Category Archives: Country Day Homeschool

Earth Day Activity

Many, many years ago I worked as a volunteer at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.  I had grown up watching this place expand from a little building with some animal bones hanging around in it to a stunning, award winning Nature Center.  I was a long way away from having kids at that point, but I felt a real pull to teach kids about nature.  Fortunately, I was teamed up with Pete Stobie, an amazing naturalist with an incredible talent for connecting with children. 

For the KNC’s Earth Day celebration, I was assigned to the “Down To Earth In Your Backyard” tent.  The activity at my table was Cookie Mining, and I remember thinking “when I have kids, I am TOTALLY going to do this with them“.  I have been dragging around a photocopied activity page since 1997.  Really. 

The sheet makes me giggle, because it notes that the cookies for this project were donated by Gil’s Market.  Anyone familiar with Kalamazoo will know that stepping into Gil’s was a bit of a time machine itself; back when grocery stores were little, slightly dirty and did not include an “International Foods” section unless you count about 24 inches of shelf space donated to Old El Paso products.

So cookie mining is an idea whose time has come.  It’s a perfect Earth Day activity, because all you need are cookies.  There should be one for each participant.

Tell them they will be able to eat the cookie soon, but for now, they have to follow your directions.  Say, “We are going to go cookie mining.  Your job is to remove all the chocolate chips very carefully“.  Give them a few minutes to do this, then when they are done tell them they just have to do one more thing.  “Please put the cookie back together again”.  This is the best part, because they freak out.  They’ll laugh, but you have to stay serious and act like you asked them to do something perfectly reasonable so they’ll try it.

It won’t take long for them to realize they can’t do it.  Here is where you use the activity to illustrate a bigger point; tell them, “This cookie reminds me of the Earth.  You can only remove so many things from it before the whole thing crumbles, or in the Earth’s case, it can’t repair itself.  Whenever we make a change – develop land, or change a habitat, it’s like taking one chocolate chip out.  Take too many, and we can’t fix what we have done”. 

The kids will be very sad, but it’s a profound learning moment.  You can say, “Let’s talk about some ways we can do for the Earth while we eat our cookies”.  You can talk about recycling, or walking or riding bikes instead of driving, or composting – something the kids can participate in. 

My kids have heard about the recent mining accident, and I feel a little opportunistic doing the Cookie Mining project with them right now, but at the same time, it is the truth.  If you have talked with your kids about conserving energy, they will understand the connection between using less energy and requiring less coal.

I LOVE Earth Day, and trying to teach my kids their role in caring for their planet.  Yes.. I know it’s Saturday.. but if for more Things I Love Thursday, go check out the Diaper Diaries.

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Sugarbush

A few blocks from my house, there are big Menards buckets sitting under a tree with tubes coming out of them.  The tubes are about eight inches long and go right up and into the tree.  I was a little confused when I first saw it.  Did this tree have some kind of disease? Is this how trees get intravenous treatments? What does Emerald Ash Borer look like? Is it contagious? Does it hurt the tree? 

I think like this all the time.  I’m not kidding.  It’s torture.

Then I realized nothing was going into the tree, silly, something was coming out.  For as much time as I spend outside, I can’t identify squat so I had to assume it was a maple tree.  These were taps, and pretty fancy ones at that.  The sap just went neatly into the bucket.

There is a very short list of things that make me happier than resourcefulness.  I loved these urban syrup farmers, whoever they were.  I’d tap my own trees if I could figure out which ones had syrup fixin’s in them, and which ones just had, ah, tree blood.  

As soon as AP could walk I started dragging him to Sugarbush at Blandford Nature Center.  It’s a great little celebration of syrup and the colossal big deal it is to get, like, one teaspoon. I make a big deal out if it too, and this week we headed over to the library for a  few syrup-making books like we always do.  The Grand Rapids Public Library also put together a list of books. 

We only ever buy real maple syrup (little fyi – it’s cheapest at Costco, unless it goes on sale at Meijer) , but it’s tradition that we buy a bottle at Blandford and have pancakes for dinner that night.  Sometimes it’s still really snowy, and sometimes it’s muddy but I like that.  There is something about being able to enjoy the harvest of something in weather that vacillates like crazy from year to year that makes for a good, enduring, Michigan kid.

Blandford has changed their website about 18 times since I had kids; here is the current one with a list of events for Sugarbush.  Try and get there for a guided tour; it’s really hands-on and interesting from the actual tree tapping (where they poke it and let the sap drip out) to the boiling and processing where the actual end result is achieved.  It seems like kind of a hassle, it’s muddy and maybe there will be a crowd but really, this is the stuff that makes memories for kids, you know?

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Things I Love Thursday – Pretending I’m A Homeschooler

Well, hi there! I’m back! Work is over.  It has been for a month actually.  As much as I wanted to dive back into Big Binder – I had some home-work to do.  First, I had to fix my kids.  They got used to being in a large group of loud and semi-naughty kids with a fairly dispassionate adult tending to them.  We had some attitude adjustments to make. More difficult was re-adjusting their appetites.  Do you KNOW what they feed kids in daycare? It’s gross.  Everything is sort of a pale yellow color and exactly the same consistency.  I still get a little ‘bleccchh’ shiver when I think about it.

I think it’s only fitting that I re-emerge into the blogging world on a day I can participate in Things I Love Thursday.  Jill was one of several people who talked to me or took the time to write and encourage me to get off my butt and fire up Big Binder again.  It’s amazing to be thanked and encouraged to do what you love, so a big thank you to everyone who showed me the love and kept checking back in to see if I had started writing again.

My kids are both in half-day programs at school, so we have a lot of time for fun things in the afternoons.  Fortunately, living in what I think must be the homeschool capital of the universe, there is a lot going on.  It began to dawn on me that homeschooled kids go to a lot of performances, presentations, and seminars.  And then it dawned on me that although I send my kids to school, I am also a homeschooler.  Kind of. Well, sort of. OK maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I can live with that.

A few weeks ago, I called and got tickets to the ‘school’ performance of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Lollipop Concert, Hansel and Gretel.  This was WAY better than going to the Saturday morning performance – it wasn’t as crowded and the majority of the kids showed up on busses so we got a way better parking spot.  The next performance is Ferdinand the Bull,  a book my kids love so we are not going to miss this, (even if we have to go to the Saturday performance.)  Just call the Symphony and ask when the school performances are, and get your tickets directly from them.

Next month, we are going to some homeschool programs at Blandford Nature Center.  Click on their website, then go to “Education Programs”, then “Homeschool Programs”.  I have two websites I like for finding more ‘homeschool’ opportunities.  First is Grand Rapids Learning Exchange.  It is really thorough and is a fantastic resource.  Next is the Homeschool Building website, although I just look at the calendar.  I don’t have enough guts to show up to anything – I’d be sniffed out as a phony in a second.  But seriously; why should the homeschoolers have all the fun 🙂 ?  For more Things I Love Thursday, check out the Diaper Diaries.

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Things I Love Thursday

tiltWe’ve kind of been around the block with memberships.  We did the Children’s Museum one year, the Zoo one year, and now are up for renewal on our most recent membership, Meijer Gardens.  We have gotten so much use out of it, I don’t even have to think twice about renewing.  It’s a big place with many different events all throughout the year, so it’s worth it for us to have a family membership.

Last fall, the kids and I did a Kids Tram tour and absolutely loved it – you can read about that adventure here.  During one of our Tuesday Night concerts at the Gardens, we noticed that there was a Kids Tram running this summer too, so we went back yesterday to check it out.  There were three tram tours running that day, so I felt confident we would be able to take a ride.  When I went to get tickets, I was really disappointed to find out that all of the Kids Tram tours had been booked for the day.  A combination of a not easily deterred mom and very cooperative Gardens employees allowed us to squish onto one of the trams with the group that had booked them for the day; and in a front row seat at that.

We had a blast.   During the tour they played “I Spy”, and the kids had to find sculptures the tour guide described – they loved it.  There is a backpack on each seat, and she tells the kids what to take out of the bags, and when.  There were several stops during the 45 minute-ish tour, so the kids didn’t get too wiggly. At the end, the tram drove to the amphitheater and the kids got to get up on stage and do a ‘performance’ for the grown ups of the sculptures.  We talked about sculptures ALL DAY so I know that the learning really sunk in. 

Meijer Gardens is world class, and I take that for granted sometimes because it’s so close.  I love having a membership there and not getting bored with it.  I have searched high and low for some coupon, discount, or special on membership but haven’t found one.  There are two ways to visit the Gardens for free though.  First, if you hold a Grand Rapids Public Library (isn’t it remarkable that I find a way to work the library into every single post I write?) card you can ‘check out’ a pass for Meijer Gardens.  Get the deets on that here.  Or, GRKids is having a contest right now to win a pass for 4 to Meijer Gardens during Colorfall so go enter that here.

For more Things I Love Thursday, have a visit with The Diaper Diaries.

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The Road To Easter

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday in our church, and today we will be making a little craft to take us through Lent.  I meant to do this Saturday, but we had a lot going on.  I hope we don’t have to leave out the important Mardi Gras tradition of shoving a few jelly filled donuts in our faces.  We are partial to the Paczki’s from Marge’s Donut Den but they are available everywhere.

A five year old boy in the house means that anything car-related is pretty much a good bet for him. And a younger sister in the house means anything her big brother thinks is fun is a good bet for her.  It’s not often that the Catholic Liturgical calendar can be expressed through a car activity, and I’m sure this will be a big hit. 

Domestic-Church has a guide to a ‘Lent Car’ on its website.  Scroll down to “Road To Easter”. I’m not going to run out and buy anything for this project, I’m just going to tape some paper together, draw the ‘map’ on it, and stick it on the wall. 

I’ll just cut out two cars and let the kids decorate it them, then also print and cut out the weekly symbols that get attached to the map.  There are also some suggested activities that I like too.  I think I’ll just keep the glue sticks handy and move them along the cars every few days.

Now, off to Marge’s for a post-craft treat!

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