Topographic Maps

We have been learning about elevation and topographic maps and I could tell the kids weren’t quite grasping the idea of contour lines.  They understood that the lines meant a change in elevation, but couldn’t quite visualize the spatial concept of it.  I decided a hands-on lesson was in order. EXPLORATION: Topographic Maps With A Mountain Model I covered our school table with white butcher paper and got some colorful markers, dental floss, and some rulers out.  I made a big lump of salt dough and created a mountain with it in the middle of our table.  The kids all helped sculpt the mountain. We picked up the mountain and one by one, put it right in front of each kid, allowing them to trace the outline of the mountain on the spot in front of them using a marker.  Then we put the mountain back in the middle. Next, … click to read more

Native American Sand Painting

Sand painting has long been a tradition of the Native American tribes of the southwest.  The Navajo tribes, in particular, are known for this beautiful art.  Traditionally, the medicine man of the tribe sprinkled colored sand in beautiful patterns and designs in front of the hogan of someone who is ill.  As he makes the intricate designs, he chants and prays for a healing blessing.  Once he is finished he looks over his work, making sure that it is in perfect order, because the order of the art represents new harmony in the ill person’s life and body.  The painting also acts as a portal for healing spirits.  Once the painting and chanting are done, it is thought to absorb the illness and is destroyed. Native American Sand Painting Craft As you learn about this beautiful art, you can make your own version of a sand painting.  You can make … click to read more

Art Exploration: Texture

To learn about texture, begin by brainstorming every texture word you can think of: rough, smooth, slimy, scaly, sharp, bumpy, sticky, and on and on and on.  Write them down on slips of paper.  Draw out the slips one by one and distribute them among all the kids.  Each kid has two assignments: Go find something that had that texture Draw a picture of that texture. Before taking off, look at a great example of texture.  This is Young Hare by Durer. Ask: How would this rabbit feel if you were to touch it?  (Soft, furry) Now have them touch it.  Touch the screen or the paper or whatever you are using to look at the painting.  Hmmm, it doesn’t feel soft and furry at all!  It feels slick and smooth.  Discuss the difference between texture in real life and texture in paintings.  Talk about the techniques and tricks Durer … click to read more

The Water Cycle

We’ve been studying the weather lately, and this week we took a look at the water cycle.  I started by holding up a glass of water and asking my kids, “How old do you think this water is?”  That was the spark for our discussion about how water cycles around and around.  Just because we drink it, water our flowers, or let it run down the sink doesn’t mean it’s gone. We created this poster to show the basics of just where all that water goes.  Each kiddo took a turn adding a part on and describing what happens in that step. These are the elements we put on our poster and discussed: EVAPORATION CONDENSATION PRECIPITATION COLLECTION TRANSPIRATION We’re following up with lots of weather observations, experiments, and reading about weather.  I also filled our book basket with lots of weather-related books and offered 5 house points for every book … click to read more

A Day in our Writer’s Workshop

A lot of people have asked what a day in our writer’s workshop looks like, so I thought I would walk you through one. First off – a couple of disclaimers: 1. My writers are ages 9 and 7, so they are both still in the emergent stage.  That means they are just starting out, not yet capable of producing completely polished work independently. 2. Every day is so different in our writer’s workshop that it will be REALLY hard to paint the picture in just one post, but I’ll try to give you a basic overview. Our Writer’s Workshop Mini-Lessons We almost always begin with a mini lesson.  A mini lesson is simply a short lesson on ANYTHING that helps to improve writing.  This could be a grammar exercise, a quick lesson on remembering to capitalize letters at the beginning of a sentence, or any other writing topic.  I make … click to read more


Printable pieces to make a book cover or report cover about tigers.

Tigers are endangered animals.  Wild tigers in Asia, their natural habitat, may soon disappear.  A tiger is the largest cat in the world.  Write a book report or story about tigers. Use this Tiger Cover set to make a cover for your report or book.  First print the cover.  We printed onto orange paper, but you can also print onto white and have your kids color the whole tiger.  Then color. Cut out the pieces.  Fold a piece of orange paper or card stock in half and add a few tiger stripes to the cover.  Glue the head and feet of the tiger to the cover.  Then add pages inside and write your report or story about tigers. Fabulous Facts About Tigers Tigers keep their claws sharp by pulling them into a protective sheath (they are retractable) No tigers have identical stripes.  Most have more than 100 stripes on them. A … click to read more

What Would Happen If….Writing Prompts

I try to spend time writing along with my kids, and even with lots of years of practice and life experience behind me, I still have those days when I feel like there’s just nothing to write about.  Inspiration dries up.  Creativity smothers.  That’s when I know it’s time for some fun writing prompts to get all our creative juices flowing again.  Here are ten fun “What would happen ifs” for when everyone is stuck! What would happen if all the streets were made of water? What would happen if you could become invisible whenever you wanted to? What would happen if a kid could become president? What would happen if there were no television? What would happen if your pet could talk? What would happen if you ordered food from a restaurant, ate it, and then discovered you forgot your wallet? What would happen if the oceans were made … click to read more

Finish That Rhyme

  Playing with words can become the start of a great poet.  Poetry can seem overwhelming.  It can seem hard.  It shouldn’t be though.  Poetry is really just using words concisely and descriptively.  There are many forms, all with their own rules, and there is also free verse which has no rules at all.  Before a poet can emerge, there are a few simple skills that are helpful to learn.  Rhyme is one of those.  It isn’t essential to poetry, but it’s fun. When kids get bogged down in poetry assignments I do my best to keep them simple, light, and fun.  To teach about rhyme, first show them how it’s done.  Give them a simple word ending and then have them finish the rhyme. -AT Then demonstrate how to go through the alphabet creating some words (and maybe even a few nonsense words) using the ending. AT BAT CAT … click to read more

Art Appreciation

You can use inexpensive art postcards to teach art appreciation, like these from Dover Publishers.   Or these printable Renaissance Art Cards from us! Art appreciation is more than just looking at art.  To appreciate art, you need to understand what you are looking at, but the first step is to become familiar with art and artists.  Here are some activities you can do with your kids of any age. Have the kids study one painting for a few minutes, encourage them to try to remember everything they see.  Then take the painting away and quiz them on details.  This helps them to really look at what they see, instead of just getting an overall impression. Choose several postcards and write the names of the artists on separate pieces of paper.  Match the artist with the painting. Get prints of a particular school of painting, like cubism or impressionism.  Have … click to read more