Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Thailand

This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase using them the cost stays the same to you but I receive a small commission for referring you. Thanks, guys!

One way I try to keep my kids' brains active during summer vacation is to pick something to learn. In 2011, I had the idea to make our summer vacation a pretend trip around the world, and every year since we've been "visiting" a new country each week and learning all about it.

This week the kids wanted to visit Thailand!

Throughout the week, I set out the following books:

I put them in a box in the living room with some other nonfiction books, and one of the things they are supposed to do before getting screentime for the day is "read a book from the box for 15 minutes."


The kids started the week by coloring Thailand's flag and adding it to our wall, which is getting quite full by now since we save all the previous years' flags and hang them back up every summer!

I read fun facts from Thailand, part of the Country Explorers book series as the kids found Thailand on the map and filled out their passport pages.

Bangkok used to be called "the Venice of the East" because of all the canals, called khlongs. Most have been filled in to make streets, but some are still there. I thought this video was so interesting  the khlongs today are used like subway tunnels, with stops and maps and everything.

We use this giant laminated wall map and it's held up great.

If you're interested in downloading the passport pages I use for free, here is the link:

Download the Passport Pages

Then we watched a 90-minute video on Amazon Prime called Passport to the World: Thailand. It followed a family on vacation and narrated everywhere they went in Thailand.

When sitting down to watch an educational video, I often have to remind the kids it's about the educational value and not necessarily the viewing experience (I swear some of them were filmed with my dad's camcorder from 1995.) But this was a really beautiful movie!

Admittedly, we didn't make it all the way through and the video probably would've been better if it were half as long.


In Thailand, they speak Thai which is a tonal language. A great way to explain what that means is this article, which we used last summer when learning about Vietnam.

Next, we watched a video about the Vietnamese alphabet. Written Thai seems insanely complicated, with 44 consonants and 16 vowels, and they don't put spaces between their words.

I found this handwriting worksheet with a fun Thai-themed border to color (since it printed out a little small, I cropped the image in half and printed it on two pages and taped them together) and we tried some handwriting practice with the Thai consonants. (More worksheets are here if your kids really like it and want to do more.)

Probably the prettiest script I've learn about in all our Educational Summer Vacations so far.

We then attempted to count to 10 in Thai. It was really difficult to remember. I think I need to watch this video about 50 more times.

For dinner that night, what else could we possibly have but pad thai? I've had pad thai several times at restaurants and honestly, I always think it looks better than it tastes. But I really liked this recipe from Tastes Better from Scratch.

I guess it really does taste better from scratch.

This is definitely going in our regular rotation (even though we have one peanut-allergic child so I have to be careful to set aside his portion before adding the peanut sauce.)

As is tradition, whenever the kids ask for anything at the dinner table during The Educational Summer Vacation, we make them say "please" and "thank you" in whatever language we're learning about that week. Thai has no direct translation for please, but we did our best to use the Thai for 'thank you.'


Kohn is a traditional maked dance from Thailand telling the story of the Ramakien. The Ramakien is the Thai version of the Sanskrit Indian epic poem Ramayana.

It's arguably the most influential piece of Thai literature, kind of like how The Odyssey is the blueprint for all of English literature for the rest of eternity.

I found plenty of full-length kohn videos online, but they seemed kind of slow-moving and I didn't think the kids could sit still for it. So we ended up watching this video, which explained a little bit about kohn and showed plenty of clips from the dance so my kids could get a feel for what it looked like.

The details of the story are pretty out there, especially if you haven't grown up hearing them (every culture has their own things that are bizarre if you really think about them) but I tried to explain that the Ramayana and Ramakien are more than just the sum of their details.

Just like The Nutcracker is so popular because underneath it's a story about the magic of childhood, the Thai love the Ramakien because it's an epic story of courage and loyalty. Here's a promotional trailer that illustrates what I mean:

Epic, right?

We then watched an animated retelling of the Ramayana. There's a full 2-hour cartoon, but we watched an abbreviated 10-minute version because that worked better for us.

Afterward, I had each of the kids write a newspaper article about the events of the Ramayana/Ramakien.

I found this editable newspaper template for the older kids to work on together and this one for the 8-year-old. I just made a simple one for the 4- and 6-year-olds.

My 4-year-old drew a picture of the palace. It says "Where Rama lives."
My 6-year-old drew a picture and told me what to write. The 10-headed drawing is priceless.
My 8-year-old is hilarious.

Collaboration between my 12-year-old and 14-year-old.

Dinner tonight was tom yum soup, and other than one kid who was neutral about it and one kid who said it should be called 'tom yuck soup,' I was pleasantly surprised.

Check out the giant chunks of tofu floating in this. I'm actually thrilled my kids didn't all claw their tongues off just looking at this.

It was an interesting soup. The intense flavor came from the broth, while the things in the soup were pretty bland.


Thailand is known for its beautiful Buddhist temples, called 'wats.' So there were no shortage of bad puns today ("A temple is called a 'wat.'" "What?")

We watched a few YouTube videos of Thai temples, like the Temple on the Glass Cliff and Doi Suthep.

Then the kids kept busy with these Buddha coloring pages while listening to Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha.

Most people in Thailand follow Theravada Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of monastic life. In fact, all Thai men are supposed to become monks for at least three months (I didn't even know temporary monkhood was an option.)

So we watched this video on the day of the life of a Buddhist monk and talked about what the kids thought it would be like to lead that kind of life.

Buddhism is explained with what it calls The Four Noble Truths, so we made a poster of it with images of a lotus flower (symbols of peace in Buddhism.)

If the Noble Truths explain the "what" of life, the Eightfold Path explains the "how." This is how Buddhists believe we should live in order to achieve enlightenment. 

I printed out the names of the 8 parts of the Path, cut them up, and hid them in numbered Ziploc bags around the room. The kids had to find them and unscramble them, and glue them to the right part of this poster around the 8-spoked wheel of dharma.

The kids couldn't find the first step on the Eightfold Path and I couldn't remember where I'd hidden it so we had to write it in with a marker, suggesting we might be sort of lousy at attaining elightenment.

I tried to start a discussion about what each one meant, but the kids were kind of (read: completely) antsy and done for the day, so I hung the poster on the fridge and hoped they'd learn by osmosis while getting their 150 daily snacks.

For good measure, I added the book Buddhism from the Eyewitness Books series to our box of nonfiction books in the living room.


When reading Cultural Traditions in Thailand, we learned about Loy Krathong. It's a Thai holiday where people release small floats made of banana leaves, flowers, incense, and candles into the water to send away troubles from the past.

We decided to make our own krathongs and let them go! After watching this how-to video, we got started.

Traditionally you'd use a piece of the trunk of a banana tree for the base, but we were fresh out of those. So we took slices of good old Wonderbread and decorated them with leaves and flowers from the yard.

My 4-year-old was more interested in eating the Wonderbread than anything else.

We used pieces of toothpicks to pin everything in place and left out the incense and candles, both to make them biodegradable (because I didn't want to fish those things out of the water after we were done) and so we didn't start a forest fire.

The water in this brook is pretty still, so the kids were disappointed that they just sat in the water and didn't go anywhere. But at least they didn't sink!

Then we talked about the animals of Thailand.

We learned about Siamese Cats (Thailand used to be called Siam) with Siamese Cats by Stuart A. Kallen and learned about the Annual Monkey Buffet (my kids were relieved to know it's a buffet for monkeys, not a buffet of monkeys.)

We also read Elephant by Will Travers and watched a documentary on Amazon called When Elephants Were Young. It was boring for my younger kids but everyone 8 and up was pretty interested. At my suggestion, the younger kids played a few rounds of Zimbbos.

My kids love this game.

For dinner, we had Massaman curry.

It was really good! We already have a curry recipe in our meal lineup, but this one was a completely different flavor and everyone ate it, so we'll add it into the rotation for sure.


The Grand Palace in Thailand no longer houses the royal family but it's now a popular tourist attraction. I didn't expect it to be so huge or impressive, but this video proved me wrong.

As a family we watched The King and I, a movie adapted from a stage play about a British governess to the King of Siam in the 1860s. It's actually banned in Thailand because of how it depicts the king. (Speaking badly of the royal family is still punishable by jail time in Thailand.)

When I was prepping for this week, I was reading over a list of Thailand's major exports and when I got to rice (#3 on the list,) I stopped and thought, "You  know, I actually don't know how rice grows." So I thought this would be a good time to find out with the kids.

We watched this video on how rice grows and then as an activity, dyed uncooked rice with food coloring.

What will we use it for? I don't know. People let their toddlers do sensory play with colored rice, and I'm sure my three youngest kids can think of plenty of ideas on their own.

Needs to dry out for 24 hours, but whatever the kids do with afterward, they're doing it outside.
As a general rule, I hate doing crafts with the kids. It's always messy and time-consuming, and they get frustrated when there are steps they can't do by themselves. But this was easy, awesome, cheap, and fast. Five stars out of five. Would do this again.

Our last activity of the week in Thailand was one final Thai dinner: phat kaphrao.

Served on brown rice. Yum.

Phat kaphrao was a tasty change from our usual stir-fry so we're keeping this one, too. So far, this summer has been amazing for our future dinner menus.

All in all, this week of The Educational Summer Vacation was time well-spent. I loved the food, the kids liked the activities, and we all learned a lot. And did I mention the food? I'm in love with Southeast Asian cooking now.

Learning about Thailand is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Thailand #Thai #educational
Building the perfect Thailand lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Thai activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Thailand #lessonplan
This Thailand unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Thailand in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Thailand #Thai #homeschool

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Friday, August 7, 2020

7 Quick Takes about Security Questions, Things Your Preschooler Likes More Than You, and a New Reason to Love Alanis Morissette

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


I couldn't get into my Amazon account, so I called customer service to find out what was going on. 

The first person I talked to asked me the obvious ("did you try refreshing the page? trying it on another browser?") and then transferred me to a second person who was very serious about the whole thing.

"It appears that your account is locked, so I'm going to ask you your security questions. If you get them right I can unlock it, but if you get them wrong" and it seemed to me that she paused ominously here for dramatic effect "I can't do that and you'll have to call back."

Now I was really nervous. 

One at a time, she asked me my three security questions. After each answer, there was a pregnant pause while she checked them against whatever it was I said in 2004. 

I kept wondering if this next question was going to be where I failed. What was the color of my first car? Had I interpreted that as the first car I was allowed to drive regularly or the first car I bought? I didn't know. I couldn't remember. It was so stressful.

Luckily I passed, got back into my account, and it was honestly one of the easiest and quickest customer service experiences I've had in a while. Ominous warnings from the customer service rep aside.


Plans for our finishing our basement are moving slightly faster than their regular glacial pace, and I've started looking at couches to put down there since the one we have is a scary, disgusting old relic.

I ran across a good-looking one selling on Facebook Marketplace. In fact, it looked brand new. I clicked for more information and there wasn't much, but the person selling it said that they "purchased but it did not fit in their space."

However, she failed to include the dimensions of the couch in the listing so I think she may have subconsciously wanted someone else to suffer the same fate.

Also, I felt kind of bad messaging her for the couch's dimensions so I could check if it would fit in our space. You know, since she'd apparently forgotten to do that and I stood to profit from that.


I was looking around on a coupon app
I have on my phone, and accidentally stumbled across this:

Is this a joke? Is charcoal some type of cleaning agent? For real? Because the box looks like one of those gag gifts you can buy at Christmastime. I have to look this up.


This week has been church youth camp for my two older girls. It's different, being a mix of virtual activities and small group activities you go to from your house.

Some of the days have had a theme, and Tuesday's theme was "crazy hair." My kids are never interested in dress-up days at school but apparently camp is another story. 

One of my daughters asked me to make a huge bun on top of her head with eight little braids trailing from it, and then we stuck googly eyes hot glued to bobby pins in the bun so it looked like an octopus.

The other girls at camp named it Phil and referred to it as a separate entity from my daughter for the rest of the day.

After picking her up from a camp hike, we had to swing by Dollar Tree to get something. Mad props to the cashier, who did not even bat an eye at the fact that there was a customer in his line with googly eyes in her hair.


I finally got around to watching Hamilton on Disney+ with Phillip and our girls this week. 

Despite all the hype, my expectations weren't very high. The last stage musical I liked was Les Mis, and that was 20 years ago. I got my hopes up when everyone went out of their minds over Wicked, but then I saw it and was utterly unimpressed. I started to think maybe musicals just weren't my thing.

However, I loved Hamilton. The effects, the dancing, the singing: it was all amazing. And the only thing better than every scene with King George was  never mind. There's nothing better than the scenes with King George.

Despite the fact that a hip-hop founding father stage musical seems like a pretty random concept (I don't think anyone has ever wondered what cabinet meetings would look like if they were rap battles,) I liked the interpretation. And I'm sure high school history teachers wet their collective pants when all of a sudden their students knew what year the Battle of Yorktown was and could quote Washington's Farewell Address word for word.

I'll definitely watch again, with one caveat: I'm skipping the adultery part. The older I get and the more people I know whose lives have been ruined and families have been torn apart by infidelity, the less I can stomach even the suggestion of it happening. 


And now a sentimental moment from my 4-year-old.

Me: You're my sweet boy! I just love you so much!

4-year-old: Do you like me more than Scout and Piper [our pet rats]?

Me: Yes, I like you WAY more.

4-year-old: I like the rats better than you.

Me: Okay...

4-year-old: Because they're so cute!

Me: Hmm. Do you think I'm cute?

4-year-old: [snickers] No. [skips away to play]

Another funny thing was when I told him earlier this week that he was handsome, and then asked if he knew what 'handsome' meant. He cocked his head, furrowed his brow, and guessed, "Like... fancy?"


Do you know Alanis Morissette? In the 1990s, her angsty glory was all over the radio. Being an angsty teenager myself, naturally I loved her.

Well, she's back. I haven't thought about her in years, but recently she released a new album and went on The Tonight Show to sing from it. 

Because of the pandemic it was a virtual appearance, which she performed at home with her daughter on her hip.

That NEVER would have happened pre-2020 and I loved it.

It's weird, but I feel like this pandemic has made us see each other's human side a little more.

Because everyone is communicating over Zoom, I'm seeing the people at church in regular clothes instead of just their Sunday best. We're talking with people in their (possibly messy) houses instead of their offices. I'm watching my kids' teachers run class meetings with their own kids toddling in to ask for raisins. 

I know that makes things harder in a lot of ways, but it also shows that there's more to us than whatever perfectly put-together image we try to project. And actually, we're a lot more like each other than we thought.

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Morocco

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something with these links, the price stays the same for you but I receive a small commission for referring you.

Every summer, my kids and I learn about different countries around the world. Do the kids complain about it sometimes? Yes. But we mix all the education-y stuff with fun activities, field trips, and movies. And secretly, the kids think it's interesting, too.

This week, we learned about Morocco! Did you know that tangerines are named after the Moroccan city of Tangiers, or that the fez (think of the hat Shriners wear) is named after the city of Fez? Follow along with us and you'll probably pick up more facts to impress your friends at trivia night.


We started by putting on some Moroccan music (this week we've been listening to this and a CD I got from the library called The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco) and filling out our passport pages.

After finding Morocco, the kids flipped to a new page in the passports I made and wrote down everything they could learn about it from our giant wall map of the world. You can download the passport pages for free here if you want to try something similar with your own kids.

They also looked up and colored the Moroccan flag, which is green with a red star called the Seal of Solomon in the middle.

The colors are so patchy because my kids divide up every flag so everyone gets their own section to color. They're weirdly militaristic about this. Is that because we're a big family??

While they were coloring, I read from Morocco from the Country Explorers book series. I loved the format of a picture book we read next: Mirror by Jeannie Baker has no words, but it compares a day in the life of an Australian boy and a Moroccan boy by flipping side-by-side pages and looking at the pictures.

The most famous meal in Morocco is probably tajine, so named after the special pot that it's cooked in.

I couldn't afford the beautiful ones on Amazon, so I made do with my crockpot and holy cow, there were some wonderful smells coming out of that thing by dinnertime.

We used this recipe and probably should have tripled it. Everyone except my 6-year-old liked it, and he doesn't like anything. It wasn't much to look at once you layered the potato slices on top like you were supposed to, but it tasted amazing.

After dinner, we watched a 30-minute video about Morocco on Amazon (if you have a Prime account you can watch it for free with Prime Video.)


The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Tamazight.

In our years of doing The Educational Summer Vacation, we've "visited" quite a few Arabic-speaking countries and remember a few Arabic basics like counting and some common phrases. (Although if we were to visit Morocco for real we'd be unlikely to understand people because I guess the Moroccan Arabic dialect is pretty different.)

In any case, we reviewed how to count to 10 in standard Arabic, as well as how to say "please" and "thank you."

What we spent most of our time on today was Tamazight, which we'd never heard of before today and probably you haven't, either. Past rulers have tried to ban it, but it's spoken by 40% of Moroccans and was made an official language of Morocco in 2011.

Tamazight (tah-mah-ZEECHT) is the language of the Amazigh people, who've lived in Northern Africa since basically the dawn of time. You might have heard of them being called the Berbers or the Moors, but what they've always called themselves is the Amazigh (pronounced ah-mah-ZEER, with a French-sounding 'r.')

We watched this short video explaining the fight for Amazigh recognition in Morocco, and then this longer, more comprehensive one called "Who Are the Berbers of North Africa?" that went a mile over the younger kids' heads but was interesting to my teenagers.

Then we learned to count to ten in Tamazight. It was not easy, probably because it bore little similarity to any of the languages we'd attempted to learn before.

Shifting back to Arabic, I explained that one of the reasons Arabic is so important in Morocco is because Morocco is an Islamic country. And the Islamic holy book, the Quran, is never translated into other languages... so if you don't know Arabic, you can't read it!

We reviewed the pillars of Islam project we did last week, and then Googled some images of Muslim prayer mats and talked about how they are used. We discussed how there is always some kind of point or dome in the design to point to Mecca when you lay it out on the floor, and then each of the kids designed their own.

Mat designed by my 4-year-old. Template is a free download here.

My 4-year-old wanted to know what the words at the bottom said, so I told him "It says 'Karima's Crafts.' Karima is the lady who made this mat for you to color."

Confused, he pointed at the 'www' part of the URL and asked, "But why does it say 'wuh wuh wuh?'"

From top, clockwise: 16-year-old, 12-year-old, 8-year-old, 14-year-old, 6-year-old.


Today we talked about some of the arts in Morocco.

There are a famous styles of traditionally Moroccan music, one of them being Berber music. We listened to a sample, got hypnotized, and woke up three days later.

The other is Moroccan chaabi music. Apparently chaabi isn't the same thing as belly dancing, but it looked a lot like it to my untrained eye. I tried to find a video to show my kids that wasn't too salacious and settled on this one. I waited for their reaction after the video, which was about 4 seconds of complete silence and then one, "That was weird."

I asked if the kids had ever heard of snake charmers. They're a common sight in Marrakesh or wherever you can find street performers in Morocco.

We watched a video of a Moroccan snake charmer at work and then I broke their bubble by reading "15 Things You Didn't Know About Snake Charming." Spoiler alert: the music doesn't actually charm the snakes, and most of them are mistreated and physically altered so they don't hurt the owners. #thetruthhurts

The type of snake most often used in Moroccan snake charming is the king cobra, both because it's the slowest and most sluggish of the big snakes, and because the hood makes it appear scarier. We read about them in King Cobras by James E. Gerholdt, and then my kids especially enjoyed Who Would Win? Komodo Dragon vs. King Cobra because we just learned about komodo dragons last week in Indonesia.

The last Moroccan art we learned about was henna. Dye from the henna tree is applied in an intricate design on women's hands and feet for special occasions, which stains the skin and stays for 2-3 weeks.

(Fun story: when we visited a mosque a few years back, my girls were offered henna tattoos on their hands and I said fine, thinking it would last for a few days. It didn't wear off for A MONTH.)

We watched this video of henna being done (at 1.5 playback speed:)

Then for my favorite part, I let the kids peruse this awesome page explaining the different design elements of henna, and let them try it out.

Some chose to trace their hand on paper and draw a design on it:

Some chose to take it up a notch and use themselves as an actual canvas:

The best part of my 4-year-old's week was getting permission to do this.

Some requested a sibling or mom to take a Sharpie to their hand:

And some of us totally phoned it in because they thought this was a dumb activity and just wanted to go play Minecraft:

For dinner that night we had Moroccan chickpea stew, which I made a ton of and no one really liked.

Leftovers for days.

Tonight's bedtime story was The Storyteller by Evan Turk, about how stories are as vital as water to the life of a desert city in Morocco. Not sure how much of the symbolism got through to the kids, but I liked it.


Did you know there are two Spanish cities at the tip of Morocco? Cueta and Melilla are port cities that are technically part of Spain, so anyone from those cities can just walk (well, take a ferry) right across the Strait of Gibraltar into mainland Spain without a passport. There are some pretty high fences around those two cities.

We found the Strait of Gibraltar on the map, and then we talked about the argan trees that only grow in Morocco at the base of the Atlas Mountains.

I knew my kids would love this video on the famous "tree goats" of Morocco, and we also learned a lot about argan oil and why shampoo that contains it is so expensive.

The Sahara Desert starts in southern Morocco and expands across a big portion of Africa. For the younger kids, I cut out cardboard camels and stuck wooden dowels to the back of them. While they colored blankets for the camels' backs and the older kids tried to make an origami camel, I read them some camel facts from this website and a picture book called Baby Camels.

After the younger kids took their camels out in the sandbox to play "Sahara Desert," and I tried to jump in and do some origami with the older ones.

As per usual, trying to follow origami tutorials online makes me feel like I have two left hands and only half a brain. It's only thanks to the heavy help of my son that I was able to produce the world's wonkiest-looking camel.

At least they can all stand up. Sort of.

I was excited to watch this 26-minute documentary on the Marathon des Sables, mostly because Phillip is a runner and I wanted to see his reaction. The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) is an ultra-marathon that covers 150 miles over 5-6 days in the Sahara. Oh, yeah, and the participants have to run it carrying all their supplies on their backs.

For dinner we had chicken bastilla, which we billed to the 6-year-old as "chicken cake" so he'd eat it.

Probably the most interest meal I've ever mad, taste-wise.

This was a lot of work to assemble, so I actually made part of it yesterday to cut down on today's prep work. The finished bastilla was kind of savory and kind of sweet... how do you describe a dish that contains both chicken and powdered sugar??

Traditionally, Moroccans would gather around the bastilla and everyone would eat with their hands from their side of the dish. But kids are gross, so we didn't do that.

After the younger kids went to bed, we watched Casablanca, an old classic that I've actually never seen before. But it takes place in the city of Casablanca, Morocco, and that was a good enough excuse for me. I know cinematic history has already decided this, but I thought the movie was fabulous.


Tourists to Morocco often visit the "blue city" of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. I read that it's mostly painted blue because it was a Jewish refuge in the 1930s, and legend says blue is the color of heaven. We watched this video, noting the unusually large number of cats:

Apparently, Morocco has a bit of a street cat problem. There are cats everywhere, just google "cats of Morocco" or "cats of Marrakesh." People visit there just to take pictures of the cats.

My kids love cats, so I gave them the books Super Cats: True Stories of Felines That Made History
and Cats: Eyewitness Handbooks (which is 245 pages of pictures of cats of all breeds, my kids were in heaven.) I tried not to dwell on the fact that stray cats are often dirty, diseased, malnourished, or suffering from infections and just let them enjoy thinking about cute kitties.

We learned about the leather tanneries of Fes, where things haven't changed much since medieval times and it looks like hard and smelly work.

We learned about prehistoric rock art in the Sahara that dates back 5,000 years and is curiously not cave painting, but rock carving.

We ended up in the Draa Valley, where dates are grown and there is a date festival every October. Dates are a major crop in Morocco. 90,000 tons of them are exported every year, the most popular and expensive being the Medjool date.

For an activity, we decided to make a date-based treat, and settled on this chocolate milkshake. We actually buy an obscene amount of dates already, because we love them in smoothies and it's one of the few high-calorie foods our 6-year-old actually likes. But I bought the pitted kind this time so the kids could have the full experience of taking out the pits before adding them to the milkshakes.

Tasted just like chocolate ice cream.


You can't learn about Morocco without learning about Moroccan rugs, so that was our final stop today.

We watched this video and this one on the rug-making process for the Beni Ourain tribes of Morocco, who are known for producing the finest Moroccan rugs.

The younger kids wove paper mats while the big kids researched the currency of Morocco. They copied the bills and made Moroccan dirham, figured out the exchange rats for USD, and then set prices for the woven "rugs" the little ones made.

Moroccan dirham, my kids tell me.

I helped the little kids set up shop on the piano bench and encouraged them to play souk, a.k.a. market or store.

We planned to make Moroccan couscous tonight (well, sort of; Phillip can't have gluten so we were going to substitute quinoa for couscous) but ran out of time. It's a lamb dish that has to simmer for a couple of hours so we're going to try it tomorrow, since it really does sound yummy.

Overall, visiting Morocco was pretty awesome! I was surprised by how much I liked the food and I learned some truly interesting facts. Oh, and now the kids have a new life goal to go there and see the cats.
This Morocco unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Morocco in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Morocco #homeschool
Building the perfect Morocco lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Morocco activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Morocco #lessonplan
Learning about Morocco is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Morocco #educational

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Friday, July 31, 2020

7 Quick Takes about Water Balloons, How Not to Enjoy a Movie Classic, and Fun Ways to Pass an Hour When You Don't Like Being Comfortable

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


We had our annual Evans family water balloon fight. We only do it once a summer because, like camping, it's fun but requires so much prep work  I can only take doing it once every 365 days.

We make it big, though. We fill about 300 balloons (which probably sounds like a lot but keep in mind there are 8 of us,) put them in buckets on opposing sides of the yard, and split up into teams and launch the water balloons across the divide.

Usually we wait for a Saturday but this time Phillip snuck out of the house on his lunch break to participate, then went back in (working from home is the bessssssst) while the kids and I picked up all the teeny tiny balloon pieces scattered in the yard.

"Why doesn't Daddy have to help clean up?!" my indignant 8-year-old moaned.

I didn't even have to say anything before my older kids jumped to his defense: "Because he's working to buy you water balloons and water."

Well said.


For the first time, I watched Casablanca. The impetus for this was visiting Morocco for The Educational Summer Vacation, where Casablanca is set. The connection may be tenuous, but it's still there.

I loved the movie, even though I had a little trouble following what was going on all the time because I'm not exactly well-versed in my WWII politics. It didn't help that my 12-year-old was oblivious to the fact that talking nonstop over the characters in a movie where literally ALL the action happens through dialogue does not improve the viewing experience.

I missed THE MOMENT, the "maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life" moment because he was talking about the stairs on movie sets. I was so irritated and re-watched the last 10 minutes by myself after everyone went to bed.

Just in case you think you'll get to enjoy movies more when you no longer have to get up to take preschoolers to the bathroom in the middle of it: you won't.


With school out and not much going on, the kids are finding themselves with lots of time on their hands to work on projects of their own invention.

One idea they recently had is to write and record a scene, then do the sound effects separately like Foley artists. One of them may or may not be learning how to use a bow staff in preparation for the scene. I don't really understand what's going on.

If you don't know what Foley is, I highly recommend watching this video. You'll never look at the sounds in a movie the same way again.


The older kids recently binge-watched the entire first season of "The Mandalorian" with Phillip, and now all they can talk about is Baby Yoda. (Now I know what the entire Internet was going nuts over in December.)

Right now they're in the process of trying to convince the youngest to be Baby Yoda for Halloween, and having intense negotiations about which one of them gets to be the Mandalorian.

They've even toyed with the idea of the oldest three being the Mandalorian and the youngest three being Baby Yodas, although the 8-year-old would end up being more of a Tween Yoda and I'm not sure if that even works.


This week we began training the rats to do their very first trick. We're keeping it simple and teaching them to come when we call.

Not only will it be fun to teach Piper and Scout something, I can envision it being useful when one of them escapes from the kids and we need to lure it back to the cage.

Speaking of the rats, the kids continue to invent toys for them. Rats are smart animals that get bored easily and like new challenges, so it's perfect. Their latest is a plastic cup suspended from the cage ceiling with treats in it.

As it turns out, this is every bit as entertaining for us to watch as it is for them trying to figure it out.


Recently our youth organization at church got the okay to hold in-person activities again as long as everyone wears a mask and the group is no larger than 10 people. (I personally am not comfortable with indoor activities so everything I plan will be outside for the time being.)

This week we had an lawn movie night with a projector, and it was pretty great to see all the girls in person instead of just over Zoom or Google Hangouts for the first time since March!


Believe it or not, I'd forgotten how much I hate activity planning. The list of things that can go wrong during any given activity is infinite. So you try to anticipate what might go wrong, but not only does that make you crazy, it doesn't really even help because no matter what you do, there's still something you didn't think of  and that's the thing that happens.


When my teenagers had their dental cleanings, the waiting room was closed because of COVID-19 so I stood and waited in the hallway.

After 15 minutes standing started to get uncomfortable and I thought about going out to sit in the car, but I stuck around because the hygienist always comes out to ask permission to take X-rays or put on fluoride or something.

A little while later, I said to myself, "Well, they're probably close to done now." Ten minutes after that, I was like, "Okay, I guess I actually would've had time to go out to the car before but they're definitely almost done now."

Repeat that thought process a bunch more times and suddenly you've been standing outside the dentist's office for an hour and your back is killing you. What was the most fun YOU had this week?

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Indonesia

This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase using them the cost stays the same to you but I receive a small commission for referring you. Thanks, guys!

Every week of summer vacation, my kids and I take an imaginary trip around the world. We learn everything we can about the geography, language, and culture of a place, which keeps the kids' brains active and gives them something to do other than fight over popsicles.

This week, my kids wanted to "travel" to Indonesia. I know basically nothing about Indonesia, so I learned a lot in preparation!

Knowing how my kids will read anything if it's in their line of sight, I left out the nonfiction book Indonesia from the Enchantment of the World series and a semi-educational graphic novel called Carmen SanDiego: The Sticky Rice Caper. I'm sneaky like that.


Indonesia is called "the Emerald of the Equator." Depending on who you're talking to, the country consists of between 13,000 to 18,000 islands. It's the 4th most populated country in the world.

We listened to a traditional Indonesian gamelan orchestra (which my daughter said reminded her a little of Minecraft music) while the kids found Indonesia on our giant wall map and filled out a passport page while I read parts of Indonesia from the Country Explorers series.

Download the Passport Pages

My 6-year-old felt that "Indonesia" contained too many letters to write and did not enjoy this exercise.

Next, the kids drew the Indonesian flag. It's the reverse of Poland's flag, which we did last summer, so the kids have been calling Indonesia "upside-down Poland" all week. I'm worried the younger ones might actually think it's called that now.

National flag of upside-down Poland.

After watching an animated video about Indonesia for the little kids, we watched a longer video that goes over the major islands of Indonesia one by one.

I gave each kid a blank map of Indonesia and had them label the different islands as the video named them. (My 12-year-old turned his into a paper airplane and the 4-year-old poked holes in it with a pencil, but everyone else seemed happy to comply.)

Then it was time to talk about a few parts of Indonesian culture I found interesting. We learned about hombo batu, an ancient ritual in Sumatra where young men jump over 6-foot walls. It was possibly less exciting to those of us who've spent a lot of time binge watching parkour videos on YouTube, but still impressive.

Then we dove into the world of Balinese dance with this video. We watched pendet, a dance done by girls to purify a temple. Then we watched baris, done by men about to go into battle:

Both dances were unlike anything my kids had ever seen before, and just watching the dancers' complicated hand motions gave me carpal tunnel.

For dinner we had tumpeng (Indonesian rice cones) with beef rendang. It wasn't as hard to make as the recipe led me to believe. It was a little bit of a time investment, but well worth it.

Definitely the most interesting-looking thing I've eaten all week.

My husband claims the beef rendang was the most flavorful thing he's ever eaten, which is really saying something because he's a total food snob.


Indonesia's official language, Bahasa Indonesia, is what kids learn in school and what official publications are printed in, but not many people use it as their first language. Most Indonesians prefer their regional dialects or languages instead.

We learned how to say "please" and "thank you" in Bahasa Indonesia and also how to count to 10. We reviewed it with this online Indonesian numbers game. After a few minutes, it really did help us commit the numbers to memory!

(The most widely-spoken language is Javanese, and we took a minute to do a Google images search for the Old Javanese alphabet. Today Javanese speakers use the Latin alphabet, but it really is a beautiful old style of calligraphy.)

We also learned about wayang kulit, an elaborate shadow puppet show accompanied by the gamelan orchestra. (Again with the gamelan orchestra. It's everywhere. I'm hearing it in my dreams.)

We watched a 2-minute documentary on wayang kulit. I intended to only show my kids a snippet of this 10-minute wayang kulit show but they wanted to watch the whole thing so that's what we did.

Then I gave them this list and told them to pick an Indonesian folk tale, and make their own wayang kulit to tell the story. Three of the kids took me up on it and I was truly impressed with the results.

What a mess.

Sheet taped across the doorway equals puppet theater.

I showed them this article to help them figure out how to make the puppets with hinged joints, which the younger kids played with for a ridiculous amount of time afterward.


Indonesia is a "megadiverse" country, meaning that it has not only a majority of Earth's species of plants and animals but also has species that aren't found anywhere else in the world.

Today, we wanted to learn more about some of those endemic species.

We looked up rafflesia, the world's biggest flower. As my daughter typed "world's biggest f-" into the YouTube search bar, the auto-complete feature suggested "world's biggest fart" and the kids had a field day. (We did NOT watch it, by the way, and instead chose to watch this one and this one.)

Then we looked up titan arum, better known as the corpse flower. This is the second Indonesian flower that looks freaky and smells like rotting meat.

We watched another video on the corpse flower, and then it was time to learn about something that would freak out my kids a little less. Or so I thought.

Turns out I didn't know very much about the komodo dragon, which is only found on a handful of Indonesian islands, because it's pretty weird, too.

I read Komodo Dragon: On Location to the younger kids while the older kids went online to research komodo dragons. Then they were supposed to either (1) write a "save the komodo dragons" informational brochure, or (2) write a story about a day in the life of a komodo dragon.

My 8-year-old's "day in the life" story was very thorough.

The 4- and 6-year-old colored pictures of komodo dragons I found online.

I also gave my kids the book How to Babysit an Orangutan by Tara and Kathy Darling, about raising orphaned baby orangutans at Camp Leakey in Borneo (Indonesia.) They loved the baby orangutans drinking out of bottles and acting like toddlers.

For dinner tonight, we had nasi goreng: Indonesian fried rice! I can't take credit for this one, as my husband did the cooking tonight.

Thumbs up from me.


There are 139 volcanoes in Indonesia. It's part of the Ring of Fire, so we read Ring of Fire by Leonard Hort to explain to the younger kids what that was.

My 14-year-old said one of her teachers made the class listen to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" in its entirety when they learned about it in science, so I spared them that this time.

They did, however, insist that we watch Mr. DeMaio, who is as ridiculous as he is informative. Maybe more.

Then we covered three volcanic eruptions of historical importance that happened in Indonesia: Toba, Tambora, and Krakatoa.

In 70,000 BC, Mount Toba erupted in Indonesia and set off a global volcanic winter. The world's temperature dipped as many as 50 degrees for the next 3-10 years!

In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted and turned the next year into "the year without a summer." The kids perked up and said "Hey, that sounds familiar..." And they were right. A book about our church's history, actually starts with the Tambora eruption in 1815. The "year without a summer" is why our church's founder's family moved to New York, where our church was later organized in 1830. Guess we have more connections to Indonesia than we thought!

In 1883, the eruption of Mount Krakatoa is sometimes called the loudest sound in history. We watched a short video on it here and read The Krakatau Eruption.

As a hands-on activity, I thought it would be fun to make a volcano. But we'd already tried that a few summers ago and it was an abysmal failure. So I thought the Mentos and Diet Coke explosion might be a fun alternative.

Someone is taking a shower after this.


As a mom, my superpower is being wrong about what I think is going to be fun. The kids fought the whole time, got frustrated because the Mentos weren't sliding in right, complained because of the humidity and the bugs, and then it started raining at the end.

I'd been marinating some chicken satay since that morning, and once we were finished with the Mentos explosion Phillip fired up the grill.

While he was doing that, I grabbed a few kids to help me put together gado-gado, which literally means "mix mix" and is a platter of vegetables with peanut sauce.

Clockwise from top right: prawn chips, chicken satay, gado-gado, and peanut sauce.

It tasted divine and we basically smothered everything in leftover peanut sauce for the next two days until it was gone.


Even though Indonesia is mostly Muslim and has the world's biggest Muslim population, it isn't an Islamic state. So things are a bit different there than in many parts of the Middle East.

We reviewed what we knew about Islam with the book Islam from the Eyewitness Books series, and then decided to get more familiar with the five pillars of Islam.

There are five main tenets (called pillars) of Islam: shahada (profession of faith,) salat (prayer,) zakat (almsgiving,) sawm (fasting,) and hajj (pilgrimage.) You can read more about them here.

We decided to make literal 3D pillars representing each one. I printed out five Islamic patterns in black and white that I found with a Google image search, and the kids colored them while we talked about the five pillars.

When they were done, they each labeled their pillar and the sixth kid put 'ISLAM' on top of the pillars.

I had the perfect number of children for this activity.

Not a bad visual representation if I do say so myself.


This morning we played badminton, which is sometimes called the national sport of Indonesia. I'd been wondering if we should get a set so we could have something new to do around home this summer, and then when I learned this I went ahead and bought this net and these rackets.

(The rackets were more expensive than I'd like, but I knew my frustration-prone 4-year-old would have  instantly destroyed the cheap ones by throwing them on the ground.)

After attempting to play badminton, we tried our hand at batik dyeing.

Batik is an ancient method of fabric decoration in Java, Indonesia. It comes from the Javanese word tik, which means "dot."

It's a wax resist method, and if you've ever drawn with crayons on Easter eggs before dipping them in the dye then you already get the idea.

We've actually been doing batik egg dying at Easter for years, ever since we learned about it when "visiting" Ukraine for our Educational Summer Vacation in 2012. So we already had beeswax lying around and more or less understood the principle.

I didn't want to buy batik dye which can be expensive, so I got the cheap Rit all-purpose fabric dye. Or at least I tried to. At JoAnn, the shelves with the fabric dye looked like this:

Nothing but tumbleweeds in the fabric aisle.

I grabbed the few colors they had and decided we'd make do. At least it made for easy decision-making.

Using these instructions as our guide, we laid out our fabric squares, melted wax, painted the wax onto the squares with dollar store paintbrushes (they were a beast to clean off afterward and I probably should've just thrown them away.)

Melting the wax in a makeshift double boiler.

Wax designs on our fabric before the dye. We used black wax and white wax, but they both look the same when they're done.

Dipping the fabric into the dye.

The finished products.

The wax adhered better to some than others and turned out lighter on some of them.

After they dry, we're going to make them into face masks, since we'll need more when/if school starts again in the fall. (I anticipate my children losing their masks left and right, if they're anything like mittens and gloves.)

For dinner, I made soto ayam. That's fancy for Indonesian chicken noodle soup.

I've eaten more hard-boiled eggs this week than I usually do in a month.

It was okay. The spices added a new dimension to regular chicken noodle soup, but this recipe didn't really have any vegetables so it felt like something was missing.

Overall, we had a great time visiting Indonesia. We learned a lot, had some really good food, and did some fun activities. And no one enjoyed it more than my 6-year-old, who pelts unsuspecting people we meet with komodo dragon facts until they are literally searching for an escape route.
Learning about Indonesia and Bali is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #indonesia #bali #educational
Building the perfect Indonesia lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Indonesia and bali activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #indonesia #bali #lessonplan
This Indonesia unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Indonesia in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #indonesia #bali #homeschool

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »