Writing History at Epic Patriot Camp

Living History

Last week my kids experienced the most amazing camp ever.  It was Epic Patriot Camp, sponsored by the National Park Service, held at the Abingdon Muster Grounds, and taught, in part, by the wonderful author Jenny L. Cote.

Living History

For six hours each day, the lived the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain.  Over the course of the week, they were given a real person who participated in some way at the Battle.  They researched this person and wrote his/her story – while wearing period clothing and receiving technical writing lessons from Cote herself.

It wasn’t just costumes and quills, though – the National Park Service went all out.  The week was full of hands-on lessons about colonial life.  The kids did weapons drills with wooden muskets and watched a reenactor shoot a real one, and then they made musket balls and powder cartridges.  They hiked around the Grounds and examined the native plants, learning about herbal remedies and properties of many of them.  They learned how to write with a quill pen and ink and used wax and seals to mark their journals.  Each day, they continued to research their historical people, add to their stories, and conference with Cote herself.

Living History

The final day was huge, though.  The campers stayed the night at the grounds and slept in colonial-style canvas tents!  They helped to cook their dinner over the campfire, washed dishes, played graces, and spent time around the fire.  The Little Man in the picture above?  The picture doesn’t do him justice.  He was incredibly mud-spattered and stinky when I picked him up – but he couldn’t stop smiling.

The next morning we were treated to a special tea and ceremony.  The kids had the chance to show off what they had learned by sharing parts of their stories.

Living History

They also performed a reenactment of the Battle of King’s Mountain for us.  They really got into it!

Living History

I was impressed each day with the tight, well-planned lessons planned by Cote and the leaders from the NPS.  I loved the hands-on activities and the enthusiasm which I saw pouring out of my kids – but there was one aspect I didn’t expect:  homework.

As homeschoolers, we don’t encounter homework very often.  We’re typically done with our schoolwork long before dinnertime – and so we had planned some fun outings for our evenings away.

Those didn’t go quite as expected, partly because there was homework.  Extra credit assignments, really, that weren’t required, but the kids were adamant that they do them.  They wanted to know more than what they were learning at camp.  They wanted to do their very best for Jenny L. Cote – and they wanted to win her prize.

The kids excitedly shared after their first day at camp that Cote would be watching for the most epic story to be written that week and that the writer of that very story would make an appearance as an animal character in her next book.

As big fans of Cote’s work, that’s all it took: we adjusted our evening outings to accommodate (several hours of) extra credit work each night.  As crazy as it sounds – because who gets excited about homework in the summertime? – the kids couldn’t wait to settle in at the kitchen table and get started each night.

At the final tea, however, we all found ourselves nervous.  There were 18 campers in attendance and many were older than my kids.  Knowing how badly they wanted to win, I was crossing my fingers for them both, but realistically speaking, I knew that the camp was full of smart, talented writers. 

The campers turned out to be so smart and talented that Cote created many more awards than just her original one.  I loved hearing the descriptions of what the campers had done throughout the week to earn these honors.

In the end, however, Cote announced that My Big Helper had won the chance to be an animal in her next book – and we were so shocked that neither of us were certain whose name she called!  (Turns out we each asked other people when the ceremony was over.)

My Big Helper is looking forward to that future day when she’s found in the pages of a Cote book, but she didn’t learn only about writing.  Writing was a big part of it – she came home with pages of notes and techniques, her mind full of stories and examples Cote told during the lessons.

Both kids came home with so much more, though.  They’re more confident writers.  They’re more enthusiastic about writing than ever before, but they’ve also fallen deeper in love with history.  They’re able to put themselves into the story and see the events from multiple perspectives.  They’re able to see each scene with all their senses, describing in detail how it might smell and feel and taste to be there.  They’re full of stories of Patriots and Loyalists of whom I had never heard and know how they’re interconnected.  They know how they changed history and know how to do the research to find out more.  Better yet, they know how to analyze it to see what it all means.  They even met other kids from Tennessee, New Jersey, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Missouri – because that’s how far other people traveled to attend.

When I discovered this camp on Cote’s website, I never imagined anything this amazing – and that’s saying something; I know I’m a pretty tough critic of lesson plans and teaching.  I expected some writing excitement and fun history projects, but Epic Patriot Camp truly lived up to its name.  With tight lessons, generous supplies, kind and enthusiastic teachers, and the encouragement to take their projects as far and as hard as they wanted, Epic Patriot Camp is the best experience we’ve had in years.

The NPS’s Camp Leader, Katherine Lynne, is sure that Epic Patriot Camp will return next year, possibly to some new locations.  I’d encourage you to watch for the announcement that registration is open and to sign your kids up if it’s at all possible for you to get there.  It’s well worth the effort.

*I shared only pictures that I personally took, but there are many more fabulous pictures available on Jenny L. Cote’s Facebook page.  Scroll down to find her Epic Patriot Camp 2016 posts and check them out.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Love, Ruby Lavender”

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When I first read Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles, I knew it would make a great book club pick.

About  a young girl dealing with the loss of her father, a busy mother, and her best-friend Grandma who’s away for the summer, it’s full of chickens, zucchini, and adventures with the new girl next door.  It’s the most realistic modern story we’ve read in a while, but recreating some of Ruby Lavender’s adventures guaranteed to be fun.

Girls' Book Club

Whenever Ruby Lavender started really missing her grandmother, she’d visit her house and slip into one of her bright pink Hawaiian muu-muus.  I decided that we couldn’t really celebrate this story without attempting to make our own.

Girls' Book Club

We started with plain white twin bedsheets cut in half.  The girls each ironed theirs and then pinned it in half again to make a basic sheath.  We folded raw edges under and sewed them and cut out necklines and stitched those.

Girls' Book Club

While I helped the girls iron, pin, and stitch in turn, the other girls decorated notebooks to use with someone special.  In the story, Ruby Lavender hid letters to her grandmother in a knot in a special tree just outside of town, and her grandmother would find the notes and reply.  We decided to do the same thing in a special notebook, so the girls collaged, glued, and stickered away to make something unique.

 

A few of the girls had never used a sewing machine before, and for others it had been a long time.  My Big Helper and one other young seamstress did a great job about answering questions and helping their friends get ready to sew while I was busy elsewhere. 

Girls' Book Club

After finishing their notebooks, the girls who were waiting for help with their muu-muus moved on to a cooking project.  Ruby Lavender’s mother works as a home economist and was challenged with creating new zucchini recipes, so I gave the same project to the girls.  One girl decided to chop hers and scramble it with some eggs.

Girls' Book Club

These girls paired up to marinate and grill their zucchini.  They made a great team!

Girls' Book Club

My Big Helper decided to saute hers and make her own sauce.  She really enjoyed experimenting with ingredients and flavor combinations.

After the muu-muus were completely stitched, the girls painted flower outlines on them with Elmer’s glue.  We hung them on a makeshift clothesline in the sun to dry, and then dipped the whole thing into fuschia fabric dye.

The glue acted as a batik and repelled the dye, creating beautiful white flowers on the muu-muus sewn out of t-shirt fabric.  The other, slipperier fabric didn’t hold the glue as well, and their muu-muus are more solid in color, but still a pretty pink.

There was a lot happening in this book club event, and it lasted all day!  Still, the girls did a great job sewing their muu-muus and creating new recipes.  They were careful and responsible, and I heard them discussing the story while they worked.

I love that – when a book makes such an impression that it pulls your attention away from the art project or craft at hand.

Win.

What are your kids reading this week?

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NEW! “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics” Linked Novel Study

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You might remember that we love Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  We loved it so much that we made it a book club pick for both the boys and the girls and we’ve read it over and over.

That’s why we were over the moon excited to find out that Grabenstein wrote a sequel – Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics!

Chris Grabenstein

This book is just as exciting as the first one.  Grabenstein again layered in history and science among library science and codes and painted the whole thing fun.

There are so many threads to pull, in fact, that I wrote curriculum and extension activities to go with it!  You’ll find everything from the typical vocabulary and essay assignments to more creative science, history, and art projects.  Also included are printables, cooking projects, and a recipe for Mr. Lemoncello’s favorite drink, Lemonberry Fizz.

The activities in this packet are great for upper elementary and middle school kids, as well as homeschoolers and book clubbers.  With nearly 80 pages of projects and a wide range of responses, you’ll find something to suit every learning style here.

You can find out more and download your own copy in my TpT store here.  I’d love to know what you think!

What are your kids reading?

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Book Club, Survival Edition: “The Secret Island”

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I first heard about The Secret Island by Enid Blyton while eavesdropping in the library. 

Awful, right?

I didn’t mean to – but some kids were super excited about a book that they’d read and were happily discussing it with the librarian.  They all seemed so in love with it that I knew we had to check it out.

We loved it as much as those other kids did, and so we chose it for April’s book club pick.

The Secret Island was written long ago and is about a group of children who were living with extended family and were all being mistreated.  They band together and run away to a small island in the middle of a lake, where the live for six months, building a shelter, earning money, and finding food.  While the beginning is sad and the children rather rebellious, there are many opportunities for discussion, and the survival lessons within the book are wonderful.

Book Club

That’s why we went for survival training for this club meeting.  One student’s older brother is a Trail Life-er and volunteered to teach.  He did an amazing job!  Since someone else was teaching, we had a joint boys-and-girls meeting for this book, and while that definitely upped the ‘crazy’ factor for all of us, the kids had a great time.

After we discussed the book, our young teacher got us started with paracord.  He based our meeting on ‘what if we were stranded in the wilderness with only a knife, some paracord, and a survival blanket?’ 

After learning about the benefits of this cording, we headed out into the woods to simulate being lost.  The kids loved this activity.  They quickly banded together into groups and looked for materials with which to build shelters.

Some went for a teepee-style structure, which looked pretty easy to build – but where would all these kids sleep?

Book Club

Others tried to build a more traditional house, with sides and a roof, using the blanket as the roof.  (Still another group went lean-to style, but I never was able to get a picture of theirs.)

Book Club

Upon returning to our house, we returned our attention to paracord.  Our leader taught the kids how to make paracord bracelets that they could wear to be prepared in an emergency.  It took a little while for the kids to figure out how to make them, but as each one caught on, s/he taught another, well demonstrating the ‘each one teach one’ philosophy.  Soon everyone was sporting a camo paracord bracelet!

Book Club

While we had been doing all of this, a peach cobbler prepared by our teacher had been cooking away in a Dutch oven in the driveway.  With only a small amount of time left, he broke out the ice cream and cobbler and we celebrated our new survival skills in a very delicious way.

Our young teacher had other activities planned, as well, that would have taught amazing other skills, but the kids were so enthralled with shelter building and bracelet making that time didn’t allow for any more. 

Although a young teenager, our leader did a great job of planning and sharing his skills with our group of kids.  Their enthusiasm always keeps me on my toes, and despite the fact that he’s not much older than some of the book clubbers themselves, he was quite professional and was able to answer all of their questions.  I love when I see one of our younger ones showing responsibility and dependability, and this young man has it in spades.

Although it’s been several days since the book club event, my kids have been peppering me with questions about what they learned from their survival guide.  They’re interested in heading to REI to look at survival equipment and in trying out their new skills. 

The Secret Island would be a story great for arcing into an overnight campout, a camping unit, or a mission project to help kids – like the ones in the book – whose at-home conditions are less than ideal.

What sort of survival skills do your kids have?

Check out these survival products to host your own Secret Island-style event:

 

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Learning to Write with Author Jenny L. Cote

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Our recent visit to Patrick Henry’s Red Hill was exciting for more reasons than the hands-on ones I shared yesterday.  It’s where we got to meet author Jenny L. Cote for a writing workshop.

Jenny L. Cote

I’ve always wanted to go to a book signing, and although I’ve gotten a few invitations from authors whose books I’ve reviewed (eeek!  excitement!)  they’ve always been too far away.

That’s why I was extra excited to sign us up for a writing workshop with author Jenny L. Cote following homeschool day at Red Hill.

The event was scheduled by Red Hill and was entitled, “If This Be Fiction, Make the Most of It!”  Cote used this parody of a famous Patrick Henry quote to teach about the various ways that an author prepares and plans the story (and her next three books will involve Patrick Henry).

Cote shared about writing techniques, like researching, but she extended each concept beyond the basic.  She challenged the listeners to go beyond the library and the internet to the world beyond.  She asked us to think big and dream bigger and to take action on those ideas.  The workshop was not a do-this-then-that kind of class but more of an inspirational lecture based on the author’s own experiences.  She has traveled the world doing research for her books and had loads of amazing stories and pictures to share.

Hearing Jenny L. Cote speak made me wish I had a story in my head that I could zoom off to research (another dream of mine – maybe someday?) but her visit wasn’t just about writing itself.  Her lessons were really all about life.

Shouldn’t we all dream big?  Trust God for miracles?  Approach Him boldly?  See beyond the words on a page to the miraculous wonders they share?

My Big Helper finished Cote’s first book on our way to Red Hill, and she was bubbling over with excitement about it.  She purchased the next two and Cote signed all three.  Now My Little Man is reading the story and he’s just as enthralled as his big sister is.

I love when an author inspires a reader to greatness.  I love when a book makes you loath to put it down.

Cote has done both with my children, and after meeting her, I’m quite excited to begin them myself.

Want to read Cote’s books for yourself?  You can find them all here:

 

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How to Host Your Own ‘Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library’ Party

Disclosure Pic

My Big Helper has been talking about this month’s Chris Grabenstein book club event for weeks.  She’s been counting down the days, then the hours, all while bouncing off the walls and carrying her invitation around with her endlessly.

How to Lemoncello's Library

We love this

 

She immediately began planning how we could turn our house into the Alexandriaville Public Library and begged to have an escape game similar the one that Mr. Lemoncello hosted.

Chris Grabenstein

So we got to work.  I designed labels for Lemonberry Fizz and created a recipe for the drink that Mr. Lemoncello loves to guzzle.  I also built the Wonder Dome, decorated the house, and filled in many other book details.

Chris Grabenstein

I printed out an anagram game that we could use for a Super Dooper Challenge and planted clues around the house.  One of these bonus clues became the prize for the challenge.

Chris Grabenstein

Of course, we had to eat, too.  Since the main characters attended a fancy gala to celebrate the library’s opening at the beginning of the book, I opted to serve a ‘fancy’ dinner.  I made two kinds of fondue and served it with sautéed chicken, steamed veggies, and bread cubes on a color-coordinated table.  The girls drank their icy water out of glass goblets and giggled every time they stuck out their pinky fingers.

Chris Grabenstein

Dessert had to be fondue, too, since it’s such a fun way to eat – although there are several dessert options in the book.  My Big Helper loved the fruit platters and chocolate fondue; judging from the amount of chocolate on the other faces I saw, they liked it, too.

Chris Grabenstein

Throughout the course of the event, we played as many Lemoncello games as I could create.  I made Indoor-Outdoor Scavenger Hunt cards, and the kids raced around the neighborhood to collect their items first.  I created a label for Mr. Lemoncello’s Anagrams, and the girls raced to see who could make the most words with alphabet cookies.  They also played our version of Hurry to the Top of the Heap with Lemoncello trivia.

Eventually, late that night, one team pieced together enough clues to escape the house – and they did so with lots of whooping and hollering and running around in the dark.

Their prize was to choose their parts in the next-day’s commercial.  I gave them the task of creating a commercial to ‘sell’ Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library to other kids.

Click here to view a rough copy of their commercial.

I’ve had myriads of technical difficulties in trying to share this.  Their commercial plays well on my computer – I had to video that in order to show it to you.  I apologize for the issues that remain.

Of course, we ended the party with a birthday cake, and since My Big Helper’s big day is close, we sang to her.

I spent hours designing the games, creating labels, and putting the details of the party together – so I’m happy to share them with you.

 

You can find everything you need to print your own 68-page Lemoncello party pack here.

Happy escaping!

What are your kids reading now?

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How to Host Your Own ‘Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library’ Party

Disclosure Pic

My Big Helper has been talking about this month’s Chris Grabenstein book club event for weeks.  She’s been counting down the days, then the hours, all while bouncing off the walls and carrying her invitation around with her endlessly.

Chris Grabenstein

We love his book

She immediately began planning how we could turn our house into the Alexandriaville Public Library and begged to have an escape game similar the one that Mr. Lemoncello hosted.

Chris Grabenstein

So we got to work.  I designed labels for Lemonberry Fizz and created a recipe for the drink that Mr. Lemoncello loves to guzzle.  I also built the Wonder Dome, decorated the house, and filled in many other book details.

Chris Grabenstein

I printed out an anagram game that we could use for a Super Dooper Challenge and planted clues around the house.  One of these bonus clues became the prize for the challenge.

Chris Grabenstein

Of course, we had to eat, too.  Since the main characters attended a fancy gala to celebrate the library’s opening at the beginning of the book, I opted to serve a ‘fancy’ dinner.  I made two kinds of fondue and served it with sautéed chicken, steamed veggies, and bread cubes on a color-coordinated table.  The girls drank their icy water out of glass goblets and giggled every time they stuck out their pinky fingers.

Chris Grabenstein

Dessert had to be fondue, too, since it’s such a fun way to eat – although there are several dessert options in the book.  My Big Helper loved the fruit platters and chocolate fondue; judging from the amount of chocolate on the other faces I saw, they liked it, too.

Chris Grabenstein

Throughout the course of the event, we played as many Lemoncello games as I could create.  I made Indoor-Outdoor Scavenger Hunt cards, and the kids raced around the neighborhood to collect their items first.  I created a label for Mr. Lemoncello’s Anagrams, and the girls raced to see who could make the most words with alphabet cookies.  They also played our version of Hurry to the Top of the Heap with Lemoncello trivia.

Eventually, late that night, one team pieced together enough clues to escape the house – and they did so with lots of whooping and hollering and running around in the dark.

Their prize was to choose their parts in the next-day’s commercial.  I gave them the task of creating a commercial to ‘sell’

I’ve had myriads of technical difficulties in trying to share this.  Their commercial plays well on my computer – I had to video that in order to show it to you.  I apologize for the issues that remain.

Of course, we ended the party with a birthday cake, and since My Big Helper’s big day is close, we sang to her.

I spent hours designing the games, creating labels, and putting the details of the party together – so I’m happy to share them with you.

You can find everything you need to print your own 68-page Lemoncello party pack here.

Happy escaping!

What are your kids reading now?

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1 Easy Way to Teach about the American Southwest

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American Southwest

Recently my Little Man asked to read Elise Broach’s book Missing on Superstition Mountain.  I knew he would love it – it’s packed full of adventure, danger, and treasure hunting – but I hesitated.  This book is perfect for teaching about the American Southwest.  There are many, many threads that can be tugged to build deeper learning and critical thinking. 

 

So we made a deal:  he would wait to read the book until I had created some ‘stuff’ to go along with it, and then I would give him a week off from school to read the book and complete the ‘stuff.’  I’ve been hard at work creating a series of fun extension activities to accompany it ever since, and it’s DONE!  I’ve created a web-linked novel study that incorporates your typical vocabulary quizzes and creative writing assignments, but also has math, science, and history activities, too.  Many include writing or art projects.  All of it can be done individually or cooperatively.

How to Teach your Students about the American Southwest

Since it’s made and finished, I’d like to share it with youMissing on Superstition Mountain is a fantastic book that’s sure to excite any child about treasure hunting and solving mysteries.  Better yet, it’s based on the real history and legends of the Superstition Mountain Range in Arizona (and this study has more about that linked up for your convenience, too!).   It’s also the first book in a trilogy, and since the other two books are just as great as this one, novel studies will be coming soon for the other books in the series.

Missing on Superstition Mountain will make a great book club pick for upper-elementary or middle school book clubs.  Our boys’ club will be reading this story next fall, and I can’t wait to see what they think of it.

So don’t delay – go Missing on Superstition Mountain and catch gold fever yourself.

How do you keep your children excited about learning?

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Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “The Lemonade Crime”

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The boys were really excited about this month’s book pick: 

I set up chairs on our carport to resemble – roughly – a courtroom.  When everyone was ready, we moved outside and took our places.  Our Honorable Judge called court to order, listened to the opening statements, and then swore in our first witness.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Lemonade Crime @ A Nest in the Rocks

After listening to the prosecution, the defense attorney stood up and gave a rousing defense on behalf of the Third Pig.  He was quite proud of himself!

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Lemonade Crime @ A Nest in the Rocks

After closing arguments and some debate, the jury members declared the Third Little Pig to be innocent of murder. 

The mock trial was a lot of fun, and the boys are already asking to do it again.

I call that a success.

Want to put on your own mock trial?  Find everything you need here and here.

 

 

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“Blue Ribbon Trail Ride” by Miralee Ferrell

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride

Thirteen-year old Kate and her friends came up with the perfect way to raise money for her autistic younger brother and others to attend summer camp—a horse scavenger hunt! As local businesses donate money and prizes, Kate keeps the entry fees in her mom’s antique jewelry box.

But when the box and the money disappear, Kate and her friends must unravel the clues, hold on to hope, and solve the mystery along the Blue Ribbon Trail Ride

I love when a book shocks me with it’s greatness, and that’s exactly what happened with Blue Ribbon Trail Ride.  It’s a quality mystery story for tween kids.  I love that it contains age-appropriate drama and suspense activity but doesn’t shy away from current events.  The world isn’t perfect, and Ferrell doesn’t portray it that way – but she attacks the plot with sensitivity and tact.  Drug abuse, hoarding, stealing, and lying are all a part of the story, but so are forgiveness, second chances, and true friendship.

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride is the kind of book I want my kids to read.  The kids are flawed but kind.  They work hard and aren’t afraid to try new things.  They mess up and get into trouble but readily confess and try to make things right.  They’re dreamers and planners and believe that the sky is the limit.

That’s what I want for my kids.  I don’t want them to see borders and boundaries on what they can do.  I want them to dream big ideas for ways that they can make the world a better place and help other people.  I want them to see potential friends in everyone, not just those who are very similar to themselves.  I want them to see helping other people as an endeavor that’s worthy of hard work and a big time investment, even when they don’t personally directly benefit.

All of these themes are contained in Blue Ribbon Trail Ride, and they’re carried throughout the entire series.  I was impressed from the very first page of the very first book with the diversity that they contain.  Kate’s little brother is autistic, her best friend is Hispanic, and other friends are former snobs, guys, the elderly, and kiddie nerds.  Unlike many commercials, though, it doesn’t feel forced – it feels real.  Our world is made up of many kinds of people, and that’s exactly who Kate befriends.  She doesn’t always make the kindest friends immediately, which is the next best thing about the book: her consideration of her own actions.

Kate’s not afraid to evaluate her own actions through fresh eyes.  She thinks about how her actions make others feel, how they might line up with scripture, what her parents might have to say about them, and considers them from the perspective of other people.  That might all sound boring and nerdy, and it’s not like she second-guesses every cookie that she eats, but face it:  friends are really important to tween kids, especially ones who are new to the neighborhood and are still settling in.  They read too much into body language and word choice and make mistakes; who doesn’t?  That’s what makes Kate so special, though:  she’s willing to admit to those mistakes and to try to make them right.

If your child hates horses, then s/he might not fall in love with Blue Ribbon Trail Ride as horses are integral to every book in the series; otherwise, s/he should definitely give this book a read.

Click here to read other reviews in this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Miralee Ferrell is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels. She and her husband live along the Columbia River Gorge in southern Washington State, where she enjoys riding the wooded trails and spending time with her grown children. In addition to horses and dogs, Miralee once owned two cougars.

Connect with Miralee: website, Twitter, Facebook

I received a free copy of this book from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.