Fossils unit study

Yesterday I posted my list of resources and activities for a unit on the geologic time scale.  Today I am posting my list of ideas for studying fossils with my fourth grader.  

Here is the link to the guide as it appears in my Google Docs:

Or, you can read on below:



1) Watch the Fossils video on BrainPop.  (approximately 3.5 minutes)  

(We pay $6.99/month to use BrainPop videos on our iPad.  You can also subscribe to the web version.) 


2) Read pages 14-17 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History.


3) Watch the Bill Nye video on fossils:


4) Read the book Under Ohio: The Story of Ohio’s Rocks and Fossils.  Pick one of the fossils listed in the book and research it.  Write a paragraph about your chosen fossil and draw a picture of it.  (The DK Eyewitness Fossil book might be a good place to start.)


5) Read pages 114-123 of Basher’s Rocks and MInerals: A Gem of a Book.  Fold a sheet of paper into four squares.  In each square draw a picture or write a description of each of the four types of fossils.


6) Make your own fossil. (Supplies: a sponge, water, magnesium sulfate, and sand plus a container)


7) Follow the link to play a create-a-fossil game:


8) Watch this video on petrified wood and petrified forests:  (Approximately 3.5 minutes)


9) Read the following blog entry about petrified wood and mineral colors:  Using the information on the blog, draw a colorful picture of some petrified wood and label the bands with what minerals might have been present in the environment around the tree as it permineralized.  


10) Here is a video about the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona:  (Approximately 5 minutes long)


11) Read about coprolite:


12) Read the book Jurassic Poop by Jacob Berkowitz.


13) Complete the Who Dung It? activity that you can find described in this PDF:


14) Watch this How It’s Made video on how replica fossils are made:  

The video you are looking for is from season 4, episode 3. (Currently free streaming with Amazon Prime)


15) Read pages 62-63 of the DK Eyewitness Fossil book.  Using things you can find around the house, start putting together your own fossil hunting kit.


16) Read pages 16-17 of the DK Eyewitness Fossil book.   These pages talk specifically about fossil folklore.  If you are feeling particularly creative, you can write a little story about someone who finds a fossil that they believe is “good” or “bad” luck.


17) This link leads to tons more information on fossil folklore, how fossils have been  used in medicine and as decoration:


18) Add at least 5 more quiz cards to your trivia game filebox.  Use the DK Eyewitness Fossil book, the Usborne Spotter’s Guide: Rocks and Minerals, or some other fossil book if you need help finding more facts or want to delve deeper.


Unit studies

This summer I have been trying to put together some social studies and science mini-units for the fall that I hope my fourth grader will enjoy.  Last school year we did a huge unit study on rocks and minerals that morphed into a big 4-H project that we completed last month.  Towards the end of the rocks and minerals study, we touched briefly on fossils, so I want to try to continue in that area of science for a while longer and see where it leads us.  

It has been going more slowly than I had hoped, but I have three science topic guides just about finished.  I will try to share them as I finish in case anyone else wants to use them.  The first one is on the geologic time scale.  For each of these I have quite a list of possible books, videos, activities, assignments, etc.  I doubt we will actually do every little thing on my list, but I tend to prefer to be over-prepared in case the topic really piques his interest.  

You can view as a file on Google Docs here:

Or you can read on below:

Topic 1 – Geologic Time Scale


1) Watch the Geologic Time Scale video on BrainPop.  (approximately 3 minutes)

BrainPop is a subscription resource.  We use it on the iPad for $6.99/month.


2) Read pages 12-13 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History.  


3) Read pages 186-187 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of Science.


4) Watch this video on the Geologic Time Scale: (approximately 3 minutes)


5) Explore this interactive on the Geologic Time Scale: (15+ minutes)


6) Explore the Geotimescale enhanced app on the Kindle Fire.  (15+ minutes)


7) Play “What Came First?”  Directions for the activity can be found midway through the following page:  (Supplies: Index cards, marker)


8) Follow this link to see Geologic Time represented as a clock:


9) Make a toilet paper roll Geologic Time Scale.  Look at the following links for help:  or

Or use long lengths of colored ribbon:

(Supplies needed: spools of different colored ribbon or toilet paper, marker or pen. A roll of adding machine tape would work as well instead if you can find some at an office supply store.)


10) Make at least 5 quiz cards.  Quiz cards will be used for an end-of-the-year trivia game.  Here are some examples of what you might want to write cards about:


which periods trilobites, dinosaurs, forests, and humans first appeared

which period saw the extinction of the dinosaurs

the name of the current epoch

approximately how old the earth is


(Supplies needed: Index cards, pen, box for storing your finished cards)

You could make the cards on the computer instead and print them out onto cardstock.  


11) Pick one period of geologic time to research. Write a paragraph of at least 5 sentences about it.  Pages 24-101 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History should be helpful.  The interactive at the following link could be helpful as well for information:  Include a picture or two as well with your report.


Curriculum planning for the upcoming school year

I have a love/hate relationship with curriculum and lesson planning.  On the one hand, I love paging through new curriculum.  I love looking at samples online.  I peruse the various homeschooling forums to read people’s opinions.  I read reviews on Amazon.  I sometimes borrow materials from other moms so that I can give it a really good look over.

On the other hand though, curriculum planning makes me absolutely crazy as there are so many choices; I often have difficulty making up my mind about what to choose.  And even when I find one I really, really like, we sometimes just can’t afford it.  Or, I find something that would really work well for me as mom/teacher but may not necessarily work out so well for my son’s learning style. 

Last year was one of our toughest homeschooling years so far (7+ years now and counting).  The year was fraught with health issues, family issues, a huge, midyear change in my work schedule, a teen with a super busy schedule, etc.  Some days I look back and feel disappointed that we didn’t get more done.  Other days I look back at the past year and realize that we really managed to get a lot done despite all of the ups and downs the last year brought, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.  

Regardless, because of the challenges of this past school year, I am particularly trying to find something for this year that will be a little easier on me this time around, just in case life should intrude.   🙂  Usually I pull together my own materials from all different kinds of resources, but it does take quite a bit of planning ahead which I didn’t always have time for this year.  This year I am looking to see if I can find something that is planned out already that might work for us.  

Earlier this summer, I took a good hard look at Sonlight.  It is a very popular out-of-the-box type curriculum that I have heard a lot of good things about. I find the history readers very appealing.  I read a few from the list for American history this summer and thought they would appeal to my fourth grader.  The instructor’s guides look like they would help keep me on task, even when things on the home front are stressful or busy.  The science seems to include lots of experiments and activities which my son would definitely enjoy.  Unfortunately, Sonlight is pretty expensive.  I have heard that the resale value is good, but it would still be quite a bit to put down for one child for one year of homeschooling.  Perhaps I would feel a little differently if I had two kids close in age who could benefit from doing some if it together or if Tobin wasn’t our last child to homeschool.  

After I moved on from looking at Sonlight, I went back to look again at Moving Beyond the Page.  We tried one unit of Moving Beyond the Page last year.  I had purchased the unit for the novel Tornado by Betsy Byars.  Tobin did enjoy the novel, and he did enjoy some of the activities that came in the unit.  He also felt there was too much writing involved, but then he feels that way about just about everything we try.  We have not tried any of Moving Beyond the Page’s social studies or science units, so I can’t say for certain how those ones would go over.  We may still give one of them a try.  One advantage I can see for using Moving Beyond the Page is that you can purchase each unit separately, so I could spread the cost of the curriculum across the whole school year.  

More recently I have been looking at Time4Learning.  My older son, Stephen, used Time4Learning early on in our homeschooling career, but he quickly moved on from it as he thought it was too easy.  I had not really given it a close look in quite a while.  On Monday I bit the bullet and subscribed to a month of it for Tobin so that we could try it out.  So far he seems to like it all right.  He really enjoys the math and language arts portions, but he gets a little distracted when he works on the science and social studies sections as there are pages to click through for reading, and although he can read higher than grade level, he seems to have trouble focusing when reading longer passages.  I am a little concerned that the science and social studies won’t go as in depth as I would like it, but I plan to continue a little longer to see if I am correct or not.  

There are several things I do like about Time4Learning so far though.  I like that it is $19.99 per month, and that I can cancel at any time.  The parent forums seem to be a great place for finding quick answers when you are having issues.  I also like that their website seems pretty easy for a child to navigate.  We did our second day’s worth of lessons yesterday, and Tobin had no problem logging on and finding where he left off in his lessons.  He is pretty computer savvy anyway, so I don’t foresee him having any problems doing schoolwork on the computer.  

I will update when we have some more experience with Time4Learning under our belts.  

Tree Time

After reluctantly crawling out of bed Sunday morning, I looked out the second story window to the backyard and noticed that our walnut tree is nearly nude. It was a sudden and startling reminder to me that summer is just about gone now. The walnut tree is always the first tree in our yard to lose all of its leaves. In just a few weeks, it will be time to rake up approximately three zillion dry, dead leaves from the backyard and drag them on tarps to the front curb for the city to incinerate. However, I forbid the leaves to die quite yet because that doesn’t fit in with my particular curriculum plans at this moment. 🙂

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

Over the summer I had this grand idea that we would take the time this school year to explore and learn to identify as many trees as we could. We would read about trees, take photographs, collect leaves and other tree detritus for preserving, do some “leafy” craft projects, and discuss how wonderfully awesome trees are. I checked out some cool tree books from the library. I bought a brand new binder to use to hold the pages for our “tree” journal. I searched the web for tree-related recipes and craft projects. I had everything all planned out before the school year had even started.

Despite all my previous planning, we only made it out and about, tree identification book and cameras in hand, a handful of times. We did manage to photograph a few trees, but in a few cases, identifying which trees were which using the book proved a little more difficult than I had originally thought it would be. I still can’t figure out what the heck the little tree on our tree lawn is. If it’s actually in my Trees of Ohio: Field Guide, it’s doing a good job of hiding from me.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

Even though we failed to name every tree we came across on our little walks around the neighborhood, I was not ready to give up quite yet and let autumn get on with its business. Sunday before I had work, we headed to the university to look around for some more trees to identify. The university is a great place to look for trees because there are so many different tree types all over campus. I knew for sure that there were both oak and buckeye trees, so at the very least, we could successfully study and identify those ones. It’s hard to mistake a buckeye tree for anything else.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

I told Ken and the kids that our first goal for our tree study was to identify 10 different tree types before the snow starts flying. Between the few trees we could identify back from our own backyard, our walks in August, and the ones we looked at on the university’s campus, we should be able to meet our goal. Next spring when the trees start budding again, I am hoping we’ll be able to add some more to our list.

Here are a few of the trees we’ve photographed for our tree journal:

Some kind of pine tree.   We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

Some kind of pine tree. We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

A bald cypress

A bald cypress

a yellow buckeye tree

a yellow buckeye tree

a spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce

A spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

Tobin had the most fun looking at the acorns and the buckeyes. On Monday he kept telling me about how many buckeyes he “captured” the day before.



Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured.  It put up quite a fight.

Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured. It put up quite a fight.

Steve kept trying to eat the crab apples but was also impressed by the buckeyes. The ones we found were from a yellow buckeye tree. Buckeyes from an Ohio buckeye tree are supposed to have a spiny outer shell instead of a smooth one. If anyone happens to know where an Ohio buckeye tree can be found, drop us a line and let us know where so we can check one out.

Art: Painting with homemade sponge stamps

Today was a good homeschooling day. I finally feel like we’re back into our routine. Steve easily flew through all his lessons this morning and with absolutely no grumbling. He’s way ahead of where he should be in both Latin and Spanish. At the rate he’s going, he’ll be done with both subjects by December. He also seems more interested in his lessons than he had been the first few weeks. After Steve completed his assignments for today, he rummaged around our book room for a copy of the Iliad to read since it was briefly mentioned in his history book. It always delights me when he finds something in his lessons that truly interests him and takes it that step further.

Tobin had an awesome day too. He specifically asked to do his school work. He wanted to get to work on whatever pages in his workbook would allow him to “help baby animals find their mamas.” I am pretty sure that meant that he wanted to do workbook pages with mazes, but Tobin was very willing to work on other pages as well. He even let Steve help him on a page or two which is a big step. Usually, my little one only wants me to help him with his school work, but today he was willing to accept assistance from Steve while I combed my hair for work.

I had also planned a simple little painting project today, but we didn’t spend all that much time on it. I think the kids actually preferred doing their “book work” over doing art work today, but I am pleased that it at least gave us a few minutes to do something fun together before I needed to head to work.

For today’s brief art project we did some sponge painting. Over the weekend I bought a package of cheap kitchen sponges and cut them into various shapes this morning. I chose a bunny head shape for Tobin, a pig shape for Steve, a strawberry, and a tree. I cut the scraps into simple little triangle, square, and rectangle shapes. I was able to cut the sponges into shapes fairly easily with a pair of kitchen scissors.

a few of our sponge shapes

a few of our sponge shapes

Tobin really liked the bunny shape and ran to show it to Nunya. He liked it so much in fact that he refused to have anything to do with the other sponge shapes. He happily stamped out several bunnies who he said were all friends. I encouraged him to add on eyes to each of the bunnies, and by the third one, I think he got the hang of applying the paint with a less heavy hand. The third one is even smiling.

As I expected he would, Steve went right for the pig shape. However, once he stamped it out onto the paper, he felt it looked more like a bull than a pig, so he added on some horns and a nose ring. He named it “el toro morado.” (The Purple Bull) He also added on a sun, some mountains in the distance and an apple tree. I told him it reminded be a bit of Salvador Dali, but he scoffed at that and listed a bunch of ways he would have changed it if he wanted to make it more like Dali’s work.

El toro morado

El toro morado

After Steve had finished with his bull, I had tried the pig shape too. I think mine turned out more pig-like than Steve’s did because I used less paint, so you could see the outline a bit more sharply.

I played around with the strawberry stamp in an effort to get Tobin to at least help me paint on some strawberry seeds in black paint. He did not want to help paint on seeds, but he did make sure to count up all the seeds for me. He wanted each one to have exactly seven seeds.

The paint in the sponges rinsed out fairly well, so I saved the forms to use again another day. I would like to pick up some more sponges so I can cut out more shapes. Perhaps I can add a moon, a star, a heart, a flower, or maybe some bugs to our sponge stamp collection? I would also like to purchase some fabric paint soon so the kids can use the stamps to decorate t-shirts or bags or something. They could make good Christmas presents.

Random Musings: Homeschooling more than one child

It seems like Tobin always decides he wants to “do schoolwork” when I am right in the middle of doing something reasonably important and/or time-consuming: cleaning poop out of the hedgehog’s litterbox, cooking something more complicated than a box of macaroni and cheese, going over a new math concept with Steve, showering. He never wants to work on workbooks, or read a book, or get out the art supplies the other 500 times a day that I ask if he wants to. Instead, he waits until I least expect it and then springs it on me. I swear it is on purpose; it has to be. He’s either trying to make me insane just for the fun of it or making me crazy is the starting point of his intricate plot to take over the world. It could go either way.

Last night Tobin decided he absolutely “needed” to work on one of his workbooks while I was trying to sort through Steve’s Spanish lesson. Steve’s Spanish curriculum comes with all of these ancillary DVDs, CDs, and books, and I really just needed a quiet moment to sort through it all and find the right disc for Steve to use to complete his lessons. It would be great if I could just give Tobin the workbook and tell him to have at it while I waded through the Spanish stuff, but he doesn’t like to work on it unless I’m sitting right there with him going over the worksheet with him. He could do much of it on his own, but he chooses not to.

I knew from past experience that if I told him to wait until I was free to sit down with him that the moment would be gone, and he wouldn’t want to do his schoolwork anymore. That’s just the way Tobin works. Most likely, he’d just wander off and find something else he wanted to do instead.

He gets so much more work done if he’s “in the mood” than otherwise. I can’t really begrudge him for feeling that way. I know I operate the same way to some degree, and I don’t have the excuse of being five years old. I often have to be in the mood to get anything truly productive done: cleaning the house, writing, crocheting, baking, etc. Actually, come to think of it, I work that way for just about everything but sleeping. I am always in the right mood for sleep.

I also didn’t want to make Steve wait any longer. I knew he was already tired, and I had already promised him that we would sit down and watch a few episodes of Soap after Tobin went to bed, so we really needed to get things done so we could have our time to relax. So, I tried my best to juggle both things at the same time, knowing in the back of my mind that I still needed to fold laundry, do the dishes, pack snacks for their zoo trip the next day, post to my blog, and a zillion other little things, and I really didn’t have time to waste if I wanted to get to bed at a decent hour. I’d like to say that everything worked out beautifully, alas, no. Everyone just ended up cranky, especially me.

I honestly don’t know how people who have 4 or 5 or 6 (or more) children manage to homeschool them all. Perhaps it is easier if you have kids much closer in age than mine are. Because they are 7 years apart, it is difficult to find “school stuff” that they can truly do together and both get something out of. Perhaps the other parents slowly learn to better multitask as they add on to their brood one at a time. Maybe other parents were equipped with some coping gene that I am sorely lacking? Maybe their kids aren’t crazy?

I just know that I have trouble enough with just two, one of whom is incredibly low-maintenance. I’ll leave you to figure out which one that is…

First Day of School…sigh

Despite all of my planning, today’s first day of school didn’t really go as I had expected. I hadn’t expected Steve to absolutely hate his algebra textbook. I hadn’t expected to feel so tired after getting home from work. I hadn’t anticipated Tobin being so extra-needy when I tried to work with Steve on his schoolwork. I hadn’t expected it to take two plus hours to get Tobin to bed, making it hard to get anything else done. I certainly hadn’t planned on being so cranky that I snapped at one of my kids.

There are lots of days where I don’t feel like super mom, able to balance work and homeschooling and our home life. There are lots of days where I feel like I’m being pulled in fifty different directions, and I have so much going on in my head that I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be doing from one minute to the next. But when it’s the very first day of our school year, it somehow makes me feel twice as low as it normally would.

All I can say is…I want a do-over tomorrow!