A FREE Field Trip + Chocolate Unit

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Videri, a fair-trade and locally-owned chocolate factory in downtown Raleigh, NC, makes for a fantastic field trip.  The self-guided tour is a fun way to see the chocolate process in action, but if you’re not close enough to drop by on your own, I have great news!

FREE Field Trip + Unit Study @ A Nest in the Rocks

Gypsy Road is featuring our trip to Videri on their blog today – along with lots of resources for creating your own chocolate unit – and most of them are FREE!  Hop on over and check it out!

Of course, if you want more information about Videri, you can go here to read more about our trip.  The resources below are also some of our chocolate-y favorites.


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Stealing Magic”

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This week the girls took their turn at Stealing Magic, the second book in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone.

While the boys read this book last week, the girls took a very different approach to it.

Book Club Girls Edition Stealing Magic

After discussing the story, we moved right into painting.  Jack and Ruthie traveled to Paris in 1837 during one of their visits to the Sixty-Eight Rooms, and so we focused on Parisian culture during this meeting. 

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Each girl brought a canvas to the party.  We covered our kitchen table with a bright purple tablecloth and got to work.  We painted Eiffel Tower backlit with a sunset.  I loved listening to the girls compliment each other’s work throughout this process.  They also all chose to put their own unique spin on it.  Some went for heavy texture while others worked for smooth, realistic colors.  Their paintings turned out great!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

By the time we finished painting, everyone was hungry.  We broke out the crepe supplies and mixed up a batch of Creative Crepes.  Everyone chose to make two, and they all made their own.  These girls have skills – they flipped wonderful, thin, round crepes!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

It’s hard to top strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream – and so that’s how we topped our crepes.

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the RocksAfterwards, we headed outside since the weather was pretty warm.  I showed the girls how to roll newspaper into short, medium, and long tubes, then asked them to build a kid-sized Eiffel Tower.  Although they rolled lots of tubes, they ran out of time before they were able to finish.  Judging from the huge amount of rolled newspaper still in my house, however, this project was a hit – and My Big Helper continues to plan new structures.

There are many opportunities for learning within the pages of Stealing Magic.    We tapped only one avenue of this – there’s so much more to explore.  Give Stealing Magic a try – it’s definitely worth the read.

What are your kids reading this month?

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Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “Stealing Magic”



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I was really excited about this month’s book pick.  I love when the kids love a particular book enough to request the next in the series, and that’s how we ended up reading Stealing MagicThe second in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone, this story continues Ruthie and Jack’s adventures in this famous museum exhibit.

We started out by summarizing and discussing the story, and this one is ripe for great discussion.  We talked about heroes, idols, and what happens when those people fall off pedestals.  We talked about what trustworthy means and how we can tell who is.  Lastly, we talked about what the Bible has to say about the goodness of people and who He finds to be trustworthy.

Deep stuff, right?

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

 Then we got our hands dirty.  We headed to the kitchen and made crepes since one of the places Ruthie and Jack visited through the Rooms was Paris in 1837.  We mixed up the crepe batter together and the boys cleaned and capped strawberries.  Each kid made his own crepe and topped it with his choice of fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, and whipped cream.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

The boys made small crepes, but apparently they had big flavor – every boy had seconds (also made himself).

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

Sticking with the Parisian theme, I challenged the boys to build the Eiffel Tower – out of mini marshmallows and spaghetti noodles.  They were pretty excited about this, and each team tackled the challenge a different way.  Some tried to stay very true to the shape of the Tower, while others just attempted to build structures.  It was fun to watch the excitement on the boys’ faces, and I love seeing how their spatial skills came into play with this activity.

Stealing Magic is a great book, and in the end the boys requested the third one in in the series, so we’ll be tackling that one soon.  In the meantime, come back next week to find out how the girls interacted with this same book!


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Toliver’s Secret”

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We’re studying the Revolutionary War era right now, and so this month our girls read

After reading the story, we jumped right into it.  I taught the girls a new code, and they used their books to write out their own messages.  The girls got really into it and spent a long time writing out detailed messages.  Then I divided two big batches of bread dough between all of the kids, and they formed their own loaves of bread around the messages, just like Ellen’s grandfather did in the story.

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the RocksAfter the bread came out of the oven, we headed out into the yard to experience Ellen’s rough spy journey.  First, we played “Keep Away” with a few loaves of bread to simulate Ellen’s fight with and subsequent flight from the bullies who stole her bread.  The girls laughed really hard during this game and tried hard to hold their bread tightly – they were all so excited about eating their bread that they didn’t want to risk dirtying it!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

After taking the boat across the bay, Ellen had to dodge many obstacles in her effort to deliver the secret message.  We simulated that with an obstacle course and races.  The girls ran through the yard, circling trees, climbing play equipment, and heading up and down hills in an effort to cross the finish line first. 

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

DSCN4772Weren’t they cute?

The girls really enjoyed Toliver’s Secret.  I liked the fact that they were so excited to dive into the 1770s – and they had fun learning, too.

What are your kids reading right now?

Great Science Stories for Elementary Readers

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My kids love science, but they love to read, too.   They get especially excited when those two subjects collide.  These are some of our very favorite science-based adventure books.

Great Science Stories for Elementary Readers @ A Nest in the Rocks

Currently, there are only a few books/series on this list – because I have very high standards.  While science can be pulled into many, many books, the ones on this list are focused on hard science.  They’re the best that I’ve found so far.


Edison’s Gold is a fantastic book about the fictional great-great-grandson of Thomas Edison and his efforts to uncover secrets buried by his ancestor and a secret society.  Tom uses his scientific knowledge to unravel secret codes and dig his way out of trouble spots, much like McGuyver on the old TV show.

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself is a part of the Nick and Tesla series.  Written by a pair of scientists, each book in the series contains several sets of experiment plans.  They’re written simply but are very engaging to kids.  The books themselves are exciting but written simply; however, they’re easy to read and convey fun scientific information – definitely worth a read.  New books continue to be written in the series:

Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself

Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular: A Mystery with Animatronics, Alien Makeup, Camera Gear, and Other Movie Magic You Can Make Yourself!

Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle

Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself

Copernicus Legacy (3 Book Series) is an exciting, Indiana-Jones style set of books.  The Kaplan family stumbles upon a centuries-old mystery involving a machine built by Copernicus and hidden by other scientists of the era.  There are great pieces of historical and scientific information between each action-packed scene.

The Copernicus Archives #1: Wade and the Scorpion’s Claw is a novella connected with the Copernicus Legacy.  There is a Copernicus Archive book, which is much shorter in length than the Legacy books, that was written between each Legacy one.  These are just as good as the longer books and also feature historical scientists.


What would you add to this list?

Book Club: “The Sign of the Beaver”

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We kicked off our new year of book club events with a fantastic story:  ,

10 Adventure Stories for Elementary Readers

Disclosure Pic   10 Adventure Stories for Elementary Readers @ A Nest in the Rocks   My kids love to read adventure stories, and I love how enthused they get about reading when they find a good one.  There are also great lessons to be learned from adventure stories – lessons about being brave in the face of danger, of trusting God when the path is unknown, and of embracing new things, among others.   There are the character-building lessons and literature ideas you learn from these books, too. So for the past month I’ve read lots and lots of kids’ books to find the perfect ones for our book club meetings and school plans.  these yet, they should be added to your TBR pile immediately. 1.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein  This story features middle-school characters but is I’ve tested out many more books than I’ve chosen, too, because I’m a picky reader, and I have high expectations for what my kids read.  The following list includes my most favorite adventure stories for upper elementary readers, though, and if you haven’t read clean and fun.  The characters are involved in a Survivor-like contest in a high-tech new library and must figure out an escape from a series of well-formulated clues to win an enormous price.  2.  Capture the Flag by Kate Messner  This is the first book in a trilogy about a secret society of people descended from the world’s greatest artists and whose mission it is to protect their ancestors’ work from  those who seek to steal or destroy it.  The main characters are  three unlikely kids, all with different skills and talents, who work together to bring down some serious art thieves.  3.  The Secret Island by Enid Blyton  This is another first-in-a-series, this time about kids who are living in poor foster situations and decide to run away together to live on an island in the middle of a nearby lake.  They build shelters, cook for themselves, store food for the winter, and otherwise survive on their own for months.  It’s a great story of survival skills and working together. 4. The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein  This Grabenstein book also features older characters and touts great literature.  How real are the things we imagine?  Can our imaginations fuel real change to our world?  These themes are explored when the main character writes himself into many classic stories and barely escapes with his life over and over again.  5.  The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone  This first book, and the three that follow it, follow two kids through adventures through time, righting wrongs and learning about history.  Their time travels are centered around the Sixty-Eight Rooms, a real exhibit in a Chicago museum.  Find out how to turn this story into a real learning adventure here.  6.  George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff  I’ve always had a thing for time travel, as evidenced by several of these choices, but that’s because it’s a great vehicle for bringing the excitement of history alive.  Woodruff does that in this story by sending a group of friends back in time to the night that Washington crossed the Delaware.  In the melee, they are helped by Native Americans, run into Redcoats, are captured by Hessians, and rescued by Patriots.  How much more excitement could you handle in one night??   7.  Honus and Me by Dan Gutman  While time travel is my thing, sports are not – and yet I love this series.  The main character, a tween boy, has the ability to travel through time with old baseball cards, and in each book of the series he travels to a different time and place, meeting the old greats and trying to correct wrongs – all while learning about the history of baseball.  Of course, things never go as planned, and he’s captured by mobsters, lost without money, chased by angry managers, and much more.   Find out how to turn this story into a real-life learning adventure here.  8.  Edison’s Gold by Geoff Watson  This is one of my son’s favorite books.  When Thomas Edison’s a-bunch-of-greats-grandson learns of his ancestor’s secret discovery, he and his friends race to find and save it – before the competition destroys his family.  With explosions, chase scenes, and neat science tricks, it’s a super fun story – and you’ll learn something, too. Find out how to turn this story into a real-life adventure here.

 9.  Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach  This story, and the rest of the trilogy, explore the mysterious past of a real mountain range in Arizona.  With legends abounding, as well as a race to find a lost gold mine, you won’t be able to put this series down.

 10.  Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett  This story will make you think, as the author combines history, art, and philosophy – but she does so amidst the biggest art heist in history, and when some kids discover the trail to the thief, adventures fly.  Find out more about how to turn this book into a learning adventure here.    


Do your kids like adventure stories?  Which are their favorites?  

Book Club: “Mystery of Biltmore House”

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Book club took an interesting turn this month – a really BIG turn.  A Biltmore-sized turn.

We read

The story is about a group of kids trying to solve a crime inside the famous Biltmore mansion.  Several other locations around Asheville were also mentioned in the book, making this a great way to learn about the mountain region of North Carolina.

We started out by summarizing the story and discussing the characters’ actions, and there was a lot to talk about!  Since gargoyles were described in detail by the author, we talked about the history of these stone carvings – about how true gargoyles have water shooting out of their mouths, and about how other statues are called grotesques

Of course, after all of that talk about ugly, scary statues, we had to make our own.

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

I made a few batches of salt dough and gave each kid a ball of it.  Some asked for drinking straws so that they could make them spit water.


Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

The kids got really into their sculpting.

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Didn’t they come out well?

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Next the kids split into their book club teams – boys versus girls – to go on a nature scavenger hunt.  They searched for all of the plants mentioned in the book, as well as some local wildflowers.  My Big Helper was happy to find tulip poplars …

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

and all of the kids searched hard to find more plants than the other group.  Each one was able to find several plants that were new to them!

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Finally, we talked about the wide variety of rooms that can be found in Biltmore House and about some of the ways that it was ahead of its time technologically.  Then the kids paired up to design their own dream homes.  Some of them tried to make simple, large houses.  The duo above, though, got all into it.  They drew a house on wheels with a pool, vending machines that spit out their favorite foods, and staircases to the moon and the sun.  They got really creative!

Become a Published Author with Lulu


Become a Published Author with Lulu

Taking school on the road is one of the great perks about homeschooling.  Nothing can match being out in the real world, learning about something from an expert who lives and breathes the subject.  We’ve met some pretty great ones through the years, but last week we met a bunch of them all at once.

We visited Lulu.com in Raleigh, the first open publishing company.  Lulu provides a wide variety of services, including publishing print and digital books to creating book ‘kids’ to help kids become published authors.  We hoped to find out exactly how books get published, and we learned that – and much, much more.

Become a Published Author with Lulu @ A Nest in the Rocks

Nestled on a busy street near a college campus, Lulu’s home matches the people who work there.  It’s a mix of modern and renovation, full of light and energy. 

Our tour began in a conference room with juice and doughnuts.  Many of the kids were won over right there.  To make it even better, a Foosball table and basketball game rounded out the room.  Lulu values creativity and isn’t afraid to play when inspiration is needed.  How much fun must it be to work there?

Glenn Hunt, senior technical writer for Lulu, kicked off our tour by sharing the history of the company and the way that this open publishing system works.  Lulu prints on demand, so there is no stash of books waiting to be sold anywhere – instead, they work with printers around the world to get your book to you soon after it’s ordered.   Their website allows you to plan every aspect of the books that you publish so that you retain complete control over your work – as well as 80% of the profit.  Wow!

Become a Published Author with Lulu @ A Nest in the Rocks

Next we took off for a tour of the building and each department.  We learned about the complexities involved in running an international business from a financial standpoint, about the creative services offered by Lulu, about customer service, new products, and computer engineering. 

Become a Published Author with Lulu @ A Nest in the Rocks

After our tour, we headed back to the conference room to prepare our own stories.  Lulu was super generous and gave each student a publishing kit.  Several employees came out to help the students plan their stories.  They talked about characters and plot, about storyboards and flow.  The kids loved it!

Become a Published Author with Lulu @ A Nest in the Rocks

There’s nothing like being inspired to write by people who publish books every day.

Since leaving Lulu, I’ve heard that several of these students want to grow up to work at Lulu.  They were impressed by the creativity and teamwork.  Several more are hard at work creating stories and can’t wait to see the finished product. 

Our visit to Lulu was excellent.  They went above and beyond the call of duty to teach us about the publishing world.  The staff at Lulu planned our visit with exacting detail, and I can only expect that they put the same care and attention into their work. 

Thank you, Lulu, for setting such a great example of innovative professionals – and for opening your doors to our group.  You gave our students a fabulous experience – and great lessons we couldn’t learn from our classrooms.

To learn more about publishing with Lulu, click here.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The 100-Year-Old Secret”

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I love book club days, and this group of girls is always fun.  This month was no exception as we delved into Edison’s Gold""“>Edison’s Gold, which we had a blast working with last summer, but while that book focused heavily on the exciting aspects of history and science, this one centered around art and relationships.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

There is lots of meat for discussion with this book.  What is theft?  Who owns art?  Can missing art be recovered after a long period of time?  To what lengths is it okay to go to find stolen goods?

After hashing out the answers to those questions, we headed into the kitchen to make a British treat.  The book does take place in London, after all, and Zena and Zander often mention their confusion at the differences between American and British food names.  We chose to make cinnamon scones, and the girls worked together to prepare the dough and get them oven ready.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

While they were baking, we moved on to our next project.  Knowing that picture frames were, at some points in history, nearly as much of a work of art as the painting or drawing they contained, we decided to build our own gilded frames, like the ones holding the infamous “Girl with the Purple Hat.”  I pre-cut large cardboard frames, leaving wide edges so they could hold lots of texture.  I put ditalini, spaghetti noodles, and old yarn on the table, as well as dishes of Elmer’s glue.  The kids dipped these objects into the glue and then positioned them on the frames in patterns to create different textures.  When they were finished, I spray-painted them to achieve a solid color frame with a ‘carved’ look.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

When their frames were gilded, the girls moved onto portrait work.  We talked about proportion and scale in faces and body figures, and then the girls chose a friend to paint.  We set up easels with big paper and palettes of paint, and after sketching out their people with some light-colored chalk, they set to work.

After creating some super colorful portraits, we headed back into the kitchen to eat our scones.  They were a hit – just like this book.

What are your kids reading now?