December 28, 2010

Reptiles: Turtles and Tortoises

I sort of cheated with turtles/tortoises. I had an ultrasound so my sister and her hubby watched my children. Since I didn't have a day to waste, I made my sister "do school" with the kids. I gave them the books to read, I showed my brother-in-law the password to the computer so he could access the craft instructions, and I had all the supplies in a bag on the piano. Everything was ready.

I left.

They read the books. (I read them later because I was annoyed the kids knew things that I didn't.)
Sea Turtles by Judy Wearing.
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer.
Tortoises by Chuck Miller.
Box Turtles: Weird Pets by Lynn M. Stone (different cover).

My sister said the kids liked all the books and were especially interested/excited by the fact that sea turtles return to where they were born to lay eggs. They told me all about it when I got home. They also told me about some sea turtles that have spikes/spines in their throat. Weird. But cool.

The craft didn't happen.

After reading the books my brother-in-law went to the computer and typed in what he thought was the password, but it wasn't. Without the instructions they were hesitant to plow ahead. Instead, they drew pictures of turtles and had a lovely time doing that.

When I came home the kids all demanded we do the craft, so I fed them lunch, put the baby to bed, and whipped out the glue gun.

We should have left it at drawing turtles. This craft was lame. As in entirely unsuccessful and I am only telling you about it to warn you away.

The craft is called Baby Pet Turtles. You can get the instructions here.

You start out with some heavy paper. I used a paper plate and trimmed it to a smaller size. Then you put glue all over the plate and, starting in the center, wrap yarn in ever increasing circles to cover the plate. Then you add some appendages and googly eyes and you're done.


Don't be fooled by how cute Cowen's turtle looks in the picture below. The craft had some serious issues.

1) The paper wasn't heavy enough to hold up to the yarn so when the kids tried to play with their baby turtles the turtles flopped around too much. They played with the things for three minutes before giving up. Not a good sign.

2) The yarn didn't stick to the glue very well. I used white school glue (Elmer's) and had the kids spread it around their plates with a paint brush. Because the yarn didn't stick well, none of my children could put the yarn on themselves. Besides, creating the circles was really hard for my children. Putting the yarn on is the bulk of the craft. I do not like crafts that are intended for children that children cannot do themselves. Maybe if the glue stuck better the kids would have had a better time of it. In the end, I did all of Cowen's and Emeline's turtles. Miriam did her own, but 90% of the yarn fell off within minutes of completing the craft.

I can't think of a better glue to use. Hot glue is too hot. Glue sticks aren't any stickier than Elmer's. Fabric glue?? I haven't played with that much.

I made one major mistake and that was making my paper circles too big. Cowen's was originally larger, but the wider the circle of yarn got, the harder it was to get it to stick. I finally cut the yarn and trimmed the paper to match. I definitely should have made really small baby turtles.

Also, if you do attempt this craft, I recommend using cardboard for the circle body. That will hold up the yarn and make it so your kids can play with the final result easier. That stills leaves the problem of what adhesive to use.

Even if I had done things differently/better, I still don't see how my kids could have done it themselves. I let Miriam make her own appendages and glue on her eyes, and she liked that. Otherwise, the craft was a huge disappointment for all involved.

December 27, 2010

Reptiles: Lizards

I know what you are thinking: where is the post that introduces reptiles and lists all the best reptile books? What about the chart? What is going on???

Well, I can't post that yet because we haven't read all our books about reptiles and my children still want to, so I cannot with any authority say which books are our favorites. I know this doesn't matter to people who don't live around here. I realize that libraries have wildly different titles available so I might be wasting my time a little by posting the books. But. I know there are people in Davis County, Utah who read this blog and they have the same library system as me. So I will continue posting the book titles just in case it is helpful to someone sometime.

As for reptiles--they are creepy. We are enjoying them. They are also easier to organize for study as there are only four groups of them. Lizards is one of the groups.

Xtreme Predators: Lizards by S. L. Hamilton. This book was primarily about komodo dragons. It was freaky. The girls and I shrieked several times. Cowen loved it. I highly recommend despite the title containing a misspelled word. Grr.
A True Book: Lizards by Trudi Strain Trueit. This book is about what you'd expect from the title. We all really liked it.

For lizard day we read the two lizard books and a few books about reptiles in general. Then we took the quiz on the National Geographic website. My kids only missed one and that is because while the books we read mentioned that some lizards can detach body parts and regenerate them, they never mentioned what that is officially called. You might want to look that up before taking the quiz. Just a hint. Other than being annoyed that they missed a question, my children enjoyed the quiz. (Obviously, it involved the computer.)

You can find the quiz here.

If the link fails you, here is the actual address:

The game/quiz is called Lounging With Lizards and is halfway down the page.

Have fun!

December 15, 2010

Fishing Books

In our study of fish, we read quite a few books about fishing. They were fun. Here are our favorites:

Just Fishing WIth Grandma by Gina and Mercer Mayer.
Grandad's Fishing Buddy by Mary Quigley.
Gus and Grandpa Go Fishing by Claudia Mills.
A Good Day's Fishing by James Prosek.
Dirty and Dangerous Jobs: Deep Sea Fishing by William David Thomas.
This last book scared Emeline. It talks about all the hazards of deep sea fishing. Death, body parts getting cut off, freezing--that sort of thing. My son LOVED it. Sometimes boys disturb me. If you have a boy--I highly recommend this book.

December 14, 2010

Last Fish Craft

I have to admit that today made me a little proud of myself. Good pride. Really. But pride nonetheless.

I helped the kids with the most complex craft we have ever done. You can find out all about it and get the pattern here. Scroll down until you get to the

No Sew Stuffed Woven Fish Toy Craft

Long name.

Step Number One: Print out the pattern and instructions.

Step Number Two: Have your husband explain to you how to put the fish together. This step might not be necessary for everyone. It was critical for me.

Step Number Three: Take your kids to Michaels, or wherever, and have each child pick out two 8x10 pieces of felt. Try not to spend $70 for a $6 project (we were also buying Christmas presents to paint for grandparents and great-grandparents, but that store is almost as bad as Walmart for eating your money $2 at a time).

Step Number Four: Have your children who are old enough trace the pattern onto each piece of felt. Basically, you are making two of the same thing and then gluing it together to make the body. It would make more sense if I didn't try to explain it. Note to self: take a technical writing course, or, don't do crafts.

In all seriousness, this craft was above my ability level and the ability of Emeline and Cowen. If you have all children 6 and under, or non-crafty kids, or boys who aren't very particular--this craft might not be for you. I only did it for Miriam. And she loved it. Miriam loves, loves, loves crafts and this one let her use a glue gun and trace and cut and use batting--lots of things she doesn't normally get to do. She was in heaven and so it was worth it. Plus, at 7, she could do the project almost entirely herself. In fact, if I wasn't such a nervous mother about the glue gun, she could have done it all herself.
Below you see the patterns traced onto the felt. The instructions didn't call for two tail pieces, but I liked the extra thickness and the kids liked having two colors. So--optional.
Then you cut out the pieces, weave them together, glue the weaving together so the sides of your fish won't fall apart, and stuff it with a little batting.

You'll notice below how the weaving makes it look fun and two-tone. Once the two side pieces were woven together, I glued the edges together and that made it really easy to add the batting. Then I put some glue on the inside of the fish, the fish's owner pushed the tail down until it dried, and then we glued around the rest of the body. The tail flaps really well, which excites the children.

If I could change anything, I would have bought larger googly eyes. The children didn't mind. They played with their fish all afternoon. Success!!

I've always been scared of non-food homemade presents, but these fish made me think that next year I might try having the kids make homemade gifts for each other. We always have the kids draw a sibling name out of a hat two days before Christmas, then Timothy takes two kids and I take the other two and we head to Target or Toys R Us and let the kids pick out something for his/her person. It is fun, and we love it, but in the interest of making sure our kids don't get too much (hard when you have a LOT of relatives and your kids are the only grandkids on one side of the family), homemade might just be the better choice for us next year.

Especially if Timothy agreed to spearhead the helping committee.

December 13, 2010

Other Fish Books We Liked

The Secret Seahorse by Stella Blackstone.

What's it Like to be a Fish? by Wendy Pfeffer.
The Magic School Bus On the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole.

Skeletons: An Inside Look at Animals by Jinny Johnson.

The Cod's Tale by Mark Kurlansky. (From the author of the best-seller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.) This was one of our favorite books. It is actually a history book explaining how the Vikings learning to dry cod changed the world. FASCINATING. A must read! It would work well for an American history lesson on colonization or the Revolutionary War, or early visitors to the Americas. Loved it.

December 10, 2010

FIsh: Shark Day

We didn't do much of anything exciting with sharks (besides a few accidental terrifying youtube videos the kids clicked on when I turned my back for a second--we were supposed to be learning about marlins), but we did read several books that we really liked.

Risky Business Marine Biologist: Swimming with the Sharks by Keith Elliot Greenberg. This book pretty much convinced my son he wanted to be a marine biologist.
The Magic School Bus Chapter Book: The Great Shark Escape by Jennifer Johnston. This one Miriam read to herself. She loves Magic School Bus.
All About Sharks by Jim Arnosky. Perfect for the younger crowd--lots of info but not too much and very interesting.
Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark by Ann McGovern. This book is about 100 pages long. I checked it out for Miriam to read on her own, but she turned up her cute little nose and said it looked "boring." I said, "fine," and proceeded to start reading it to Cowen. Within 10 seconds Miriam was tucked up next to us on the couch. She and Cowen stayed that way while I read the entire thing in one sitting. There are lots of pics and larger print. Emeline stayed for half of it. Her story was fascinating, especially from a feminist standpoint since she was a working mother before that was acceptable in a job that almost entirely excluded women. My children didn't really get that, but they certainly loved the first part about her childhood and the parts where she hung out with the prince of Japan. They liked all of it, as did I. I just wished she'd managed to keep her family intact while accomplishing everything else she accomplished. Not really my business. I know.
The Shark Almanac by Thomas B. Allen. This book is an adult book and too detailed to be useful with really small children except for the center portion with a number of large color photos. We liked those. We liked those a lot. Not National Geographic quality, but still very nice to have all in one place so we could compare different sharks and find things like gills and lateral lines.

After reading through our shark books, we made our own little shark book. I used the kidzone Itsy Bitsy Books printout. You can find it here.

After coloring, cutting, and stapling our little books, we filled out the shark labeling worksheet. I used the "beginner" worksheet that has the possible word choices listed at the top of the page. Miriam adores worksheets and we hadn't done one in awhile. Plus, excellent handwriting practice. You can find the worksheet here.

December 9, 2010

More Fish: Field Trip

I love field trips. This one ended up way cooler than I had imagined. Yeah!

We went to a fishmongers, or as close as Utah gets: Coast 2 Coast Seafood Market. I didn't know anything about this place except that it was there. For those of you in my area, it is in Layton, south of the Walmart.

I am now a huge fan.
Some people get a little weird when you say you are homeschoolers--but not the owner of this store. I told him we were there on a homeschool field trip and we wanted to look around at the variety of seafood things in his shop and he got totally excited.

First he brought out a huge salmon.

Then he brought out whatever fish is in the picture below. He said it came from Hawaii but I can't remember the name. Not something with which I was familiar. The children were amazed and impressed and thrilled.
Then he brought out a salmon that he'd cleaned. Cowen asked to see the bones so the man wrapped up the bones for us to take home and examine. Awesome! After we'd looked at all the amazing fishing pics on the wall (he's gung-ho), and oohed and aahed over the items he carried, I let the kids pick something to try. They picked clams, so I bought two pounds of live clams in the shell.

When he was ringing me up, Miriam mentioned she wanted a jar of oysters, so he threw it in for free because it was nearing its expiration date. He also gave us a container of seaweed salad because "the kids should try this" and two mussels so the kids could "compare mussels and crabs."

Basically the man was thrilled that the kids were learning about what he's passionate about. Now, my dad would say he was just making sure I would be a repeat customer, but I don't think so. I think he just got into the spirit of the thing and thought it was fun to impress and entertain and excite the children.
Plus, he was really, really nice.

In the picture below you can see our salmon head/bones/tail. We did our first quazi-dissection with it. We poked out an eyeball to examine (the kids loved feeling the clear covering on the eye), we felt all the vertebrae and we think we found a kidney. We also pried the mouth open to examine the teeth but the kids lost interest in that pretty fast when I accidentally stabbed myself with one of the teeth. So yes, I guess you could say I was bit by a salmon. No worries--my blood blended with the salmon blood. I guess you could say I'm blood brothers (sisters??) with a salmon.

Just kidding. I didn't bleed that much. But, in the future, I will be more wary of salmon teeth.

The scales were a big hit, as was the slime that covered everything still intact. We pried off all the meat in one spot to uncover the ribs. Plus much poking, prodding, touching, squishing was done by all. I quite enjoyed myself and the children loved it.

After we'd finished with the fish bones, we read World Book's Animals of the World: Salmon and Other Bony Fish. This is the thing about homeschool--when I checked out 1600 books on fish (slight exaggeration) and examined them when I got home, I intended to take the salmon book back. It was lengthy and more detailed than I thought the children would enjoy.

But I hardly ever return books until after the unit is over in case one of the children wants to look through the pictures. So this book had been lying around unused until very unexpectedly we "dissected" a salmon. All of a sudden my children wanted to know everything about salmon and especially its skeletal structure. This book, though lengthy, was perfect. My children listened to me read the whole thing (well, Emeline lost interest halfway through, but she's four) and we all learned a ton about salmon. So there you go--you never know for sure what will come in handy during a unit because sometimes complete strangers give you bones.

(Miriam scrubbing clams.)

For supper that night we had steamed clams, fried oysters, seaweed salad, and rice. And two mussels that we shared equally amongst ourselves. (Meaning mom got one and let Miriam and Cowen share the other one. I love mussels.)
Fun times. Tasty too.

December 8, 2010

Fish: Day Two and A Dose of Homeschooling Reality

Are your tired of crafting, I mean, creating? (It helps me to frame it as creating. More palatable.) Don't be. The creating ideas are just flying out of the internet in my general direction.

Today's project centered around the ever popular and bizarre puffer fish. Actually, a porcupine fish, but of the puffer family.

First we read Puffer's Surprise by Barbara Gaines Winkelman. And we loved it. Definitely one of our favorites lately.

Then we made our own puffer fish out of a paper plate. Instructions can be found here.

The project started out typically enough. I started pulling out the craft supplies and my children leaped and shrieked for joy. I showed them the picture online of the finished project and then they started coloring their spines.

Some of these pics highlight the difficulties of homeschooling with a two year old. He's charming but loud. And demanding.
My finished fish. Yes, I am proud of it.

Eli pulling every single crayon out and piling them on a plate. There are worse things. Like when he tries to pile them on the floor. A delicate balance between not letting him get away with creating major disasters and being able to help the other children.
Notice that in the following picture Miriam is working alone. No siblings about anywhere. Here's where the dose of homeschooling reality comes in.

For whatever reason, and I really don't know the reasons, Cowen and Emeline were excessively tired this morning. Cowen claims Eli climbed into his bed and woke him up by hitting him with a truck. That might be so. Transitioning Eli to a big boy bed has had its rough patches.

Regardless, Cowen and Emeline started to cry hysterically about ten minutes into the puffer project because they couldn't get the glue stick to glue adequately. Then I compounded matters by telling Cowen I wouldn't help him because he knows how to glue. When Cowen threw himself on the ground and proceeded into full melt-down mode, I told him it was time for a short nap and he could finish the project when he woke up.

Then he threw the glue stick at the wall.

Then I took a moment to reflect on WHY I thought it was so important to spend such lovely, quality time with my children.

Then I took Cowen downstairs and put him to bed.

He fell asleep in precisely 30 seconds and woke up cheerful and ready to finish his project.

Sometimes homeschool has to flex and adjust to our children in suprising and completely unplanned ways.

That is a reality of homeschool.

(And for those of you charming mothers whose children would never throw glue at the wall, I congratulate you. But I've been a mother long enough to realize you don't exist. You or your children.)

The children ended up loving the project. We printed the spines on regular paper and then colored them. You can leave them white, but my children didn't want to and after a moment's reflection, I didn't want to either. Then we glued the spines to cardstock and cut them out. For younger kids who are perfectionists, you might have to help cut out. Cowen wanted them to look perfect but couldn't do it himself. Emeline didn't care--she just likes to use scissors. The cardstock helped the spines stick out.

Then we used a glue stick to glue the spines on. Cowen and Miriam wanted them to stick out like mine. Emeline didn't care. She was just happy to use glue.

PS I put Emeline and Eli to bed as well as Cowen, so Miriam and I had an unexpected 90 minutes with each other. I read my scriptures, she finished Mr. Popper's Penguins (yes I made her read it and yes she loved it), we had baptism prep and then she drew pictures and I did research for a book I'm working on (yes I'm an aspiring author--isn't everyone??). It was lovely.

December 7, 2010

Fish: Day One

Like most of my school days, this one started with some books. Books about fish. We liked them both.

Fish: A Practical Guide to Caring for Your Fish by Mark Evans.

Weird and Wonderful Fish by Colin S. Milkins. (No pic available.)

After reading the books, we added to the fish section of our chart. The children still love this and the chart has really filled up.

After that, we made a fish. It seemed only fitting. I wanted to make the water bottle fish craft but couldn't get our water bottles to cooperate. I substituted by making this craft.

It was ridiculously easy and we all loved it. Even me. Because it wasn't too hard for the kids and I could make something that turned out looking decent.

First, I printed off the template for each child. Then I cut up a bunch of tinfoil and tissue paper in a variety of colors. Then I grabbed crayons, colored pencils, scissors and glue sticks. That was it. All the prep required.

Our fishes evolved as we figured out how different things would look. For example, I started out by coloring so the color would show through the tissue paper. Then I realized how awesome and shiny tissue paper looks over foil and ended up covering my fish with foil--completely covering up the original coloring. The children's fish evolved also as they discovered the properties of tissue paper.

When the fish were done, I was going to paste them onto blue paper to create a swimming in the ocean effect, but most of my children were opposed to this. They wanted their fish free to swim wherever.

I gave Eli my fish because he was sad he didn't have one. We did the project while he was napping . . . for obvious reasons.

Miriam felt that her fish needed a lot more space--so she found every blue paper in her collection and created an ocean. Hands down, her ocean was my favorite part of the day. Miriam dreams large. Even for her fish.
The children loved the project so much that a few days later when our Christmas advent chain said, "Put together a Christmas package for Great-Grandma Ruth and mail it," they all opted to make Grandma a fish. So, we did the craft again and had just as much fun the second time.

I'll tell you a little secret. I wasn't looking forward to fish. They seem so . . . uninteresting. I was wrong. So wrong. Fish are fascinating. And strange. More like aliens than any other creatures we've studied. We're having a grand and fishy time. I hope you are too!