Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights

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One of our goals in traveling to Sweden for our family vacation this year was to see the northern lights, or aurora borealis. Growing up with the story of Fram, the polar bear, by Cezar Petrescu, I loved the words “aurora borealis.” I did not know what they meant, but I knew it had something to do with special lights one can see way up there, beyond the arctic circle.

Aurora Borealis in Sweden

The northern lights as we saw them in Abisko National Park.

I wanted my children to understand the phenomenon before we witnessed it, so we read up on it on the internet and saw some pictures. Of course, we had no idea if we were actually going to get to see them. Three factors must be there for you to see them and one of them is a clear sky. Continue reading »

The weather in Kiruna did not look promising during the month of September, when we were going to be there.

Aurora Borealis Sweden

Pictures do not do justice to the dance of the lights we saw that night.

My Swedish friend and I talked it over and we realized it would have taken too long for us to take a train from Stockholm to Kiruna, the most northern Swedish city. So we booked a flight. It cut the travel time down to a fraction, i.e. from 15 hours to 70 minutes. Not bad, especially when you are running out of vacation days and still have so many other things to see. We flew with SAS going to Kiruna and with Norwegian coming back to Stockholm. We would have taken Norwegian both ways, but they do not fly there every day.

We found a company, appropriately called Kiruna Guidetur, which offered northern light tours as well as many other packages. We wanted to see Abisko National Park and the northern lights. Those were two separate tours we paid for and they happened on two different days. However, we ended up in Abisko on both days and here’s why.

It’s a funny thing… When it rains in Kiruna, you can bet it is dry in Abisko, toward the Norwegian border. Something to do with the geography of the land and the currents of air etc. Our tour guide knew how to give us the best chance to see the northern lights: he drove us way out of Kiruna, into the Abisko National Park, where it is always dry. And that is why you pay for a local to take you around.

He picked us up from the hotel where we were staying and brought us back. There were five of us: our family of four and my Swedish friend, Connie. The van could seat nine, so there was plenty of room. Our tour guide prepared an open-fire meal: lentil soup with Gouda cheese sandwiches on Polar bread (a Swedish specialty made of rye, beloved by Swedish children especially) and warm lingonberry juice.

We danced for joy under the northern lights. Our guide was happy for us, as well. He told us many people come chasing the lights and they only get to see them on their fifth or sixth attempt.

Needless to say, we were very thankful and humbled that our prayers were answered that night. We took pictures which do not do justice to the show we saw that night, had our delicious meal, and headed back home to our hotel rooms. Mission accomplished!


Junibacken and Skansen

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We are still in Stockholm. The best activity so far for the children has been Skansen. Then, we went to Junibacken and they loved it just as much. Skansen is the world’s oldest open air museum. You can see Swedish homesteads representing different geographical regions and eras. Like time capsules, these homes and the farms around them have preserved the specific details of Swedish culture. Actors dressed in traditional garb for their period and location will tell you the story of that particular homestead.

Family on the bridge to Djurgarden

On the bridge to Djurgarden

They also have a petting zoo and then another zoo dedicated to Nordic animals like brown bear, elk (or moose), reindeer, lynx, wolf, wolverine, owls etc. The kids spent a lot of time in front of the huge tank for seals, as the seals jumped out of the water a couple of times. For really small children, they have an area called Little Skansen, with indoor-outdoor play zones also filled with animals like rabbits and hens. Continue reading »

Their restaurants offer vegetarian options. We had lunch outside nearby a pond and these ducks came to us and insisted on being fed. A peacock joined them as well. Unfortunately, we witnessed a shocking event: one of the ducks jumped on a sparrow and ate it up. It was incredible. When we went home, we researched this on the internet and found out that mallard ducks in other parts of the world have also been found to eat small birds in an attempt to get a quick bite of protein. Nature lessons abound everywhere.

We took a boat ride on the way back to the metro station. This ferry is called Djurgarden – the island’s name. It is a short 15-minute ride with only two stops, but it gives you a superb view of the archipelago. Your Access card which works for local transportation (bus, metro, tramway) all over Stockholm will also cover this boat ride.

Junibacken is a fun house for children based on classic Swedish stories. The idea is to inspire little children to read. Parents can read stories to their children and then bring them to Junibacken, where they can see certain details from these books as interactive exhibits. Truth be told, I am not too fond of Pippi Longstocking or Emil. They are not good examples, as they are disrespectful to adults and complete chaos-makers. But our children have only been read a short fragment of Astrid Lindgren’s books – enough to give them an idea and a reference point of Scandinavian literature. I believe it is part of the culture of the place and, as such, one should be aware of it.

Playing at Junibacken

No child was hurt in the taking of this picture

They have a Story Train – a 15-minute ride during which you sit on a bench made to look like a train car and it moves through different stories. A couple of them can be frightening for small children. It also gets dark for most of the ride, with the only light coming from the exhibits. The stories you hear can be in English, Swedish, Spanish and 12 other languages. You just tell the attendant which language you prefer. Our children loved it. I found it a bit sad, just as the Junibacken website warned us. I will not spoil it for you if you plan on going there some day.

The restaurant offers vegan and gluten-free options. At Junibacken, they also have plays for children. We saw one. We sat in the back and I translated the main idea of each scene for the kids and my husband. It’s amazing how much Swedish I still remember after 16 years and two children. The bookstore is filled with Astrid Lindgren and Barbro Lindgren titles, but they also have other Swedish authors for kids. You will find books in many languages.


Scandinavian Field Trip

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The magic homeschool airbus took us to Stockholm, Sweden this week. I know. It’s a bit cheesy to call an airplane the magic homeschool airbus, but I just could not resist altering the magic school bus into our own version. If you know me a bit, you know I have lived in Sweden before immigrating to the US. I still have friends there and when one of them invited me to her home, it was very hard to resist.

Changing of the guards at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden

Changing of the guards at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden

We poked around at the idea and when things started falling into place we realized it was meant to be. The idea is to give the children a taste of some of the places that have meaning to their mom, introduce them to some of the friends who have touched my life along the way, but also expose them to the gorgeous city of Stockholm – one of the most beautiful capitals of the world.

We will go to other places as well, chasing the northern lights in Kiruna, for instance, or playing at the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark and even check out Copenhagen for a day. But Stockholm is our base.

Storkyrkan, Stockholm - where royal weddings and christenings take place

Storkyrkan, Stockholm – where royal weddings and christenings take place

We spent Day 1 walking around Gamla Stan, The Old City. Think cobblestone streets, the Nobel Museum, changing of the guards at the Royal Palace, Storkyrkan (the Royal Chapel where Crown Princess Victoria got married), and old buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. It is from this area that the city of Stockholm grew. If you want to be really specific, it all started in Stortorget – the Great/Big Square.

Nobel Museum

At the Nobel Museum

Today, you can have icecream from a street vendor or a wonderful meal in one of the many restaurants with terraces around the Great Square or visit the Nobel Museum. But many centuries ago, this was the trading post which started the city of Stockholm. It all grew from this square where people met to buy and sell goods.

We ended the evening with a walk around the island where we are staying. Stockholm is an archipelago in Lake Malaren and many call this beautiful city the Venice of the North. It was fun to dust off my Swedish vocabulary and interact with the locals in their native tongue, although most Swedes are fluent in English. The kids can already say hello and bye in Swedish.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 19

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Chapter 19 from volume 3 covered the English in India. Colonialism fascinates me. I realize it is not a very pleasant subject for many and that is an even stronger reason to study about it. We have nothing to fear for the future unless we forget our past.

Sikh bracelet craft

Sikh bracelet craft

And by our past I mean world history. We live in a global village and the culture of one place influences another place more often than 50 years ago. The culture of one place comes from the history of that place. So there you go, we have a connection between your suburban lifestyle and what the English did in India 200 years ago. Continue reading »

Most of the crafts in this chapter have something to do with the Sikh religion, their dress, and their being used as bodyguards by the British. A friend of mine is very proud to say that she is craft-challenged. Well, I am right up there with her.

I have another friend who told me she plans on using Story of the World with her children, but not do the crafts. The Activity Book scares her. She feels she has no talent for crafts. Let me tell you something about that.

I do not thrive on artsy-crafty projects. They are not something that make me want to jump up for joy. I just pick the easiest of the suggestions and run with it. This chapter is no exception. Who has the time or the inclination to make a sun dial or whole Sikh outfit? If that will keep my children from learning about history, then I am in trouble.

You see what I did here: we put some aluminium foil over my Orange Rhino bracelet and we called it a day. History crafts do not have to take over your whole morning (or more than five minutes). If you don’t feel like doing any crafts, so be it. It’s OK not to do crafts for every chapter. I give you permission.


6.5% Rise In Homeschooling, But Why?

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Stats don’t lie. At the moment, they say the number of kids who are homeschooled across the US is 1,500,000. Compare this to 2016 and the number was 1,300,000, a rise of 6.5%. There is no doubt that homeschooling is becoming more popular, but the question is why?

Homework routine

Source: Wikimedia Commons

After all, the majority of parents see education as vital to their kids’ upbringing and rely on ‘professionals.’ The reasons are underneath, just a few of them.

 

Education Inequality

In 2016, theatlantic.com did a bit of digging and found some disturbing figures. On average, the publication concluded that schools in higher income areas spend $6,000 more than poorer schools. Quite simply, there is a huge divide between rich and poor/middle-class kids in America. So even if you put your child in the local public school, if you live in a poorer school district, you will not get the same education as the families from gated communities. Public school does not always mean the same access to the same resources for all children.

 

Cost Effective Materials

Yes, but how can parents bridge the financial gap? Let’s face it – kids that go to public schools tend to come from deprived backgrounds. So, it doesn’t seem that the families who can benefit the most will have the resources. It is a savvy distinction to make, but it isn’t the case thanks to thrifty parents. Moms and dads know that resources like DontPayFull.com are excellent places to find reading and teaching materials. Plus, a single iPad or mobile device is not difficult to find online. Then, there is the personal time, which doesn’t cost a penny.

 

One-On-One Time

Because schools are underfunded, teaching resources are at breaking point. That doesn’t just mean the computers and textbooks. The main resource, the teacher, is in a catch-22 position. They want to improve the quality of the teaching, but it is hard when they have 30 to 40 kids per classroom. As a result, the personal, one-on-one time for most kids need isn’t forthcoming. When they are at home, the teacher only has one or two pupils to educate. OK, maybe four or five. It’s still less than 30. Therefore, there is additional quality time and more opportunity for the children to learn.

 

Curriculum Tweaks

To get results, teachers opt for the tried and tested route. This might sound like a good idea, but one size doesn’t fit all. Indeed, kids are unique in every way, and a teacher needs to make tweaks for this reason. At home, you are the boss and you choose what and how your children learn. The flexibility which comes with homeschooling is something parents and kids alike love. It originates from the fact that you know them the best, so you understand what works.

 

Bullying

School is not only about learning. There is a social aspect, and it isn’t always positive. In the United States, 40% of kids in grades 4-12 say they get bullied at school. As a parent, it is your job to make sure your children are safe and happy at all times, but the stats don’t lie. As a result, it is not rare for moms and dads to take their kids out of school to negate bullying altogether.

 


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 18

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East and West collide quite literally in chapter 18 as we looked at the Ottoman Empire and its last attempt to conquer Vienna – the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a symbol of Western civilization. Unfortunately, recent terrorist attacks in Europe have reminded us all too often about such chapters in history. It may have happened a long time ago and it may have been a huge army, but the idea is there: East is fighting with West, Islam is fighting with Christianity.

Anachronistic craft

Ottoman tents and modern-day soldiers

Moving right along… we had fun learning about how one of the sultans admired tulips and brought them to the Ottoman Empire. Also, we enjoyed making tents. The craft template provided in the Activity Book seemed so enjoyable to the kids, they made me print a second page of little tents. I printed them on card stock, so they could stand better. Continue reading »

We wondered what kind of people we should put among the tents? Lego people? Duplo people? Math counting bears? They knew it was a chapter about war, so they wanted soldiers. Well, the trouble with that was the grenades and fire arms these soldiers are sporting.

They did not care about anachronism. They wanted soldiers among the tents and that was that. Oh well. What is a mother to do? They were having fun, learning, really engaging with the material we were studying, and I declared myself satisfied with it.

Since Romania was under Ottoman influence and reign for a long time, this was a story that was very relevant to me. Our kings fought a lot of battles against the Turks. It is one of those chapters that stands out for me due to its personal connection with me.


Total Solar Eclipse Celebration

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Today, August 21, 2017, we experienced a total solar eclipse. This once-in-a-lifetime event has to be celebrated. I followed my own Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan and we had a great time. We started out with pancakes for breakfast. Instead of maple syrup, which would not have been dark enough, I made a chocolate avocado frosting. I know. It sounds weird.

Eclipse breakfast pancakes

Eclipse breakfast pancakes

I tell you, I could taste the avocados a little bit, so maybe next time I will not use two avocados. Only one. The texture can go more creamy or less creamy and it does not make a huge difference in terms of how runny it is.  Continue reading »

Eclipse lunch: tostadas

Eclipse lunch: tostadas

We did school or learning as usual and, by noon, we were almost finished. We dropped everything so we could start watching the NASA Solar Eclipse live coverage. While watching, I started on lunch – simply corn tortillas with black beans and some salad, corn kernels, cheese and sour cream. I am vegan, so I used the non-dairy version of all these, while for my husband and children I used the regular kind. I got inspired by these solar eclipse tostadas, though I followed the recipe only loosely.

Eclipse craft

They painted paper plates yellow and black for a simple eclipse craft.

We then enjoyed a gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake. By now, the eclipse was in full swing and we went outside to watch glimpses of it here and there. We did not watch it for longer than 20 seconds at a time, even though we had eclipse-safe visors. We went out several times during the three-hour event.

Solar eclipse visors

Our children look at the solar eclipse through safe visors.

I had the kids work on a simple craft with painted paper plates. This may be the last year I get my nine-year-old to work on such cute crafts. He is already not very keen on cutesy projects anymore.

Solar eclipse craft with sun and moon paper plates

Sun and moon craft – we moved them over each other to reenact the eclipse.

By 2:30pm it was time to got outside to actually experience the near totality from our backyard. The street lights came on in front of our neighbor’s home. The natural light changed into a hue that is hard to describe. The crickets started chirping and the birds stopped singing. It was an amazing moment.

Eclipse dessert chocolate cake

Eclipse dessert – chocolate cake, what else?

We had a great time and I am sure the kids will remember this for the rest of their life. The funny things is, when my husband was nine, he also got to experience a solar eclipse. So the cycle repeats itself.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 17

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Chapter 17 dealt with Russia’s Peter the Great. I have mixed feelings about Russia. I grew up in Romania and Russia influenced our culture in a very tangible way. I do not like Russia because they brought communism to Romania, but I like Russia for its art and literature.

Foam medal craft

We used foam sheets with sticky backs for the medals.

Russian history explains a lot about its art and culture, so I am curious to learn more about all the details that have shaped this country.  Continue reading »

The temper of Peter the Great gave us an opportunity to discuss our own tempers. Homeschooling families spend a lot of their time together. We have more opportunities to get on each other’s nerves than families who send their children to school for seven hours a day.

Foam medal

One of the medals made by the kids out of sticky foam sheets.

Thankfully, we do not get as ugly with each other as Peter the Great did, but we have our moments when our tone with each other could use some modulation. I call it our “meek voice” and I am the first one to admit that I need a lot of help in developing my meek voice and using it more often.

Foam sheets with design drawn

First we drew the design onto the foam sheet.

For our craft, we used foam sheets to create medals. When Susan Wise Bauer wrote this curriculum, the foam sheets she recommended did not have sticky backing. Well, this made our craft a lot easier. We did not have to apply glue. Our foam sheets are like stickers.

#1 Place Medal Craft

The other medal my children made

You just remove the protective cover and voila, you have a sheet ready to be stuck onto another foam sheet. So first we drew the shape, then they cut it out, then we removed the protective cover and stuck the pieces together according to the design shown in the book.

We used different color foam sheets, but then the kids decided to color them with markers anyway. Oh well. Whatever works. You will notice that one of my children is still learning how to spell “place.”


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 16

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Chapter 16 dealt with people like John Locke and Isaac Newton – fascinating discoveries and advances in the sciences and philosophy. I really enjoy a chapter which speaks about people (or events) I have already studied for myself. Not that I don’t enjoy learning new things. But I have a frame of reference and it intrigues me to see how Susan Wise Bauer covers the topic.

Gravity experiment

The children took balls into the tree house to see how they fall to the ground.

Besides, I am kind of ready to get out of the Dark Ages and move on with human civilization. I am ready for early modern history to actually happen. Bring on the scientific revolution! Continue reading »

For the activity, we went to the tree house and dropped balls of different sizes and weights to the ground. Isaac Newton’s a-ha moment changed humanity in so many ways. It is inspiring to share things like that with the children.

We found some simple biographies of Newton and Locke at the library. In all honesty, I have given up trying to locate the exact titles suggested in the history curriculum. I found some of them to be too long and others to be too advanced. And our librarians make the effort of ordering these specific titles through ILL, which is time consuming.

I end up not reading all of these titles to the kids and then I feel guilty. I am that mom who has to finish the book to feel like she has gotten the job done. And even though now they can read lots of books to themselves, I still prefer for us to read at least one history book out loud.


2017 Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan

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On August 21, 2017, the US will experience a solar eclipse. Some places are in the path of totality, but even if your location is not, you will still get to experience some darkness or partial darkness for a few seconds and up to a couple of minutes.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

Our children’s aunt bought us solar eclipse glasses. Hurray for aunties!

What are you doing to prepare for this rare event? This is the perfect excuse to get out the physics books and a space encyclopedia and teach your homeschooler about the Sun and the Moon and how they fit together with the Earth.

Here’s a lesson plan if you need one. Continue reading »

Or click to download a 2017 Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan PDF.

 

Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan

August 21, 2017

A. Devotional with Bible verses about celestial bodies. Here are just a few:

1. God created the Sun, Moon and Earth – Genesis 1; Psalm 8:3-4

2. God holds the Earth in space – Job 26:7; Isaiah 40:22

3. God knows the stars by name – Psalm 147:14

4. Space proclaims God is the Creator – Psalm 19:1-6

5. God will re-create Earth when Jesus returns – Revelation 21

B. Solar eclipse breakfast – pancakes with your favorite topping; get creative and make three different sizes to represent the Moon, Earth and Sun; melt chocolate/carob and cover up the Earth with “darkness” etc. The sky is the limit (get it?).

C. Read from your space encyclopedia/science textbook/library books about solar eclipses. Words to look up: orbit, totality, umbra, penumbra, corona, eclipse, atmosphere, lunar, solar. For older students, prepare a handout with these words and have them copy the definition from the encyclopedia (or use the second page below).

D. Watch NASA live streaming: some libraries will have a public event of the four-hour broadcast but, of course, you can watch it from home if you have access to NASA TV or the internet. You don’t have to watch it all, of course. One hour will probably be enough to give your children an idea of what is going on across the nation.

E. Solar eclipse lunch. Tostadas with black beans (the Sun covered by the “dark” Moon). Definitely have chocolate/carob cake for dessert. Use a round pan.

F. Solar eclipse art and/or craft. Here are three ideas, all simple and cute.

1. Have the children draw what they saw or how they would imagine a total eclipse would look.

2. Using play dough, have them make a model of the position of the Sun, Moon and Earth during a solar eclipse. You could connect the three celestial bodies with toothpicks and make each in a different color: white play dough for the Moon, yellow for the Sun, and blue or green for the Earth. Set it on a paper plate and take pictures of it for your science binder/portfolio/lapbook (so you can discard the actual project later and not feel so guilty about it).

3. Have the children paint one paper plate yellow, red and orange to represent the Sun. They can then paint another one black to represent the Moon. Have them use sponges or small circles from a pool noodle for a great texture, instead of brushes. Once dry, they can simulate the eclipse by slowly moving the Moon over the Sun.

 

Plan ahead

1. Buy solar eclipse glasses if you plan to look at the actual event. We got ours from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many physical or online stores have them.

2. Get all your food made the day before.

3. Gather all books and supplies.

 

 

Talk Like A Scientist

Look up these words in a science encyclopedia. Copy the definitions in the space below.

  • orbit =
  • totality =
  • umbra =
  • penumbra =
  • corona =
  • eclipse =
  • atmosphere =
  • lunar =
  • solar =

Stay safe! Do not look at the Sun without special eclipse glasses. Sunglasses are not safe.