Saturday, June 12, 2021

Why I Love Visual Guide Workbooks

The Visual Guide workbooks are fun inforgraphic based worksbooks that can be used for homeschool or summer learning

Post contains some affiliate links, through which I can earn commission

I'm not big on workbooks generally, but I love the Visual Guide Workbooks.   They feature colorful, fun, infographics packed with great information, and questions and activities to go with them.    I have a child who often struggled to pay attention to long written passages but  almost always remembered the stuff he saw in the pictures and diagrams.  That made these workbooks perfect for him.   

While the lessons aren't in any particular order they do tend to focus on some major themes.    And so I've put together a free printable guide to the topics in these books so that, if you wanted to you could use them to supplement things you are already learning about in your homeschool. I've found that it's ok to skip around in the books a little.   A friend of mine who's a reading teacher says it's good for kids to have access to both reading passages exactly at their levels, and ones a little lower and a little above their level, and I find this good advice.   So I organized my "guide to the guides" in a way that you could find all the pages in all levels of the book on a certain subject.   That could be useful if you were using this with more than one child as well. 

Page showing solar system stats

Solar System page from the Visual Guide to 3rd Grade

Look at that gorgeous page on space!  Space is a major theme in several of the Visual Guide books (see the bottom of this page for links to all the books and a listing of their major themes).   My child really responds well to colorful, quality graphics in workbooks and worksheets like these.  But while you can find a loot of great free worksheets online, pages with colorful backgrounds like this are expensive to print, so if you want something like this, it's actually cheaper in the long run to buy workbooks like these.  

Page showing African Animals Map infographic on one side, and worksheet questions on the other.
Animals of Africa Map page from the Visual Guide to 1st Grade

All infographics are followed by activities and questions.  You can see what these are like on the lesson on Animals of Africa above.   There are more hands on cut and paste activities as well.

Ben Franklin page from the Visual Guide to 3rd Grade

Infographic of Ancient Egypt with various Egypt facts

Ancient Egypt page from the Visual Guide to 1st Grade

These books include a lot of pages from History too.    Most are are related to US history but in the 1st grade book there's a little world history sprinkled in as well, like the page on ancient Egypt shown above.   Each of these pages is followed up by questions, and often activities, on the following pages.

Page showing skeleton and naming bones

Human Anatomy page from the Visual Guide to 3rd Grade

Page showing monarch butterfly life cyle and migration patterns.

Monarch butterfly page from the Visual Guide to 2nd Grade
There's so many great science topics included, too.   Animals, human health and anatomy, earth science, conservation, and more.  

Below you can find links to these books, and major themes in them.   I considered it a major theme if there were 3 or more sections related in some way to it.   These are of course just a few of the topics included in these books.

US Symbols, Plants and Farming,
Animals Life, Inventions

Visual Guide to 1st Grade
National Parks and Monuments,
American History, Native Americans*, 
US Government/Our Capitol, Africa, World Cultures,
Animal Life, Environment and Conservation,
Space, Weather

Visual Guide to 2nd Grade
American History, Presidents/Patriotic Symbols,
National Parks and Monuments,
Animal Life, Earth Science, Sports, Weather*

Visual Guide to 3rd Grade
National Parks and Monuments, American History,
 Environment and Conservation, Animal Life, Sea life,
Earth Science, Space, Technology, Health

Free Printable Topics Guide
Use this guide to find topics in the
Visual Guidebooks to supplement
your homeschool lessons

Opinions are all my own.   I was not paid to promote these products but this post does contain affiliate links through which I could earn commission. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Making Mud Bricks

 Picture of completed mud brick.

The bricks shown here were made with a mix of 
garden sand/soil mixed in, and came out kind of
crumbly.  "Texas clay" straight out of my back yard 
worked much better - it dried solid like rock.

Back in 2010 our church did an Egypt themed VBS that included making mud bricks, and I can tell you, it was a blast.  It's cheap, fun and really does give kids a glimpse into a common part of life in ancient Egypt (and lots of  other places in the ancient world where people made their homes out of mud brick, such as Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilization, and ancient Nubia).

For these instructions I consulted the instructions on the Biblical Archaeology website and several other websites (see sources at the bottom of the page) and added some suggestions we learned while doing this project with groups of kids age 4-11.  


There are two main ways to make your brick mold...single-brick molds or multi-molds.   Both use the same basic materials.


1x4 or 2x4 cut into smaller


The brick molds shown below were made by cutting 1x4 or 2x4 boards into smaller sections and nailing together in the pattern you can see below.  Ours were a little narrow (making 2" wide bricks...3" wide are better).     For 3" wide bricks cut wood in the following dimensions

FOR 1x4
5" end pieces
6" side pieces

FOR 2x4
7" end pieces
6" side piece 

You can of course go a little longer or shorter if you want, for different sized bricks.

How to make mud bricks like they did in ancient time:   This picture shows the wood frame for a mud bricks.

Then you nail the ends together.  Of course, some early civilizations didn't have "nails" so you might be cheating a bit.  Off Grid Web has an article showing how these molds were made before nails were used, which might be fun to show your kids, though would be much more challenging to replicate.


You can also make a long mold for several bricks by using a longer piece of wood and putting slats between it, as shown here.   I prefer the smaller one when working with multiple children though because it allows them to more easily  remove the brick themselves, in stead of all being crowded around one larger mold. 


Whichever type of mold you use, it's helpful to reserve a short 2x4 to use to pack the mud and help push the bricks out of the mold if they stick. 

(From a blog post on how to make mud bricks like the ancient Egyptians) Picture showing how to pack down the bruck using a short 2x4 piece.


Brick Mold  (see above)
Dirt (see note below)
Hay or sand (optional)
Shovel or other intrument for mixing mud
Spatula or other flat tool (for help removing bricks once dried)
Short 2x4 (optional, see above)
Plastic Butter knife for each child (optional, for smoothing top)
Cookie sheet or board (optional)

For Mess Management:
Tarp or plastic sheet (such as a disposable plastic tablecloth or cut up trash bags)
An extra bucket of water to wash in
Trash bags to protect clothing

The best dirt to use is a clay like dirt (not too sandy, not too "woody").   If you live in central Texas, what is in your backyard is perfect (if you haven't amended it much).   In other places your backyard soil might be less perfect, but what is in your backyard will still most likely be better than what you can buy in a garden center ("clay" dirt is a nightmare for growing most plants in, so this type of dirt isn't usually sold).


1.  Pick your time and prepare your location. (It's best to do this craft outdoors if possible, on a warm sunny day.   Bricks can take several days to fully dry, so do not try this when rain is expected.)  

If you have an outdoor location, hard ground or cement is preferable.   If the only outdoor location has grass, you will need boards, cookie sheets, or other flat hard surfaces to put your bricks on.  If picnic tables are available they work well...but remember to cover them with a plastic tarp or disposable tablecloth. 

If you are doing this in an indoor space you will want to lay out a tarp to contain the mess, and cover any table you use (a cut up trash bag can work if doing this with just your own children).   You will still need to take the bricks outside to dry.   To make it easier to move them outside I suggest getting a board to make your bricks on, or cookie sheets (using these can also allow you to do this craft outside on grass).

If doing this in a group you will also want to set up a washing station for cleaning muddy hands and have a towel set aside for wiping feet as children leave the brick making area, so they don't track mud outside that space.  You will also probably want to have kids wear a trash bag with holes cut in it for the arms and head (in our camp we used pillowcases for kids to wear, which doubled as a costume once we added a colored sash). 

Picture of a child playing with muddy water used to make mud bricks.

Child playing with the muddy water we used to mix our bricks.
This was not the "mud" but the water we scooped into the dirt,
which is why you'll want something separate to wash with.

2. Mix soil and water in a large bucket or other container to create a thick mud (it should not be too watery).  Kids really like taking part in this, usually.

For a more authentic experience, and sturdier bricks, add straw ( around a half pound of straw for every cubic foot of mud mixture), and then KNEAD DAILY FOR FOUR DAYS, then leave the mixture alone for a few days before using (kneading the mixture one more time on the day you use it).   This allows the straw to ferment which creates a chemical reaction in the mud that makes them three times stronger than regular clay.   But, understandably, you might want to skip this, as we did, as it's time consuming (and the fermentation may possibly create a smell).   Still, its good to tell kids that this was part of the original process, and what it was for.   Just adding the straw without the extra days on kneading doesn't seem to add much strength to the bricks, and actually seemed to make them a little more fragile.  

4.   Whatever surface you've prepared to make your bricks on (unless it's already covered by a plastic sheet), distribute hay or sand on it to make it easier to get the bricks off it later (WARNING:  sand can damage cookie sheets).

5.   Pour the mud into the molds and pack them down with your hands or a short 2x4 piece.  Scrape off any excess mud with a piece of wood or other flat tool such as a plastic knife.  

6.  (Optional) Let molds sit to solidify for 20 minutes.   This was suggested in the original authentic method, but we were able to remove the mud from the molds right away without much problem. 

7.   Remove the brick from the mold.   You may need to gently push them out with a short 2x4 piece or other tool.  

8.   If you are indoors, carefully move your cookie sheets or board with bricks outside to dry.   If you are outside, leave your bricks alone.   Bricks may dry in a day but can take several days.   They are usually sturdy enough to transfer onto a paper plate after several hours of drying though. 

These were my sources for this article, and are fun extra reads.

Biblical Archaeology, written by anonymous Biblical Archaeology Society Staff,    August 15, 2020 

Primitive Technology: Making Mud Bricks
Off Grid Web, Written by on (Lion Tracks Ministries), unknown Author, unknown published date, accessed 3/8/2021

Ultimate Guide to MudBricks
The Survival Journal, Publish Date Unknown, Last Updated August 30, 2020, Written by Editorial Staff, accessed 3/8/2021

Mudbricks, unknown Author, unknown published date, accessed 3/8/2021.

Senegal Architects Ditch Concrete and Revive Old Techniques
I didn't use this for the article, but thought it was interesting how they are returning to mud bricks (sort of). 

Most of the photos were not taken by me, 
but by other wonderful photographers at Dayspring Baptist Church

Shared on Dear Homeschooler Bookshelf

Friday, March 5, 2021

Caterpillar Cupcake Cake

This caterpillar cupcake cake is one of the easiest cakes to make, ever...but totally cute and charming.   Really,  I hardly need to explain it.   You just frost cupcakes in light green, then draw legs and antenna on the plate below them, and draw eyes and a smiling mouth with writing icing.  Even if you totally botch the eyes (as I did...I guess that writing icing was sort of drippy), it can come out cute.   And if it doesn't, its easy to swop in another cupcake for the face and try again.  
It's a "no talent required" cake and I like that.   

While this doesn't feed many, you can do a few of these cakes if you have a larger crowd, or make other bug cupcakes, like the ladybug, or these candy bug cupcakes we did for another party, to fill in.

The ladybug was a touch harder.   I think I let my son do the dots...not sure.   But even done very imperfectly was cute and pretty easy. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Quick Typing Tip

When your child typing a copy of something, here is a simple way to prop up the paper to make it easier for your child to see.  

When typing the first half of the paper, fold the paper in half with the text facing forward, and slip the bottom half of the paper under the keyboard as shown in the picture above. 

When typing the second half re-fold the paper in the opposite direction, then prop it up behind the keyboard like a tent, as shown in the picture above.