Experiential Science: Weather

My kids wanted to learn all about weather, so I cobbled together several resources to make a unit.  You may notice that we watch a lot of videos in this unit.  Not only are videos an engaging way of presenting some of the more abstract concepts related to weather (like air pressure and air currents), but my kids are thoroughly excited about watching videos related to anything at all lately, so any video I found was a win.  I tried to find a video or three (almost all short ones!) to go with each topic, but also a hands-on activity for every topic, as well.  Hopefully you’ll find plenty of fodder for exploring weather, whether you are a video-lover or not.

Much of my unit was based on this 3rd grade unit from the Williams College website, though I adapted the activities for home use.

We started our science unit by talking about water.  Since 71% of the earth is covered by water, it has a big impact on weather.  To emphasize just how much water there is on the earth, we used our big inflatable globe and tossed it from person to person, tallying how often the tip of our right thumb hit land and how often it was in water when we caught the globe.  Sure enough, we had seven “land” tallies and 18 “water” tallies. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Flight, Part 2

This is the second installment of our lessons on flight.  You can read about our first portion (which covers the four forces of flight and kites) in this post.

Hot Air Balloons, Airships, and Parachutes

Next in the human flight story is the hot air balloon.  After reading Yasuda’s chapter on hot air balloons, airships, and parachutes, we tried creating our own hot air balloon.  We failed, but it was fun and exciting enough to be worth your effort, even if it doesn’t work.  Though Yasuda offered one option in her book, ‘Love objected to it because it relied on a hair dryer to work; he argued that it would confuse the matter by including blowing air in the process of causing the balloon to rise.  While modern balloonists may use fans to help initially fill their balloons, the blowing air is not the mechanism that causes the balloon to rise. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Flight, Part 1

The kids unanimously agreed that they wanted one of their next unit studies to be about flying.  As I began typing up all of the activities we’ve been doing, I realized that my post was getting super long, so I’ve once again separated our study into parts.  This first part will encompass our study of the four forces of flight and kites.  Our projects with hot air balloons, gliders, airplanes, and more will be coming soon.

I thought it would make the most sense to talk about the history of flight in chronological order.  Thankfully, I stumbled on Explore Flight! by Anita Yasuda.  The book starts with flight in nature–the inspiration for humans who wanted to fly–and ends with rockets.  Included are “25 great projects”–though I had issue with a few, particularly the ornithopter project, which was really just a glider with some added feathers.

Of course, I can’t just use one book and leave well enough alone, so I did quite a bit of supplementing and elaborating by using additional materials. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Earthquakes and Volcanoes (Earth, Part 3)

This is the third part of our unit on plate tectonics, the rock cycle, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  If you want to look at what we studied prior to this, here’s Earth: Part 1 (earth’s layers and plate tectonics) and Earth: Part 2 (the rock cycle).


So now we were nearly up to the part the kids really wanted in the first place, but thankfully they were having so much fun that they sorta forgot that they’d never asked to learn all this other stuff.  (Besides, it’s foundational to their understanding the topic at hand!)  Since they now knew that earthquakes and volcanoes happen (mostly) at plate boundaries, it was time to study these phenomena in more detail. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Rock Cycle (Earth, Part 2)

This is the second part of a unit on plate tectonics, the rock cycle, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  In case you missed it, here’s my first post, covering the earth’s layers and plate tectonics (Earth, Part 1).

The Rock Cycle (and a quick study of rocks)

Since we were talking about moving plates, this seemed like a good time to add in a brief bit about moving rocks.  To make the rock cycle come alive, I once again pulled out some sweets!  Continue reading

Experiential Science: Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics (Earth, Part 1)

My kids all decided that they wanted to learn about volcanoes.  For whatever reason, this choice did not inspire me–perhaps because it left me thinking, “How on earth am I going to take six weeks to talk about volcanoes?!”  But the more I thought about it, the more interesting stuff there was that connected to the topic of volcanoes.  In fact, as I began writing about this unit study, I discovered that we hit so many topics and used so many resources that this post was becoming impossibly long, so I am breaking this into several smaller posts for sanity.  Stay tuned for more as I get it written!

I started by making a list of topics I wanted to hit, as well as the order I thought most logical, and then I went hunting for resources.  I hit the jackpot when I stumbled on the American Red Cross Masters of Disaster materials.  For our purposes, I settled on the Level Two earthquake-themed materials, but the site was so cool that I linked you to the main page (apparently hosted by PBS, despite the differing address listed on the materials) so you could admire all of the topic options.

Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics


This was the only aspect of our study I actually remembered to photograph.  It was also delicious.

Using the Masters of Disaster downloadable packet (link in above paragraph), we started by studying the makeup of the earth, reading about its layers and graphing the depth of each.  The packet suggested an Earth’s Layers cake, but I couldn’t settle for their simple setup; I had to go all-out with a DIY Earth’s Layers Cake that I crafted. Continue reading

Hands-On History: Knights and Castles

We just finished an awesome six weeks of studying some really cool topics that my kids wanted to learn more about.  Today I thought I’d share the fun we had studying knights and castles.

Books were a big part of our study, though I tried to include as much hands-on as I possibly could.  (I’ll include a description of how we used the different books below for your perusal, along with a quick-reference list of all our resources at the end.  Our read-aloud stories–featuring King Arthur and Robin Hood–are listed and described at the very bottom of the post, below the reference list.) Continue reading