Archive for the ‘ American West Unit ’ Category

We Found an Arrowhead!!

Monday, July 30th, 2012

I’ve been bursting at the seams to write this post, but wanted to wait til I had more information before sharing our excitement! Can you believe, we found an arrowhead on our property?! Okay, so technically it’s not an arrowhead, more about that in a second.

The first thing we did was start googling to find out more information. I really didn’t know too much about arrowheads. I was only familiar with obsidian arrowheads of the west — and the metal ones a friend gave us years ago. It turns out arrowheads can be made of argillite, chalcedony, chert/flint,  diorite, hematite, jasper, rhyolite, siltstone, crystal quartz, quartz, and quartzite.

We have a huge set of quartz boulders up at the top of the hill on our property so it makes sense to find one like this. Below is a picture of “Quartz Castle.” That’s what the kids named it when we first moved in. :)  You can see part of LD’s “shelter” there on the right!  We found the arrowhead just at the bottom of the hill.

The next morning I went out to take pictures of exactly where the arrowhead (the white one) was found. I noticed a couple of other pieces that also looked like they had been worked on by humans (pictured in the top pictures above and below right, lying on the moss before I picked it up).

We decided we should contact an expert to see a) what it was that we had found and b) to see if anyone records information like this and wants to know about people’s finds.  I wrote the state archaeologist responsible for our region. I sent him pictures of the arrowhead we found as well as a couple of picture collages to show exactly where we found them.

The state archaeologist wrote back almost immediately and said that it did indeed look like a prehistoric artifact and was most likely a hafted knife. As for the other two pieces he said it was not possible to tell what they were but they may be debris from knapping stone tools. He then put me in contact with the archaeologist for our county.  He’ll be coming out in the next week or so to complete an archaeological survey.

This week the kids have been really intrigued by archaeology so in addition to pulling out the books we had on hand, we also pulled out  the collection a friend gave us a number of years ago to compare them to our find.

A few things we learned from this experience: If you make a discovery, you can contact your state archaeologist. Make sure you know exactly where you found the artifact.   Don’t dig to hunt for artifacts because you could destroy valuable archaeological evidence. If you were to dig and mix the layers, no one would be able to assess the data accurately.  Also be aware that it is almost always illegal to remove arrowheads or other artifacts from public lands.



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The Tourist Town of Branson, Missouri

Friday, July 13th, 2012

My in-laws happen to live right near Branson, Missouri.  It’s quite a tourist destination… there are shows of every description… magic shows, country shows, dancing, live music, the Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Chinese Acrobats, the art of Kung Fu, blues, the Brady Bunch, a tribute to the Eagles, gospel music and on and on and on. Driving down the main thoroughfare there are fun places everywhere. It is a great family destination and has activities for anyone from the tiniest toddler to your great grandpa! Look at this amazing list of shows.

Our main purpose when we’re in Branson is, of course, to see Grams and Gramps and the kids’ great grandmother. They call her Vovó because Vovó grew up in Brazil. Still, we always manage to find time to spend at Silver Dollar City. It has tons of rides, craft shops, craftsmen who show off their skills, a petting zoo area, and more than 40 daily shows. We saw the Gazillion Bubbles Show while we were at Silver Dollar City. The kids loved it. And the rides, well let me just say that the kids had WAY more energy for them than I did!

This is a family vacation you might want to consider at some point.  It really has a lot of fun things to do.

Also near Branson in Mansfield, Missouri (about 2 hours from Branson) was the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her Little House on the Prairie series.  I was SO excited about this part of our trip since we had read two of her books in our of the American West Unit this year, but found it to be quite a let-down.  After all the incredible hands-on museums we’ve been to lately from the Roanoke Island Festival Park we visited in May to the Toltec Indian Mounds and the Plantation Agriculture Museum a few days earlier this was a look-and-listen type experience for the kids.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the kids didn’t get anywhere near as much from the museum. And while our guide through Wilder home was incredibly knowledgeable they packed us in like sardines (probably 20 in a room smaller than my kitchen) my kids could see nothing — not the things the guide was describing (like the dishes, clock, chair, etc.) nor the guide himself.  It was a big let-down. The museum was really interesting (Pa’s fiddle, lots of photos of Laura, Mary, Carrie, Rose, Ma, Pa, clothes, furniture, etc.), but photos weren’t permitted so I can’t share any with you here. Anyway, it definitely didn’t warrant a post — just a footnote to the trip.

We had such a great time on our holiday, but it was just as wonderful pulling into our driveway and arriving home!  This past week has been busy not only settling back in, but with summer camp (the kids do Junior Rangers at a local state park. They have such a wonderful time and it’s really affordable at $60 for the week. You should check to see if your local state park has programs on.) And, I’ve been trying to get in some planning and re-organizing of our homeschool room.

Stay tuned on Monday for a post about a free beginning reading program I came across; it looks like it’ll be a great resource for ED.

Have a great weekend!

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Plantation Agriculture Museum, Arkansas

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

We actually stumbled across this museum, but what a FABULOUS place to visit.  Just had to shout that out, it was *that* good! From the time Arkansas became a state in 1836 to the mid 1940s cotton production was common in the Arkansas River lowlands.  Men, women and children could be seen picking and stuffing cotton into long sacks in the fall.

Tractors were not used for the preparation, planting, maintaining and picking of cotton until the mid-1940s after WWII. Instead the work was done by hand or with the aid of draft animals.

Cotton was stored in cotton pens or cotton houses by sharecroppers and tenant farmers until it was taken to the gin.  The pens  were built with skids and were pulled by mules to the fields.

Removing the seeds from the cotton was a quite a process. They had to pick between 1,300-1,500 pounds of seed cotton to make one bale of cotton because of that 750 pounds of seeds were removed and about 100 pounds were trash (stems, leaves, dirt,etc.) An average person picked 100-150 pounds from sun up to sunset.

First the stems and leaves had to be removed. Within the white, fluffy cotton balls were seeds (see the bottom right photo in the collage below that LD is holding) that had to be removed.  The ranger showed us how the seeds were removed with the hand-cranked machine below. Although more complex and efficient cotton gins were developed, they basically used the same process as the original invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney.

Beginning around 1900 they found uses for the left over cotton seed (pictured bottom right above).  The cottonseed was used in a number of products including explosives, women’s cosmetics, oil, and livestock feed. Some of the seeds were saved for planting the next crop.

Below is a picture of another cotton gin.

I’ve always heard the term, a “bale of cotton,” but to be honest I had no concept of how big that really is. Here’s a picture.  How heavy would you guess that bale is?

I know, I know, it’s not really fair to ask that from a photo, without much to compare the size to.  That bale (plus the straps and bagging) usually weighed about 500 pounds. And what could this one bale make?

We enjoyed the outside exhibits as much as the ones inside. The tractors were impressive in size!

In the picture above, the cotton would have been collected into the big mesh are at the back of the machine (bottom left photo above).

The kids enjoyed helping the ranger pick peas in the sharecropper’s garden. The picture on the right just shows the pretty oxbow lake of the Arkansas River.

You know what’s amazing? There were a number of outdoor exhibits we didn’t have time for.  There was a building that had a fully restored ginning system, a seed warehouse, and more.

A huge thank you to the two wonderful park rangers who gave us our tour when we visited!


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Oregon Trail Activities (Free Oregon Trail Worksheet)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve been reading a book about a girl who travels West on the Oregon Trail with a group of other families.  Since we’ve been reading for quite some time now, I thought we could jump right in and play the Oregon Trail File Folder Game I found at File Folder Fun. I asked them a couple of questions to prepare to play the game in another day or so and realized the kids were not confident with some of the basic information.  We’re going to go over some of that information and answer some basic questions about the Oregon Trail.  I made up a few sheets and if you are interested, you can download a copy of the Oregon Trail question (and answer) sheets here (We have moved to

Hoop Rolling Game: Another fun activity we did  for our American West unit was a variation on the game hoop rolling. In the late 1800s hoop rolling was one of the most popular children’s games.  I had the kids find a stick and we used some (decorative) wagon wheels we got from a friend last fall. The kids had a blast!

You might not have wagon wheels on hand, but you could use a hula hoop instead.

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Oregon Trail Activities

Monday, March 19th, 2012

We’ve been studying the American West this semester.  The kids and I have been thoroughly engrossed in a wonderful book called Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie. It’s the story of a girl making her way West along the Oregon Trail with her family.  At one point the pioneers have to struggle up and then back down a steep mountainside. I had a flash of inspiration and took the kids outside to tackle their own mountain — our very steep driveway and the hill down to the house. I had them load up our wheel barrow with a box, wagon wheel and some logs and sent them on their way!



LD did the majority of the pushing uphill while DD kept it stable. They quickly realized how much they had to work together to get safely down the hill on the bumpy grass. We talked about how heavy the settler’s wagons would have been and talked about the tough choices pioneers faced as they traveled along — what to take and what to leave behind.  After this activity, the kids really, really understood why pioneers would have needed ropes to ease their wagons down the hills and just how dangerous traveling could be along the Oregon Trail.

After several spills, the kids made it down. We talked a lot about how devastating it would be for the pioneers to have an accident and to lose their provisions, their animals or worse yet…their lives.


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