Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

It's flu season, and we've got a reading list of historical fiction and nonfiction to help you explore epidemics past.

Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

We’re so excited about the solar eclipse this month! (We’ve even planned a family camping trip to coincide with it so that we can get the best possible view.) I’d love to add some eclipse books to our summer reading list. What do you recommend?

We’re all excited about the eclipse, too! There are a ton of books about the science and history of eclipses, so I’m going to focus the list on ones that we’ve read and enjoyed.

If you're looking for a one-stop-shop-style book focused specifically on the 2017 solar eclipse, check Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024. It gives a rundown of the science behind the big event, but its focus is on experiencing the eclipse yourself: What should you know to view it safely? What can you expect to see, stage by stage? How can you take the best photographs of the eclipse? There’s tons of practical advice here, which is nice if you’re looking for a way to channel everyone’s eclipse excitement into actual planning. (Similarly, the editor of Astronomy magazine has put together Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, which includes a mix of science and practical eclipse experiencing tips. If Totality has a wait list at your library, you could try this one instead.)

When the Sun Goes Dark is a quick, picture book read about preparing for a solar eclipse. (The idea of recreating a mini eclipse in your living room with a lamp, balls, and hoops might be fun to try in your tent, too.)


Another nice picture book is The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons—it’s about eclipses but also about the science and folklore of the moon in general, which is fun to dig into. (The sun shouldn’t get all the attention, right?)


We really loved American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, which focuses not on the 2017 eclipse but on the 1878 one, which generated its own, pre-Facebook eclipse fever and marked an important moment in the history of astronomy. This book focuses on three famous eclipse chasers—the astronomer Maria Mitchell (who is one of my childhood heroes), Thomas Edison, and James Craig Watson—who worked to document the event and collect scientific data on the ground right in the middle of Wild West. It’s a great mix of history and science. (If you love this one, follow it up with America's First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever.)

Eclipse: History. Science. Awe. was actually written to coincide with the 1979 solar eclipse in the Pacific Northwest, but it has been updated with information for the 2017 eclipse, too. It’s a beautiful book with scientific details, history, and mythology about the eclipse—think of it as a coffee table book that delivers a glossy, fact-filled overview of eclipses without digging too deep into any particular topic. We loved flipping through this one, but I think it might be harder to pull off as a readaloud.

If you’d like to read more about the history of solar eclipses (and you should because it’s fascinating), pick up a copy of Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. It’s a selective journey through eclipse history, starting with the first hints of scientific understanding in the world and continuing to modern-day eclipse chasers, and you’ll find a lot of cool facts you might not have known—such as the fact that the eclipse was used in 1919 to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity or that scientists today use eclipses to locate distant planets.

Anthony Aveni takes the history of eclipses one step further in In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses, which considers the sociological and cultural history of eclipses as well as their scientific history. I love that it collects the stories of eclipses through history from oral, pictorial, and written traditions and accounts to create a story of cultural astronomy.


If you want to do a little bonus armchair eclipse chasing, physicist Frank Close writes about his travels and scientific discoveries on the trail of the next big eclipse in Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon. 



Younger readers will appreciate Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing, by columnist Joe Rao. It’s heavy on the solar eclipse (there's a whole section devoted to the 2017 eclipse) but also contains useful information about the constellations, northern lights, and other astronomical phenomena. (This one is especially handy if you want to do a little stargazing on your camping trip, too.)


If you are looking for activity suggestions to gear up for your eclipse viewing, Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses and More breaks down the science behind the eclipse into a series of stand-alone topics, each with hands-on activities. It’s designed for middle school teachers to use in their classrooms, but most of the activities can be adapted pretty easily to suit students of any age. There’s also a lot of good general sun science here.

For a fun, pop culture approach to eclipses and their place in science and history, lunar scientist John Dvorak has written Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses. We really enjoyed reading about the superstitions and weird traditions associated with eclipses over the years. (For instance, did you know that pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse? Me neither!)


We’re always happy to help you put together a customized booklist. Email us with the details of what you’re looking for, and we’ll help you strategically raid your library shelves.

HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.31.17: Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution

The understanding of evolution didn't spring fully formed from the head of Darwin—though even in Darwin's own time, scientific thinkers who'd advanced pieces of theory were already being forgotten. Stott does a great job in this book of illuminating evolution's controversial intellectual history, from ancient Greece to Victorian England, pointing out that long before the Scopes trial, evolutionary ideas were shaking things up. A really fascinating read about a piece of science history that doesn't pop up in many places. I think we're going to do this as a readaloud this summer.

(Hey, are you a fan of the daily book deal? Leave a comment—we've been doing them for a couple of weeks and want to be sure we're not cluttering up the blog with stuff you don't want to see!)

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.

9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.

Hands-On Science: Raising Tadpoles

Life science takes on a whole new meaning when you’re raising tadpoles from tiny eggs to hopping frogs.

Life science takes on a whole new meaning when you’re raising tadpoles from tiny eggs to hopping frogs.

For young children, the best science curriculum is simple acts of exploration and observation. Be open to new discoveries and seize opportunities to involve yourself in the unfolding of natural processes whether by sitting and watching, spending more time in nature, or being intentional about answering your questions. How does that happen? How does that work? Why? When? What?

A few years ago, my husband seized an opportunity for my boys when he took my youngest son (then 2 years old) to a park, and together they found hundreds of tiny black tadpoles in a pool of water in the shoals of a stream. With a cup from the car, my husband scooped up a few of the tadpoles, and my two-year-old proudly and carefully carried the cup back to the car. Imagine my eldest son’s surprise when he and I returned home, and his brother told us we were going to raise tadpoles. Could we do that without hurting them? I wondered. Raising tadpoles was much easier than I thought it would be. We used an old container box—the kind that can slide under a bed—and put it on the front porch. We filled it with water and some big rocks, and my husband used the water conditioner that we use for our fish aquarium to get the chlorine out. Later, we returned to the stream where we found the tadpoles and collected water from it because there are microorganisms in it that the tadpoles could feed on. (If you raise tadpoles, you might want to start with water from the source where you find your tadpoles, if you don’t already have a habitat set up.)

My husband also purchased a cheap water filter from the pet store, but we didn’t use it to filter the water. Instead, we let it gently circulate the water and make bubbles—this put oxygen in the water. Tadpoles have gills like fish and breath by passing oxygenated water through their gills. However, we have seen tadpoles living quite comfortably in puddles or stagnant water, so a filter may not be necessary.

Next we wondered what to feed our tadpoles. Luckily we found some frog/tadpole food at the pet store, but we also put frozen spinach leaves into the box—the tadpoles loved it! And as I said, we gave them water from the stream so they could eat any microorganisms from it.

When we weren’t keeping vigil over our tadpoles, we kept a piece of old window screen on top of the box to keep out mosquitoes or any predators that might come up on our porch. We felt it was important to keep the tadpoles outside so that they would experience the same temperatures they would have at the stream.

After the habitat was set up, all we needed to do was watch them grow. And they grew fast! As it turned out, our little frogs were fowler toads, which we recognized as soon as they started to get their spots because fowler toads like to live around our house too. Other frogs might have taken much longer to transform into adults, but since I had two little boys watching the whole process, I was grateful for the quick transition. Every morning we would run outside to see our tadpoles, and we could see a difference in them. They got bigger and bigger, they sprouted back legs, front legs, and their coloring changed. Oh the excitement!

During this process, I learned from my herpetologist friend that whenever we find tadpoles around here (in north Georgia) that are solid black, they are definitely toads. Other tadpoles, such as those from tree or chorus frogs, are clear, and if viewed from the bottom, you can see an orange-colored circle, which is their intestines.

We learned on the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s (SREL) website that female fowler toads lay eggs in strings with clutches of up to 25,000 eggs in spring or summer after a heavy rain, and that tadpoles go through metamorphosis within two months. But we only had our little tadpoles from June 15 to July 4.

Two out of three of the toadlets lost their tails within a day and were sitting up on the rocks in the habitat. Since they were no longer tadpoles, we no longer knew what to feed them, so on July 4th—a very fitting day—we decided to release them back near the stream where we found them. The third one, which had always developed about one day behind the others, was still in the water and had a tail, so we found a shallow part of the stream to put him in with plenty of leaf cover for him to hide under.

It was a wonderful experience for me, let alone for my children, who delighted in the whole process. I am happy that my husband took that opportunity to do something special with his boys, and I’m glad we gave those three little tadpoles a safe place to grow and reach the next stage of their lives. 


Tadpole Notes:

If you want to raise tadpoles, you should first check your state’s regulations about collecting them from the wild. Some states prohibit this. Furthermore, if you buy tadpoles online, make sure you find a species that can be released into your area (if you plan to release them). is a reputable resource for schools, and many of their products can be used in the home as well. (This is the company that we purchased butterfly larvae from. You can read about that in the summer 2014 issue of home / school / life.) They will state on their website, if you live in a state where a live specimen cannot be shipped.

This column was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of HSL.

Bespoke Book List: Great STEM Biographies for Kids

Great STEM Biographies for Kids

One of my pet peeves book-wise is the lack of good biographies for kids. Unless you want to read about Justin Bieber or someone from the 1850s, there just aren’t a lot of good options out there. So I was pretty darn thrilled when I discovered that Lerner Publications had launched a series of biographies that focus on modern day STEM professionals, including (gasp!) some pretty cool women. These are some of the modern innovators you can meet:

Who she is: a video game designer who believes gaming can make the world a be􏰁er place. her best-known games include EVOKE, Superstruct, World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and The Lost Ring.
Read all about her in: Alternate Reality Game Designer Jane Mcgonigal by Anastasia Suen

Who he is: The guy who invented some of today’s most buzzworthy robotics, including Google glasses, robotic mapping, and the Google self-driving car— he’s also the founder of the Google X lab.
Read all about him in: Google Glass and Robotics Innovator Sebastian Thrun by Marne Ventura

Who he is: The question isn’t so much who the director of the Hayden Planetarium and popular astrophysicist is, but why it’s taken so long for someone to write a biography of him.
Read all about him in: Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Marne Ventura

Who she is: One of the celebrated women of silicon valley, she’s the brains behind super-popular community photo-sharing website Flickr and creator of the decision-making website Hunch.
Read all about her in: Flickr Cofounder and Web Community Creator Caterina Fake by Patricia Wooster

Who he is: One of the fathers of the iPod, Fadell is the techie who came up with the more-than-a-music-player’s distinctive look and functionality and the Wi-Fi enabled, learning-programmable Nest Labs thermostat.
Read all about him in: iPod and Electronics Visionary Tony Fadell by Anastasia Suen

This reading list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.

Citizen Science Project #12: Flu Near You

Citizen Science Project #12: Flu Near You

Not only was my family sick over our winter vacation in December, my kids are sick again now, a month later, and so am I. Sigh. But, I found the perfect citizen science project to go along with my sore throat. 

Flu Near You is a tool that allows individuals to report and track infectious diseases. It was created by epidemiologists at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and The Skoll Global Threats Fund because tracking flu symptoms is slow when they rely on doctor’s offices to do the reporting. Many people don’t even visit the doctor when they have flu-like symptoms.

If you sign up with Flu Near You, your personal information will remain completely confidential, and your report will be anonymous to the researchers. Once a week, you’ll receive an e-mail reminding you to report any symptoms—or no symptoms—that your family is experiencing.  Even if you don’t think you have the flu, but you have a sore throat, you should report that. You cannot know for certain if you have the flu unless you visit a doctor, so Flu Near You does not expect you to know exactly what you have. You simply click on any symptoms. They have recently added more symptoms so that they can identify potential outbreaks of other diseases, such as Zika, Chikungunya, or Dengue fever.

It only takes a minute to make the report. Flu Near You will collect these reports and list them on a map that you can access on their website. This way, you’ll know if there is a flu outbreak where you are traveling to or in your local area. If there is, you can take extra precaution.

I signed up for Flu Near You, and they only asked me for my e-mail address, birthdate, gender, and zip code. I was able to add other family members using nicknames, but this was optional. When reporting, I simply click on any symptoms we have (or “no symptoms”) and then click “report.” It was that easy.

Learn more about Flu Near You by clicking on this link.


And that’s my year of citizen science projects! Thank you to everyone who has been following along. 

Citizen Science Project #10: mPING crowdsourcing weather reports


It’s that time of year when I am making an extra effort to check the weather report everyday because I never know if there’s going to be a frost, so I need to bring some plants inside, or if the day will be unusually warm, so I need to pull out some T-shirts for my boys. This is why I am happy to help the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) with their Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPING) project.

That may be a mouthful of a project name, but it’s actually quite simple. The NSSL created an app called mPing so that everyone, including you, can quickly report the weather in your area. The information you send is completely anonymous. This is helpful because weather radars cannot see the ground level. According to their website, these reports are used by the NOAA National Weather Service to fine-tune their forecasts, and the NSSL uses them to develop new radar forecasting technologies and techniques. 

I downloaded the app onto my smartphone, and I was happy to see that it’s very easy to use. You simply tap “Report Type,” and pick the appropriate report, such as “Rain” or “Hail.” You may be asked more specific questions such as the approximate size of the hail, etc. After that is done, you simply tap “Submit Report.” This is especially helpful to do before, during and after a storm.

You can get the mPING app at the App Store or on Google Play.

For more citizen science project ideas, click here!

The Brain, An Introduction to Neurology: Fun Science for Middle Grades

Ellen McHenry's Neurology gives middle school homeschoolers a chance to dig into science that's usually reserved for high school in a fun, hands-on way

As the mom of three budding young scientists, each time I open one of Ellen McHenry’s popular books for homeschoolers, I grow more excited. Writing for children ages 8 to 14, McHenry introduces areas of science often deemed too advanced for young students—chemistry, botany, and neurology to name just a few. McHenry recognizes what many homeschoolers quickly come to realize—this science stuff is too much fun to put off till high school! 

The Brain, An Introduction to Neurology is one of McHenry’s earlier texts. Although it lacks the colorful content of her more recent works, this is not a resource that you will want to miss. The author is also an illustrator and her black and white sketches are as detailed and informative as the text that they accompany. The result is a superbly balanced layout that succeeds in providing detailed information for older learners, and avoids overwhelming younger readers with text-heavy material.

A reproducible student booklet, a teacher guide and answer key, and a CD rom are the cornerstones of this resource. They come packaged together.

The student booklet is 10 chapters. Topics include a history of brain research, brain anatomy, brain cells, learning and memory, and a look at various brain disorders. Each chapter is divided into two sections. The first section introduces a new topic and is followed by several activities that reinforce new concepts. Wide-ranging activities include viewing videos online, reading additional materials, cross word puzzles, mapping parts of the brain, word searches and more.

The second section of each chapter was developed for more advanced learners or for anyone wishing to delve a little deeper. Additional activities, similar to those found in section 1, follow. Your family may choose to do all of these advanced sections, or you may pick and choose those that most appeal to your child. An answer key for both sections is also included.

The student booklet is followed by the teacher’s section, which opens with a list of recommendations for additional neurology books and websites. From here, McHenry provides unique activity suggestions to accompany each chapter. As one who is forever perusing Pinterest and homeschooling blogs for innovative science projects, I’m certain that McHenry has among the most original ideas out there. Do an MRI of an orange, make a hemisphere hat, memory games and neuron art are just some of the project ideas she includes in the teacher’s section of this book. These activities require minimal materials and prep time. Many of the activities, such as making a human neuronal network, would lend themselves nicely to a co-op setting. 

The accompanying CD contains a vocal and instrumental version of “The Brain Song,” to cement the brain’s different functions in the minds of your students. This disc also provides a copy of the student booklet making it easy to produce copies for multiple siblings or co-op students. 

McHenry’s books are an ideal resource for groups containing multi-age learners. The Brain contains interesting readings and informative diagrams that are paired with hands-on interactive projects. McHenry’s work is likely to appeal both to academic, bookish learners as well as to active, kinesthetic learners.  There is plenty of room for flexibility with this program, however it is realistic to assume one could work their way through all of the material in 10 weeks’ time.

The Brain is available for sale on McHenry’s website. The paperback version is $17.95, and the digital download is $14.95. While you are there, check out all of the free resources McHenry shares with her readers. It is an informative website with lots of great ideas to make your lesson planning tons more fun. The Brain is available at other online bookstores as well. 

McHenry’s writing is succinct, engaging, and easy to follow. She has a gift for providing substantive information with a comprehensible delivery. Potentially daunting subject matter, in McHenry’s hands, quickly becomes accessible, relevant and loads of fun. 

For more information about Ellen McHenry’s work, see the spring issue 2016 of home/school/life magazine for my review of her book, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe.

Not Quite Citizen Science Project #7: Got Milkweed?

In this edition of Citizen Science, Shelli plants milkweed for the monarchs

I’m calling this month's citizen science project “not quite” because technically, it’s not a citizen science project. That is, it is not supporting any kind of research, and there are no scientists or researchers involved in this. Instead, it’s a group of volunteers who are striving to help the Monarch butterflies, which studies are showing to be in decline.

As you may know, Monarchs are the only butterfly species who make a mass migration. They travel up to 3,000 miles! During the summer months, they live in the northern U.S. and Canada, and then they migrate to Mexico for the winter months. (We usually see them in our yard around October.) You can read more about this incredible phenomenon on this National Geographic page.

When my eldest son was seven, we raised two generations of painted lady butterflies. (You can read more about that in the Summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.) Now I have plans to raise butterflies again, but this time, I’d like to raise Monarchs. I knew that before I do that, I’d need to grow milkweed in my yard because this is the host plant that the Monarch larvae or caterpillars feed on. This is how I stumbled upon

As it turns out, growing milkweed is a good thing because part of the reason that Monarch butterflies are decline is loss of habitat, i.e. loss of the milkweed plant. is run by the Live Monarch Foundation, a United Charitable Program. Their mission is to educate everyone about habitat loss and what they can do to assist the Monarch butterflies. For a $3 donation, they will send you 150 milkweed seeds! (If you don’t need that many seeds, you can donate some of them. See the different options on their website.) They will also make sure you get the proper seeds that you need to plant in your region and directions on how to grow the milkweed.

Click here to order your seeds. 

Even though this isn’t exactly citizen science, I thought it deserved a place in “My Year of Citizen Science” because 1) it’s easy to order and grow the milkweed, 2) it’s a great project to do while you learn about the butterfly life cycle, which is part of any homeschooler’s science curriculum, and 3) you’d be helping the Monarchs, which researchers and scientists are trying to do too! And who knows? It might inspire you to raise butterflies too!

Citizen Science Project #6: Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

Citizen Science for Homeschoolers: Collecting Soil Samples

Not sure you have time to do citizen science with your kids? Well, you have time for this project. It’s the easiest citizen science project ever!

The University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group is asking you to send them a soil sample from your backyard. All you have to do is go to their website, order a kit, which is free (although they welcome $5 donations to cover the cost of the kits), and once you receive your kit, follow the simple directions for how to collect the soil.

The kit comes with a short form to fill out, a scoop, and a small plastic baggy. Open the package carefully because it converts into a pre-paid mailer that you will drop back into the mailbox once you have collected your sample. It literally took my son and I less than 10 minutes to do this project!

Why do they want your soil? They are looking for the microscopic life in it. There are many kinds of fungi, and most of it we cannot see with the naked eye, but it could be life saving. They are using these samples to find molecules that might fight cancer or stop the spread of infectious pathogens or any other deadly disease. Since there are millions of different kinds of fungi on earth, you might have something they don’t have in your backyard.

Not only is this project easy, it will help your child understand the importance of scientific research, and you may be helping to save lives too.

Before you mail off your sample, you will write down a soil sample i.d. number, and with this, you’ll be able to track your sample on their website, find out how many fungi came out of your sample and also see photos of these amazing organisms! (It may take awhile before your sample shows up in their database, so be patient.)

Click here to read more and order your kit.


What citizen science projects have you participated in?

Online Class Spotlight: Wildcrafting

Great online class teaches how to identify, prepare, preserve, and use herbs #homeschool

We’re so excited about our new online classes, and we thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at what’s on the lineup for this summer. Today, Rebecca shares her plan for the Art of Wildcrafting—a really cool class that will let kids get hands on with identifying and using herbs.


What Is Your Class About?

Wildcrafting is the term used to describe the harvesting of wild plants for culinary or medicinal purposes. The main focus of this course is on identifying, harvesting and using herbs found in natural settings.


What Will Students Learn?

This class will be highly interactive with weekly opportunities to practice new skills through home-based projects. Students will be encouraged to share their results with the class. Together we will:

  • explore the history of wildcrafting and the work of contemporary wildcrafters.
  • discuss elementary botanical terms and concepts.
  • use a plant identification book.
  • consider sustainable methods used to harvest and process herbs. 
  • practice storing herbs.
  • cook with herbs.
  • prepare herbal infusions and decoctions.
  • consider plant conservation.


What Is Your Favorite Thing About Teaching This Class? 

Wildcrafting is such a fun and meaningful way to connect with the natural world. It’s exciting to discover that our humble backyard weeds actually have medicinal properties or taste great in soup! I love watching students’ excitement as their understanding of nature’s resources grows deeper. 


Why Did You Decide To Teach This Class? 

Summer is the perfect time to experience nature in important new ways. Wildcrafting gets us outdoors, slows us down and helps us to look more carefully at our surroundings. In doing so, young people gain an understanding of their place in the natural world and are more likely to become stewards of the environment. It’s a privilege to help introduce young people to the joy and rewards of wildcrafting. 

Citizen Science Projects #4 & #5: Project Noah and iNaturalist

Great citizen science project for homeschoolers: apps that let you contribute to ongoing scientific research

When I spoke with the naturalist at our local nature center about citizen science projects, she recommended that all kids use either Project Noah or iNaturalist to keep track of their nature discoveries. So during April, I decided to take some time and get to know what these projects were and how we could begin using them at home.

Project Noah and iNaturalist are very similar. They are both crowdsourcing tools that can help scientists and researchers study wildlife in your backyard. Through their websites or apps, you can simultaneously keep track of your nature discoveries, connect with other people who love nature, get help identifying that plant, bug or animal that you don’t know the name of and also help scientists with their research. 

In each of them, you can also join one or more groups that focus on a particular place or specific plants or animals. This is a great way to connect with other people in your area or who are interested in birds, for example, or plants…whatever you like observing and taking photos of the best! In Project Noah, these groups are called “missions,” and in iNaturalist, they are called “projects.”

I signed up for both of these programs, but I was disappointed to discover that I could not find the Android app for Project Noah in Google Play. Perhaps it’s being updated? I sent a message to Project Noah to ask about its status, but I haven’t received a reply yet. Sadly, if I can’t use my phone camera, I doubt I’ll be using Project Noah very often. 

I had better luck with iNaturalist. I signed up on their website, and then I downloaded their app to my phone and signed in there. I’ve only uploaded one photo of a little hairstreak butterfly my son found in our yard the other day, so I’m still tinkering with the site. I’m excited to see there’s an option to keep a “journal” – a sort of blog – on there too! I did not see this option on Project Noah.

If you’re a member of iNaturalist, and you’d like to connect with me, my handle is “mamaofletters.” I look forward to sharing our nature discoveries with you!

Citizen Science Project #3: Budburst

Homeschool citizen science project series: Budwatch is an easy addition to your spring science curriculum

For my third citizen science project that I began in March, I picked Project Budburst, and I highly recommend this for homeschoolers with young children because it’s super easy. 

The researchers at Project Budburst would like you to pick a plant in your area that you can visit often and record the changes it makes through the seasons. You will then create an account on the their website and input the data you find.

If you visit their website, you’ll find easy directions, and there is a database of plants where you’ll probably find your plant. (There are certain plants that they would prefer you to observe, so be sure to check out that list.) Once you find your plant, you can download a chart that will tell you exactly what changes you need to look for with a space to record the date. You can pick a tree, shrub, flower…whatever you want!

I picked a flowering dogwood tree that is growing in my front yard. During this spring season, it’s been changing rapidly, so I’ve been checking it almost everyday! Here you can see the chart I’m using to record the date of my observations

 I’m going to be recording my observations year-round, but they also give you an opportunity to do a single report (that is, a one-time observation: click here for that report), so if you are facilitating a co-op class, that would be a great choice.

The study of the timing of how a plant or animal changes or moves with the seasons is called phenology. As you work on your budburst project, there are many pages on their website that will teach you about phenology, why it’s important, and how that’s teaching scientists about climate change. This page has a short video that I showed to my boys.

If you try out Project Budburst, I hope you’ll have fun and tell us about your experience!

Sponsored Post: Three Reasons to Shop March Madness at Pandia Press

SPONSORED: Pandia Press's March Madness sale is your chance to score 25% off top-notch secular homeschool science and history curricula.

Forget basketball—every homeschooler knows that the most exciting part of March is planning what homeschool stuff you want to order for next year. If you’re in the market for smart, secular resources for history and science, you won’t want to miss March Madness at Pandia Press. Here’s why:

1 :: Here’s what our Curriculum Junkie Rebecca Pickens had to say about History Odyssey: “History Odyssey is not a textbook but rather a guide. Think of it like this—your closest homeschooler friend, the organized, well-read mother you so admire, mentions what a great year of history studies her family has enjoyed. She tells you this is thanks to all of the great resources she managed to glean from hours of exhaustive research. She happens to have recorded all of the details in a digestible, comprehensive format and over of cup of coffee she offers to share it all with you—this is what it’s like to thumb through the pages of this guide.” (You can read the full review here.)

2 :: Sometimes finding good secular science materials feels like the Holy Grail of homeschooling. So feel free to channel your inner Sir Galahad and cue the dramatic music while you explore Pandia Press’s R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey collection, which includes thorough, scientifically sound, and engaging materials (with lots of hands-on activities and experiments) on science topics from biology to physics.

3 :: But the best reason to visit the Pandia Press store RIGHT NOW is that through the end of March, you can save 25% on your order. It’s Pandia Press’s biggest sale of the year and the perfect time to grab a copy of that new curriculum you’ve heard so many good things about.


This is a sponsored post, which means it’s an advertisement for Pandia Press. We accept very, very few sponsored post requests (two in two years!), so you can trust that when we do post one, it’s because we believe the advertiser is truly a useful resource for secular homeschool families. If you have questions about how we vet advertisers for home/school/life, feel free to email us. And visit the Pandia Press website to learn more about Pandia Press.

Citizen Science Project #1: Lab in the Wild

Saving for later: A citizen science project kids can participate in without leaving the living room! #homeschool

If you read the Winter 2016 issue of home/school/life magazine, you may know that I made a resolution to do more citizen science projects this year in my Hands On Science column. While I hope to teach my boys more about citizen science and get them involved in some of the projects, this resolution is actually for me. My goal is for me to do them.

Why am I doing this? First, my oldest son has showed me how much I love science. (When I was in school, it was my most dreaded class!) So I think it’s really cool that I can become involved in real science even though I am not a credentialed scientist. I am doing this because I want to.

Second, as a homeschooling mom, I think the best way to get my kids excited about something is to do it myself. Also, if I learn about a subject thoroughly, I’ll be better able to teach my children.

Third, my oldest son has always been interested in science. I consider it my job to help him continue his interest, and I’m looking for other ways to teach science in a hands-on way.

I’m not sure how many citizen science projects I can tackle in a year, but for now, I’m going to try to do one project (or at least look into) one project per month. For January, I wanted to start easy. (You know, because I was also easing back into a routine after the holidays.)

For my first project, I picked Lab in the Wild because it is completely online, and I could do it from my desk chair.  As the website states, “LabintheWild tests your abilities and preferences. At the end of each experiment, you will see a page with your personalized feedback, which lets you compare yourself and your performance to other people around the world. By participating, you contribute to research on people's similarities and differences and help improve users' experience when interacting with technology.”

So over the course of two weeks, I took the twelve short tests they have on their website. Each test takes about 5-10 minutes. (You could do it in one sitting, I guess, but they were a bit energy draining for me.)

  • In “Can we guess your age?” I learned, for example, that I can distinguish between colors as well as a 15-year-old. (They were way off on my age!)
  • In “Test your social intelligence,” I learned that I score higher than average when it comes to reading the emotions of others by looking in their eyes.
  • In “What is your thinking style?” I learned that I am both intuitive and analytic.

Can this information help me in my daily life? Well, not really. But it’s fun and interesting nonetheless, and it’s helping the scientists.

After I finished taking the tests, I showed the site to my 9-year-old and explained the purpose to him. He wanted to try some of the tests, so he took three. He also took “Can we guess your age” and they guessed he was 17! (Not as far off as they were with me.) In the “What is Your Thinking Style?” test, he was more intuitive than analytical, and as for the “Do you have the reaction time of a cheetah?” test he learned that no, he’s not quite as fast as a cheetah. I wonder how he will score on these tests in 10 years or 20? That would be an interesting experiment!

If you have a few minutes, and want to help out some researchers, I dare you to try out these tests as well! Click on over to Lab In The Wild.

Unit Study Inspiration: Birds

Love this roundup of books and resources for the Great Backyard Bird Hunt (in Feb.). This could be a stand-alone homeschool unit study on birds, too.

The Great Backyard Bird Count starts on Friday. Gear up to flex your citizen scientist muscle with these birding resources.

Read This

By Carl Hiaasen

The Burgess Bird Book For Children by Thornton W. Burgess introduces kids to birds through Peter Rabbit stories, making it as fun to read as it is informative.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, tells the story of a boy’s efforts to save the habitat of a family of burrowing owls from an encroaching pancake restaurant.

Bright Wings, edited by Billy Collins, is a collection of poetry about birds.


Birds, Nests, and Eggs by Mel Boring, is just the thing for beginning birders. The book covers fifteen common birds, including their appearance, nesting habits, and ideas for bird-themed nature activities.

The Complete Birder: A Guide to Better Birding by Jack Connor is the perfect next step when you’ve mastered the basics of birding and want to sharpen your skills.


Watch This

Winged Migration
Starring Philippe Labro, Jacques Perrin

The Life of Birds, from the BBC collection and narrated by David Attenborough, is a seven-part documentary just packed with avian information.

Winged Migration uses fabulous cinematography to capture birds in flight.


Do This

Dissect an owl pellet. If you’re not up for the real thing, use the KidWings Virtual Owl Pellet Dissection.

Play birdsong bingo. Practice identifying bird sounds by playing a bingo style identification game with a birdsong CD. (We like Know Your Bird Sounds, Volume 1: Yard, Garden, and City Birds andKnow Your Bird Sounds, Volume 2: Birds of the Countryside.)

Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book, part of the excellent Dover coloring book series, lets your student birders put their observation skills to the test coloring in copies of Audubon’s bird illustrations.


This article was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life.