Friday, March 10, 2017

Craft: Easter or Spring Equinox Painted Pinecones

Can you feel spring approaching? To me, spring means color, and actually crafting with my kids because we can do it outside where cleanup is easier.

March 20th (2017) is the spring equinox!

Easter Sunday will be April 16th (2017)!

This time of year I'm always picking up pine cones and raking (oh, joy...) and one year a friend asked me what I was going to do with them. Um, set them out for yard trash pickup? Obviously? We had tried to do some crafts with pine cones in the past and found that they were too, well, pokey! Peanut butter and bird seed works pretty well, but what else could you possibly...

Oh! Paint! My kids love to paint!

We picked up over a hundred pine cones and ended up painting them all between the "four" of us. I say "four" because one is a toddler and only painted parts of hers. As you do.

TIP: Wash and dry the pine cones to get rid of bugs and dirt. The pine cones will close up like this first:

Dry them in the oven or microwave to open them up again:

Cleanest Pine Cones in the Universe.

Our most successful method (pictured at the top of the post) uses tempera / whatever kid paint you have and sponges. Sponging was SO easy and we hardly noticed the sharp bits. Go ahead and glop that paint on if you're using tempera. For a quick project, you can skip washing and drying the pine cones and use washable paints. For a more crafty, durable project, wash, dry, and use acrylic paint and a finishing clear poly coat. (Did you know you are also supposed to wash and dry acorns before painting them?)

Sponging also worked best for "snow" pine cones!
They look even better in person!

If you want these to hang outside, you will want to use a spray sealer. When we did this, some of our paint dissolved -- disappeared right off the pine cone!

Now... you are probably wondering about spray painting the pine cones to begin with. That is actually what we did first because my oldest can operate spray cans and I thought that would be the best method. The spray paint then turned into "my" project to touch up what he had started, and another run to the store for more glitter paint. So, while the final product does look nice, it was a lot harder and cost 5 times as much because where we used only a little of the regular liquid paint, we used up four entire bottles of glitter spray paint. The pine cones kept moving around while I was trying to spray them and I felt more like I was attacking them than painting them.

They have a beautiful silver glitter finish ranging from a light dusting to "did you dip that?"

The red looks more impressive in person but not as nice as the silver.

If you do go with spray paint, I'd pick silver and maybe gold unless you are going to go really crazy and do a white coat underneath first. At that point you'll be spending several dollars a pine cone!

In hind sight, the sponges were more kid-friendly even though you hold the pine cones to do it. I'm happy with how all of them turned out but will probably never use spray paint on a pine cone ever again (except maybe to seal it).

To hang them as ornaments, hand-screw in eye screws and tie on ribbon. Or skip all that and lay them in a neat basket or bowl as a center piece.

Let's look at that finished product again...

Perfect for an Easter tree!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Make Your Own Booklet Project

Hand-sewn Booklet: Make Your Own

It's no secret that we're book lovers and storytellers over here. We've been studying the 7 continents in our homeschool co-op and, as one of the teachers, I've gleefully brought our family's passions to class, introducing the kids to folk tales from each region. Later, I'll post a mega list of all the picture books we've used.

Oceania/Australia presented a unique challenge. For Africa, we chose a particularly hilarious Anansi story and performed a puppet show for my son's presentation at co-op. But for Australia, we struggled to get a hold of picture book at all. 

So, we made our own!

I wanted to do a true booklet so my 3rd grader could hand sew it, which he enjoys, and because booklets like this are more durable and feel more like a "real" book than simpler projects. We already had a manual craft drill, a darning needle (they are blunt), and strong thread.

What we do NOT have is a wonderful but expensive program like InDesign to order the pages for easy printing. When you make a booklet, you lay the sheets on top of each other and sew through the middle, so each page becomes two half-sized pages--the numbering can get complicated. I've made pdfs and docs with blank, numbered pages ready to print using standard programs like Word and Open Office. Get them along with instructions and other booklet project ideas on my teacher pay teacher site to Make Your Own Booklet.

You could staple it if you don't want to sew it, but for us, the sewing is half the fun.

For Australian mythology, we used the story of Crow Steals Fire, broke it down into plot points, and rewrote it in my son's words using his illustrations. He enjoyed retelling the story and sewing the book, so we'll be doing more booklet projects in the future!

Have fun!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Get Messy With Quicksand!

Need a messy science experiment / sensory play for those cold days? We've got you covered...


Let's be real, here. It was MESSY.

It doesn't get more real than a photo of our house...

My kids asked me about quicksand and animals dying in quicksand. I'm pretty sure this is related to their obsession with dinosaurs, since at the time they were smashing tiny dinos into play dough.

First, we read How Quicksand Works together. I found it perfect for their age.

This Myth Busters video is also neat although it has a little language.

Next, we had fun with two cornstarch recipes. First, if you add just enough cornstarch (1/2c to 1c water), you make oobleck, a non-neutonian liquid. This link explains more what that means, but basically, it acts like a liquid and like a solid. If you punch it, it acts like a solid, but it will also ooze off of your hands like a liquid.

Add a little more water and you make a kind of quicksand. A total of 3/4c cornstarch to 1c water will do the trick. (So, if you started with 1/2c cornstarch, add 1/4c more). Now is the time to drown your tiny animals. Ours come from the science museum, birthday parties, and other random places. Actual rocks work even better because they are heavier.

Finally, to satisfy their dinosaur fixation, I read and told them about Utah's Dinosaur Deathtrap.

Bye, bye, tiny dinos!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

For fun: Dragonbreath #1 by Ursula Vernon

We've been loving the Hamster Princess series by Ursula Vernon and so picked up this series as well:

Dragonbreath #1 by Ursula Vernon:

Danny Dragonbreath can't breathe fire, but he has no fear. And that comes in handy when a bad grade at school inspires him to enlist his cousin the sea-serpent's help with a research project. Using a hybrid of comic-book panels and text, Ursula Vernon introduces an irresistible set of characters that will have readers laughing until smoke comes out of their noses!

Dragonbreath is listed as middle grade just like Hamster Princess, and I'd say that it's more violent but also more goofy, because Danny Dragonbreath is so reckless. Some of the other children - er, animals - make fun of Danny and his friends.

The newest installment, Knight-napped, comes out this week, Jan 6th!

Ursula is the creator of Hugo-Award winning graphic novel Digger, which is for more mature audiences, as well as many other graphic novels and otherworks which you can find out about at

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of The Road to Surfdom at Learning Tangent

Connor Boyack writes an amazing picture book series where two twins (The Tuttle Twins) learn about libertarian economics using real world examples. By their very nature, this series challenges widely-held assumptions about economics and personal liberties. Whenever I read the description of the next book, I think, You can't teach a child that! It's too complicated/controversial/etc.!

Then I read the book and, guess what? You can! 

And you should. The Road to Surfdom covers the unintended consequences of central planning and even pictures a farmer who has lost his farm due to rising property taxes and eminent domain. Wow, that sounds like a big topic, right? You can't teach a kid that!

But yes, you can. And you should, because one day in the not-so-distant future, your child will vote on central planning issues.

For example, along with the highly contested presidential race this year, my ballot also included a state-wide vote to expand public transportation. Public transportation is one of those things that often sound great but have the kinds of unintended consequences depicted in The Road to Surfdom. The bond was approved and will affect 76 counties. I wonder if any houses will be torn down and what businesses might fail due to changes in traffic patterns? When we vote to give government this sort of power, these are the kinds of risks we take, and it’s important not only to understand the risks, but to understand how such changes might affect our future.

I'm a libertarian and yet these books manage to challenge my own non-libertarian assumptions--they often remind me of something I 'learned' in my public school education, and then I laugh and laugh. So if these books challenge the way you see the world, that’s a good thing!

You can get the Tuttle Twins books at a discount by purchasing the whole set or multiples of a book. Perfect for your friends who believe in small government and big individual freedoms. Check out for more information on this unique series.

See my review of The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom here at Learning Tangent Homeschool Magazine.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review & Projects: Science Comics: Volcanoes

One day as I ambled through the book store (on my way to Ursula Vernon's book signing!) a snazzy cover and the words SCIENCE jumped out at me off the shelf. Like, practically fell on my head! I thought to myself, my kids like science! And comic books!

Flipping through the book, Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Ocean, I was impressed. I might have bought the book right then except that, sadly, my oldest has expressed a disinterest in ocean life (maybe they switched him at birth?). But, seeing that this was to be a series of awesome comic books, I snapped a photo of the cover and sent it to myself, and when I got home later, actually remembered to look it up and get a copy of the next book to review.

Here's the review of the latest, Science Comics: Volcanoes: Fire and Life on Learning Tangent Homeschool Magazine!

My favorite part about the book is that it was actually too advanced for my 7yo--I mean, he read it and liked it, but I'll be encouraging him to read these (again) when he's older. This surprised me because we've done plenty of hands-on experiments and read other books about volcanoes, because he likes them so much. I didn't expect to learn more! These books are solidly middle-grade because they provide a lot of technical detail and terminology. These give you a better sense that there is so much more to learn out there. And of course they are more entertaining than a text book. So now, the next time my kids ask to do a volcano experiment (again, hahaha!) I have more information to draw from and lovely illustrations to show them from the book.

So buy the book for yourself if your children aren't old enough yet (I'm serious!), and then use this handy-dandy vocab list to tie-in science experiments and the like with what the book teaches. Let me emphasize that the comic book depicts/explains these in a way that my google searches and other research for my kids up to that point simply did not:

Layers of the Earth:
  • Crust
  • Mantle
  • Inner core
  • Outer core

Plate Movement:
  • Oceanic and continental plates
  • Convergent boundary
  • Subduct
  • Divergent boundary
  • Geotherm

Lava & Eruptions:
  • Magma
  • Magma chamber
  • Lava
  • Mafic, felsic
  • Viscous
  • Lava haze
  • Pillow lava
  • Convection currents
  • Pyroclastic flow
  • Outgassing

Types of Volcanos:
  • Shield volcano
  • Composite volcano
  • Stratovolcano
  • Parasitic volcano
  • Hotspot

Examples of Hands-on Learning:

Layers of the Earth with homemade play dough
Model different types of volcanoes with your play dough.

Make a volcano "explode" and talk about chemical reactions.

Observe how temperature affects the volume of a gas with this balloon experiment.

Use colored marshmallows and toothpicks to model molecules in the book.

Blow out a candle using CO2.

Test the viscosity of different liquids by pouring honey, water, etc.

Model plate tectonics with graham crackers and frosting, or by cutting a show box in half, fitting one half over the other, filling with sand, and shoving the two halves together.

Model an earthquake and the damage to structures using jello.

Get your hands on pumice and other rocks to compare: test that they float, their mass displacement in a jar of water, their weight etc.

Have fun!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: Melissa and Doug Monster Puppets

If you're looking for a gift for young children that's NOT battery powered and that fosters imaginative play, check out these Monster Puppets with removable velcro features. My kids have had these for a couple of years and they still love them. I like the thick, sturdy feel and the endless possibilities.

One game we like to play is "My Monster Needs a..." which we sing to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell."

My monster needs a nose! My monster needs a nose!
Please help me [Name] -- my monster needs a nose!


My monster needs a nose! My monster needs a nose!
Thank you, thank you, [Name] -- my monster has a nose!

Another game we like is to stick the pieces in a container and pull them out for a surprise, or for the puppet creator to surprise the audience with their creation.

You can sometimes find these for a good price on [ Amazon ]. Have fun!