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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Tell it to Me Tuesdays

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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Field Work Friday: Historic Williamsburg

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We’ve been studying the Colonial period and the American Revolution recently, so we were especially excited to have the opportunity to visit Historic Williamsburg.


No matter how many books we read or videos we watch, it’s just not the same as seeing inside a historic home.


I can’t recreate the same kinds of authentic experiences at home, surrounded by electronic gizmos and modern technology, that this woman can with her simple fire and cast iron.


The Governor’s Mansion was beautiful, and our tour guide knew all the details.


The kids were especially fascinated with why it was decorated with so many weapons.


This brickmaker was quite proud of being in charge of all of the brickworks.  He explained how difficult it was to make bricks by hand, how long it took, and why this building material was crucial to the survival of this town.


After a demonstration, the kids were allowed to go and tread the clay to get it ready to be made into bricks.  I’m not sure I’d like this project, but it was the favorite part of their day!


We visited the stocks and talked about this form of colonial punishment.  I’m not sure the kids quite comprehended out awful this would have been back then, but everyone was taking their pictures, and nobody was throwing rotten veggies, either.


While there, we heard about a science tour at the local museum.  The kids were determined to go, and it turned out to be a really great tour!  This telescope was just mentioned in a book My Big Helper read immediately before our trip, and she was super excited to see such an old piece in person.


The museum also had a large display of weapons through the ages, and all of the kids loved examining and comparing them.


Why are field trips so great?  You sure can’t see this in my living room.

How do you add reality to your history studies?

Want to know more about this area?  Check out these books:


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, Boys’ Edition: “The Map Trap”

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This month’s book has my son studying his atlas and planning for a cross-country trip.


We read The Map Trap by Andrew Clements.  It’s about a boy who adores maps and is being blackmailed by someone after making all sorts of really creative ones.

Of course, we had to do that.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Map Trap @ A Nest in the Rocks

After summarizing and discussing the book at length, we dove right in – with human body maps.  We talked about caricatures and the boys drew themselves with either enlarged heads or torsos.  Then they filled in that space with pictures – with either the things they think about or the foods they like to eat.  Although drawing is not always their favorite activity, they were excited to create a new kind of map and got busy drawing right away.

Of course, they were even more excited to go geocaching like Alton from The Map Trap.

Each boy brought six pieces of swag that represented himself.  We talked about signatures and labels and they marked each piece of their swag with their mark.  Then we talked about bike safety and broke up into pairs.

The boys put on their helmets and packed their swag into bags and pockets and headed outside.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Map Trap @ A Nest in the Rocks

Earlier that day, I hid 6 bags containing simple swag items around our neighborhood.  I also made maps of the neighborhood and overlaid a grid on top.  Since we did not have enough GPS units for each group, we needed another way to simulate a geocaching activity, and this was it.  I gave each team of boys a set of coordinates to mimic the latitude and longitude of a regular geocache target, and then each team examined a map to figure out where that was.  They headed to their specific target to search for the swag bags. 

Each bag was labeled with another set of coordinates.  When the boys found a bag, they swapped out their swag for the swag inside and then memorized the new coordinates.  They studied the map to find the new coordinates and took off again.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Map Trap @ A Nest in the Rocks

The boys loved this activity!  They chased down caches for two hours – until they had found every single one.  They worked well together in their teams and were generous with their swag.  It was a super fun book, and there are many learning activities available to accompany it.

They’re also interested in reading more of Andrew Clements’ work.  We’ll definitely be trying out more of them.

What are your kids reading this month?

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Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab”

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This month we ventured where we’ve never gone before – into the field of hard-core science.  We read

Then we started building.  We started out building this electromagnet.  Each boy tested it to see how many big paperclips he could lift, and our top number was five.

When we started building an anti-intruder door alarm.  This gadget was definitely trickier, and as science and circuits are not my thing, it took us a while to get it figured out.  By the time we got it, our time was running short, and everyone was excited about our last project, so we moved on quickly – to build a rocket car.

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Nick and Tesla"

Like the intruder alarm, the rocket car was a bit more complicated than expected.  We repeated the experiment several times, modifying it each time, each with greater success than the last.  (We’ve now figured out how to correct these issues before the girls’ club meets this week.)

While we didn’t get the amazing results we hoped for with the experiments, at least some of the kids went home and did research to figure out how to improve the projects.   They loved

They set up camp first.  There were three dads, six book club boys, and one little brother.  They pitched four tents and gathered firewood, and then we settled down to discuss the story.  The boys had lots to say about who the villains were in the story.  Woodruff does an excellent job of portraying the humanity of the soldiers in each army, and the boys caught that information.  They chose sticks to whittle for roasting their hot dogs for dinner and went on a long hike.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "George Washington's Socks" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They spent a lot of time at the water – throwing in sticks, rocks, and whatever else they could find.  One mom rented a canoe and a kayak, and the boys took turns paddling around this part of the lake.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "George Washington's Socks" @ A Nest in the RocksThere was a lot of running around and yelling and playing-with-sticks and general boyish craziness, too.  It all resulted in lots of fun. 

I think this is one book club event that will be remembered for a very long time.

What are your kids reading right now?

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?