Louisiana: Jean Laffitte

Jean Laffite is a real historical figure.  He was a pirate and probably a few other things that sailed mainly out of New Orleans until he got kicked out of there and then he moved to Galveston, where he founded the town.

This story is a cute tall tale about how he saved New Orleans when a whale got stuck in the Mississippi River.

supplies collage
Well after reading it I decided we’re going to make our own whales.

Here’s what you need: googly eyes, milk cartons, blue paper, glue, paint, and paint brush


Princess opted to paint hers, so she had the relatively simple job of just putting lots of blue paint all over it.

She really enjoyed doing it this way because we haven’t painted for a while, at least not with tempera paint.

The boys went with the “decoupage” option and glued and tore to their hearts content.

We all really enjoyed making our whales, and it was quite the project.  Now I need to scrounge up more milk cartons for any future projects I come up with.

I’m linking up to: A Mommy’s Adventures
Shibley Smiles

Kentucky: Derby, of course

How can you learn about Kentucky without at least having a brief stop at the Derby?

You can’t.  So, I didn’t.

First we read “The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby,” it’s a bittersweet story about a jockey who eventually quits racing here because of racism. I don’t think it was the best book for what I was trying to teach about, but it’s probably a good book for another lesson.
Afterwards we watched a video about the different hats women wear.

Which Princess thought was wonderful, the boys were more interested in seeing several different races from different years.

Afterwards we made Derby hats.

I turned them loose with styrofoam plates, bowls, pipe cleaners, buttons, bows, what have you.

Unfortunately, Batman’s was so precarious that he could never wear it.  The same with Superman’s, which I did get a picture of.

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Making Music: tin can drums


I mentioned earlier how I’ve been trying to incorporate music more into our day, and we’ve been using these tin can drums for a little bit now.

But just a can is boring, that’s no fun.


So, I gave them some acrylic paints and let them have at the cans.

Now we have pretty shiny cans, and they make music just as well.

Here’s how we’ve used them:

1.  for a beat
2  the different sized cans make different noises, so they can make some music
3.  trying how we hit the cans, different parts make different noises, and what they are hit with changes the sound
4.  tapping out sounds in words
5.  tapping out syllables
6.  building with001
Just a note: I have a clean edge can opener, so the edges of the cans will not cute them.  If you don’t have that, cover the edges with tape, and they’ll be protected in that way.

Noah’s ark or maybe just a fun boat to play in

So, because I’m a crazy over-achiever or maybe a perfectionist or something I’ve decided to completely write and design my own Bible study curriculum that goes through the whole thing in 2 years.  More or less.

I mean we’re not hitting everything, but it gets most of the major stories and themes.

Well, this past week in our Sunday school class was Noah, so of course we had to make arks.

SUPPLIES:  individual milk cartons (or in our case orange juice), floral foam (can be found at the dollar store or Michael’s), brown acrylic paint, Noah’s ark printout, sharp knife


1.   Force your kids to drink 14 cartons of orange juice in 2 days, then cut out one side of your ark, so it looks like a boat.

2.  Paint your ark.  I know, normally I’d show me painting, but I didn’t think to take pictures until afterwards.


3.  Cut your floral foam to fit inside your carton.  This is a very exact science which will require shaving off bits and pieces and then shoving it into your ark.

And, it is very messy.


4.  Color the printout and cut out each of the figures.  Then tape them to the ark.


Now set your ark adrift on the ocean.  And look forward to the squeals of delight from your kids.  Yes, that is a mandatory step.
So, I made 24 of these for my class including the sample (I pre-painted them, they colored the pictures).  We used every single one of them.  No joke.
Noah Ark Papers(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })(); learning laboratory at mama smilesabc button

Fairy house, or that’s what I was thinking

See, I don’t know why I get these wonderful ideas of what the projects will look like.  My kids so rarely listen to my ideas anyways……


Supplies: Large sturdy plastic containers (fabric softener, orange juice, liquid laundry detergent), acrylic paint, paint brushes, small toys, sharp knife and/or scissors, Sharpie markers (or something else to mark where to cut)



1.  Draw out where the holes you are going to cut in the side are going to be.  Then explain the idea again to your son who insists on drawing out elaborate battle scenes…….


2.  Cut the holes out.



3.  Have a very long discussion with your daughter on how it is supposed to be made.  “No Mommy it’s not supposed to be painted.”


Sigh, I’ve been told that because she’s so stubborn now that she won’t give in easily to peer pressure later…….


4.  If you’re a stubborn little girl who knows best, than you color the whole thing with Sharpie markers.  Otherwise you paint the outside in insanely bright colors.



4b.  Spend over an hour making 3 bendy dolls with a new pattern that you for some reason have to make even more complicated than it was, and then give up and just make a mess.




5.  Attempt to take pictures of the freshly painted homes, which are of course completely dry…………  Only to have the kids “help” with the photos.


Oh well, they love them.  They never made it to the backyard to make a fairy home like I was hoping, but they’re getting lots of playtime up in their rooms……

Massachusetts: Mayflower and the Pilgrims

There are a whole slew of great books about the Pilgrims, but I wanted to do something a little different, so we watched, drumroll please:

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I remember seeing this as a little kid and my Mom recording it, as well as the other historical specials (which I think I’m the only one who remembers these), and then watching it over and over and over again.


Ahhhh……  Good times!

painting the Mayflower

And what else do you do when learning about the Pilgrims, but make a Mayflower?


So, I saved a whole slew of milk cartons and orange juice cartons, much to Jeff’s chagrin, cut a hole in them, and then let the kids happily paint their own Mayflowers.

And now about a week later, while they’re resting I’ve set them up along with two of the lighthouses to be a fun playscape when they come down from “resting.”


What do you think, will this get me a few minutes of time alone?


Looks like the answer is yes.

Boston and the early Revolution



We’ve started into Massachusetts.  I thought for a state with so much history and that was such a center for the start of the American Revolution it’d be great to start off with some history.


We talked through some of the events that happened there and why they were so upset, and while we talked about it they put together this map (from Time Travelers American Revolution).  It helped the kids get a bit of an idea what was happening and where.



We ran out of time that first week, so we continued the next week.  I talked about the Boston Massacre and how Paul Revere made a  Boston Massacre wood engraving that enraged many people.  I talked about how in some ways it was propaganda because he changed some of the details to make it look more one-sided than it really was (see link below). 

Description of details and finer points about Paul Revere’s engraving.


Afterwards they each got to make their own “wood carving”


Supplies: foam from a take out container or a clean meat tray  (HEB was kind enough to give me 6 clean unused trays to cut up); a bamboo skewer or toothpick (something sharp, you could use a pencil), tempera paint, paintbrush (preferably foam)



Draw your design into the foam.  It takes a bit of work to find just the right way.  My kids mainly poked holes to make a pattern, but the older kids mastered actually drawing with it.

When you’re satisfied with your design paint a THIN layer of paint over it.  Emphasis on thin.



So, they got to make an attempt at woodcarving and discovered it’s harder than it looks.

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While the paint dried we read “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a poem that I love for it’s cadence.  I remember at one point seeing a copy with the illustrations done in the style of woodcarving (it may have been woodcarvings), but I couldn’t find that one.


And just for fun here’s some fun videos I found on You Tube.  After seeing the first one my kids want me to make a Lego movie of their stories……..

Massachusetts: Sisters of Scituate Light

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I got lucky when looking for books for Massachusetts and found this delightful little tale about 2 sisters who live at the lighthouse outside of Boston during the War of 1812.  Their family had gone on a trip and left them in charge of the lighthouse.  While everyone is gone they see soldiers from a British warship coming in to raid the town.  They hurry out and trick the soldiers.


I’ll leave it to you to read the story and see how they tricked them and what the end result was.  To me this was a great example of how the smallest thing can turn the tide of a battle.


supplies: empty water bottle, blue tape, acrylic paint (white, yellow, and another bright color), paint brush




1.  Paint most of your water bottle white.  I did this as prep work for all of the kids, but if you’re just doing this with your family you could do this step, and paint the top yellow, then read the book and it should be pretty much dry at that point……




2.  Tape your pattern onto the water bottle.  Lighthouses had different patterns on them so the sailors could know where they were on the coast line.  Because I had rather wide tape I carefully cut it in half using an exacto knife and then taped it on.




3.  Paint the top yellow.  Now go read the book and wait for the paint to dry.


No really, go read it.  It’s a cute story.




4.  Paint the bottom with your chosen color.  While you wait for it to dry go out and have fun playing!


Maybe swing a few times or chase the dog.



5.  When it’s dry peel the tape off.  If you’re so inclined cut a door at the bottom for your toys to go in and out of.


And of course it can always act as a rocket……..

The random how to encourage learning and creativity post

learning laboratory at mama smiles

No really, that’s what I’m titling it.


This is nominally inspired by “Playful Learning” which I’ve been enjoying reading to review.


I’ll start with this:


This is a treasure box.  you can tell because of the treasure trove of swords.


Now, all you need to do is take out the swords and you have:



A train.  All that is needed is a steering wheel, which Batman is quite happily adding.






This is also a train.  In case you were wondering.  Superman and Batman took the boxes from their party and finagled them into these contraptions.  This is the train for their “kiddos.”



I have no clue where they picked that term up, no honest I don’t.  I would never call my kids that.  Or at least not more than 200 times a day.  It’s a great way to grab the random kid who is walking by and you can’t see for sure who it is.


Yes, sometimes, okay quite often, learning in my house is spontaneous and totally unrelated to what we’re officially studying…….