NEW! A Linked Unit Study for Elise Broach’s “The Wolf Keepers”

Every once in a while, I read a book that I grabs all of my attention and screams to be used for fun with kids.  I love taking those books and turning them into fun unit studies for educational purposes, and Elise Broach’s new book The Wolf Keepers is just such a book.

Elise Broach

A high-stakes middle grade historical adventure through Yosemite National Park by the New York Times-bestselling author of Masterpiece.

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it’s a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home. The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.

Elise Broach has written a fantastic novel around the real life story of John Muir!  I love the approach she takes with his mystery, and she deepens the story by adding layers upon layers of moral dilemmas.  While the story is suspenseful, it stays upbeat, even when there are large things afoot, making it the perfect book to carry deep, yet kid-friendly discussions.

Elise Broach

So what will you find in a unit study for The Wolf Keepers?

  • a vocabulary puzzle with answer key
  • discussion/comprehension questions by chapter
  • creative and expository writing prompts
  • research projects for history, science, math, and biographies
  • poetry and literature activities
  • art projects
  • a recipe

This work can be done individually or cooperatively.  You could assign all of it or just certain projects.  Students can work at their own pace, and safe links are provided to ensure a safe Internet experience.

The Wolf Keepers would make a fantastic book club book, as well!  

If you want to grab a copy of this unit study, you’ll find it here.

Happy reading!


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.

Learning to Write with Author Jenny L. Cote

Disclosure Pic

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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A Little R & R


1 Easy Way to Teach about the American Southwest

Disclosure Pic

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

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 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.

Write Your Own Thanksgiving Psalm

One thing that I love about homeschooling is the flexibility to go with the flow when inspiration strikes, and sometimes that springs from the scripture I read during my own early morning quiet time.

Write Your Own Thanksgiving Psalm

A few months ago, when I was reading the Psalms, I was struck by the repetition in Psalm 103.  I liked the detail, the way that David listed what he was thankful for, and it reminded me of parts of the New Testament and how we are to give thanks always.  I decided that this would be a great way for us to recognize just how many blessings God showers upon us, and so the Psalm 103-Bradsher-style began.

We started with a roll of easel paper and our favorite smelly markers.  We chose to keep the first and last stanza of the psalm but to make our own list in between.  We also kept the sentence “May we never forget the good things He does for us.”  I acted as scribe so that the kids could think creatively and not worry about spelling or grammar.

They soon were shouting out things they were grateful for, and as their list grew longer, their sentences became more poetic.  After writing a full door-length worth of blessings, we ended our psalm as David did.  

Then the kids took the smelly markers and drew small pictures near the nouns in their psalm.  They made it colorful, and by the time they were done, it was a great visual reminder of God’s provision.

We’re definitely going to do this again.

Want to see the real Psalm 103?  Here it is – the parts in bold are what we kept in ours.


Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.

He forgives all my sins

    and heals all my diseases.

He redeems me from death

    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

He fills my life with good things.

    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

The Lord gives righteousness

    and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

He revealed his character to Moses

    and his deeds to the people of Israel.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

He will not constantly accuse us,

    nor remain angry forever.

10 He does not punish us for all our sins;

    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our sins as far from us

    as the east is from the west.

13 The Lord is like a father to his children,

    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

14 For he knows how weak we are;

    he remembers we are only dust.

15 Our days on earth are like grass;

    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

16 The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.

17 But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.

His salvation extends to the children’s children

18     of those who are faithful to his covenant,

    of those who obey his commandments!

19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;

    from there he rules over everything.

20 Praise the Lord, you angels,

    you mighty ones who carry out his plans,

    listening for each of his commands.

21 Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels

    who serve him and do his will!

22 Praise the Lord, everything he has created,

    everything in all his kingdom.

Let all that I am praise the Lord.


Have you ever written your own psalm?


Write Your Own Irish Blessings

Okay, I realize that if you write them yourself, they won’t really be Irish (unless you are) but this is a fun introduction to poetry and a way to think about others while studying a neat aspect of Irish culture.

We began by reading some traditional Irish blessings.  We found a bunch over here.  Of course, we had to read my favorite: 

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Then we set to work.  We always send ‘Happy Saint Patrick’s Day’ cards to our relatives, so we broke out the white and green paper, the rubber stamps and ink pads, and some stickers.  I let the kids create their cards however they wanted, as long as they wrote a message inside.  My Big Helper’s had to contain some kind of blessing.  
At first she wanted to copy blessings from the website, but we continued to talk about the format.  The neat thing about many Irish blessings, practically speaking, is that they follow a simple pattern.  “May you” followed by a good thing.  Soon she wanted to write her own.
My Big Helper got creative with this.  She really had fun with this assignment, and I think each card will bring a smile when it’s opened.  
Have you ever ‘studied’ Irish blessings?  What would you include in one?

Field Work Friday – How to Write a Story

This week we met at our local library to learn about story writing.  Children’s Librarian Amanda Weaver started out by reading a Toot and Puddle book, and then she shared a story that she had written as a child.


Next she talked with the children about the important parts of a story: the characters, the conflict, and the resolution.  They also discussed the parts of a printed book, such as the cover, the spine, the words, and the illustrations.
Amanda had prepared simple story pages for each child, and after distributing the pages and crayons, the kids set out to write their own story.  They had some really creative ideas and were eager to share their work, so they decided to read them to each other.
Even the very youngest of children had something to say, and with a little help, they got their words on paper and shared them with our group.
It’s never to early to begin writing!