Tag Archives: science

What’s That About Radon?

This past fall, two of my children entered our state’s Radon Poster Contest sponsored by the health department. To enter, students were to design a poster showing that radon is a harmful gas that can affect people in their own homes.

Right before Christmas, my daughter Cassie learned that she had won first place for our state! It took us a little while to coordinate everything with the health department, but this week, she received her award. And the rest of us received some good information.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that forms naturally under the ground. When buildings are constructed over radon, it seeps into the building and becomes trapped. Depending on how much radon is present, the results can be deadly, as it’s the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. The representative from the health department told us of a young mother of three in our town who passed away from lung cancer a few years ago; the cause, they decided, was radon in her home.

“How do we test for it?” someone asked. Testing is done with a kit that you can either purchase at a home improvement store or get from your health department. After letting it sit in your house for a few days, you mail it off to a lab for the results.

If you test your home and find high levels of radon, what then? Fortuanately, there is a way to fix it. A ventilation system (they call it a mitigation system) can be installed under your home to allow the radon to escape before it ever enters the building. Newer homes, we were told, are often built with this system in already in place.

We also talked about the segment aired a couple of weeks ago on the Today Show about radon and it’s potential danger in the public schools. In one classroom that was tested, young elementary students were exposed to as much radon as if they were smoking a half a pack of cigarettes a day!

The poster contest was a success! Cassie received a lot of  prizes, our co-op received a monetary prize, but most of all, we all learned about radon and how to protect our families.

Are you children interested in entering? Check online to see if your state offers the poster contest. And be sure to check out the 2011 winners here!


Wild Cats!

Well, already this is turning out to be the summer of animal adventures. Last week it was a beaver, and this week, wild cats! Or, to be more exact, wild kittens!

My son Luke has a female cat named “Splat” that attracted several males this spring. And while my husband wasn’t too happy, the kids were overjoyed at the prospect of raising kittens. Splat, however, had other plans. She likes to wander the neighborhood, and one day she came back, skinny as could be.

We knew she had had her kittens, and after many attempts at following her, we discovered she had them in our neighbor’s barn. The 100-year-old barn sits in the middle of a pen with a barbed wire fence, so it’s not only quite rickety, but also hard to get to. When we finally found the kittens (after about four weeks of trying), they dashed away so fast that we soon gave up. That is, until yesterday.

As I was going out to feed the animals in the morning, I opened the back door. And there, right at my feet on the back stoop, was Splat and a pile of kittens. I was startled as one stared at me, and by the time I realized what was going on, they were gone — under the back porch, up to the top of three cinder blocks stacked on each other, and down into the holes they created. The floor beams of the porch were only about eight inches from the top of the cinder blocks, so there was no way of reaching in to get cats.

Two? Three? We weren’t sure, but within thirty-minutes they had all come out again and were playing in the grass beside the porch. Five! There were now five wild kittens living under our porch!

What’s a houseful of kids to do? Why, catch them, of course! Over the past two days we’ve caught four of the five kittens. We’ve set up a nice spot for them in our spare bathroom (the one that used to house baby chicks), and the kids have been going in and out throughout the day, talking to them, petting them, and even holding them. Splat comes in occasionally for a visit, but she spends most of her time outside with the last one. Hopefully we’ll catch that one tomorrow.

Like our other animal incidents, this whole adventure has stirred the curious minds of my younger two children. They are thinking of questions about kittens to look up on the Internet, and we’ve got some great kitten books from the library. I sense some truly “hands-on” lessons coming soon.

My goal? To tame these wild kitties so we can find some nice homes for them. The kids’  goal: to talk their dad into keeping one. His goal: to get Splat fixed. 🙂


Photo by Gracey


Last weekend, we met extended family in the mountains of Tennessee for our annual Family Reunion Campout. The group included a grandmother, thirteen (grown) kids and spouses, twenty-four grandkids and three spouses, five great-grandchildren, two friends, and — a beaver!

For many years, we didn’t see much wildlife around the campground, but within the last five or so, we’ve seen quite a lot. We’ve come upon a rattlesnake, a deer, hatchling turtles, and this year, a beaver! It was swimming above the water in the river when someone spotted it, and we all ran over to the bridge to see. You might have thought that with so many people there it would go under and disappear, but it didn’t; it just kept going along against the current until it was so far upriver we couldn’t see it anymore.

Now, what’s a homeschooler to do with an event like that? Why, make a lesson from it, of course! And while you may not have seen a beaver recently, you may still have a young beaver fan at your house. If so, here are some resources to check out:


Beaver Unit Study – based on the book Paddy the Beaver by Thornton W. Burgess.

Beavers – Wetlands & Wildlife – This website was created by the friends and associates of conservationist Dorothy Richards to continue her efforts to educate others about beavers. Lots of interesting information here.

– More beaver facts in this National Geographic article.

“Beaver Family”
– National geographic video featuring a beaver family through the seasons.

“How Beavers Build a Lodge” –   This BBC YouTube video shows amazing footage of beavers building their home.


  • Beavers by Helen H. Moore
  • Building Beavers by Kathleen Martin-James
  • Beavers: Where Waters Run (Northword Wildlife Series) by Paul I. V. Strong
  • The Adventures of Buddy the Beaver: Buddy Explores the Pond by Carson Clark and Jim Clark
  • Beaver – The Life Cycle by Bobbie Kalman
  • Beavers (Kids Can Press Wildlife Series) by Deborah Hodge and Pat Stephens

With so many resources,  it’s time to get busy — like a beaver!!


Photo by Carlson

Ending the School Year?

Mid-May seems to be the time of year when a lot of homeschoolers are finishing up the school year and looking ahead to next fall. Our co-op classes finished last week, and because we had company visiting as well, we took the week off of schoolwork. And that’s how our year has gone; when things come up or company comes to visit, we take time off. And it’s during those times we all think, “Homeschooling’s great!”

But then, we have yet to finish up our school year in May. Or June. We usually keep schooling through July, taking time off here and there to travel or spend time with family and friends. And though the kids are moaning a little, I’m still thinking, “Homeschooling’s great!”

Sure, we’re still working on math, reading, and grammar through the summer, but as we do, they’re keeping their minds sharp and prepared to learn. They also have things to work on in the afternoons when it’s too hot to stay outside; instead of playing video games or watching t.v., we’re doing science and history projects. And simple summertime activities, such as planting tomatoes or catching fireflies, take on a whole new meaning when paired with unit studies in botany and entomology.

So even though our school year isn’t ending quite yet, we’ll still enjoy the lazy days of summer. We’ll get up a little later, sip on lemonade during lessons, and play on the slip and slide during break time. We’ll work on house projects and go swimming during free time.  We’ll spend more time hanging out with friends and visiting with family. And when September comes, we’ll be ready to get back to a regular schedule and co-op classes. And I know we’ll all be thinking, “Homeschooling’s great!” 🙂



Photo by PenyWise

One Pelican at a Time

Last year, I had the opportunity to illustrate a book that’s special in more ways than one.

Written by Nancy Stewart, One Pelican at a Time tells the story of two best friends, Bella and Britt, who experience first-hand the terrible effects of the Gulf oil spill. As the girls watch the clean-up efforts, they see their long-time friend, an old brown pelican, dive into the oily water. They run for help, then follow the workers as they catch the bird and take it to the bird sanctuary to recover. A few days later, the girls return and help wash off the pelican in a huge bucket of sudsy water.

For children who live far from the Gulf, the story helps them better understand the oil spill and the effect it has had on the wildlife in the area, as well as the work that must be done in order to clean it up. The author’s notes at the end include a brief description of the actual spill in 2010 and how it has hurt both the people and animals that have made that area their home.

Another reason this story is unique is because the two main characters in the book — Bella and Britt — are modeled after two sisters! When I was looking for models for my illustrations, a wonderful family volunteered; they had two girls, one adopted, both the same age.  Their mom helped too — she’s the ranger in the story. For them, the book also represents a fun family memory!

So if your children are studying conservation and the environment, check out One Pelican at a Time. It would be a great addition to any unit study about nature and our role in caring for it.

DevoFest 2011

Although the  concert didn’t turn out quite as I expected, the conference had a lot to offer parents at all stages in their homeschooling adventure. Speakers were helpful and informative, and the vendors offered curriculum, products, and opportunities for students in elementary through high school. One of those opportunities is DevoFest.

Held at the Ridgecrest Coference Center in North Carolina, this three-day conference (June 17, 18, and 19) is designed to encourage students to discover and develop their interests in writing, film, and public speaking. There are three age-specific tracks: the Kid Track for ages 7-9, the Tween Track for age 10-12, and the Teen Track for ages 13-17, and everything is presented from a Christian worldview.

Younger children in the Kid Track can participate in classes in drama, science, and creative cooking. Activities include exploring DaVinci’s Playground, bear walks, lazer tag, experiements, and more.

Students in the Tween and Teen Tracks can join in workshops for writing a novel, creating a graphic novel, acting, script-writing, story-telling, and producing a film.   Public speaking for the teens also includes lessons on the art of stage presence, dynamic deliveries, and how to create compelling talks that leave audiences waiting for more.

The list of faculty members for this event is impressive. It includes:

  • Zena Dell Lowe from Skirt Films
  • Award-Winning Authors Steven James, Michelle Adams, Ann Tatlock, and Vonda Skelton
  • Authors Jenny L. Cote, Diane Wolfe, Time Shoemaker, Eddie Jones, Cindy Sproles, Terri Kelly, and Tom Bailey.

And what’s more, you can make this a family event! Housing and meals are available through the conference center. So while your children are learning in the workshops, you can be relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

So if you’re looking for something to spark your child’s creativity this summer, consider DevoFest. It’s not only fun — it’s an investment in your child.



This past week, my six-year-old was playing in the backyard, when he discovered a snake close beside him. He called to his sister who then called to me, saying there was a baby copperhead in the grass.  I rushed outside and caught it by the head with a stick; on first glance, it did look like a copperhead.  I told my oldest son to bring something to “take care of it” with. He came from the house with a container to put it in — not quite what I had in mind — so we pushed it into the clear little bowl.

The snake immediately flipped over, opened its mouth, and dropped out its tongue! It was playing dead!  Though the copperhead would have wanted it’s life spared, they don’t know that trick. A few years ago, we had found a much-larger, black-colored snake that did the same thing. This snake was a hognose snake.

Just to be sure, I did a quick Internet search of photos and found pictures of hognose snakes that are similar in color to copperheads — and just like ours. Through the bowl we looked at his nose; it was a little upturned. We now had a confirmed hognose on our hands.

Much relieved, I took out the snake so the children could hold it. When we found the previous snake, we learned that hognose snakes aren’t poisonous, rarely bit, and can make good pets. The snake cooperated; within a few minutes, it was no longer frightened.

That was on Sunday…we still have the hognose. His name now is Snake-ily, and he lives in our house. Fortunately, we had a “spare” reptile set-up in storage, so he’s very comfortable and doing well. And next week, we’ll be starting a unit study about snakes. 🙂

Time to Sleep

When my oldest son was very young, I discovered the picture book Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming at the library. It was such a fun book that we purchased our own copy and used it every year.

Time to Sleep follows a number of animals as they realize that winter is coming.  The leaves are falling and the days are shorter, so Bear decides he must tell Snail that it’s time to hibernate. Snail, then, must tell Skunk, who in turn must tell Turtle, and so on until Ladybug hears the news. The story comes full circle as Ladybug goes to Bear’s cave and wakes him up to tell him… it’s time to sleep.

We made the story even more fun by creating a craft to go along with it. Here’s what we did:

Using felt squares found at the craft store, I made each of the animals depicted in the story. I cut out two pieces of the basic shape of each animal and sewed the sides together (leaving a small opening). My son then stuffed them with fiberfill, and I sewed them shut. We added googly eyes and noses to the animals that needed them.

Next, we found a cardboard box about 12″ deep. I turned it upside down and cut a hole in the bottom of it.

Then, we read the story again. As each animal went to “sleep,” my son put them in the hole in the box. The last one to go in was the ladybug. Not only did we have a good time reading the book and making the craft, but my son learned about hibernation and had hands-on reinforcement each time we read the story. We actually used the same book, box, and animals with all of my children (I don’t know how they lasted so long), and it was fun to reminisce each time we got them out.

For us, Time to Sleep was really time for fun!

As I Watch

As I Watch is another picture book I’ve had the privilege of illustrating. Written by Chitra Sounder and published by Guardian Angel Publishing, this simple yet beautiful book describes the life-cycle of a butterfly.

Designed especially for the youngest readers, As I Watch follows the development of the insect from egg, to larva, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly and back to egg again. It’s a great starting point for a unit study about butterflies or insects in general. The illustrations are done in oils and realistically depict the tiger swallowtail butterfly.

If you have young children and are interested in doing a unit study on butterflies, here are some other online resources you might find helpful:

EnchantedLearning.com – This site has so much information for young butterfly enthusiasts! While you may need to pay a small membership fee to access all of the worksheets, it’s well-worth it. They’ve even organized all of the information into a hypertext book, covering topics such as butterflies and moths, defense mechanisms, classification, butterfly gardens, and butterfly anatomy. You’ll also find printouts featuring the lifecycle.

ParentingOurKids.com – Among many other resources, this site also offers butterfly lesson plans. Some of these are complete lessons in themselves, while others are links to worksheets and puzzles. All would be good additions to your unit study!

TheHealthyHomeschool.com – Here you’ll find all you need to know about how to plant your own butterfly garden.

Glorious-Butterfly.com –  – While this site isn’t particularly a schooling site, you’ll find some great ideas for butterfly study here as well. The lesson plans focus on the monarch butterfly, its development, and migration.

InsectLore.com –  This site sells the life cycle kits for various insects, including butterflies. For about $20.00 you can get a kit with a coupon for live caterpillars.

Enjoy a butterfly study with your children — and watch the wonder of nature together!

Fowl Play

1_vLast night, we had another encounter with our local wildlife. It happened late at night, or rather, early in the morning.

I was up late working on a project, when around 1:00 a.m., I heard our chickens clucking outside. We have only a few chickens right now, mostly roosters, and we let them wander around the yard free-ranging. For quite some time now, they’ve been roosting at night in the trees, lately choosing to roost in a cedar tree in our front yard. I thought it was a good choice, as they are tucked within the branches and hidden from predators.

Or so I thought. Last night, when I heard the clucking, I knew something was wrong. Chickens are sound sleepers, and they are quite disoriented when awakened in the night. So when they wouldn’t stop making so much noise, I found my shoes, grabbed a flashlight, and headed outside.

I saw something moving near the tree, and thought that perhaps a coyote was there. (We’ve had a lot of trouble with coyotes in our town lately). “Ha!” I hollered out, hoping to scare it away. Suddenly, a huge bird flew up from the ground. I watched as it took off in the opposite direction, flying out over my neighbor’s house.

I continued toward the tree, where I found one of our small hens lying on the ground. The large bird, which must have been an owl, had planned on making this little hen its dinner. In the light of the flashlight, I could tell the chicken’s face was a little bloodied, and it seemed to be having trouble breathing.

I couldn’t leave it there, so I picked it up and started towards the house, thinking I’d find a box somewhere to put it in. As I went, it seemed to come to its senses and began clucking and hollering. I put it in our empty chick pen and headed off to bed.

How’s the bird? She seems to be doing fine, though she’s still in the pen recuperating. And the owl? It will have to find another food source. Chicken just isn’t on the menu this week!