Tips for Botanical Illustrating

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

We had the distinct pleasure recently of attending a workshop on botanical illustrating through our 4-H Plant & Environmental Science committee. Rebecca loves to draw plants in her journals and has been honing her talents. The workshop was a fun way to reinforce skills she’s been working at on her own.

Botanical Illustrating Has a Long History

Our artist instructor shared reminders about people drawing plants throughout history. We know that Lewis & Clark took with them naturalists and they themselves kept extensive journals on their journey west in 1804.

She also mentioned that Charles Darwin drew many pictures of plant life during his infamous sail aboard the HMS Beagle.

In addition, Beatrix Potter is well known to have been a natural scientist and an illustrator of the natural world in addition to writing stories for children.

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

An Artist’s Advice for Drawing Plants for Botanical Illustrations

Botanical illustrators are still needed to provide detail that a photograph may not easily reveal. Cross sections are drawings because the artist can render an accurate image of the many layers of detail in the plant. So, how do you approach making a botanical drawing?

  • Pay attention to detail not the plant’s surroundings.
  • Box off quadrants of the plants and focus on drawing the shape of one quadrant at a time.
  • Notice and draw individual shapes not the plant as a whole which will lead to the best accuracy of the specimen.

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

Opportunities for Illustrating Plants

Need a reason to draw the plants you find?

  • Keep a garden journal and draw the various stages of growth.
  • Illustrate your leaf collection.
  • Improve your nature journaling by drawing the plants you see on a walk.
  • Collect for your nature table and draw what you find.

Rebecca has already requested one garden upgrade for this next season and she’s working it out with Dan. They are going to make a cement table top from the directions in The Family Handyman. Before the slab sets, she will draw plant designs into the cement. It’s going to make a fantastic garden table. She can hardly wait to sit out there in the warm weather to observe the garden and do her school work outdoors!

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

Resources for Botanical Illustrating

We enjoyed a look at some of these books. I added a few of my own discoveries on the topic. Pick them up at the library for an added bonus to your nature journaling.

Tools for Botanical Illustrating

Where art is concerned I prefer to provide the best tools we can afford. It’s frustrating to any budding or seasoned artist to work with inferior implements. I’ve also noticed the better the tools, the better the results.

  • Drawing pencils– not just your ordinary #2 pencil, but a set of drawing pencils ranging from soft to hard. Rebecca recently got her first set and it’s made a big difference in her ability to shade. With this being her first try with them, we went with a modest priced set.
  • Watercolor Pencils– Our favorite moderately priced sets are the Prang pencils. They have thick color and you can use them in a variety of ways. Have you ever seen Harmony Art Mom’s Watercolor Pencil 101 Tutorials? This post opened up some new ways of using the medium. It’s a must view!
  • Colored Pencils– We use Prismacolor pencils for our art projects. They lay down the color so nicely and they are worth the investment if you take care of them.
  • Pencil Sharpener– I like the Prismacolor sharpener because it is kind to the expensive pencils!
  • Watercolor Paper– Nothing beats water color paper for when you are using this medium. I find it helps to take in the water and leave the pigment nice and brilliant in the finished product.
  • Sketch Book– Rebecca loves the smaller sketch books with a hard cover and thicker pages for use with wet or dry media. The hard cover lets her sketch out on the trail which is a favorite past time for her.

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

Plant & Flower Anatomy and Taxonomy

Before we drew our botanical illustrations, we were given a review of plant anatomy. Understanding the various plant parts and where they come together is important for making an accurate drawing with labels.

Floral formulas help to identify what family the flower is in- is it a rose? A lily? Orchid? Flowers have a certain number of petals (corolla) and sepals (calyx) along with the reproductive parts- the stamen (andrecium) and pistol (gynecium). Of course floral formulas only apply to angiosperms (flowering plants). Do you remember the taxonomic name of non flowering plants like conifers and ferns?

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

Botanical illustrating is a great way to combine art and biology. Of course, as children grow, their skills will change. Not all of my children love to sketch, but they have all done it. I find that Rebecca can be very inspiring to her brothers and she will often take them out on excursions or rope them into helping her collect. Enjoy these resources and get ready…spring is right around the corner, right?

Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Content

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Content

This is the 3rd post in our series on controlling our kids access to the Internet, both when they can get on, and what they can reach when they are online. In the first post we discussed the basics of how computer networks function, using the analogy of a phone system at our Blog, She Wrote Headquarters (HQ) with the part of the receptionist being played by our router, and directory assistance representing the work of Domain Name System (DNS) servers. In this analogy, the router plays the part of a receptionist who handles all outgoing and incoming calls between our internal phone system (ext. 1, ext. 2, etc.) and the external phone system (the rest of the world). We also talked about how in the computer world, the IP addresses (the numbers the computers use to call one another, similar to phone numbers at our Blog, She Wrote HQ) are constantly changing (every couple of days or so), even for external websites.

To handle that, the Internet has the Domain Name System (DNS), where DNS servers are spread around to act as directory assistance for the world. Whenever your computer wants to browse a web site, like your favorite www.blogshewrote.org, your computer contacts the local DNS server to ask for the IP address of the Blog, She Wrote server, and the DNS server looks that up in a constantly updated directory. Without that service you would be stuck, since your computer would not know what the current number is for that server. Just like our receptionist, the DNS server sits in a powerful position, as without the DNS server,  our computer could not find the websites we are trying to reach.

A company recognized how the position of the DNS server could be helpful for Internet filtering and has setup a business around that service. The service is called OpenDNS. The idea behind Open DNS is that by not giving out the IP addresses (phone numbers) of sites you don’t want anyone in your family to reach (www.evilsite.com), your devices won’t be able to reach it, no matter how hard they try. It won’t matter if it is an iOS device, a laptop, or a tablet, if the network won’t tell it how to reach it, it can’t. All of this is done by your computer network, not the device, so you don’t need to install software on the device itself.

Getting Started with OpenDNS

The service is free for families (they charge for businesses) and fairly easy to setup.

  • Go to the OpenDNS website and setup an account.
  • You then need to tell your network to use the OpenDNS DNS server instead of your local ISP DNS server. The DNS server information is given out to devices when they are assigned an IP address by the router. You can tell the router to give out the OpenDNS server information instead of the local one in the router settings.
  • The OpenDNS site has a good set of instructions on how to do this for most major router models.

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Using OpenDNS for Content Filtering

In your account options on the OpenDNS site, you have many different ways to select the filtering you want to do. Content filtering is often done using whitelists or blacklists. Blacklists are designed around the idea that you maintain a list of sites you want to block, and allow everything else. Whitelists are the opposite of that, where you block everything by default, and only allow sites that are on the approved list. Neither method is perfect at filtering. With a blacklist, you have to work hard to maintain an accurate list of bad sites with a constantly changing Internet. Any new bad sites are not on your excluded list until you learn about them and add them in. Whitelists suffer from blocking most of the world, and only letting in a small portion that is already approved. Many good sites will be blocked since you don’t know anything about them yet, and a previously good site can start posting bad content and be approved until you notice and remove it from the whitelist.

OpenDNS works under the blacklist mode, with their own internal categorization of sites. They assign websites to various filtering categories, and either block or allow on your network based on the options you select. So, you can choose to block all adult sites as well as social networking sites like Facebook, or only block adult sites. They work hard to maintain the lists as they are the basis for the filtering of the commercial service they sell to companies. You also have the option to add your own list of sites to either always block or always allow as well. That way you can customize it based on your individual needs. When someone on your network tries to reach a blocked site, they are redirected to an OpenDNS webpage telling them that it is blocked and what categories it is blocked under. That way you know why you cannot reach the webpage.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter

One last challenge to deal with is that the OpenDNS servers are getting many DNS requests from many different computers, so they need to know which requests are from your network to know what filtering to apply. To do that their computers needs to know the external IP address of your router (you can find it at www.whatismyip.com). The challenge is that this number can change every couple of days, so you will need to constantly update OpenDNS with the new number to keep the filtering correct. To make this easy, OpenDNS has created a small program that only needs to run on one computer in your network. It checks the external IP address of your network every now and then, and automatically updates OpenDNS with any changes that occur. It is better to choose a computer that spends most of the time at home, not a laptop that is taken to and from work or school regularly. Otherwise OpenDNS will be updated with the wrong IP address when the computer is off-site, and your filtering will go away until it returns home. On our home network, this is handled automatically by my router, but explaining that setup is beyond the scope of this post. The OpenDNS site would have some information on how to do that for those who are interested.

Have a Question? Leave a Comment!

I hope you have found this information useful as you work to guide your kids towards responsible use of the Internet. Feel free to post any questions or follow-ups in the comments and I will try to respond as best as I can.

Geography Quest: Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

It’s that time of year again! When families everywhere will be counting the birds that come to their yards in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. This year’s count takes place on February 11- 17, 2014.

Observe & Submit Your Bird Checklist

Have you participated in the GBBC before? If not, you can read all about how to get started. It’s a pretty easy gig:

  • Register or log in for the count.
  • Count birds for at least 15 minutes a day on one or more days of the GBBC.
  • You can count for longer than 15 minutes and you can count birds on as many days and in as many places as you’d like during the GBBC.
  • Read the directionsfor submitting the checklists using the checklist page or the new app.
  • Do you regularly use eBird? eBird is another website where you can submit bird sightings year round. If you are already an eBird user, please use your eBird account and your observations during these dates will count toward the GBBC. That is great information because I did not know that.

Use GBBC Data to Map The Results

Did you know you can access historical data on the GBBC? This would be a fun map making adventure.

  • There a few map options available to explore on the website.
  • Toggle between top ten lists for species and the map room to find what to map.
  • Pick a favorite bird species and map its populations in North America- or name any location.
  • Observe the data and see if you can find winter patterns or to see if any migration patterns emerge.
  • Look to see if there are patterns in the activity of a species using the places page.
  • What other types of maps could you make using the data from the GBBC? Tell us about them!

Resources for the GBBC

Need some help to keep things easy? Here are a few resources made available by the folks with the GBBC.

  • Create your own tally sheet.
  • A downloadable pdf data form
  • Birding apps recommended by the GBBC- this makes it easy to keep track of the birds you see and you can use it to log your results when the count is complete.
  • iBird Pro mobile bird guide- It’s got a thorough library of bird species information, calls, pictures, etc. This is one of the few apps I’ve paid for for my phone!
  • Merlin– this is a new app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This looks pretty good although it’s not available for Android until the spring. Bummer! It’s a bird ID guide- I saw the prototype at the lab a couple years ago and it’s fun to use.

Join us this week to count some backyard birds and submit your results to the GBBC. Our feeder needs filling before we get more snow tomorrow. We see a bunch of birds daily out there enjoying our black oil sunflower seeds. I’m looking forward to officially tallying them this weekend.

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Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2: Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Thanks again to Dan who has he put together Part 2 of our series on how to filter and control access to the Internet using your router. Today’s post contains affiliate links. Thanks always for your support!

In our Part 1 post we explained the basics of how our devices, such as laptops and

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Our noble router!

iPads, connect through our home network to reach the Internet. We used an analogy of an office phone system for the Blog, She Wrote headquarters (HQ), with your router being the receptionist, and directory assistance being your Domain Name System (DNS) servers that tell you the current IP addresses (phone numbers) for your favorite website like Blog, She Wrote. We saw that since everything going out to and coming in from the Internet goes through the router, it can be a powerful ally in controlling your network.

How To Talk Directly with Your Router & Get It to Do What You Want

To make friends with your router and get it to do what you want, you first need to be able to talk directly to it. To do that you need to figure out what internal IP address it is at, sort of like determining what extension the receptionist’s phone is. Generally every model of router has a default internal address that it gives itself. You can look this up in the directions for your router, or do a simple Google search for your router model number (found somewhere on the back or bottom of it) and ‘default IP’. In MS Windows you can also go under the Start Menu to Accessories, Command Prompt, and then a new window comes up, type ipconfig. The router will be listed as the gateway. Once you locate it, you simply open up a web browser (like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc.) and type that address into your web browser instead of a website address. So, you would type into the address bar: 192.168.1.1 instead of http://www.blogshewrote.org. If you have the correct address you should get a web page asking you to log in. If you have never changed the username and password on your router, another web search should help you find the default ones. If you haven’t changed them, please take this time to change them. It is not good to leave the router with the default username and password since even the bad guys know this information so they can use it to do bad things on your network.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Once you get into the router you will be looking at web pages sent to you by the router to interact with it. You will have menus to click through and fields you can type in. Click around a bit and see what is there. Don’t be afraid that you will mess something up, just don’t confirm or save anything until you are sure of what you are changing. Most routers made in the past 5 years or so have some level of access control features built into them. These settings allow you to set hours when Internet access is turned off, either for specific devices or for everyone. It may also allow you to block certain websites by name or certain services. Since each device is different, I can’t cover the specific details on how to set these options on your router. All I can do is point you to the directions for your router, either the ones that came with it, or a manual you find through a web search on the website of the manufacturer.

Block by MAC Address If You Can, Not IP Address

One important thing to note is that a common way for routers to do this is to block by the IP address which, as we discussed in our last post, can be dynamic and change over time, which can be a problem. In that case the device will be no longer blocked or the wrong computer will be blocked. A better way to do it is by using the MAC address to specify which device to block, as this does not change but the MAC address can be harder to find on your devices. The best way to figure out how to find it is through our friend Google again. Simply Google your device name / model and “MAC Address” to locate directions on how to look-up your device’s MAC address. In some cases you can look that information up on the router itself as you click through the menus on the web pages.

So, going back to our analogy, setting restricted access times for devices on the network is a bit like telling the receptionist at our Blog, She Wrote HQ not to allow any outbound calls from specific extensions at specific times. This does not prevent someone from calling another internal extension, as this does not go through the receptionist, nor our router. So, kids could still print to the wireless printer, play games over the network with each other (in the same house), and other types of activities that don’t involve contacting an Internet server or website. Or, if your neighbor doesn’t secure their wireless network with a password, kids can always connect to their network and bypass everything you are trying to do. Be a good neighbor, secure your Wi-Fi with a password.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

In our household, I have the router set to turn off all Internet access for the kids devices at 9 PM and to leave it off until 8:30 AM the next morning. That way the kids who wake up early don’t have hours of unsupervised time on the Internet. I also have a distracting site or two blocked during school hours to keep a few of our older kids from wandering there online during school time. You could set earlier times for younger kids’ devices and later times for those who stay up later. There is usually a limit to the number of rules you can create, but if done carefully, you can get by with the 5 – 10 rules you are given.

Make Sure You Have The Right Router for The Job

If you find your router does not have these access features built into them, or cannot filter by MAC address, only IP address, purchasing a basic new wireless router that does have these features is not that expensive, and can be well worth the effort. There are many options available for under $50.

Here are a few:

  • NETGEAR Wireless Router N300– This router is specifically designed to work with OpenDNS to control Internet content though it doesn’t seem to allow easy set up to turn all Internet off at certain hours. (This one appears to be part of the deal of the day at Amazon 3-11-14)
  • Linksys WRT54GL Wireless- G Broadband Router– Another option for a router that will meet the basic needs for both OpenDNS and time based controls

It is important to note that if your kids devices can operate over cellular signals, such as smartphones, or tablets with data plans, this method will not work. It will only work for devices that need to connect over Wi-Fi or physically plug into the network to connect. If this is a smartphone or tablet with a data plan, control must be done one the device itself, as it can connect to the Internet in other ways. At this point I cannot offer any assistance on this as we have not reached this point yet in our parenting. Again, doing a Google search on parental controls for your specific device might be the best starting point for further learning.

In Part 3 we will deal with filtering the content that is allowed in when the Internet is on.

5 Reasons to Host a Girls’ Book Club

Blog, She Wrote: 5 Reasons to Host a Girls' Book Club

Are you looking for a way to get your girl to connect with books and have time with other girls? Having just one daughter among three sons, I have to be intentional about making sure we have girl time. When we were invited to be a part of a girls’ book club, I happily accepted the opportunity to host. We meet once a month in our home, and we have six girls who attend. The parents stay for the club time and share their expertise with the girls. Why take the time to work a book club into your schedule?

For five reasons to host a girl’s book club, click on over to the Bright Ideas Press blog where my post is today!

Workshops Work! A Parent’s Guide to Facilitating Writer’s Workshops for Kids

Blog, She Wrote: Workshops Work! A Parent's Guide to Facilitating Writer's Workshops for KidsThis post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

I’ve been hosting a writer’s workshop in our home since September. A writer’s workshop is a time for writers to gather together and share their work. Sometimes workshops hold a mini lesson and give participants time to write and some, like ours, encourages writers to bring pieces they’ve already written to be shared during the workshop.

Writer’s Workshop with the Workshops Work Model

Our workshop is based on the model from the book Workshops Work by Patricia Zaballos. The book explains the benefits of doing a writer’s workshop with kids along with the nuts and bolts of putting a workshop together. I was convinced from the moment I started reading the book and aimed to invite kids to join us this fall. We are a success!

The book is divided into two sections: The Workshop itself – how it works and what to do and The Toolbox- resources and information you can use during a workshop.

To see more detail about each section, please click over to my review over at The Curriculum Choice and enter to win your own copy of Workshops Work!

Also, stay tuned to Blog, She Wrote for a post explaining more about our workshop and how it’s been successful for the kids…successful enough that when I began to ask them about what project they’d like to do to wrap up the year when it’s time, they couldn’t believe we had to end!

Weather Stations & Forecasting

Blog, She Wrote: Weather Stations & Forecasting

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

We studied weather with our Nim’s Island unit and I thought this would be a great time to add to this long standing post and bring it up to date with resources and ideas. The kids and I had some meetings over a few days to discuss exactly what we wanted to measure, where, how and how often. We tried a weather station a few years ago that bombed out because of equipment failure. It was just not designed to go the distance as you’ll see below.

The next time we tried, we pieced together our weather station down at our mailbox and the kids ambitiously decided to record the weather three times a day! You’ll have to design a data chart to accommodate the vision that your kids have. We wanted to track it daily long term which is fun for math and science pursuits. As you track the weather, you can introduce forecasting and statistics over time. We even did a math lesson using the Beaufort Wind Scale and median statistics.

Keeping a Weather Calendar

 

  • For a glance at our former weather calendar- it evolved into a workable version using small pocket charts from the Target dollar aisle.
  • There are many ways to keep a weather calendar. Many of you might have a weather observation during your morning time or circle time if you have one- displaying your weather observations is one option.
  • I prefer the notebook/data gathering method. Instead of each student keeping his own notebook of weather data, I like to have a common weather log where the kids record their observations for the day. The tricky part is finding the data chart that you want. I dislike trying to search for the perfect page for notebooking so I went to notebook paper a long time ago. Decide all the things you want to record and keep a log book handy.

 

Resources for Studying Weather from Preschool to High School

 

Book List for Weather Studies

It’s a long term science project to incorporate weather into our nature and unit studies throughout the year.

Explorental Offers a Weather Meter Rental

Explorental is a company which offers high quality equipment and materials for short term rentals to families. The Multi-Function Weather Meter can measure many of the measurements we’ve been tracking in a small hand held digital form. If you aren’t sure to begin with a weather station or you want to track weather in the short term, then try out this handheld digital weather meter from Explorental.

I think it’s fantastic Explorental is excited about getting big ticket items into the hands of families. What does your family want to explore together?

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental

Finding Encouragement at a Homeschool Convention

Blog, She Wrote: Finding Encouragement at at Homeschool Convention

I’ve partnered with GHC this year to bring you convention news and announcements throughout the year.

Great Homeschool Conventions is gearing up for three conventions in California, South Carolina, and Ohio. The speaker line up and vendor hall is sure to equip you for a new season of homeshcooling. How do you find encouragement at a homeschool convention?

Seeking Encouragement at a Homeschool Convention

Find Speaker Sessions That Will Speak to Your Homeschooling Heart– My homeschool heroes will be at GHC and it would be my great pleasure to meet them both and enjoy their sessions. Being a loyal Five in a Row user for our core homeschool curriculum for the last 8 years, I would love to meet Steve and Jane Lambert. Whether or not you can actually have a conversation with your homeschool hero, doesn’t diminish the opportunity to hear them in person and to be fed by the words they bring that day. Take the time to be a part of talks that will fill you up.

Engage in Sessions that Challenge You– Make sure you look over the schedule to see which speakers and topics are what you need for this season in your homeschool. I love to sit in on sessions which I know will stretch me or help me to think of a topic in a new way. I take notes and think about how I will apply what I’ve heard to our homeschool. I’m a pragmatic thinker, so you’ll find me in sessions which are very practical in their application. Which ones are your favorite?

Visit the Shops– Homeschool conventions are a fantastic venue for browsing and picking out items you haven’t seen before and getting a closer look at something you’ve thought about for a long time. Sometimes you want recommendations from others and to see something in person. GHC has many exhibitors planned for each location. Be sure to check them out for your location.

Seek out Vendors– Make a list of the exhibitors you want to be sure to connect with. You can see beforehand who will be attending each convention location. More than just browsing and shopping, specific companies can help you discern whether their product is for you. I reached my final conclusion about purchasing Math on the Level after attending a convention and talking with the authors myself- asking questions and looking closely at their materials.

Go with A Friend and/or Find Time to Relax– Whichever sounds more rejuvenating to you! It’s great to make the convention a time to get away and enjoy friendships. It can also be a time to enjoy on your own as you think and plan for the following school year. I like a bit of both- time to hang out with a friend and bounce ideas off of each other on what we’ve heard and some time to myself to reflect on things I’ve seen and heard during the weekend.

Blog, She Wrote: Finding Encouragment at a Homeschool ConventionJoin other bloggers from the iHomeschool Network to find out how they will spend their time at convention this year. It’s going to be an amazing experience all in one spot!

Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Thanks to Dan for this guest post on internet filtering & access control. So many have asked us how we do this in our home that he heartily agreed to share with you how we handle technology in our home. He’ll be doing three posts starting with some terminology to kick things off.

Protecting Our Kids with Internet Filtering & Access Control on Any Device

Protecting our kids from negative influences may have been easier back when we were kids and our parents simply had to tell us not to hang out with the rough kids down the street. But today, parents may struggle with protecting their kids from the negative influences of technology, either from being too absorbed in online activities, such as Facebook and other online interactions, or coming across the many negative things available on the many dark corners of the web. Some of these challenges can come from the fact that often the kids know more about navigating the digital realm than parents do. The purpose of this article is to help regain some of that ground for parents, by teaching you the basics of how the Internet works, and how you can work to filter and control the information your children access on the Internet.

Ultimately this should be only one set of tools in your parenting toolbox. As our kids grow up and head out on their own they need to be equipped to make their own judgment calls and control their own usage, as the world exists without these protections, so kids needs to be able to manage those decisions on their own.

I have our home network setup to both restrict when our kids can get on the Internet, but also what they can reach while on it, for both the main school computers as well as their portable devices (tablets and handhelds). The information I am presenting here is by no means a definitive how-to manual on these issues, nor the only way to do this. It is just what I have found to work well for our home, and at little to no cost. This setup was driven by our desire to allow our kids to be able to use some of the their devices while preventing them from accessing the Internet when they should be sleeping. So, for example, they could use their Samsung Galaxy Player (an Android version of an iPod Touch) to listen to downloaded music but not surf the web. Or, to let them read a book on their tablet, but not be able to watch YouTube after a certain hour.

How Does Networking & the Internet Really Work?

Before we get into how I set this up, a quick introduction to how networking and the Internet work. Please don’t worry that this will be over your head as I will try to explain it in as simple as terms as I can. But, it is also important to not give up. If you want to be able to take back control over your home network, you will need to understand a few basics.

  • To help explain how this works I am going to use an analogy of a small office phone system, located at the Blog, She Wrote main headquarters. In this case, the Blog, She Wrote Headquarters (HQ) has 5 phones, and only one phone number for the whole office, say 607-555-1234. If you wanted to talk to Heather, you would call that number (607-555-1234) and this would connect you to the Blog, She Wrote receptionist and you would ask to talk to Heather.
    Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

    Our noble router!

    The receptionist would then transfer your call to the correct extension and you would reach her to discuss all your important homeschooling needs.

  • This simple analogy explains some of the basics of how computers talk to one another over the Internet. In this case, the job of the receptionist is played by a piece of hardware called a router. If you have more than one device connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you have a router and you probably didn’t even realize it! In some cases the router is provided by your ISP as a cable or DSL modem that has Wi-Fi built into it, or it may be something separate that you connected to your ISP’s hardware. In any case, the router manages many different tasks for your network which are important to understand.

What’s an IP Address?

The first is to understand what number your home is assigned. Computers use numbers called IP addresses to talk to one another, similar to the function a phone number plays. When you want to call someone, you dial their phone number, and the phone system locates the phone for that number and rings it. It is the same thing for computers, so your router calls up the ISP and asks what IP address you house has been assigned. IP addresses consist of 4 numbers between 0 and 255, separated by periods (162.10.230.103 for example). IP addresses are the numbers that all computers on networks use to talk to one another, and an important thing for them is that no two computers on the Internet have the same number. It would be like having two different people around the world having the same exact phone number. When you called that number, which phone should ring? That wouldn’t work too well so your ISP assigns a specific IP address to your router when you connect to it and this is the number that any other computer in the world uses to call your house on the Internet. If you are curious what your IP address is you can go to www.whatismyip.com and the web page will tell you.

Now, the assignment of this IP address is not permanent. Your ISP may need to change the number assigned to your home occasionally and it does that automatically. Your router handles that change just fine and you don’t even notice, but understand that is does occasionally change. This is referred to as a dynamic IP address instead of a static IP address. Most networks are setup with dynamic addresses, which change over time. This can make some of our work a bit harder but it is the reality of how modern networks are run.

Your router also has to be able to talk to all of the devices inside your house so it needs to give them numbers as well, similar to the extension numbers the 5 phones in our Blog, She Wrote headquarters need. So, the router assigns all devices that connect to it IP addresses as well but these are different than the ones used by the rest of the world. There are a limit to the number of IP addresses available to the whole world (approximately 4.3 billion, but there are a LOT of things connected to the Internet these days), so your ISP only gives you one of them (similar to the phone number of our Blog, She Wrote HQ – 607-555-1234). So, your router assigns special internal phone numbers to all of the devices at your house that are only used by the device and the router. At the Blog, She Wrote HQ these would be the extension numbers of the 5 internal phones (ext. 1, ext. 2, etc.), except in this case, only the receptionist (router) and the other internal phones (laptop, iPad, etc.) know these numbers. Everyone else in the world calls the receptionist (router) who relays the call to that phone (computer). The internal addresses are formatted the exact same way as the external addresses (###.###.###.###) but they are usually in a special range of numbers set aside for this purpose.

These ranges are:

  • 10.0.0.0 – 10.255.255.255
  • 172.16.0.0 – 172.31.255.255
  • 192.168.0.0 – 192.168.255.255

with the first and last ones being the most common for home networks. Again, remember even these internal addresses are dynamic, and change over time. So, if your son’s iPad is assigned to number 192.168.1.120 today, that might not be the case tomorrow. But don’t worry, your router keeps it all straight for you.

MAC Addresses & Your Router

To help it keep things straight, your devices talk to your router (and vice versa) using numbers that do not change. These numbers are called MAC addresses. These look very different than IP addresses as they are a set of 6 hexadecimal numbers, and look a bit like this: 00:1E:A8:4E:8B:32. Hexadecimal is a special way of counting to 16 by adding in the letters A-F in addition to our numerals 0-9. You don’t need to worry about those details, but when you need to locate the MAC address you will know what it looks like. These addresses are also unique for each device in the world (there are over 200 trillion possible MAC addresses) and are hard coded into the device. If you have a laptop with two ways to connect to the Internet (Wi-Fi and a jack you can plug a cable into) then it will have two unique MAC addresses, one for each.

So, when you first turn on your laptop, the laptop calls the router using it’s MAC address and requests an internal IP address. The router issues it one and then uses that IP address to talk to it after that. When the laptop wants to reach the Web, it sends the request to the router, who dials out to the rest of the Internet for it, and then sends the web page to it when it arrives, all within the blink of an eye! So, this is a bit like the Blog, She Wrote HQ receptionist both receiving and making calls for us. We cannot direct dial out to the world, but we have to request that they do it for us.

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Your router may not look like this, but it still has a very important job!

This makes the receptionist a very powerful person in the office, as nothing happens without their assistance. If we make friends with our receptionist (your router in this case), we can get a lot of control on the comings and goings on our phone system.

How Does a Computer Know Which IP Address to Call When You Dial Out to the World?

One last topic to cover is how the computers know what IP addresses to call when you dial out to the world. All computers, even websites, are only reached by IP addresses, those 4 numbers separated by periods. When you want to reach your favorite blog, www.blogshewrote.org, what number does the computer dial? If you recall, most IP addresses are dynamic, changing over time, even ones for websites like Blog, She Wrote. To account for that, the Internet has the Domain Name System (DNS). Whenever a computer is assigned an IP address, either your router being assigned an external one by your ISP or your iPad being assigned an internal one by your router, it is also told what DNS server to call to look up addresses. So, when you tell your tablet to go to www.blogshewrote.org, your tablet calls up the DNS server by number, requests the number for www.blogshewrote.org, and the DNS server looks up the IP address in a directory that is constantly updated. So, going back to our analogy, this would be like someone at Blog, She Wrote HQ wanting to call some other company, but the phone numbers are always changing. So, you get told what number to call for directory assistance, and before you make each call, you call directory assistance to get the phone number for today.

So, to recap, your very important router (receptionist) stands between all of your computers (phones) and the Internet (rest of the phone system). It first talks to the computers (phones) using MAC addresses until it can assign them internal IP addresses (phone extensions). It receives from your ISP an external IP address (phone number) that the rest of the world can use to reach your computers (phones). All of the IP addresses (phone numbers and extensions) can change over time, so whenever you connect to something on the Internet (make a call), your computer needs to call a DNS server (directory assistance or the operator), and request the current IP address (phone number) of the website (person you are trying to call).

In the next post we will go over how we can leverage the power of the router and the DNS servers to help control the comings and goings to the Internet.