Making a Model Cell Cake – Part 3

Back in 2011 (when the kids were 9, 8, and 4 years old) we first studied the structure of cells in biology and the kids first tried their hands at making various cell models, including a cake version of a plant cell. It was a big hit! The kids had a blast both making the project and eating it. Then in 2013, the boys’ science curriculum covered cells again and Katie joined them in the fun of making another cell cake, though the second time around it was a model of an animal cell.

Well, this time Katie’s science curriculum is tackling the subject of cells as the building block of life and guess what? Yep, since it has been five years since she tagged along on the boys’ science project and she didn’t remember much about the experience, she wanted to make the cell cake again, this time totally on her own and with no help from me. So, after strolling through the Japanese grocery store in our neighborhood to look for candy and cookies that resembled organelles, Katie got out the recipe for an easy yellow cake and built her model from the ground up. This time she went a step further from our past models and made labels for the cake as well. I think it turned out great and the taste was to die for! Here are a few photos of her project:

Seizing the Moment

Homeschooling, like any other educational style, has its pluses and minuses, ups and downs, joys and challenges. But one thing I really enjoy about how we do school is the freedom and flexibility in how we organize our homeschool day.

I like to be planned and have a schedule so at the beginning of each school year I always come up with a written schedule for each of our kids that I print out and put inside a clear plastic cover so each subject can be marked off with an erasable pen and then reused each week. This school year I thought I’d be super organized and I worked hard to plan the exact times for each class and when each person would be working on what subject throughout the day.

But in addition to being scheduled, I also like being flexible and I soon realized that those exact times aren’t all that useful for our family. Sometimes kids wake up really excited to work on a writing project or other subject and want to get started on that first. Bryan (who teaches algebra and geometry to the boys) often needs to plan his math class for the day around other commitments, which means algebra could start at 9 am one day and 9 pm the next. I used to feel discouraged and frustrated that I couldn’t get us to stick exactly to the schedule, but now I realize that our flexibility is actually one of our biggest strengths.

Each kid (and parent) in the family gets to help decide how each day will flow, depending on what we feel like tackling first. And we can also schedule impromptu breaks between subjects into the day, like a some jumping on the mini-trampoline to get the blood flowing again or a few minutes with Ethan watching his favorite nature show on YouTube, Brave Wilderness.

A couple of days ago, we had beautiful weather. The sun was shining gloriously in the cloudless sky and the ducks in the river next to our house we’re quacking away. After lunch Katie asked if she could take a quick break to go feed the ducks some bread. She came back a few minutes later and excitedly told us that she’d spotted a mother duck and her six ducklings swimming along in the water. So, Ethan and I hustled out to see if we could spot them too. We did and the three of us enjoyed a nice break from math and English together as we oohed and ahhed at their fluffy sweetness.

After a little while, the task master in me reappeared and I called us all in to get back to our regular studies, but I really enjoyed that nature break with my kiddos. We don’t do that as much as we did when they were little tykes, but I hope we remember to do it more from here on out. It felt great to seize the moment!

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Bread in hand and on our way to find the ducks!

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Mama duck and her ducklings

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Trying to get a better view.

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Heading home

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This is our humble abode. It’s fun to live next to a river.

Animal Encounters

This month our family broke out of our normal routine to enjoy some encounters with animals at well-known spots in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

The first place we visited was the Aqua World Aquarium in Ooarai, which is about an hour away from us in Ibaraki Prefecture. For fifth grade science this year, Katie is studying marine biology with the Apologia science curriculum so we thought this would be a great chance to get up close and personal with some of the amazing creatures she would be studying about. 

Highlights here included watching penguins feed, dive, and swim around their enclosure, enjoying a truly amazing dolphin and whale show, and oohing and aahing over stumpy sun fish and smiling sea turtles.



Then later in the month, our family hopped in the car and headed an hour in a different direction to visit the Nasu Animal Kingdom with our good friends the Abarra Family.  Nasu is located in Tochigi Prefecture where we live, but this was our first time to explore the Animal Kingdom.  Wow, were we impressed!  
We were able to get very close to many of the animals and there was quite a variety of species: lazy sloths, napping bats, lounging capybaras, some adorable red pandas, and fuzzy-antlered reindeer were just a few of our favorites.  The wild bird show was also a treat.  We had a fun, full day of being with dear friends and enjoying God’s creation.  It was great!  We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, whatever that may be!


Encountering the Edo Period and Hobnobbing with Owls


This week our family headed to Tokyo for the day to renew the kids’ passports and spend some fun family time.  After an uneventful experience at the embassy and a scrumptious lunch of Indian curry, we trekked over to the Edo-Tokyo Museum to dive into learning about the Japanese Edo and Meiji periods.  
The Edo period lasted from 1603 to 1868 and was the time when samurai were plentiful and Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate.  During this time, Japan was closed off to the rest of the world and many of the cultural traditions that we think of as distinctly Japanese came into existence.

The Meiji Period lasted from 1868, when the reign of the Tokugawa family ended and Emperor Meiji took power, to 1912 when Emperor Taisho became the new leader.  This was a period of modernization and westernization for Japan.

The fifth floor of the Edo-Tokyo museum where the permanent exhibits are located is divided into two halves – one with displays about the Edo Period (during which the capital city was called Edo) and and the other with information and interactive zones that teach about the Meiji Era (when Edo became known as Tokyo).

When we entered the museum, we were greeted by a volunteer tour guide who sweetly and skillfully guided us throughout many of the displays, giving us tons of background information and access to a behind the scenes area where we could try out instruments that were used for making sound effects for kabuki performances.  She gave us the option for having our tour in English or Japanese and we decided to go with the Japanese version for listening and speaking practice.  

Highlights for us were the kabuki instruments, a life-size model of the old wooden Nihonbashi bridge, a Meiji Era house we could enter and explore, and a display of samurai swords and armor.  

We are big fans if Indian curry and naan bread!

It’s probably a good thing this isn’t our usual family car!



Learning from our tour guide about kabuki theater and how they made different sound effects during the Edo Period.


This is what the front of the kabuki theater looked like.


Photo op on a Meiji Era bicycle.

We could have spent more time at this fascinating spot, but left after a couple hours so we could zip over to our other touristy activity for the day — an owl cafe!

Tokyo is a city full of themed cafes and new styles are always being added.  Animal cafes are quite popular right now, with different ones offering customers the chance to relax while communing with dogs, cats, birds, and even monkeys or owls.  

After paying an entrance fee, we were provided with a soft drink of our choice and given an hour to hang with the 60 different owls who reside at the cafe.  The decor of Owl Forest Cafe was very eclectic and not really my favorite, but the staff were kind and the many types of owls were cute and allowed us to gently pet them on their backs and heads.  I don’t think we would go back to that particular cafe, but it was a fun family experience, especially for our animal-loving kids.


We’d had a unique and fun-filled day in our favorite big city, but we still weren’t finished with our family adventure.  The final stop was dinner in the home our dear friends who live in Saitama, about an hour away from where we were.

Our sweet friend Echan welcomed us into her lovely apartment and we had a super fun time eating, laughing, and fellowshipping with her family and another close friend, Saki-Chan.  



As we drove home that night we all agreed that the necessity of renewing our passports had provided us with a chance to build some great family memories!  

Bursting with Butterflies

Rainbow colors fluttering through the air, feathery antennas brushing our skin, the scent of juicy nectar and pungent flowers — these are the sights, sounds, and aromas that filled our senses when the kids and I visited Igashira Park’s  butterfly house last month.  The butterfly house was one section of a bird, flower, and butterfly exhibit on the grounds of the huge park.  We all entered the butterfly sanctuary expecting to immediately be pounced upon by friendly creatures who wanted to land on our heads, hands, and feet, but we soon discovered that getting to that experience would take quite a bit of patience and a little bit of creativity.

Austin seemed to be the most attractive to the insects flapping their wings all around us, but soon the rest of us were able to get some of them to stop and spend a few seconds resting on our fingers.  We found that staying super still, putting drops of nectar from the butterfly feeders on our hands, and even (oddly enough) carrying a coke bottle made us more attractive to the colorful creatures.

In addition to butterflies, the exhibit housed a couple of toucans, a few other small birds, some turtles, and a plethora of plants, including a tropical banana tree, which was our favorite.

All that communing with nature left us hungry, so we popped over to the cafeteria next door and feasted on some delicious ice cream cones before heading home for the day.

Igashira Park is in Moka City, about 40 minutes from our house, so we don’t go there super often, but with bicycles to rent, a “10,000 person sized pool”, an obstacle course, and other attractions it’s a fun place to spend a pleasant afternoon as a family.  We will definitely be back!

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Hands-On Fun at Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts

Today the kids and I had an open Saturday afternoon so we decided to use our free passes to the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts where a dear friend works.  We pedaled our bicycles through the blustery weather to the museum, which is only about ten minutes from our house.  After the kids goofed around a bit outside with the sculptures that decorate the grounds, we headed inside for a little art viewing.  Our good friend, Yumi, happened to be working that day so we got to ask her questions and hear her explanations about some of the art. Katie is the biggest art enthusiast of the family.  It was fun to see her looking closely at the art and even taking notes on which paintings she liked and why she liked them.

Highlights of the visit included seeing a painting by famous British artist J.M.W. Turner and getting to participate in some hands-on activities that helped the kids pay closer attention to works that are currently on display.  And it was fun to see our friend Yumi in action as well!  Then on the way home we stopped by the local convenience store for a little snack.  It was the perfect ending to an enjoyable day.

Here are some photos.  You can click on individual images to see them more clearly.

 

 

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!