Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

This week, we rowed Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The story centers around a devoted hoisting operator, Mike Mulligan, and his near-obsolete steam shovel, Mary Anne. Even though Mike Mulligan takes good care of Mary Anne, steam shovels are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by gas, diesel, and electric shovels. Despite Mary Anne's obsolescence, Mike Mulligan moves out of the city and takes a job in the country, in the small town of Popperville, digging the cellar of the new town hall. He claims that Mary Anne can dig the cellar in one day and, if he can't deliver, the selectman, Henry B. Swap, won't have to pay. The pressure is on for Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne to finish the cellar job, but they have a crowd of fans and a bright young boy to urge them on.

The story really communicates the importance of stewardship, diligence, and good old-fashioned hard work!

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is featured in FIAR: Volume One.

Language Arts- Story Writing Characters

The first day we read the story, we talked about characters in stories and how writers can include all sorts of characters-- good, mean, happy, helpful, trouble-making characters.

We talked about the specific characters in the story: Mike Mulligan, Mary Anne, Henry B. Swap, and the little boy. I asked him to tell me about those characters and what they are like and dictated his descriptions in our lapbook.

Social Studies- Character- Diligence
The FIAR book suggested focusing on stewardship and flexibility, but we emphasized diligence because midweek we had a homeschool class on character training that specifically addressed diligence.
On the second day of reading, we talked about diligence and how the characters exude a good attitude about working. We talked about how Aidyn shows diligence and what sort of jobs he does that require diligence.

The next day, we attended the character training class on diligence. The teacher, full of vim and vigor, taught them a song about diligence, which they sang and performed. She also told them a story about a family of beavers who worked hard to build a secure dam. We went home with a binder of more stories of diligent people in history, arts and crafts ideas for diligence, and ideas on how to be more diligent.

We also track Aidyn's good attitude through an informal point system. After Tuesday, we switched to Diligence Points. He earns point for showing diligence and is awarded with a field trip or extra fun activity at the end of the week. On Sunday, he's going to Six Flags with his Grammy.

Art- Drawing Trees in Motion

For art, we combined two of FIAR's suggestions, drawing trees and motion. On our Outdoor Hour Challenge, we observed trees and sketched two of our favorites. While reading the story again, we admired the way Virginia Lee Burton created the look of motion in her drawings.

Mama: How do you think she made the steam shovel look like it was moving so fast?
Aidyn: She made those swooshes up.

We decided to make our own "swooshes" on our trees to show wind blowing through the leaves.

Social Studies/Science-- Construction and Steam Power
We found a delightful video on construction machines called I Dig Dirt. It's a simplistic video about earthmovers, but it also introduced different kinds of earthmovers and how they work.
Aidyn also watched The Magic School Bus Gets Energized.

Cooking-- "Neat and Square" creations

Mary Anne diligently digs the cellar "neat and square." To illustrate, I made some Neat and Square Chocolate Pancakes one morning as a special treat.

(sorry, no picture there. I simply made a base pancake recipe and swirled in chocolate frosting. When they were done cooking, I used a square cookie cutter to make them "neat and square")

I also made a Neat and Square Chicken Casserole.

And, for the finale, I made the ubiquitous Neat and Square Chocolate Cake with (a version of) Mary Anne in the center, digging like crazy.

I used Buncha Crunch for the rocks.

I made the cake late one night, and it was absolute torture for Aidyn to wait all night for it to cool in the fridge. But, as a special treat, we each ate a slice for breakfast as we read Mike Mulligan one last time (for now).
(I wish I had pictures of our chocolate breakfast, but my camera battery had died.)
After "breakfast," we talked more about squares. I pulled out his dry-erase board and asked him to describe a square.
I played around with him, drawing shapes to his specifications.
A: It's a shape with four sides.
I drew a rectangle.
A (laughing): No, no, no. Those sides are too long. The sides are the same!
I drew a rhombus.
A (laughing more): Oh, my gosh! No, that's a rolled-over square! These lines are straight up and down.
M: And what about the corners? Are they n---?
A: Neat and square!
After we got the laughs out, Aidyn drew a square, found and cut one out of a magazine, and, with help, wrote the definition of a square.

Many of our ideas and projects came from Five in a Row: Volume 1. I also consulted Homeschool Share and was inspired by Delightful Learning.


  1. This sounds like such a great week. I love how you are able to link so many subjects to the same book. We are planning to do something similar next year and I'm hoping to get lots of ideas from your posts.

  2. Thank you, Jody. Looks like we'll be swapping ideas with each other! I learn so much from your blog.