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Snowballs + Leonardo for all!

One winter, long ago, we Blackbirds made a box full of snowball catapults to giveaway at a conference. When I came across a few remaining stragglers, I smiled to myself. “Just in time for December!”

So, I have have been a busy little elf recreating ONE HUNDRED catapult kits! ENTER TO WIN HERE & you might be the happy recipient of one of the 100 kits we have ready to mail off!

Of course, when I think “catapult” I think Leonardo DaVinci, polymath extraordinaire!  What a persona to consider as we stand at the dawn of a new year. A bit of history:

You, of course know, Leonardo Da Vinci was a man who wore many hats: painter, sculptor, musician, engineer, father of flight, medical entrepreneur.  But did you know that he was known to sketch mechanized throwing devices just for fun?

The catapult design, conceived and put to use many, many years before Leonardo, intrigued him.  And so he went to the drawing board to do some tweaking.

Da Vinci recognized a simple fact that was likely overlooked by most: Gun powder was not 100% dependable! It just needed a bit of tweaking. And so he set out to refine the tool.

Da Vinci concocted two ideas: the single arm and the double arm catapult. The mechanisms he imagined would enable an increase in the throwing arm speed with ease. Like many of his notebook ideas, there is no historical record of the single or double arm catapult being employed but there are small scale and large scale models that have proved efficacy. More importantly, Loenardo’s tenacity to put his ideas to paper continues to inspire innovation. And this is worth celebrating!

For this reason, we will giving away one  Leonardo DaVinci catapult kit in addition to the 100 Snowball catapult kits.


And may you be inspired.


~Kimberly ❄️❄️❄️

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The Yarn Bombed Pumpkin


Yarn-bombing is a thing. 

Look it up.

This pumpkin is a project that I worked on with my family during the month of October a few years back. Let me tell you, bringing shape to this silly little idea afforded our family with a fun collaborative activity in the busy weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. It was peaceful work. We discovered it was work that taught us about the organic lines of the pumpkin. But most surprisingly, well, this project was scientifically thought provoking. This white pumpkin mummified in orange yarn did not begin rotting until July of the following year. And when it did, it only molded a bit at the bottom. In fact, only when I set it back into the garden at the beginning of the following October did it move well on it's way to dirt.  We enjoyed our pumpkin art for an entire year. And I imagine the dirt it eventually contributed to is not only nutritious, but rich with creative fodder.


Yarn bombing a pumpkin is super easy. Here's how:

1. Choose a pumpkin. 

2. Choose a yarn color. I chose orange to cover a white pumpkin but any color will do. 

3. Paint a small section with glue and cut lengths of yarn to cover the pumpkin from stem to base and begin covering the pumpkin.

Continue in this manner until the pumpkin is mummified with yarn.



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How’s the Weather?


Have you read Tornado by Betsy Byars? On this first day of winter, what a wonderful time to explore the mysteries of the weather! And "tornados" are a great place to begin. This story touches down at the cross section of pure fiction and science. Your 2nd and 3rd grade readers/writers will love the adventure.

When a tornado appears in the distance, Pete, the farmhand, gathers everyone into the storm cellar. How best to pass the time in this worried time? Tell a story! While they wait for the storm to pass, Pete tells the family about the dog dropped down by a tornado when he was a boy. Tornado, Pete's pet was no ordinary dog. Tornado played card tricks, saved a turtle's life, and had a rivalry with the family cat. By the time Pete tells all of Tornado's lively stories, the storm has passed, and a very special dog has entertained another family.

PS … Don't forget to CREATE your idea after exploring the story!


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Butterflies of Winter


When the cold of winter nips at your toes, remember summer with its warm, sunny days. While you are remembering, think butterfly. Remember how they come fluttering aglow with complex design—longings and swallowtails, and of course monarchs flitting through our blossoming gardens. Of course there is butterfly activity in every season, but when the rush of flitting color slows in the cold of winter, make a butterfly garden of paper and chalk pastel. 

Here's how:

For this project we began with a goodly weighted bristol, with a bit of a tooth. Pastel paper is best, but costly. Drawing paper will do just fine too. Begin by looking closely at a real butterfly. Next, study the anatomy of a butterfly. Pay attention to the symmetry and the complexity of these wonderful creatures.





You will need to draw the shape of two forewings and two hindwings onto the paper you have selected. After drawing, you will need to cut out the wings and fold them horizontally in accordion folds. Unfold the wings. Using chalk pastel, decorate the shapes with butterfly details. Smudge some of the color, but leave some sketch marks. Be creative, but try to keep your creativity tied to the butterfly motif.

Next, cut a thin, very long triangle shape of paper and roll it up like a croissant. This will be the head, thorax, and abdomen of the butterfly. Use a hot glue gun to attach the forewings and hindwings to the body. Finish the butterfly by blending the wing colors to the body using similar colors of chalk pastel. Attach a bit of wire for the antenna. Cut a length of the wire depending on the size of the butterfly you created, bend to a V, add some beads to both ends, and attach to the head of the butterfly with a drop of hot glue. 

Continue this process to create a rabble of butterflies. You will be amazed how wonderful these creatures akin to the real thing will brighten a winter garden window.





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Forget the Flashcards: Bake a Cake


One of the best ways to learn to think is to learn about the tools available! empowering your students to learn about the parts and functions of their brain will inspire them to tap into the vast potential of this amazing frontier. We are not left-brained or right-brained; we are “whole-brained.” Get to know how this happens by doing some research and and you will be awestruck.

Your brain weighs about 3.3 lbs and is 73% water.

Your brain contains roughly 86 billion brain cells.

All the messages sent by all phones in the world taken together number less than those sent by your brain.

Your brain information travels up to 268 miles per hour.

Your brain works faster than the fastest computer in the world.

 So don't delay… learn about the parts and functions of your brain so you can tap into your potential!

And after you do, bake a cake to celebrate what you learned. You will be surprised what you learn in the process!




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Tiny Seed / Huge Plant

Our Earlybird Spring Literature and Writing Discovery Guide features The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. Follow along with the blowing seeds as they land in different environments on Earth in this classic story with its beautiful collage art illustrations. It would be fun to plant some tiny sunflower seeds because they grow into such huge plants!

Take this opportunity to sprout some seeds and research the different stages of development. We put damp paper towels in a see through glass and put seeds next to the glass and watched them sprout over a week. 

Bean2When you do this, you are helping your student engage in multi-disciplinary learning. So go with it… pull out the Observation journal and have your student draw each step of the way. 


Learning is so fun when it seamlessly WOWs the child!



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Ugly Vegetables

Use Blackbird & Company’s Earlybird Spring Literature and Writing Discovery Guide to plant a Chinese vegetable garden! The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin tells the tale of a little girl who helps her mother grow some very unusual vegetables while the neighbors are all growing flowers. Read how those ugly vegetables brought the neighbors together over a bowl of soup.

A little research will yield many inexpensive ways to use containers to grow vegetables.Check out our Pinterest page.

We'd love to hear your garden ideas too! Leave a comment…



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From Question to Quest

Rickettsia is a Monera that is transmitted by Arthropods such as fleas, lice, and tics and can cause harmful diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This. This particular class of Monera was as named after pathologist Howard Taylor Ricketts

But what is Rickettsia? And why is it a Monera? 

If you are working through our 8-week unit Taxonomy of Living Things: The Five Kingdoms, the week #4 lesson is all about Monera. In fact, during the last 5 weeks of the unit, students will explore the characteristics of each kingdom and then be set free to do some independent research of a representative species. Included in each week's research is the opportunity to practice close observation. 

Close observation is not about developing art skills as much as it is about developing the concentrated skill of looking. The keys to close, scientific observations are to look purposefully, slow down, and keep going. Not everyone can draw like Leonardo, but everyone can draw. 

To begin, the more materials at hand the better. Use a variety of pencils and pens, and always use more than one color. The more details the better. Think line, texture, value, shape, color and always notice the relationship between the five.

And if getting started is difficult, look to someone else and ask, "What did they do?" Take a few minutes to look at Marlo's Rickettsia. What do you notice? What types of lines do you see? And what is the quality of those lines (thick to think straight, curved, jagged, dotted)? How does she make use of color? Texture? Value? Shape? And so on. Make a list and incorporate those qualities in your drawing. Be sure to label all parts and make notes as necessary. 

I hope, in the end, you are noticing all the questions involved in doing research. Science, after all, is an adventure that begins with a question and culminates in a quest. 



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Liquid, Solid, or Gas?


For an interdisciplinary approach to literature, dive into our Winter Earlybird Literature Discovery Guide that features an eclectic mix of wonderfully told stories. It begins with Snowballs by Lois Ehlert, where your child will discover the wonders of the water cycle and how snow comes into being.

Did you know that you can watch the water cycle water cycle in a ziplock bag? For best results, make sure you hang it in a sunny window. We'd love to hear what you discover.

To extend the fun, read All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon



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Why Ask?

I say, "Dissection."
And they say, "Yuk."
There are many reasonable reasons to object. 
But there are also many reasonable reasons to overcome. 
We should first stop to consider that dissection of a frog, for example, provides a way for our students to experience the complexity of life, the ecology of biological systems, and organs that are similar to our own. Frogs are an important part of the food chain, being consumed on a regular basis by snakes, birds, and even human beings. We teach about it: Hawk eats the snake that ate the frog that ate the grasshopper that ate the grass. And so it goes, day after day in the wild. Still, I always begin dissection reminding students that we are considering something that once lived. This gravity helps to elevate the work at hand but also to exercise empathy. Ultimately dissection is not for the faint of heart. 
In my mind the overarching reason to dissect is to learn to ask a question. Simple questions like, "How does this work?" delightfully lead us to complexities.  
To make the most of dissection, have sketch paper on hand where students can take notes as they work through the process. Here is where the asking begins. Encourage students to jot down questions as they go.
Once the project is complete, they can re-create the details of dissection in their Observation Journal and they can begin looking for answers. This culminating activity will help them to commit the information to memory while simultaneously discovering the WOW inherent to the intricacies of life. 
And if you are simply unable to dissect, use the World Wide Web like Marlo did and conduct a virtual dissection. 
I'll leave you with this from Jonas Salk who developed one of the first successful polio vaccinations: "What people generally think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question."