March 14, 2020

Isaac Newton's Take on Social Distancing & Making a Plague Mask

Coronavirus. In this week of people socially distancing themselves by working from home, the Washington Post ran a story about Isaac Newton and what happened when he left his studies at Cambridge as the Plague swept across England beginning in 1664. Here’s the link:

 Newton used his time in isolation at home in “Woolsthorpe” to put all his university learning to work.  As I wrote in Isaac Newton & Physics for Kids, His Life & Ideas with 21 Activities.

            Newton used his two years at home to let everything bubble up inside his head.  All he had learned at Cambridge about natural philosophy and mathematics now fermented like yeast in the bread and beer he had for breakfast. During the day, he could look into the garden and watch apple trees blossom into fruit that ripened and fell to the ground. When it rained, he could wonder why rainbows appear. At night, he still watched the heavens for stars and planets, just as he had when he was a boy.

(For more about the Plague in Newton's times, click here.)

Newton escaped the plague at Woolsthorpe, but in other towns and cities, doctors wore plague masks to escape the Black Death that plagued their patients. Here’s how to make one:

February 3, 2020

Who Made George Washington's Breakfast?

by Brandon Marie Miller
(Activity: Make Hoe Cakes)

1799, Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington

Enslaved cooks Lucy and Nathan rise well before dawn to begin meal preparations-- coaxing embers into flame, lugging buckets and heating water. Nathan replaced the Washington's former male cook, Hercules, who ran away to freedom in 1797. Butler Frank Lee, also enslaved, sets the table in the family dining room which is painted a deep bright green, the former president's favorite color.

The kitchen at George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington prefers a simple breakfast-- hoe cakes, a corn meal pancake, with a cup of tea. Lucy has prepared the hoe cake batter the night before. Her mother, Doll, had also been a cook at Mount Vernon for many years. Doll was one of the enslaved people the widow Martha Custis brought with her to Mount Vernon when she married George Washington. Lucy's daughter Patty may be one of the assistants, learning kitchen skills at her mother's side.

Mrs.Washington arrives in the kitchen to check preparations and at seven o'clock the Washington family sits down to eat. Food is carried from the kitchen, a separate building, to the main house.Washington likes his hoe cakes dripping with butter and honey. It is a soft breakfast for a man who has painful issues with his false teeth.

The dining room at George Washington's Mount Vernon
After breakfast the table is cleared, pots and pans cleaned. Mrs. Washington discusses dinner plans with Lucy and Nathan. Enslaved gardener, George, brings in fruits and vegetables grown in Mount Vernon's gardens. Lucy, Nathan, and their assistants face a long day ahead, chopping, cooking, roasting, baking bread and cleaning up. The Washingtons nearly always have guests and family to entertain. Lucy and Nathan often prepare large quantities of food.

George and Martha Washington benefitted every day from the care, comfort, and labor of enslaved people they owned like Lucy, Nathan, Frank Lee, Patty and gardener George. And though George Washington freed the slaves he owned when he died in December 1799, the Custis slaves Martha brought to the marriage were not freed.

December 5, 2019

Games For a Winter Night

by Brandon Marie Miller

December. Darkness arrives early as the days shorten. In the past, people lit candles, lanterns, or oil lamps against the gloom. They sat near their fires. Flames cast light and shadow around the room and reflected back from people's eyes. It was a time to chat, read books, sew, knit, play musical instruments. People also played games-- cards, dice, chess, board games, and word games.

So light a candle, snuggle into a warm sweatshirt, get a cup of cocoa and try your hand at a couple games that Thomas Jefferson's family liked to play. One is a word game, "I Love My Love with an A" and the other is a board game, "The Royal Game of the Goose."

Wishing everyone happy holidays. Be the light in the darkness!


November 5, 2019

Honoring Women Vets of World War I

Veterans Day is coming soon. And Yes! Women served back in World War I, a fact which has nearly been forgotten.    Here's a reposting about their service..

Next month marks 100 years since the United States went to war again Germany and the other members of the Central Powers in the Great War – later called World War I. This month, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Hence my post: to introduce five young women whose war stories I share in  In the Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I.

September 30, 2019


My new book, MUMMIES EXPOSED!, debuted in May. Spring hardly seems like the season for talking mummies, but as I say in the book, “there’s always something new to learn about something old.” So why not dig into mummy study all the year around?”

Mummies! takes an in-depth look at human bodies that were preserved either with intent or by Mother Nature. I tell their stories of discovery—and, thanks in part to STEM research—at least a part of the stories of these dead themselves: ten children, women, and men across space and time, explaining why these people (like us) were mummified or how their bodies survived the process of decay. I’m pleased to note that my book garnered four starred reviews!

Old Tollund Man, a Bog Body and my favorite...
To celebrate, here are two activities that you can do for some October mummy-ish fun. The first I’m sharing is from librarian Sarah Bean Thompson, who tweeted these pix from her summer activities with kids. I love this one: take an egg carton, spray paint, junk jewelry, cloth strips, markers and glue, etc. and behold: a before-and-after take on an archaeological discovery!


"Creepy and True Mummies Exposed by @KerrieHollihan
check out the detail and awesome open and close action!"

Next comes a more in-depth activity developed by Brandon Marie Miller for her book George Washington for Kids: creating a “life mask” (in contrast to a death mask) for kids to appreciate the old process of recreating faces in the days before photography and 3-D printing. Click below!