Tuesday, November 10, 2015

180 Days of Homeschool: Sick Day

We had an unfortunate incident with sickness last week . . . one with a stomach virus (messy + awful) and one with a scary high fever and cough.  By the afternoon of day 2, they were feeling better.  And in spite of feeling pretty lousy, we still did quite a bit of learning.  Reading, watching documentaries, flash cards, and drawing took place in between rest and naps and sips of tea.  In homeschool vs. traditional school, there are positives and negatives, but it certainly was nice for Carter to not have a pile of make up work at the end of a sick day.  Only make up sleep.  

clearly on the mend . . .

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

180 Days of Homeschool: Pioneer Unit Study

When I was planning our year, one of my goals was to read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But rather than simply read the book, I planned a comprehensive unit study on American Pioneers to create a deeper understanding of the life and hardships of families who made the brave journey west during the mid-1800’s.  For better and for worse, these Americans had a profound impact of the lives we live today in the United States.  In the past 4 weeks, we have been digging deeply into the subject of American Pioneers, through reading, writing, and activities based on our learning.  The amazing thing about this unit has been how much we’ve been able to cover in this one unit, including Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacagawea, Native American tribes, the Indian Removal Act, the Homestead Act, the transcontinental railroad, Laura Ingalls Wilder, farming practices, pioneer community culture, fishing, trapping, maple syrup making, and on and on.  This unit has been a true adventure and has taken on a life of its own.

Recommended Reading

All along, we’ve been reading A Pioneer Sampler, which follows the daily life of a Pioneer family during the 1840’s.  This has been our jumping off point for vocabulary, journaling, and most of our activities in this unit study.  It’s been our guide on our Pioneer journey.  Some other “read together” books that have been a great asset in this study include If you were a Pioneer on the Prairie, Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, What’s the Deal?, Explorers of the New World: Sacagawea, and Explorers of the American West.  Independent reading books include What was the Lewis and Clark Expedition?, Who was Sacagawea?, David Crockett: Fearless Frontiersman, and A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson.  (All books were found in our local library.)

Learning Activities

All you have to do is check Pinterest for hundreds of activities related to American Pioneers.  We chose a few simple ones, making yarn dolls and homemade butter, and “Pioneer Day,” which was celebrated by dressing up and acting like Pioneers for the afternoon.  
I’m always amazed at how kids act out what they’ve learned through play.  We encountered bears, hiked to find clean water, planted crops, fought off grasshoppers, predicted weather based on clouds, collected wood for a fire, protected our homestead, and on.  Most of these scenarios were all things we’ve learned in our study.

Pioneer work was very hard and serious

Netfilx and Homeschool

Among one of the many surprising things in my new role as a teacher is how well Netflix fits into our lessons.  I try to show a few documentaries a week during our lunch time and made a simple worksheet for a “Documentary Review,” where Carter gives it a star rating (0-5), writes a summary, and one thing he learned from the program.  For American Pioneers, we watched “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West” by National Geographic, “America: The Story of Us” Episode 3 and Episode 6, and “Ken Burns: The West” by PBS (though, this was a little boring for a third grader).  (Disclaimer: some of these have some heavy topics, as history is not always pretty.  I recommend watching first to find places to skip, like the cannibalism of the Donner Party in “America: The Story of Us.”)  And I’m always thrilled when we can find a connection between the different things we are learning (the best kind of teachable moments!) so I was very excited to watch “How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson” episode one called “Clean.”  It discussed the progression of sanitation and cleanliness beginning in the 1800’s, which included a lot of information regarding life during the time of Pioneers and connected to our unit on Microbes (completed just last month).  As we continue to read, we will be focusing on Native American history through Thanksgiving, a topic that I'm very excited to get into:)

I would be happy to answer any questions via email at lauren.gayeski@gmail.com!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hiking and History: A Family Road Trip to Virginia

I’m not a lover of fall.  I’m just not.  It’s a segue to cold, and it’s cold for too long here, in my opinion.  So when we planned an October road trip to Virginia for a family getaway with history and hiking, I figured we’d get some fresh air, a bit cooler temps for hiking, and a glimpse of fall foliage in the mountains.  But even I, a true summer girl, was breathless in the presence of the colors of the leaves.  It was gorgeous, more stunning than any photograph can capture.  We had six packed days of activities and plans, all which we had researched ahead of time (mostly thanks to Pinterest and some helpful people who made our reservations).  We had an absolute blast on this trip, which is proof that you don’t have to go far and you don’t have to break the bank for family travel.  And even with the best planning, there are always a few snags (like a major meltdown at a roadside hot dog stand over orange soda) which mostly can be fixed with juice boxes, snacks, and the occasional iPad (or 50 baby wipes, as in the orange soda debacle).  And although we like to have a general plan, often enough the best parts of any trip are the unplanned, off the beaten path experiences that keep you on your toes.  With beautiful weather and the changing season, we couldn't have planned it better, and there was definitely a little adventure for everyone.

Day 1:  Caverns.  Our plan was to hit Luray Caverns on our way to stay in Charlottesville, VA for the night.  But thanks to a “happy accident” of a mistaken Groupon purchase, we also hit the nearby Shenandoah Caverns as well.  Luray definitely is the Disney World of caverns.  There are tons of people and tours, a few museums, a garden maze, and a rope climbing course that the kids thought was the best part of the day.  Although a little on the pricey side, you could literally spend the entire day here.  We drove about 30 minutes away to the Shenandoah Caverns, which definitely felt more like an experience (and much less expensive, might I add).  The caverns were more narrow, so you had to duck through a few passage ways (though not enough to make you feel claustrophobic) but our tour group was much smaller and the kids were able to participate with the guide.  The boys loved both caverns and were amazed by the stalactite and stalactmites, and it was a living science lesson for everyone.

Day 2:  Monticello.  We had been to visit Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home) prior to this visit, so I was nervous about the kids raising holy hell on the tour where people tend to get quite serious about their history.  There was a kids exhibit at the visitors center which was awesome.  The boys got to see some of the special features of TJ’s house in an area where they could touch everything, so when we got into the real tour of the house, they were excited to see the things they already knew to look out for.  The guides were great, the grounds are beautiful, and it was fun just to walk around and explore the different buildings on the property.  We made another stop at Carter Mountain Orchard, which had some delicious apples and cider donuts.  And it was a perfect place for them to run around.

Day 3:  Frontier Culture Museum and Humpback Rocks.  We left Charlottesville and headed west toward our next destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Somewhere along the way, I’d heard about the Frontier Culture Museum and it was the best.  We have traveled all over with our kids and have taken them to some of the best museums in the country.  This was the most amazing place I’ve visited with my boys.  The FCM is basically a set up of many different types of homesteads from different countries and eras, all having influenced the settlement of Virginia.  It starts with a West African farm from the 1600s, leading to an English Farm and an Irish Farm.  Each settlement is filled with things that can be handled, played with, and live animals as part of the farms.  In homeschool, we’ve been doing a unit study on Pioneers, so they resorted to calling us “Ma and Pa.”  They moved around the kettles, played in the kitchen, put on the hats, and laid down in the beds.  They LOVED it (and so did Dave and I).  From the FCM, we took a quick stop at the grocery store and headed down the road to Humpback Rock.  Now, I remember this hike from a few years ago, not an easy leg stretcher by any means.  But, Dave really wanted to do it, so we walked up a good incline to an amazing view.  Humpback rock is great for the kids, because not only is it a beautiful hike, just across the street is a visitor’s center with a historic farm that you can visit.  Park Rangers are there to give information and signs provide a sort of self-guided tour.  But seriously, hold your breath, and watch your kids closely . . . those rocks are a little terrifying, especially when your kids laugh at anything that seems dangerous.

Frontier Culture Museum

Humpback Rock

Day 4:  Natural Bridge, VA.  We took a drive about an hour away from where we were staying to see the Natural Bridge, a natural wonder on property once owned by Thomas Jefferson.  There are legends that say George Washington surveyed the bridge as a young man.  In several spots on the rock, you can see names from visitors who hiked to see the Natural Bridge in the 1800s and there is a trail past the bridge that leads to a small waterfall.  Along the drive there and back, we stopped at a few places with short hikes that we discovered in a guide book.

I got some awesome photos by handing over the camera . . .

Day 5:  Hiking in Wintergreen.  We stayed at Wintergreen, which actually sits on property that once included the Appalachian Trail.  The trail has since been rerouted around Wintergreen, but the resort includes a good portion of trails for visitors to walk along.  We hiked along one spot that had lots of little bridges and led to a waterfall, but the best one we did was in the afternoon (called “the Plunge”) which had a lot of rocks to climb on and some spectacular views.  Truly, these were the best views of the entire trip.  Just stunning scenery.  

Day 6:  Skyline Drive.  On our journey home, we decided to leave early in the morning and drive along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  With the changing leaves and the crisp air, it was a beautiful day to go.  Although, it was a bit crowded (this was Saturday) and we had gotten used to having the trails to ourselves.  We entered the park from the south end, and just a few miles in, we stopped at a mobile visitor’s center, where park rangers gave us information on about 5 different hikes that we’d like.  We decided to do 3, which basically filled most of the day.  Just driving along the road was an experience, and some of the overlooks were incredible.  

When we became parents, one of the things we always wanted to do was experience lots of different things with our kids.  And to experience a lot, vacations for us tend to be exhausting.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We had an opportunity to teach our kids a little about hiking on real trails (Jackson was blown away that he went hiking on THE Appalachian Trail that he learned about in school) and we learned so much about nature and history, grown ups included.

If you have specific questions about anything that I write, please email me at lauren.gayeski@gmail.com!  xoxo

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