Soil Acidity Test

Earth Science Unit Study
Week 17: We tested the acidity of garden soil with cabbage water.

Acidity levels in soil are one variable which can lead to a successful or unsuccessful garden. Most plants prefer neutral PH levels around 7. Soil located under pine trees is often acidic and using nitrogen fertilizers can lead to acidic soil issues.

At our previous residence there was a pine tree located very close to a plum tree which never produced any plums. One year the pine tree was chopped down, and the next year the plum tree was loaded. At our current residence there was a similar incident. A garden located near a pine tree produced very little and contained few worms and life. One year the pine tree became a Christmas tree for the local church and the next year the garden thrived. 

Water dyed dark purple, which is produced upon boiling red cabbage in water can be used to determine if a substance is basic or acidic. Bases will turn shades of blue and green, while acids turn pink. Here's a color chart for cabbage water PH.

Before testing the soil, we used some of the cabbage water to test milk, dish soap, lemon juice and vinegar. The results indicated that the milk had a PH around 4, dish soap around 9, and lemon juice and vinegar around 1.

Like so many science experiments, this project didn't work well the first time and needed to be repeated. Six samples of soil were gathered from around the yard and cabbage water was added to each one. Unfortunately some of the containers used to gather soil had holes in the bottom and the water ran right out. (ha, ha, the joke was on me I think.)  In addition, the colored containers created difficulty in viewing the samples.

Repeating the experiment, water bottles with the tops removed were used. They worked much better.

The results indicated that all six samples were basic with acidity levels around 9.

Don't miss the previous Earth Science posts. They are all available on our Science Page.

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Triptych Painting Project for Kids

Week 16: We made triptych paintings.

Medieval artists such as Jan Van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch painted triptychs. A triptych is a three paneled painting which can be closed for transport. They are often seen in medieval churches and were commissioned decorative pieces for the wealthy.

Triptychs were the most popular form, but artists also created diptychs (two paneled paintings) and polyptychs (multi-paneled paintings) such as the one from Schloss Stolzenfels shown above.

Using triptychs, both Van Eyck and Bosch painted many religious scenes. Often portraits of heaven were found on the left panel, Earth in the center panel and hell on the right panel.

Hieronymus Bosch's paintings contained many mythical creatures and they have a cartoon-like feel. The documentary Hieronymus Bosch and the Delights of Hell explains the meaning behind the symbols in his paintings, but is not a video I recommend for young children.

Van Eyck was among the first to use oil paints. Light was an important element in his works and the source always shown from the left. His paintings give a perception of depth and are filled with details such as the back of the newly married couple reflected in the mirror in the Arnolfini Wedding.

Van Eyck from Belgium and Bosch from the Netherlands; it's interesting that both painters were from the same region of Europe.

After learning a little about these two medieval painters, we created our own triptychs.

First heavy sheets of card stock paper were measured, marked in fourths, and the ends were folded into the center to serve as the frame

Second, a form for the frame was sketched onto the folded card stock and cut out to create the decorative edge of the frame.

Third, the card stock sections were traced onto plain paper and cut slightly smaller than the frame to create canvases for the paintings.

Panels of triptychs tend to be related images. Sometimes they contain similar views of the same subject painted at different distances. Other times they are constructed of similar items. After selecting a theme for the triptychs, the designs were sketched in. Here are some theme ideas:

Trees or flowers in different seasons
The same animal in different positions
Fourth of July Images such as a flag, fireworks and a parade
Medieval theme - Castle, knight, and a cathedral

 In painting the designs, the use of contrasting warm and cool colors was discussed.

 My six year old chose a unicorn theme. She drew unicorns in three different positions and in the center and right hand panel used contrasting warm and cool colors for her unicorn and background.

My ten year old selected a seasons theme and painted a tree in each season contrasting background and tree colors.

The kids have really enjoyed our weekly art projects.. To see them please visit our Arts and Crafts Page.

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Learning Styles

Parents who have more than one child quickly realize that what works for one child does not necessarily work for another. Among other things learning style tends to vary between children. While some learn well by listening (verbal), others do better by watching someone else (visual) and still others must figure things out for themselves (logic). There are seven dominate learning styles and most children lean towards one method. Knowing and understanding the learning style of the child can make educating that child much easier and more effective. Just as the child favors different learning styles, educational materials and curriculum tend to be more suited for educating specific learning styles.

Visual - Learn with the eyes - reading, watching videos, observing the world
Aural - Learn with music; rhythm and pitch - songs, rhyme, poetry, lyrical language
Verbal - Learn with words - understands word meaning - reading, writing, mnemonics, audio stories
Physical - Learn by moving and doing - crafts, dancing, sports, building models, repair
Logical - Learns by thinking, reasoning, recognizing patterns, categorizing
Social - Thinks out loud, works well in groups and by sharing ideas with others
Solitary - Thinks before speaking, analyzes situations and problems

Learning styles have to do with how information is absorbed and processed. Because we absorb information through the senses, the more senses involved in learning, the better information is remembered; Seeing (Visual), Hearing (Verbal and Aural), Touching (Physical). Some people process information through reflection in a quiet environment (Solitary), while others bounce their ideas off people to gauge their reaction (Social). Although one learning style may be dominant, most children are readily able to learn using a variety of learning styles.

The best way to determine the child's dominant learning style is through observation. Think back to when the child was learning to walk, potty training and playing as a young toddler. My son used to get on his hands and knees in the kitchen while he opened and closed the drawers for hours on end. He was observing the slide mechanism of the drawer trying to figure out how it worked. He displays traits of logical, visual, and physical learners.

On the other hand, my oldest daughter almost always did as she was told. If we were leaving the house and both children received the same instructions - "Go brush your teeth, grab a snack, get a warm jacket because it's getting cold outside, and bring something to do in the car," my daughter would have done everything and be waiting in the car, while my son would be in the living room fiddling with something, or if I was lucky, he would be in the car, but without a jacket of course. He is not a verbal learner. Everyone has a preferred learning style.

Traditional education methods tend to favor verbal and visual learners. To educate a class the teacher gives a lecture (the verbal learners are learning), and then gives a homework assignment which involves reading (the visual learners are learning). Often times the logical learners never get the chance they need to figure the information out for themselves and the physical learners don't get enough opportunity for hands-on activities.

If a child is struggling with academics, it doesn't mean the child is not smart. It may mean the child has a learning disability, but it may also mean that the child's dominate learning style is not being well stimulated.

I learned this the hard way. As I mentioned, my older daughter is a strong verbal learner. She also learns well visually. Hence, when I began educating her using many of Charlotte Mason's principles, which relay heavily on reading, she thrived. We read loads of books together and she remembered everything. When I began the same curriculum with my son, it seemed he could not learn. After reading the same books he had no idea what the story was even about. After struggling together for quite some time, we changed our educational materials and methods.

Here's an overview of how curriculum relates to learning style.

Traditional Approach - Verbal, Visual
Verbal and visual learners tend to thrive with the traditional approach to education because lectures are easily absorbed as are reading assignments.

Classical - Verbal, Visual, Musical/Aural, Solitary
The Classical philosophy of education does an excellent job stimulating musical/aural learners. During the elementary years children learn many different songs designed to help them remember information. There are songs for presidents, states, skip-counting numbers and more. Since the Classical method relies heavily on literature, visual learns also tend to thrive. However, since many novels are now available in audio format, the method can work well for verbal learners as well.

Montessori - Physical/Kinaesthetic, Logical/Mathematical, Solitary
The Montessori approach to education provides great stimulation for physical and solitary learners. Children choose their own activities. Most are hands-on and they often consist of manipulatives constructed from natural materials. While using the manipulatives, children learn to recognize patterns with letters and numbers thereby developing reading, mathematical, scientific and other skills.

Waldorf - Musical/Aural, Physical/Kinasthetic, Logical/Mathematical, Social
One principle of Waldorf education is to educate the head, heart and hands. In other words, knowledge for the brain, exercise for the heart and handicrafts for the hands. Waldorf students regularly participate in group circle time activities involving music. Children explore nature and natural playthings. Kids learn to knit, crochet and draw geometrical/mathematical works of art. Due to the diverse nature and methods of topics, musical, physical, logical and social learning styles are all well stimulated.

Charlotte Mason - Verbal, Visual, Solitary
This literature based philosophy of education involves reading lots of fictional books that teach. Children primarily work alone and are encouraged to reflect on the books they have read. Visits to natural environments are taken regularly and observations are recorded in dedicated nature notebooks. Through listening and observation, children learn about great composers and works of art. Thus the Charlotte Mason philosophy well stimulates visual and verbal learners.

Unit Study, Interest Based, Eclectic - All Learning Styles
Because unit study, interest based and eclectic educational philosophies are flexible and adaptable, they work well with all learning styles. Using these methods, materials and topics enable educators to create a tailor-made education for the child thus stimulating the learning style of the child.

As curriculum can be evaluated on how children with varying learning styles will respond, knowing the learning style can aid in the selection of educational materials and influence the choice of experiences in which to partake.

Verbal - Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason
Verbal learners enjoy tours, audio books, audio language learning programs.

Aural - Classical, Waldorf
Aural learners remember anything set to music and the internet is packed with this type of information (especially youtube). Poetry tends to stimulate aural learners and today there are many CD's which introduce foreign language, math, history and other topics which are set to music. Playing music in the background can help aural learners think and replaying the music at a later time can actually help them remember.

Visual - Most Curriculum
Since most curriculum tends to have a strong visual component, visual learners are very adaptable. However, they thrive in a visual environment. Museums and video documentaries are great additions to curriculum designed for visual learners.

Physical - Montessori, Waldorf
Montessori and Waldorf are two very different approaches to hands-on education. Both tend to work well for physical learners. While Montessori students work in a solitary environments, Waldorf education is more group oriented. Physical learners thrive at hands-on museums and tend to love crafts, and activities. Handicrafts are great for physical learners; sewing, building bridges, origami, blocks and models. Physical learners also thrive in laboratory environments; Chemistry lab, metal shop, wood shop, cooking in the kitchen, etc.

Logical - Montessori, Waldorf
By recognizing patterns and through internal reflection logical learners make sense of their world. The Montessori philosophy encourages this by presenting a variety of manipulatives to children. They are taught to explore the materials until they fully understand concepts. Waldorf incorporates an extensive amount of pattern within artwork and handicrafts. Through continued increasingly difficult exposure children learn to recognize patterns and create new patterns on their own. Logical learners also tend to do well with computer-based educational materials as they are pre-programmed with patterns designed to provoke a desired response.

Social - Waldorf
Children learning using the Waldorf philosophy of education spend a lot of time learning together. They participate in circle time and learn to discuss their ideas. Book clubs, team build activities, and group projects allow social learners to thrive as they receive much feedback on their ideas in these environments.

Solitary- Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Montessori
In traditional education settings, children are taught to primarily work alone. Charlotte Mason involves lots of reading which is easily done alone. Using the Montessori philosophy children discover through play with manipulatives. Solitary learners need down time to explore their ideas in their own way. Books, documentaries, computer-based learning, and tinkering space is good stimulation for solitary learners.

Whatever the child's dominant learning style, they are bound to encounter situations which stimulate both their dominant and non-dominant styles. Exposure to input from a variety of styles improves non-dominant tendencies, but exposure to information through dominant learning styles will allow children to thrive.

Visit Homeschooling - Where to Begin for more information on finding educational materials which align with the different philosophies of education. Also visit Finding Educational Materials and Best Free Resources for ideas on other places to find resources. Finally, my Resources Page contains links to lots of posts aimed at helping new homeschoolers get started and provide new ideas for veteran homeschoolers.

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Twenty Point Origami Paper Star Tutorial

We made twenty point paper stars by folding thirty sheets of paper and then assembling them into a star.

This is a perfect craft for 4th of July and for Christmas too. When our German friends came to celebrate Thanks Giving with us last year they brought an assembled origami star, and directions and supplies to construct another star.

The first step in constructing the star was folding thirty sheets of square paper exactly the same way.

Here are the steps.
Fold the paper in half, then fold the top-left and bottom-right corners into the center. For assembly, it is important to fold the top-left and bottom-right in all 30 sheets of paper.

 Flip the paper over and fold the top and bottom edges into the center as shown above.

 Flip the paper over and fold down the right and left flaps as shown.

 Flip the paper over and fold in the tabs.

 Fold the paper in half.

Now do this 29 more times with the remaining sheets of paper.

After folding one sheet myself, I was able to teach the kids to fold the pieces. It was simple enough that they memorized the steps upon folding two on their own. It was however possible to fold a version with the gold strip slanting to the left and another version slanting to the right, but very important for assembly that they all slanted in the same direction.


The first step is the trickiest step in the entire star. Basically, three sheets are assembled by wrapping the flaps around the adjacent piece to create a point.

Using two folded sheets of paper, open the flap of one (blue), and insert into the flap of the other (red). Look at the next photo for a top view.

 Now add one more folded sheet of paper to create a point.
If the point is properly assembled, it will stay well attached and not come apart when held by any of the flaps.
The rest of the star is assembled by repeating the above steps to create each point. Therefore, add two folded pieces of paper to one of the flaps to create a second point. Keep adding points in groups of five.
I repeat, add points in groups of five - five is an important number! - Keep going until all the papers are used and the star is closed. That's it.

If it doesn't go together, count the points and make sure there are five in each group.

This project took around 3 hours to complete the first time and only an hour or so the second.  I think making paper stars will become both a 4th of July and Christmas tradition in our house.

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Multiplication and Estimating with Cuisenaire Rods

We built houses with Cuisenaire Rods and then estimated and calculated how many units were used in each structure.

Cuisenaire Rods come in 10 different colors. The white blocks are 1 cm cubes. The remaining rods are each 1 cm longer than the previous.

1 cm = white
2 cm = red
3 cm = green
4 cm = purple
5 cm = yellow
6 cm = blue-green
7 cm = black
8 cm = brown
9 cm = blue
10 cm = orange

First we built the square shown above and estimated how many cubic centimeters were used. The answer is 100 cubic cm.

Next unique structures were built. Each child had a turn to estimate the total number of cubic cm used in the structure. Then we used multiplication and addition to calculate the total volume.

For the structure above the math was done as follows:
orange - 10 rods used x 10 cm^3 per rod = 100 cm^3
brown - 8 rods used x 8 cm^3 per rod = 64 cm^3
blue-green - 6 rods used x 6 cm^3 per rod = 36 cm^3
purple - 4 rods used x 4 cm^3 per rod = 16 cm^3
green - 2 rods used x 3 cm^3 per rod = 6 cm^3
white - 1 rods used x 1 cm^3 per rod = 1 cm^3

Next the totals were added together: 100 + 64 + 36 + 16 + 6 + 1 = 223 cm^3

Finally we used comparison (subtraction) to determine who had the closest estimate.

The process was repeated with a few more structures.

When it was my son's turn, he knocked down his tower and lined up his rods to make determining the total volume of material used easier.

To see more of our hands on math activities please visit our Math Page.


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* I did not receive any compensation for this recommendation. I'm just a homeschooling mom who has found many products that I like. If you're interested in the products I recommend on this blog I want to make it easy for you to find them. 
** I am an Amazon associate and receive a small portion of the sales on orders made after clicking in from this site, which I promptly spend on homeschooling books and supplies for my children.

Grasslands and Soil Drainage Project for Kids

Earth Science Unit Study

Week 15: We measured the drainage rates for different types of soil.

Grasslands are found all over the Earth, but are known by several different names. The Savannah in Africa, the Stepps of Asia and the Grasslands of North America are all similar habitats.

BBC's video Wild Africa explores several different plants and animals living on the African Savannah as well as the origins of these grasslands. Much of the food we eat is grown on the grasslands of America, as the soil is rich and the absence of trees facilitates easier planting.

After watching the video, we separated soil into coarse, medium and fine grain samples and then measured the water drainage rate of each type as detailed in Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Earth Science: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit.

One factor which influences the success of growing food is the drainage of the soil. Soil that doesn't drain well is wet and can become very muddy. Conversely, soil that drains too quickly may not hold sufficient moisture required by the plants.

The soil was separated using two different sized strainers. First it was sifted using the holes of a flower pot.

 The grains which passed through the holes in the flower pot were sifted again using a child's strainer toy.

 The double sifting resulted in fine, medium and coarse grain soil.

The quantities of each sample were measured to determine that the soil was comprised mainly of medium size particles.

Next one sample was placed into a yogurt container (flower pot in the picture) containing holes poked through the bottom for the water to drain out and 200 ml of water was poured into the sample. Once the water was added a timer was used to measure the amount of time it took for the water to slow to a drip. The drained water was collected and measured to see how much drained out. Then the drainage rate was calculated by dividing the amount of water collected by the time it took to collect.

* Note that the first time the drainage rate was measured the experiment did not work properly as the flower pot container used (as shown in the picture) had large holes in the bottom. The water and the soil flowed right out.

In addition to calculating the drainage rate of fine, medium and coarse soil, the drainage rate of rocks was also calculated. It was no surprise that rocks drained the quickest, followed by coarse, medium and then fine grain soil. In the future, we plan to repeat the experiment measuring the drainage rate of clay, sand, other types of soil and perhaps oats and lentils.

Please visit our Science Page for more hands-on Earth Science activities.

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* I did not receive any compensation for this recommendation. I'm just a homeschooling mom who has found many products that I like. If you're interested in the products I recommend on this blog I want to make it easy for you to find them. 
** I am an Amazon associate and receive a small portion of the sales on orders made after clicking in from this site, which I promptly spend on homeschooling books and supplies for my children.

Village Life in the Middle Ages - Make Your Own Sundial

Middle Ages Unit Study 
Week 15: We learned about life in the middle ages and made sundials.

A time when the feudal system with kings and queens, knights and ladies, craftsmen, servants and peasants determined status, life was very different than today. Few people could read and write. Girls learned to cook and sing, and were married around 12 years old. Boys learned the skills of their fathers. People dumped chamber pots into the streets and slept together on beds of hay. Bath water was shared between family members and blood letting was a common medical procedure. The maypole and egg dances were performed during special events and children played games such as hoops, bad mitten, chess and marbles. Early geared clocks had been invented, but only the very rich could afford them. Most people kept time with sundials.

Adventures in the Middle Ages (Good Times Travel Agency) is the story of a two children who visit a time travel agency and journey back to the middle ages. On their vacation they experience empty bellies in peasant houses, poachers stealing animals, castle kitchen work and more. An excellent book for young children studying the middle ages.

After learning a bit about life during the middle ages we did two simple projects focusing on time and seasons.

Labors of the Month

During the middle ages, many people performed similar labors each month of the year. For example, in March, seeds were often planted, April was for weeding, June was for harvesting early crops, October was for milling, and November was for butchering and weaving. Much of this work is still performed during the same months today.

Although we cut out this color wheel and glued it to a paper plate for display, creating a unique wheel where the children were able to fill in the labors would be much more rewarding.
In addition to being a good middle ages activity, this activity is great for children learning about the months of the year and the calendar.

Make Your Own Sundial

Our simple sundials were constructed using a paper plate and a straw. To have a successful sundial project the following items are key.

  • A dry sunny day
  • A spot which receives sun most of the day to place the sundial
  • Rocks, duct tape or some other method to prevent the sundial from flying away in the wind
  • An alarm to go off every hour as a reminder to mark the shadow on the sundial

To make sundials a thumb tack and pencil were used to pierce a small hole in the center of a paper plate. Next a straw was inserted into the hole and dabbed with glue to secure into place.

Next the sundials were placed outside in a sunny spot and secured in place with rocks. At each hour of the day a line was drawn and labeled to mark the time.

I've seen instructions for sundials which include images of the numbers 1-12 evenly spaced around the paper plate much like the face of a clock. Although it's tempting, and easy to do that method will result in a sundial which does not work.

Depending on the location of the sundial, the numbers will end up being spaced in more of a semi-circle shape.

This very simple project went extremely well with both our Earth Science study and our study of the middle ages. Please visit our history and science pages for more hands-on activities.

Check out these blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

* I did not receive any compensation for this recommendation. I'm just a homeschooling mom who has found many products that I like. If you're interested in the products I recommend on this blog I want to make it easy for you to find them. 
** I am an Amazon associate and receive a small portion of the sales on orders made after clicking in from this site, which I promptly spend on homeschooling books and supplies for my children.
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