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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Getting Colonial with Patrick Henry

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I love history.  I love field trips.  I really love when I can combine the two.  That’s why I was extra excited to find out that Patrick Henry’s final home was within an hour of our home.

Patrick Henry

Due to a busy and stressful week and the forecast of thunderstorms, I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind the night before the trip, though.  I even considered skipping it altogether.

I share that so you can understand just how amazing this field trip was – because it took a lot to get me out of my initial funk, but it wasn’t long before I was fully on board with this Patrick Henry’s mission.

Patrick Henry

I love taking the kids to living-history kinds of places because they can see and smell and hear things we can’t recreate at home.

The people at Red Hill went all out, though, because they let the kids participate in every. single. activity.

They got to TOUCH stuff, too. 

Not many living history places do that.  The artifacts are too delicate to allow mass quantities of people to touch them, but Red Hill made it happen.

Split into groups, we rotated through stations throughout the plantation, and our group began in a shelter at the edge of the forest, with the house and the mountains in sight, with Patrick Henry Jolly, great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the famous Patrick Henry.

Mr. Jolly spoke to us about his ancestor’s early life; about his education, work ethic, and family.  We learned about his most famous speeches and why he made them.  Even this presentation was interactive, however, because in the end we all stood and Mr. Jolly gave us an acting lesson so that we could get into the character of Patrick Henry.  We acted and recited a few lines from the famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech before getting autographs and moving on to our next station.

Patrick Henry

This one was even better (sorry, Mr. Jolly) because My Big Helper has wanted to learn to weave for years but has not been allowed to touch a loom at any of the events we’ve been to –  and it’s not a purchase that’s in our foreseeable future.  The teacher at this station taught another adult how to use the loom, and while some of the kids began to weave …

Patrick Henry

she worked with others at a spinning wheel.  It looked like quite a lot of fun – and after each student had made some yarn, she cut a piece off and tied it around their wrist to take home.  How cool is that?

Patrick Henry

The Colonial medicine station was particularly interesting to me, even though the weather worsened at this point.  We learned how to make tinctures, teas, salves, infusions, and decoctions.  I was seriously disappointed that the steady rain prevented us from going to the fire to make whatever they had prepared, because it sounded great to me. 

Patrick Henry

We were particularly amazed at the blacksmith’s shop, where, after learning about the importance of this trade for the survival of a plantation, each student was invited to don safety gear and attempt to make a nail.  To pound hot steel.  Flying sparks.  Hot tools.  For real.  This was exciting.

Patrick Henry

None of the students succeeded in making their own nail completely, but the blacksmith helped them all out, and each student left with a finished nail.

Patrick Henry

At the pottery shop, we learned about the history of pottery.  The students got to work with air-dry clay to make simple medallions that they could place on a necklace.

Patrick Henry

Then the real fun began, because each one got a turn at the kick-wheel to help shape this lump of clay.  Nobody knew what was being made, but by the time each student had followed the teacher’s directions, they had worked together to make a creamer, handle, spout, and all.

Patrick Henry

We also toured the house, visited the gift shop and museum, and had lunch, and at that point the organized homeschool day event was over – but we weren’t finished.

Having seen the family cemetery on the map, we headed over to check it out.  It is always interesting to me to see old gravestones, and we all enjoy studying the carving and thinking about the special people remembered by these stones.  My Big Helper made a bouquet of wildflowers and added them to the stone.

Patrick Henry

She found the flowers here, in the fields behind the house leading down to the Staunton River.  The buttercups were blooming and the fields were beautiful, and we all had fun running around and taking in the view.

Patrick Henry

Having met up with Patrick Henry again, he clued us in to a part of the plantation that wasn’t on our map – the Quarter Place Trail and the African-American cemetery.  This clearing in the forest was the slave cemetery prior to the Civil War, although some people continued to be buried there until 1923.  Marked only by forest rocks, there is little evidence that any number of graves exist here.  The location and difference in site from the other grave sites made for an interesting discussion on the way home.

Our trip to Red Hill taught us a great deal about a man who should be remembered for more than just a few famous words.  Patrick Henry didn’t just talk about his beliefs as many others did, but he took action at a time when that required great courage.  His bravery, intelligence, and ingenuity is what helped to shape both the American Revolution and this nation, and these are traits I hope to teach our children.

All in all, this was one of the best living history field trips we’ve taken in a very long time.  I can’t wait to go back.

Want to know more about Patrick Henry?  Check out this resource:

 

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Touring Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookie Factory

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Recently a friend organized a field trip to Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookie Factory.  How could we pass that up?

Moravian Cookies

I had never had a Moravian cookie before, so we were all excited to find out.  The factory is a few hours away, so we set out early in the morning, and we really had no idea what to expect.

Moravian Cookies

We soon found out that Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies is a family operation going back decades.  They use Mrs. Hanes’ original recipes and continue to make every single cookie by hand.  The cookies are mixed in giant mixers, then chilled and rolled, cut, and baked individually.

Moravian Cookies

These cookies come in six different flavors (the original ginger, sugar, black walnut, lemon, chocolate, and butterscotch) and ship all over the world.  In the back of the lobby is this special area where international orders are shipped out, and they mark each new country on the map above.

Quincy Jones places an order of cookies every year for Christmas.  A few years ago he gifted some to Oprah Winfrey, who then named them as one of her famous favorite things.  Ever since, cookie sales have exploded, and while you can order these yummy cookies any time, they spend the majority of the year baking to fill Christmas orders.

Moravian Cookies

Our tour guide was wonderful.  She took us to six different stations throughout the factory, teaching us about the process, the schedule it takes to prepare for Christmas and daily orders, and the history of the company.  She answered many questions from our little ones, too.

Moravian Cookies

The best part?  She gave us a whole cookie at each station, and we got to try all six flavors.  They’re all good, but the lemon and the chocolate are my personal favorites.

Moravian Cookies

In one part of the building, many pieces of Mrs. Hanes’ house exist to show visitors how the company began.  It was very interesting to see the original stove and materials that she used to bake these cookies.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to bake these paper-thin cookies in a wood-burning oven.  It must have taken serious skill!

Want to know more?  You can take a pictorial tour online here.  Don’t forget to order your cookies, too – they’re well worth it.

Check out these other Moravian resources:

 

When Art & Nature Journals Collide

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With sickness lingering and the grumpies encroaching, we all wanted something fun to do.  Since school was called off only because of nasty germs and not because we’d planned a break, I wanted something that would be fun enough to satisfy but studious enough to be considered school.  I still wanted that break, albeit later.  With sunny skies beckoning outside, I wanted to make good use of those, and so our science journals were calling my name – but then everyone would scatter.

While we enjoy doing those science journals, I anticipated complaints from those still feeling yucky about having to measure and detail anything specific.

Since I’d been wanting an art day for quite some time, this seemed the perfect time to break out the paint, but … springtime blooms screamed for study.

I decided to combine the two.

Science Journals

Instead of working on our traditional nature journals, I sent the kids out to find a pretty bloom.  My Big Helper came back with a beautiful dogwood blossom, and My Little Man found a tiny indigo flower with five petals.  They cheered when I pulled out canvases and paints.

We settled onto the deck with art supplies all around us, and with a good story going in the CD player, they got to work.  They painted and we listened and everyone worked for several hours.

Friends came to visit and we stopped to play.  In the end, tiredness won out and we resumed painting later.

But the kids were super excited to keep going by that point.

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Both kids continued to paint additional pictures after the first assignment, and both of them were careful to examine their flowers in detail and add those into their work.

I think we’ll be doing more collision-style art in the future.

Do you do nature journals?  I’d love to  hear about your style!

We typically use a simple notebook we decorated just for this purpose, but our canvas work this day was especially fun.  Here are some other things we incorporate to mix up our science work:

 

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4 Things to Learn from a Historical Reenactment

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Last week we had the opportunity to go to the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Guilford County Courthouse – a rural battle of the Revolutionary War between General Nathaniel Greene and Lord Cornwallis.

 Historical Reenactment

I’ve never been to a real battle reenactment before, and it was fascinating!  There are many things you can learn from living history events, and the same is true of a reenactment.

Historical Reenactment @ A Nest in the Rocks

Here’s why you should find one and attend with your family soon:

  1. Your senses take over.  Good books make you picture the scene, but you can’t truly image the scene until you’re there.  The smell of the gunpowder, the blasts of the cannons, the heat of the sun – there’s a lot happening out there, and it can overwhelm your senses.  I can’t imagine how confusing it must have been to be a soldier actually on the field, but it couldn’t have been easy to keep to your task with all of that going on.
  2. Battle strategy suddenly makes sense.  I’ve never really understood who goes where and why in a battle.  Reading about a thousand men moving up and down hills and the like is hard for me to picture, and I’m a very visual person.  Though I get that battles are rough and ugly, it was hard to imagine the purpose of the movement – until we had a front row seat.  The battle we witnessed was sped up to take about an hour.  We could SEE who was going after whom and why people had to move.  It was great!
  3. You can hear about it from an expert.  I had no idea that reenactments have narrators, but ours did!  He stood at the edge of the battlefield in full British uniform, microphone in hand, and explained everything we were watching.  We learned about the uniform colors, where each regiment came from, why people were going where – it was amazing.  We all learned more than we expected.
  4. The actors wake up afterwards.  Some little kids near us were concerned that people were dying for real – they were very young and couldn’t tell the difference at first – but it is all an act.  The soldiers that we saw were willing to answer questions and to pose for pictures afterwards.  Who knew you could get a photo with your favorite soldier?

What would you add?

Some people go all out for the reenactment.  Get your supplies here!

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

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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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This Is How We Roll Thursday Party

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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Getting Revolutionary at the Hillsborough Living History Day

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There are opportunities to live history all around you.

I didn’t realize just how many until we began to homeschool – and now we find more of them than we can attend.

We couldn’t pass up the Hillsborough Living History Day, though, and we’re super glad we went.

Live History

We got there just as the event was beginning and found some soldiers building fires and talking with the visitors. 

Live History

After checking them out, we headed into the visitors center, where a Native American was sharing about the tools he made in the traditional way with natural materials – and how well they worked.

Live History

Next we headed to a local school that had been run by a pastor’s wife before the Civil War.  Now a venue for local events and museum-like exhibits, there were crafts for kids on the porch.  My Big Helper learned how to make a knitting Nancy and practiced for the rest of the day.  She loved it!

Live History

Inside, a traditional dancing group from Durham was doing demonstrations – and after they finished, they taught people who wanted to learn.  My Big Helper jumped in and danced two different dances with them.  It looked pretty difficult to me, but she said it’s easier than it looks.

Live History

Back outside, we found more crafts – and these were a bit more boy-friendly.  My Little Man made a bull whistle and loved twirling it to make the sound.

Live History

Walking on stilts isn’t easy – even this kind.  With games of the era spread out across the large lawn, the kids played graces and tried to master these stilts.  Even though My Big Helper worked on these for quite some time, she was only able to take about five steps with any surety.  She’s still trying to figure out how to convince her daddy to help her make a set for at home.

Live History

On our way back to the visitor’s center, we stumbled across an old cemetery and decided to explore it a bit.  We discovered that William Hooper, one of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence from North Carolina, is buried here.  We found a tour group inside the walls who was able to point us in the right direction.  The kids were amazed at how weathered the stone was – and to be standing beside the grave of someone who had such an important role in the founding of our country.  We’re hoping to go back for an official tour someday.

Live History

Even though we visit Hillsborough often, we had no idea there was so much Revolutionary War history in the area.  We had a great time visiting the stations throughout town – and the dancers even clued us in to a much bigger re-enactment happening in Greensboro soon – and we can’t wait to go to that one, too.

You can learn so much by visiting living history events.  I love that there are so many of them in our area.  What sorts of history can you live near you?

For more information about getting your hands dirty in history, check out these Revolutionary resources:

 

Studying Flight at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center

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A few weeks ago my son heard about a special event called “Take Flight” being held at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  The event was described as having scientists on hand to answer questions and stations where you could perform your own experiments and was in celebration of their new show by the same name.

Do your own science experiments!  That totally caught My Little Man’s attention, and he asked earnestly to go.

Why say ‘no’ to a kid asking to do science?

We went.

Studying Flight

The first stations we found were on the lawn outside.  UNC students were manning stations with different tools to create flight.  We spent the most time at this one, where you could try to fly different objects.  These heavy foam planes flew really well.

Morehead Planetarium

My big Helper preferred this thing that looked like a dowel with high wings.  I have no idea what it was called, but she figured out how to make it fly well and spent lots of time seeing how high and far she could make it go.  It was a really neat gadget!

DH got into this, too, and pretty soon they were all finding ways to make the flying objects go further.

There were other things, too – kites and huge foam planes and Frisbees – but these were our favs.

Morehead Planetarium

When we headed inside we found many more stations for experimentation: a chemical station to change bouncy balls into flying objects, another where you could study the wing action of a certain moth, building stations with Legos, paper airplane construction sites, and rocket balloons.  We wanted to do all of these, but our time was short, and so we headed into the Science Stage room to be sure we got seats, and it’s a good thing we did – every seat was full long before the show began!

The Science Stage shows at the Morehead Planetarium are great.  The ones we’ve seen have all been taught by UNC science students, and they’ve done an excellent job of teaching scientific principles in fun ways.  The Take Flight show was no different.

Our teacher taught about the four principles of flight (weight, lift, drag, and thrust) and performed simple experiments to demonstrate each one.  By the time we left, I felt as if we had really learned something – and no textbook was needed.

That was the perfect set-up for our next activity.  We went to the GlaxoSmithKline Full Dome theater to see the new show Take Flight for ourselves.  It was very quirky in style and admittedly not my favorite show there, but it emphasized the four principles of flight well.  Also featured was information about the history of flight and ideas about what kind of flight innovations might be coming in the future.

By the time the included star show had ended, the Take Flight event was nearly over, too.  The kids were sad to leave but excited to come home and try to improve the flight of their kites, planes, and Frisbees.

Attending the event was well worth it, and the Morehead Planetarium holds many such events throughout the year.  I’ll definitely be watching the calendar for the next one.

Are their local science centers or museums that might hold great learning events suitable for your family?

Want to know more about flight?  Check out these great resources!

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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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