Free Fun U.S. States Game!

Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational has created an awesome free printable card game that helps kids learn all about the geography and history of the states.

Battle of the States is played a little bit like “War” but by comparing numbers and dates related to the states such as population, number of counties, electoral votes and year of statehood.

One nice thing about it is that it is slightly skewed in favor of younger players, since they start the game and pick the category to compare first.  The player who has the higher number in that category gets both cards and gets to choose the next category.  The player with the most cards at the end wins.

I’m hoping to try the game with at least a few of my kiddos once I find enough cardstock to print them out.  I seem to have been raided by small crafters lately.  ;)


Small Rocks: the details, part 1

This post is one of several I will do to flesh out some details for the earth science course I designed for JBug, based on Bill Bryson’s book,  A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.
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Original post on the whole course here:

Totally Rockin’ Earth Science Course for JBug.

Planning charts can be downloaded here:

Earth Science Planning Chart PDF version

Earth Science Planning Chart Word version

Details for “weeks” 1-4 (which will actually be probably weeks 1-8, taking 2 weeks to do each “week”–clear as mud?)

The first two sections are largely introductory in nature, so we will take this time to set up our rock tumbler, choosing which rocks we want to tumble, going over how it works, fine tuning, etc. We have this rock tumbler (Lortone 45C) which has worked well for us in the past, but it has been a long time since we used it, so we will need to re-familiarize ourselves with it. This would also be a good time to decorate a notebook if you are starting a new one. JBug has one half-full from last year, so she will just be adding to that. It’s a simple composition book with the top half blank and the bottom half lined. I like that style as I find it most versatile, but feel free to use any style suits you and your kids.  Here is a picture of JBug’s after she decorated it last year:
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The next few sections of the book are mostly about the big bang, space, the solar system, and stars.

Notebooking opportunities for this section are: What is a Universe?  What is a solar system? Parts of a rocket, moon phases, seasons, the big bang,  what is a galaxy? star life cycle, and scientist bios for Newton, Halley, Wren, Bob Evans, Gamow, Penzias and Wilson, among others. Do whichever ones strike your child’s fancy. When we do notebooking, JBug will often sketch a picture or diagram on the top half of the page, then write a few sentences of explanation below. Sometimes it may just be something we’ve printed up and glued in. Either way, we keep it simple so the focus is on the science, not the notebook.

This is also when we will begin our model rocket building, which will hopefully carry over several weeks, completed a little each day as we continue with the rest of the work/readings/notebooking. There are tons of rocket kits out there you can order online or get at shops like Hobby Lobby (I think) and so you should pick and choose based on price, complexity, etc that will suit the age/ level of experience of your children. Some can be put together in an hour. Others will need considerably more time investment. Go for one that will challenge your child but not frustrate them. Take your time and really learn the science behind the design, what all of the parts do during launch and how they work together to make a successful launch and recovery.

Launching is the fun part–try to make a party of it. Pick a nice, windless day, a big sunny field, pack a picnic, and launch away! Be sure to warn young children ahead of time that they very well may not recover their rocket if the wind takes it somewhere inaccessible, so don’t get too attached.

The next project will be to build a model solar system. I got one of those cheap styrofoam kits you paint and assemble, but really anything will do–sculpey, paper mache, whatever. Just be sure to emphasize that the scale for any of these models is necessarily WAY off. Watching the Bill Nye episode on the solar system should clear that up pretty well.

Page 25 of the book has a small section on Isaac Newton, so I am going to grab that opportunity to do a  few force/motion activities, just for fun.We will explore Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion using simple objects (perhaps with activities from here). Then we will do some fun things like build stick bombs and catapults. Just because.

Other things we can do during this segment: watch the Bill Nye episodes on space, the moon, comets and meteors, etc, look at Voyager and Hubble images, and use the dates on p24 of the book to calculate the period for Halley’s comet and when it will next return.

Amongst all of this discussion of the universe and its beginnings, we will also be sure to read the Genesis account of creation (as well as other creation stories), and read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and writings of the Popes to understand how, as Catholics, we can find truth in both the Big Bang and the Bible. You, of course, will want to discuss this in accordance with your own belief system.

So, I hope that helps to flesh out the first few sections of the course. I will be back soon with details on the next sections.


50 Things We Learned About in the Badlands



We’re back from a fabulous four days in the Badlands of South Dakota.

This was the first time the kids and I had ever been there, though Daryl was there years ago.

It was absolutely magical!  Not only is the landscape breathtaking, but it’s rife with educational opportunities and it’s all sorts of fun to climb and explore.



It will definitely be a regular vacation stop for us.

We all agreed that May seemed to be the perfect month to visit, too.  The weather was warm but not hot, the landscape was green and filled with the start of wildflowers, there weren’t many people yet, and hotel rates were cheaper since it was before Memorial Day.

Thank goodness we homeschool and can go on adventures all year, instead of waiting until school is out and the rates are highest.  :)

There were so many magical experiences…. watching thousands of prairie dogs running around and chirping at us, seeing our first burrowing owls (read “Hoot” to fall in love with these darling birds), having bighorn sheep crossing in front of us on the road, driving past grazing buffalo (no fences!) in the park, seeing spectacular views, climbing landscapes that felt like the surface of Mars…

And there were so many educational aspects too…. touring the Minuteman Missile museum (SD was once filled with missiles during the Cold War and you can still tour one site!), earning ranger badges at the parks, getting up close to animals we’d only seen in zoos like pronghorn antelopes that just lay in the grass as we drove by, learning how the Badlands were formed, seeing fossils preserved under glass at the site from animals that lived there millions of years ago, learning the Native American history of the area, stopping at educational sites along the way and so much more.

Here’s 50 fun subjects we learned about on our quick trip!

  1. burrowing owls
  2. prairie dogs
  3. bighorn sheep
  4. bull snakes
  5. The Cold War
  6. Minuteman missiles
  7. The Great Inland Sea
  8. black-footed ferrets
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  10. short, medium and tall grass prairies
  11. Wall Drug
  12. molting
  13. animal sounds (miss Fiona learned many!)
  14. new words (Fiona again — including vulture, buffalo and goat)
  15. Dr. Seuss and how his books were written to help children deal with fears of the Cold War and to diffuse politics
  16. Lewis and Clark
  17. long boats
  18. The Corn Palace
  19. pronghorn antelopes
  20. two-layered animal coats
  21. erosion
  22. soils, sand and dirt (components, how they’re made, etc.)
  23. fossils
  24. Native American names and how they’re given
  25. the meaning of Badlands
  26. outlaw history
  27. wagon trains
  28. The Wall Wildlife Museum
  29. baby prairie animals (Fiona)
  30. baby forest animals (Fiona)
  31. ghost towns (we explored one, Okaton)
  32. mesas
  33. buttes
  34. Pine Ridge Reservation
  35. vulture courtship
  36. Greek myths (on tape for the drive)
  37. baseball cards
  38. Lovecraft/Cthulhu (Victoria’s reading for the trip)
  39. Mt. Rushmore (we didn’t visit but we learned about it)
  40. vocabulary through Bananagrams at the hotel  :)
  41. river bluffs and landscapes
  42. glaciers
  43. prehistoric animals
  44. magpies
  45. coyotes
  46. South Dakota geography and news
  47. distance (we drove across the Missouri River and found out it was exactly a mile even though it seemed small)
  48. paleontologists
  49. change, time and impermanence (Jack had a bit of an existential crisis at ten about how “someday this will all be gone” and we talked about how much it had changed and the vast amount of time it had all been there.)
  50. “Prairie Dogs Have Plague!”


Stay tuned for pictures of the ghost town we explored and more.



Landform Flipbook

I designed this simple landform flipbook for JBug yesterday. She can use it as a model to make her own to put into her geography notebook. I thought I’d share it in case anyone else could use it.

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10 Fun Ways We’ve Learned and Played Recently

Oh my goodness, we’ve been busy!  Summer is just a blur around here, even with the pageant finally over.  It’s been nice, though, and it was cool and rainy for part of the week and I really liked that.  It makes it nicer for our nightly badminton games.  :)

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to….

1.  Went to De Smet, SD, to check out Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home after Walnut Grove.

This is what’s left of the big, beautiful Silver Lake from Laura’s books.  It’s marsh land now, drained for agriculture by area farmers and further dried up by drought.

They are trying to protect/restore it now in order to have a habitat for water birds (hunting is a big part of the tourist industry in South Dakota) and because draining the lakes led to the land being vulnerable to floods and they’ve realized they need wetlands to protect the towns and farms.

2.  Watched another Wilder Pageant, the De Smet version.

The kids got to take a wagon ride before the show and got to meet the cast.  They also liked being in the audience for once!

It was so small compared to ours!

And it was a bit surprising to me that they had Santa in the cast!  :)

We went there and back the same day and got home very late that night.  We didn’t think we could afford the trip if we stayed at a motel and it seemed like a waste if we were only going to be sleeping there anyway!  It was kind of fun having a road trip into the wee hours!

3.  Anna went to the library, the pool and her friend’s house today. Her friend called and said, “You’re finally home!  You’ve been busy for like three years!”.  It does seem like it!

4.  Jack has been having a blast with these giant Tinker Toys. My aunt gave them to me when the girls were tiny and they were buried in the garage.  I’ve been cleaning out the garage this week and I knew the pefect boy to show them to!  Here’s the robot we built together.

5.  The girls have been reading and reciting poetry. They are both on a poetry kick and have been arguing over who gets to read aloud at night before bed!  Yes, my girls will even argue about reading poetry.  :)   It doesn’t hurt that we have some beautiful little poetry books covered in velvet and embossed leather, plus picture books of classic poems that are wonderfully illustrated.  Current favorites– The Highwayman, Annabelle Lee, The Raven, Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Shakespeare.

6.  Anna and I made a million squash blossom dishes. She was such a great sous chef!  She hand washed and cleaned every blossom to remove the bitter stamens and then we stuffed some with a ricotta mixture, battered them and fried them.  You can read our results in the comments of the squash post a few days ago.  We weren’t that impressed.  :)   Next time we’re just going to use them as pretty toppings!

Filling the flowers!

Filled, twisted and ready to be battered…

Topping our pesto veggie crazy-crust pizza…

The pizza was a big hit!  Victoria wants me to make it every night, but she’s easy to please.  Here’s what it looks like when you eat flowers for dinner.

It was still a fun experiment and we learned a lot about plant fertilization, male and female blossoms, etc.!

7.  We played Snail Pace (or Snail Race or something like that!). My grandma sent this game today and the kids liked it a bit but I am really not impressed.  It says that it’s non-competitive and I really do like that sort of game but egads, I just thought it was the dullest game ever.  You line up 6 colored snails and roll colored dice to see which snail you move forward.  Everybody takes turns rolling, moving snails and guessing who’s going to win.  That’s it.  It’s supposed to be for kids ages 3 to 7 but I’m not sure what 7 year old would really get excited about this.  I think we might pass it on to the local Head Start or another family.

8.  We made homemade butter. Jack and Daddy did the first batch after learning how at the Walnut Grove family festival.  Then the girls each made a batch of their own.

Straining the buttermilk out…

Make sure you rinse your finished butter lots under fresh cold water and press it all out.   It will mold if any buttermilk remains!


9.  Cooking, cooking, cooking! Yesterday we made a giant batch of the most delicious walnut basil pesto from the farmers’ market basil haul.  We get it from the man we call The Purple Bean Guy because he sells purple beans that we love.  We did a taste test of his purple, green and yellow beans one week.  He’s a really fun guy with a wonderful spirit and he sells enormous bags of gorgeous herbs for 75 cents each.  We also made zucchini muffins, zucchini cake, deviled eggs (from farm fresh eggs from “Those Crazy Goat Ladies” at the FM — and yes, that’s their business name!), refrigerator cukes,…. tons of wonderful foods!

10.  Inviting in some guests! Victoria found a miniscule little monarch caterpillar egg on a milkweed leaf in the yard the other day.  She’s been on the lookout for them!  She brought it in, leaf and all, and put it in a jar with a cloth cover (air can get in, caterpillars can’t get out!).  Today we had an itty bitty caterpillar in there, so tiny you had to squint to see him!  Victoria went out to get him a fresh leaf and accidentally brought in another little egg.  Let the butterfly season begin.  :)

(Looks like I need to dust!)  :)

It is now 11:30 and every single one of my children is awake!  Ack!  Alex took a very late nap and woke up when he ought to be going to bed.  Anna is sick and unfathomably cranky.  Jack is just being trouble, trouble, trouble.  Victoria is halfway in my good graces (she’s helping keep a fussy Alex entertained) and half on my bad side (she keeps taunting her already cranky sister).  It is probably going to be a long night.

It’s all good though.  It may be bedlam, but I still love summer… and this loud, crazy bunch!