Activity book helps kids learn about Utah

Friday , July 03, 2015 - 12:00 AM

How well do your kids know their state?

Do they know why July 24 is a holiday in Utah? Can they name the five national parks within Utah's borders? Can they describe the environment of each of Utah's land regions? Can they name Utah's historic tribes? Do they know where to find dinosaur fossils in Utah? If not, summer is a perfect time for them to get to know their state better.

“Know Your State, Utah” is a new activity book from Layton-based publisher Gibbs Smith. Written by Megan Hansen Moench, the paperback activity book sells for $14.99 and has more than 250 colorful pages filled with ideas for learning about the state.

“Once they get started on the topic, kids love learning about the history of Utah — it pulls them in,” said Moench, of Kaysville.

Utah's history is filled with exciting stories, from tales about ancient inhabitants who left mysterious rock art to the adventures of mountain men and pioneer women, and the challenges faced by modern migrants. All are subjects touched on in Moench's book. One of the learning activities is going to Ogden's Pioneer Days parade, and creating a drawing of your own idea for a float. Other activities include interviewing a World War II veteran, designing a Utah tourism ad complete with your own slogan, and taking a walk through your neighborhood at different times of the day to observe how things change.

To help kids remember that sedimentary rocks are formed in layers with a mineral “cement” binding them together, Moench has them create edible rocks by cementing layers of graham crackers together with frosting. She also has receipes to teach about igneous and metamorphic rocks.

“My students loved that,” she said.

Many of the activities in the book come from Moench's classroom experiences.

“I had taught fourth grade,” she said, noting that it's one of the grades in which students typcially study state history.

Moench left the classroom to work full-time in the publishing world, helping to create state textbooks.

“I missed being in the school environment, where you interact with kids,” she said.

So she went back to teaching, working in a local school district's curriculum department where she models teaching ideas in the classroom.

“I work in a school setting, where I get to interact with kids, but still do freelance projects with the publishing company — so I get the best of both worlds,” she said.

In addition to penning a “Know Your State” book for Utah, Moench wrote another for children in the state of Washington. She's also launching a website, www.tolearnandgrow.com/, that will have a lot of free content for parents and teachers.

Her “Know Your State, Utah” book is geared to children from the ages of 8 to 12, but can still work for younger and older students who are motivated to learn.

“Kids at that age range are so curious, and teachers, unfortunately, don't have as much time to spend on social studies alone,” she said. “I would say state history gets a little underappreciated, because teachers have so much on their plates.”

That's why she combines Utah social studies with other subjects. The book is based on the state's educational standards, and is organized by subject. Activities in the first section stretch vocabulary, while other sections focus on geography and social studies, reading and writing, science and math.

“The words I chose are essential to understanding the topic of Utah,” she said of the book's vocabulary section. “We woudn't be able to tell the story unless we used these words, and kids understood what they mean.”

While there are a lot of fun activities such as mazes, hands-on science and art projects, there are also pages that are similar to school workbook activities.

“There are some reading passages that are based on our state's more rigiorous standards, that they've been implementing the past couple of years,” she said. “They're things that will give them practice for things they do in school.”

The book can be used to enhance what's taught during the school year, but Moench says summer is a great time to use it.

“There are things a teacher could very well pull out and use in a classroom … but it also gives standards-based practice for kids at home,” Moench said.

And they need that practice during the summer break.

“Statistics show that the 'summer slide' is real. Kids who don't keep up on their skills, especially in language arts, they're likely to lose some of those skills or to lose some ground and slide back,” she said. “It's really important to keep kids brushing up, and give them a head start when they return to school in the fall, so they're ready to go with the skills they left school with in the spring.”

Summer's also a great time to use the “Know Your State” activity book because there are a lot of activities kids can do outside of school, even on family vacations. Planning a trip to Lake Powell? Check out pages 140 and 141, which include background about the building of Glen Canyon Dam and ask kids for their opinion about possibly draining Lake Powell. Spending the day at Golden Spike National Historic Site? Take a photo of yourself with a train and paste it in the book, and then discuss how the transcontinental railroad may have helped some people and caused problems for others. Just spending the day at home? Learn how local tribes of American Indians used buffalo, and make your own jerky.

Moench says she has received some feedback from people who have used the book.

“The parents are just excited to have something other than the boring worksheets they usually do during the summer,” she said. “This is something more interactive.”

The book is available through the Gibbs Smith website at www.gibbs-smith.com/, and through Amazon at www.amazon.com. It's also been sold at a few, but not all, Costco stores in Utah.

The author says she doesn't know how many people have purchased the book.

“I don’t know if I want to know,” she said. “It was so fun for me to do, and I just hope the kids whose hands it ends up in have fun.”

Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or bwright@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.

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