Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

For our third FIAR book study, I chose Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.  (We had just finished reading her acclaimed The Little House and I thought Maggie could make some comparisons with the two books with our recent reading fresh on her mind.)  This will wrap up our Summer FIAR studies, until we start our first grade year, after Labor Day.
The book is really cute, about a man and his beloved steam shovel, at the time that steam power is becoming extinct.  He finds one last, fulfilling job for them to do, then in the end, she is repurposed but still loved the rest of her life.  These FIAR studies have been a lot of fun for both of us and Maggie really looks forward to them each week!  So, here we go with book number 3!
Day 1 of 4 - Social Studies
Of course, first, we read the book.  The setting for this book is not revealed (it uses the fake town name of "Popperville"), but it's clear that it's somewhere in the United States, so we placed this week's story disk in the central US.
 There!  Our "Popperville" is in good ol' Nebraska!  :)
After that, we completed a writing activity that I found among other valuable worksheets for this study at  (You'll be seeing more from this site later on in this post.)  We added this to this week's lapbook.
Then, we talked about the history of steam, complete with some reading of Hooray for Inventors! by Marcia Williams ...
... and DK: Eye Wonder: Invention by Caroline Bingham.
We then read The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown, a PERFECT supplement to this book study!
Here are a couple of photos from the book!
And finally, we read Bulldozers by Jean Eick.
After our reading, we watched an antique steam shovel in action!  Here is that video.  (It's cool!)
We then read a poem by Charles Malam:
"Steam Shovel
The dinosaurs are not all dead.
I saw one raise its iron head
To watch me walking down the road
Beyond our house today.
Its jaws were dripping with a load
Of earth and grass that it has cropped.
It must have heard me where I stopped,
Snorted white steam my way,
 And stretched its long neck out to see,
And chewed, and grinned quite amiably."
Next, I found this great little craft for a "Moving Parts Digger" at, using their provided template and
a piece of cardstock, something to color your digger (crayons, markers, colored pencils, or paint), glue, scissors, photos of your child(ren), and brads.
Here is our digger, colored and put together!  (We put pictures of Maggie and our cat, Emmett, in the cab, which she thought was great!)
I found these great worksheets on reading comprehension and vocabulary for this book at, which we then added to her lapbook.

Day 2 of 4 - Language Arts, Art
To start Day 2, we read our book.  After that, we moved on to talk about story writing, characters, and the elements of a good story.  We then started this great "Plot" activity that we found at
 I had to share these adorable pictures Maggie drew in her "Plot" activity.  This is Mary Anne, the steam shovel.
 This is her picture of the retired steam shovels.
 Here's Mary Anne, digging the cellar.
 And here's Mary Anne, repurposed as a furnace!  (I love kids' drawings!)
We then, of course, added it to her lapbook.
After the "Plot" activity, we added two more vocabulary words to our list we started yesterday: canal and cellar, and then moved on to Art, first discussing how the trees were drawn differently throughout this book.  We then set out to draw the same, some from a distance, and others, close up.
Once our trees were done, we talked about motion in art, and I challenged her to create her own action picture.  This is her picture of Emmett, running in the dirt.  :)
Then, using our The Five in a Row Cookbook by Becky Jane Lambert for this story, we set out to make the "Irish Stew" and "Oat Scones" suggested for this book.   Here, Maggie's setting up the scone mixture ...
 ... then patting out the dough.
 We cut our scones in squares, to simulate the square that Mary Anne dug out in the book.
 All baked, and super tasty!  (They were very much like a biscuit.)
And, then we finished up our Irish stew!  Yum!
 My girl!  :)
We wrapped the day up by making the Mike Mulligan chocolate cake I saw at, using chocolate cake mix and canned frosting, a toy digger, and these paper people printouts that I thought would be better for the edges of our cake than the Teddy Grahams suggested at the site. 
First, we made the cake mix ready for baking.
While it baked, we colored our paper people, and once our cake cooled, we taped the colored crowd along the outside of the cake pan.
(I thought retro people were more fun because it went with the time frame of the book.)

Next, after we removed a large chunk of cake from the center (to look like it was a dug-out cellar), we added our own shovel.
We iced the rest and called it a success!

Day 3 of 4 - Math
To start Day 3, first, we read our book.  Once that was done, we discussed how important it is to know and understand math to work on construction.  We continued with a reading of Construction Countdown by K. C. Olson (a math book) ...
 ... followed by the reading of What Does a Construction Worker Do? by P. M. Boekhoff.
Next, we built our own town hall with Lincoln Logs, observing how different pieces were equal in length to others, making a sound structure. 
After we discussed the "Geometry" section in our FIAR manual, we used mini marshmallows and toothpicks to create 3D cubes, as seen at  (Mags LOVED this activity!)
"Can I eat them now?"
Finally, we completed the "Math Word Problems" at and added them to our lapbook.  Instead of just the answer, I had her write the equation and circle the answer, like you see here.
 I must brag on my girl a bit!  Check out these equations where she added three numbers together!  I am quite proud of my clever five-year-old!  :)
Day 4 of 4 - Science
For our final day of this book study, we started again by reading our book. 
We then started our science study by completing the "Energy" activity at and adding it to our lapbook.  Here, Maggie is writing different forms of energy on the sheet.
 It then got folded like an accordion and placed in her lapbook ...
 ... so that it opens to look like this!  :)
To get acquainted with the concept of states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases), we started by reading pages 34-36 of our Usborne: First Encyclopedia of Science by Rachel Firth, entitled "Solids, Liquids and Gases" and "How Materials Change."
We then completed an experiment from the same to illustrate how a gas is made.  For the experiment, you'll need a bottle (we used a plastic soda bottle with the labels removed), vinegar, baking soda, a balloon, and a spoon.
First, fill a quarter of your bottle with vinegar.  Using the spoon, very carefully add about a spoonful of baking soda into the balloon.  Next, stretch the neck of the balloon over the top of your bottle, being careful not to spill any of the baking soda into the bottle.  (This means the balloon will be flopped to the side on the outside of the bottle.)  Once you are ready, quickly lift the balloon up to tip all of the baking soda into the bottle.  (The process is quick, so be ready!)  The vinegar and baking soda react, creating carbon dioxide gas, causing your balloon to inflate almost instantly!
Very neat!
Mags was worried it would pop, so she stood back with her ears plugged!  :)
Once she was convinced it was not going to explode, she got back up to the counter again.  She loved this experiment so much, she did it again for Daddy when he got home!
We then read this cool poem by Tom McGowen:
"What's the Matter?
What's the matter, do you ask?
I'll tell you right away.
It's everything around you, as you work or sleep, or play.
A chair is matter, a table, too, and so is a rock or tree.
A cloud, a star, a blade of grass, a raindrop, a bumblebee.
The earth is matter, so is the sea, and the sky is matter, too.
(Of course what matters most of all is the matter that is you!)
There's matter almost everywhere, except in one special place --
The vast, black, lonely emptiness, that we call outer space."
After that, we moved on to read What Is the World Made Of? All About Solids, Liquids, and Gases by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.  (This is a GREAT read!)
And we completed the "States of Matter" activity at, which uses sorting cards to determine which pictures represent a solid, a liquid, or a gas.
We then added it to our lapbook.
Next, we set out to make steam, heating water on the stove ...
... then catching the gas on our mirror!
We then used the tea kettle to make steam to help make our pinwheel move, demonstrating how steam creates energy.
And once that gas hit the cool air around it, we watched it become liquid again on the blades of our pinwheel!  (She loved this activity, too!)
  And we wrapped up today's lesson with a reading of New Road! by Gail Gibbons.  (I LOVE her books for teaching!)
To finish up our week, we completed our lapbook!  What a great book study this was!
This coming week, we'll be learning about the Tlingit Native Americans, totem poles, and salmon, all in time for our family trip to Seattle.  Check back with us! 


  1. Hello! Where can I print out those people for the cake? Would you mind sharing? Thanks a lot!

    1. I honestly just did a Google image search and found some that I liked. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful!