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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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!

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.

Exploring the Microscopic World

Bug parts, cheek cells, fabrics, leaves, hairs, paper scraps, drops of slimy pond water.  These are just some of the ordinary-turned fascinating items that we have examined under the lens of our microscope so far this school year as part of our Sonlight science curriculum.  It’s amazing how getting a chance to look closely at items we normally take for granted can elicit ooohs and aaahs from kids and parents alike!

We also recently did a project where we made gelatin, added it to petri dishes, and then stuck our fingers in potentially germ-infested substances.  We then poked our fingers into the gelatin to see what kinds of creepy microscopic organisms would grow!  Gross stuff like ear wax, nose mucous, river water, dust behind the refrigerator, and more made it into our petri dishes.  We also pushed a clean finger into one petri dish and in another a finger disinfected with Germ-X alcohol gel so we could compare the dishes that had been touched with something clean with the dishes that had been touched with something dirty.  A week or so later,  we got to look at all the dishes under our microscope.  Wow!  Exciting stuff!

Since we’ve been reading about the structure of cells in our Usborne World of the Microscope book, we decided to make models of animals cells out of cake.  A couple of years ago we did the same project with plant cells, but it was so much fun (and so delicious!) that we decided it was worth doing again.  This time Katie was old enough to join in the fun and make her very own cell model all by herself.

Science is one of our most hands-on topics and it gives a chance to marvel at God’s creativity, intelligence, and attention to detail so it is definitely a favorite around here!

Delving Into the World of Sharks — Lapbook Style

Austin and Ethan are wild about sea creatures.  They love stingrays, squids, dolphins, and sea horses and many other marine animals.  They are also very intrigued by sharks.  So, they decided they wanted to do a lapbook to learn more about these amazing and fearsome animals.  Through our research we learned tons of interesting facts about sharks.  For example, we learned that sharks are covered with tooth-like scales called denticles  We also read that they can smell just a tiny bit of blood from a huge distance away, and that they sometimes mistake surfers for sea lions because of the shadow they cast from above.  Sharks also have a great sense of hearing.  So, as a safety precaution if you ever fall out of a boat in the ocean you should avoid flailing around and making lots of noise — easier said than done, though, don’t you think?!

We also were introduced to some new species of shark that we had never heard about.  For example, we learned about the gigantic, but gentle whale shark, which doesn’t have teeth and that uses it’s huge mouth to scoop up plankton and small fish.  Whale sharks are gentle enough that humans can safely swim around with them.  Hmmm, I’m starting to get an idea for our next family vacation… 🙂

We downloaded the materials we needed to make this lapbook (for free!) from homeschoolshare.com.  Then we added some of our own extras, like an origami hammerhead shark,  this cute shark craft,   and a super delicious and fun to make  “shark-tastic shortbread cookie” recipe that we found at this blog.

Here are links to some more of the websites we used to research sharks for the lapbook:

http://library.thinkquest.org/J002229F/Animals/amazingfacts.htm

http://www.elasmo-research.org/research/checklist_res.htm

http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/great-white-shark/

http://www.animalamigo.com/fish/saltwater-fish/sharks/index.html

http://www.howstuffworks.com/search.php?terms=sharks

http://www.squidoo.com/shark-facts

http://www.kidzone.ws/sharks/facts.htm

http://www.childrenoftheearth.org/shark-information-kids/interesting-facts-about-sharks-for-kids.htm

http://www.kidzone.ws/sharks/facts9.htm

Here’s a gallery of photos of the finished lapbook and our shark-tastic cookie baking experiences.

Becoming Corn and Bean Experts

In addition to multiple trips to the swimming pool and relaxed time with friends, the kids and I have taken some time this summer to learn more about corn and bean plants.  Following the TOPS Corn and Beans experiment book, which came with our Sonlight science curriculum, we had a great time experimenting and observing our plants.  Just like when we studied radishes with a TOPS textbook, the kids made a self-watering greenhouse out of a milk carton for sprouting and growing their seeds.  And this time they also made a simple balance for weighing changes of mass in their sprouts as well as a measuring stick for keeping track of plant growth.  For a month, the kids observed their seedlings, made detailed notes and drawings in their journals, and then graphed their results.  They also made predictions about what would happen to the plants in different conditions, such as if a leaf were covered with foil or vaseline, or if the cotyledons of a bean plant were removed prematurely.  We also became more knowledgeable about the names and functions of the various parts of the plants and learned how to tell whether a plant is a dicot or a monocot by looking at the shape of the leaves.  All in all, we pretty much felt like corn and bean experts at the end of the month, though there is still much more we could learn. 🙂  Here are a few shots of the kids enjoying their research project.