February 26, 2010

A Celebration of Monsters

Another month, another book club meeting! This month we (me and my children, my homeschooling buddy, Julie, and her two children) read Beyond the Deep Woods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. If you have a boy between the ages of four-twelve, you should probably put this book into his hands. Unless he doesn't like gory monsters. *chuckling* Right, right--boys and monsters just go together. As a sidenote, my daughter likes the book too.

The book isn't much on plot or moral lessons. It is about a boy, Twig, who gets lost in the extremely dangerous Deep Woods and almost dies about every fifteen pages in a variety of gruesome ways. There's a carnivorous tree, goblins, trogs, etc. Before you get too worried, I did read this to my four year old. It's not that gruesome. Just enough to keep your kids on the edge of their seats. Very fun.

Since the Deep Woods is about monsters, our book club meeting/party was monster themed. We all made individual monster pizzas. I know Emeline's looks like it is wearing a hair bow (not scary) but it is not. Those are ears (very scary).

We also made monster cupcakes.

Then we ate all the monsters. Yum, yum.

To round out the monster theme, we let the children watch Labyrinth. The small people thought it was hilarious. As do I.

It was a lovely party and a fun read-aloud. The book, Beyond the Deep Woods is available from the Davis County Library System.

February 23, 2010

Insect Unit: Actual Unit with Lesson Plans

Here's the Insect Unit Overview with a brief synopsis of each day's lesson plan. I did two insect lessons per week. I used this unit for my first grader and two pre-schoolers. It would be fairly easy to adapt. If you need suggestions for a different age group--just drop me a comment! Also, I didn't include the music we learned here but there is another post about it if you're interested.

Day One: Look through the book Bugs Up Close. Go through online tutorial at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/insects/. Emphasise the differences between bugs and insects. Let kids design their own bugs at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/insects/newbug.html. Look at pictures of insects on google images.

Day Two
: Look through more of Bugs Up Close. Give the children a bunch of pictures of bugs/insects and have them glue each one to a chart with one column labeled "bug" and the other column labeled "insect."

Day Three
: Read Face to Face with Caterpillars and make egg carton caterpillars. As found on this site: http://www.dltk-kids.com/CRAFTS/INSECTS/mcaterpillar.htm.

Day Four
: Give kids Fancy Nancy the Explorer book. Watch Miriam go crazy with joy. Read the book. Give the kids the bug jar with magnifying lid and go outside and look for bugs. (I also gave my girls butterfly shirts. I found them dirt cheap and couldn't resist!)

Day Five
: Read pgs. 9-11 in caterpillar book about metamorphosis. Evaluate what stage our butterflies are in and guess when they'll change to the next stage. Go to this website: http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/monarch_butterfly.htm and look through the information. Print out coloring pages and color them. (The coloring pages are found at the bottom of the kidzone page.

Day Six
: Review metamorphosis. Color life cycle worksheet found here: http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/monarchlifecycle.htm.

Day Seven
: Read Bug-a-licious, make chocolate pudding (mud) with oreo crumbs (dirt) and worms or other edible bugs.

Day Eight
: Read What Do You Call a Group of Butterflies? and make butterfly masks found here: http://www.dltk-kids.com/CRAFTS/mardigras/mmasks.htm.

Day Nine
: Read Bugs Up Close pgs. 18-19 and Hidden Walkingsticks pgs. 16-19. Make paper dragonfly craft found here: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/insects/mpaperdragonfly.htm (or any dragonfly craft--there are lots of them).

Day Ten
: Read Praying Mantises book and Weird and Wonderful Insects pgs. 16-19. Talk about weird bugs. Make funny faces. Try to walk like a weird bug. Be silly.

Day Eleven
: Read any remaining bug books that the children have been pestering you to read. Label the parts of the grasshopper found here: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Entomology/ythfacts/4h/unit1/grassho.gif.

Day Twelve
: UGLY BUG BALL. Have a ball!

Ball Prep
: Draw an insect on a huge piece of poster paper and make separate wings for "Pin the Wings on the Insect." Print off pictures of ten-twelve insects and number them. Make corresponding answer sheets and gather enough pencils/pens for all the party attendees for "Name that Bug!" Buy a cool insect craft from Oriental Trading. Make cupcakes and chocolate frosting and buy gummy worms or other edible bugs with which to decorate the cupcakes. Or--do anything you like!
Another bug idea, for Utahns, is going to the planetarium in Salt Lake and watching a 3-D bug movie. Awesome.

Insect Unit #5: Growing a Butterfly

They hatched. Is that what it's called? Broke out of their cacoon? Emerged? I did study this stuff--I promise!

I read several complaints online about buying caterpillars for the purpose of observing metamorphosis--only to be sent dud caterpillars. Ours all did fine even after spending two days under the very hot sun. (We were visiting my parents when the caterpillars were delivered.)

For several weeks the highlight of my children's day was checking on their caterpillars. I was worried that they would lose interest, but I didn't realize just how fast the process is. One day you're looking at these tiny caterpillars and the next day they are huge and the next day they are climbing to the roof and hanging upside down. Strange. Okay, not quite that fast but fast enough to keep everyone in the house interested. It was fun to watch my hubby's nightly routine change from get home from work, kiss wife, put away keys to get home from work, kiss wife, check on caterpillars, put away keys. Like I said--it was really interesting.

I bought our butterfly house from Delta Science but you can buy them from numerous internet sites. Amazon was cheaper than Delta Science, just an FYI. Also, that strange magnifying glass Miriam is using is the lid to a bug observation jar. It is a great idea--a container with a magnifying glass lid and then an additional magnifying glass attached to the lid. My kids loved it for a few weeks. And then they wrecked it. Not so surprising. Despite the loss of the container, the kids used the lid for months until it mysteriously disappeared.

There are lots of bug magnifying jars out there. If you've had success with one--meaning it held up to usage by children--please, let me know!

PS Yes, I am aware that going out and finding a caterpillar is cheaper. Don't hate me for being lazy.

Insect Unit #4: The Ugly Bug Ball

No bug unit would be complete without a buggy party! In this case--I threw an Ugly Bug Ball and invited the nearby cousins. Good times were had by all.

My sister Megan provided two insect crafts that she ordered from Oriental Trading. We both relied heavily on Oriental Trading for all our bug needs. They came through for us.

I know it has been done before, but I couldn't resist making bug cupcakes. It is just so much fun to pretend you're eating dirt. Again, the edible bugs that the kids placed on top were from Oriental Trading, as were the big bugs I used to decorate the tables.

As it was a costume party, my children wore (for about thirty seconds) the butterfly masks they'd made several days before. The pattern can by found on DLTK. Didn't Miriam look so enthused? I think Cowen was trying to look buggy. I think.

I love balloons. They make such lovely decorations and then, later, such lovely entertainment.

My brother Wyatt manned the video camera.

And that is all the pictures I took. WHY???? I don't know. Maybe I was too busy partying. Or maybe I just plum' forgot. Either way, I regret the lack of pictures. You'll just have to imagine the goings-ons. First, we danced with our costumes on because it was, after all, a ball. Next came the "Tape the Wings on the Insect" game. My hubby has skills--including "draw an insect" skill. It came in handy for the making of the afore-mentioned game. After that I led the children to the far wall where I'd taped a series of pictures of different insects. The children identified as many of the insects as they could and then whoever identified the most, won. There was a three-way tie for first place for the three contestants who got nine out of ten. (Miriam was one of them--yeah, Miriam!) My sister, Megan, who is a smarty-pants, was mad she missed one. Termites. You just don't see as many pictures of them as you do albino praying mantises.

After the game we did some buggy crafts, ate pizza, and decorated our bug cupcakes. Then we let the kids go wild with the balloons while the adults cleaned up. It was a lovely party and a fantastic way to end our insect studies.

Insect Unit #3: A few other fun sites

Insect crafts abound and you can pretty much google "insect crafts" and get a multitude of options. My favorite insect craft site is DLTK. I'm sure you've all heard of DLTK but just in case, I thought I'd throw it out there.

Another fantastic insect site is the University of Illinois "Let's Talk About Insects" extension. It contains a slideshow that describes the attributes of insects vs. bugs and goes through insect body parts and whatnot. My children thought it was awesome because they were allowed to watch something on the computer. I thought it was very well-done.

The best part of the University of Illinois site was the "Eee Gads! A New Bug!" section where you create your own bug by choosing from a variety of body types, wing sizes, antenna shapes, etc. You can make your insect different colors, give it a name and a description, and enter it into the new bug hall of fame. You can also email it to someone so my parents and my husband were inundated with emails about new bugs. Fun, fun!

Insect Unit Ideas #2--books

Although we read about a gazillion books about insects by the end of our unit, only a few stick out as "favorites."

Our very favorite book of the whole unit was Bug-a-licious. It is about all the different bugs people eat around the world and is put together in a very kid-friendly format. The pictures are also awesome. Loved it!

This was our favorite of the numerous books about hidden walkingsticks in our libary. The text was average but the pictures were awesome.

This book had the best pictures! It also had more clever/interesting text than most of the other bug books. A definite favorite.

Although the pictures weren't the best, this book is still awesome. Each page discusses a group of insects, including the proper name for the group. Did you know that a group of butterflies is called a flutter? I didn't. Now I do!

Caterpillars are very strange looking. The phenomenal pictures in this book make that very clear. (It is a National Geographic publication--one expects a certain photo quality from them and they did not disappoint.)

There are numerous books about this particular insect in our library. It's strange looking and creepy but cool at the same time. It's head is also shaped like my three-year-olds. No lie. I'm not sure that any book is that much better than another, but of all the books I looked at from our library system--this was my favorite. Good pictures, good text. Perfect for the early elementary ages.

I love poetry and reading poetry to my children, so I was pretty excited to find a whole book of prose devoted to creepy-crawlies. Whitman it isn't, but it's not bad, nonetheless.

All the books I've mentioned in this post are available from the Davis County, UT library system.

Bugs Up Close by Diane Swanson and Paul Davidson
Bug-a-licious by Meish Goldish
Hidden Walkingsticks by Meish Goldish
Face to Face with Caterpillars by Darlyne Murawski
What Do You Call a Group of Butterflies by Emma Nathan
Bugs: Poems About Creeping Things by David Harrison
Praying Mantises by Larry Brimner

February 4, 2010

Insect Unit Ideas #1: Music

You might think, at first thought, that there aren't that many great bug songs in the world, but you would be wrong. The greatest of these buggy tunes is, of course, the "Ugly Bug Ball."

It's a great song, and it provides a built in excuse to watch the movie Summer Magic or have your own Ugly Bug Ball as a grand finale to your unit.

My other new favorite bug songs were written by a talented and generous woman--Nancy Stewart.

At her site, http://www.nancymusic.com/, Nancy posts dozens of free songs and free activity guides that incorporate her music. Fun, fun, fun! I bought her cd called "Bee-Boppin' Bugs" and loved it.

After working hard to learn all those songs, my children like to show off a little. Every few months we take our little group on the road . . . to two nearby rest homes where the children sing and dance.

They might not remember everything they practiced--but they have a great time.

Summer Magic is available in the Davis County, UT, Library System.

February 3, 2010


There are many wonderful books in the world. My mission, and I choose to accept it--oh yes, I wholeheartedly accept it--is to help people find those books. It makes my English teacher lovin' heart even happier when I steer young people to those books.

This book is not to be missed.

Although this book is 92 pages long, it can be read by all ages, or to all ages. I read it aloud to children aged 5, 4, and 2. The two year old wasn't that into it, but the older children were riveted. What I mostly took away from this biography is that John Smith has been gypped. He is entitled to star in action adventure movies about his life replete with gunpowder experiments, enslavement, war-time spying, and his being thrown overboard by a bunch of French sailors who realized he was British. Yes, I chuckled. I couldn't help myself. I'm sure Smith didn't find it so funny. By the time the man was 25 he'd had more wild adventures than even Kipling could dream up. And what do our poor misinformed children learn about him? That he fell in love with Pocahontas, a strangely forward-thinking tree-hugger. Hmm. Like I said, the man's been gypped.

Do yourself a huge favor and pick this book up from wherever you can find it and read it to your children or let them read it to themselves. It is awesome.

John Smith (Junior World Explorers): Charles P. Graves. Available in Utah from the Davis County Library system.