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Ben Franklin & His Times
A Simple Unit Study

by Stephanie Ward

I. Learning about Ben Franklin & his times

A. Biographies
  1. Ben Franklin & His First Kite by Stephen Krensky (Childhood of Famous Americans Series), Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002.
    Ten-year-old Ben Franklin experiments with using a kite to cross the pond.
  2. What`s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? By Jean Fritz, General Publishing Company Ltd., 1976. (Staunton Library, Juv. Bio. Franklin)
    No matter how busy he was, Ben Franklin had time to try out new ideas. He had a hunch that a kite could act as a sail if one held it while swimming and another that ants could communicate with each other. But "A Big Idea . . . meant little to Ben Franklin unless he could put it to everyday use." This book explores both his famous and little known inventions, along with his many other accomplishments.
  3. Benjamin Franklin by Susan R. Gregson (Let Freedom Ring series), Bridgestone Books, 2002.
    This informative book explores Franklin's place in history. (Staunton Library, Juv. Bio. Franklin)
  4. The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin, Scholastic, 2000.
    This biography includes the challenges Franklin faced in establishing himself in business, his falling out with his son when they took different sides in the Revolutionary War, and the illnesses he suffered throughout his later years. It balances them with his successes in publishing, his inventions, and his diplomatic service.
  5. Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1950.
    This is a beautiful illustrated biography, a living story of Franklin's life. (Staunton Library, Juv. Bio. Franklin)
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B. Books about Colonial America

  1. If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern, Scholastic, 1992.
    The author answers questions such as: "What did colonial boys and girls wear?" "What happened if they didn't behave in school?" "What did they do on Sunday?" "Were there special laws about fun? "What happened to people who broke the laws?"
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C. Fiction
  1. Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, Little Brown, 1988
    This book was a favorite of mine from childhood, and I enjoyed sharing it with my 10-year-old daughter this year. It offers a humorous and witty account of some events in Franklin's life from the perspective of a mouse who lived in his hat.
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B. Crafts: All of these activities would be good companions to Ben Franklin & His First Kite by Stephen Krensky
  1. Making candles - Ben`s father was a chandler, and Ben began working in his business, making candles and soap, when he was 10.
    Dip Candles (Caution: This project should only be done with adult supervision.)

    What you will need:
    • candle wicks
    • a candy thermometer
    • wax (If you don't want to buy wax, you can melt down old candle to make new ones. Try looking in thrift stores for cheap old candles.)
    • candle color or scent (optional)
    • cooking pan
    • two tin cans (The taller the can the taller you can make your candle. Tall skinny cans are best because you will need less wax.)

    What to do:
    • Chop up your wax if it is in a big chunk. Place the pieces in a tin can. Cut up extra wax because the wax will melt down.
    • Place the can in a pan filled with about 3" of water.
    • Heat the water. As the water boils it will melt the wax.
    • When all the wax is melted and the temperature reaches 180 degrees, you are ready to start dipping. (Do not let the wax get over 200 degrees. It could burst in to flames if it gets too hot.)
    • Fill the other can with cold water.
    • Cut a wick about 5" longer than the can with the melted wax.
    • Dip the wick into the hot wax and then pull it out. Let it cool a little and pull to straighten the wick.
    • Keep dipping the wick into the hot wax and pulling it out right away. Do not touch the bottom of the can. Each time you pull out the wick dunk it into the cold water. Keep doing this until the candle is the size you would like it.
    • Hang the candle to dry.
    • Cut off the bottom so it is flat.

    Mold candles (Caution: This project should only be done with adult supervision.) What you will need:
    • milk carton
    • craft stick or dowel
    • candle wicks
    • a candy thermometer
    • wax (If you don't want to buy wax, you can melt down old candle to make new ones. Try looking in thrift stores for cheap old candles.)
    • candle color or scent (optional)
    • cooking pan
    What to do:
    • You can use the bottom of a milk carton as a mold for your candle. Just cut off the top to the height you would like your candle. Clean and dry out the inside of the carton.
    • Cut a piece of wick a little longer than the mold.
    • Tie the wick to a craft stick or dowel and place the dowel or craft stick across the top of the carton so that the wick hangs down into the middle of the carton. You can fasten the wick down to the bottom of the carton with a piece of tape.
    • Melt your wax the same as you would for making dip candles. When it reaches about 180 degrees you can add dye or scents. (Do not let the wax get over 200 degrees. It could burst in to flames if it gets too hot.)
    • Carefully pour the hot wax into your mold.
    • Let it stand overnight until it is completely hard. In the morning peel off the carton. Your candle is ready to use!
    • Ice candles are very pretty and easy to make. Follow the directions for mold candles except before you pour the wax fill the carton with small chunks of ice. Pour the wax over the ice until the mold is completely filled. This candle only takes a few hours to dry.
    • Layered candles - You can make more than one color of wax in separate cans. Pour one color in first and let it set a little and then pour another color over top of that. You can add as many layers as you would like. You can even hold the can at different angle as the wax dries for a different effect.

    I found these directions, and some other intriguing Ben Franklin crafts at Danielle's Place

  2. Making a kite
    Some Instructions

C. Read about other famous colonialists: Who were Franklin's contemporaries?
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    II. The famous electricity experiment with the kite (don't try this at home!)

    A. Books on Franklin`s electricity experiment

    1. Benjamin Franklin`s Adventures with Electricity by Beverley Birch and Robin Bell Corfield, Barron`s Educational Series, Inc. 1996 (Staunton Library, Juv. Bio. Franklin)
    2. Benjamin Franklin and Electricity by Steve Parker (Science Discoveries Series), Chelsea House Publishers, 1995. (Staunton Library, Juv. Bio. Franklin)
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    B. Books on Electricity, Batteries & Magnetism

    1. Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger (Let`s Read & Find Out Science series), Harper & Row Pub. Inc., 1989.
    2. My First Batteries & Magnets Book by Jack Challoner Dorling Kingsley, 1992.
    3. Electricity Turns the World On by Tom Johnson (Science in Action series), Gareth Stevens Inc., 1988.
    4. How Electricity is Made by C.L. Boltz, Facts on File Pub.
    5. The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degin, Scholastic, 1997.

    C. Activities

    1. Build a simple electrical circuit -perhaps both an open and a closed circuit.
    2. Build an electric “super car” from clothespins? See p. 32 in Electric Gadgets and Gizmos by Alan Bartholomew (Kids Can Do It series), Kids Can Press, Inc., 1998.
    3. Play with magnets

    III. Ben Franklin`s magic squares

    Read Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy, New York, Random House, 2002 (Augusta Main Library Easy Readers ER Murphy). This is a fun story! Then experiment with magic squares. For a good description of how this activity works, and more history of magic squares, see Fractals, Googles & Other Mathematical Tales by Theoni Pappas, San Carlos, CA : Wide World Pub./Tetra, 1993. (Augusta Main Library J Non-Fiction J 510 Pap)

    IV. Ben Franklin`s armonica
    • Try this experiment: gather about four glasses and fill each with a different amount of water. The blow on the rim each glass. Does it make a musical sound when you blow? Does the sound made with each glass sound the same or different? Why might this be (a good additional resource is Experiments with Sound by Salvatore Tocci (True Books series) New York : Children's Press, 2001. (Staunton Library Non-Fiction (Juv) 534 T).
    • Now read Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica by Bryna Stevens, Minneapolis, Minn. : Carolrhoda Books, c1983(Staunton Library Biography (Juv)), and learn how this concept relates to a musical instrument invented by Ben Franklin, for which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven composed music!
    • Try making your own musical instruments. Family Corner: 9 Easy to Make Musical Instruments for Kids

    V. Words of Wisdom (Proverbs and other quotes)
    What do you think these mean? Which ones do you like?
    • A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
    • A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.
    • A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
    • A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave.
    • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
    • Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
    • By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
    • Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.
    • Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
    • Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?
    • Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.
    • Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.
    • Who is rich? He that rejoices in his portion.

    VI. The Declaration of Independence & the U.S. Constitution

    1. Shhh…We`re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz, New York, Putnam, 1998.
      Describes how the Constitution came to be written and ratified. Also includes the full text of the document produced by the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
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    VII. Learn About Weather Ben Franklin was well known for his experiments involving weather, and for his invention of the lightening rod. he also founded our nation's first weather bureau.

    1. Rain and Hail by Franklin Branley (Let's-read-and-find-out science book)(Staunton Library NF(Juv) 551.57 B)
    2. Snow is Falling by Franklin Branley (Let's-read-and-find-out science book)(Staunton Library-NF(Juv)-551.5784 B)
    3. Tornado Alert by Franklin Branley (Let's-read-and-find-out science book)(Staunton Library-NF(Juv)-551.553 B)
    4. Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley (Let's read & find out science book)(Staunton Library-NF(Juv)-551.57 B)
    5. Flash, Crash, Rumble & Roll by Franklyn M. Branley (Let's read & find out science book)(Aug. Co. Library-Easy NF-E 551.554 Bra)
    6. Hurricane Watch by Franklyn M. Branley (Let's read & find out science book)(Staunton Library-NF(Juv)-551.552 B)
    7. Hurricane by Faith McNulty (Waynesboro Library-Juv Fiction-jMcn)
    8. Feel the Wind by Arthur Dorros (Let's read & find out science book)(Staunton Library-NF (Juv)-551.518 D)
    9. What Will the Weather Be? by Lynda DeWitt (Let's read & find out science book)(Aug. Co. Lib.-Easy NF-E 551.6 DeW)

    Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1, page 2

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