We spent two weeks in August studying The Raft by Jim LaMarche. By Day 2, my oldest daughter had declared it "the funnest book we've ever done a unit on." That was before most of the fun had even happened. This book tells the story of a little boy who reluctantly goes to spend the summer with his "River Rat" grandmother. He is convinced he will be completely bored. That is until he discovers a raft and begins to explore the river and get to know all the local flora and fauna, as well as spend some wonderful days with his grandmother. He also discovers that he loves to draw. The story is based on the real life of the writer and illustrator and the time he spent with his grandmother in the Wisconsin woods. He really did become a wonderful artist, as evidenced by the illustrations in this book.
Since the book talked so much about drawing from nature, we made our own nature journals. We took a simple single-subject notebook and covered the front with wood-grain paper and decorated it with stamps. I "laminated" the front with packing tape to help it stand up to the wilderness.
The first place we explored was our own backyard. Even though it's tiny, it's full of flowers, plants, and bugs and the children found plenty to draw. I love the way their drawings came out.
The girls were really eager to build their own rafts. They would have built a full-size one if they could, but instead we settled for popsicle sticks and glue-guns.
Then we covered the bottom with aluminum foil because we weren't sure how well the glue-gun glue would hold up to water. We drew animals on the top with permanent marker just like Nikky in the book.
That afternoon we headed to a local park with a wonderful creek for wading. I pulled out a nature study I had purchased last year called NaturExplorers Incredible Creeks written by Cindy West and Melissa Leach. These are lovely little studies that include science, nature walks, scavenger hunts, as well as ideas for literature, music, and poetry go-alongs. One of the books they recommended was The Raft, so it worked perfectly. I printed out the Wading Water Scavenger Hunt and we had fun walking along and in the river looking for insects, animals, fish, plants, rocks, signs of erosion, and other interesting stuff.
We found a shell from a clam or molusk, saw a crayfish, and found a little island we claimed for our own.
We happened upon a little rock dam that looked like a perfect place to float our rafts. One of the sweetest moments was when Ella had already crossed the rocks and said, "I'm going to go back and help the tots." She helped her little sister and brother cross safely to the other side. I love those home-schooling moments like that!
Our rafts floated (for awhile at least).
After we had floated our rafts, we explored the river some more, and had fun swinging on a vine.
Then we took a walk in the woods and discovered a little bridge with no railings, and pretended it was a raft. The path led to a cool set of stairs climbing to the top of the hill, where we sat down to draw in our nature journals. Ella wrote in hers "If I had a 100 days, I would explore every nook and cranny of these woods, every bridge and stream."
We had lots more fun at home too. The kids filled up their wading pool and made rafts for their playmobil figures out of pieces of wood.
We also made a special snack for teatime. Ella and Mabel baked Raft cookies. We used a homemade graham cracker recipe, which provided plenty of opportunities to learn about 1/4 and 1/2 cups. Ella had the idea to mark them with a butter knife to look like the planks on a raft. After they baked, we drew on them with some food-coloring markers I have. For poetry we read one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Her poem "Summer Day" was just perfect. Afterward, the kids were inspired to write some poetry of their own. We also learned about cave paintings and watched a clip from one of the kids' favorite shows Hands On Crafts for Kids about making cave paintings. Then we drew our own cave paintings with oil pastels and crayons on sand paper. We celebrated the final day of our study with a playdate at the same park. The kids were excited to show their friends the island and swing on the vine some more.