Mystery History – Homeschool Idea?

By , October 31, 2007 12:31 pm

My daughter’s Montessori class (1st through 3rd grade) does a wonderful thing for Halloween that I thought might interest some homeschool families or teachers out there.

Instead of wearing Halloween costumes to school, or even simply using the day to celebrate fall, the children prepare an oral report about a famous historical person. They must read a book about (or by) that person, then gather facts about their chosen person, most importantly they are not allowed to tell anyone else (except the teacher of course) who they are.

Throughout the week before Halloween, the teacher briefly presents to the class each of the chosen historical figures so everyone is familiar with them.

On Halloween the children go to school dressed as their person. They each give a short presentation to the class about their person, ending their talk with the question: “Who am I?” At the end of each presentation, the class tries to guess who the student is.

I am so impressed with this idea. What a wonderful way to encourage excitement about reading, history and learning…all while dealing with the sometimes sticky issue of how to celebrate (or not celebrate) Halloween at school.

My daughter read Little House in the Big Woods and chose Laura Ingalls Wilder. We had a great bonnet in the dress-up box, but no dress. As a teenager, I used to make clothes, and I actually do own a sewing machine that I have used exactly once since I bought it about 8 years ago, so I decided to go for a Super Mom Award and make a dress!

We went to Walmart (our only local fabric source) to choose a pattern and an appropriate fabric. The pattern was simple. I chose a classic little girl dress and bought an extra yard of fabric to make it reach the ankle instead of the pattern-specified knee length. The fabric choice was a little tougher.

I was thinking “little girl in dainty flowered calico,” my 7 year-old was apparently thinking “trashy bar-maid in seedy saloon.” She kept holding up more and more impossible fabrics beginning with: “Oh look Mom!” (florescent rainbow motif) and ending with: “Would she have worn this one?” (hot pink sequins on purple sparkle background). We finally settled on something resembling more of a calico.

After many hours of work wrestling zippers and gathered sleeves, I was quite pleased with the final result. There are a few flaws that probably only I will ever see, and it might not be 100% historically accurate, but I am pretty proud of it I must say.

The presentations were amazing and the costumes were very cute, and quite clever. For example there was Neil Armstrong (tin foil boots), Abraham Lincoln (fake beard and hat of course) and Mother Teresa (very clever rendition of Mother Teresa’s classic “chura” headscarf made out of a white towel with blue ribbon sewn on!) … as well as a very realistic-looking 6 year-old Sandra Day O’Connor complete with gavel!

Boney Witch Hands!

By , October 30, 2007 4:37 pm

A good friend of mine just brought my children a whole bag full of these “Witch Hands” treats that she found at a Halloween bake sale. I thought this idea was SO clever and easy (not to mention funny!) that I had to share it!

The “hands” are just plastic food service gloves filled with popcorn “bones” and candy corn “fingernails.” Drop a candy corn into each finger tip, fill glove with popcorn, and tie the wrist closed with black yarn. Too cool!

Toy Shopping and the "Need to Have"

By , October 29, 2007 9:54 pm

One of the things that bothers me about shopping for toys is that “need to have” feeling. It seems that there are two ends of the “need to have” spectrum.

One end is the commercial, media and advertising-driven branding that occurs, where children “need to have” the latest Tickle Me Elmo, or Bratz doll. As an unplugged household, my children are not subjected to the same barrage of ads so this is not such a problem. They do pick up some information on the playground at school (even at their small Montessori school). They know who Sponge Bob and the Disney Princesses are, but they really don’t know much about all the character toys out there.

Even if we venture to the toy aisle of Walmart or Kmart (unfortunately our only two local “toy store” options), they are interested in looking, and sometimes express interest, but don’t “need to have” those popular toys. They love inspecting toy catalogs that come in the mail and often see something in there that they “need,” especially my son (age 5) and especially if it involves a weapon (I feel another post coming on about that subject!). But they are blissfully unaware of what is truly popular.

The other end of the spectrum of “toy need” is that of the “natural” toys, Waldorf-inspired toys, or Montessori-inspired toys. I believe that this “need” is driven more by parents than children. Many parents, myself included, want to supply their child with good quality, non-toxic (hopefully), long-lasting, educational toys. We “unplugged parents” don’t believe in the huge wave of new electronic toys marketed as being educational. We believe in simple, classic toys without noises or flashing lights. Toys such as blocks, playsilks, simple wooden vehicles or dolls for example, are what we choose to buy for our children.

As a member of this second group, I love all those “Unplugged Toy Stores” that I link to in my left sidebar. The truth is however, that these toys are expensive for what they are, and the toys are often imported from Europe (which of course leaves a larger carbon footprint). Amanda of The Rowdy Pea recently wrote a wonderful post with some suggestions for making many of these toys yourself.

– Fun! (“Unplugged Project” anyone?)
– Inexpensive, or even free in some cases.
– And quality you can trust because you made it yourself!

I guess I’ll still seek out those websites, and buy those toys, but if I can make it easily myself, then I should really try to do that and feel a lot better about the whole “unplugged toy” shopping process! Thanks Amanda!

A few interesting toymaking links:

MotheringDotCommune-Toys and Dolls Page (discussion forum of – interesting posts and suggestions for making your own Waldorf dolls and toys.
– plans for making your own playstands – $17.99 (but honestly, as Amanda points out, playstands seem pretty simple and a semi-decent handy-person should probably be able to figure it out.

(*Great blog!*) Echoes of a DreamBasic instructions for making a Waldorf doll, her hanging fairies are lovely too!

Waldorf Doll photo from Wikimedia Commons, photographer Sebastian Sprenger, click here for full license information.

Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse (Lindsay Barrett George)

By , October 29, 2007 7:59 pm

This is not a book that is going to change the world, but it is SO CUTE, you can’t help but love it! I am always pleased when this is my children’s bedtime choice.

The story is so simple. It is basically a comparison of an indoor mouse and an outdoor mouse. Each page shows a mouse in his house, or in his daily travels. The indoor mouse is always on the left-hand page, and the outdoor mouse is on the facing, right-hand page. Their activities are always comparable. For example while the inside mouse is asleep in a clock, the outside mouse is asleep in a stump. The indoor mouse runs between the socks while the outdoor mouse runs between the rocks. You get the idea. Simple. Plus there is a sweet little surprise at the end.

The illustrations are what REALLY make this book. As you can tell by the number of books to which I have given the label “exceptional illustrations,” illustrations are quite important for me and can sometimes even “make or break” a book.

These illustrations are incredibly bright and detailed, and so cute that you just want to keep looking at them over and over! Please, if you have a toddler or a preschooler, at least check this out of the library. Your little one, and you, will love it!

(Paperback is eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion)

Fun Geography

By , October 29, 2007 5:45 pm

I recently found these sturdy cardboard puzzles at Cosco and they are really great!

Each puzzle represents a continent. At the moment the manufacturer, A Broader View, only makes four (North America, South America, Africa, and Europe) but I believe that more may be in the works. Cosco had them bundled in packs of two, so we ended up buying all four and I am so glad we did!

One of my pet peeves with some geographic puzzles is that often the pieces are cut out in such a way as to bear no relationship to the actual shape of a state or a country. Why? Wouldn’t it be much more useful and educational to follow the natural boundaries?

These puzzle pieces do follow the natural shape of each country or state (except in the case of very small countries and states). This makes total sense to me!

Capitals are labeled, as are other major cities, large bodies of water and even lat / long.

It would be nicer if these were made of wood rather than cardboard, but at least the cardboard is quite sturdy, and feels like it will last a long time. One word of advice though: the first time it is unwrapped, an adult should remove the pieces since they are stuck in there pretty hard.

If you can’t get to Cosco (or they don’t have them any more), then you can get North and South America from Amazon (links below). It seems that as of right now, Europe and Africa are out of stock. Hopefully they will return eventually.

You also can find all of them, plus some interesting-sounding global puzzles (a future post!) at the manufacturer’s store: Geography Zone. Otherwise, search online to check for other stores and pricing. It seems to vary between $7.00 and $10.00.

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