Bringing Learning to Life: Hands-on Activities for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

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The following is a guest post from Elizabeth Hauris, creator of History Unboxed.

Three hours. 10 children.

I had to take a few deep breaths looking at the co-op class assignments for the year. When I had volunteered to teach my 5 year-old daughter’s kindergarten class I was thinking back to when my oldest daughter was that age and I used Five in a Row for her first formal home education. I was honestly just planning on pulling the teacher’s guide off the shelf and coasting on that with my co-op class.

Hands-on Activities for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Except as I leafed through the volume, different ideas started to form. Ten children were not going to sit still for discussions and desk work for 3 hours. Although there were some active and hands-on activities, I wanted more. I wanted to engage more of their senses. I wanted to do different topics than the lessons covered. And, maybe most of all, I wanted to spend about 20 minutes a week or less on lesson prep because, let’s face it, life is busy.

The truth is, the hardest part was picking the jumping off point and jotting down ideas. For the class I taught I used children’s stories, but it can be anything: nature, art, history, math, geography, and social studies work just as well as literature. Whether you are looking to make one lesson memorable or teach about how so many things are connected, being able to formulate engaging, hands on activities for your child is a wonderful tool.

A few quick tips:

1. Don’t be afraid to engage a mixed age group. When my 5-year-old came home from co-op bubbling over about the games we played and crafts we did, I was surprised how much my 7 and 11-year-olds wanted to do participate in what I had thought of as kindergarten activities. A lot of the time older kids get left out of hands-on learning because they are capable of desk work. It doesn’t mean they won’t love and benefit from being engaged on multiple levels.

2. Activity not going so well? Just leave it and move on. Not everything will click with your child, and that’s ok.

3. Don’t be afraid to present topics that seems advanced. Children have a shocking capacity to retain and understand material that they engage with. Putting the building blocks in place for future learning early can pay big dividends.


One of the books I used to draft a lesson plan was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. So without further ado, here is what I came up with and taught for three hours to ten children. And they loved it.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble Activities

Science: Man-made and Natural Objects

When Sylvester finds the magic pebble, he knows right away that it’s not a natural pebble (it is shiny, round, and red.) We talked about how to recognize natural objects and man-made objects. Then the children took turns sorting a pile of natural and man-made objects into bins.

History: Constellations and Mythology
When Sylvester is sleeping on the hill, he sees night come with many stars. We talked about how people throughout history have loved to make up stories about different constellations or pictures in the stars. We decorated and connected the dots on three of the more recognizable constellations: Orion, the big dipper, and Leo. We talked about the legends behind some of these constellations.

Art: Decorating Rocks

The kids got a chance to make their own “magic pebbles” by painting river rocks with metallic paint and glitter.

painted rocks

Science: Domestic and Wild Animals

There are a lot of animals in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble including donkeys, pigs, horses, wolves, and lions. We talked about how some animals are wild and some animals are domestic meaning that they have been bred and raised by humans for a long time to make them tame. We talked briefly about how wild animals should never be touched or handled under normal circumstances. Then we talked about pets and farm animals and what sort of purposes they serve.

Social Studies

Sylvester becomes lost during the course of the story, and can’t get back to his home. We talked about basic safety to follow such as always checking with your parents before you go outside, what to do if you become lost, and how your parents will always come and look for you.

Science: Rocks and Minerals

Pebble collecting is a popular hobby; there are so many different types of rocks and minerals that  form in the earth! We talked about how rocks are made: when the right ingredients and conditions come together they can make different kinds of rocks form and crystals grow. We looked at a variety of different rocks and minerals, and then the children broke open geodes to see the crystals inside.

I enjoyed my experience creating hands-on lessons so much that this year I have launched a start up business to bring an engaging, multi-sensory experience to your family focusing on one of my favorite subjects: History. History Unboxed is a hands-on, history enrichment subscription box for kids ages 5-15 that uses crafts, recipes, myths, and art to bring history to life!

open box

Our Kickstarter campaign is live right now with pre-orders available that will start shipping January 2015. Subscriptions are a wonderful holiday gift that can be enjoyed all year, and History Unboxed will help your child develop a love of learning and a love of the past. Back us on Kickstarter, spread the word, and let’s make history!

How do you create hands-on learning opportunities for your children?

avatar squareElizabeth Hauris is an entrepreneur and crunchy mama to five excellent children. She spends her time on a hobby farm in Virginia, with her high-school sweetheart, raising goats and ducks and home educating her little ones. Her spare time is spent reading, writing, rock climbing, taking parkour, playing video and strategy games, and acting. Her latest business venture: History Unboxed has just gone live and she is SO excited to bring hands-on, historic learning to your mailbox. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and back History Unboxed on Kickstarter!

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This article was written by a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers guest author. See the author's full bio in the body of the post.

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