All About Wolves

FREE printable wolf template

It started with a postcard from a friend’s summer vacation which soon developed into an impromptu interest-led unit study: reading about wolves in our favorite animal encyclopedia, looking up facts on National Geographic, watching a Wild Kratt’s episode about wolves, re-telling The Boy Who Cried Wolf, assembling cut-and-paste wolf art projects, searching for villianized wolves in popular fairy tales. 

wolf postcard

To go with this mini-study, I created a wolf template which can be used for a fun art project (we like to paint, cut, and paste).

FREE printable wolf template

The template can also be used as a pattern create a feltie to use on your flannel board. My girls are now begging for a Little Red Riding Hood feltie. (Coming soon?!)

FREE wolf pattern for flannel board



Linked to: Hip Homeschool Moms

Homeschooling Through Life’s Seasons

Several months ago I looked around at my life and breathed a sigh of relief because it felt like we were smooth sailing. The cold, gray winter was over; we’d finally fallen into a homeschooling groove, the kids were becoming more independent in helping with chores; I’d lost 45 pounds of back-to-back pregnancy weight and had more energy than ever; my business was growing well;  and we were happy.

THM pics

But it often seems–for me, anyway–just when life is going well and that I’ve got it “all together,” a trial hits. In this case, it was a welcome trial, but also very difficult one in the form of a surprise pregnancy. And about the time we began racking our brains to figure out how it happened (I mean, we know how pregnancies happen, just weren’t sure how THIS one happened!) the sickness hit–all day and all night.

13 week ultrasound

{13 weeks: social media “announcement” via Instagram}

In our early marriage, Jared and I struggled with a infertility and multiple miscarriages. I will never forget the emotional pain of those days and have empathy for those who are dealt a similar challenge. Now we’re on the flip side and have been entrusted with a growing family and have both perspectives. Can I simply state: pregnancy has never been easy for me–in the trying-to-conceive phase, the growing-a-baby phase, and the postpartum phase.

When the sickness hit, (for me, it’s severe and lasts a long time) homeschooling came to a halt, designing came to a halt, housecleaning came to a halt. . . you get the idea.

During the long days of lying on the couch, feeding my kids boxed macaroni and drive-thru cheeseburgers–again, and cradling the toilet–I felt immense mommy guilt. There are plenty of things to feel guilty about when you join the mom-club, but the one that bothered me the most was homeschooling. I was firmly committed to making this thing work and refused to yo-yo them back into public school. But there was guilt and stress about how I could possibly educate them when I could barely shower and keep down my lunch.

team pink

{21 weeks: We find out we’re expecting our fourth girl! Big brother is disappointed, but taking it like a champ.}

As I lay on the couch counting down the hours until my husband got off work–allowing my kids to eat a third bowl of cold cereal and watch yet another episode of Magic Schoolbus–I realized I’d need to stop mourning this year’s perfect school plans and begin looking for ways to make the best of the “season” we’d been thrown in. And that’s what led us into three months of “interest-led” schooling.

What is interest-led learning?

As I understand it, interest-led learning is based on two foundational ideas:

  • children are born to learn
  • forced learning kills the desire to learn

I can see truth in these principles as I consider our journey in deciding to homeschool. It was gut wrenching to watch the spark die in my knowledge-hungry little boy during those years he attended public school.

What interest-led learning looked like for us: 

Maybe not as relaxed as a truly committed interest-led philosophy follower, but aside from finishing up the year’s math textbooks, we put away the rest of the curriculum, and read. A lot.

We read about plants, took a “field trip” to the nursery to choose seeds and seedlings, and planted a small raised-bed vegetable garden. Over the past few months the kids have been learning how to care for the growing veggies, and are now beginning to harvest and taste new things.

E digs in the mud

Or when a friend sent a wolf postcard from Yellowstone, we pulled out our favorite animal encyclopedia, looked up facts on National Geographic, watched a Wild Kratt’s episode about wolves, re-told The Boy Who Cried Wolf, assembled cut-and-paste wolf art projects, and searched for villianized wolves in popular fairy tales.

As stressful as it was for this routine-oriented mama to let go of the planned checklist, I look back at the past few months and realize stepping away from the textbooks and our curriculum plans didn’t neglect the kids’ education in the way I feared. In fact, having that additional time to play and explore has helped them develop MORE creativity and inquisitiveness.


Throughout the day I often find one or more nose-deep in a stack of books, or spontaneous art projects. They “play” school–taking turns being the teacher (giving me a glimpse of what I must look like in their eyes!), write lists and descriptions of their favorite Star Wars and My Little Pony characters, build imaginative contraptions from blocks and Legos, and make up songs on the piano. They’re learning! And applying their knowledge! And it’s so good to see.

lego dragon

While I’m not sure I’m ready/willing to ditch the curriculum and jump into an unschooling lifestyle for my family long term, I can definitely see benefits to this interest-led learning. Most of all, I can see benefits to relaxing a little, and remembering the big picture, and knowing our schooling can be catered to our different seasons of life.

And this fall with a 4th grader, 2nd grader, Kindergartner, 2-year-old, and nursing newborn will certainly need some curriculum catering!

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.