Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Pioneer "What" Light?

The kids all did a double take as we walked through Old Trail Museum in Choteau, MT.

"Mom, does that sign card really say that?"

I can't arch a single eyebrow, but if I could, I would have - "Well, it seems to.  I guess we'll...er...I'll have to look that one up, when we get home."

Which I did, very carefully, and it turns out a "bitch light" refers to a piece of twisted rag, soaked in a pan of grease, usually bacon grease, lit for indoor illumination, in the pioneer era, when candles were in short supply, or too expensive to be had.  In fact, there were a number of similar, but slightly different grease lamps - the Betty, the Phoebe, the cruise, the button, and the slutt (sometimes written "slut") lamp.  

As to the etymology of the word...that seems to be lost to history.  Or, it is at least, buried deeper than I am willing to venture with such a search phrase.  I imagine it was derived from some German or Dutch and English word combination, and it does seem to have to do with the rag wick which was originally called the now offensive word.

I popped around to a large number of history and antiquing sites to glean this bit of information (too many to name sources here), but if you are curious about the lamps, I would suggest "pioneer grease lamps" as the safest of the search phrases to learn more without learning "more".  There are even a number of Little House on the Prairie, Long Winter-inspired, hands on projects for (well supervised) children, out there.  We might yet try our hands at making one, but first we have a few more items to check out.

You really never know what you're going to find in a museum (or what it's going to be called).

 "Thunder Bucket"

Monday, May 30, 2016

Summer Science - How to Turn An Afternoon in the Park into a Simple, No-Stress Science Lesson

Long time readers will know I love to sneak science lessons into our summer fun. Really it's not so much sneaking in, as it is taking advantage of the teachable moments that present themselves every time we step outside the door. We're outside more in the summer, so it's hard to miss all the science going on around us.

Take for instance this weekend. We jumped back onto the dinosaur trail with another homeschooler family (they're studying Montana history, and by coincidence most of the dinosaur museums not only highlight the prehistoric history of our state, but also have some regional pioneer-ish type history exhibits, as well).

Of course, dinosaur museums are full of scientific information and fodder for future lessons, but the real lesson came when we stopped by a local park, to let the "children" (most of whom are teens) blow off some steam before stuffing them back into the vans for the trip home.

The park wasn't much, but it did have a creek.

It wasn't long before one of our group was in the creek...

...only to discover they weren't alone.

We spent some time watching, and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch (most of us watching from the shore) the little fish in the creek (which at the time we were calling guppies, but on double checking at home, realized were minnows) by hand, and then loaded up and headed home.

On the way home, we (possibly more me, than anyone else) lamented that we hadn't caught any of the fish to take home as pets. Questions arose (from the skeptics in the back of van):
  1. How would you even catch fish so small?
  2. Would they survive in a fish tank?
  3. Is it legal to harvest them?
  4. How big would they grow?
  5. What would you feed them?
And just like that, a science lesson was born.  A few minutes at home with Google, led us from the question of :

"What are the small fish in Montana streams?" (minnows)


"Types of minnows in Montana" (the Montana field guide lists 22)

 Kingdom - Animals - Animalia Phylum - Vertebrates - Craniata Class - Fish - Actinopterygii Order - Minnows / Suckers - Cypriniformes Family - Minnows - Cyprinidae


"How do you catch minnows?" (after a quick check with the department of Fish and Wildlife to check the regulations - there is always a legal side to fieldwork).


"Is there a way to observe an identify minnows without traumatizing or harming them?" (the ethical dilemma of field work - Mary Low's Creek Stopmin' & Gettin' into Nature suggests making an "underwater viewer" by removing both ends from a can, and securing plastic wrap tightly across one end with a rubber band).

And (since we were already searching books anyway) to:

...which we could download for free through Amazon Prime.  It's a very simple book, but does contain a lot of facts about the tiny fish.

Now, all of this "research" was done over the course of about an hour, after we got home.  The lesson was shallow, and introductory at best, but we picked up a couple of follow-up projects to do, and we're armed with that much more information to build on for our next park visit.

So, how do you turn an afternoon in the park into a simple, no-stress science lesson? 
  • Go outside.
  •  Look around.
  •  Be aware of what's catching your child's eye.
  • Share experiences from your past (we used to catch crawdads in our creek when I was girl).
  • Encourage questions.
  • Seek and share the answers - using the Internet and library for free, and quick resources.
  • Don't be afraid of making mistakes, or admitting you might be or were wrong (the little fish were not guppies, after all).
  • Remember if you're going to touch or remove anything, to check the local regulations.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Progressive Drawing

Just for kicks today, I pulled out one of our paper rolls, crayons, colored pencils, paint brush pens, and markers...

...and called the girls in, one at a time, to work on a progress drawing - like a progressive story, but instead of each girl writing a sentence or two...

...they took turns adding to a drawing.  C started with some flowers...

...E added a tree...

...and A turned the whole scene into a daydream...

...on a winter's day, which then they continued to add to, bit by bit, turn by turn until we ran out of time.

I'm sure we'll be trying it again. Maybe next time we'll make a progressive doodle, and limit the number of pen strokes per turn for a more geometric/modern art type effect - or set a time limit for each turn to add a quick draw, game like feel to the fun, or let the boys join in to up the chaos level. There are just so many possibilities.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lite-Brite Fun With Fine Art

I was cleaning out our game closet last night, and came across our old Lite-Brite.  As a toy, we've pretty much outgrown it, but I wondered if it might not still have a use in our art explorations.  T (age 18) has been studying, this week, for an Art of the Western World final, and I have to admit to looking over his shoulder to see if there's anything to glean for the younger children.

Anyway, I'm sure that's why when I looked at the Lite-Brite, that my first thought was - 'I wonder if we could recreate the Mona Lisa?' and not 'I wonder what we could get for this in a garage sale?'

Honestly, I'm not that into garage sales anyway, and my enthusiasm for cleaning out the closet was waning, and I remembered the color by numbers Mona Lisa coloring sheet we'd used a few summers ago with our tracing box...

 ...and thought, why not give it a go?

Of course, the Lite-Brite pegs are all the wrong colors, which led to some interesting creative choices, and there weren't nearly enough of them to complete the full picture...

...but it was an interesting exercise, that not only got our creative juices flowing, but also turned our focus back to the original painting (checking colors, and details) and on to other works, as we looked through our art books for works that might be better suited to the Lite-Brite colors and limitations - I'm thinking maybe something from the cubists...?  First though, I think I better finish with the closet.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Glow-In-The-Dark Dinosaur Fossil Hunt

The museums of the dinosaur trail (a series of museums across Montana with bones, fossils, and other prehistoric paraphernalia) are set to open for the summer season on Memorial Day weekend.  Hoping to jump back onto the trail this year, I've been looking for ways to gear up some dino-related excitement in the house.

So, when I saw glow-in-the dark, build your own fossil sets from Ja-Ru (who make excellent little dino-digs) hanging tantalizingly from the shelf in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I snatched one down with glee.

My thinking was, that I could leave the "fossils" out in a window all day on Wednesday (we have church Wednesday evenings, and the younger girls are up well past dark that evening anyway)...

...and then place them around in our nice dark basement, not exactly hidden, but where they wouldn't be terribly obvious...

...unless the lights were off.

It would have worked great if:
  1. The fossils actually glowed in the dark for longer than 30 seconds once the lights were off (I would suggest buying an inexpensive wooden set, and painting it with glow-in-the-dark paint, instead).
  2. I had remembered that by staying up late, the girls would be growing tired, and might not be up for too much of a challenge (I probably shouldn't have mixed the two sets that came in the together, or spread them over the entire basement).
  3. I had made a map of the hidden pieces, so completely lost pieces could be found.
  4. I hadn't snapped a few of the bones in half while breaking them free of the packaging.
Actually, the last two probably didn't matter so much.  We simply glued the broken bones back together (not all fossils found in the field are intact, you know).  And, as rain set in for the rest of the week, and we were stuck inside anyway, we took our time searching (most digs take more than one expedition to complete), and finally found every last piece (with great cheers and accolades to the finder of the final fossil), last night.

It might not have been the exactly the experience I was aiming for, but we are much more focused on fossils now than we were a week ago.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Box of Summer

It's not quite officially summer, yet.  But, I've already been stocking up on a few summer essentials, as I've bumped into them on sale in the various stores around town. And this year, I've stumbled onto a great way of storing and presenting them, that has really sparked some summer excitement for the whole family (from the teens on down) by taking the whole lot...

...and packing it up into a spare box (a plastic tote might be even better - but then, there's just something magical about an Amazon box), and placing it on the floor of a closet.   That way, when it's time to head outside on those long summer days, or when neighbor kids come knocking, or we head to the park with friends...but run out of things to do...there's plenty of little items to spark creativity, already on hand, and ready to go.

To begin with I've loaded the box with the basic essentials (a relative term, at best):
  • bubbles (they come in so many different types and varieties, a person could create an entire "box of bubbles" if they wanted)
  • a few squirt guns
  • a couple of jump ropes (to be joined later by a frisbee, or any small, portable, outdoor sporting type equipment)
  • sidewalk chalk
  • water balloons
  • a beach ball
  • sun screen
  • mosquito repelling bracelets (this summer the insects are not going to be an excuse to stay inside)
  • and a couple of craft/baking kits (for those rainy days) 

I still have hopes of adding a summer reading list (I'd like to stock up on books relating to the movies coming out in the theaters or on DVD, this summer), some geocaching supplies (for the teens), and maybe some sketch books, and field guides (along with insect jars or binoculars, or whatever goes along with the guide), and a science kit or two.  At any rate, I'll try to keep it fresh, with a few surprises thrown in throughout the summer to supplement the basics of bubbles and chalk. 

Really, it's not so much what's in the box, as it's the idea that there is a box...just waiting to be rummaged through.

Now, I just have to stock up the freezer with popsicles, and ice (for beat the heat art, science, and engineering fun) , turn on the sprinklers, and wait for summer to arrive.