Book Club: “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone”

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We recently embarked on one of our most fun book clubs ever:  we read Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.  

My Big Helper worked with me to flesh out details of the book that we could bring to life.  We spent several days making labels and creating things to turn my yard into a wizarding world.

Book Club

The day of our book club event dawned bright and sunny with brilliant blue skies.  The kids hurriedly donned their Hogwarts gear and ran outside.

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After everyone had arrived, we kicked off the day with the Sorting Hat.  I sewed it out of some khaki-colored felt and carefully put a small pocket on the inside of the hat.  When it came time for our sorting, a friend called my phone, which we then hid in that pocket.  As I loudly called each child’s name, he declared the house each child would go into.  It was a very fun part of the day, and the kids cheered for their housemates as the sorting continued.

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Following the Sorting and welcoming speeches, we moved onto the back deck for History of Magic.  We decided to recreate most of the classes that Harry Potter and his friends attended, and we used this class to summarize and discuss the book.

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The kids also decorated paper neckties that matched their individual houses.  Then they wrote about what they thought they might see in the Mirror of Erised.

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Potions class had us relocating to the driveaway, where we used a mixture of powders to create neat reactions.

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They were very fun to watch!

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Lunch was especially fun.  We made many of the foods mentioned in this book, particularly those found on the lunch trolley on the Hogwarts Express, like Pumpkin Pasties …

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Golden Snitches ….

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and Pumpkin Juice.

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We ended the day with a rousing game of Quidditch.  We modified it a bit, of course, since our brooms don’t actually fly, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.  They had a great time chasing their Snitch around our yard and trying to win the house cup.

The Harry Potter books have become cultural icons.  They’re amazing works of literature, but they’re loads of fun, too.  Give it a try and see what Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone can do for your book club.

NEW! “Lemoncello” Movie Pack and Bundles!

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series, and I’m not the only one – that first book spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times’ Bestseller List.  The second in the series is just as good, and the third is due to be released in just a few weeks – I’m super excited!

There are a few things that makes these books so wonderful – first, that they’re entertaining but completely clean reads, which is a rare thing for a middle-grade book these days.  Just as good, though, is that they’re smart books.  Grabenstein writes philosophical truths, lessons about kindness, and educational skills throughout his books, but your kids won’t realize that they’re learning anything – they’ll be too busy laughing at Mr. Lemoncello’s antics and trying to solve the mysteries before Kyle Keeley does.

I’m all for maximizing learning opportunities, though, and so that’s why I’ve created some really fun extension activities and novel studies to accompany these books.  You can find them here – and I’m happy to share a few NEW products, just in time for the movie release!

That’s right –  Nickolodeon has turned Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library into a movie, and it premieres on October 9.

To go along with this fantabulous opportunity to compare book and movie, I’ve created a new movie pack – full of discussion questions, creative writing projects, recipes for your movie party, printables, and more!  You can get your own copy here.

Grabenstein

You might want more than just those few pages of movie-related fun, though.  Perhaps you’re going all out for a big Lemoncello party, reading and watching for a book club event, or hosting your own library-style gala, just like in the book.  I’ve put together a bundle with both resources from Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, which features three games, loads of printables, a recipe for Lemonberry Fizz, and more.  You’ll find both the original party pack and the new movie pack in this bundle – 89 pages of fun!

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If you’re as big of a Lemoncello fan as we are, though, that might not be enough.  Maybe you also want to try your hand at Lemoncello-style scavenger hunts, STEAM activities, a unit study, plus all the printables, games, recipes, and more from the above bundle, then this is the one for you.  With 199 pages of Lemoncello-style fun, you’re guaranteed to find just the right learning projects and activities to maximize your child’s learning.

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Who else is counting down the days ’til the movie and the new book release?

NEW! A Linked Unit Study for Elise Broach’s “The Wolf Keepers”

Every once in a while, I read a book that I grabs all of my attention and screams to be used for fun with kids.  I love taking those books and turning them into fun unit studies for educational purposes, and Elise Broach’s new book The Wolf Keepers is just such a book.

Elise Broach

A high-stakes middle grade historical adventure through Yosemite National Park by the New York Times-bestselling author of Masterpiece.

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it’s a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home. The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.

Elise Broach has written a fantastic novel around the real life story of John Muir!  I love the approach she takes with his mystery, and she deepens the story by adding layers upon layers of moral dilemmas.  While the story is suspenseful, it stays upbeat, even when there are large things afoot, making it the perfect book to carry deep, yet kid-friendly discussions.

Elise Broach

So what will you find in a unit study for The Wolf Keepers?

  • a vocabulary puzzle with answer key
  • discussion/comprehension questions by chapter
  • creative and expository writing prompts
  • research projects for history, science, math, and biographies
  • poetry and literature activities
  • art projects
  • a recipe

This work can be done individually or cooperatively.  You could assign all of it or just certain projects.  Students can work at their own pace, and safe links are provided to ensure a safe Internet experience.

The Wolf Keepers would make a fantastic book club book, as well!  

If you want to grab a copy of this unit study, you’ll find it here.

Happy reading!

 

NEW! Make Planning Beautiful with the Year Round Homeschooling Planner

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If you’ve been following our school journey for any length of time, you know that we do homeschool a bit differently, and I don’t mean just because we homeschool.  Sometimes we’re eclectic.  Sometimes we’re unit study-ers.  Sometimes we’re road-schoolers.  Sometimes we’re project-based learners. 

We don’t use any packaged curriculum as-is except for math, because I enjoy writing our own and being creative with resources and I may be a little bit crazy.  Ahem.

We love doing school this way, but that means that there’s no one, easy calendar, chart, or plan for us to follow.  We do something for a month or a unit, and then we move on, and our days might look quite different.  It means I do a lot of planning over the summer, I buy random resources in advance, and we pull from the library, Netflix, field trips, etc.

It can be hard to organize, and for sure I can’t remember it all without help.

I love putting everything into charts and being organized, but I hate making charts.

That’s why I was thrilled to check out Misty Leask’s brand-new Year Round Homeschooling Planner.  It’s 80+ pages of gorgeous charts, calendars, and list-pages, all designed to help you plan your school year and keep everything organized.  
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You’ll find everything you need inside, but Best Thing #1?  The Year Round Homeschooling Planner  is beautiful.  The graphics and colors are done in a watercolor-style wash, and feature things like butterflies that are peaceful and calming.  It’s going to be so much fun to write on these pages.

Best Thing #2:  A few of these prettiest pages are done in different colors, so if you prefer warm colors over cool?  No problem!  Print the pages you want in your preference of colors.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s really only half as many pages, because in reality there are only a few done with those options of color, but I love that it’s there.  Certain styles definitely spoke to me, and with this option, I can print those favorites to use.

Best Thing #3:  I can print only the pages I need.  The year at a glance, or the monthly pages, the pre-planning lists, or the purchasing lists – I can print whatever I need, and it’s ready to go and beautiful.  I can also print copies for each kid, or make each kid a different color (that works because I have only two; if you have more, you’ll need to duplicate colors), but options are there.  You know what this means?  Best Thing #3.5:  You don’t have to be a year-round homeschooler to use this.  Just print the pages you need, and go.  Need to keep track of what books you need to buy for Kid #1?  Which activities are counting towards which subjects for Kid #2?  Need pretty grading sheets?  This will totally help you out.

Best Thing #4:  After reading through all 80+ pages of the Year Round Homeschooling Planner , I can’t think of a single, solitary chart, graph, or list that I might need that isn’t in this packet.  It’s all here.  There’s not a single thing left for me to do besides print my favorite pages and dig in.

Best Thing #5:  Right now, this beautiful planner is on sale for only $9.99!  How reasonable is that for an undated planner that you can use year after year? – but after today, the price goes up to $12.99, so don’t wait.

Get your Year Round Homeschooling Planner here!

Field Work Friday: Visiting the Nina & the Pinta

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Did you know that there are reproductions of historic ships sailing around the world?

Tall Ships

I didn’t, until recently, but when we found out, my DH arranged to take us to a nearby port city to see the Nina and the Pinta, two of the three ships sailing with Christopher Columbus on his famous voyage in 1492.

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The ships were at the Wilmington, NC, waterfront, and after purchasing tickets, we were permitted through the gates to board the ships.

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Once on board, we could explore the main gate.  There were signs everywhere, telling us facts about the ship and other equipment on board.  There were volunteers hanging around, ready to answer questions or talk with anyone willing.  This woman had been on board since February and was making jewelry while she waited for a question.  When my Big Helper saw what she was working on, they struck up a conversation, and the volunteer ended up asking my Big Helper for help with an earring.  My Big Helper loved that!

Tall Ships

The ships are fascinating, even though you can’t go belowdecks.  Since the ships are manned by volunteers, and each ship features a modern kitchen, the bottom of the ships are off limits. Being able to see the size of the ships, the gigantic proportions of the anchor, and the thickness of the ropes really makes one admire the bravery of the men sailing with Columbus.

There are tall ships sailing all over the world.  if you have the opportunity to see one, be sure to check it out! 

Learn more about the Nina and the Pinta with these great resources!

 

Living History: The Roaring ’20s

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It was the era of gangsters, Prohibition, and all that glitters.  It’s known as the Roaring ‘20s, and our living history club brought the era back to life.  We love holding this special events each semester, and this one was definitely the glitziest.

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The day kicked off with a photography session, as the dressed-up students were dressed to the nines as flappers and mobsters.  After that, they introduced themselves, as each student had studied a particular person from history and had come dressed as that person.

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Next, My Big Helper shared some popular slang of the time and asked the students to incorporate as many of these terms as possible into their conversations throughout the day.

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My Little Man explained the history of a Hamilton Beach fruit juicer that was patented during the 1920s.  The particular machine in question used to reside in a local pharmacy, and following his speech, he  demonstrated how to make the perfect fresh lemonade.  While lemonades were made for each student, another mom taught the students how to play table games.18056996_10212172736616620_7481163634049384896_n

Another mom taught the students about the characteristics of the art deco style.  Each student then chose a quote from a celebrity of the era and created their own unique art piece with art deco-inspired fonts and colors.

Living History

Living History

A dad shared the silent movie A Trip to the Moon.  Following the show, the students lined up to feast from a variety of foods popular in this decade.  With the advent of refrigerated transportation and the popularity of parties, many new foods came onto the scene, including peanut butter cups, chow mein, Coca-Cola, Crush, cheeseballs, Jell-O parfaits, and tuna wraps.

 Living History

After lunch, the students returned to the year 2017, concluding that the Roaring ‘20s might be fun to visit, but that they wouldn’t want to live there.

If you’re studying this era, you might also want to check out my post about our book club event for Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter.

Some resources that we loved for studying the ’20s are:

 

 

Living History

Entering a National History Day Competition

When I hit middle school, I was encouraged to compete in our local National History Day competition.  I was hooked from that very first event:  I loved the research, the preparation, the work to analyze historical events and to share their importance, and, yes, the competition.

That’s why I was so very excited when I found out that the National History Day organization has events in North Carolina, and that our district competition isn’t too far away.  I was determined that my kids would compete when they came of age, as well.

NHD

Are you familiar with National History Day?  It’s sort of like a science fair, in that you create projects/entries that are judged for competition, only about history, instead.  Each year there’s an annual theme, and students choose a topic that fits that theme and create projects/entries in the exhibit, documentary, historical paper, performance, or website categories.  Students must explain the significance of their topic in history and in relation to the theme, as well as showcase their work through process papers and annotated bibliographies.  It’s a big deal.  It’s fabulous.

For My Big Helper, that was this year.  She’s now in middle school (where has the time gone??) and so last October she and another brave young man chose topics and began to research.

As this was their first year, and as this level of competition and historical research was new to them both, we did our best to keep it fun.  We traveled to the Davis Library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for a lesson from a librarian about how to use their Library of Congress cataloguing system.  She also taught them how to use their many online databases, and the kids searched for materials relevant to their topics.

We had pizza parties and got together to check progress and discuss competition rules.

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Finally, though, the big day arrived, and it was time to head off to Greensboro for the district competition.  Held at the Education Building on the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, the competitors took over that part of campus and were college kids for the day.

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Competition days are a big deal.  You must check in, have your paperwork in order, and get set up.  After that, when it’s your scheduled turn, a team of judges will interview you about your work and conclusions.  For anyone, that time of ‘interview’ is stressful, but for kids new to that type of experience, it can be rough, despite the judges’ kindness.

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One of the highlights for us was always having lunch in the cafeteria.  The UNCG café where we ate was nothing like any college cafeteria I’ve ever seen before, but with Chick-Fil-A and other fun restaurants on site, the kids seemed to enjoy their faux-college kid status.

Late in the afternoon, the award ceremony arrives.  Filling up an auditorium, a professor greets everyone, and the winners in each category are finally announced.  We were all really nervous by this time.  We thought our kids had created solid entries and had a good chance of placing, but, really, who can tell?

It’s not just about winning, either – because winning entries advance to the state competition, and winners there, to the national one.  Competition increases at each level, and everyone wants to advance, but, of course, not everyone can, so … one hopes hard and works harder.

Our friend’s category was announced first, and … he placed second!  We were so very excited, and My Big Helper was hoping even harder for own name to be called at that point.

Yet, her category wasn’t.  They seemed to be calling them in no particular order – junior individual website, senior group performance, junior group project, etc. – and we were starting to think hers would never be announced, when they finally called ‘junior individual exhibit.’

I’m not sure why it works this way, but three entrants in each category advance to the NC State History Day competition – except for in exhibits; then five advance.  My Big Helper didn’t place fifth.

She didn’t place fourth.  Or third.

You know how it goes – each time they prepare to call a new name, you think that now, they’ll call her name now, and she’s going to win, and then it’s someone else.  Your heart falls into your shoes, and you despair that she’s not going to be called, that she didn’t win.  And while it’s not the winning or losing that you care about, she’s oh-so-excited, and you so want her to continue being that excited at that point …..

Not second.

And then, at the very last moment, they called her name!  She placed FIRST in her category!

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It was wonderful to see her so excited.  To know that she’s worked hard and is getting a tangible reward from someone else.  That she’s learning to finish what she starts, and a whole host of other lessons.NHD

Our two competitors are super excited, and well they should be:  they’ve done fantastic work.  It’s not over, though, for now they have the opportunity to take the criticism from the district-level judges and make improvements to their entries before the state competition in a few weeks.

For now, though … yay!  They won! 

Do your kids enter competitions?  Share in the comments below – and come back soon to see why I encourage my kids to compete in these types of events.

Interviewing Author Chris Grabenstein

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It started with the happiest of emails.  Not the fake “you’ve-won-a-million-dollars” type, but the a real from-the-personal-assistant “Congratulations!  You’ve won!” type.  In this instance, though, the prize was a thirty-minute interview with Chris Grabenstein for my students.

It would be exciting to interview any children’s author.  We love books and love reading, so being able to ‘get inside their heads’ is awesome in and of itself.  We’ve met Chris Grabenstein, however, and know that he’s not only a gifted and creative author, but also an incredibly kind man.  We knew this would be a fantastic opportunity.

Chris Grabenstein

We invited all of our book club kids, took interview questions from far-away friends, and planned our room set-up.  This was a big deal, since we don’t have access to projectors, big screens, or serious microphone power.   Because the interview would happen via Skype, I wanted everyone to be able to see the laptop screen as much as possible.  To personalize the interview and keep questions clear and easy to hear, Mr. Grabenstein requested that the question-asker sit directly in front of the laptop – so we needed to be able to move around, too.

Chris Grabenstein

We figured it out, and on the day of the interview, the kids showed up with papers full of questions and nervous giggles erupting frequently.  We talked about the time delay that happens when talking with Skype, about the importance of being polite, about listening to other people’s questions so we don’t repeat a lot, etc., and then it was time.

Skype didn’t connect at first, and then my phone rang:  it was Mr. Grabenstein, checking in for the interview!  We were soon able to make the Skype connection – but how wonderful is it that he would go that extra mile?

Mr. Grabenstein talked with us for a moment, and then let us jump right in with questions.  He continued that for the full half hour.  Several of the questions asked could have been answered with very short answers, but he told funny stories for each, sharing his history, giving lots of information, and making the asker feel important with each one.

Chris Grabenstein

I’m sure that many of the questions we asked are the same questions that he fields all the time, but what impressed me most about his answers was that he formatted them just like his books:  to be funny stories with great themes and truths in each one. 

When a student asked about his writing inspiration, he didn’t get just an answer, but a mini writing lesson in comic form.  When a student asked whether he always wanted to write, we heard about his professional journey, including his motivation, the hard work he put in, and the education he has that played a role.

I especially loved his writing-inspiration answer, and it made an impression on  my kids, too.  In fact, as we walked through the NC Museum of Art yesterday, I heard one of them muttering, “What if …. we were here, alone, at night, and ….”

Chris Grabenstein’s enthusiasm for writing has been a boost for my kids’ confidence in themselves as writers and as creative people.  We’re seeing story possibilities everywhere now, and I love how much happier they are to write.

Chalk up another win for Chris Grabenstein.

We’re big Grabenstein fans around here.  To read more about our other interactions, check out these posts:

These are our favorite Grabenstein books:

To find Grabenstein curriculum, including unit studies, party printables, recipes, and STEM activities, visit my TpT store here.

Book Club, Boys’ Edition: Gary Paulsen’s “Lawn Boy”

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Last month the boys read Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy for book club.  Maybe this seems like a strange choice for January, because it’s really about just what it sounds: a boy who creates a summer job mowing for lawns, but for our purposes, the winter weather suited us just fine.

In the book, the main character stumbles into a super successful lawn care service.  One of his customers turns out to be a stock broker, who invests his payment for the boy, and he has the golden touch:  soon the boy is rolling in money, more than he knows how to manage, and hilarity ensues.  It’s unrealistic, sure; but Paulsen does a fantastic job explaining some basic concepts in really fun ways.

Book Club

After discussing the book, we headed to the kitchen for a stock market analogy.  Money and numbers aren’t my thing, so I like when we can add visuals to the mix.  Each boy brought a soda, and we compared a large, empty pitcher to the company that I had been building.  Now ready to go public, I was ready for investors, and so the boys took turns pouring some soda into my pitcher.  After I had stirred it and worked it, I was ready to pay out to my investors, who then got some of the contents as dividends.  We worked the analogy a bit more through conversation, and the boys really got into it.  They seemed to understand how the basic process worked, and so the research began.

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We sat down with research sheets I created as part of the Stock Market Challenge project, and each boy chose a publicly traded company and evaluated it’s basic info to see if it was a company in which he’d like to invest.  I have each kid a virtual $100, and they all checked stock prices, business headlines, and the like to make their choices.

By the time book club was over, each boy had done company research and ‘purchased’ his stock.  He’d filled out a purchase sheet that helped him make his money decisions and went home with a graph so that he could plot his purchases’ share value over the following month.

When the boys returned, 5 of the 6 had followed through on this project.  They were surprisingly excited to see how their stock prices compared to the purchase price, and while they knew their individual earnings, they couldn’t wait to see how their friends did.

In the end, one company tanked dismally; a few boys actually lost money, and a few earned, though very little.  Their findings followed traditional market patterns, however, as if they were to continue to follow their shares, they would have made a much more significant profit over time.

After lots of math, one boy was finally crowned the “Stock Market Master,” and he excitedly took home the free drink coupon that our local Sheetz store had donated as a prize.  I hear he thoroughly enjoyed his frozen lemonade after baseball practice that night.  Thanks, Sheetz!

Lawn Boy is a really funny book with some great educational lessons buried inside.  It’s definitely worth a read and venturing out, perhaps beyond your comfort zone, into the world of share prices and the stock market.

What are your kids reading right now?

If you’d like to do a similar stock market simulation, you can find all of the materials we used for this project here.

 

New! Stock Market Challenge Project

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My Little Man is totally fascinated with the stock market lately.

He’s done chores to earn the money to purchase his very own stock, and he’s picked his favorite companies (that have stock he can afford).

Because he’s so very interested in this, however, I’ve been looking for ways to help him understand how it all works – and the potential gains and losses inherent with purchasing stock.

That’s why we read Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy – and why I wrote this project.

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The book does a great job of explaining the basic function of the stock market, although it’s an extreme example.  It’s super fun, though, but we wanted to try our hand at it, too.

That’s where this project comes in.  You can use it as a simple project or as a competitive challenge between different students or groups.  Included are research guides, hyperlinks for safe research, printables to guide your students through the math, and a graph to track your stock for the duration of the challenge.  There’s even a certificate for the winner.

This challenge will keep your students excited about their investments and will help them understand the basic workings of the stock market.

You can find more about this challenge here.

What are your kids into lately?