Exploring the Explorers

Exploring the Explorers

We spent three weeks exploring the explorers. We jumpstarted our journey with Five in a Row book “Henry the Castaway” by Thomas Taylor, and then drifted off to other exciting adventures. What I love about “Five in a Row” is that it really ignites interest in a topic, no matter how simple a picture book seems to be.

Our first week was spent learning about pirates because I was busy at that time and needed something easy to do with the kids. Our second week was all about explorers in general. But we stumbled upon Magellan’s story during that time so we just had to delve on Philippine history on the third week. I’m excited to write a post about that, but for now, read on about how we learned about explorers, pirates, and the seas.


About the story

“Henry the Castaway” was first published in 1972 and is considered a classic picture book. It is about Henry and his dog Angus who set out one morning to look for an ocean. They got stranded on an island but with Henry’s skills as an explorer, they were soon rescued by Henry’s mother and father.


This is an exciting story that both 6-year-old Little T and  3-year-old Little Sir enjoyed. Their play from the time that we first read the book until now has revolved around ships, exploring, and pirates!


Pretend play

The whole premise of “Henry the Castaway” is pretend play. Henry has breakfast with his parents and declares that he and Angus will be looking for an ocean. His mother says, “I hope it won’t take all day.”

Pretend play is always a big part of my kids’ day to day life. When I suggested that they pretend to be explorers and pirates, Little T jumped eagerly into it and converted our bed into one big ship. Before long, I heard them using the words galley, sail, and Aye Aye captain! I didn’t need to provide them with anything. They “played exploring” by themselves every afternoon for days!

The picture of the mess on our bed ship is too embarrassing to share. My kids have a second pretend ship, though, and it’s this play equipment in our neighborhood playground. It’s just too bad that Typhoon Yolanda blew away (or perhaps tore) the fabric cloth that looked like sails before.




There is no mention of pirates in the story, but since I have a little boy and explorers encountered pirates in their adventures anyway, I made it a point to take a look at pirates as part of our “lessons.” (Sorry I have to put the word lessons in quotes because I don’t have another word for what we are doing around here!)

I bought a pirate box from our friends from KaHone Art (check out their new website here) and let Little T and her older cousin (who didn’t have school for some reason one day) work on it by themselves. They made a treasure chest, a map, a pirate mask, and a parrot!

Treasure chest

Playing Pooh-sticks

Henry and his dog Angus ride a canoe, which floats downstream. “Five in a Row” suggests learning about currents – upstream and downstream – and reading “Pooh Invents a New Game,” which we have. It is a part of “The House at Pooh Corner,” the original Winnie-the-Pooh stories by A. A. Milne.

In the story, Pooh and his friends throw their sticks down the upstream part of the river and watch whose stick appears first on the downstream side. They called their game Pooh-sticks. So, we biked to a small bridge near where we live and played Pooh-sticks too!

Pooh sticks

The stream under the bridge leads to  Marikina River. While watching the little stream and the river farther down, Little T excitedly recognized what Pooh said in the story about how the “small” river runs fast while the “grown” river flows slowly. When I looked at where the little stream and the river meet a few hundred meters away, Marikina River was indeed slowly meandering while the little stream under the bridge was going fast. I declared our activity to be a success!



In the story, Henry and Angus go exploring in a canoe. So, we just had to go boating with the kids! I initially thought of bringing them to the Pasig River for a ferry ride. Good thing though that I came across this post by Michelle of Mom Friday about the amusement center in the Quezon City Memorial Circle. We spent one happy Sunday afternoon there!




The cover of “Henry the Castaway” shows a kingfisher bird. Such birds live near rivers, hence its presence in the story.

I was only too happy to make a connection between the kingfisher in the book and our previous “lesson” about birds by watching a short video clip about kingfishers. Our bird-watching experience made me excited about the birds around us. I even try  to bring a pair of binoculars every time I bring the kids to the playground where there are lots of trees and birds around.


Other books

We read three other wonderful books about explorations, which we jut we just happen to have. I think the key to having “all the books you need” is to just hoard all the good books that you can find and then use them when the opportunity comes up!

“Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus” by Peter Sis is a wonderful book about 15th century Europe. It tells the story of Columbus and his dream to explore the world by travelling through the west. Though he didn’t find Asia which he sought, he found America.

follow the dream

Explorers News is an interesting book about all the major explorers in history. It is written in news format and as if each story is a current event. For example, Magellan was mentioned to have “died in an island war” instead of in the Philippines.

explorer news columbus in japan

Mariner’s Tale is an interactive book about explorers that I shamelessly borrowed from my nephew when we went to their house. I gave it to him last year and thought it fit our topic! Here we read another mention about Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. The flaps and little wheels are great fun for little hands.

mariner_s tale

I collect biography books for my kids because I believe that reading about great men and women of history can be inspiring and motivating. This is one of our biography books and I included it in our learning basket because Christopher Columbus is featured there.



I will be writing about a more exciting adventure next time… and that is how we answered the call of Magellan and Lapu-Lapu! Come back soon!


Make magic!

Mariel Uyquiengco


Bird-Watching with Kids

Bird Watching With Kids (1)

When planning what to include in our studies, I always look for inspiration in what is happening around us and in what activities are actually available to us. So, when Sanne invited me and the kids to join a bird watching activity in Ateneo, I immediately said yes and then set to work looking for the perfect book to read to prepare for it.

Being The Learning Basket’s super knowledgeable shop girl, Sanne recommended “Albert” by Donna Jo Napoli. It’s from Volume 4 of  Five in a Row; the unit study is downloadable from the FIAR site. It is supposed to be for ages 7 and up, but the story is just so lovely and we have already read Owl Moon, another book about birds, that I decided to go ahead with Albert.

Albert by Donna Jo Napoli

A fantastical story by Donna Jo Napoli and beautifully illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Albert is a fearful man who always finds excuses not to go out. The weather is always too cold or too warm for him. One day, as he extends his arm out the window to ostensibly check the weather, a cardinal drops a twig on his hand and starts building a nest!

Eggs are then laid, and Albert finds himself just standing there holding the nest until the eggs hatch a few weeks later. The story is fantastical and the illustrations by Jim LaMarch are really just warm and beautiful; even three year old Little Sir was drawn to it every time I read it.

We started our lesson with a bang… of hammering! Sanne and I recently discovered the DIY construction kit Red Tool Box (we stocked up on it at the shop, of course!) and were eager to try it with our kids.

Little T and I finished it in two hours, with her doing most of the work; my task was just to hold the wooden boards as she screwed them together. I made her look at the instruction and really do the project on her own. She was so proud of her handiwork.

Red Tool Box Bird Feeder

Easy peasy. The instructions says you have to use the drill to make the holes bigger, but there’s really no need for that.

Red Tool Box Bird Feeder

Hammering, hammering, hammering. Kids love it!

Little T was all fired up with the story that she started to make a nest with a styro bowl and some grass that she picked up. She was also excited to put some seeds on her bird feeder and waited for birds to come. Though we saw that the seeds were being eaten, we never actually saw birds on the bird feeder.

Red Tool Box Bird Feeder

Little T is very proud of her handiwork!

“Albert” is such a rich story that we were really able to talk about the topics and do some of the activities recommended by FIAR during the week. But our last day reading the book was the highlight of the week as that was when we went to Ateneo to join the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. Little Sir was the youngest, but even he was lent a pair of binoculars by the club.


Before we started walking around the Ateneo de Manila campus, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines handed out binoculars and gave a brief orientation.

Little T, Little Sir, and Sanne’s Energizer Bunny enjoyed looking through their binoculars. The scope pictured above gave us a really close look at the birds, specifically the blue Collared Kingfisher.  Just beautiful!

Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines gave us two pamphlets: Wild Birds of the City, pictured here, and Birding for Beginners.

Joining a bird watching group opened our eyes to the beauty of nature. Honestly, there are a lot of birds in our backyard but I really thought that we only had the Eurasia Tree Sparrow or maya. After that day, the kids and I are more excited about birds. We would really stop, point, and watch whenever we see one hopping about, even when we are in outdoor restaurants. It is a common experience between my family and Sanne’s, as they are now also more aware of our flying friends.


Resources for You

To learn about birds with your child, here are some more resources for you that we also used. Whether you are a homeschooling or an afterschooling family, your children will definitely learn and benefit from looking closely at the birds around you.


Make magic!

Mariel Uyquiengco


Solar System Activities for Kids

Solar System Activities for Kids

Every afternoon, while I work on my laptop and my 3-year-old takes his nap, my daughter reads anything that she fancies. For weeks, the books I saw her read were about the solar system. So, when she asked me if we could learn about stars and constellations, I knew it was time to focus on the topic. Her dad sparked this interest by pointing out, or at least talking about,  the different constellations every time we would go out for some fresh night air.

Immersing ourselves in the sun, stars, and planets was easy, since interest was already there. Here are the highlights of our two weeks in space. Enjoy the solar system activities for kids!



I always make sure that we have a good mix of reference and picture books when learning about anything scientific. Here are good titles to look out for. (Please note that these links are Amazon affiliate links and we would earn a bit of commission if you buy any of these books after clicking on the links.)



We truly enjoyed the activities in our KaHone Outer Space Box. We made a simple paper rocket that we blew to space with a straw, an alien headband (no chance that I’ll post a photo of me wearing that!), and the Earth, Sun, and Moon,

Kahone Earth

studied using a flashlight how the Sun lights up the Earth and Moon,

kahone 1

and lit up a fire with the power of the sun using a magnifying glass. Silly me, I first let the kids try it with a fresh green leaf instead of a dry one!

kahone 2

We were also finally able to install our Uncle Milton Solar System  In My Room, which I had my mom give the kids last Christmas (hehe). Itcomes with an audio CD presentation about the planets and a light pointer for you to shine on the planet being talked about in the CD. It’s nice to just lie down and stare at the planets whir around the sun.

2014-07-08 09.05.30

We attempted to look at the stars with our low-tech telescope (it says National Geographic on the box) but we couldn’t focus it. We could not even see the moon! So, we checked out the constellations with the iPad app Sky Safari, which guides you in looking for the constellations.

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And of course, we visited the Philippine Science Centrum for the second time to specifically look at their space exhibit. It’s a truly interactive museum that is great for kids as young as 5 years old. We checked our weight in the different planets,

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looked at the constellations,

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experimented with the phases of the moon (the exhibit is really simple and clear),

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and donned a spacesuit (it’s really just a video camera that shows your face on the screen inside the astronaut’s helmet).

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Oh, and we read the book The Magic School Bus Sees Stars and watched its video version.

magic school bus sees stars

We also memorized the order of the planets through this handy mnemonic: My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Have you studied the solar system with your kids? What other fun activities did you do?

Make magic!

Mariel Uyquiengco