the end of the video).


新年好呀, 新年好呀


我们唱歌, 我们跳舞


xīn nián hǎo ya
xīn nián hǎo ya,    xīn nián hǎo ya
zhù hè dà jiā xīn nián hǎo
wǒ men chàng gē,    wǒ men tiào wǔ
zhù hè dà jiā xīn nián hǎo

Happy New Year
Happy new year, happy new year
Wish you all a happy new year
We sing and we dance
Wish you all a happy new year

October 23, 20111
I am delighted. Another homeschool mom organizes a Geography Club similar to the way I had organized Passports Club in central Oregon.  She hosts a gathering in her home once a month, invites the children to give presentations on the country selected for that month, and encourages families to bring a dish from that region to share.  The focus in October was on Nepal and we were fortunate to have two guest speakers … Gyan (a native to Nepal) who now resides here in Northern California and Ana (a native to Costa Rica who has climbed Mt. Everest).  
Gyan speaking to us of the Gurkha soliders, young Nepalese who are trained by the British. 

Gyan spoke to us of his childhood and of how much education is valued in Nepal. He reminded us of how fortunate we are in the United States and how many take our opportunities for granted.  He spoke of the poverty and stated that girls in Nepal do not get a formal education, though this is slowly changing, particularly in urban cities.  He also stated that many young Nepalese men serve in the military.  
Ana speaking of her climbing expedition in May of 2011.
Ana spoke of her expedition and attempt to summit Mt. Everest earlier this year.  She shared with us a slideshow showcasing man photographs from her expedition and talked about the many perils that face the climbers.  We were enthralled by her presentation and had many questions.  She had brought with her a small rock that she passed around for all to touch.
I got to touch Mt. Everest!!!  Well, a rock from 21,000 feet .. the highest point Ana has reached (thus far).
After the presentations, we enjoyed the food that everyone had brought to share.  We were encouraged to eat the many dal dishes in the Nepalese manner … with our fingers rather than forks or spoons.  Dal refers to the thick stew prepared from lentils, peas, and beans – an important part of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi cuisine.  Dal is a ready source of proteins for a balanced diet containing little or no meat.  It was a little strange to eat in this manner .. many of us felt uncomfortable as we’ve become so accustomed to using utensils. 
Buddy eating dal and rice in the Nepalease manner.
I asked if Gyan might have a friend or family member that could send us a postcard.  Instead, he allowed us to pick from a stack of postcards he had brought along for the occasion.  I thereby don’t have a postage stamp … but a las, I share with you the card I selected.
Gyan gave us a postcard … this is the one I selected.
 The postcard album notebook pages the kiddos completed.
We returned home and soon thereafter completed the notebook pages for our Postcard Album. Of note, Nepal is the only country in the world whose flag is not rectangular and the nation’s flower is rhododendron – my mother’s favorite. 

September 25, 2011

The Weaverville Joss House, a Taoist temple, is the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California. On display are art objects, pictures, mining tools, and weapons used in the 1854 Tong War. This Taoist temple is still a place of worship and a fascinating look into the role played by Chinese immigrants in early California history. The Joss House was built in 1874 as a replacement for another that had burned.

In an effort to preserve this important part of California’s Chinese tradition, the temple became a part of the California State Park System in 1956. Many of the historical objects have been restored and the structure itself stabilized. In addition to the temple equipment, park visitors will see Chinese art objects, pictures, mining tools, and wrought iron weapons used in the 1854 Tong War.

We visited the Joss House for the first time during the annual Moon Festival.  We first explored the exhibits inside the museum and then ventured out into the garden area for a few activities targeted for children.  Sweetie and Buddy most enjoyed the calligraphy … learning a new word and character … (Yuè or moon).  The other activity in which they took part was decorating paper lanterns .. both choosing to practice writing a few other characters they knew.  

We then walked across the bridge and up to the temple. Unfortunately, we had arrived too late to enjoy the lion dance that took place on the lawn in front of the temple.  
Just beyond the two large doors, the entrance to the temple proper, are two more high wooden doors, “spirit screens” to keep out evil spirits.  According to traditional Chinese belief such spirits can go only in straight lines, not around corners.
Inside, we marveled at the intricate details of the carvings, sculptures and of course the Chinese calligraphy.  We listened to a docent describe how the artifacts were transported from China, first by ship and lastly on foot 80+ miles from Red Bluff.   There are three ornately carved wooden canopies containing images of gods along the back wall opposite the spirit screens and in front of them is an altar holding candles, incense sticks, oracle fortune sticks and an oracle book, wine cups, and pictures of immortals painted on glass.  Before this altar is a small wooden table on which food offerings are placed and a stone urn used to offer alcoholic beverages, usually whiskey.    
The temple has been in continuous use as a place of worship since its construction.  The family of Moon Lee, whose grandfather contributed toward its building, are know to worship here, along with other Chinese from all over California.  Worshippers visit the temple alone, with their families, or with a small group of close friends to pray and to place some incense, candles and other offerings such as food and paper money before the images of the gods Health, Decision, or Mercy.  The docent explained that the Chinese would bring offerings to the spirits of their ancestors … generally the foods or beverages that their loved one had most enjoyed in life.  Worshippers are forbidden to pray for such things as wealth or revenge on an enemy, and the temple attendant would punish those who made such requests with fines.

Prior to our departure, we were also able to glimpse the caretaker’s quarters adjacent to the temple room as well as the conference room which sometimes served as a courtroom.  Each were much more demure and lacked the adornments so prevalent in the temple room.  
We enjoyed the excursion but were sad that the schedule of activities hadn’t been advertised better.  Sadly, 2011 may be the last year that the Joss House celebrates the annual Moon Festival.  The state has decided to close the doors of the museum and close it to the public.  
For more information about The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds and how you can help keep the doors open, visit the Weaverville Joss House Association.

September 6, 20111

A friend of mine in Atlanta, Akshaye, recently traveled home to India and I was delighted when he said he would send us a few postcards.  When the first one arrived, we were all drawn to the subtle watercolor illustration.  The munchkins were ecstatic to discover it was from India … a country for which we have developed a strong appreciation.  Through our history studies in Story of the World, we have learned quite a bit about India.  It is high on our list of countries to which we hope to someday travel.

 Victoria Memorial, in Calcutta
His inscription on the back read, “I am sending you a postcard from Calcutta, India.  I grew up in Calcutta and it’s a very special city.  The postcard shows a picture of Victoria Memorial, one of the city’s most famous buildings!”
Coincidentally, one of our favorite restaurants is the Taj Palace.  We were regulars in fact.  We were there shortly before we moved to Northern California and we got to talking with the owner.  When we shared with him that sadly we would be moving to Northern California and would not be able to come in as often, he said, “Oh, no problem! My brother has a restaurant in Redding.  Just like this one, buffet!”  This discovery made our move much easier and of course we went the first week we were here.

 The stamps upon both postcards

When Akshaye’s postcard arrived … we immediately began to crave Priya’s again.  Gladly, we were able to coordinate with DH and also celebrated our traditional “NOT Back to School” day here as well.  Some of our favorite dishes are Butter Chicken, Naan, Raita, Aloo Gobi, and Tandoori Chicken.  Mmmm, I’m craving Indian food just writing this . . .  ..  . 
Qutab Minar is a UNESCO World heritage site located in Delhi, India. 
It is the world’s tallest brick minaret.
A few days later, a second post card arrived.  On which Akshaye wrote, “This postcard shows a tower in Delhi made of red brick.  It was constructed by a king and work began on it in 1193.  That’s over 800 years ago!  Till today it remains the world’s tallest.  My mother grew up in Delhi and I go there to see her family.”
Sweetie’s Notebook Page (page 1 of 2)

We filled out our notebooking pages and began to do a little more research on India.  Most of our studies have focused on the history of India so this time we focused on present day.  We discovered that, like Malaysia, India is one of 17 megadiverse countries.  We also learned that it is the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people.  Any guess which countries come in first and third?  We read about Ghandi and a little about the economy (imports / exports) discovering that India, in addition to spices, is one of the world’s leading producers of iron and copper ore as well as rice and cattle.  
Buddy’s Notebook Page

If you are interested in creating a unit study on India, check out the resources I have compiled here, Investigating India: A Homeschool Unit Study.

I am linking this up at All Things Beautiful

August 26, 20111
As you may be aware, I teach professional development courses at the Heritage Institute.  This summer, one of my students lives in Malaysia and agreed to send us a few postcards for our Geography Postcard Album.  We love postcards!  With this post, we share our virtual trip to Malaysia.  

According to the tourism website, To Know Malaysia is to Love Malaysia– and while I am sure this can be said about many countries throughout the globe, we were certainly intrigued.  “Mayaysia is a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.”  Geographically, Malaysia is as diverse as its culture.  The country is divided into thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea.  Eleven states and two federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) in Peninsular Malaysia and two states and one federal territory (Labuan) in East Malaysia.

Moonlight Bay with rock formations located along the way to Batu Ferringhi.

One of Malaysia’s key attractions is its extreme contrasts. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts, and five-star hotels sit several metres away from ancient reefs.  Cool hideaways are found in the highlands that roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.

We enjoyed the postcards we received and googled Malaysia to learn more. The caption on back of the one on the right reads, “The coconut plantation workers – the human as instructor and the monkey as climber and harvester.”  My student wrote, “15 years in Malaysia and I have not seen this … rubber plantations, – yes; oil palm plantations – plenty; but not a trained monkey to harvest the coconuts, amazing!”  The munchkins then filled out a notebook page for our album.

I was delighted with how much effort they each put into the illustration of a famous landmark.  One of the things we enjoy most about receiving postcards are the stamps.  Surprisingly, however, the stamps on the postcards we received from Malaysia didn’t have a post cancellation stamped upon them.  
We hope to make a recipe from Malaysia soon.  Just need to find one that appeals to us.  I’ll keep you posted if we do.  🙂

I am linking this up at All Things Beautiful.