Monday, June 30, 2014

Dinosaur Unit!

When we decided to design our own science curriculum for our girls I knew that we needed to start with dinosaurs. Our 7yr old is more than a little obsessed with them and my goal was to get her interested in school in general so it seemed like a natural fit.

I started off looking for a good "textbook" for this unit. After some searching I found the book Dinosaurs: A visual encyclopedia. I knew we could use the internet to research any facts we were looking for but thought that having a book full of dinosaur pictures and facts would be a hit. Turns out I was right, love when that happens!  The girls LOVE looking through the book and finding out interesting facts about the dinosaurs. The text is easily read by my 10yr old daughter and is done in small blocks and bubbles so that it isn't overwhelming for them to read through on their own. There are tons of great pictures and facts throughout the book. We spent quite a bit of time snuggling together reading about the different dinosaurs. We covered their anatomy, life cycles, what they ate, where they lived, how their fossils were found, etc. I would highly recommend it to anyone with a child interested in dinosaurs.

Once I had the text figured out I was on to the day to day assignments. We are a notebooking family so I did a simple search on pinterest for "dinosaur lapbook" and came up with so many great options. I decided to start the unit with these fact cards. I printed out two sets and the girls cut them out and turned them into little books that they pasted into their notebooks. They really enjoyed reading the different facts about the dinosaurs. It of course helps that the dinosaurs are "cute"!

We are a hands on family and love our projects so I was sure to add in several fun and educational projects. We started with a triceratops puzzle. Super simple to put together, my 10yr old did it on her own, lots of fun!

Next up we did some research about some of their favorite dinosaurs. I found these little mini-books that were perfect. They were the perfect size to fit in their notebooks and came with lines to fill in for the facts for each type of dinosaur. Such as what does it's name mean? How long was it? How much did it weight? What did it eat? That was very helpful for the girls who are still too young for a free form research project and needed some leading along the way.

Of course then it was time for another project. We decided to get the Magic School Bus: Back in Time with the Dinosaurs kit and we were not disappointed!

There were several projects included in the kit and the kids loved them all. My one caution is to have an adult snap the wooden dinosaur "bones" out of the packaging. Our 7yr old tried it on her own and broke a few. I tried it thinking I would be better at it and also broke a few. It isn't easy to get out that is for sure! Once you have it out however it goes together quickly and holds up to handling.

Our 10yr old loves crafts of any type and loved making the fossil imprints and casts that came with the magic school bus kit. It really reinforced the different types of fossils for her.

 The magic school bus kit was a massive hit here. So much so that our 7yr old is still carrying around the empty box days after finishing the projects! I cut out any of the pages that had the kids work on them and pasted them into their notebooks. I am not exactly sure what I am supposed to do with the dinosaur teeth they made....I mean those suckers are not going to work in the notebook but at least they learned the difference between carnivore and herbivore teeth.

The time line is a tricky one for a lot of Christian families. We chose to talk about the names of the time periods and not delve too far into the "millions of years ago debate". We will discuss that all when they are older. Honestly as a Christian with a science degree I don't know where I fall on this subject. I need to do a lot more research on it all before I can make an informed decision.

 The final project that we tackled from the magic school bus kit was the diorama. I lucked out on this one. I was going to ask the girls to do the diorama on a Monday. That Sunday my oldest came to me with her "amazing idea". I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had been planning to do one all along. She took the lead on the project and I was very impressed with her process. She even insisted that there HAD to be a we made a volcano!

Of course we also needed some coloring pages to work on while mom read some sections of our "textbook"!

Another amazing kit we tried was the Dinosaur Dig Kit. The girls LOVED it.

There were 3 real fossils in the kit (a tooth, bone, and poop) which was a huge deal for the girls. It was quite exciting for them to find all the pieces of the skeleton as well and they loved putting it together.

We also worked our way through this Dinosaur Lapbook set as well.

Our "final project" for the month was to take a field trip to Field Station Dinosaurs. To say the kids were excited would be an understatement! I told them the day before that we were going on a field trip the next day to see dinosaurs....I should know better by now. They were pinging off the walls with excitement. I being the clever mom that I am used that excitement to my benefit and had them find all their shoes. This should be easy to accomplish right? It took all afternoon. I am so overwhelmed by shoes and clothing storage that we are about to implement a family closet....more about that to come later!

For those not familiar with Field Station Dinosaurs it is a large facility just out side of Manhattan that contains full scale animated dinosaurs. They move, growl, and hiss. I was really not sure how this was going to go over. My 7yr old who is in love with dinosaurs got extremely upset when her father took her to a 3D dinosaur movie at  the local museum. I told the kids over and over again before walking into the park that nothing they were about to see was real. It was all robots that were not going to hurt them or touch them in anyway shape or form. As expected however even though she was so excited to go see the dinosaurs before hand our 7yr old dinosaur enthusiast was sobbing and hyperventilating 10 feet into the park. It really didn't help that the very first dinosaur we found was a scary dilophosaurus that was quite realistic and hissing at us. My husband, being the amazing dad he is, walked up to the dinosaur and posed for pictures to prove to our little girl that it wasn't going to eat him. She wasn't buying it however. It was right at that moment that a park employee walked up and assured her that this was as scary as it gets and that the rest of the dinosaurs in the park were quiet tame compared to this.  I kind of half dragged her past this bad boy and we stopped a little further down the path to talk and look at the map of the park. I knew she was in love with triceratops (she is sure she was named after one) so I made sure to point out that they did in fact have one in the park and that it was next to the exit. Suddenly the tears were gone and she was excited to see what was coming up next. Luckily for me it was an herbivore!

Did you know that New Jersey has an official dinosaur? I didn't. Apparently it is the Hadrosaurus, who knew? The park has multiple shows going on through out the day and we were able to catch the one titled Feeding Frenzy. As part of the show the kids were able to pet a baby Hadrosaurus (the herbivore in the show) and some of the kids were able to pet a young t-rex (the carnivore of the show). Our 7yr old loved the baby Hadrosaurus and was more than a little terrified to see a massive T-Rex walk out onto stage..until I pointed out that it was a giant puppet and you could see the person's legs in black pants next to the dinosaurs legs. Suddenly she was full of giggles and ready to participate. She even loved on her little brother who was getting a bit worried about the large and loud dinosaur that was wondering around on stage.

The kids were able to touch several fossils during the show including jaw bones, T-rex teeth, and dinosaur poop. The T-rex tooth was a big hit with my kids...did you know their teeth were about the size of bananas? Well we do now!

The entire park was filled with amazing dinosaurs from all through the Mesozoic Era. Every time we turned a corner the kids were squealing and running to see what they could find next.

I have to say that the full sized Argentinosaurus, the largest sauropod to ever be found was quite the sight to see. It was massive! I can't imagine how much the ground must have shook when they walked.

I was also quite proud of our girls at their knowledge of dinosaur anatomy and classification. It seems all that time reading and looking through our "textbook" really paid off.  At one of the exhibits everyone around us was talking about how scary the T-rex looked. Our 7 yr old looked at me and said "That isn't a t-rex. It has the wrong number of fingers" It sure looked like a t-rex to ME but she was right it did have the wrong number of fingers. I would have never noticed that! We walked over to the information board and sure enough it was not a t-rex, turns out it was an Allosaurus. We did however find this t-rex farther up the path....and it did have the correct number of fingers, only 2.

Of course the day wasn't complete till we got to see the triceratops.
Over all it was an amazing field trip and an amazing month. We are already planning July's field trip to end our ecosystem unit and they just happen to have a dinosaur exhibit as well. So we are not quite finished with dinosaurs.......but then we are never quite finished with learning in general are we? There is always something new to learn and add to our knowledge of a subject. I hope to instill this love of continued learning into our children as they grow and continue on their path through life.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lunch on the go!

 I have done a lot of talking recently about all the field trips we have been taking as a family. With 6 kids field trips are never cheap but there is one area we can cut back on and that is on our eating out.  Packing a lunch and some snacks when you head out is a cheap and healthy option...but it is complicated isn't it? I mean what do you put everything in? What do you make? How do you store it to make sure it stays at the correct temperature?  I am by no means an expert on this topic but I thought I would share what we have been doing as a family. I try and focus our monetary output where we want it to be, on memorable experiences, and not on what we don't want, another fast food toy added to the pile of junk in our house.

First up was the containers to put the food items into. I didn't want a million little containers getting lost in my van or at a picnic site....or my cabinets. So I was very excited when I found these lunch cubes at our local BX.  They have three sections all divided from one another but self contained, and no lids to lose!
 I did a quick search and found them on amazon of course............I paid more than that in store...shhhh don't tell my husband!

 For this day's field trip I packed ham and cheese pinwheels, strawberries, fruit dip, and granola bars for lunch. Drinks are also so important especially if you are going to be at an outdoor activity. We chose these reusable water bottles that fit perfectly in their insulated lunch bags.

We fill the water bottles 3/4 full and then freeze them overnight. This has a double benefit, you get an ice pack to keep your food cold inside the bag and a cold bottle of water at lunch. I also add a second frozen water bottle to the bag if it is a really hot day. You can never have too many cold water bottles! In the morning I pull the lunch cube from the fridge and the water bottles from the freezer and get them all packed up in our lunch bags.

You can find the insulated bags we use here......

Of course we also pack snacks, that is a must with small children. On this day we packed apples and peanut butter to go cups. I don't want to deal with a million small ziplock bags or containers so I just bring my knife with me and cut the apples when needed. I should be very clear here I *do not* take the knife into any of the locations we visit. This is our after we are done and back in the van snack.

Please tell me I am not the only mom who packs emergency "the kids are screaming and driving me nuts" cookies?! Some days I bake them but on this day we had oreos. I packed 6 packs of 6 but only ended up needing 2 packs (one was for my crabby husband who was sick of sitting in traffic jams).

Here are the lunch cubes in action. They are the perfect size for even our 3yr old to hold on his lap and eat without spilling!

Now for the numbers cause you know I love the numbers! The total cost of the lunch cubes for 8 people, the water bottles for 5 people, and 4 insulated lunch bags (we already had 3 bags) was $129.

That seems like a lot doesn't it? It however costs an average of $60 for each fast food stop we make as a family. So these items pay for themselves on their 3rd use.

What about the lunch and snacks themselves? That comes in at $24 for 8 people and I still have a ton of bottled water and tortillas leftover for the next trip.

It takes more work to pack everything and get it ready before leaving on a trip that is a given.  I set up an assembly line the night before and get everything processed and in the cubes before I go to bed. That takes a lot of the chaos out of the next morning for sure. I also make sure to get dinner sorted the night before as well. I load everything up in the crockpot and store it in the fridge till the morning. On this day we had slow cooker french dip subs.I can't tell you know nice it is to walk in from a chaotic day and have our dinner all ready cooked and waiting for you. I am not sure how we would survive without our crockpot!

I hope this was helpful and that you have an amazing field trip or just a nice family outing to the local park!

Bee class!

We were invited to join an informal talk about bees at a local "pick your own" farm. We were happy to attend since we had just learned about bees in our science unit. Of course in our excitement to get there in time we arrived early. What could we do with all our free time? Pick some strawberries of course! The three of us managed to pick 11 pounds of strawberries in 15mins! Crazy! Even crazier was that those 11 pounds of berries only lasted 24 hours before they were all eaten. I swear I am raising fruit bats sometimes.

I will be honest I wasn't expecting a lot from the talk. I figured it would be a bit of information then a pitch to buy their honey. I couldn't have been more wrong. The talk was done by a professional bee keeper who was extremely knowledgeable about his profession. He was even wonderful with our children who were more than a little freaked out to be so close to bees.

We were able to see so many fascinating things. Such as these drone larvae, you can tell it is a drone by it's purple eyes. 

 Here is a queen bee egg case with a dead queen bee inside. It seems her sister emerged from her egg case first and killed her. There can only be one queen after all.

I am not going to lie and say the kids had a blast. It was hot and there were bees .......not really a trip to six flags for them. They did however get to see some amazing things that up to that point they had only read about in books. I learned quite a bit about bees and beekeeping and found the entire class fascinating. I of course flirted with the idea of taking up bee keeping as a hobby.....until I watched the bee keeper get stung multiple times while handing the hives. Yeah....I am good with buying my honey at the store!

Field trip to Washington's Crossing


We are taking a break from our Ancient Times text to study the American Revolution. I know that sounds like a huge jump in time......and it is! We however live in the North East and are surrounded by American Revolution historical sites. We also know that as a military family we could get orders tomorrow sending us to a new part of the world. We wanted to take advantage of the warm weather and the local historical sites while we were able to.  After doing some research we decided to order the Time Travelers American History Study: American Revolution kit from Homeschool in the woods.

There is so much included in this kit! Honestly it is a bit overwhelming to think of completing a day's assignment in a day. There are just so many notebooking activities along with hands on learning that it is a lot to get done with our young children. Instead we do a day's assignment in 2 to 3 days depending on how many activities are in that particular assignment.  We are working our way thorough the first weeks assignments and found that there was a lot of talk about General George Washington and his battles. What better time than this week to go to Washington's Crossing?!

 For those that are unfamiliar with the site it is the location where George Washington crossed the Delaware river from Pennsylvania into New Jersey on Christmas night 1776. He and his troops then marched on to the Battle of Trenton where they secured a major victory against the Hessians. We literally walked where George Washington walked. So amazing!

We were very happily surprised when we arrived at the crossing to find multiple historic buildings and a museum with items from the time period. There was even a musket firing demonstration which amazed our kids.

I am in love with old homes and in learning about the day to day lives of the people who lived in these time periods. You can imagine my excitement when we were allowed to tour a home built in 1740 where it is rumored George Washington came for warmth after his historical crossing.  The home was in amazing condition and it was so wonderful to get to see how people lived so long ago. 

Overall it was wonderful and informative field trip! I love taking my children out of the books and into the history surrounding us.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Complete and incomplete metamorphosis project!

Before we gets started talking about our new science projects I need to go back to last month and tell you all about our last project for our flying animals curriculum. The girls were learning about complete metamorphosis and incomplete metamorphosis. So I being the slightly nutty mother that I am decided to do a hands on project to show the children the differences in real life.

Can I just add here that you can get ANYTHING from amazon these days? We started with the complete metamorphosis......butterflies! Big, big, big hit with the girls. We ordered a Live Butterfly kit that came with 6 painted lady larva.

They were a bit shell shocked when they got here but they quickly adjusted and started growing into big fat caterpillars.
It didn't take long for them to transition into their chrysalis and start the metamorphosis process. We had 2 of the caterpillars die before making the transition however. Not sure what went wrong there. They went into the "J" shape but never formed their chrysalis.

 Once the ones that made it were all in their chrysalis we moved them to their netted habitat and began waiting patiently for butterflies to emerge. We were not disappointed. Out of the 4 that went into chrysalis all 4 emerged as butterflies. Unfortunately two of the butterflies had damaged wings and were not able to fly. We kept them for a bit until I was able to convince the girls that they needed to be in their natural environment. The 2 that were healthy however we released immediately. The kids loved watching them fly away. I did learn something new with this project....butterfly poop is a red liquid. I know this because all 4 of the butterflies I handled to release pooped on me. Oh fun times!

While watching the painted ladies go through complete metamorphosis we also set up an incomplete metamorphosis project. I was able to order 2 praying mantis egg cases through amazon (I am not kidding they have everything!).

They came in a cardboard cup which I am sure they would have been fine in till they hatched. We however had an empty fish tank so we decided to set up a little habitat for them. The girls chose some sticks and leaves for the habitat and I made sure to cover the top securely with plastic wrap and added a few small air holes. These were not nearly as exciting to watch. It seemed to take forever for them to hatch and I was starting to doubt that it would ever happen. They however hatched at the same time as the butterflies emerged. I seriously couldn't have timed it that way again if I tried. There were SO many little praying mantis' in there!

My husband was a bit freaked out by them and we released them ASAP. He wasn't in love with having them released in the backyard so I am hoping we don't get a ton of huge praying mantis' out there this summer. He may never forgive me!

The kids loved the project and definitely learned the different stages of both complete and incomplete metamorphosis. This was one of those time when I just love homeschooling! Seeing the lights go on in their little eyes when they get excited about learning new things is priceless!


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