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Great Backyard Bird Count, Tabletop Learning Ideas

By Heather Idoni

Added Friday, February 15, 2008

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 9 No 13 February 15, 2008
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2008 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!
If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!




Notes from Heather
-- Reader Feedback and Counting Birds
Helpful Tips
-- Dietary Fish Safety Tips
Winning Website
-- Birdwatching Science Site
Reader Question
-- Tabletop Learning Ideas
Additional Notes
-- Searchable Archive
-- Our Email Group
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Heather

Reader Feedback - 'A Preschool Curriculum'

"I wanted to thank the ladies who shared insight concerning pre-
school curriculum. As a mother of triplet four-year-olds, I often
wonder to myself if I should be teaching them all the things that
other four-year-olds attending a preschool would be learning. I
admit to buying workbooks for them, but have found that the work-
books tend to stay on the shelves. I have found much joy watching
my children as they use their imaginations inside or outside making
new discoveries. A smile crosses my face as I *see* their minds
working when we make letters with Popsicle or pretzel sticks. They
love books and plead with me to read them a book or tell them a
story several times a day. I am only in the beginning stages of
their learning, but I am so thankful to be able to receive help and
hope from those who have blazed the trail before me." -- Anissa


Easy Birdwatching Project


February 15th - 18th is the Great Backyard Bird Count!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that
engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a
real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.
Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts.
It takes as little as 15 minutes during the 4-day span -- then
you enter your results at the website. Here is an audio/visual
narrative with some history of the 'count' and how to take part:


If we can get temperatures back up above the zero range, our
family will be participating, too! :-)

Other links:

How to Participate

Is this for Kids?

Local Events


Do you have comments to share? Please do!
Send your emails to: heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip

Dietary Fish Safety Tip from a Reader


"Hi there! I was just reading an excellent book, 'What to Eat'
by Marion Nestle, and it really helped me sort out all the
hype/warnings/info about what kinds of fish to eat and what to
avoid. After reading the salmon section (the only kind of fish
we usually eat), I ran to my freezer to see what the labels said.
Apparently, farm raised salmon is only safe to eat from 2 places
in the *world* -- Chile and Washington State. Thankfully, our
Costco farm-raised salmon steaks are from Chile. If you've ever
been as unsure as I about fish safety for yourself and your kids,
here's a handy pocket guide you can keep in your wallet, from the
Monterey Bay Aquarium -- the most updated list on the web:


Now they give only US-area coded maps, but all the fish on there
are probably available in Canada as well. Did you know that most,
if not all, sport fish (ie: caught at your local stream), are
dangerous?? I didn't! I've spent years figuring that when they
get all the warnings straight, I'll hear about it, but reading
that many fish have been declared unsafe for children to eat, EVER,
I decided to try to be more educated. As I said, the above link
will help hopefully. Wishing you the best eating!" -- Kathy B.


Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Winning Website


"Get directions for bird-feeder bagels and list of other
appropriate winter foods, various bits of science info, and
observing tips and tools for bird watching in the winter.
Download a free bird-watching journal. It's all on the Science
Museum of Virginia website."

From Aardvark -- HomeschoolingBOYS.com contributor/member

Last Issue's Reader Question

"I have a simple question and could use some creative ideas.
Like many homeschoolers, we have a clear plastic 'tablecloth'
covering our kitchen table. We love putting things under it
at each child's place. They come to the table learning and
talking about the things I put under the plastic. But I don't
change it often because I am stumped for ideas. Our children
are ages 1 to 10, so all ideas would be applicable. We currently
have an outline map of the United States (and quiz them sometimes
to locate the states/capitals), the alphabet (with the vowels in
a different color from the consonants), a number chart, and
shapes for the three year old. If I have a list of things I can
use, I could easily change things around more often and keep it
exciting. I appreciate any ideas you can offer! Thank you!"
-- Jane in Texas

Our Readers' Responses

Note: We didn't have room for ALL the great ideas -- but here are
most of the replies! For a summary article and extra links, go
here: http://www.EasyFunSchool.com/Printable-Placemats.html


"How about classic artwork and/or photos? Family photos could
be interesting, too. Not only can these be great conversation
starters, but older kids could write about what they're seeing,
and younger kids could narrate to you about what they're seeing.
These writings/narratives could be basic descriptions (content,
colors, feelings evoked, memories stirred, etc.), or creative
(making up their own stories), whatever. You could even use more
complicated graphics as a 'where's Waldo'-type search - getting
the kids to look close for small details." -- Elaine in NJ


"Jane, we also put charts and maps under our clear plastic table-
cloth. It has proven to be a great learning tool, and a fun
conversation starter when we have guests. You already mentioned
maps, but don't stop with the United States. Maps of foreign
countries and state maps are good, too. You could buy an inexpen-
sive atlas and pull the pages out. We bought a book on anatomy,
and carefully took the book apart so we could use those pages.
Rose Publishing -- www.rose-publishing.com -- has wonderful charts
on any topic of the Bible you could think of. We also bought
Michael Pearl's chart on Revelation -- www.nogreaterjoy.org . We
get free posters from the state conservation department, including
wild flowers, weather, animals, rocks, animal tracks, etc.

Other ideas: charts of the night sky; foreign languages; first
aid; plant identification; nutrition; rules of etiquette; memory
verses; instruments of the orchestra; composers; classical authors
and the books they wrote; seasonal, holiday and special occasion
themes; family geneology; US presidents; famous people and heroes;
art prints familiarizing us with famous artists; your children's
art work. You can contact the foreign embassies of various coun-
tries, and they will often have material from their country that
they would love to share with you -- www.embassy.org . Various
health care providers might have extra anatomical charts which
they would loan or give you; don't overlook specialists such as
optometrists, dentists, veterinarians, and so on -- we got a
terrific poster from our veterinarian on dog breeds. The local
weather bureau might have some weather posters. Sometimes you
can find printable charts and maps on the internet. Don't limit
yourself to small charts for each child's place; large charts
and maps which cover the entire table are good, too. We rotate
our seating at meals so the same person doesn't always have to
look at the chart upside down or sideways." -- Mary Beth


"Jane -- here are some ideas off the top of my head --

-- Names of the Planets, with pictures of course, and in order.
I just got a free poster of the Solar System online from AIG here:
-- Books of the Bible
-- Bible Verses (to memorize or just read - print them out with
pretty borders, etc. or print out notebooking/copywork pages and
write the verse in your own handwriting or in calligraphy)
-- Posters of plants, animals
-- Poster of parts of the body - all at once or divide it up:
Skeletal System, Respiratory system, etc.
-- Addition Facts, Subtraction facts, Multiplication Facts, etc.
-- weights and measures facts
-- Vocabulary
-- Poems
-- Parts of an Orchestra
-- Instruments in General and their names
-- A musical scale
-- Paintings by artists (feature one artist every 6-9 weeks and
change the painting every week or every other week)
-- Parts of a plant
-- Habitats/Biomes and their characteristics
-- Rocks and Minerals Poster
-- Lots of things could be done with animals - like parts of...
lifecycles of... characteristics of certain kinds of animals
(mammals, marsupials, fish, birds etc.)
-- Types of Leaves
-- Weather Facts
-- Layers of the Earth
-- Parts of a Volcano
-- Geography Terms and Picture (Peninsula, Plateau)
-- Grammar Terms and meanings
-- Punctuation Rules
-- Timelines for History
-- Posters of Famous People and what they did
-- Maps of the Explorers Journeys
-- Maps of Time periods or events of History
-- The words to hymns or songs you want them to learn
-- Character Traits and verses to go with them - List the trait
at the top and then print out the verses in their entirety
-- Prayer Request Sheet
-- Individual pages from older magazines the kids have gotten but
don't look at any more... like Big Backyard
-- Types of clouds
-- The Water Cycle
-- The Presidents (you could use a poster or place mat for this
that lists each president in order and has a picture of them)

Look for Free "posters" on line - for instance I get one each
month from http://exploringnature.org/ when you sign up as a
member - for free - they send you their monthly newsletter
including a free poster to download.

If you want to print the posters bigger maybe you could figure
out how to enlarge them with your printer settings and tape/glue
the pages together. Also, if you can afford it, look online for
posters to buy or look at a local teacher store. I am sure there
are lots of online catalogs where you can order posters. Some
homeschool catalogs have them too -- I think Tobin's Lab for

I hope this gives you some ideas -- I might get some plastic and
start doing this at my house! I can't wait to see everyone's
ideas." -- Debbie P.


"What a great idea -- I think I'll start doing this! I have a
few ideas myself. How about making some 'gameboards' to fit
underneath, and compiling your own sets of questions depending on
whatever you are currently studying? You can keep a small basket
of minature toys handy to use as the playing pieces. There are
websites dedicated to making your own games using manilla folders
as the 'boards'. You could also do bingo-style boards if you want
something at each child's place setting.

Hidden pictures from the Highlights magazine would be fun. What
about various 'worksheets', like drill work then give each child
a dry erase marker - (first one finished wins?) If the dry erase
markers will work on your plastic cover, then you have a world of
possibilities - crossword puzzles and word finds, etc.

My boys are in Scouts, so I think I will also incorporate that as
well - they always have a lot to memorize. You could do people
in history, composers and artists. Maps of specific countries,
timelines of any kind. Hmmmm, my brain is just running with this
idea! Have fun -- I know I will be!" -- Nicci in Michigan


"I try to notice the interests of my children. Then, I find
posters or pictures to go along with that. I also put verses we
are memorizing, or pictures that remind them of the verses. If
it is a particular holiday, I will try to find pictures or crafts
that they have done. One more idea is putting pictures of people
to pray for." -- Lisa in Indiana


"Jane, you have a lot of neat ideas! One thing I would add is
holiday ideas. It would be great for displaying coloring pages
of the presidents, or hearts for valentines day. You could also
do charts or graphs with stickers or pictures, or the food pyramid,
pictures of healthy food choices, etc. One thing we did which
wasn't really a display, but was still fun: We put a world map
under the plastic. Instead of making a messy salt-dough relief
map to learn more about continents and world geography, I made
pizza dough, and we shaped the dough according to the world map
under the plastic! Then we topped it with tomato sauce and cheese
and baked them! It was really fun to ask for a 'slice of North
America, please'! I don't know what kind of plastic you use. I
use a thick vinyl that I get at a fabric store." -- Lori


"Print these off the internet: continents, oceans, rivers, moun-
tains, bones, muscles, glands, scientific classification of animals
chart, geometry shapes (trapezoid, rhombus, etc.), famous paintings
labeled with artist and title, even by period (like Renaissance),
mineral ID (rose quartz, fool's gold, etc.), famous scientists with
claim to fame, time period chart like jurassic, geometry theoroms,
scientific principles like laws of Physics, color mix chart (red
plus yellow makes orange), fractions chart, multiplication chart,
money chart, presidents, history timeline, art timeline, science
timeline, bible timeline, grammar charts, word of the day, news-
paper article, types of dogs, backyard bird identification...

Now that I've brainstormed, I bet you have lots of tangent ideas!"
-- Heidi


"As a retired public school teacher, I wish the parents of the
students were so resourceful. Anything that you want to learn
could go under the tablecloth. Some things I thought of are:

-- spelling words
-- scripture verses
-- pictures of relatives and a genealogy chart that shows how
they are connected to the family
-- plants or plant parts
-- animals and where their habitat is
-- weather and cloud formations
-- bones of our body
-- tools - names and pictures
-- a picture of the parts of a motor and talk about how it runs
-- electrical diagrams and terms
-- kitchen tools - pictures and names
-- music - notes, terms, and songs
-- pictures of stones with names and descriptions
-- newspaper articles to discuss
-- parts of speech
-- vocabulary lists

Anything that you want your child to learn could be adapted. You
know, you could use an erasable marker and put worksheets under
the plastic. Fill in the answers and reuse later. This would be
a good idea for adults too. Guess I need to buy a clear plastic
tablecloth!" -- Janice


"If your children like a mystery challenge, my kids are really
getting into photography (ages 12, 10, & 3). My son (12) loves
to take a really close-up picture of something and have us guess
what it is... they can also add to the picture a list of clues
to give each other. The youngest could simply help pick out an
object and take (or help take) the picture. A lot of 'things
aren't always what they appear' talks can be inspired this way
as well. You'd be amazed at how creative they will be making
these for each other. If they put them together like a simple
scrap book page you can make a book out of all their creations."
-- Kathy in FL


"Wow! What a cool idea! I've never heard of this before. I would
consider putting objects that start with a particular letter for
the younger ones. Also include interesting facts for the older
ones. For example, for the letter G, one of the things you could
put down is Gum. Include facts (with pictures if you could) of the
largest bubble ever blown (take and include pictures of your kids
blowing big ol' bubbles), the longest gum wrapper chain ever made,
the geographic location that chews the most gum.... and ANYTHING
else you can find. You could highlight a different state every so
often. Starting with your state, put a large cut-out of the state
in the center. Then add different things that state is known for
and different things your older kids need to know about that state.
This will help the younger ones identify where they live and what's
special about it. Then move onto the state where Grandma lives or
Aunt so-and-so or where you grew up or visited as a child. This
could be a project. The little ones can color the state and the
older ones can do some research and add things to the table as they
learn them. These are the first things to come to mind. The possi-
bilities are endless. Be creative and use your imagination. Once
your kids see how much fun this can be, they may come up with ideas
of things they would like to learn about on their own. The older
ones may even be able to coordinate it and assign the younger ones
projects. Thank you for sharing such a neat idea through your
question!" -- Erica N.

Answer our NEW Question

"Does anyone know of any resources for a structured course in
Godly manhood? My 14-year-old son spends a lot of time with his
father, and while I'm certain that's the best way for him to
learn to be a man, I would also like to present more structured
lessons to him in areas of leadership, provision, protection,
marriage, fatherhood, and manly skills such as carpentry, auto
repair, household maintenance, etc. Thanks!" -- Mary Beth


Do you have a suggestion that will meet Mary Beth's needs?
Please send your answer to: HN-answers@familyclassroom.net

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