• My affiliate links won't hurt you, but they might help feed my kids. See my full disclosure policy in the main menu.

ROY G BIV (Or How to Make Your Own Rainbow Mountain)

Our Asian unit study has led us on all kinds of interesting adventures and rabbit trails so far.  This particular adventure fascinated all of us.  Rainbow mountains?  Really?


These mountains are amazing in their true form, but people tend to mess about with the colors in the pics, super-saturating them to make them look like true rainbows.  Which would really disappoint travelers who go to China to see these cool land forms.   I guess.  Who could be disappointed by something so fabulous? Here’s an image that has been tampered with:

altered rainbow mountainsHere’s the deal.  These mountains are part of the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in China. They are believed to have been formed by the folding of oceanic crust, perhaps buckled by the movement of tectonic plates. The color is caused by the erosion of red sandstone, which forms peaks and stratified outcroppings. Its present appearance is caused by its special geological structure combined with long-term desert conditions–freeze-thaw peeling and wind and water erosion.  This weathering has exposed rock layers of different colors, sizes, textures, and patterns to reveal this wondrous rainbow-like view.

After learning all we could about the geology of the mountains, we made our own Rainbow Mountains.  Here’s how:

You Need

4-6 BowlsIMG_20150910_105025341

Spoons (same number as bowls)

A sturdy piece of cardboard for your base

Baking soda

Food coloring


Directionsadding color to rainbow mtn

  1. For each color, put 3-4 heaping spoonfuls baking soda in a bowl.
  2. Add 3-4 drops of food coloring to the baking soda.  Then add a teaspoon or 2 of water (this helps the food coloring spread.  Don’t add too much water or you’ll get damper baking soda than you need.  You can add more food coloring if your color isn’t dark enough.
  3. You can mix primary colors–such as using red and yellow to make orange or red and blue to make purple–in your extra bowls if you want more than the standard 4 colors that come in the average pack.
  4. Stir your baking soda with a spoon until the color is mixed throughout.stirring rainbow mtn
  5. Pick a color to start with (we followed the rainbow–Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet.  We skipped the indigo, so we didn’t quite finish our ROY G BIV acronym.)
  6. IMG_20150910_110132694Form the base of your mountain with your chosen color.
  7. IMG_20150910_110801763Add layers until you’ve created an entire mountain of color.




This Was A Messy Project.  But in the end, it was a great way to discuss stratification, folding, tectonic plate movement, and different types of soil and bedrock.  So it turned out to be a really thorough geology lesson.  And it was Really, Really Fun.  Just look at the laughter.

finished rainbow mountainI’ll take it.  Every Day.  Today the reason I love homeschooling is that we can laugh while we learn.  What a fantabulous way to spend a morning.

Love wins,


Make a (Salt Dough) Great Wall of China

Build China's Great Wall with Salt Dough

As part of our Asia study, we began learning about the Great Wall of China yesterday.  It is one of the most interesting parts of Asia’s topography, mostly because it is man-made and also considered a landform.  There is a myth that you can see it from space, and you can, indeed, just not with the naked eye.  According to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, it is too narrow and follows the natural contours of the land too well.  Nonetheless, at over 13,000 miles long, the Great Wall is certainly the largest man-made project on earth.  So how do you go about making a replica in your homeschool?

Build China's Great Wall with Salt DoughFirst, do a little research and learn what you can about it.  We used Kids Discover Magazine’s Great Wall of China to learn who built the wall, when, why, how, and what materials used were used.  There’s a great free resource on their website that goes with this magazine–it offers reading comp questions and the like.  Some interesting facts were that builders used whatever materials were available in the area in which they were working, and that the interior of the wall is made of packed dirt.  So we decided to use salt dough to mimic the building of the Great Wall.

Make the Salt Dough

Build China's Great Wall with Salt DoughWhat you need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup warm water

What you do:

  • In a large bowl, mix the salt and flour together.
  • Slowly stir in the water until you have a Play-Doh consistency.  You don’t want it to be too wet, so you may not use all the water.  If it ends up a little gooey, just add more flour.
  • Knead the dough for just a couple minutes.
  • Then roll out the dough to get a smooth consistency.

Shape the bricks

Build China's Great Wall with Salt Dough

What you need:

You can use a square cookie cutter-type thing to cut the squares out here, or you can use a mold.  We used a soap mold because we wanted bigger bricks, but you could probably use craft sticks to make a rectangular dough cutter and just cut the bricks out.  We also considered using an ice tray for the mold but couldn’t find one that wasn’t angled at the bottom.

  • Cover your work area with freezer paper so cleanup would be easier, because this kind of makes a mess.  If you’re doing it right.
  • Spray your molds or cutter with oil to keep the dough from sticking.
  • If you’re using a mold, gently fill the mold with salt dough until completely full. Use a plastic knife to flatten the bottom.
  • Using the knife or a spatula, pry the edges of the brick away from the mold.  Gently pop the brick out.  Set aside.  Make more bricks.
  • Once you’ve got several bricks made, you can start to put your wall together.  We made a mortar of thin flour paste to glue our bricks together.  You just want it to be a white glue consistency.

Assemble the wall

lining up great wall bricks

  • Line your bricks up the way you’re going to stack them.
  • Using your spatula or knife, spread mortar along the edges.
  • Stack your bricks.  Leave them to air dry.

The Chinese actually built kilns to fire their bricks near every work site, but we don’t have a kiln.  Since we will be working on this for a couple of weeks, we didn’t see the point of drying them in the oven.  I’ll post pics as we get more completed.  I’m hoping the Littles will be interested in adding one of the awesome watchtowers that once stood at intervals along the wall.  I’ll keep you posted.


Here’s what the completed salt dough wall with a watchtower looked like:

Salt dough Great Wall of China

Love wins,



DIY Homeschool Supply Caddy

I took a little time out yesterday to make some changes in our classroom.  For the last couple of years the Littles  have been using school desks, the kind with the desk attached to the chair.  But I don’t like it.  It’s too institutionally school for me.  Don’t get me wrong, it has worked and they have been comfortable enough, but I often have found myself pushing the desks apart so we could all sit on the floor together or coming into the living room so we could cozy up on the couch or having class outside instead of in the classroom.  With cooler weather heading toward us, outside will soon stop being an option so I have decided to get rid of the desks.  My beautiful husband gave me the go ahead to remove the desktops so we can still use the comfy wooden chairs and I brought our old art table back in from its garage mausoleum and cleaned it up.  I’m thinking of painting it.  That’s a different post.


Now, regardless of the fact that the wheels on the yellow bus are going round and round every morning again, we don’t start fall semester until the day after Labor Day.  So I have some time to get the neglected classroom under control and do some new things.  Having a table for the boys to sit at together means I can get rid of the supply pouches that hung on their desks and put a general supply caddy on the table for them to share.  I wanted something that would hold most of the things they might need for projects but that could be moved out of the way if we need more room.  So I dug out some empty tin cans and found an old square of wood and set to work building this:

Sleeping foreman not included

Sleepy foreman not included

This was a simple project and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

All you need is 6-7 cans you’ve emptied in the kitchen.  I chose to use different sizes, but you could make a really pretty caddy using all one size.  A board or a piece of plywood to mount the cans on, and some screws… Well, here’s a materials list:


6-7 empty cans (or however many you need, really)

1 1/2-inch plywood board cut to size (Mine is 9×9″ and easily fit 6 cans.)


Craft or spray paint

1/4″ screws (as many you have cans)


IMG_20150803_150308215The first and most important thing you want to do is make sure there are no sharp edges on your cans for your littles to get cut on.  I used an abrasive sandpaper on the inside edges.  A little elbow grease and any rough edges disappeared.




IMG_20150803_151826751You can spray paint your cans, but I had craft paint on hand and didn’t think it called for a trip to the store and more money spent on paint.  The craft paint worked just fine.  I love these little painting triangles.  They work great for medium-sized projects .  Once you get your cans painted, paint your board in a color that compliments them.  Let everything dry, then move on to the next step.


IMG_20150803_165910335Arrange your cans several different ways until you come up with something you’re happy with.  Then use a drill to attach each can to your board with the screws. Attach them from inside the can down into the wood so there’s no chance of little hands catching on them and getting cut.



IMG_20150803_201549321I decided to separate my cans a little to better fit the size and shape of my board.  Once you have your cans attached, fill them with school supplies.  I put glue and gluesticks, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, erasers, scissors, and compasses in mine, making sure to put in 2 boxes of colored pencils and crayons so they don’t fight over who will be using which color when.  Believe me, that fight has been had even when their supplies were separate.  It can’t really be avoided, but I am doing my best.

I’m super happy with how this turned out because it’s cute and useful and something we will probably use for at least a couple of years.  And it didn’t cost me a dime.  Now, I wonder what it will take to get that table painted?


Love wins,


9 Engaging Ways to Make Homeschool Fun

One of the things we love about homeschool is the lack of rules.  We do not have to be like public school; we can learn any old way we please.  Even so, it is often easy to find ourselves falling back on the old standbys: textbooks and worksheets.  What is a homeschool mama to do when her homeschool becomes boring?  Here are a few ways to engage your littles and get your homeschool back to being fun.

Active Learning This can be as simple as reading a play aloud.  When we were studying American History we would sit in a circle on the floor and choose a play about our lesson from Scholastic’s ebook “Read Aloud Plays: Pioneers.”  The Littles loved doing this because they like acting.  So we would divide the characters among us and read.  Plays are a great tool because they teach the lesson without seeming to teach at all.  In fact, they’re downright fun.  Especially when you dress the part.


Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012

Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012


There are many other types of active learning, such as

Science Experiments You can teach science across the board without ever touching a textbook or putting pencil to paper.  You can find simple chemistry experiments all over the internet, as well as weather and earth science experiments.  Make a weather station.  We set one up right outside our classroom window and took notes from it every day.  The Littles couldn’t wait to get to class every morning that semester to see if their rain-measuring jar had caught any water, or their barometer had moved since the day before.  The weather vane we made was a source of endless fascination.  That was two years ago, and they can still tell me exactly what types of clouds are in the sky at a given time.  Engaged learning.  Long-lasting effects.  We once made a skeleton by gluing different types of pasta onto card stock.  Fun and engaging, and helps your littles understand anatomy a little better.  You can set up a detective game to teach a bit about forensic science.  I can’t even list the number of physics projects we’ve tried.  Balloon rocket cars.  What kid wouldn’t love that?!  Too many static electricity experiments to count.  Biology? Dissect frogs or owl pellets.  Do an animal study.  Your kids are learning and having fun and there’s nothing that says they can only study one kind of science a year.


Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Arts and crafts This does not have to be a separate class.  In fact, I most often include it in one lesson or another.  Kids love to make art, even if they’re never going to be another Van Gogh.  Getting their hands active will help them remember the lesson.  If you’re studying Greek history, make a Parthenon out of cardboard.  If you’re studying Asian geography, make a salt-dough Japan.  If you’re reading the Secret Garden, make tissue paper flowers.  We once did a study of Spanish words related to rainforests and created trees, vines, leaves, and animals to decorate our classroom with.  Every single day, add an art or craft project to one of your lessons.  It gets rid of the necessity of planning an art class, and Gets Your Littles More Engaged with whatever else they’re studying.

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Get Out of the House This can be as simple as stepping into your backyard for a nature study or taking a walk around the block to check out how the sun is casting shadows as time passes.  It can be as complicated as driving for an hour to a great historical spot.  One of Littlest’s favorite field trips involved a 20-minute drive to a Civil War site that had nothing to offer by way of entertainment.  It contained a cannon, a plaque, and a log cabin.  The cabin was locked up tight, you couldn’t even see into it.  I printed out a brochure from their website that told the story of the battle and as we walked around the small site, I read it to them.  They were fascinated.  Littlest talks about it All the Time.  Sometimes they’re engaged even when we’re not.  Remember, we’re doing this for them, not ourselves.

aquarium Littlest

Play Music You may think that sounds strange, but research shows that our brains absorb information better when music is playing in the background.  I want my littles to grow up with a real appreciation for orchestral music, so I literally have a crate full of classical and contemporary orchestral music.  They choose if they want to listen to Mozart or Vivaldi or Strauss or even Celtic music.  And they love Gregorian chant, which we studied a couple years ago in a music theory class.  They take turns picking the CD of the day, we put it in and let it play quietly the whole time we’re in class.  I can always tell when we forget.  They are more easily distracted.  Interesting, huh?


Play Games Mad Libs are superb for grammar lessons.  Clue is great for critical thinking.  We are huge fans of trivia games like Trivial Pursuit and Scene It.  Cranium and Kid’s Cranium cover trivia, art, and P.E.  Scrabble helps with spelling And with foreign language.  Getting the picture?  Board games are not just a blast and a good way to bond–they teach your littles lots of good stuff.  Any time it’s appropriate (and even when it isn’t), add a board game to your school day.

Plan Shorter Lessons  If you plan shorter lessons, you allow more time for Rabbit Trails.   Sometimes kids just really want to discuss what they’re learning, and if we’ve got an hour-long lesson planned, it can feel like they are taking up too much time.  We end up not giving that little the one-on-one we planned when we decided to homeschool.  But if the planned lesson is only 1/2 an hour long, we can let our kids’ minds wander all over the place.  If they are talking about history or geography or math or science, even if you wander far off topic, they are actively engaged in the learning process.  Allow it.  It helps them soak it all in and may lead to a truly fascinating discussion.

Get Messy In any way possible.  Littles adore getting messy.  Fingerpaint.  Make Oobleck.  Build a volcano and use vinegar and baking soda to make it erupt.  Go to a creek and hunt for crawfish (or crawdads as we call them here).  Build a Great Wall out of mud bricks.  Let them littles get filthy.  They will love you for it and remember the lesson better because you will have made it into a great memory.


Read a Book  You knew I was going to say it.  See my 25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool series for suggestions.

It really doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part to make every single day exciting for your little learners.  Practice these tips and you will find that you almost never hear, “Do we Have To do school today?”  I’ve only heard that a handful of times in 5 years, and it was usually during the summer.  By making learning fun for them, you are teaching them to love learning.  And isn’t that what we want to create?  Lifelong learners?

Love wins,