Friday, September 29, 2006

Lessons at the amusement park?

Yes, you read the title correctly.  This summer, we spent A LOT of time at amusement parks.  My dad works as an EMT for a local amusement park, so we were able to visit there for free three times this summer!  The company that owns that amusement park also owns another park a little over an hour from our home, so we visited this park, also for free.  On top of all that, we spent a weekend this Fall camping at a park North of here called Knoebel's Grove.  This is a very family-friendly park and campground.  We make it an annual trip each Fall season. 


As we visited these amusement parks, I watched for learning opportunities.  Obviously, the boys got lots of physical education.  They walked (or most-times, ran) through the parks exercising their legs.  They climbed stairs and ramps leading to various rides.  They played at water parks.  But there are other learning opportunities at various theme parks.  Don't just discount those days as days off from learning!  Count them!  Learning happens!  Here are a few examples:


Health:  My dad is an EMT in the First Aid station at a park.  When we visit that park, we visit my Dad.  You, too, can take your child to the first aid station and ask them to give you a tour.  If they're not busy, I'm sure they'd be happy to explain how they administer care.  This is an opportunity for your child to learn about health-care happening outside their regular doctor's visits.


Science:  Hershey Park has a zoo that you can visit for free with park admittance.  We visit it every time we're in Hershey!  The animals don't change from visit to visit, but we always find something new at which to marvel and discuss.  Also, when playing at a water park, do the children spend time turning knobs and watching buckets fill with water?  Are they playing with all the gizmos and controls that allow them to move water?  That's science!  Many parks have animal shows like dolphins or sea lions.  Any animal observation is science.


Art:  Take in some of the free plays, musicals, and shows.  At Knoebel's Grove, my guys actually participated in a play!  They called all the children on stage to act out a play while the narrator told a story.  I was so disappointed that I didn't have my camera!!!  But most parks have shows that are free with your admittance price.  Watch one of these shows and call it art.  Drama is art.


Social Studies/History/Economics:  At Hershey Park there is a free ride/tour called Chocolate World.  It explains the history of Hershey's Chocolate as well as the manufacturing process of chocolate.  At Knoebel's Grove, they have a walk through museum featuring the history of mining and the history of Knoebel's Grove park.  At Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster they have many displays featuring Amish Life and life on a farm.


Geography:  As you enter the theme park, hand each child a map and tell them to navigate.  Let them read the map and tell you which rides they want to ride, or where they want to go next and how you should get to that spot.  At the end of the day, have them circle all the rides that they've ridden, or use a marker to trace the route you took through the park.  A ride on a ferris wheel or  monorail will also provide time to discuss locations of things around the park or in the park from a bird's-eye-view.


I can't believe our Summer is over.  It seems as though I blinked and the time passed.  We had a lot of adventures this summer, many of which happened at a theme park.  If you are in a part of the country that allows you a longer summer, take in a theme park and call it school!  Just don't tell your children you're calling it school, let them have fun and learn in the process!


Enjoy the ride!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Don't Overlook a Resource...adapting a product for any age

You won't believe the book I've been using the most for our extra projects this week.  Remember, my guys are 8 and almost 10 years of age.  The book I've been using, I picked up at a thrift store a few weeks ago.  It's entitled 101 Easy Wacky Crazy Activites for Preschoolers.  Yep, you read the end of that title correctly.  It said, For Preschoolers.


But your children are well past pre-school age, you say?  Yes, they are.  But there are activities throughout this book that we can use in many situations.  For instance, there are several ideas for painting in a creative way.  One activity sends the children outside with their easels, or just a big pad of paper and a tray of paints, but no paint brushes.  The children have to find items in the garden or back yard with which to paint.


This book has a wonderful recipe for homemade play dough.  I made it so that the boys could model a new geographic term they learned last week.  I gave the boys each a few balls of this home made playdough colored with food coloring and asked them to make a fiord after we read the definition in the dictionary.  This was a great hands-on way for them to show me what they'd learned.  We've been reading about Vikings a lot lately and fiords are listed in many of our books.  This afternoon, my 10-year-old son made the home made playdough all by himself just for fun!  I just handed him the book and said, "Read the directions!"


We also used the idea in this preschool book to use old markers as water-paints.  By covering a sheet of watercolor paper with water a seemingly dried up marker "paints" beautifully.


So, don't overlook a resource just because it doesn't list your child's age-group.  This pre-school book is going to fill our weeks with wonder.  If I would have set it aside because it said, "pre-school" on the cover, we would have missed out on a lot of fun!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Daddy's Room Cleaning Game

I have been trying not to explode over the disaster area that is my sons' room.  As a matter of fact, my oldest son bought a sign for their door that says, "Disaster Area."  Their messy room can set me off like a rocket, screaming into orbit.  I get very frustrated over the mess of toys and collectibles in their little bedroom.  But I am trying not to be that crazy mom.  One way I've done this is to discuss it with my husband.  He's always so calm and listens so well.  Just talking about my frustrations with this dear patient man relieves so much stress in my life.


As a result of our conversations, Todd, my husband, was the one who came up with dividing the boys' room into quadrants and making a map of their room with each quadrant marked.  (


Last night, he came up with another room solution by designing a game for the boys to play all day today.  He told them that every hour, on the hour, they must go to their room and pick up one large item, one medium-sized item, and one small item.  When they did this, they wrote their items down on a log sheet that he made for them.  Prior to all of this "picking-up", Todd had picked one item as the prize item.  Whoever listed the prize item on their sheet as an item that they put away won a prize.  Of course, there was also a runner-up prize so that both boys felt rewarded.


So, ever hour, my little timer rang and the boys ran to their room.  They would emerge muttering their list under their breath and head for the lined sheets of paper on the table.  Each boy wrote down their three items dilligently each hour asking me, "How do you spell shield?"  and "How do you spell sword?"


At the end of the day, daddy returned from work with a slip of paper folded in his pocket.  Both boys are always happy to see Daddy walk in the door in the evening, but tonight they were positively animated.  They quickly unfolded the paper to find what was the mystery item that would earn one boy a reward.  As it turned out, our youngest son won the $2 prize because he picked up the black shield with the golden lion on it.


...all this, and their room doesn't look too bad, either!

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Yesterday's Astronomy Lesson

I'm not a planner.  OK, there, I've said it.  I've found that when I sit down and plan out all the details of a week's worth of lessons, I get tense.  If we aren't following the plan, I begin to bark at the boys to "Keep working!"  What works better for me is to read a book on the subject we are studying and then complete projects, copywork, and notebooks or lapbooks surrounding that study.  Somedays those extra things after the reading, are not planned until we're in the middle of our day.


Yesterday was one of those days.  As the boys were working on their math, I was reminded of a series of verses that were read in church a few weeks ago.  These verses struck me because they mention a few constellations by name and we are studying astronomy this year. 


Job 38:31-33

Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?  Can you loose the cords of Orion?  Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?  Do you know the laws of the heavens?  Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?


I pulled out my lined notebook paper and wrote these verses.  That was going to be the day's copywork to be added to the boys' astronomy notebooks.  Then I remembered a site I had fallen up years ago where the constellations were arranged as a sort of dot-to-dot.  After a little searching I found the costellation Orion and The Great Bear in this form at

These two printouts went nicely alongside the copywork in their astronomy notebooks.


This made for a great little astronomy lesson as well as time to consider God's awesome control of even the arrangement of the stars in the sky.  AND I re-found a great web site.  After our lessons we listened to one of the radio broadcasts (click on Kids Radio Shows) about how to tell the difference between a satellite and a star.  This brief audio kept my boys attention and taught them something significant.


So, maybe everything doesn't have to be planned.  Let God design a bit of your day.  After all, He put you on this roller coaster in the first place.  Let Him direct  your paths.(hills, valleys and all!)


(as my niece would say) sidebar: one of my favorite verses is found in Job 38.  It's verse 10.  Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?  That it could take the world by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?

What an AWESOME description of God's power!

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Critical Thinking Activities

A few weeks ago, I was invited to an on-line "show" for a company that specializes in activity books and software to promote critical thinking.  The show was incredibly interesting.  I began to realize the importance of teaching my guys about solving problems in different ways.  Critical thinking allows people to look at things in different ways and from different angles.  By promoting critical thinking, I can see how a student would test better because of how they learn analysis from these activities.


I wanted to buy my weight in critical thinking activity books!  But common sense, and the budget, prevailed and the show closed without my name on a purchase order.  And yet, I still wanted critical thinking to be a part of our education.  I wanted the boys to be able to use critical thinking skills on a regular basis.


As I thought about critical thinking and the activities that we had done as part of the "show", I realized that I have a house-full of critical thinking activites, worksheets, and books!  Here is my preliminary list:


Tray of Objects  put several objects on a tray and bring them out for your student to view for a set time, like 3 minutes.  Then remove the tray and have the child list as many items as they can list.  Another variation of this activity is to have the child close his eyes and remove one item, then have the child list the item that's missing.  We used to play this game with various colors and sizes of jar lids.  Then I would rearrange them, or remove one and the boys would try to remember what was on the tray originally


Sudoku  my husband and I are hooked on these number games!  I play them on-line at   We have a children's sudoku book that I bought at a book discounter.  My boys can work through several puzzles in a matter of minutes.  They are great games for reasoning and logic.


Tangrams  I bought a nice Tangram set at a thrift store, but you can make your own from cardboard or a fun-foam sheet.  This puzzle in which you have to arrange shapes to make various pictures can be simple or very-very challenging.  Just type "tangram" into the search box at and you will get more sites that you'll have time to view.  There are lots of printable versions of this puzzle to help you make one for yourself.  Google, "printable tangram".


Origami  Teaching this activity to your young ones helps them think of a flat piece of paper in a three-dimensional way.  It allows them to strengthen their hand-eye coordination while following sometimes complicated directions.  For boys, a great start to origami is paper airplanes.  There are lots and lots of variations on the traditional paper airplane today.


Games  We love the game Guess Who, which is a board game we own.  But we also play this game without the board while driving in the car.  One person thinks of a character or person.  Then the rest of the family asks questions to determine who is the mystery person or character.  Chess would be another great game for critical thinking.  Another one is Master Mind.  We have the Jr. version.  Matching games, like concentration, are also great for critical thinking.  Another game we have, "Cranium Cadoo" promotes critical thinking in several activities.


Magazines  My mom subscribes to "Highlights" magazine for the boys.  There are SEVERAL critical thinking activities in those.  You can often find old copies of Highlights at the library, thrift stores, or yard sales if you don't subscribe.  One of our family favorites is the page where you have to answer a series of questions in order and try to answer them without skipping any.  They also have a page called, "thinking" that promotes thinking of things in a different way.  Another magazine is "Reader's Digest."  The RD Challenge page is always a critical thinking activity.  One example is a page of word clues where the answers all have the three letters CAR in them.  You use the clues to list the word.  Another example would be a list of clues where all the answers are compound words.


That's my preliminary list!  I'm trying, now, to incorporate at least one critical thinking activity into our day every day.  I want our boys to be able to look at a problem and see it as solvable because they've learned many ways to attack a problem.  As a matter of fact, that sounds like how I solved the problem of not having enough budget money for that stack of critical thinking activity books.  With a little critical thinking I wrote the list you just read!