Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Our Homeschool Morning: Dinosaurs, Bones, and Cicadas

Well, we've kicked off another homeschool preschool year and so far, it's been a lot of fun. Daniel is super enthusiastic about the Dino Dig (tomorrow) and he's been loving the books we checked out from the library.

As I've mentioned, I've only planned one or two activities a day, leaving most of the morning wide open for free play, indoors and out. I am learning that if we're outside, Daniel needs some guidance so that he doesn't end up wandering around the yard moaning about how bored he is. I'm also learning that a change of scenery works wonders; sometimes we spend the mornings in the backyard and sometimes the front yard. On top of that, it's hot here in Florida. Really hot. So it helps to throw in some water play to cool everyone off. 

In this post, I'm actually going over a few of the activities from the last two mornings.

Books we're reading and loving:

"Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs - Missing Treasure", by Giles Andreae
This is a great storybook. It's definitely fiction, and it's just for fun. Daniel loves dinosaurs and he loves pirates. This book very effectively combines both of his loves. Oh, and the name Gurgleguts may or may not be a part of the story and Daniel may or may not have laughed hysterically when I read it to him. 

"Digging Up Dinosaurs", by Aliki
I loved this book! What a great nonfiction book for young children. It explains how dinosaur fossils get from the ground to the museum in an entertaining and age-appropriate way. I did end up rewording some of the information so that Daniel could understand better, but this book held his attention to the very end. That's saying a lot.  

"Ten Terrible Dinosaurs", by Paul Strickland
Another fiction story, with a focus on counting (backwards). Over the years, I've had and/or read books with this plot line to preschoolers and it's always a hit. With simple rhymes and large, bold print numbers, this book is great for practicing number recognition and counting. 

Plaster Casts of our Footprints:

After reading one of our nonfiction books about dinosaur fossils, we noted that sometimes paleontologists don't find the bones at all - sometimes all they find is a footprint. I decided that it would be fun to help the kids make a "fossil" of their own footprints using Plaster of Paris. We bought a box of Plaster of Paris at Michaels Craft Store for $4.50 (we had a 50% off coupon). 

Step one: fill a box with dirt from your yard. Alternatively, (and this would probably work better) you could use sand.

Water it down a little. You want the dirt to be hard enough to hold a foot print.

Have your child step into the box to make a footprint. You might have to help push down their toes to get a good print, and after they took their foot out I dug down around the print a little to make it deeper.

Mix up your Plaster of Paris. Basically, it's equal parts powder and water. We used a plastic cup and spoon and the kids helped with stirring. Then carefully pour a little plaster into the prints. Our directions told us to pour halfway and then tap the box to release air bubbles. We dd that, but it didn't seem to I just poked my finger in there to get the air bubbles out. Then we filled each print the rest of the way. 

Wait half an hour or so and then carefully flip the footprint casts out of the box. We set ours on a piece of parchment paper.

I gave each of the kids an old toothbrush and instructed them to brush the dirt away, just like a paleontologist would brush the dirt off of a fossil. They got right to work.

It was very difficult to get all the dirt off, so the next day I took them out to the water hose and sprayed them with water. This is how they look now:

Pretty cool, huh? Not sure what we'll do with them, yet. Maybe stick them in the school room and admire them for a bit. Oh, and you'll notice that Natalie's footprint cast is broken in half. She did that yesterday by setting it down on the porch a little too hard. Lesson learned: these are fragile, especially before they've cured all the way. I'll glue this one up so that it's in one piece again, but we were a little sad that it broke. 

Examining a Wildebeest Bone:

Several years ago, my husband did some mission work in Africa, and on one of his trips he and his team went on a safari. He came across this bone on the ground and the tour guide believed it to have come from a wildebeest.

It's been living in a bowl on his dresser ever since. And since we're talking about fossils this week, I thought it would be the perfect thing for Daniel to examine. 

I brought it out and he was immediately captivated. I let him look at it for a couple minutes, and then I asked him to describe it. Turns out 3 year olds need very clear direction. Asking open ended questions like, "What do you notice about this bone?" gives you answers like, "I think it came from a dinosaur." So, I quickly switched to questions like, "What color is it?" "Is it heavy or light?" "Is it smooth or rough?" and, "Do you notice that hole on the end?" With more direct questions, Daniel was able to focus his observations to things he could see, rather than jumping to conclusions. 

I made a little book with two pieces of computer paper folded in half:

Inside were pages where Daniel could write down his observations (he dictated them to me and I wrote them down):

And draw pictures of the bone:

Incidentally, he did end up coming to the conclusion that this was, in fact, a dinosaur bone, and nothing would convince him otherwise. I also learned this morning that Daniel actually believes that the animatronic dinosaurs we saw at this zoo this year are real. As in really alive. That kind of blew me away. I had not thought to make it clear to the kids that they were pretend. I just assumed that they knew that. Whoops.

Outside Play:

Finding a Cicada Skin:
Daniel found this little beauty this morning on the playset. I've been seeing cicadas around here a lot lately and today we were lucky enough to find the skin from one who had just molted. 

He practiced his balancing act:

And dissected one of the dead flowers from our elephant ears:

This was a lot of fun for him, but it's important to note that...

When you're dealing with nature sometimes things go a little south.

Daniel got into the slimy stuff inside the flower bud and then rubbed his eyes. Not good. We immediately cleaned his eyes and washed his hands. After he calmed down we talked about how it's important to keep his hands away from his face if there's anything on them. And I also thought to myself it might be wise to invest in some safety gear. Gloves, for example.

All in all, a lot of fun! I can't wait to take Daniel and Silas to the playground tomorrow for our Dino Dig. He's been asking about it for two weeks, so I'm excited to actually set it up for him :)

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