Carne Picada Crock Pot tacos

Carne Picada Crock Pot tacos

Carne picada is a budget friendly cut of beef, thinly sliced and a bit courser than ground beef. Being a gluten-free family, we get much in the way of iron-fortified breads or cereals so I’ve been trying to include beef in our diet at least once a week, along with other natural food sources. Carne Picada tacos are cheap, super easy, and very filling.

1 lb carne picada (more or less)
1 can diced tomato & chiles (I use the Rotel cilantro & lime version)
1 can black beans

Place the meat in the crock pot. Pour tomatoes over meat and cook thoroughly, stirring meat after about 1 hour and adding drained black beans about 1 hour before eating.

Serve on corn tortillas.

Reptile Week – featuring Wild Kratts!

Reptile Week – featuring Wild Kratts!

My kids are HUGE fans of Wild Kratts. I’m pretty sure they have seen every episode, most more than once. When I heard there would be four new episodes all about reptiles this week it seemed perfect for a reptile unit study. I had to work Monday and a bit on Tuesday, a public speaking assignment to prepare and present on Thursday, and a gluten free lasagna to cook and deliver for a volunteer lunch on Friday. It was a bit of a busy week but we managed to get a good deal of fun and learning done.



Monday – Work day for me.  No school / free reading.

Tuesday – Partial work day.

  • *Introduction of topic – Reptile KWL
  • Wild Kratts Episode “Rattlesnake Crystal”
  • Rattlesnake Wrestlers reading comprehension passage
  • Draw a rattlesnake using a shape pattern on the skin
  • Library to pick up books


  • **”What is a reptile?” – non fiction reading & comprehension passage – updated KWL sheets
  • Snake trail addition and subtraction math game – Mark alternating spaces with + and – signs, shuffle a stack of playing cards with face cards removed. Each child receives a die, dry erase board and marker, and game marker. Student rolls the die and moves the appropriate number of spaces. They draw 2 cards from the pile and write the problem & solution on their board using the operation they landed on. Continue until board is full. Fast finishers can go back and reverse the operation for extra practice.
  • Wild Kratts episode  “Gila Monster Under My House”
  • Spike the Mixed Up Monster by Susan Hood (fiction book – Spanish vocab)
  • Spike activities (coloring & sing along)


Reptile ABC order worksheet
Reptile Classification worksheet
Compound words worksheet  (like rattlesnake)
Expanded form of numbers – Video  –  worksheet
Wild Kratts episodes “Tortuga Tune-up” and “Road Runner”
Updated KWLs

**”Alligator” and “Crocodile”  – non fiction reading & comprehension passages
**Alligator and Crocodile Venn diagram (compare contrast)
Wild Kratts episode “Mom of a Croc”
Reptile exhibit at Knoxville Zoo
Zoo journals – sketches of snakes at zoo & writing prompt “If I worked at the zoo…”

*KWL – Graphic organizer for many subjects “Know, Want to know, Learned”. Useful for establishing prior knowledge, eliciting questions to be answered during the week, and summarizing information learned during the unit. Example

** Worksheets taken from The Complete Book of Animals, Grades 1 – 3

Intro to Flight – Wright Brothers – Airplanes Unit

Intro to Flight – Wright Brothers – Airplanes Unit









Quick read and illustration about the forces involved in flight and airplane wings –

Nova Wright Brothers Video Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine
Magic School Bus Takes Flight (found streaming online)

A couple of math worksheets to warm up our first full week back at “school”

Reading comprehension passage and quiz (3rd grade level)

Adapted the “Airplanes of the Future” lesson plan for us

Library books used in this unit

The Wright Brothers by Andrew Santella
The Wright Brothers: Heroes of Flight by Carin T Ford (Famous Inventors series)
Stealing Air by Trent Reedy
You Wouldn’t Want to be on the First Flying Machine by Ian Graham
You Can Draw Planes
How Airplanes Work by Paul Ohmann

The Wright Brothers biographies were used for reading/comprehension of non-fiction text. Students were also asked to pick 5 events from the Wright Brothers lives and create a timeline from those events.

Giraffe mini unit

Giraffe mini unit

It’s the beginning of August (in a few more hours) and we’re back from our crazy Florida vacation so it’s time to start getting back to a somewhat regular school-ish schedule.

Our local zoo has just completed a new giraffe encounter area and zoo members (us!) can feed a giraffe for free through Sunday so I’m putting together a mini unit for Thursday, zoo visit on Friday, and art project for Monday.

We’ll research some facts about giraffes using this article and these websites:,

We’ll use the websites above and internet searches to research the foldables on pages 8 (Baby Giraffe Facts) and 17 (other giraffe facts) of the lapbook at

A neat video of a baby giraffe standing for the first time –

I love the chit-chat page shared on this blog –

For fun a few giraffe games here –

And a giraffe drawing lesson – free from TPT – Says for kindergarten but I think we’ll enjoy it.

Butterfly Unit Study

Butterfly Unit Study

Spring is in full bloom here – just ask my allergies – so it is a perfect time to do a unit on butterflies! Our local zoo has a beautiful butterfly garden exhibit that should be open and make a great addition to our unit.


  • Introduction video – The Story of the Butterfly (Amazon Prime). We’ve discussed butterflies and their life cycle before but videos are always welcome for breaking into a subject.
  • Library Trip – We have books due (and we’re out of milk) so we’ll take a quick trip to the library (and grocery) for our books for the week. (See resource list below.)
  • Butterfly Fact Bookmarks (TPT freebie)
  • Making Words from “butterflies” (TPT freebie)



  • Probably our field trip day (weather permitting). We’ll see how many butterfly species we can recognize in the butterfly garden.
  • Butterfly symmetry worksheet (TPT freebie)


  • Monarchs and migration – PBS NOVA special  (Amazon Prime video) & Migration library book
  • Write reports on chosen butterfly (rough draft & final draft on butterfly lined paper. (Mine is from a book of reproducible papers I picked up a consignment sale. Free versions online here and here.)

Extras to fit in / add


Book List (with call number – non-fiction – and link to books on if available):


Waterfalls Unit Study

Waterfalls Unit Study

After our cave adventure we’ll take the rest of the week (Wednesday – Friday) for a mini-unit on waterfalls (student-requested topic).


How Waterfalls Work from

After reading and discussing the article together we’ll read and color this printout (page 1).

Victoria Falls
A little video of Victoria Falls (Amazon Prime video). Visualizing the scale of Victoria Falls and some gorgeous photos via

Niagara Falls
A couple of fiction books from the library to go along with our unit.

We’ll use the Power of Speech worksheet from this TPT freebie to discuss why authors use certain dialogue for their characters and what character traits we can infer from their speech.

We’ll take a virtual field trip to Niagara Falls and a few local waterfalls via Google Earth.

I found this story paper with a picture of Niagara Falls that we’ll use to write about our virtual field trip.


Another great library book – How Does a Waterfall become Electricity? – will be the basis for our science portion of this unit. We’ll use a portion of the non-fiction text to identify the main idea and supporting details of a passage/chapter.

This YouTube video explains how a hydroelectric power plant works clearly enough for my 1st graders to get a good overview of the process.


Norris Dam State Park  is about 30 minutes north of us. As we were finishing up our lesson on Thursday the news reported that the Dam would be spilling water to lower lake levels. It was such a perfect fit that we took a picnic lunch and headed out the next morning. We stopped at three different observation points and took pictures and got a real feel of the power of the water. The kids saw the size of the powerhouse and the transformers, just like we had read about! While there were quite a few spectators at the dam viewing sites, our picnic area was empty and beautiful! We also visited the Old Grist Mill, watching how the water moved the wheel and then going inside to see the gears moving. The Lenoir Museum was also interesting and educational. The kids enjoyed seeing, touching and even using some the of the tools used “a long, long time ago”, as the kids put it. Here are some pictures from our trip!

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Cave Unit Study

Cave Unit Study

In preparation for our field trip to The Lost Sea this week we’re studying all about caves! First up was a “what do we know about caves?” brainstorming activity. Brainstorming is not a very popular activity around here for some reason. It seems to go much smoother when we use and I do the typing of the ideas. Then we tinkered with the design of our wordle until everyone liked it and came up with the image above. (Our wordle is saved online here.)


Our main text for this Caves Unit Study is from the USGS and is designed for grades K-3 (get it here). It’s a tremendous resource and the story is very engaging for my kids who love reading adventures and mysteries. It is very text-heavy so I transferred the pdfs to my iPad and am reading them to the kids. At certain points I’ll stop and ask them to predict what might happen next. We covered lessons 1 & 2 on the first day, using some, but not all, of the suggested follow-up activities. We created a 3-part foldable to remember the differences between troglobites, trogloxenes, and troglophiles. We also started decorating lapbooks for the unit.

cave lapbook      cave dwellers flapbook

Day 2 I have planned to help my mom around her house so I’ve got some independent work for the kids lined up for after we read lesson 3 together. Today is all about bats! After reading the story we’ll practice Spanish directional words together with this little book from TPT. Then we’ll review what we learned yesterday about water creating caves through erosion with this fun activity using sugar cubes and clay. (Original link no longer working. This activity from the American Chemical Society is very similar to what we did.)

EDIT 5-1-13 – We actually changed this experiment up a bit. I demoed wrapping the sugar in the clay and each of the kids then made their own, so we ended up with 3 “caves”. We applied water to the sugar in different ways to see how different conditions would affect the rate of erosion. Cave 1 was placed in a shallow bowl of water to simulate a cave lake. Cave 2 was misted with water to simulate slow erosion from rain water. Cave 3 had water poured directly onto the sugar to simulate a continuous flowing river. 

For independent work I’ve printed out copies of the non-fiction selection “Joni Adapts to the Dark” from the USGS lesson 3 pdf and a non-fiction response page from this packet. I’ve also printed the poetry strips for this cute little bat poem, a bat can-have-are foldable & question sheet,  and this In the Cave subtraction activity they can do together (with Skittles!) Day 3 will be our field trip to the Lost Sea! Lesson 4 deals with stalactites and stalagmites. We’ll try this experiment from TLC’s How Stuff Works to create our own versions. We’ll also talk about cave preservation and why caves are important and do a writing activity about our field trip. Lesson 5 talks about cave paintings, which goes really well with the Native American studies we did last week & the first part of this week. We’ll look at images of cave paintings and then create our own “cave” paintings on the huge rocks in our backyard using chalk and inspiration from the symbol worksheets here.

Moon Unit Study

Moon Unit Study

Today was a migraine day & part of our more relaxed “Spring Break” week. Since I didn’t feel up to heading out anywhere fun with the kids today we started out the day with a movie – Despicable Me. That inspired a day’s lesson on the moon. I’m sure we’ll add more to our study of the moon when we start an in depth space unit later (I scored a massive reproducible space workbook at a consignment sale for $3), but here’s what we considered today.

We used these writing prompts for a bit of creative writing –
The “Facts about the Moon” and “Phases of the Moon” went nicely with this free download:

We went on a virtual field trip to the moon using  Google Earth. We use Google Earth a lot when doing geography and the kids love the feeling of walking or controlling a rover on the moon.

We also incorporated the reading, game and quiz at:

This one day obviously isn’t a full unit study but I’ll add more resources here later.

The week nothing goes as planned

The week nothing goes as planned

I fully expected that there would be days and weeks where we had to throw out the plan and adjust to whatever – work, illness, life in general. I’ve got to say though, I didn’t expect our very first week as homeschoolers to end up like this.

Last week was a major transition for us. We left the virtual academy (aka public school at home) and started homeschooling under a private school. My niece left her brick-and-mortar public school and is joining us as well. (Having cousins 34 days apart was completely unplanned but working out very well.) I’ve been supplementing the virtual school curriculum for months so had plenty of ideas & activities ready to go to see what hit during this first week. I also planned at least one day of “school” at the park and a trip to the zoo.

What I didn’t plan on was coming down with a cold /flu/respiratory infection that knocked all those other plans right out the window. I’m talking major congestion, sore throat, sneezing, fever, want-to-sleep-all-day kinda sick. Not very conducive to excitedly introducing a pair of 7-year-olds to the funtastic world of homeschooling!

We adapted. We did more videos & CDs than discussions. We only did one of the science experiments in our lab kit because I was too tired to shop for supplies. We learned how to take quizzes on online and email me the results so I could gauge comprehension from the couch. We instituted “Snuggle Conferences” and “Tickle Conferences” for dealing with minor attitude or behavior issues.

It wasn’t the week I planned but it turned out pretty good. Nobody else has gotten sick. (Whew!) We learned that male platypuses are venomous and about Newton’s laws of motion. (We have a plan for testing some of those laws out at a local bounce house very soon.) We explored which led us to an app that created the image above. We started creating our own board games & they have real potential for fun. I’m excited to see where we go from here.