Civil War Days

It’s that season again – time for historical re-enactments.  Kicking off this years events was the Civil War Days at a local pioneer settlement.


We first stopped off at a print shop and learned how they made newspapers once upon a time.


And mansion built in the last 1800s.  We got to tour the lower level though no pictures were allowed of the interior to preserve the artifacts.


We toured the Confederate camps…


…and the Union Camps too.


Then it was time for the battle.

Youngest daughter and I sat so very close to this cannon (for a while anyway):


We not only heard the boom through our covered ears, we FELT it too as it reverberated through the ground and through our bodies.


After three or four booms, and numerous shots fired from the rifles, youngest daughter had enough. So we left and I went around to the confederate side to take more photos:



Even the re-enactors had to cover their ears when the officers gave the signal to fire the cannons.

Last year the Union boys won the battle.  This year it was the confederate soliders that won the field and they overtook the fort.

Not all of the wounded made it though. Yes, indeed, last rites were performed on the dying.


I recommend checking out your local area for historical re-enactments.  You can read all about history in books, but it’s an altogether different learning experience to be a part of living history.

Do you have any blog posts to share of your visits to historical re-enactments?  If so, leave a link in the comments.  We’d love to see them.

Posted in Field trip, Historical re-enactment, History, Photography | 2 Comments

Young Authors Conference


My oldest daughter, a third grader and I got the pleasure of attending a Young Authors Conference this past Saturday. Students that participated in the conference met with other students from other participating schools in our region to share their creative writing with each other and meet with the author and illustrator of children’s books.

When it was time to listen to the session where the author of some children’s books was doing her spiel, instead of sitting on the floor with all the other kids in the gym there was a young boy who sat next to me in the back and we talked…about chess club, about science experiments, about magic and Harry Potter and his own story.   I talked a little bit about the fact I used to work in the scientific field and his picture of a bookshelf full of potions reminded me of my days in the laboratory.

As the above speaker was talking about her stories, one of her slides had a cow on it and the young boy seemed more interested in telling me how neat it would be to get a cow so his family could have fresh milk, it could eat the grass instead of using a lawn mower, and they could use the manure for fertilizer. Yeah, kids really do have some pretty cool ideas. His mother on the other hand, had to point out there was no way the city would allow a cow in the neighborhood.

My own daughter wrote a story about werewolves coming to attack a group of young campers. I got a chance to type out the story with her while and she was a very good editor of her own work…asking me to delete parts and add new things. It was a pretty great collaboration.

Here is an excerpt:

We walked down to the river, it was about 10:00 p.m when we met face-to-face with 16 werewolves! I wanted scream, but I was too afraid and I whispered, “We should head back to camp to get Jay”.

We heard leaves rustling and a twig snapping on our right. We were afraid until we saw a beam of light and then we saw Jay.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jay.

“See for yourself!” I said, pointing towards the trees where the werewolves were.

“Oh, my gosh,” he said, seeing sixteen pairs of glowing eyes. Suddenly, the werewolves were growling and walking towards us.

“I think they’re hungry,” said Hope and she started crying.

We were soon surrounded. Each one of us was cornered by four werewolves. They bared their sharp teeth, which were huge. I was so afraid and I knew this was the end of us. I screamed.

For a third grader, I think her use of dialogue to move the story along was great. Some of the stories from the fifth graders didn’t employ any use of dialogue.

I volunteered to be a sponsor for a group of 5th graders. When we broke out into the story-reading session, I had 8 students from four different schools share their stories.

I was in my element when in front of the group of kids I had.  I enjoyed listening to their imaginations take flight, and I was thrilled to share my love of stories and writing.

All of the kids stories were pretty interesting, but one or two were exceptionally notable. They were all very different…one a first person/diary-style (kind of like a week in the life of or these are a few of my favorite things), one science fiction story about a far away galaxy, one about an illiterate mouse who LOVED books. Her use of details was quite remarkable.

That was an amazing story and I could really see how the young girl really had the makings of a master wordsmith. I had felt bad about stopping her short, but we’d run out of time. One really felt the spirit of that little mouse who loved books even though he could not read and how bound and determined he was to go to the library and to learn how to read. She was a stunning story spinner.

And there was another child who smiled during parts of her story. She just lit up. It was wonderful to see.

I was given a sheet of questions to ask the kids about their books they wrote. At first I read one or two questions from the list, but threw the list out and simply improvised and  instead I had a conversation with the kids about what struck me from their writings.  It was pretty amazing.

I made individual thoughtful comments about what I know about the process of writing books. I started getting inspired by what they wrote and how some of their writings made me feel. I made connections between their stories and their lives and brought up a point or two from my experience as an amateur writer.  I told them a little bit about if they were out in the real world, they might actually collaborate on a story, just like two young co-authors did.

I felt something kindling in me…that maybe I should do something that puts me in a position to keep that spark of imagination in children. To be able to get up in front of young people and inspire them, it’s a really fantastic feeling.  I had this experience once before for a forensic DNA lecture I gave to a group of fourth graders.

It occurred to me, how the children’s enthusiasm (and my own) grew in that classroom , because I, an adult who loved books myself and loved writing, and who would like to get published some day, really felt a connection to them and supported their efforts and really enjoyed their expressions.

Which reminds me of something I else I had realized.

The boy who sat next to me listening to the author talk was also in my breakout group.  He read his story last, and he stopped in the middle of his story and said “oh, here, I forgot to show you one the pictures when we were sitting in the gym”. And that’s when I realized, in the mind of a child, an adult’s enthusiastic appreciation of their work is of importance. He didn’t care to show his picture to the other children as much as he wanted to show me, because, as an adult who valued what he had to say, my input means something to him. I marveled at this. He didn’t care what my credentials were, that I wasn’t a teacher, or that I was just a stay at home mom at this point in my life, but that I respected and enjoyed his expressions.

That reinforced something I already knew, that adult who values a child’s expression is more valuable to their self-esteem than many adults may realize. Heck, even me, in my awareness and in my own struggles to raise my daughters, I do appreciate the little reminder of that priceless fact. Kids need to feel their expressions have merit.

I didn’t know how my daughter’s experience was going, as she was in a different story reading session that I was, but I hoped it was as inspiring as mine was.

She started off the day rather shy. She didn’t speak much on the bus ride over at 8:30 in the morning and was a little annoyed that I was taking pictures of her, and was really glad I wasn’t in her session.  I, on the other hand, was a little sad, but I got over it.

At the end of conference, all the kids on the bus, including my own, came back differently. Each was thoroughly enthusiastic about their stories. They all began to take turns reading their stories to each other and the few adults that were on board. It was a remarkable thing to see.

When we were done, my daughter said to me, “I can’t wait until next year’s conference.”

I went into her bedroom last night to see her working on another story.  Before this conference, she rather lost her enthusiasm, as her interests were moving towards a budding interest in softball.  I’m glad to see her writing interest take off again.

Posted in Inspiring children, Writing, Young Author's Conference | 2 Comments

Not your same old kid’s birthday party

With three daughters, we’ve been invited to many birthday parties over the past few years and we’ve had a few birthday parties of our own.

I don’t know when or why it became such a big deal to invite the entire class to birthday parties in suburban America, but it’s a fairly common practice around here, even in our modest suburban community. I know parents dish out a lot of money for those “inflatable jumpy house” places and they invite the entire class of 22 kids for their children’s birthday parties. One parent I spoke to recently told me the last time she had a party there, she spent close to $500 when all was said and done. I nearly choked. $500 for a kid’s birthday party? Seriously? To jump on an inflatable for 2.5 hours and eat crappy pizza?

I think we’ve attended about 10 of those sorts of parties over the past 4 years. And besides being expensive, it’s quite uninventive.

Okay there’s those new pottery places…for anywhere from $250 to $350 (not including cupcake costs) each child comes home with a custom piece of painted pottery that has no purpose except to collect dust, unless your child happens to choose a piggy bank which is at least functional. We are now the proud owner of a brown painted plaster dog that doesn’t do anything. At least she chose a fairly standard doggy fur color, not the black and fluorescent yellow that her friend chose.

Other typical (and crazy) birthday party venues we’ve been to are Chuck E. Cheese, mini-golf, and bowling alleys. Ho-hum.

We’ve never had succumbed to the “we have to invite the entire class” mentality…well, until this year and you’ll find out why toward the end of this post. We’ve always allowed the daughters to invite a 3 or 4 friends and have taken them to the bowling alley or two friends the movies. One time we chose a pizza parlor, though if we did that again, we’d choose the pizza parlor with the ginormous organ they play on Friday nights.

I’ve decided to list some of the more unique places for children’s birthday party venues. Maybe you can find similar venues in your area that might host children’s birthday parties. Even if they don’t currently host birthday parties, it might not be a bad idea to inquire at various places in your community. Perhaps to generate more income, they might think about it. Maybe your party might be the first.

My Top 5 Unique Birthday Party Venues

5. Local toy boutique – There used to be a pretty trendy toy boutique by my home. Now, generally speaking, it was too expensive to shop there, but I’d often bring the kids and browse and shop in their clearances bins while the kids played in their little play area which was set up with lots of the latest and cutest toys. Eventually, to increase revenue, they decided to host birthday parties. For $20 a child (which, I agree, is expensive, so we limited it to 3 BFFs and our 3 girls), the children got to pick from one of 10 different craft kits. While a bit on the spendy side, the kids got to choose their craft kit and make it while there and take it home with them. 5 of the girls chose paint your own jewelry kits and my oldest daughter who wasn’t a jewelry wearing type, choose a paint your own racecars kit. And when they were done with the main craft, there were 2 other paper crafts the children could choose from – my daughter chose paper flowers and paper bag puppets for her and her guests.

What I liked about it – it was a quiet, calm intimate gathering, the kids not only got to create something, they got to bring their creations home with them and they were more functional than a plaster dog.

What I didn’t like about it – the price was too high and the location too small for a large party.

4. Dance Studio – Does your child attend dance classes? My oldest was invited to a birthday party at a dance studio and was taught a jazz number – no prior lessons required. She didn’t need special dance shoes. I think they taught the kids in their socks. When all three girls attended ballet, one of the ballet friends had a birthday party at the dance studio and they got a free dance lesson. They brought in pizza and cupcakes.

What I liked about it – free dance lesson for the guests.

What I didn’t like about it – you need to have a friend in dance, it’s not open to the general public, it’s not cheap (I’m not sure how much, but dance lessons in general is not cheap).

3. Community Arts Center – My middle daughter went to a birthday party at the local community arts center and they had a craft, played games and had cupcakes in their children’s art room. No, I have no idea how much this cost, but I can find out.

What I liked about it – the ambience – upstairs was the Performing Arts Center, and the art rooms were near the rooms where the orchestra practiced, and at the time of the party, we saw musicians and heard some of their music as they played.

What I didn’t like about it – for being in an art studio, they didn’t actually give a free art lesson. The kids just did a craft out of foam. The people from the art center helped us by took digital photos and printed them out for the craft, but I would have liked the kids to have a mini art lesson, either a drawing lesson Young Rembrandts-style, or have easels set up for painting with tempera paints. Now THAT would be cool.

2. Local Humane Society – My oldest attended a party at the local chapter of the Humane Society. The cost was $100 and they brought out cats, dogs and bunny rabbits for the kids to pet. They let the kids see the other animals in their cages. The cost of the party goes to support the Humane Society. And no, they did NOT push for adoptions.

What I liked about it – aw…soft fuzzy animals and kids…what’s not to like? The money goes to a good cause.

What I didn’t like about it – Except for hearing about how soft and cuddly the animals were for days afterward…nothing.

And by far, the most impressive, inexpensive, venue is:

1. Community Planetarium: Housed within a middle school, the local planetarium charges $65 to host birthday parties of up to 65 guests. Yes, you heard that right. $65. For that price, you get use of the meeting room which has displays up of planets, interactive computer programs linked to the NASA website and a weather station and an hour-long program in their domed theater. My youngest will be turning 6 next month and since she’s never had a kid birthday party ever, we chose a program for K-2 called Larry the Cat In Space and have invited her entire class. This was one birthday party experience I am really glad to pay for.

What I like about it – For so little money, you get a fantastic educational experience. You can see some of the exhibits and the domed theater in this post on my other blog.

What I don’t like about it – I’m having a hard time finding something not to like. I didn’t even have to put down a deposit, just sign a paper and send it back. They work with a local pizza joint that charges only $5 a pizza if you order 10 or more. I think the only thing that’s going to be a challenge is having to bring the party supplies upstairs and bring the gifts downstairs. But that’s not really a major drawback.


So, do YOU have any unusual birthday party venues?

Posted in Kid's birthday parties | 2 Comments

Burnout and recovery

I know there have been lots of subscriptions to this blog in recent weeks (because I receive the email alerts), and I wanted to apologize for the absence of new posts.  Simply put, I haven’t been feeling well for a long time.  My husband got laid off in October and is still out of a job and I have been really struggling with low-grade depression.

I have to say, I really miss blogging here.  This was my first attempt at blogging.  It’s been enormously successful in that I get about anywhere from 200-500 hits a day, which is unbelievably cool.

I just looked and saw that I’m up to 200,188 views since it’s inception.   You gals (and guys?) are great and I DO have more content to post.

Let me tell you…depression – even low-grade depression – sucks and I mean literally.    It sucks joy right out of your life.  And whether you are a parent or a teacher, lack of joy in your life hurts your kids too.

I know a lot of people who come here are educators and some are parents.  So, for my first post back, I wanted to share an awesome link to Fran’s website on educator wellness called  She has some awesome ideas to help with teacher burnout.  Do you recognize yourself in a stage of burnout?   Let me tell you, I don’t know Fran…directly, but she’s been commenting on my other blog about my burnout and I have appreciated her support. I wanted to tell her I appreciate her and share her blog with my readers on this blog too. What a great resource and it’s so thoughtful that she is sharing ideas on how to cope with teacher burnout.

I know a lot of my readers are parents who are either homeschooling their children or who are part-time homeschooling their children that could ALSO benefit from the ideas Fran has on her website, after all, parents are our children’s first teachers, right?  There’s lots of wonderful ideas to help recover from burnout we can use as parents.   Let’s face it…whether teacher or parent, taking care of children (whether your own or someone else’s) is HARD work; most caretakers of children do NOT do enough to prevent burnout and exhaustion.   Some of us tend to be perfectionists, idealists, and so OTHER-centered for most of the day that we forget to take care of ourselves (what, you mean it’s okay to have needs AND have some of them met? No way1?!?).

I’ve been a mother for 9 years and I’ve struggled through most of them and I’m really tired of floundering.  I have three daughters who are now 9, 7.5, and almost 6 – beautiful, sometimes frustrating, and oh so wonderful when they aren’t fighting with each other or melting down due to hypoglycemia.  I have got to tell you…I am recognizing and admitting that I am suffering from major burnout, and quite possibly adrenal fatigue.

I’m doing what I can to relieve my burnout…taking some spendy natural supplements…engaging in some mindfulness meditation…and recovering from well, pervasive negative self-talk, and seeing my old therapist, just to have someone to talk to about it rather than whine about it on the blog.

I’m starting to read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s books, starting with Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

If, according to the “old” saying, “Begin with the end in mind”, I’d like to see if I can find more

joy, creativity and the process of total involvement in life which [he] call[s] flow.

Which is something I think we are born with as children, but we lose over the course of our lives if we are unfortunate to have parents that are, for whatever reason, lacking joy and creativity.

I don’t know about you, but I have challenging children. Not challenging in necessarily a bad way. Just that my daughters have always needed more, and sometimes more than I had to give. Two of them are not great at emotional self-regulation, all three are highly sensitive in different ways, one who was struggling and overcame social anxiety/selective mutism, another who had a bad fright last Halloween and still has anxieties, and meeting their growing desires to participate in group activities (oldest is participating in her first ‘real’ sport – ragball – the step below softball; middle daughter is participating in chess club; middle and youngest will have science camp over the summer) when you have no income coming in adds a bunch of stress.

I think I’ll be addressing some of these core issues here (to get advice as well as share resources) on social-emotional development, how to encourage kids’ passions when you are on a shoe-string budget, dealing with family issues during job loss and how to help children cope with news about global crises too, more educational ideas, as well as interject some things I’ve found that are just plain fun.

Someone posted on my other blog another mama’s post on Five Strategies to Help a Moody Mama.

So, my first resolution is not to bite off more than I can chew. I am going to target a post a week, and not every few days like I was trying to before.


So, what do YOU do to reduce/prevent burnout as a parent/teacher?

How do you restore yourself when your stress has reached critical mass?

Do you have any links of favorite places to reduce your stress and live a more intentional life?

Posted in Recovery from burnout, Stress | 7 Comments

6 Traits of Good Writing

Last night, I attended a workshop at my daughters’ elementary school to find out more about what makes a good writer.  Ironically, I write quite prolifically on some other blogs and yet would be hard pressed to define what makes a good piece of writing – since I write for fun for myself and it’s not being graded by anyone (judged perhaps, but not graded).    I haven’t really thought much about what goes into my own writing and instead, improvise as I go along.  I write by feel more than by anything else.  Which might mean that some of my pieces might be great, while others might be pretty lackluster.  And I’ve mostly forgot the proper rules of punctuation.  Of the writing samples that do come home from the girls, I usually have no idea what kind of feedback would be helpful to provide.   I hate the vague, “Oh wow, honey, this is a really interesting story.  You did a great job.”   That doesn’t really give them any kind of idea WHY their writing might be good, except maybe if they used an interesting new vocabulary word, or the story was emotionally compelling (which it usually isn’t :), but sometimes they are quite funny ).

The school hired a reading/writing expert on the matter for the parents to learn how to support their children at home, and following the parent presentation,  there was a teacher presentation to help teachers implement a uniform system of teaching good writing skills to children starting in kindergarten.  As a parent AND and as a writer, I was really encouraged to see that the school is making an effort to go beyond the mechanics of sentences.  I stayed for both sessions (the parent and the teacher portion).  my oldest daughter was interested in going and so she was able to get an early introduction to the concepts.

The concepts shared by the presenter are found everywhere on the internet, so I don’t think I’m infringing on copyright by sharing my notes here.    What I found particularly interesting was that even kindergartners could be introduced to the concepts and can be utilized when they write.  No, they won’t be writing words but they WILL be writing stories through pictures.

Good Writing has 6 Traits – Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions.  Each section has some examples of books for K-4 students.

1)  Ideas

  • Topics they KNOW about – if they haven’t visited, learned about, or experienced – they will not have enough details to write about.
  • Details – the more details they include, the better.    A Kindergarten student can be encouraged to include more details on their pictures; older writers can add number details (age, date, time, elapsed time, distance), description (senses – what they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, touched); names (of person, places and things)
  • Staying on topic
  • Narrow Topic – better to use more details on a narrow topic than fewer details on a broader topic
  • For kindergartners, pictures match words
  • Books to Illustrate Ideas – (any of them, really)  (K-1) This is My Hair, Todd Parr, (2-4) Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Mem Fox

2)  Organization –

  • Beginning, Middle and End – for a kindergartners – to encourage a beginning, middle and end, you can tape extra sheets of paper to any particular drawing of theirs and ask them to draw what happened before the picture they drew and what happened after the picture (think a 3-frame cartoon).
  • Logical order/sequence
  • Pre-writing – nothing fancy needs to be done here…writing a simple list of ideas is fine – in fact, graphic organizers are discouraged because they aren’t used in the adult world and really complicate the process.
  • Connect the ideas with transitions.
  • It all begins with a good title – Hook your reader.
  • Don’t end with “The End” or other simplified endings.
  • Books to illustrate organization(K-1) (any books with number sequences) One Duck Stuck, Phyllis Root, (2-4) When Sophie Gets Angry, Molly Bang (also great book to illustrate Voice), Click-Clack Moo: Cows that Type, Doreen Cronin.

3) Voice –

  • It has feeling – emotional content.  It is funny, or mad, or sad.  It’s persuasive.
  • Voice-filled conventions (young writers will use extra exclamation points!!!!!!!, bold print, ALL CAPS to convey voice and do NOT discourage young writers who use them)
  • Audience – someone to write to.  Students should be told that there is a real person reading the writing portion of the standardized tests, and even spend some time talking about what this person might be like, looked like, etc.  Letter-writing to relatives and pen-pals is a good habit to encouraged because they know up front who their audience will be.
  • Change the points of view.  For example, writing about digestion from the point of view of food…or read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Jon Sciezka (The 3 Little Pigs story as told by A. Wolf).
  • Books to illustrate Voice – (K-1) Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Keven Henkes, Monster at the End of This Book, Jon Stone, Today I Feel Silly, Jamie Lee Curtis, (2-4) How are You Peeling? Saxton Freymann  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Williams, Diary of a Worm, Doreen Cronin.

4)  Word choice – vocabulary.

  • Big words
  • Specific nouns
  • Awesome action verbs
  • Sensory words/descriptions
  • In order to help students use better words in their writing, help them to notice them in their reading, compliment them when they use them in their speaking.
  • Do not criticize misspelled words.  It’s better to use bigger misspelled words than it is to use smaller perfectly spelled words.  We were told they still get credit for misspelled words on the writing portion of the I-STEP.  And a child who is criticized for misspelled bigger words will more than likely stop using bigger words.
  • Books to illustrate word choice – (K-1) Max’s Words, Kate Banks, Fancy Nancy, Jane O’Conner, (2-4) I’m Dirty, Kate and Jim McMullen, Mrs. McBloom, Clean up your Classroom, Kelly DiPucchio.   (as an aside, I love reading classic chapter books meant for older children to my daughters…like Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Alice in Wonderland for the exposure to new vocabulary words).

5) Sentence fluency

  • Complete sentences.
  • Sentence variety- different beginnings, variety in length, and variety in type (declaratory, exclamatory and interrogatory).
  • Easy to read aloud – the BEST check for sentence fluency is to read it aloud
  • Other literary devices – alliteration, similes, onomatopaeia.
  • Books that illustrate sentence fluency- (K-1) The Magic Hat, Mem Fox, (2-4) Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp, Carol Diggory Shields, Soft House, Jane Yolen.

6)  Conventions – Writer’s don’t need conventions – READERS do.

  • Spelling
  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Paragraphing
  • Spacing
  • Books that illustrate conventions – (K-1) CDB, William Steig, Yo! Yes? Christopher Raschka, (2-4) Punctuation Takes a Vacation, Robin Pulver, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, Doreen Cronin, Eats Shoots and Leaves (commas) Lynne Truss.

I’m very impressed that the school is taking the initiative to help the students learn better writing skills.  I’m very glad as a parent to have been provided the opportunity to learn what they will be learning so that I can help encourage them at home.  Sadly, of all the 700+ students in the school, only about 30 parents showed up for the workshop.

Posted in Six Traits of Good Writing, Writing | 7 Comments

Halloween Spider Math

I have been wanting to do this a few weeks ago with the girls, only to find out I misplaced my spiders. I came across some cute spider button/findings earlier this year at Joann fabrics. I scooped up two packages when they were 50% off.  Yes, I probably should have gotten more because they are now out of stock at my local  Joann’s.


So, just (barely) in time for Halloween, I found them again to do some spider math.  Or, you could use those Halloween spider rings and cut off the circle part.

I found a spider addition mat from and put it in a clear sleeve protector to use with a dry erase marker.

Daughter (5.5) used a large die to roll to determine how many spiders to add to each web and then added them together to get the result.


Alternately the different colored spiders can be used for patterning:


I’m looking for other spider games to play for 5-7 year olds using 20 spiders.  Any ideas out there?

Posted in Halloween, Math | Leave a comment

Chicken life cycle

Hello, it’s been a while.

Things over here have been quite busy getting the girls settled into their new year at school.

I have taken quite a long break from the blog partially because I’d had other projects in mind and partly because we lost access to our pictures and picture editing software when our home computer server crashed.

I’ve been thinking of my poor neglected blog and have been trying to figure out what new blog-worthy projects we’ll be working on. I have a calling to work more on our science blog, but I will try to resume a fairly regular posting schedule here.

In the meantime, please stop over at The Exploration Station to see the Chicken Life Cycle resources.


Posted in Nature Study, science | Leave a comment