Level 2+: Parks + Camping

Ready to explore some of the United State’s most amazing national treasures? In this unit, we’ll explore the history and geography of national and state parks through math, science, literacy, and more. We’ll also learn a bit about camping, including tackling a few life skills your child could make use of on your family’s next trip. Now, onward to the great outdoors! Begin by downloading your skills tracker here.

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Gameschooling idea:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonogram SI, as in session or division.

Lesson 1:

There are about 424 national parks found the United States—and unfortunately we don’t have time to learn about them all in a week-long unit study! Let’s begin, though, by getting an overview of some of the most famous in the book National Parks of the U.S. Next, we’ll tackle some activities inspired by a few of our favorites.

Activity 1: What is a national or state park? A national park is an area set aside by a national government for the preservation of the natural environment. A national park may be set aside for purposes of public recreation and enjoyment or because of its historical or scientific interest. (source) The main difference is that a state park is under state jurisdiction while national parks fall under federal administration. In the United States, state parks have been in existence longer than national parks. (source)

Why are designated parks necessary—and what are their pros and cons? Let’s begin by examining some of them. First, watch this video that breaks down how national parks came to be and what you should know about them. Next, have your child write (or you can scribe) a pros and cons list for state parks, or they can write a persuasive paragraph about whether or not they think state and national parks are valuable.

Activity 2: From the Grand Canyon National Park to Zion National Park, one common feature of nation parks is canyons! (Your child may remember learning about canyons in our Level 2+: Desert Unit.) But how do these enormous cuts through the earth come to be? The movement of rivers, the processes of weathering and erosion, and tectonic activity create canyons. The most familiar type of canyon is probably the river canyon. The water pressure of a river can cut deep into a river bed. Sediments from the river bed are carried downstream, creating a deep, narrow channel. (source)

Let’s recreate these natural occurrence with a hands-on activity. You will need a deep baking dish or aluminum tray, sand, soil, gravel (optional), a cup or bottle with a spout, a straw, and ice cubes.

To set up, start filling up half of your baking dish with layers of sand, soil, and gravel (if using), alternating until you have filled half the dish to the top. (You may wish to use a piece of scrap cardboard or foil to hold the layers in one half of the tray—just be sure to remove it before beginning the next part of the activity.)

Next, let’s simulate wind erosion and weathering. Use the straw to blow a stream of air down the middle of your mound. What does your child observe happening? How does this change the landscape? What moves and what remains?

Next, we’ll recreate water erosion. Using your cup or bottle, carefully pour a stream of water down the middle of the mound. What happens? What would happen if this activity continued over many (even millions!) of years? Does water move all of the layers the same way?

Finally, we’ll simulate glacial erosion with our ice cubes. Place them at one end of your mound and slowly push them down the middle. What happens? How does the landscape change?

By now, you should have a pretty deep canyon! Explain to your child that these same actions contribute to creating national park canyons, just over a much longer period of time.

Activity 3: Another national park with some amazing geology is Arches National Park in Utah, USA. This rocky park is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, with some arches stretching over 306 feet wide and other reaching 112 feet high! (source) The arches look like something an architect would have designed, but they have been formed entirely by nature.

Underneath Arches National Park lies a salt bed layer, which was deposited some 300 million years ago when the area was part of an inland sea. When the sea evaporated, it left salt deposits; some areas collected over a thousand feet of these deposits. During the next millions of years, the area was filled with debris deposited from winds, floods, streams and oceans that came and went. Over time this debris compressed into rock. The weight of the rock layer caused the salt bed below to become fluid, allowing it to thrust up and create domes and ridges.

Next, erosion went to work on the surface rock layers and ground water began to dissolve the underlying salt deposits. Water seeped through cracks in the weathered rock and ice formed, further expanding the crevices and weakening the rock. Eventually, the domes began to collapse leaving a maze of vertical free-standing rock walls known as fins. Wind and water continued to assault these fins until they eventually wore through and pieces began to fall away, creating the amazing arches you see today. (source)

Let’s create a craft illustrating these beautiful arches. Begin with a black piece of cardstock or other thick paper. First, use a sponge or sponge paintbrush and white paint to create the Milky Way in the night sky by dabbing a thick line diagonally across the paper.

Once that layer dries, add sponged layers of blue, green, and purple paint over it. Finally, use a paint brush or old toothbrush to flick white paint across the whole paper to create the rest of the night sky.

While your paint dries, use a very thick mixture of sand and liquid glue. Using a thick paintbrush, paint the mixture onto your cardstock to create the ground and an arch.

Let dry completely and enjoy the feeling of stargazing beneath a natural stone arch!

(-) Looking for something simpler? Try some of these national park coloring pages!

Activity 4: Do you have a national or state park near your house? Use this week or weekend as an opportunity to take a field trip to see it!

Lesson 2:

The national parks might not exist at all if not for a historic camping trip that changed the United States. Let’s learn more about it in the book The Camping Trip That Changed America.

Activity 1: Teddy Roosevelt has fascinated naturalists and historians for decades. For your first activity today, let’s create a lapbook to learn more about him and his contributions to the United States. You can use books from your local library, articles this this one (or others you are able to find in your research), or YouTube videos like this one to learn more about him. Some facts you may want to include about him:

  • When and where was he born?
  • Which president was he?
  • What were his interests and milestones in his life?

You can also draw or print photos your child would like to include, or print this coloring page.

Activity 2: Equally important in the creation of natural parks was naturalist John Muir. A naturalist is any person who studies the natural world. Naturalists make observations of the relationships between organisms and their environments, as well as how those relationships change over time. Aside from being a naturalist, John Muir (also known as known as “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks”) was also an environmental philosopher, glaciologist, and one of the proponents for advocating the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. He also authored several books about his field of expertise. This video shares a brief history of his life.

John Muir is also famous for his nature journals. This week, encourage your child to spend some time outdoors documenting what they see in their own nature journal. This post can give you some tips on how to start your own.

Activity 3: What’s a camping trip without s’mores? Let’s make our own—using a little bit of science to help us. Follow this tutorial to build your own solar oven and make some s’mores!

Lesson 3:

For today’s activities, we’ll take a deep dive into one of America’s most popular national parks (and the second largest in the lower 48 states), Yellowstone National Park! Begin by reading the book Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone (or you can listen to this read aloud).

Activity 1: Because of its volcanic beginnings, Yellowstone is still the home of a variety of geological phenomena. One of the most popular are geysers. A geyser is a natural pool of hot water that sometimes erupts, sending steam and hot water gushing into the air. The pool of hot water is known as a hot spring. The term geyser comes from the Icelandic word geysir, which means “to gush.” Hot springs are usually found in areas near volcanoes. The hot magma underground heats up nearby groundwater. The water then tends to rise toward the surface, where it forms a hot spring. The water is channeled through a fault or some other fracture. When the water deep down reaches a temperature much above the normal boiling point, it becomes so hot that it turns into steam. This lifts the water above, causing an overflow at the surface. Because some of the surface water has overflowed and relieved the pressure below, more of the deep water suddenly turns into steam. The steam then expands and blows out with tremendous force, taking hot water with it. (source)

Discovered in 1870 by the Washburn Expedition, Old Faithful geyser was named for its frequent and somewhat predictable eruptions, which number more than a million since Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872. The eruptions usually last between 1.5-5 minutes. (source) Want to see it in action? Watch this video, or you can try your luck with the Old Faithful live cam on this webpage.

Let’s bring this all to life with this hands-on activity.

Activity 2: While Old Faithful’s timing isn’t exactly, well, exact, we can use it to inspire a time-telling math activity! For this activity, you can use either a learning clock toy like this one, or you can make one with a paper plate, permanent marker, and two popsicle sticks (cut one shorter than the other).

The mathematical average between eruptions of Old Faithful is currently 74 minutes, but it doesn’t like to act average! Intervals can range from 60-110 minutes. Visitors can check for posted prediction times in most buildings in the Old Faithful area. (source)

For our activity, let’s use this pretend prediction time list. Begin by setting the clock to 12:30 a.m. for the original eruption time. Next, work with your child to determine what time the next eruption will happen and write in the time. Repeat until they find all of the eruption times, or until your child is done with the activity.

Activity 3: Another famous resident of Yellowstone National Park is the bison! Though the terms are often used interchangeably, buffalo and bison are distinct animals. Old World “true” buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia. Bison are found in North America and Europe. (source) In fact, the American bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016. Let’s learn more about them in this article and/or this video.

Bison are also very popular among artists who want to share a piece of the American landscape. George Catlin was an American artist who painted many American landscapes, Native people and natural beauties of North America including the bison. Watch this video to learn more about him.

George Catlin, “Buffalo Bull, Grazing on the Prairie,” 1832-1833, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Next, let’s make our own bison art! As we learned in the video, one artistic skill George Carlin improved in over time was his use of perspective, or the representation of three-dimensional objects or spaces in two dimensional artworks to create depth. We’ll use layering in our craft to create this perspective.

First, print our bison template on a piece of thick cardstock or watercolor paper. To give our bison some furry texture, we’ll use coffee grounds to paint it. Mix grounds with a small amount of water to create your “paint,” and begin by painting the back half of the bison a lighter shade of brown. Next, paint the front half darker by layering more coffee grounds on the paper.

While your bison dries, create your backdrop. You will need blue, yellow, and green paper; glue; white paint; and a sponge or paintbrush.

Begin with your blue piece of paper. Use the white paint to create clouds, sponging on the paint.

Next, let’s create some Yellowstone-inspired mountains or cliffs in the background. Have your child tear yellow paper to create their desired mountain range and glue this down across the middle of the paper. Follow with torn stripes of green paper to create a field that looks closer in perspective.

Finally, cut the bison in half (front and back ends) and layer it onto your backdrop to complete your artwork.

Trim the edges, if desired.

Lesson 4:

Of course, there were many people involved in protecting the lands of national parks. Let’s learn about one lesser known contributor in the book Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Activity 1: When exploring the canyons and valleys of a national park, it becomes clear that the soil beneath our feet isn’t just one thing—it’s actually made up of several layers. Each layer of earth is defined by its own “horizon.” These horizons run parallel to the ground and serve up distinct characteristics that aid the layers above and below. When a vertical section of these many horizons is taken, it’s known as a soil profile.

Let’s create an edible soil profile using this tutorial to learn about the main layers of soil, or you can make this LEGO version.

Activity 2: How do these layers form? Let’s learn about it by creating a sediment jar. You will need a clear jar with a lid, several types of soil (top soil, soil you find outside, sand, gravel, etc.), and some water.

Begin by filling your jar half full with different types of soil. The more types you include, the more interesting your final result will be.

Once the jar is half full, fill it the rest of the way with water. Seal the jar with a lid and let your child shake it until all of the soils and water are completely mixed. Set it aside while you work on the next activity (though you will need about a full day to see complete results.)

After about 10-20 minutes, check your jar. You should start to see layers of sediment forming. The largest sediments fall out of the water first. As time goes on, more and more sediments fall out of the water. At the bottom of the jar, you’ll see gravel {large rocks}. Next, you’ll see sand, then silt, then clay, then humus {decaying matter}. The types of sediments are named based on their particle size. The smaller sediments are at the top of the jar. The amount of each type of sediment depends on what type of soil you have.

Discuss with your child why certain sediments fall first and how this impacts the layers of soil we end up with in national parks and everywhere else. The next time you are exploring outdoors, look for places where you can see layers in the soil, such as on the side of rock walls.

Activity 3: Tie Sing was famous for his gourmet mountain fare, but these meals weren’t always easily transported. One popular snack for many park explorers? Trail mix! Let’s make our own version, letting your child choose the ingredients they would like to add to their mix. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, etc.)
  • dried fruit
  • dry cereal
  • chocolate or white chocolate chips
  • small crackers or Goldfish crackers
  • shredded coconut
  • small candies, like M&Ms
  • mini marshmallows
  • mini pretzels or pretzel sticks

Mix equal portions of your ingredients in a bowl and portion into small bags or reusable containers for your next outing!

Lesson 5:

Camping provides the opportunity to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including rock climbing. Let’s learn about a famous real rock climber in the book How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion (or you can listen to this read aloud).

Activity 1: Is your child interested in trying rock climbing? Check out your local area for climbing gyms—many offer classes specifically for younger climbers. In the meantime, try out some of these climbing-specific stretches to get them limbered up and ready to climb! (If you’ve done our Level 2+: The Body Unit, see if your child can remember which muscles they’re stretching with each move!)

Activity 2: If you want to try rock climbing for real, there are some important terms you should be familiar with. Below are a few to share with your child, but you can find more here.

  • Belaying: the act of managing the rope for a climber. Belaying involves feeding out (lead climbing)or taking in (top-rope climbing) slack as a climber progresses upward, so the climber is “caught” by the rope in the event of a fall.
  • Bouldering: Bouldering is climbing short routes (aka problems), 10 – 25 feet tall, often on short cliffs and boulders that aren’t large enough to justify roped climbing. Boulderers typically do not wear helmets and harnesses to protect them from injury. Instead, they use thick, cushioned mats called crash pads to provide soft landing zones, and spotters to guide them into these landing zones when falling.
  • Carabiner: an ovular piece of aluminum or steel hardware with a gate that opens and closes, often used to connect pieces of climbing equipment.
  • Climbing anchor: a single piece or gear or a network of rock climbing equipment intended to secure something (a climber, a climbing rope, other equipment) to a fixed, unmovable position. Climbing anchors may be permanent or “fixed” installations, or they may be temporary and removeable.
  • Edging: a climbing footwork technique which involves placing the edges of the climbing shoe on small edges, rather than using the broad soles of the feet.
  • Free climbing: what most folks think of as “rock climbing.” In free climbing, climbers use only their bodies (hands, feet, arms, back, knees, etc.) to ascend the features of the rock, rather than pulling or stepping on or climbing equipment (like slings or makeshift ladders) for upward progress. Most free climbers also use a harness, rope, and other climbing gear to protect themselves in case of a fall, but any upward progress is dependent on the climber’s skill and strength.
  • Harness: an adjustable belt with attached leg loops, used to connect a person to the climbing rope.
  • Rappelling: how a climber descends independently down a cliff or mountain face, controlling speed via a rappel device (many styles area available). Rappelling is often confused by novice climbers with lowering, where a partner/belayer lowers a climber. Rappelling is something YOU do, lowering is someone does TO you.
  • Traversing: climbing roughly horizontally across terrain. The term covers at all difficulties; climbers may traverse low angle, blocky terrain (such as when scrambling), across the top of a mountain ridge, or along a ledge system of a vertical rock climb.
  • Smearing: a climbing footwork technique where you press as much of your sticky rubber sole as possible into the rock in an effort to gain friction, rather than stepping on an edge or hold.

Next, let’s review these terms with this climbing vocab word search.

Activity 3: Another important element of rock climbing is knot tying—and it’s also a great way to work those fine motor muscles! Click here to learn about some common tying knots and try your hand at tying the ones demonstrated in the videos. You’ll need a piece of climbing cord or other thicker string.

Movie Night suggestion: Watch the Netflix limited series documentary called Our Great National Parks. It includes amazing footage of national parks from around the world, including Yellowstone Park.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.