I am apologizing for all who read this before I had finished editing it, it got scheduled a bit earlier than I had planned, sorry:-)
Little House in the Big Woods, a perennial favorite book the world over, is also a great book for a Five in a Row+, in my humble opinion. We have read, and reread this book many times, each time exploring different aspects of the story, life in that era, or how animals were hunted for food, all awesome topics for homeschool Five in a Row.
The first few chapters are about their house, and the winter in their little log house, so it is a great time to explore migration, adaptation and the hibernation of animals in the colder climates. There are many good websites that can contribute to your learning, as well as fun crafts, like this hibernating bear “snow globe” I did last year with my co-op class. Older kids can do some research on which species hibernate, which fly south, how fish survive in freezing water, and even about how turtles freeze solid, then thaw the next spring(crazy right??!)
Also in the first few chapters are food, and the harvesting/gathering of food stuffs for the winter time. This may be a good time to help your kids make butter, simple tools like a canning-type jar, marbles and heavy cream are all it takes. Ice cream is also a good option, for the sweeter tastes:-) With your butter your kids can try their hand at flaky biscuits, and even some simple berry preserve making,or marmalade, to be enjoyed, with your butter on your biscuits. If you are really adventurous you can try your hand at “sugar on snow”, a delicious treat I sometimes make for my kids!
Much of the Little House book is spent exploring Laura’s world with her, wandering through her days, learning cooking, housekeeping and sewing from her beloved Ma. Sewing is a great topic to explore in a Five in a Row+, if you have older kids that can sew they can begin learning fancy stitches or cross stitch, or even create a small pillow or something similar, small kids can work on “sewing cards”. Once they get more proficient(it should come quickly if they keep it up every time you read the book) they can work to hand stitch your families initials into cotton napkins of placemats. Smaller kids can use lacing cards and yarn or shoe laces to “sew” letters, pictures or shapes, sewing with plastic canvas or foam sheet trays or fun foam with holes punched into it are also good starters. Also fun are button strings, just use fancy buttons, foam beads etc, and a pipe cleaner with a twist in the bottom to keep the creation all together.
Sewing can be done while reading the book, creating a cozy cold weather afternoon activity. Boys can use this time to learn to sew practical things, like buttons, or how to tie knots with ropes or shoe laces. Basic braiding can also be done here, boys and girls alike can enjoy taking strips of cut up old t-shirts, knotting them together in long strands, and braiding them into a long chain. Once completed this can be turned into a rag rug all their own, good busy work, though some I know would enjoy the tearing of the fabric more than the weaving and braiding:-)
Whittling is also a fun activity to try with older kids during this book, as Laura goes into detail about the beautiful bracket shelf Pa gave Ma for Christmas one year. Whittling can be safely begun using a big bar of cheap soap and some clay working tools, good practice before a knife comes into play. For fun little ones can play with “wood clay” molding it, allowing it to dry, then sanding, scraping, chopping, digging and working their hardened “wood clay” lumps into masterpieces, all to be painted and shown off!
As the weather turns warmer in the book it is fun to explore gardening with your kids, as Pa spent many, many long hours working the soil to grow enough to support his family. Even with winter closing in on us fast it is still possible to try out some simple gardening with your kids. Any old container will do to garden in, I have recently turned a couple cracked coffee mugs into growing medium, filled them with a bit of dirt(plain old nursery container soil is the best here) and simple seeds. You likely have a handful sitting around the house, look no further than your dry beans store, as lentils, black beans, chickpeas, white beans, etc all grow well from their basic dry form. If you want to get fancy, check out your local health food store, they likely carry many different seeds, hiding in the bulk food bins, raw peanuts or soy beans anyone? They also carry basic organic broccoli seeds, radish seeds, pea seeds, mung bean sprouts, or even your basic alfalfa, lettuce seeds are also a yummy alternative that is easy to grow inside. All of these will show your kids the basics of plant life cycles, and also how hard it is to grow enough to sustain yourself, good life lessons(go homesteaders:-)
By the end of the book we have circled back around to the harvest time, and all the work that went into getting ready for winter again. Laura explores how hard she and Mary worked to gather nuts from the woods for winter baking. If you never have done it you should purchase a large bag of shelled nuts, and sit around with your kids helping them work to get the yummy nut meats out of their protective shell coverings. Even better, go for a long hike in the woods, stopping to pick up nuts and seeds along the way. Once you are home you can sit outside with some rocks, hammers, mallets, whatever seems appropriate for your age group, and whack those nuts. Once they have all been shelled you can just sprinkle it about outside your windows for some nice bird watching. Also, if you are hiking in the woods, take some notepads and some crayons, you can do some nice bark rubbings and leaf rubbings, go home and identify them with a basic regional tree and field guide. Colorful leaves can be saved by ironing between waxed paper pieces as well.
Once you have nearly ended the book it is a good time to get from the library the Little House cookbook and have yourself a nice celebration meal, with all of Ma’s best recipes laid out, on place mats your eldest children have hand stitched their initials in. Little wooden and soap statues can decorate the middle of the table, along with bowls of freshly shelled nuts, and maybe, if you are really ambitious you can even have some hand dipped candles to light the feast(instructions below).
Hand dipped candles
* Plain Paraffin Wax ( about 1/2 a pound) can be found at grocery stores & craft shops, or bits of old crayons and old candles, just stick to the same color family.
* Double Boiler or you can use a large coffee can for melting wax in, inserted in a pot filled half full of water. (Never place the container of wax directly on the heat source as it poses a severe fire hazard.)
* Wooden Spoon for stirring
* Bowls: for cold water baths
* Candle Thermometer. Also candy or meat thermometer works just as well.
* Heat. Kitchen stove.
* Wick: available in most craft and hobby stores in various sizes. The size of the wick is important. The sizes increase in 1/2 inch variations. Use this as a guide. 1/2″ wick to 1/2″ candle. A 1″ wick is suitable for a 1″ candle etc. reusing wicks from old, cracked, unusable candles can work here too, just melt the wax and remove the wick, then you are good to go.
* Color: you can get it in cakes, chips, powdered or liquid forms which is usually available in craft stores or you can also use crayons but it doesn’t burn as well.
* Scents: you can use fragrance oil or concentrated chips available at craft shops. The oil you use must be pure oil and have no water or alcohol base.
Directions for making hand dipped candles:
1. Begin by cutting up your wax in small pieces so it will melt quicker.
2. Next heat the water using a medium temperature, bring to a gentle boil. Place the wax in the double broiler or if you are using a coffee can place the can into the water.
* Don’t use high heat, it may cause the wax to catch on fire.
3. Stir the wax until it is completely melted and it reaches a temperature of 160 F or 71 Celsius. (Test the temperature by placing the thermometer in the center of the melted liquid). Turn the heat down. Keep water warm enough to keep the wax melted.
4. Now its time to add your color. Add the crayons or color chips to the melted wax. Add a little at a time until you have reached the desired shade. Make note that the wax changes colors to a shade lighter when it cools. Test it by allowing a spoonful to dry on a plate. Once you have the shade you like, it would be a good idea to write down the amounts you have used so you can make it again.
5. You can now add the scent if you wanted scented candles. The more oil you use, the stronger the scent will be. Keep in mind that adding too much may affect the way the candle burns, moderation is the key to having nicely scented candles. Stir until well blended.
6. Make sure the wax stays melted. Check that the temperature of the wax is still 160F/71 C.
7. Now on to the next stage. Begin with cutting the wick to the desired length of candles plus a little extra to hold. Example: If you want 2 ten inch candles cut about 23 inches of wick. You will be making two at the same time. Double over the wick over your finger. Here’s where the dipping starts. Dip the wick in the wax for a few seconds then lift back out. Allow the wax to cool between dippings about a minute or so. You may find it a little tricky to get started at first because the wick floats on top of the wax until it gets weighed down. Don’t worry before long you’ll get the hang of it. Just make sure the wet candles don’t touch each other.
8. Continue the dipping and cooling process. After a few layers, although not necessary, you can speed up the cooling process by dipping the candles in cool water after each wax dip.
9. Repeat the process until the candles have reached the proper thickness. If lumps occur, roll warm candles on a smooth surface, or leave them for a more rustic look.
10. Increase the temperature until it reaches 182 F. Dip the pair into the wax one more time for a few seconds. Lift out then let them cool.
11. Using a sharp knife trim the bottoms to remove excess wax and to create a straight edge bottom for you candles.
12. Hang your candles to dry. Once they are dried you can cut the wick. Time to enjoy your new creation!
Safety tips for candle making
1. Never leave children alone with melting or melted wax. Because it does not boil or steam, they may not realize how hot it is.
2. Never leave hot wax alone.