Lessons Learned from Thunder Cake

April means rain, and rain means the water cycle, and I so love when our planned curriculum works nicely into the seasons. “Weather” is the current subject as we explore Earth Science, and this week has been all about the water cycle, rain storms, thunder, and lightning.

My favorite way to teach a subject is with great children’s literature, so while we delve into the facts with non-fiction, I often try to incorporate themed-fiction read-alouds as well. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco is the story of a little girl who is afraid of thunderstorms. She becomes nervous as the storm nears and so her grandmother subtly teaches about bravery as they prepare batter for a “thunder cake.” Then, while the rain pours, they enjoy a thick slice of cake and the little girl faces her fear of the thunderstorm.

Thunder Cake

After reading the story, the kids and I had a discussion about our own fears as we mapped them on a web graphic organizer. It was an eye-opening discussion for me! While I thought I knew my kids pretty well, the discussion presented new subjects for us to talk about and we were even able to settle a few of those 8, 6, and 4-year-old fears.

mapping fears

After our mapping and fears conversation we made a thunder cake! We cheated and went the cake mix-route, but a recipe for the authentic “thunder cake” Patricia Polacco made with her grandmother is included in the back of the book.

making thunder cake

I loved reading this story with the kids for so many reasons. Besides fitting perfectly into a weather or emotions (fear) unit and being a cute story, I loved that it was based a real-life memory the author had with her grandmother. Though I know the story is embellished to make a good children’s book, the recollection made me think a lot about the grandmother.

I can picture a sweet teaching moment, as the storm brewed and she baked a special cake with her granddaughter. I picture her educating the little girl on slowly counting after viewing the lightning–waiting for the thunder, and predicting how far the storm was. I imagine the wise woman lovingly assuring the child they were safe as they licked the chocolate icing clean from their forks.

making thunder cake

I doubt the grandmother had a clue what an impact the teaching moment would have on her granddaughter, or that she–many years later–would go on to write a popular children’s book about making a thunder cake. I doubt she had a second thought about consulting the teacher’s manual to teach about the science of rain storms, or showing bravery. She just loved and lived and taught in the moment. What an example.

There are so many days I stress about getting behind in our curriculum, wonder if that “new” math program would work better for us, or sheesh, if we’re even doing enough! My “fears” are something I pray about, cry about, worry about. 

But just as often as my fears creep in, there are moments when I feel sweet comfort–like a grandmother’s love during a thunderstorm, assuring me things are going to be okay. I’m reminded it’s less about the perfect method of teaching, or the curriculum we’re using, and more about the time, consistency, and love I’m pouring into my kids.

April Showers Art Project

April showers art project by Keeping Life Creative

April means rain and we’ve been learning all about the water cycle, rain, and thunderstorms, so this was a fun spring-themed project.

You’ll Need . . .

  • 8.5 x 11 white or gray card stock
  • scraps of patterned paper
  • strip of brown card stock
  • glue stick or white liquid glue
  • black marker
  • washable tempera paint (we used black, white, purple and blue)
  • paintbrushes
  • fork

Paint the paper

We used black, white, purple, and blue tempera paint to completely cover a piece of card stock. It’s easiest if you can squirt a bit of each color of paint directly on the card stock, and then encourage kids to mix the paint colors in swirling motions, imitating dark rain clouds.

April showers art project

Once the paper is covered with paint, use a fork to add some swirly texture by creating circular motions with the tongs of the fork.

April showers art project2

Then set the swirled paper aside to dry.

Draw and Cut the Umbrella

Let the kids choose a piece of patterned paper for their umbrella. Show them how to make the umbrella by drawing a large “U” on the paper. I emphasized that mine isn’t perfect, so they shouldn’t worry about theirs being perfect either.

April showers art project

Then top the large “U” with connecting little “u”s. Before we started, my least-art-enthusiastic child was hesitant about drawing an umbrella, but I think seeing it broken down into simple steps makes a project less intimidating for kids (and maybe adults too?!).

April showers art project4

We’re practicing scissor skills, so I had the kids draw the umbrella shapes on the patterned-side of the paper, and then cut inside the black lines so the lines wouldn’t show on the umbrella’s front. You could always skip this step by having the kids draw the  non-patterned-side of the paper.

April showers art project

Then, draw the handle on the strip of brown card stock by drawing a “bubble letter J,” and cut it out.

April showers art project

Glue the Umbrella

Assemble by gluing the handle underneath the umbrella, with a little peaking out the top, if possible. If the kids haven’t made their “J” handles tall enough, have them glue another small piece of card stock to the top of the umbrella (on the underside).

April showers art project

When the painted paper is dry, glue the umbrella on the center of the paper, and embellish the umbrella with the black marker by drawing lines along the edges.

April showers art project7

April Showers Art Projects . . .

April showers art project

Giving Tornados a Whirl: a unit study

all about tornadoes

Our Earth science study continues with a unit study on tornadoes! We happen to live in “tornado alley,” and even occasionally have to retreat to the basement during city-wide tornado warnings, so it was good to learn a little more about them–and maybe ease a few fears.

tornado KWL chart

When we begin a unit, we always start the new subject with a discussion on what we already Know, and what we Wonder. (After the unit we also discuss what we Learned.) I’ll probably say this over and over again, but I’m sure I get the most out of these units. Kind of embarrassing to admit until I read these primary-level science books, I didn’t know how a tornado was created . . . .

Learning the Facts

Brainpop has been one of our favorite science resources this year, and the easy-to-understand introduction video and activities kicked off our tornado exploration.

Brainpop on Tornadoes

A stack of books from the library or our personal collection furthered the learning. Some non-fiction books we recommend:

tornado books

Tornadoes | Tornado Alert | Do Tornadoes Really Twist | Tornado!

The TV show, Beakman’s World is a bit dated (hello again, 90′s!), but my kids think it’s hilarious, and the science information is still in-style. Watching it got them excited to create their own whirling tornado in a bottle.

Beakman's World on Tornadoes

(FYI: Beakman’s World is currently on Netflix Instant Play.)

Incorporating Fiction

The Magic Treehouse series is another one of our favorite resources during a unit study since there are so many coordinating books on history or science subjects. Twister on Tuesday had us traveling to the prairie during pioneer times and hiding with Jack and Annie in a dirt dugout during an angry funnel storm.  

Before, during, and/or after each chapter reading we completed a comprehension activity. My goal, when creating the book study packet, was to have a variety of activities and graphic organizers to keep things fresh. Nothing more boring than doing the same worksheet over, and over.

Twister on Tuesday reading comprehension activities

{Find the Twister on Tuesday comprehension activities here.}

Tornado was another sweet fiction tornado-themed chapter book we read-aloud. It’s about a family who gathers in the storm cellar during a tornado. While they wait out the storm, Pete, the farmhand, tells stories of “Tornado” the dog–his beloved childhood pet who appeared after a tornado.

Tornado by Betsy Byars

We enjoyed the book as a bedtime read, and then took a comprehension “test” on Book Adventure. We don’t always test on what we read, but the kids think it’s fun to collect “points” and it’s a good reading incentive for books they might not regularly pick up.

The Project

Beakman’s tornado in a bottle experiment (see above) seemed a little complicated to me, so we opted to recreate the funnel-effect by making a “Tornado in a Jar.” Ours didn’t turn out quite as whirly as Pinterest promised, but we had fun anyway. Reminding myself that projects don’t need to be award-winning as long as they’re educational and fun.

torndado in a jar

Concluding Assessment

Lastly we finished up the tornado learning with a cut-and-paste tornado fact True or False page, as well as finishing our KWL chart by filling in our Learning. Ryan is anxious to know which “natural disaster” we’re learning about next. Something about destruction is quite fascinating to this 8-year old!

tornado assessment pages

Interested in giving these activities a whirl? Find the printables here.

A Birthday Party for Panda

party for panda

Emery (6) received a wall calendar for  Christmas, and has faithfully checked off a box every night when she goes to bed. A few weeks ago I overhead her talking to her siblings about counting down to her stuffed panda, Lloyd’s birthday. But in all neglectful-mommy admission, I didn’t really know when said-birthday supposedly was, nor did I remember it was something she was hoping to celebrate until this morning when she excitedly reminded me TODAY was THE day and wondered what gift I’d planned for Lloyd.

“Um, how about his favorite birthday treat?” I quickly answered, mentally scanning all the things I needed to do today, and wondering where stuffed-panda-birthday-party preparations would fit.

sugar cookies

“Star-shaped sugar cookies with green sprinkles!” she specified.

My too-many-second hesitation must have been detected because Jared mouthed across the room, “help build her faith.

“Sure! Star-shaped sugar cookies.” I agreed, again scanning my schedule, and selfishly shooting my husband a look of, you’d-better-fill-me-in-on-how-making-time-for-this-will-build-her-faith.

“With green sprinkles.” Emmy again insisted.

“With green sprinkles.”

sugar cookies

To squelch any assumption I scramble to fulfill every child’s desire, there are definitely days–moments–this mommy takes a shortcut or raincheck on the requests. But today, we baked star-shaped sugar cookies with sprinkles and sang happy birthday to Lloyd, the stuffed panda.

And helped a little girl build her faith in things which are hoped for.

star border


Keep Your Eyes Wide

They sat in my living room balancing bean dip on paper plates, squirrelishly entertaining tangents unrelated to the printed agenda. Developing a group “statement of faith” had been added as a discussion item after several members had expressed proposals on the new homeschool group’s official name and purpose. Some wished for an exclusively Christian group, while others suggested it remain all-inclusive, with the emphasis on supplementing education through the expectation of high morals.

Though I was unfamiliar and a little shy to the small group, I spoke first when the time finally came to discuss our group’s statement of faith.

“I love the idea of having a motto to help guide our group’s goals and help parents feel comfortable that their kids will be among moral standards. Personally, I think our statement of faith should be general since there are many faiths in our group and there may be specific doctrines we disagree on.”

Everyone nodded and mumbled profuse agreement.

Then, taking a deep breath I gathered the courage to continue on with the thoughts I’d felt inspired to share.

“I’ve been in groups before where I felt excluded because of my religion. People have even said I’m not Christian, which clearly is not true, and is very hurtful to me.” Gesturing to the large painting of Jesus Christ hanging behind my couch, “I would never want anyone to feel unwelcome because of their beliefs.”

We believe

At this point in the discussion, I wasn’t sure they knew the details of my personal faith. I only knew they all agreed there was a need to establish a standard among our homeschool group and co-op classes. And they all agreed the statement should be broad enough to include all faiths. With good feelings, we moved to the next agenda item.

A few weeks later I learned through second-hand sources the group leader was uncomfortable with how “involved” I was becoming, and that my faith was excluded on her list of welcome religions in the ideal “Christian” co-op.

I was angry, hurt, and embarrassed. I wanted to curl in fetal position in my bed and disappear until the emotion numbed. This was the exact situation I’d feared, yet had felt such calm after speaking up that night over our plates of bean dip.

Dr Seuss books

The betrayal continued to sting as my kids gathered around a stack of Dr. Seuss books and asked me to read aloud.

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss

I read through the headache that throbbed from crying about how she wouldn’t to talk to me, just about me. I read as I wondered why, WHY, someone would unfairly go to an anti-source instead of directly to the person to learn about their beliefs.

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss

Ironically, through the simple words of a beloved children’s author, peace began to replace the anger and I realized this experience wasn’t for her. I wanted her to give me a chance. I wanted her to be willing to learn about my beliefs–no matter how strange they seemed to her. I wanted to be included and involved with new friends that could help support my homeschooling goals.

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss

But this experience wasn’t for converting her–it was for converting me. It was for me to gain the courage to stand up for what I know to be true. To teach my kids a lesson in tolerance and acceptance of others–no matter the differences, and to take a look at the roots of my faith.

It was for me to be able to say–not just on the surface, but to feel from my core, that it doesn’t matter what others think as long as I’m doing what I know is right. And that the right will not always be popular.

It was for me to realize the unpopularity of the ancient prophets who testified of the unknown, and to remember our Savior himself was rejected because of what He knew to be true.

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss

It was for me to realize what’s really important is what I know to be true. I know it’s true because I’ve asked, and received that testimony for myself. Because of that very personal testimony I’ve received, God also knows I know it’s true. And so I can not deny it.

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss