School Projects

Fun Projects

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving Planning

I LOVE Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday for a whole list of reasons: the colors, the food, the fact that it is only one day long, and most of all the food.  Usually we pack up the kids and head to one side of the family or another to celebrate, but this year is different.  This year WE are hosting.  Generally speaking, I LOVE hosting gatherings (my husband claims it is because it is a chance for my "Field Marshal" personality to rise to the fore), but I will admit that putting on my first holiday dinner has me a bit nervous.

My son has apparently caught the fever as well, because he announced that his bedroom needs decorating - it just isn't Thanksgiving-y enough for guests to see.  First, he decided to make a leaf banner.
 He hung it above his closet.  I thought it looked nice.
 Then he decided one garland wasn't enough, and he drew up a plan (yes, a plan) of each wall in his room and added all the decor items he wanted to add.
 He also recruited labor.  
If the construction paper and tape and glue hold out, I think they will still be working as our guests arrive.  Stay tuned - I'll try and get a picture when they do the official unveiling.  Until then I am forced to pretend that I can't see anything every time I go in their rooms.

What am I doing to get ready for Thanksgiving?  I prettied up this clipboard with washi tape to hold the lists of tasks I made for each day until THE day.  If I can stay on track, maybe I can just pull this off!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  You probably won't hear from me again until it is over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Make a Mummy

Imagine you live in Egypt several thousand years ago (For those of you who live in parts of the Midwest this will be a special struggle - just pretend the 18 inches of snow you just got is sand and you'll feel right at home).  Your pharaoh just died and the priests are preparing his body for the journey to the afterlife (at least that's what they THINK - we know they are preparing the body for public display in a museum far away in the future).  It was kind of a big deal, this mummifying, and you can't really escape it if you do any reading about Ancient Egypt, and it is the reading about Ancient Egypt that brings me to today's post.

Way back in Ancient October, Ian was reading about the Old Kingdom of Egypt in his history curriculum (The Story of the World, Vol. 1) and one of the possible enrichment activities was "Mummify a Chicken."  While it seemed lacking in actual educational value, it did seem likely to be fun and memorable, so we decided to give it a try.  

A word on supplies: Buy the smallest chicken you can find!  Smaller chickens mean using less of the other ingredients and less time to completion.  Also, don't worry about any of those things that people worry about when buying a chicken for eating, like free-range, or non-soy fed, or non-antibiotic-ed.  Mummies don't care about these things.  Go for cheap.  However, you might want to buy disposable gloves, if you are squeamish about touching things that have been dead for a while.  I didn't, and we didn't get salmonella or Ebola or anything, but I suppose the possibility is there.  We did wash our hands frequently!
 Okay, on to the show!
 It turns out my boy hasn't spent enough time hunting or farming, and he was less then thrilled about reaching into the body cavity of the chicken.  We'll be working on that.....
Eventually we got the chicken all washed (first with lots and lots of water and then with rubbing alcohol) and dried.
 When the chicken was prepared, we made the salt mixture.  Modern mummies are made from table salt (one box), baking soda (half a box) and baking powder (half a box).  Ground cinnamon and ground cloves are added to mask any potential unpleasant odors.
 Next, the inside of the chicken is packed with the salt before the whole body is covered in it.  A double layer of freezer bag is a good idea!  Then the chicken is set in some discreet place to begin the drying process.  If you were an ancient pharaoh, I suppose you rested in state in some temple, but if you are a chicken, the top of the refrigerator is a good place.  For the first week, the salt mixture has to be changed every 2-3 days, as the moisture is drawn out of the carcass, but the more dry the chicken gets, the longer the time between changes.  Our chicken took about 5 weeks to fully dry out.
 Last week, our chicken was ready to move on to the next step in the process.  We took it out of the bag and washed and dried it again.  (Note: the chicken did not smell, except of cloves.  The chicken was not slimy - it felt like jerky).  Then we rubbed it with olive oil.
 Finally we got to the step made famous in all the many mummy movies: the bandages.  The Egyptians used strips of linen.  I used old, cut up cloth diapers.  Same difference, right?  We dipped the strips in a paste made up of two parts white glue to one part water (you can eye-ball this one, it's not super precise), and began to wrap the chicken.  First the wings and drumsticks, then the entire body.
 Once the chicken was fully wrapped, it went back to the top of the refrigerator to dry again.  After three days it was dry (still no smell!) and ready to finish.  At first Ian was prepared to build a coffin AND sarcophagus for our mummy, but in the end he settled on some decorative painting. 
 We admired our mummy for a few minutes and then there was nothing left to do but to entomb it.
Good-bye, Chicken Mummy.

Happy school projects, everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Caramel Apples or Why I Am Not a Purist

Well, it seems that the beautiful portion of Autumn is drawing to a close.  You have to search pretty hard to find a yellow or a red leaf left among the brown and crinkly debris - but since you can still find one or two I shall carry on in my "Celebration of Fall" series of posts.  Today's installment brings you instructions on how to make the perfect caramel apple. 

Step 1: Go to Walmart and buy the kit.  

Seriously.  Buy the kit.  I have no delusions of a grandeur (I heard whoever just whispered "No, she's just delusional....").  I have no confidence in my ability to corral 4 kids whilst unwrapping a bag of caramel candy, melting uneaten portion of said caramel candies, keeping aforementioned children from falling headfirst into the now molten caramel, fishing apples out of the caramel after they fall off the stick during the dipping process or refraining from throwing the pot containing the cooled and now permanently attached caramel out through the front window.  No confidence at all.  That is why I bought the kit.

The kit worked beautifully.  The top sheet of waxed paper was peeled off, revealing a thin circle of caramel just waiting for an apple to be set in the middle of it.
 The edges of the caramel circle were lifted up and with just a little bit of stretching and folding they covered the apple.
 Then a popsicle stick handle was inserted and the apple was placed on another square of waxed paper on a cookie tray.  After five minutes in the oven they were soft and gooey and perfect for eating.
And here is the other reason why I am not a purist when it comes to caramel apples: the kids who begged and pleaded and harassed and cajoled for more then a week to make those caramel apples used their front teeth to scrape off a little bit of the caramel from the finished apples, turned up their little noses and said "can we have a different snack?"

Happy kit buying, everyone!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Produce

I love fall, in case you didn't know.  It is when my Yellow-and-Orange Fever (or Y1-O1 as my husband calls it) flairs up the worst, due to all the stimulants floating in the air.  One particular reason that I like it so much is that all kinds of tasty fruits and veggies - namely apples and pumpkins - ripen and we can go collect them and make yummy things from them.  Some years we go to an apple orchard, but this year the kids and I drove to my sister's house instead, and picked a box full of apples from her trees.
 Pumpkins usually come from a little front-yard place in our town where we have lots of fun running around and picking different sized pumpkins from the different piles, but this year Great-grandpa Red grew lots of pumpkins in his garden, so we chose ours from his pile instead.
There is one type of produce, however, that I don't enjoy collecting quite as much as pumpkins and apples:
Have you guessed yet?
 Yeah - all the leaves that I love so much ON the trees eventually come down and pile themselves inches deep in the yard.  Even at that point I still love the red and orange and yellow leaves - until it is time to collect and remove them.  Then my love begins to wane a little bit.
Even so, having these cute little helpers makes the job a little more enjoyable!
Happy fall, everyone!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Leaves and Banners

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law mentioned a method she used to preserve fall leaves for decorating around the house: she dipped them in melted canning wax.  It seemed like a pretty awesome idea, so the first time I had an opportunity I decided to try it out.  There was only one problem - I didn't have any canning wax AND the one store I checked didn't have it either.  Since I rather despise the notion of running to 10 different stores trying to find "THE PERFECT SOLUTION", I thought about what I had at home and decided that maybe I could melt down some unused votive candles and use those instead.
 I put them into a disposable baking pan and set that on a low stove burner.  When the candles were all melted, I dipped in the leaves.  It worked!
 The leaves crackled and popped a bit as I dipped them in, and the colors did change a wee bit, but overall they came out looking really pretty!
 Now that I had all these leaves, I needed to find things to do with them!  Some were scattered about the house and the rest got turned into a Fall Banner.  I used 4x6" pieces of left-over brown cardstock for the words, which I hand lettered in chalk.  I used mini-clothespins to attach the letters to twine and then added bunches of leaves at the beginning, middle, and end.
I'm thinking of painting the clothespins a pumpkin color to give a boost to the fall color scheme, but for a quick evening project I'm rather pleased with how it turned out.
 Thanks for the inspiration, Jamie.  Happy fall colors everyone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Project Day: Fall Trees and Leaves

Did I mention in last week's post that you were going to be seeing quite a lot of orange and yellow around here?  I'm pretty sure I did.  But, on the slim chance that you skipped reading that not-yet-but-certainly-soon-to-be-nominated-for-a-literary-award post, I'll remind everyone that fall colors are my favorite and I tend to go a little overboard every year making fall-themed stuff.  My mom, who also suffers from "Yellow and Orange Fever" doesn't help.  In fact, she beat me to the autumn projects this year with a fun craft on our last Project Day!

The first step was to paint coffee filters with water paints, so that the colors blend together to mimic fall leaves.
While the coffee filters were drying, each kid got a small brown paper bag, which they turned into the trunk of a tree.  For a really good description with pictures, check out this website, where my mom got her inspiration.
Finally, the previously painted coffee filters were cut into leaf shapes and then the leaves were glued on the branches of the trees.
They turned out very pretty (much better then my photography skills illustrate) and make really cute table decorations!
Stay tuned for more yellow and orange.  Happy Project Day everyone!

Monday, September 29, 2014

August and September Pond Study and other School Projects

Fall is my favorite season, and with only a day left in September the season is officially under way.  We are waiting for news from my sister that her apples are ready to pick and I am scoping out the different pumpkin places, so stay tuned for lots of reddish-orangish projects around here.  Until then, you can check out how the pond has changed over the past two months.  We'll start way back in August (which seems ages ago) and move forward in time until last week.

Week 32
 Week 35 (weeks 33 and 34 missed due to our vacation)
We found grapes growing into our yard from the neighbor's yard!  That will definitely go down as a "POND STUDY HIGHLIGHT".
 Week 36 - pond study in the rain
Week 37
Week 38
Week 39 - the kids pointed out that prior to the leaves changing color during this week, the pond hasn't really changed in appearance in the last two months.  In between slapping mosquitoes they made the claim that the pond was just a little bit boring right now.
If science isn't your thing, how about a few social studies projects?  For those of you who are interested in such things, I am not a "Project-based Homeschooler", an Unschooler, or a "Unit 
Study-er".  If, however, I encounter a project that the kids can do mostly on their own that would enrich their textbook studies, then I am all for it.  For example, Ian's history book (The Story of the World, vol. 1) suggested having the student try to build a shelter like a nomadic person would have built to live in.  That was right up Ian's alley, so I sent him outside with a tarp (I live in the city - there aren't many tanned animal hides available for authenticity) and a reminder not to touch my garden stake collection.  He came back inside a long time later with the realization that being a "cave man" wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  I'm thinking that next I should send him out to hunt and gather his own meals - it might create an appreciation for the food we have so readily available to us (and that I put on the table for him.....).
Not to be outdone, Brynnie was interested by a project suggestion in her study of the State of Maryland.  It seems that Maryland has a historically unique fishing fleet called the "Skipjacks" that are involved in harvesting oysters from the Chesapeake Bay.
Brynn decided she wanted total independence on this project and collected her supplies and solved her problems without any help from me.  It was a big girl moment for her!
I was rather relieved when the boat did float - she would have been devastated if it hadn't.
Happy "doing educational stuff" everyone!