Field Work Friday – Visiting DOT Headquarters

Visiting a construction site was high on my list of things-to-do, but how could our little ones get up-close-and-personal to a working dump truck? I was stumped for a bit, and finally called the local government office in charge of road repairs. I was referred several times, but finally sent to our local DOT headquarters (I didn’t even know we had one!) where the man in charge generously agreed to all an unknown number of preschoolers visit.

When I arrived at headquarters on DOT day, I was amazed to find 12 little ones. How wonderful! Two great tour guides greeted us and escorted us out to the yard, where they had lined up about five trucks of different types. They began to tell us about each one and then, to my surprise, they helped each eager child to climb on. Imagine our surprise when they actually started up each truck and allowed the children to raise and lower booms, honk horns, and push all sorts of buttons! Several of the little ones were afraid of the noise (who knew a dump truck had such a LOUD horn??) but most were fascinated.
My son – so shy! – loves wheels. We had to take a picture of him with one. Look at how large they are!
These boys were just fascinated with the asphalt lying near one of the vehicles. They had never seen it in loose form before – and because the day was so hot, it was even a bit sticky!
As we prepared to leave, our wonderful tour guides handed each child a real construction vest. Have you ever seen such a great-looking group of construction workers??
All in all, we had a FANTASTIC visit to the DOT headquarters. I definitely recommend this as a place to check out!

Field Work Friday – Dental Hygiene

This week we were visited by Pat, a dental hygienist for a local pediatric dentist.  That might not sound too exciting, but Pat brought along Ally the Alligator and shared lots of good tips for caring for your teeth.

Pat talked to us about how important it was to brush our teeth each morning and before bedtime, and that taking care of our gums is crucial.  She told us that dentists recommend that children spend 6 minutes each evening on dental hygiene, both brushing and flossing, and that parents should be involved until age 10.  Pat also showed us how to brush in small circles, not scrubbing, on each tooth, and then brushing downwards three times while singing, “Wiggle, jiggle, wiggle, jiggle, 1, 2, 3” and then moving on to the next one.  She let each child practice on Ally – though Luke was a big shy of her big smile.

After Pat left we concluded a science project to demonstrate just how important it is to brush.

Start with a jar (I’d recommend a wide-mouth one), an egg, a tube of toothpaste, and some vinegar.  I’ve used both cider and white for this – both work fine.

Squeeze out the tube of toothpaste into the jar. Try not to get any on the sides.  I realize that this seems like a lot, but it takes a lot for this to work – and it’s a very visual demo of why brushing and toothpaste is important.

Next, nestle the egg into the toothpaste nest at the bottom.  Bury half of the egg in the toothpaste and let the other half sticking out, hopefully toothpaste-free (this is why a wide-mouth jar is important – my hand didn’t fit in there well!).

Using the egg as a target so that none of the toothpaste washes away, slowly pour vinegar into the jar on top of the egg.  Fill the jar to about an inch past the top of the egg.

Let the jar sit for 2-5 days.  I wouldn’t wait much longer than that, but it will take a few days for the magic to happen.  When the egg is ready, you should see that lovely cloud of bubbles at the top of the egg.  Again, be sure to wait a few days!  Just set it on a shelf somewhere and watch what happens while the vinegar works.

When it’s time, pour out the vinegar and rescue the egg.  Holding it carefully, wipe away or wash under a gentle spray of water to remove excess toothpaste.

Your egg will now look like this!  The vinegar, an acid, has eaten away at the shell of the egg, which is made of protein.

If you consider the eggshell to be like the enamel on your teeth, you can see what plague will do to the finish of your teeth.  Be sure to carefully tap your fingernail on the white shell – see how hard and firm it still is?  Didn’t the toothpaste do a great job of protecting it from the tough plague germs?

Then try to tap the soft brown top.  The shell is gone, leaving only the outer membrane.  Pushing gently, you can actually push into the egg – it’s that soft.  Who wants a tooth that looks like this?!!  I think I’ll brush!

Disclaimer:  As this entire project is done with a raw egg, dispose of egg carefully when finished.  I’ve never broken one in nearly 10 years of doing this project, so the eggs are tougher than they look – but I’m sure it’s still possible, and I know they won’t smell pretty if they break.  🙂

Field Trip Friday – Play Ball!



You can find a lesson in everything.  Today, we found all sorts of lessons at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The Durham Bulls are a AAA-affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and a few times each season, they hold a special Education Day.
Now, financially speaking, this is a great deal.  All teachers get in free – so for a home school group like ours, that meant that fully half of our group didn’t pay for a ticket.  You have the option of buying a boxed lunch for only $3.50, and there’s also a baseball-related curriculum that’s available for download.  Several kid-friendly booths were set up in the concourse area, with things like Smokey the Bear, Bobber the Water Dog, and the Durham Museum of Life and Science.  The museum staff brought along snakes and other animals for the students to touch and check out.  
Educationally speaking, the curriculum is great.  It’s written for students in grades 2 through 8, and it’s written specifically using the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.  The plans are detailed and very applicable to real life, and although none of the kids who went with us today are ready to use those plans, it is very possible to alter them to our students’ levels.
Practically speaking, a day at the ball park is just plain FUN!  If you have one in your area and you haven’t been, you should definitely check it out.  


We go a few times each year, and my Little Man was quite excited to be back.
Of course, if your children don’t know the basic positions and rules of baseball, you could always talk about that.  No matter what your focus, you must watch the game – you never when a pop fly will come heading your way!
Sometimes, even the players have to pow-wow!
Keeping score, track of batting averages, hits, runs, strikes, outs, and balls is all math.  Complicate it a bit by tracking and graphing it before and/or after the game to get an idea of how your team is doing over a given period of time.  Or, you could learn about other jobs related to baseball.  For example, at the DBAP, the numbers on the scoreboard are changed manually.
One of the great things about this type of event is that it’s a real bonding experience.  For our family, it’s something that we enjoy doing together several times each season.  There’s just something about the roar of the crowds and cheering for your favorite players together that you can’t recreate in front of a TV!
With the cheering goes the eating.  We personally prefer the refillable monster tubs of popcorn – we can munch through the whole game, and if our little hands spill a little, we can always request more! (And at ballpark prices, you can teach some great economics lessons right there.)
I somehow doubt that all of these people turned out just for the game, though.  Watching the actual players was not exactly my favorite thing when we first started going, either.  I preferred  …
the giant sumo matches held between the innings.
My Little Man’s personal favorite is watching the team mascot, Wool E. Bull, race around the field in his little blue sports car.
Celebrating home runs and winning scores with the Bull is always fun!
If none of these float your boat, I suppose you could always get a haircut!
The Durham Bulls do an exceptional job of making a trip to their field fun for the whole family, and it really is educational, too.  
Have you spent a day at the ballpark learning??

Field Work Friday – Dance

Today we visited a Christi’s Dance Center to learn what dance is all about.

We started out by learning about the different types of dance that Christi teaches and the kinds of shoes worn for each one.

Christi, the studio owner, taught our class.  She had everyone begin basic stretches …

 of many different kinds.

The kids loved these!

After getting really warmed up, Christi taught the children about the basic positions of classical ballet.  The children enjoyed trying to copy Christi’s feet and arms!

Christi also showed the children a variety of ways to move across the floor based on different styles of dance.

My son had never been exposed to formal dance or exercise before.  He loved trying to follow the moves and did well until the need to run won out.  We’ll definitely be doing more specific exercises around here, though, and if you’ve never checked out a dance studio … find one near you and check it out!

Do your kids take dance??

Field Work Friday – The Conservators’ Center

Yesterday our group visited The Conservators’ Center, a non-profit rescue organization that helps animals in need.  They are located in outside Mebane, North Carolina, and have an absolutely wonderful website.  
Upon arrival, head animal keeper Janine began our tour.  
First we saw servals.  These cats are originally from the African grasslands and were fascinating to watch.

I must admit, I can’t remember the name of this cat.  She just kept pacing and pacing throughout part of her cage as we stood, watching, and learning about her.  I felt so bad for making her nervous that I missed hearing anything else!

I’ve never heard of a binturong before.  These Asian animals are banana crazy and imperative for keeping the rainforest alive and well.  This one in particular showed off for us by climbing all over his habitat, including showing us how to climb down a tree head first!

Everyone seemed fascinated with the wolves, and this arctic-timber wolf in particular stayed right near us for quite some time.

We didn’t faze this tiger.  He just hung out in the corner of his pen and watched us all.  He was one cool cucumber!

Some of the lions and tigers were born around the same time and have been raised together.  There was something awesome about watching these two species of cats play together.

They rested atop this towering play structure in their area, too.  I’d love to know what they’re thinking!

My most favorite animal, however, was Arthur, the white tiger.  He may be part snow tiger, or his coloring may be due to the abuse he suffered as a baby; but either way, his stripes are very faint and are most prominent on his tail.

We didn’t seem to bother Arthur, either, and were able to catch him playing hide-and-seek with his friend …

and then, amazingly, he went seeking while we were still there!  I’ve only seen these types of animals in the zoo, before, when the most action you can hope for is a lazy tail flick as they sleep.  To see such strong and mighty animals roughhousing only a few feet away was incredible.

The kids took their own kiddie cameras along and took hundreds of pictures – literally – so we’ll be editing those tomorrow.  They were both fascinated with the animals, but also with the new friends that they’ve made today.  Isn’t it funny how experiencing something amazing with someone else draws you together?

After a picnic lunch in the Conservators’ Center’s new pavilion, we headed home, full of stories of lions and tigers and … bobcats and lemurs and wolves and all sorts of wonderful animals.

If you’ve never been to The Conservators’ Center and you live in the area, be sure to check it out.  It’s definitely worth a visit.  If you live far away, be sure to check out what kind of animal resources are in your backyard.  You won’t be sorry.

Field Work Friday – Visiting a Civil War Camp

While we were visiting my hometown in Pennsylvania a few months ago, we heard about a Civil War camp and re-enactment happening in a local park.  We knew the kids would want to check it out.
It was a warm afternoon in early May, but although we missed a gun battle, we caught a few stations still set up – like a field hospital and mess tent.
As we watched, the stations ended and the re-enactors went about their normal lives.  This man settled into his tent for a good read.
These men immediately retreated to a tent to clean their weapons.  When we approached, they explained what they were doing and showed us their tools.


My Big Helper was playing journalist with her camera and wanted to know more about what their tents contained.  This nice man walked the few feet away to his tent and showed her the items the soldiers would’ve had access to – a simple cot, blanket, etc.  He also pointed out his largest weapon and showed how it functioned.  Both kids loved this, and my Big Helper even had a chance to feel its heft!  Weighing in at nine pounds, this was both heavy and awkward for her, especially in such a tiny space.



We were excited to see these actors stirring a kettle of chicken corn soup.  This is a staple where I come from, and it was fun to see that it was eaten even back then.  
The best part of the affair for us girls was the ball.  That night the camp held an old-fashioned ball in a pavilion, and many of the re-enactors came in full regalia.  My Big Helper especially liked this gown, one of the fanciest there.  
She was brave enough to ask her for pictures, and we were then surprised by a kind offer from the actress:  she asked my daughter to dance with her!


 This kind girl assumed the role of the man so that she could guide my Big Helper around the dance floor.  See her there in the back?  She was having a … well, a ball!  This meant a lot to her, and she talked about it for days.  
Both kids are now super excited to study the Civil War.  We don’t have any plans to add in a unit for that in the near future, but we might venture out to more Civil War re-enactments.  
You’ll never know what you might find.
Do you like living history?  What’s your favorite era?

Field Work Friday – Cinco de Mayo

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we visited a local Mexican restaurant for lunch.  Many of the people who were there are from Mexico, and the manager agreed to speak to us about the significance of the holiday.

We ate at Torero’s, a local place with bright decor, flat-screens mounted near the ceilings throughout, and a very yummy menu.  (Well, the food is good, not the menu itself, but you know what I mean.)

This is my chair.  See what I mean?  The whole place is like this – tables, chairs, wall hangings, etc.  It’s very bright, but there’s lots to look at, and my kids love to go there – because they can eat chips while they wait for their meals, and so they can talk about all the things carved into our table.  It’s just fun.

First, we ate, with my kids really getting into the Mexican theme.  My Little Man with his ‘matoes, nuggets, and rice …

and My Big Helper with her cheeseburger.  Oh, well!  (Most of the rest of us did actually eat Mexican food – but I must admit, they do have good burgers!)

While we finished our meal, the fabulous manager David brought over one of his staff members to tell us about the history of Cinco de Mayo.  Basically, we learned that the holiday is a celebration of a Mexican defeat over Spain back in the 1800s, and that the holiday carries with it no special foods or traditional means of celebration.   Whatever the case, we certainly celebrated with an abundance of chips, salsa, and chicken nuggets!

David and his staff were very kind in sharing a bit of their heritage with us.  Are there any restaurants near you where you could visit and learn a bit of another culture?

Field Work Friday – Christmas Is A-Comin’

Christmas is a-comin’
And the goose is gettin’ fat!
Please to put a penny in an old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny then a ha’penny would do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

We used to play the ‘Bonanza’ Christmas album that features that song over and over at Christmastime when I was a kid.  I don’t hear it often anymore, but it does hint around at the real spirit of Christmas.

Last week for playgroup we tried to focus on the real reason for the season.  We met at a local church, where the pastor read the children a story by Ruth Graham that talked about the very first Christmas.

After that, he assigned each child a part in the Christmas story, and they dressed up using simple costumes that the church had on hand.  (I think it would be really fun to make some costumes like this sometime ….)  The pastor then read the Christmas story from the book of Luke and directed each ‘actor’ when his part was read.  The angel was very excited about his wings!

After that, it was time to break loose for a bit.  Everyone brought craft supplies, and the kids made cards for our next field trip, when we’ll visit with the residents at an assisted living center.  Some were especially excited about fancy scissors, while others were more interested in decorating shapes and gluing them onto their cards..

Soon we’ll visit the center and sing to the residents and pass out the cards we’ve made.  What better way for little ones to spread some Christmas cheer than with crayons and song?

Field Work Friday – Behind the Scenes at the Movie Theater

When I was a kid, I remember sitting in a movie theater at the start of a show, watching the flickering lights, and turning around to see where it was coming from.  I always wondered what was behind the small window high in the wall, and somehow I pictured a white-haired man in a black suit, perched on a stool beside an ancient projector.

That’s not what you’ll find in our local movie theater.

This week our playgroup headed out to Palace Pointe for a behind-the-scenes tour of how movies are shown.

The theater manager, Andy, has worked in theaters for 16 years now.  After meeting us in the lobby, he escorted us into the elevator and through the hallways to the projection room.

Expecting a small, dark space, imagine my amazement when we found ourselves in a large, bright, white-tiled room!  Super clean and very bright, Andy said that dust is the enemy of any theater because it will show up as spots and splotches onscreen.  Film machines actually have to be cleaned after each showing to keep everything operating smoothly.

Andy explained that when film is sent to the theater, it arrives on these small reels – each of which holds about 20 minutes of film.


In days of old, someone did have to perch beside the machine and change the reels as they finished – but no more.  Now they use this machine, a splicer, to attach the film end-to-end and make one really long reel.  They use a special kind of super-thin tape to secure it.


When they’re done, they have one huge real that rests on these round wheels called platters.  From here, the film winds through this machine, through the projector next to it, and then is wound onto another platter either above or below it.  This returns it to the proper form so that it’s ready to be shown again.


Andy explained that each square in the film represented 1/24th of a second.  Wow!

 Then he showed us the ‘commercials,’ the ads for other movies that play prior to the start of the feature presentation.

Much smaller and tightly bound, he even let our children pass around one.  They had never really seen film before, so this was a big deal!  Funny how things change, isn’t it?

All of this will soon be completely obsolete, however, because new requirements make it impossible to show film past December of this year.

By December theaters will be required to have a digital projector like this one.  


This machine is basically a large computer attached to a projector.  The movies arrive on a hard drive that is then inserted into the machine.  The film companies send key codes so that each movie can only be shown on a particular machine and within certain dates.  The theater then shows the movies by operating the touch-screen computer – or by pushing buttons on a phone.
Each one of these machines cost about $100,000.  Can you imagine??
Andy also explained that most movies are not sent per certain amount of money, but the theaters are charged a percentage of their sales – and that it’s usually 97& – 98% total!  He told us that they make very little money from actually showing the movies, and that that’s why theaters charge so much for popcorn and snacks.  That’s how they make the money that pays for staff wages, the light bill, etc.
So there you have it.  No little old man in a black suit – just a lot of big, black machines and small cartridges.
Who knew??

Field Work Friday – Behind the Scenes with the Durham Bulls


 Last week we traveled to the Durham Bulls’ Athletic Park for a complete tour of the stadium.  We were all excited to return to the stadium, but especially to see into the areas where visitors don’t usually go!

My camera decided to be funky when we arrived, so these pictures were all taken by my friend Jennifer and kindly shared.  Thanks, Jennifer!

Our tour began in the luxury box at the top of the stadium.  This box belongs to the owner, and it quite lives up to its name.  This is the view from the box.  It sits just to the left of the press box, which is directly behind home plate, where the announcers have the best view.

The luxury box consists of a large room with several different areas.  Of course, there are cushy chairs in front of a granite countertop by large windows that overlook the field; but there’s also a table in the center with a kitchen area behind it.

At one end of the kitchen , just behind the table, is the barber shop.  Outside the luxury box, just beside the window, is an old-fashioned barber pole.


 The kitchen was very pretty.  It must be fun to serve game foods there.

Outside of the elevator that took us up and down on our tour sits Wool E. Bull on a bench.  We were all excited to see him there and so had to stop for pictures.

I apologize for the blurriness of this picture, but it was pretty dark in here – we were inside the scoreboard located on the Blue Monster!  I was surprised to learn that the scoreboard consisted of an elevated wooden platform in a narrow storage corridor between the stadium and the building next door.  Large windows with latches hold the numbers, which are stacked on a shelf below where they are needed.  A single metal chair sits in the space for the man in charge of the board, with an oscillating fan nearby.  Our tour guide said that at one game last year the temperature reached 108 degrees inside the scoreboard.  That’s hot!

As we moved out of this corridor, we visited the dugouts, the practice room, and the locker room.  My Little Man loved visiting all of these official, players-only areas.  It’s really neat to see what’s happening behind the scenes.

So if you’re ever looking for a fun, family outing and you’re in the Durham area, be sure to check out the Bulls’ stadium.  It’s worth the trip!