Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sandy Hook - History, Science AND Phys Ed

In honor of my birthday, I took a few days off work and we spent one of those days exploring Sandy Hook.    It was a beautiful day – not too hot, nice breeze, sunny and not too crowded. 

Sandy Hook is a barrier peninsula and the northern-most of the Jersey Shore beaches.  It is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (part of the US National Park Service) and has beaches, salt marshes, hiking trails, a holly forest, Fort Hancock, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, and great views of New York City.
We started our exploration by visiting the Lighthouse and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters.  The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in the US.   It was built in 1764 and was originally called the New York Lighthouse because it was paid for by New York lottery sales and taxes on ships coming into New York Harbor.  It was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War.  After New York ratified the Constitution, the Lighthouse was transferred to federal control.

When built, the Lighthouse was located 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook.  Because of sediment drift, it is now located almost a mile and a half from the tip.
We explored the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters which are set up as a museum with pictures, videos, and models showing the history of the Lighthouse and Fort Hancock.  We ended up not climbing to the top of the lighthouse.  Tours didn’t start until 1pm and by that time we were relaxing on the beach (at least Jen and I were, the children – which includes Daddy – we’re enjoying the waves).  There are 90+ steps and then a ladder to climb to the top so it’s best done when feeling energetic.

The Lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort Hancock.  Fort Hancock protected New York Harbor from 1895 until 1974.   The Battery Potter was the first and only disappearing gun battery.  It was powered by a steam hydraulic lift system.   Even though it was obsolete by the time it was in operation (1893), due to the slow firing speed (over two minutes per round), it was still used until 1906 because it had a 360 degree range that could cover the entire Bay.  

Most of the areas are accessible only for special tours but we were able to explore the Mortar Battery, which was built in 1890 and included a system of tunnels for storing guns and ammo. 

We drove over to Horseshoe Cove next, for some exploration and beach combing.   On the way over, I am positive I saw a bald eagle in the water.  Nobody else saw it (we were in a moving car) and I did get some skepticism from everyone, but a little bit of research convinces me I was correct.  There have been bald eagles sighted at Sandy Hook this year, and I spent enough time around my father and grandparents, who are/were extremely avid bird watchers, that I’m pretty sure I can tell an eagle from a gull.  But anyway….

There were osprey platforms scattered throughout the area.  A couple seemed to have nests with babies but I didn't have my telephoto lens at this point so couldn't get a closer look.

Vicki loved splashing in the soft waves found on the bay side.  She was fascinated by how her feet kept sinking into the mushy sand.

We found a horseshoe crab molt (that we didn't realize was a molt until the Ranger program we did later on).

We found a skull that after much research appears to be a fish skull.  Daddy thinks it's a sea robin based on the shape.

We found a huge pile of sea shells washed up by the tide.

Georgie found some really neat looking rocks that he made up names for. Some were very unusual - green and pink.

The kids played on a long pole that I thought looked like the mast of a ship, but everyone else thought was a telephone pole.  It was smooth, had no footholds and was larger than any telephone pole I ever saw.  After doing research, one other possibility is a support from a railroad trestle that used to run through the area.

Finally, it was time to go to the beach!  The kids had a great time splashing in the waves....
Vicki was like a little fish swimming underwater, and diving right into the waves.   She's come a very long way this summer.

George has also come a long way, even swimming in from boogie boarding with Daddy.  He swam about 10 feet before he could reach bottom.

They also had some fun playing on the beach, running after the seagulls....
or burying Alexey in the sand.  But the vast majority of their time was spent in the water.

After a quick break for lunch, we came back to the beach in time to check out one of the Ranger programs.  This program was a small, informal drop-in change to see some of the sea life found around the area close up.  They had a little pool with tiny little hermit crabs, a green crab, shrimp, snails, horseshoe crab molts, a minnow, and a few different kinds of shells.


George was right in there chasing around the fish and holding one of the hermit crabs....

while Vicki was okay with just looking.....

 and Alexey was crazy enough to chase around and catch the green crab.

The kids were also able to see a ton of jellies in the water.  They were little tiny clear blobs with no tentacles and I'm pretty sure they were baby moon jellies.

After lunch we went to a different beach than in the morning (there are about 5 different beaches at Sandy Hook).  This one had waves a lot bigger and stronger than the beach from the morning.  Georgie had enough of the big waves fairly quickly but Daddy and Alexey had a great time riding the waves.

We are already making plans for another trip down there before summer ends.  :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2014


The kids studied Vikings in the Spring and I'm finally getting around to posting about their activities. 

(I'm going to work harder at posting faster and more frequently when school starts up in the Fall, if for no other reason than it will keep me from forgetting details.)

The kids used the Usborne Starting Point History, Who Were The Vikings? and Eyewitness Books Viking as ongoing resources as they learned about the various aspects of Viking life.
 In addition, George read Time Warp Trio - Viking It and Liking It and How To Train Your Dragon, while Vicki read a easy reader version of How to Train Your Dragon, the Magic Tree House Viking Ships at Sunrise and Jen read from You Wouldn't Want T Be a Viking Explorer.  They've both seen the How to Train Your Dragon movie repeatedly, as well as the cartoon series on television so they knew all about Viking life already. ;-)

They started by learning general information about the Vikings - who they were, when they lived and where they came from.    The first activity was making Viking helmets out of cardboard and foil.  Both kids decided to make single horn helmets instead of the stereotypical double horn.

They learned about life in Viking days, the daily activities of Viking life, about Viking homes, the Longhouse, and Viking Settlements.

Using the Usborne Cut-Out Model - Make This Viking Settlement, they put together a miniature Viking village of their own.

They learned more about the daily life of a Viking, their roles as farmers, fishers and hunters, and about their meals.  They made Viking bread from wheat flour, white flour, oats, baking soda and salt.  It was a very.......dense bread, traditionally eaten with honey.  It was definitely not as sweet as modern breads.   This bread seemed like it would travel very well in the bottom of a pack (it was really solid bread). 

They learned more about the Viking people - the Kings and Freemen, Women and Children, and the Viking Warriors and their weapons.  They decorated their own Viking shields and made swords out of cardboard and foil.

Vicki wasn't feel well one day and fell asleep cuddling with her Viking sword.  Ahhh, the joys of homeschooling.  :-D

They learned about the sea journeys of the Vikings, about the Viking Warships and Longships.
They made their own longships using milk cartons, cardboard, toothpicks, straws, skewers and tape. 


They learned about the Viking raids, their roles as traders, explorers, settlers and merchants.  Using air-drying clay they made coins and die stamps.  
They learned about the Vikings discovery of North American and made a map of the Vikings journey to America using Scholastic Interactive 3-D Maps: American History.
They learned about Viking writing and picture stories and wrote their names in runes (unfortunately Vikings got a little spill on it).

They learned about Viking past-times - their craftsmanship and made braided bracelets from air-drying clay, their music and made pan pipes from straws and tape.

They learned about the gods and legends of the Vikings and their famous heroes.

Using lapbook components originally from Dynamic2Moms but later moved to Tinas Dynamic Homeschool Plus, they learned about Viking vocabulary and important dates in Viking history.

In the midst of all the Viking fun, the kids had the opportunity to participate in a Homeschool Geography Fair.   Jennifer did a great job setting up a display showing many of the things they had learned about during their studies.

The activity for their display was making Viking shields and swords, which of course led to lots of battles throughout the evening.

The kids enjoyed learning about other countries and cultures on display, and doing the many fun activities.  Vicki enjoyed getting to try Swedish Fish.  :-)