Our Journey Through the Human Body

A slimy cow’s eye, a wrinkly sheep’s brain, a tough pig’s heart, x-rays, and more.  These are the tools we used last school year in our study of anatomy.  We took a nice leisurely trip through the systems of the human body and greatly enjoyed the journey!  As the base for our studies we used Sonlight curriculum’s Science F, but replaced a book of  worksheets with The Body Book, a super cool text that has you build a paper model of the human body step-by-step as you learn about each body system.  The kids really enjoyed creating paper models of themselves!  The book also contained several other paper models as well, such as a model of human skin, a model of the eye, and a model of the ear.

In addition to the Body Book, we made a few purchases on Amazon.com to add more hands-on activities.  I found an inexpensive otoscope and we took turns looking into each other’s ears to find the eardrum. Amazon also had a cool flannel graph set of very realistic drawings of the body systems.  The set came with a fun book giving interesting facts about the various organs and their functions.

I also found a great source for inexpensive dissection kits.  We ordered them on Amazon and then Bryan brought them back to Japan when he returned from a business trip.  Since my kids are huge animal lovers, I decided not to order any kits that involved dissecting whole animals (such as a frog) because I thought it would be too traumatic.  I decided to go with a sheep’s brain, a pig’s heart, and a cow’s eye, which we dissected at different times during the year, but in that order.  Somehow, the sheep’s brain seemed the least intimidating so we started with that.  We saved the cow’s eye for last since that one seemed the most creepy to me and we invited our fun-loving friend Len to join us for that dissection so we could laugh while doing it.  It was so interesting to actually feel the difference between gray matter and white matter for ourselves, learn that hearts actually have heart strings (and see them!) and touch the parts of an actual eyeball!  The kits came with instruction booklets for how to do the dissection and what to look for, but we also used Youtube to find some very helpful videos that took us step by step through the dissections and gave interesting information about the part of the body we were dissecting.

In addition, I ordered a set of x-rays for building a two-dimensional human skeleton.  The kids followed the instructions for assembling it and we hung it up on our homeschool window so the light would shine through and we could see it better.

The textbooks that came with our science curriculum were very interesting and fun to read, but the hands-on activities we added definitely made our science studies come alive!  This was a science unit that we will all remember for a long time!

Digging Up Fun at the Oya Ishi Museum

The rough, porous, grey or tan-colored rock can be seen all over Utsunomiya.  It’s called Oya Ishi and it is used by builders and artisans to make garden walls, storage sheds, and yard decorations, among other things.  Oya Ishi is a volcanic rock that is native to our area.  I have known for many years that there was an Oya Ishi mining museum in our city, but have just never gotten around to going.  The kids and I decided that it was time to go check it out so we recently visited and had a fun and informative family field trip together. 

The museum has two parts.  One is a small room with artifacts showing tools and other objects used by miners of the past.  This area also had samples of various types of Oya Ishi for visitors to touch and look closely at to see how the types differ from one another.  The other area of the museum was the most fascinating.  You walk downstairs under the museum into a huge underground area that has been carved out of Oya rock.  The underground cavern is 20,000 square meters and is big enough for a baseball field to fit inside of it.  It is also quite cold.  The day we went, it was about 50 degrees Farenheit (11 degrees Celsius), but it’s average temperature is 45 degrees (7 degrees Celsius).  Over the years, this underground area has been used as a site for activities such as concerts, weddings, and the filming of TV dramas and movies.  The kids and I found it fascinating to wander around and soak up the unusual atmosphere.

After touring the museum, we decided to take a short walk to see a 27 meter (88 foot) Buddhist “peace statue” made  out of Oya Stone.  On our way to the statue, we came across a cute little park with a gargantuan Oya Ishi rock in the middle of the grass.  The kids had a super fun time climbing the rock together.  The Buddhist statue itself was quite impressive as well.  We enjoyed walking up stairs to the top of the statue and looking out over the surrounding area.  It was a great view!

Once our touring was over, we all noticed that our stomachs were growling.  So, we hopped in our car and headed to Masashi Gyoza, one of the most famous shops in Utsunomiya that specializes in Chinese dumplings.  The tiny restaurant was crowded with people and even had a line out the door so we decided to get the dumplings to go and then took off for a park where we could gobble our gyoza at a picnic table.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day filled with family fun.  I love going on “field trips” with the kids and I am looking forward to whatever excitement the next one may bring!

Outside the Oya Ishi Museum Outside the Oya Ishi Museum

Goofing around in front of an old mining truck

Learning about mining tools at the small above ground portion of the museum

  Scaling huge Oya Ishi rocks at a park near the museum

The 27 meter Buddhist “Peace Statue”  

Ethan Turns 12!

A few days ago, my wonderful second son turned a whopping twelve years old!  It’s hard to believe that next year we will have two teenagers in the house!  We celebrated just as a family a few days early with dinner at home, cake and ice cream and (for Ethan, best of all) opening gifts.  Several sweet family members sent Ethan some money and Bryan and I gave him two games: Ticket to Ride and Pit.  I remember playing pit with my grandmother as a child so I thought our kids might enjoy it and I was right!  They love being able to yell out numbers as they play and everyone gets excited about ringing the bell at the end when they have made a full set. After we played the first time, I came up with the idea of using ear plugs and then I enjoyed the rest of the rounds even more!  Ticket to Ride has also been really fun to play (though less noisy!) Katie even spent her own money to buy Ethan a super hero Lego, so we all felt the sibling love!

On the actual day of Ethan’s birthday, four of his best guy friends came over for food, cake, and hours of Nerf dart gun battles (topped off with a few rounds of Wii).  This was his first time to have an all guys birthday party and everyone seemed to enjoy the freedom to get the downstairs messy and shoot at each other.  Bryan and I just hung back and let them enjoy themselves.

It has been neat to see Ethan growing and maturing over the years.  He has a great sense of humor, is good at relating to people of all ages, and is very fun to be around.  He is also really interested in science and nature and is great at noticing things that no one else does.  I am excited to see him keep maturing!  It will be fun to see how God directs his life in the future.  Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Candy Fractions Game – Homemade Educational Fun!


Years ago, I invented a homemade board game for Austin and Ethan called “Candy Fractions.”  Katie knows about this game and occasionally requests it for homeschool math so she can eat some candy while learning about fractions.  We played a round recently, so I thought I would write a short post about the game.


I hand drew circles divided into pie pieces and rectangles divided into several sections.  Players start at the first shape and take turns rolling the dice and placing small candies like m&m’s or chocolate chips onto the board.  The first player rolls the dice and whatever number they get is the number of candies they place on their square or circle.  One candy goes on one small space within the larger shape.  That player then has to say what fraction of the shape is covered with candies and what fraction is not covered.  The candies are then cleared and it’s the next person’s turn to roll the dice and place candies on the next shape.  The game ends when all the shapes have been covered with candies.


Then each player gets to pull a fraction card from a small pocket on the back of the game board.  The cards are marked 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 4/4 to decide what fraction of four candies they are allowed to eat.  My kids enjoy playing the game several times so as to maximize their candy intake.


This has been a fun way to add variety to homeschool math and I think it has really helped the kids get a basic understanding of fractions as well.


Katie’s First Quilt!

A few days ago, Katie decided she wanted to make a small lap quilt.  She saw a basic explantion of how to make a simple quilt in this book and wanted to give it a try.  We’ve been trying to get more exercise into our lives recently so we hopped on our bikes and rode to the nearest mall where there is a fabric store.  Katie picked out three fabrics she wanted on the front of the quilt and then chose a pink quilted fabric for the back so that she could skip the step of adding batting in the middle.  Since this was her very first quilting project, we both felt that simple was better.

After we rode our bikes home, Katie got started right away on making her project.  I helped her with the cutting and with pinning the pieces together, but she decided the design and sewed the three pieces on the front together.  I also helped with ironing down the seams on the back of the pieces she had sewed together (since the book said we should do that).  At this point, Katie was feeling a bit tired out from all her sewing but she wanted to to finish the project that day, so she chose a fancy stitch and I offered to topstich around the quilt to finish it off.  So, I guess this time the quilt was a team effort!

The lap blanket turned out great and to my surprise Katie later wrapped it up and gave it to me as an early birthday present!  I didn’t realize we were making it for me!  In the chilly months it will be great for putting over my lap during homeschool read aloud times.

Here are some photos of Katie working hard on her quilt and enjoying the results.

Learning About Our Insides by Making an Anatomy T-Shirt



In my proactive search for cool hands-on science activities, I came across this blog post that explains (with free printable templates) how to make a t-shirt with a realistic drawing of human internal organs on it.  While the kids already know basically what their heart, lungs, and stomach look like and where they are located, I thought this activity would be a great way to help them remember the names and locations of some of the organs they might not be as familiar with, such as the pancreas, appendix, and spleen.

To do this project, I bought white long-sleeved kids’ undershirts, which came two in a pack and were less expensive than regular shirts.  Since I wasn’t sure how excited the kids would be about going around town with their organs in full view, I thought they could just use them as pajama shirts or for wearing around the house (especially when we are doing science together!)  The t-shirts could easily have been short-sleeved, but since it’s winter I thought that long-sleeved would be cozier.  I printed out the templates from the website on white card-stock.  The templates were two pages so I stapled them together to make the full picture.  Then I inserted them inside the t-shirts so that the picture was where we wanted the drawing to be when it was done.

The kids then used fine-tip black permanent magic markers to draw the outline of the organs.  Since the card stock paper was in between the two layers of the shirt, it kept the pen from bleeding through to the other side.  The t-shirt really needs to be white so that you can see through to the template underneath.  This part of the project was a little bit tricky because depending on the light in the house it was harder or easier to see through to the picture on the template.  Austin and Ethan moved around to different locations until they found a spot where they could see best.  They also had to be very careful not to move the template if they moved the shirt so that the picture would end up in the right spots.

After the kids finished tracing the organs the best they could, they used another copy of the picture that I printed out that had the organs labled (also from the same website).  This helped them see where the different organs began and ended.  They then colored the different parts their colors of choice using fabric markers and fabric crayons I had gotten on Amazon Japan.  With both the markers and crayons, you have to place a piece of paper over the colored places and then iron it for a bit to make the color permanent when you have finished coloring.

We all really like how the t-shirts turned out and they came in very handy when we were reading about digestion the other evening!  When the book mentioned a certain body part involved in digestion, I had them find it on their t-shirt.  We also used our science textbook’s description of where each body part is located to see if their t-shirts placed their intestines, heart, stomach, etc. in anatomically correct locations.  They weren’t perfect (the amount of intestines is a bit less than in a real human body) but they were pretty close!

All in all it was a worthwhile project that will hopefully help our anatomy studies “stick” in their brains better this year.  Katie was actually so excited about her t-shirt that she wore it to school and showed it off to all of her friends and teachers!  So, I’m calling this project a success!


Learning about DNA – the Hands-On Way

One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to blogging more frequently.  Another is to make sure I include plenty of hands-on activities in our homeschool on a regular basis.  I feel like the hands-on component of our school time has waned recently.  It’s easy to feel like I just don’t have enough time to fit it all in.  But reading blog posts like this have been reinspiring me to make sure we don’t leave out the fun stuff!

We’re studying about the human body in science this year with the Usborne Complete Book of the Human Body as our base.  It’s a fantastic book with lots of great photos, but it is still easy to have the content of the book go in one ear and out the other, especially when the topic is something complicated like DNA.  So, I decided to take a chunk of our day yesterday to first brainstorm together what we already knew about DNA and then watch several youtube videos like this that did a great job of explaining what it is and what it does.  Then I let the kids make edible models of DNA out of Twizzlers and mini-marshmallows with this method to help solidify what we have been learning.  It worked out great and we all had a fun time doing it!  Now that the kids are getting a little older, the hands-on projects aren’t quite as chaotic as they used to be.  My kids actually don’t like the taste of either Twizzlers or mini-marshmallows, so they still haven’t actually eaten their projects yet, but they turned out to be terrific materials to use!

Yesterday’s success definitely inspired me to keep the hands-on activities coming on a regular basis again and I will be sure to write about them here.

Here are some photos of our learning time yesterday.  You can click on individual photos to enlarge them.