Tools and Tie-Ins for the National Parks Documentary

(copied from

I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” that began airing last night on PBS.  Mostly, because I am always incredibly impressed by anything Ken Burns produces, but also because I am a HUGE supporter of National and State Parks!  And the first two segments of the series (which runs for 6 nights – – 12 hours total) did NOT disappoint!

I know that a lot of teachers and homeschoolers are trying to create unit studies and projects based on this documentary, and I can understand why.  The possibilities for curriculum tie-ins to a production on our National Parks are practically limitless!  So, I decided to put together some of the tools and sites that I am aware of that would go well with any study on this subject.

Of course, PBS has it’s own site for educators, which hosts a lot of different lesson plans and ideas for studying about National Parks.  But here are some other options as well…


Geology of the National Parks – A virtual tour

Windows into Wonderland – beautiful electronic field trips put together by the National Park Service.  Explore everything from the wolves of Yellowstone to the geysers.

Virtual Parks

Language Arts Tie-Ins

SpellingCity: National Parks Play games with spelling words related to the documentary.

Vocabulary Fun Build your national-park-related vocabulary skills using any of these topics for games:

  • Flora
  • Geology
  • Trees
  • Nature
  • Animals
  • Travel

Yellowstone: Native American Myths – review some of the Native American myths and then write your own

Science Tie-Ins


Interactive Map: Where Yellowstone Wolves Roam

Weird Life Forms in Yellowstone

Yellowstone’s Kid’s Site: Scavenger Hunt

Volcano World – Geology of Hawaiian Volcanoes

Encyclopedia Encarta: Geysers

Social Studies Tie-Ins

Sierra Club: John Muir Exhibit

What do Park Rangers Do?

National Park Service: The Statue of Liberty

National Park Service: Teaching with Historic Places

America the Beautiful

Webrangers – Become a park ranger and explore the world of the national parks

Enjoy these great resources, and make the most of this wonderful documentary on America’s National Parks!

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Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Virtual Field Trips

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic So, you might have noticed that I’ve been a slight bit field-trip obsessed on my blog lately.  Nothing like a little competition to get those writing juices flowing, eh?

So I figured the field trip fetish might as well spill over into this week’s HHH post, where we will look at some of the best websites and tools for heading out on “Virtual Field Trips.”

(Note to Mom1: As Barry Manilow would say. “This one’s for you”)

  • One of the coolest collections I’ve come across in weeks has to be the digital collection of historical documents at the Library of Congress website.  I mean, come on…when is the last time you saw the actual document of the argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court in the case of the slaves of the Amistad?!  Other examples of historical items you can see up close and personal include: actual copies of presidential inaugurations, posters from the New Deal era, photographs from the Chicago Daily News during the early 1900’s, copies of scrapbooks kept during the suffrage movement, and much, much more.  That’s one virtual field trip that could keep me busy from now till next year!
  • The JASON Mission Center – I worked closely with the JASON project for a while, and let me tell you, it is impressive.  I don’t know of anything else on the web like it…and the best part?  It is FREE!! JASON offers incredibly interactive science explorations from the closest computer chair.  The three units they have available right now are Energy, Ecology, and Weather.
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – Choose from over 60 different audio tours of various pieces of art history!
  • Windows into Wonderland – beautiful electronic field trips put together by the National Park Service.  Explore everything from the wolves of Yellowstone to the geysers.
  • Listening Adventures from Carnegie Hall – I’m an orchestra junkie.  I can’t play a single orchestral instrument (unless the recorder counts), but I get to as many symphonic concerts as absolutely possible.  So I’m a sucker for a musical field trip like these explorations put together by Carnegie Hall.
  • Another thing I am a sucker for in any form is marine exhibits.  I could camp out for days at any aquarium.  So I happen to think that the virtual tour at ReefHQ Aquarium is pretty awesome.

Do you have any other favorite field trips that can be taken without burning an ounce of gasoline or waiting even one minute in a line for tickets?  Share your fave virtual field trips in the comments!

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Field Trip Wars – Round Three…or the One Where H-T Nearly Bought It

Did I mention in my last post that we were on vacation for TWO days?  Well, that means that there was still one entire blog post to be squeezed out of that little excursion. 

On our second day of rest and relaxation (ha!), we headed into the edges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the Visitors Center/Farm Museum just happened to be hosting a Mountain Life Festival that day.

There were demonstrators everywhere, dressed in period clothes from early Appalachia, and doing everything from making sorghum molasses to blacksmithing something or other.

Ok, so maybe I’m not necessarily an expert in Appalachian history, but I do recognize an outhouse when I see one.  R-T couldn’t wait to look inside to see if they had an old Sears & Roebuck catalog in there…


There wasn’t, but R-T was still amused.  It doesn’t take much.

We all got sort of wrapped up in our different areas of interest on the old restored farm.  Uber was fascinated by the antique organ (he has recently begun taking piano).

I was entertained watching someone besides myself slaving over a hot stove (woodstove, that is).

and R-T was thoroughly fascinated by watching whatever it is they do in a blacksmith’s shop.

But we had all sort of lost track of H-T.  We figured he was having a blast immersing himself in history.  Meanwhile, we checked out the barn, watched some primitive wood planing, and read up on the sorghum making process.

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However, we still hadn’t seen hide or hair of H-T.  Then finally, we all spotted him at once, happily stripping down sugar cane to prepare it for the sorghum, that would be churned by a bridled horse connected to a makeshift churning wheel.

If you look closely at the picture above, you will notice that H-T is eyeing the horse.  That is because at precisely three seconds after this pic was snapped, the horse suddenly decided it didn’t want to be bridled and connected to the churning wheel, so it reared up and came within about one foot of clocking H-T right in the head!!!  I’ve never seen a kid move so fast.  His lightning-quick reflexes seriously saved that kid from lasting neurological damage. 

It took me about an hour to recuperate from the “what-if” scenario. It took H-T about thirty minutes.  The horse?  Ah, he was fine and dandy in about five minutes, and churning that molasses as pretty as you please. 

It really teed me off.  I wanted to sidle up beside that hot-headed equine and give him a piece of my mind!!  But all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

And even though I could’ve – – just to make things EXTRA competitive for Firefly Mom – -  I refrained from taking a picture of the pile of horse poo.  (Heck, I even refrained from taking a picture of MY poo following the horse incident).

That’s just the way I am.  Always playing fair.

Field Trip Wars – Round Two

Firefly Mom really pulled out all the guns for her last homeschool field trip, and even got a picture of a big old pile of bear poo.  I threw up the white flag on that one.

But I wasn’t daunted for long.  I secretly knew that I had a two day mini-vacay coming up that included two full 24-hour-periods of educational goodness.  That getaway took place this past weekend, and I feel that I just might have this next round in the palm of my camera-happy hand!

I had heard through the grapevine that the five main Southeastern Native American tribes were coming together to celebrate their culture and arts in the Cherokee reservation that is located less than two hours from home.  And oh what a celebration it was!

There were displays of every possible kind of native craft including basket-making, dream-catchers, blowguns, corn-husk dolls, slate art, masks, and gourd art.  H-T was especially taken with the antique bow and arrow collection, and Uber took his time poring over the tomahawks.

The night schedule of activities at the Fairground was slotted with Tribal Dancing Competitions, so we had some time to fill before then.  We headed a few blocks south of the fairground to take in the sights and sounds at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  This was compelling combination of static and interactive displays about the history of the Cherokee, and I’ll admit that by the time we got to the part where the Cherokee chiefs traveled all the way to England to plead for a treaty of peace between themselves and the European settlements, I was boo-hooing like a lost child in a department store! 

I seriously barely made it through the Trail of Tears display!!  Such injustice!!!

Thank goodness the night’s festivities were a lot more upbeat, and included some great competitive dancing fun between the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes.

I won’t share the X-rated commentary my hubby was giving during this dance called “The Beaver Catcher”.  But I was seriously LMAO throughout the whole performance (probably NOT the reaction they were hoping for!)

H-T even got to get up on stage when they asked for volunteers for a dance called the “Tick Dance.”  He was on cloud nine the rest of the weekend after getting to shake his groove thing with some true Native Americans!!

But the weekend wasn’t ALL steeped in history…we made plenty of nature-based memories as well.  You’ve probably already heard me brag plenty of times of all that our Western North Carolina mountains have to offer, but here is some more pictorial proof….










I’m thinking that Firefly Mom is quaking in her field-trip planning boots, right about now…

Has Anyone Been Wanting to Try Out Netflix?

If so, now’s the time!

Netflix sent me a promotion code that I am allowed to email to friends and family.  The code is good for one free month of Netflix subscription.

If you’ve been wondering whether Netflix is for you and your family (how good the movie selection is/how easy it is to rent/how quickly the movies will arrive), then this is the perfect opportunity to find out.

All you need to do is leave me your email address in the comments, and the promotional free month of Netflix is yours. (Feel free to put any necessary spaces with your email to prevent spamming.  And I’ll delete all comments after one week just to be on the safe side)

I LOVE the incredible amount of educational DVDs available via Netflix.  And it is usually pretty easy to get a new release, as well.

Happy Renting!!!

Learning and Lollygagging

My buddy, Firefly Mom, who blogs over at Pack of Hungry Snails is BIG on field trips.  If you ever had feelings of inadequacy about not doing enough homeschool field trips, then I BEG OF YOU not to frequent her blog, because you’ll basically want to hang up your homeschool uniform, take your bat and ball, and go home.  She does field trips like her life depends on it!!

Us?  Not so much.

Well, until now that is.  Thanks to our recent foray into unschooling, we aren’t tied to Uber’s online school schedule anymore, and we can gallivant all over creation whenever the urge strikes us.  AND our new homeschool support group is big on field trips, so our fall schedule is already packed with things like visiting a chiropractic office, spending an afternoon at a horticulture center, and park days galore.

Nowadays, I have my ears and eyes on “Eagle Alert” for any and all field trip opportunities.  For one, because I’m making up for lost time.  And for another, because Firefly Mom has been a monopoly for too long.  It’s just not good for America if she doesn’t have some honest competition.

So today, we headed down to Chimney Rock.  Chimney Rock is a 1000-acre state park boasting attractions like a 400-ft. waterfall, a nature observatory, interpretive trails, and a 500 million year old monolith that sticks out like a chimney and provides one of the most spectacular views of a mountain gorge you will ever have the privilege to see!

Today, Chimney Rock was hosting one of their monthly homeschool days, and we were determined to take part.  The theme was Nature Journaling, which interestingly enough has been one of Uber’s latest passions. 

After assembling their nature journals with paper, sticks, and twine, the group headed toward the woods to do some observation, sketching, and practice with descriptive adjectives.

There was PLENTY of nature to interact with.  Trees, flowers, boulders, and a handful of live critters too!

I guess watching live critters makes us Topsies hungry, because as soon as we finished with our class, we headed up the mountain toward the chimney, and even better – – the Chimney Rock Cafe!  This was the view from our lunch table…

Tuna salad, nachos and cheese, and pizza by the slice was just the fuel we needed!  We had plenty of energy for our climb up to the chimney…

where we saw even more of the beauty of this clear September day in Western North Carolina…

Then it was time to put our hiking boots on and head out for Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the state.  I’ve lived here basically my whole life, and had NEVER visited this waterfall, so I was bound and determined to get there today!

It did NOT disappoint…

The long hike was taxing…especially because summer decided it wasn’t quite done with us, and it was 85 degrees in the park today.  But we made it!  ( I could give away the fact that we had to recuperate about 10 minutes longer than the 80-ish-yr-old  looking couple that got to the falls just ahead of us, but that would be embarrassing, so I’ll just keep that to myself)


Last thing on the day’s agenda?  Grabbing some of the best ice cream in the world at the Chimney Rock ice cream parlor, and taking it down by the river, to soak our tired footsies and reflect on how awesome this unschooling thing really is!


Take THAT Firefly Mom!!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Literature Helps

fridays hardwired homeschool hints 150X150 It’s back to school for the Topsies (or not-back-to-school as I know some of you prefer)!

That means time to dig deep into my resource bookmarks and find more great Hardwired Homeschool Hints to add to my Friday blog posts!

Today’s subject: Literature Helps

Whether you’re kids are fans of Dr. Seuss or Dostoevski, you want to be able to help them get the most they possibly can out of what they read.  About four years ago, we dedicated an entire year of homeschool to Classic Literature, and it was a blast. 

So here are some of my favorite techie tools for studying literature:

Sparknotes and Shmoop:  Interesting, engaging, relevant, and yes…digital guides to classic literature and more.  (Think Cliffnotes as written by your favorite “hip” college professor tech-geek)

Children’s Literature Database:  This has always been my go-to guide for finding quality books on specific subjects, for specific grade-levels, by specific historical setting, or even which won specific awards.  A must-have bookmark!

Teach With Movies:  If you have visual learners at your house, who happen to remember what they “see” even better than what they “read”, then you might appreciate the website Teach With Movies.  Each movie listed has accompanying lesson plans and learning guides.  Here is the link to their Literature page. (TWM requires a small annual subscription)

Lit2Go: If you love classic literature, but don’t always have time for  it, you might appreciate the free mp3 downloads at this site that you can listen to on iTunes, in the car, or on your MP3 player.

Literary Elements Mapping: Cool graphic organizer tool for helping students map out the elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution in whatever book they are studying.

WannaLearn Classic Literature List: We used this list extensively when we were focusing on the classics.  Direct purchasing links for each of the books, as well.  I often recommend the games at this site, and I can highly recommend using the topic “Literary Terms” for your next session of game play

Banned Books Online: I always thought it would be so much fun to do a unit study or exploration of solely “banned books.”  If you ever have that strange inclination for yourself, here is a great link.

If you’d like to check out all previous Hardwired Homeschool Hints posts, click on this link.

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