Learning about leaves.

Leaves are everywhere! And they make fun lessons and crafts.

Leaves are everywhere! And they make fun lessons and crafts.

We’ve learned about photosynthesis, and now we are doing some leaf identification. Identifying leaves works on classification skills. It’s also pretty cool to be able to do when you are on nature walks. Whenever we go somewhere, we almost always go on a nature walk and my children love to pick up leaves. Their favorite questions is, “What tree is this from?” They don’t mean they want the name of the tree (not normally), but they want to point to the tree it comes from. So I ask them a series of questions, and they eventually find the tree.

Here are the four things we are focusing on about leaves: Shape, margin, simple or compound, and alternating or opposite.

There a great website that has images of compound/single and alternating/opposite leaves.

I printed out this chart and then laminated it.  Two copies of this chart sit in a crate in my car so that I always have it. Along with paper and crayons (leaf rubbing or rock rubbings are always a great way to end a nature hike). Plus, I just like having them in case we need to get out of the car and go walking.

To begin our lesson, we wrote the word “leaf” three times. Then we learned the word for leaf in German (das Blatt/ein Blatt). I handed them a picture of a leaf and they colored it. Then Nicholas had to write “das Blatt” on it. I wrote it for Abby.

We’ve already learned what leaves do. But it is Fall here, and leaves are starting to fall off trees. So we had to read about why. I let Nicholas type the question into Google. I’m trying to teach him to find out answers on his own, and since “Google it” is our version of, “Look it up,” I try and let him do it. We ended up at this website, which had a nice and short explanation.  Then he wanted more, so we went to the NPR site, which was more scientific and less geared towards kids, which bothers my child not at all.

I printed out this worksheet for them. They had to draw the veins on their leaves – which the kids know that the nutrients to the leaf – and then color them. I then let them cut out each leaf and make a collage.

Now we go on our nature walk! I took the kids down by the river, handed them a paper bag, and let them collect leaves – only leaves that had fallen off trees. When we got home, we sorted the leaves by size, then by color (these two were for Abby to practice her relative size and color skills), then by shape and compound/single. Lastly, I handed each kid a piece of heavyweight poster board (I get the multi-packs and then cut them into paper size). I set out the glue, and had them clue all their leaves onto the board as a collage. We brushed glue on the paper, on the leaf, and then over the leaf. Abby wanted to add glitter to hers, so I let her. We had out nature leaf collages.

Believe it or not – this activity took all day. It was our whole school day. Nicholas still had to do his spelling and online math, but we were done after this. It was awesome. They had fun. and learned a lot – all without realizing they were really learning.


Nature contest.

One of the fun advantages of being a homeschooler is getting all these notifications about contests. Most of them I’m not interested in doing right now because they are too complex – and involve a lot of writing.

But I got sent an email about a nature based one that is art, photography, music, video, or writing based. Here’s the link to the contest: http://www.get-to-know.org/contest/us/

I asked Nicholas if he wanted to do it and what categories. Not surprisingly he picked art, photo, and video categories. So we made  a plan for each entry.

I’m lucky we are headed to the Bay Area this week. He wants to make a sand picture. So we will go to the bay and get sand. He can then make his sand picture with glue and paint. It’s going to be messy, but he wants to do it. I’ll have to find a way to ship it to the contest, but that’s my issue and not his. That’s what I get for offering him to do anything.

He’s already decided on his video topic: Sand castles. He wants to show why he loves the beach. So I now am planning a trip to Stinson Beach so he can have his sand area to build castles. Lovely huh? I think I might be indulging him a little too much, but it’s what he wants to do.

He hasn’t decided on his picture yet, but he thinks he might want to go to the river and take “tons, like a million” pictures. Then he will pick the best one and we can send it in. Sounds good to me.

Here’s what I like about this contest:

1. It is nature based.

2. It is required that the kids do their own thing.

3. It’s easy to enter.

4. There’s lots of chances for him to win.

5. The prizes aren’t about cash.

I also like that he got to pick the categories and he can enter as many as he wants. He also has to plan. I’m not picking what he’s doing – he has to make a plan for himself and get it all done. He’s also going to really learn how to work with iMovie before this is all done – the movie he makes I’m going to make him edit and stuff.

He’s also going to learn about waiting and possibly – probably – about losing. Why do I assume this? Because the age category is K-4th grade. He’s not the best at any of these things, and he’s going against kids who are 4 or more years older than him, so they will have more experience. So I’m assuming he’s going to lose. And then will be presently surprised if he doesn’t.

We shall see and I’ll update people as we go about this contest.

Mammals lesson.

We are headed to the Oakland Zoo on Friday with Grandma, so Thursday’s lesson is all about, “What is a Mammal?”

A mammal has a couple of characteristics – and I’m only listing the ones I expect my son to know.

  1. Mammals have hair.
  2. Mammals nourish their young with milk.
  3. Mammals are warm blooded.
  • Fastest mammal (also the fastest land animal): the cheetah (60-70 mph = 97-110 kph)
  • Slowest mammal – the sloth (less than 1 mph, or 2 kph)
  • Biggest mammal, biggest animal that ever lived on Earth – the blue whale
  • Biggest land mammal– the African Elephant
  • Tallest mammal – the giraffe
  • Smallest mammals – the pygmy shrew (weighing 1.2-2.7 gm) and the bumblebee bat (weighing about 2 gm)
  • Loudest mammal – the Blue Whale. The second loudest is the Howler Monkey.
  • Smallest newborns – marsupials (pouched mammals, like the kangaroo)
  • Smelliest mammal – the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

So now what to do with the information – I know, a test! So I wrote down the characteristics of a mammal on some Post-its (I love Post-its). I put the numbers 1, 2, and 3 up on our white board. Nicholas had to name off the characteristics and put it on the white board. He knew he got all three when there were Post-it’s next to each number.

Then we did a mammal word search.

And we drew an elephant.

And we went and played around on this wonderful page about mammals.

We also went through our animal stickers and made a collage of “mammals” and “non-mammals.” It was a simple piece of paper with a line down the middle and he had to put the pictures of mammals on one side and non-mammals on the other. Abby did this one too – although I let Nicholas tell her where each of the stickers went on her page.

Lastly, we did some matching. I wrote down the facts about mammals (from the bullet points above) and printed out pictures of each of those mammals. Then he had to match up the fact with the animal. We pasted those onto some construction paper so he could make a poster out of them.

Lastly, we went to the Oakland Zoo’s webpage and wrote down the names of all the mammals he wanted to visit. So that will be our guide while we are visiting the zoo.


Spelling and reading: Week 2 day 1 and blocks for Engineering.

After the hard work of spelling and math was done, we headed over to our blocks for some engineering - although Nicholas just thinks he' having fun building things.

After the hard work of spelling and math was done, we headed over to our blocks for some engineering – although Nicholas just thinks he’ having fun building things.

Today is Day 1 of our second week in spelling.

Our spelling words for this week are:  map, chair, table, desk, sink, bathroom, bedroom, stairs, car, and pool. For the first week of spelling, click on this link.

Last week’s spelling words went really well. The progression from writing and saying to the actual spelling test went really well. We even managed to get a 100% on the spelling test. And I didn’t help or coach on the spelling test. So that was a nice treat. Nicholas was also super proud of himself when he finished the spelling test and got a 100%.

We did our math for the day (we are still reviewing our addition and subtraction from 1-12). We are going to be done reviewing at the end of this week and moving on. He finished the first day of spelling, and we did some “reading the clock” practices.

We have a few more items on the agenda for today: A science experiment about making balloons travel, cooking, measuring the chair legs in the house, German, and some engineering. We also have our physical activity. Abby and Nicholas have to vote on it, and today we ended up with bike riding for a little bit followed by basketball at the park.

But we had to make a pit stop and do some blocks. My kids got special treats when they visited their grandma and aunt yesterday – one of the treats being some planes from Planes. So we had to make an obstacle course for them to go through. Blocks were making the course, and we had a ton of fun.

We practiced how tall we can build things, making arches and bridges, making things work together, and building paths. All of these things can be worked through in an engineering lesson, or you can just build and let the kids learn by trial and error. So the block building was a blast.

I have to prepare some special handouts for our trip to the CA Academy of Science tomorrow. That way the kids feel like I put some effort into the trip too.

San Jose Tech Museum



We travelled to San Jose yesterday to visit friends and go to The Tech Museum. That is one awesome museum.

They have a robotics lab where you can make robots. There are weekend project classes where older kids can make things. There’s a lab where kids can design prototypes of machines and have them made.

You can ride a jet pack, experience an earthquake, and make your own roller coaster.

All of these activities teach while being fun. In the DNA area the exhibits teach about DNA, let you see things and use the microscopes, and help kids understand DNA. There are a ton of robots around doing different things and showing how robots work and what they can do. The kids can learn about space and see inside scientific instruments that they might never get to see otherwise.

We spent most of the day there and didn’t get through everything. We will be going back. There are lots of places to eat in the area because the cafe is pretty expensive. There is an IMAX theater. The theater is not included in the museum admission.

Over all it was a fabulous experience and we had a blast. There was enough for the youngest kids and the older kids. We even got a picture drawn by a robot. It was a great day.


Why I like Marine World.

The walrus swam right up to the window so the kids could really see him up close.

The walrus swam right up to the window so the kids could really see him up close.


The train was a great ride. I think we did this 10 times or so.

So we got season passes to Marine World/Six Flags again this year. It has been 2 years since we have done this, but I thought it would be good to do it again this year. It is one of those places that is fun, not too far, only open during certain times of the year, and educational.

Educational? Have you ever been to one of their shows? Or seen one of their animal exhibits? There’s almost always a docent there to talk to the kids about the animal. They can see first hand how animals eat because they can feed animals. They can see how dolphins move, tigers growl, and penguins swim. We study one, or two, animals before we go. Then I make sure that the kids see those animals when we are there. Last time it was butterflies. This time we did walruses and sharks.

Additionally, they have lots and lots of play areas for the kids. Nicholas can experience force first hand on roller coasters and make balls shoot out of cannons. Abby can indulge her wild side and go on roller coasters and things. There’s something for everyone.

We really like Marine World – I know it’s not called that any more, but it has been that since I’ve been little and so Marine World it will always be for me. We got a pretty decent deal that includes parking, so it really isn’t a bad place for us to go. I enjoy it, the kids enjoy it, it gets us out of Sacramento and it is fun. What more can you ask for?


Nature camp!


We found bones in the grass. There were some claws on the foot bone, so my children decided the bones must have belonged to a tiger. No amount of talking about how tigers don’t live here mattered. There were claws, so it must be a tiger.

It is Spring Break in the school system here so lots of places are having camps over this week. Nicholas got signed up for a day of nature camp at Effie Yeaw Nature Center. He had a blast at the camp learning about frogs and reptiles. They built a toad house – although I tried to tell him that we don’t have toads. He still wants to put in the yard, so I said okay.

What else is there to do? We ate a picnic after camp. That was fun. All three of us sat down and ate – with half the other families who had kids at camp. We also went on a hike, climbed trees, walked through a Native American village, looked for tadpoles in a pond, and drew images of things we had seen in the mud. The drawing things was something Nicholas picked up form his counselors, who had the kids draw a fish with sticks in the mud near the pond. We had to do it too – after all, Nicholas got to be the pond director.


Nicholas liked climbing all the trees. They had ones with lower branches that were perfect for the young climbers.

One of the coolest things we saw was a set of bones hidden in the grass. The kids wanted to take them home, but I made sure to repeat the “Take memories and leave footprints” mantra I’m trying to teach them about hiking. There was also a flock of turkeys – 4 of them. One was a big old guy with all the colored feathers. Three were women. He was chasing the women turkeys and my kids thought it was so cool. They kept yelling “Bock bock” after the turkeys as they were chasing them.

There were also butterflies that flew really close to us. Nicholas wanted to know why the butterflies weren’t super colorful like the ones I draw at home. That led into a discussion of nature and camouflage.

Abby decided making "leaf showers" was an awesome thing. It was super cute.

Abby decided making “leaf showers” was an awesome thing. It was super cute.

We had a blast having leaf showers. Abby thought this was great fun because she could pile the leaves, toss them up and yell, “Leaf shower!” It was fun watching this occur. I’m also glad she was wearing a hat because her hair would’ve been filled with dirt and leaves otherwise. Nothing a bath won’t cure, but since she doesn’t like her hair washed, I prefer not to have to do it every night.

They had a playground filled with stumps over different heights. My kids loved running around and jumping on each stump. Abby made  a big production of jumping off them. Nicholas made a big deal of jumping from one to the next. It made me a bit nervous. I had images of blood and cuts and all kinds of nice injuries, but I let them do it because it is important for them to explore their boundaries. If they are wrapped in cotton, how are they going to learn?

What does all this teach the kids? To appreciate life and the natural world. Who knows if they are going to be ecologists or biologists, but it is important to expose them to nature. I have great plans to do a walk a week over summer. It won’t be too far – Abby lasted for a mile on the hike before wanting to be carried. But hiking and nature are an essential part of life that they need to experience. It i as important as book work.

Also I need to remember that you can never have enough sunscreen or snacks. My kids might not eat the sandwich I packed for lunch, but if I have raisins for snacks they will chow down.

Park play day.


I’m a big fan of making play count. Sometimes we are outside all day during the summer and it is hard to do book learning. So instead we turn to a different type of lessons and skills.

Motor skills are important. For the young set, parks are a great place to develop gross motor skills. For older kids, parks are places to learn to play together, to use their imagination, and grow.

For me and mine, we also learn German at the park. My husband is fabulous and teaches me what I need to know the night before. I learned the commands for: go play, have fun, run more. I learned the words for different types of park equipment and things we might do at the park.

Then I made the park a German zone. I spoke only German to the kids and let them speak only German. It was a fun hour that we couldn’t do in rainy weather.


Library visits.


The library is a great and underutilized resource. It’s filled with things you don’t have to pay for – mostly books.

We go to the library once a week. Everyone in my house has their own library card- even my littlest. It is a place that is a deprive from the heat of the summer.

Our library has a kids’ section. There are also puzzles and coloring pages there. Sometimes we go and read a bunch and sometimes we go and do their puzzles. Every time the kids get to check out 2 books. I check out more.

It’s a change of pace from reading at home. Plus, there are books on whatever they want. We don’t have the same options at home that we have at the library.

As a bonus, most libraries have free classes and programs. During the Fall and Spring our library has story time. They also have Lego building parties and chess clubs.

Libraries are awesome. Use them as trips during the week.

The monuments in Washington D.C.

We are back to studying, or at least reviewing, the things we have already learned about the monuments before we go. So far, we have learned about Presidents Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington and why they are important. Now we are looking at the monuments themselves and why they are neat.

The National Park Service has a great Junior Ranger book for the Mall and the monuments on the Mall. We printed it out and filled in what we could fill in. There are some places in it to draw pictures of the monuments (those will have to wait until we get there) and some other things like that. But all of the trivia and the puzzles we did. It was a great review of the Presidents and why they might have monuments dedicated to them.

The National Park Service also has a website dedicated to games about different national parks, solving mysteries, and all kinds of fun things. The website has over 50 games. It took my son 2 hours before he wanted to stop playing with the national parks games. I normally don’t go for that much screen time at once, but the games were really interesting. He now knows a lot of trivia – he’d make a great date to a cocktail party if he was older than 4.

We built our own Washington Monuments out of sugar cubes. We tried to get them really high, like the real monument, but failed. It was interesting talking about how the Washington Monument is built out of stone and not glued together, so we tried that with our monuments and it wasn’t really working. It was just a fun, hands-on activity to demonstrate how hard it must have been to build the Washington Monument.

We also did some talking about WWII. My grandfather and grandmother are WWII veterans. Both of them served in the Army Air Force. My grandmother served as a nurse and my grandfather as a doctor. It was interesting to try and put WWII into context for a 4 year old. It went like this: There was a big fight among all the countries of the World – that’s why it was a World War. During this war, lots of people died. But eventually, the U.S. won and now everything is peaceful. It is an extreme oversimplification, but I’m not going to do a deep, in depth, explaining of WWII for him. He tends to take information and assimilate it in dreams, and I don’t need him being scared.

The reason we talked about WWII was to lead in Vietnam and the Vietnam Memorial and the WWII memorial site. He helped me fill out the papers to add my grandmother and grandfather to the WWII memorial, and we sent it in. We talked about Vietnam and I showed him pictures of the wall. He understands that Vietnam was only in one location on the globe (unlike WWII) and that lots of people went missing and died, and that we honor them. I don’t know what he’ll remember of this, but it was worth a shot.

Then we finished up our day with letter practicing and math. We always do our writing and math – I think it’s important to get a good grounding in basics.

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