Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

This week we “rowed” Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.  I chose this book to go along with our Fruit of the Spirit study on Faithfulness (see this post), but there were so many fun things to do with it that I decided to do a full row instead of just using it as part of that lesson.  Ian’s had his eye on this book (and the videos we have that go along with it–all three of them, each a little different!) for a while, but I’ve been making him wait, so he was really excited to read it this week.  We were completely immersed in the story this week and watched it in various video forms.  I like the one that is part of the Storybook Classics collection because it shows the words as it reads the story, but Ian really likes our old VHS tape with songs.

The Five in a Row manual (Vol. 1) had a ton of great suggestions of things to talk about as we read through it.  The part about “road engineering” came really naturally, because Ian noticed right away that it was like the scene in the movie Cars (also a great example of personification) that explains how they built the Interstate instead of continuing to use Route 66 that went with the curves of the land.

For a math activity, we used geoboards to make squares with rubberbands.  This turned out to be more fun than I imagined.  At first, I just handed Ian a board and some rubberbands and asked him to make a square.  He had no clue how to do it and made a T.  So we started again and I offered some assistance.  (It was really helpful that we had just watched an episode of Peep and the Big Wide World called “Quack’s Square Deal” where they talked about squares and how they had to have equal sides and right angles.)  After we made one across 5 nails I asked him to make one 3 nails across.  Then I left the boys to make their own designs while I put Arianna down for her morning nap.  When I came back, Ian was so excited because he had made something musical!  Then I started making the letters in their names, which they both really liked.  Ian practiced making some letters too.  Who would have thought geoboards would provide over an hour of entertainment? (Well, Elijah lasted about twenty minutes, but Ian was fascinated.)  We put on our “Listening Lesson”* and they played so quietly while their sister slept.  Ahhh….



Our “Listening Lesson” is usually just tied into our Bible lesson, but we had this fabulous CD of Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel from Maestro Classics.  Not only does it include a wonderful dramatic reading of the story set to beautiful orchestral music, you also hear information about Virginia Lee Burton and the “story behind the story,” as well as the composer, Stephen Simon, telling about some of the thought process that went into writing the music.  I absolutely adore it, and so do the boys.  (Elijah loves pointing out the “big tubas” that the composer talked about.  He catches them every time!) The Maestro Classics website even has curriculum guides for homeschoolers with lots of great ideas to expand on your learning.  I’ve put the rest of the CDs on our wishlists and hope over birthdays and Christmas we’ll be able to collect the whole set!

Back to Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne.  This book is right up my boys’ alley in so many ways.  We discussed how steam engines work by watching a Thomas & Friends video segment: “How Do Steam Engines and Diesel Engines Work?” (The steam engine part was very well done; the explanation of the diesel engine was hard to understand.  Even my husband, who works on diesel engines for a living, thought it was confusing.)  We also watched another quick video on steam shovels, as well as a Mighty Machines episode (Season 1, episode 1): “At the Demolition Site” streaming on Netflix (which didn’t have anything to do with steam engines, but showed a lot the related to construction and what kind of machines we use nowadays).

We tried to make a steam powered pinwheel, but we didn’t have a whole lot of success.  I had tried following a tip from someone and made it out of aluminum foil (I guess some people had trouble with paper absorbing the water).  Our pinwheel worked fine when we blew on it, but when we held it to the steam from our kettle it just wiggled.  I thought maybe it was because I had made it too big so I made a smaller one (the boys had lost interest by this point, but I was determined to make it work), but although it wiggled a little more, it still wouldn’t turn.  *sigh*  We did discuss the condensation on the foil and how it was because the steam was made of tiny water particles, so at least we got some science in.  🙂


We finished up our time with Mike Mulligan by making a cake similar to what I’d seen someone mention on the FIAR forum.  I let Ian help me dig the “cellar,” trying to make it “neat and square.”  He shoveled the “dirt” out onto his plate and then I plopped a dollop of frosting on the side and he spent about an hour playing with his construction toys in it (and eating it along the way, of course).  Elijah’s not real big on eating sweets and skipped out on most of this activity, just coming in at the end for a little taste.  Ian asked if he can play with his cake again for dessert tomorrow.  Hmmm… I think he may just have to wait until the next time we row this book.



To see what other FIAR books we’ve rowed, see my “Index of FIAR Posts.”  Also, a great place to see what other people have done with FIAR books is the FIAR Blog Roll at Delightful Learning.


Posted on July 22, 2012, in FIAR, Literature Units and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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