Thursday, July 31, 2014

George Washington, and making powdered wigs

George Washington is one of my favorite people, and there are lots of good books about him. I loved getting the chance to learn even more about his life during this unit.

The children liked this story too.

And here is my favorite story of all about the Founding Fathers—the prophet Wilford Woodruff's vision of them in the St. George temple. There are claims that this story is untrue, but this link gives a bit of explanation and historical background, and supports the story's fundamental accuracy, in my opinion. 
We really wanted to make powdered wigs during this unit, as how can you be a good Revolutionary War Leader without one? I found a bunch of online tutorials for making powdered wigs with a painter's hat as the base, but I didn't want to buy hats for everyone. (I also don't quite like the silhouette of the painter's hat "wig." The ponytail part doesn't look right to me.) Then I found this tutorial for making a wig out of a paper bag. That seemed like a good idea, but all the paper bags we had around weren't right—lunch bags were too small and grocery sacks were too big! So I ended up just using the same idea on butcher paper, which means you have to tape and cut in a few places in order to get the right shape. I will post my template here—for a wig Daisy's size (small 5-year-old), you can just print out these two pages on regular 8 1/2 x 11 paper (make them fill the whole paper) and it will be around the right size.

If you wanted to make a bigger wig, you could enlarge the templates or just trace around them bigger on butcher paper.

It probably looks more complicated than it is, and maybe the whole painter's hat thing is going to be better for most people anyway, but on the off-chance there are people like me who hate having to go to the store for any supplies and will spend 50x the effort trying to rig something together themselves to avoid it—well, these templates will save you a little work. 
Once you have the base of the wig cut and taped together, the gluing part is easy and fun. You have to have a million cotton balls if you're doing wigs for 4 kids like we were, but luckily we keep a million cotton balls on hand around here. :) Gluing and placing the fwuffballs—I mean cotton balls—is a satisfying task. Even little Daisy enjoyed it. You just cover every square inch of the base with cotton balls, tie a ribbon around the the ponytail, and voila! A lovely powdered wig.
There's a bit of a hump at the back of the head, but we don't mind it. :)
I thought the wigs looked particularly nice with the tricorne hats we made!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rolling musket cartridges

We learned how the soldiers made cartridges for their muskets---these were little pre-made packets of gunpowder and bullets that made loading the muskets go a lot faster. First you tear off a square of paper and wrap it into a cylinder shape around the end of your "musket" (ours was just a dowel).
You end up with a hollow cylinder, closed on one end
Pour in your "gunpowder"
Add a bullet on top
Twist the open end closed so nothing falls out
And you have a finished cartridge! Make a whole bunch of these and you will be ready for battle.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Soldier Drills

I pretended I was Baron von Steuben helping the troops drill. For authenticity, I cursed at them in German. (Just kidding. I only wish I knew how to curse at them in German!) For the sake of even more authenticity, they really should have been wearing their tricornes and so forth, but it was SO hot outside!
Here are some commands you can use for drilling:

Attention – Hold musket up over shoulder
Parade rest – Hold musket down on ground in front of you
About face – Turn 180 degrees – Put one foot behind other and spin half way around
Right face – Turn 90 degrees to the right
Left face – Turn 90 degrees to the left
Mark time mark – March to the beat (“cadence”)
Forward march – March forward
By the right flank march – Follow the leader to the right
By the left flank march – Follow the leader to the left

Halt – stop

You can learn more about drilling soldiers (Civil War-focused) here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Making Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica

Ben Franklin was the most amazing man, wasn't he? We spent a couple days just learning about him (and we'd already read quite a bit about him during our Electricity Unit, but there was so much more to learn!) and we read aloud the book Ben and Me, which I've always liked. For our activity, we re-created a simple version of the musical instrument he invented, the Glass Armonica.

You can actually hear people playing the Glass Armonica today---there are some instruments still around---and there is quite a bit of classical music written for it. Both Mozart and Beethoven, I believe, wrote music for glass armonica. It has an unearthly, ethereal sound, very beautiful. Here is a video of someone playing Tchaikovsky (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy---which was really written for celeste, but they sound quite similar) on a glass armonica---you can see what it looks like and how the glasses spin around as he plays. Really cool.

Here's another video we liked, this one showing a more makeshift instrument like ours. It's pretty amazing how much harmony he is able to play by using both hands.

And this video Sam sent me of a guy playing "La Campanella" is even more amazing!

Of course we've tried making sounds with our water glasses before, but this was a lot more controlled and after fine-tuning the size of the glasses and the amount of water so we had a well-pitched scale, we worked for a long time, trying to get a consistent touch and a clear sound. It was really hard at first, but after some experimentation it became easier. There is a certain amount of pressure needed before the notes will sound. We also started to notice how the water in the glass really vibrated in a noticeable way as you got closer to the exact pitch. You could actually see the sound waves traveling through the water. It was amazing to watch, and I couldn't really get a good picture (too much motion from the vibration), but from the side view you can kind of see it:
This glass is at rest, with no note being played
As the pitch sounds, these evenly spaced waves appear along the water's edge at the rim of the glass. So cool!

Seb and I really loved doing this, and we kept at it for long enough that we started to actually get the hang of it. (Well, we're not quite ready to be street-performers yet, but at least more than half of our attempted notes were sounding! :)) Here are a couple videos of our efforts:
Seb plays "Pop goes the weasel"

I attempt harmony on "I am a child of God"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Revolutionary War Codes and Invisible Ink

What's a war unit without a discussion of spies and military intelligence? There are so many great little details about spying in the Revolutionary War, too---like the spy that got caught, swallowed a tiny little silver capsule containing the evidence, was given ipecac to force him to throw up the capsule, swallowed the capsule again, and was forced to vomit again. The Patriots finally got that secret message! The children loved that story.

We read the book George Washington, Spymaster, which was full of great stories like that, and makes a convincing case that it was military intelligence that really won the war for the Americans. Fascinating.

Here's another article on the subject, from Scientific American.

We did a bunch of fun spy-related activities. First, of course, we wrote messages in invisible ink (lemon juice + a little water). We wanted to be authentic, so (living dangerously!) we decoded these messages by holding them over a candle flame. 

Once they'd tried their hands at writing messages themselves, I set up a little treasure hunt for the children, using several different kinds of code used in Revolutionary War times. 
To be even trickier, I wrote decoy information on my invisible-ink messages, so if the paper got into the wrong hands, it would look like a simple shopping list or note to a friend.
Only when held to the flame would the true message be revealed! (Of course, when you decode your message over a flame, you run the risk of burning off part of your message . . . a problem I'm sure the Revolutionary War spies ran into as well! Luckily the essential message here could still be read.)
Another coded message I made for the treasure hunt used the "mask" technique, which is one of my favorites. You use a pre-cut "mask" over the paper (simply a cut-out shape, like a stencil) to write the substance of your message. The one receiving the message has the same mask to use for decoding. 

Once the true code is written, you fill up the rest of the paper with unimportant or misleading information (it's quite fun trying to find sentences that flow smoothly into your secret message, while obscuring its meaning!), leaving the secret message hidden in plain sight! With the mask removed, this looks like an innocent letter full of trivialities. No one will suspect a thing! :)
After the children successfully completed the treasure hunt (it led to a hidden cache of provisions for the soldiers!), we talked about sealing wax, insignias, and signets, and how those could prove (or obscure) the authenticity and secrecy of a document. I know you can buy actual sealing wax, but I didn't have any, so we just dripped candle wax onto our letters to seal them. Then we imprinted our "seals" into the wax. It was really fun!

I considered making berry ink again and writing with quill pens as we did for our Civil War Unit, but we didn't get to it this time. That activity would go well with this lesson too, though!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Making Paper Epaulettes

The children really love getting into the nitty-gritty of "soldier stuff"---things like which order the ranks go in, how many troops in a regiment or a compant, what the different types of light artillery and heavy artillery are called, etc. On one of the days we were discussing military officers, we made epaulettes. They were really easy to make out of cardstock.
You just cut out a big ellipse shape from cardstock
and fold it in half. Then cut fringe all around the curved edges. Next, cut the paper in half,
bend the fringe downward, and attach a string between epaulettes. This string can tuck under your collar and keep the epaulettes from falling off your shoulders!
The children decorated their epaulettes with various badges of rank (Seb is a 6-star general!)
I think, along with the tricorn hat and the little straps I pieced together (with leftover muslin from the mob caps), these epaulettes make for quite a nice soldier uniform!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Minuteman game

This was a really simple game but surprisingly fun. We talked about militias and "minutemen," and then we played a game where you had to see if you could put on boots, coat, and ammunition/canteen straps, grab your musket, and run to the end of the house and back---all in under a minute. We timed everyone and it was VERY exciting. There was lots of laughing and stumbling around. Even the little girls wanted to try. It was fun to imagine the ways the minutemen might have tried to save time---maybe hopping into their waiting boots, like firemen on their way to a fire. :)
Gear lined up, ready to go
Dressed for battle!
Cute little Ky-guy
Daisy runs
Fierce minuteman
Happy minuteman

Friday, July 18, 2014

Boston Tea Party Re-enactment

We had great fun re-enacting the Boston Tea Party! The children were delighted when they learned how unlike our previous tea party this one was going to be! First we made Mohawk Indian headbands to wear as disguises. Then the children sneaked out as quietly as possible, onto the British Tea Ship in the Boston Harbor (the back porch). 

I (representing the British war ships floating not far away) was out in the back yard, keeping a sharp eye out and ready to fire my cannons if there was trouble!
The Sons of Liberty found a great many chests---342, to be precise---full of tea sitting on the merchant ship. (I found a bunch of fallen leaves in a park nearby and gathered bags and bags of them to use as tea leaves!) 
Working quickly and silently [or not-so-silently---our Sons of Liberty proceeded with much giggling and whispering], they emptied all the tea out of the chests---right into Boston Harbor!
When every last tea chest was empty, the Sons of Liberty turned out their pockets (to show they weren't concealing any tea) and filed off the ship one by one. What a daring act of provocation toward the British!
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