NORAD Tracks Santa!

Now that December has arrived, the holiday spirit is in full gear and children and families around the globe are excitedly making their special preparations. If Santa is celebrated in your home, you might like to join the NORAD Tracks Santa countdown that begins every year on December 1st.
This particular event hosted by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has a wonderful story relating to how tracking Santa actually began. According to the NORAD Tracks Santa website:
On Dec. 24, 1955, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. However, this call was not from the president or a general. It was from a young child in Colorado Springs who was following the directions in an advertisement printed in the local paper – the youngster wanted to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.
The ad said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” However, the number was printed incorrectly in the advertisement and rang into the CONAD operations center.
On duty that night was Colonel Harry Shoup, who has come to be known as the “Santa Colonel.” Colonel Shoup received numerous calls that night and rather than hanging up, he had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in that night.
Thus began a tradition carried on by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) when it was formed in 1958. Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.
Every year on December 24, fifteen hundred volunteers staff telephones and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children (and adults) from around the world. Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa Website (in seven languages), over telephone lines, and by e-mail to keep curious children and their families informed about Santa’s whereabouts and if it’s time to get to bed.

Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa
Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa

If you visit Santa’s Village, you will discover there is even more than just the tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve. In Santa’s village, there is a Theater to watch movies, an Arcade to play a new game every day, a Music Stage for listening to Santa’s favorite holiday songs, and a Library to learn about Santa, his magic sleigh, and holiday traditions. There is even a gift shop you can visit!
For the past 62 years, NORAD Tracks Santa has provided a magical delight to families all over the world. If you are a Santa “believer”, then you just might like to join in these annual festivities!

The Nutcracker Ballet

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is watching the annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzles and delights the audience with spectacular choreographed dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music is brought to life. “The Nutcracker” production is a very special performance for me, as it always brings back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.
If taking your children to see “The Nutcracker Ballet” is a part of your holiday plans, then I highly recommend filling your home with the amazing orchestral soundtrack before you attend the performance. Since the performance is “told” in the form of music and dance, I also recommend reading aloud the story so your children can better understand the storyline during the performance. There are many books written about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. One of my favorites is the original tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (in 1816), translated by Ralph Manheim, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet with your children, then I recommend the book, The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron.
Who would ever have thought that during WW II, three small-town Utah boys interested in ballet would have  started this annual holiday tradition? “The Nutcracker Ballet” has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder in both children and adults. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once, if not every year as a family tradition.

Opt Outside with Oak Meadow

Oak Meadow is once again hosting our own version of REI’s #optoutside movement for Black Friday and the holiday weekend. We’ve coined it Oak Meadow Opt Outside, or #OMoptoutside on social media, because we want to see your photos of family time spent in the great outdoors!
Opt Outside started when REI decided to close their doors on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday, and to pay their employees for the day, urging them to get outside and reconnect with family, friends, and the great outdoors.
It’s a concept we loved and have been doing too since they started a few years ago, and we invite you to join us. Yes, we’ll have our Black Friday sale running. But we’ll also be outside running, playing tag, tossing a football, hiking, and generally enjoying the last of the good weather. When you come inside for a pumpkin pie or coffee break, browse our sale. We’re keeping it open until the end of Cyber Monday, so there’s no rush. Plenty of time to get it all in–food, family, fun, the great outdoors, AND 20% off.
We’re pretty fond of the idea of embracing gratefulness by being out in nature. We hope you are too. So join us for #OMoptoutside, tag us in your photos on Instagram and Facebook, then peruse our virtual bookstore!

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.
One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.
Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.
So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!
Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!


10 Reminders for the End of the Homeschool Year

  1. Take it slow. Resist the urge to speed things up, even if others around you seem to be doubletiming things trying get to summer faster. Even homeschoolers can get a little end-of-the-school-year-itis. Build in some cool, fun activities to balance things out and allow the summer season to unfold when it is ready.
  2. Photo Credit: Ledahl Family
    (Oak Meadow)

    Be flexible. If your homeschooling workload is holding up the start of summer fun for your family, maybe it’s time to revisit your plan and adjust things a bit so that summer doesn’t have to wait until everything is done. You might stretch lessons out over more days to make more time for play, or see if any nonessentials can be cut. The flexibility of home learning can’t be beat!
  3. Reflect on what went well this past year and what you’d like to do differently going forward. How did each person in your family grow this year? What sorts of things were accomplished? What is each person most proud of? What felt like it could have gone better? Take notes so you can remember and incorporate that feedback when planning for next year.
  4. Tidy up your homeschool supplies. Leave them neat and organized so you won’t have to go looking for them in the fall. Retire any supplies that have reached the end of their useful life, and make a list of what needs to be replenished. But don’t pack everything away completely — you never know when your child might suddenly have a creative need for something in that stash!
    Photo Credit: Bessent Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  5. Stay on top of requirements. If your state or district requires an end-of-year assessment, test, or portfolio, plan ahead so you will meet the deadline. Don’t leave it to the last minute. If things are jumbled and hard to sort through, now is a great time to make a plan for staying organized next year.
  6. Consider making a portfolio with a few representative pieces and/or photos of each student’s work even if your state or district doesn’t require it. Store portfolios together in a waterproof container so you can enjoy looking back on them in future years.
  7. Dream big! What would you and your family most like to explore together in the coming years? Brainstorm all of the things that come to mind. You may not be able to do all of them, but it’s fun to think about possibilities.
  8. Do you still need to submit next year’s enrollment forms to your state, district, charter, or distance learning school? Do you know the deadlines and requirements? Do it now, or at least get forms and information in order so you won’t have to hunt for it when the time comes.
    Photo Credit: Kara Maynard
    (Oak Meadow)
  9. Write your future self a letter. When autumn comes, you might find that your school-year memories have been overwritten with thoughts of summer fun. Have everyone person in the family write or dictate a friendly letter to themselves to open at the start of the next school year. Say something in your letter about what you want most to remember about the past year, along with your dreams for the coming year. You might forget the details over the summer, but those letters will remind you!
  10. Celebrate! A year of homeschooling is a milestone worth celebrating. Here are 10 Ideas for Making the End of the Year Special and some more ideas from Oak Meadow teachers about Celebrating the School Year.


The Thanksgiving Holiday

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. 

Native American saying

For those of you who celebrate the upcoming holiday… Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a thumbprint in history which offers a vast pool of historical information that dates to the beginning of our nation and continues on today with well established traditions that are embraced with thankfulness and gratitude.
If you would like to sharpen your knowledge of this holiday, presents a family friendly educational “Bet You Didn’t Know” video on the history and timeline of significant events surrounding Thanksgiving. You might also have fun testing your knowledge with an eleven question Thanksgiving quiz.
We can feast, we can be merry, and we can enjoy the full company of family and friends. Giving thanks is the most cherished part of this holiday event. A recent “Family Education” article offered a family Thanksgiving activity, “Pass the Talking Fork!”, which allows everyone the opportunity to express their thanks.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. Cicero

The National Moment of Remembrance

imagesMemorial Day, celebrated in the United States on the last Monday of May, is a day in which we honor those people that died while serving the country in the United States armed services. The day actually started as a way to commemorate those that died during the U.S. Civil War. In 1868 it was established and it was called images-1Decoration Day. At that time it was on May 30th and was a day to decorate the graves of those that died in the Civil War. In 1967 Memorial Day became a national holiday. In 1971 the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May. On the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website, it states: “In December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.” The law actually requires that U.S. citizens pause, for one minute at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, and honor those that have died in service to our country.

Homegrown Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes a host of modern traditions and expectations that are exciting for some but may not be a good fit for all families. Creating wholesome seasonal traditions for our children can sometimes be challenging in this day and age. But with thought and care, it can be done.
There are many reasons why families might not choose to participate in trick-or-treating or other Halloween traditions. Some children are easily scared by Halloween imagery. Some families have religious or philosophical reasons to forego Halloween. Some children must avoid sugar or other ingredients present in candy traditionally given to trick-or-treaters. Some parents object to the act of collecting candy from neighbors. Some families are offended by the commercial twist on this holiday. Some live in locations where neighbors are scarce or unknown, and in some areas it’s not safe to go door-to-door.
For some families, foregoing Halloween altogether is the right solution. But some of us have a nostalgic attachment to Halloween that we’d like to share with our children in some way. The turning of the seasons from summer to fall, the shortening of days, the arrival of chill air, the falling leaves, and the enticing harvest colors invite us to celebrate this special time of year.
One possibility is to host an old-fashioned seasonal party at home for family, friends, and fellow homeschoolers. My children and I kept this tradition for a number of years, and it held the lure of trick-or-treating at bay until a time in our family’s growth when that felt appropriate.
Ask each family to bring something yummy (preferably homemade or homegrown) for a harvest potluck table. Apples, cider, corn muffins, pumpkin bread, popcorn… A simmering pot of stew or chili on the stove can round things out if your party happens to be around lunch or dinner time.
Invite your guests, young and old, to come dressed in not-too-scary costumes. Those who need help might borrow from your dress-up bin if it’s placed in plain sight. An adult might offer face-painting. Start off the party with a festive “costume parade” and the opportunity for each participant to tell about their costume if they wish.
My children enjoyed making crafts and decorating the house in advance of the party. With a simple color theme — orange and black — anything they chose to make fit right in. We also played our favorite Wee Sing Halloween recording in the background, and it has remained a nostalgic seasonal favorite.
Offer a generous pile of seasonally themed craft supplies and simple ideas. Orange paper pre-cut into pumpkin shapes can become decorated “jack-o-lanterns,”
black cardstock can be made into bats, black pipe cleaners can become friendly spiders.
A basket of mini pumpkins and gourds can be beautifully decorated with black beeswax crayons. Orange, yellow, brown, and black construction paper and crayons, scissors and glue, and other open-ended supplies can become whatever little imaginations fancy.
Prepare a number of old-fashioned games for those who want to participate. Keep the emphasis on the fun and the competition gentle.
Here are some ideas for games that have worked well over the years:

  • bobbing for apples: We found that soft apples such as Macintosh work best for this. If your crowd has a low tolerance for potential germ transmission, this may not be an appropriate game, but for those who find it acceptable, it sure is fun!
  • pin the tail on the cat: (nose on the jack-o-lantern? branch on the tree?) There are many possible options for this game. Create a poster with an incomplete picture of something (such as a cat missing its tail), and make up many loose identical tails. Have each player write their names on them). Stick a piece of tape on each tail. Blindfold the player (“tail” in hand) and point them toward the poster. See whose piece gets stuck the closest to its target! (Blindfolded older players can be turned around gently a few times before setting off toward the target.)
  • sack race: We got burlap sacks free from our local coffee roaster, but pillowcases work well, too. Set up start and finish lines using ropes. Participants climb into a sack and hop from start to finish. Usually at least some of the players fall over and hilarious laughing ensues!
  • three-legged race: Use the same start/finish lines as the sack race. Use playsilks or other soft cloths for tying teammates’ legs together so that two people have “three” legs. Teams must run from start to finish as quickly as they can. As with the sack race, there is often great fun when teams lose their balance!
  • spoon relay race: We found googly eyeballs to use instead of hard-boiled eggs, but anything spoon-sized that is ball-shaped or egg-shaped will do! Team members should divide themselves between the start and finish lines. Each team gets a spoon and a ball (or egg/eye) to balance on it while they walk or run toward the finish line. When the first team member reaches the finish line, they hand the spoon to the next member, who heads back toward the start line. Try not to let the egg/ball/eye fall off the spoon! If it does, pick it up and keep going.
  • doughnuts on strings: Hang plain or cider doughnuts on string from the misc-Halloweenlow-hanging branch of a tree. Place them at varying heights based on the sizes of the participants. (Hint: Hang only one doughnut per person.) Ask each player to stand in front of their doughnut, hold their hands behind their back, and on the count of “ready, set, go!” try to eat it using just their mouth. Speed can vary; everyone wins a doughnut!
  • mummy wrap: This is a great game for groups with a wide range of ages. Form teams so that ages are fairly represented across the teams and olders can help the youngers. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper and chooses one person to be their mummy. Each team must wrap their mummy completely with toilet paper; first team to finish wins.
  • fishing-for-fortunes: Create a fishing pole from a dowel or twig, string, and a magnet tied at the end of the string. Make up strips of paper with happy fortunes written on them; curl them up and attach a paper clip to each one. Players dip the fishing pole into the bowl. When the magnet firmly attracts a paper clip, they pull it out and read their “catch”!

All of these games are appropriate for a wide range of ages, and parents or older children can help the younger ones. In most cases our parties shifted from games and snacks toward running around the yard shrieking and laughing. A bonfire would be a great addition if space and safety considerations allowed.
My children and those who attended our homegrown Halloween parties have fond memories and stories of the fun they had. What are your family’s homegrown traditions around Halloween? Do you have any suggestions to add?