Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What's in our blood?

Both of my children are easily daunted by the sight of their own blood. The tiniest pin prick requires immediate attention and the prettiest of Band-aides. And then we must peek under the Band-aide and inspect it every hour for three or four days, until the wound "zips up", as they say.

In researching project ideas about blood, I came across this fun sensory-rich activity by Jenae at I Can Teach My Child.

What's in our Blood?
For this activity, you'll need to order 1 small pack of water beads from Amazon. Water beads arrive looking like tiny seed-beads but when you add water and let them soak overnight, they absorb the water and puff up into rubbery bouncy balls that look and feel like tough Jello.

One tiny $6 pack on Amazon will contain about 3 Tablespoons worth of beads, which will swell up to about 3 gallons worth of balls - which was enough for us to completely fill both troughs on our water table.

Water beads hold their liquid for weeks, and are also reusable and re-hydratable after they've shrunk back down to their original size. Because the beads last for so long once hydrated, I recommend coordinating this project with another homeschooling family, one with whom you would enjoy donating or sharing your materials with after trying this project in your own home. This is a very inexpensive project to assemble, but one which will provide excellent sensory stimulation for hours for children ages 3-7 years old.

Be aware that water beads should never be ingested, so use caution around young children.

Additional materials needed;

1 sheet of red craft foam ($0.79 at A. C. Moore) Cut foam into short, thin strips.
1 box of 6 ping pong balls ($3.99 at Walmart)
water table or large bin to play in

Optional: A colander, ziplock bags to save beads, towels for the floor, Matchbox cars.

To begin, I drew a picture of a boy with a scraped knee and a broken skateboard and asked the children to tell a story around the image. When they mentioned the blood, I told them that we were going to make some fake blood today. We would learn about the "ingredients" inside blood, and why our bodies need blood.

First, I poured some water into the water table and explained that blood has four special ingredients, one of which is called plasma. Plasma is like the river that makes blood flow. It carries proteins and nutrients to all of the parts of our bodies that need them. When we eat our multivitamin, it's the plasma in our blood that carries those vitamins to their homes. Water will be our plasma. 

Next, we talked about how the blood was dripping from the boy in the drawing's knee, but that it wouldn't drip forever.

The second ingredient in our blood is called platelets. Platelets are like little sponges floating around inside the blood, waiting for a hole to plug up. When you have a cut on the skin of your finger, the blood drips out. But those little sponge-platelets rush to the cut and stick together to plug up the hole to stop the blood! Great work, platelets!

> At this point, I sprinkled the slivers of craft foam into the water.

Craft foam is very static-clingy, so the little slivers of "platelets" were sticking together and sticking to our hands and arms. The kids were laughing, trying to pull them off and put them back into the water, only to have them flip back up onto their skin. The foam so perfectly illustrated how platelets "stick" together to block up a wound!

However, at this point our blood didn't look much like blood yet, and the kids suggested we needed more red. So our third ingredient was Red Blood Cells! Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the cells in our bodies. We took deep breaths and recalled that another word for oxygen is air. Our itty bitty cells need air, just like our great big lungs do. I poured the great big bucket of water beads into the table. This was the exciting part!

We had to pause here and play with the bouncy balls for a few minutes before I could move on to the last special ingredient in our blood; White Blood Cells. White blood cells fight off infections. When you're sick or when you have an infected cut, those white blood cells are multiplying and rushing around, looking for the infection, so they can fight it off. There are much fewer white blood cells in our bodies than red blood cells, so we added just 6 ping pong balls to represent our white blood cells. 

Perspective: We pretended we could make ourselves super-small, like the Magic School Bus, and drive around inside our veins. At this point, I added a basket of toy vehicles for everyone to play with. Since we could make ourselves super-small, this is why we could see our red and white blood cells and our platelets looking like big balls swimming along on a river of plasma. But if we were super big and far away, like looking at our water table from across the backyard, we would just see a bucket of red stuff that looked just like blood. That would also be like being regular "human-sized", looking down at our tiny scraped knee.

This was a very exciting and fun activity for the children, who played at the water table enthusiastically for more than two hours. Materials totaled about $11, but could be divided in half if you wish to split the expense with another family. To clean up, I siphoned off the water beads using a colander and drained the water table. Water beads can be stored in gallon-sized ziplock bags for transfer between families.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Turn your dramatic play center into the Plymouth Colony! (with extensive lessons for K-3rd grade)

Q. If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?

A. Pilgrims!

Here's a quick-as-a-wink pictorial run-through of our November Pilgrims project in our homeschool classroom. The children are now ages 4 and 5, and have had a lot of fun playing with the manipulatives laid out as we cover all of the new bits and pieces of the story of the Pilgrims.

Day 1 - The Mayflower and the Speedwell - I prefaced the discussion by reviewing the Columbus story, and reminded the children that we were now jumping ahead almost 200 years after the European discovery of the Americas. We looked at the globe and located England and Holland, where the Pilgrims were traveling from. Prior to this lesson, I'd made two simple paper ship puppets, then laminated them. I now filled each ship with a crowd of paper people, and using the globe, showed how and where the ships set sail, and what they were traveling towards (initially, the area of Virginia, where they hoped to begin a plantation-style village). Halfway across the Atlantic, the Speedwell began to take on water, and I pointed out a small hole snipped in the hull of my puppet-ship. The kids really liked it that I'd made a real hole in the ship, which they'd overlooked until that point!

We theorized the danger that the Pilgrims could be in if they continued forward with their journey, and we voted to have them return to England.

The Speedwell was put into dry dock and repaired, and the Pilgrims set sail for the New World again. And again, the Speedwell leaked - forcing everyone to turn around.

Acting out this lesson helped the kids see how much time these problems took up, and how frustrating that must have been for the Pilgrims, who were impatient to get to the Americas and begin planting summer crops. (It also explains why they had such a difficult winter when they finally arrived, 2 months off schedule, at the start of winter!)

Finally, the Speedwell was sold off, and all of the Pilgrims from both ships crammed together into the Mayflower, and set sail a third time. My paper people had been gently taped onto the ships, and I moved the crowd from the Speedwell over to the Mayflower, to show how crowded the conditions suddenly were.

Day 2 - What they brought with them - I was lucky to have in my possession this charming miniature wardrobe, which the children had never seen, so I presented it as the type of furniture each family might bring with them to store all of their earthly possessions. We discussed items of importance, such as tools, food, clothing, and weapons. Items of leisure, like books or toys, and items of sentimentality, like quilts, furniture, and the family bible. I explained that space on the Mayflower was scarce, and too much weight could sink the ship, so families had to think very carefully about what they would be bringing with them and what they would leave behind. We reviewed illustrations of real items brought along by some of the families, such as the family chair, a suit of armor, and a baby's cradle.

After this discussion, I told the children that I wanted them to imagine they were Pilgrims about to travel very far over-seas to a strange and possibly dangerous land! What would they bring with them to survive the journey and begin their new lives?

I handed out little paper cabinets with shelves inside for drawing their ideas.

Simple Paper Cabinets: take 1 piece of brown construction paper and holding it in the landscape position, fold both edges inward until they meet in the middle. Press down the folds. Cut a U-shape out of the bottom, for legs. Inside, glue down a rectangle of white paper and add a few lines for shelves. On the outside, draw doorknobs and a lock. I later added a little fastener to keep the doors from popping open, but the cabinet looked cute even without them. 

The kids were REALLY into this activity. They drew enthusiastically as I challenged them to think of tools, clothing, food, drinks, bedding, toys, and weapons which would help them in their adventure. They mostly stuck within the olden-days limitations, but there was one passionate battle over the legitimacy of wooden pull-toy airplanes. My son refused to back down, and insisted that the Pilgrim children in his imagination should have wooden airplanes and wooden cars to play with!

They also survived on bananas and cookies, apparently.

My daughter chose some nice healthy lettuce as her imagined food item, because she wanted the Pilgrims to be healthy on their long journey across the Atlantic. I praised her for her ideas, and we discussed how a hull of lettuce would keep the travelers more healthy than a hull full of cookies. But conversly! I also mentioned how dry cookies and simple biscuits might have a better shelf life than unrefrigerated lettuce, so perhaps cookies weren't such a poor choice, afterall! This was a very interesting discussion, full of tough choices! We wrapped it up with a decision that some kind of healthier cookie - like an oatmeal cookie - would be ideal  and certainly would taste better than hardtack and beef jerky!

My daughter's armor came out looking like a scary clown face, but she had some awesome ideas for the trip; bread, marbles, a sword for protection, and a blackbird to pet to keep all the grumpy and sick people happy!

Day 3 - Tissue box Mayflower

I threw this together for the kids to play with on their display table. The opening on the top is perfect for filling with miniature traveling supplies representing food and water, action figures representing Pilgrims, and small cats to eat the mice and rats. Lots of little pieces means a lot of imaginative play is going on at this table, and they're quick to reenact the story of the Pilgrims and expand upon it in adventurous ways.

The opening on the top of the tissue box Mayflower is also the perfect size for storing our family cupboards.

Day 4 - Daily life.
We read Sarah Morton's Day and colored in some little paper dolls for our Plymouth colony. They're attached to old fashioned clothespins, so they stand up. Each colonist has a job to do. The father works in the garden. His pumpkins are coming along splendidly!

[By the way, there are two other books in this photographic Pilgrim series. To see life from a Pilgrim boy's perspective, read Samuel Eaton's Day. To read from the perspective of a Wampanog child, read Tapenum's Day. All were written by Kate Waters.]

The Pilgrim boy tends the fire by cutting down and stacking firewood.

Mother and Sister are making hardtack and cheese. Bowls are laid out for Pottage, which is cooking over the fire.

A picket fence in the background represents the stockade surrounding Plymouth Colony, and many baskets, bowls, and barrels are scattered about for holding food stuffs and linens.

Day 5 - Plymouth Colony Houses. In March, the Pilgrims took their axes into the woods and chopped down enough trees to make seven simple English-style houses with thatched roofs. From a landing crew of around 120 colonists, only 50 people remained. January and February were harsh, and as many as three people died a day from pnemonia and other ailments. Of the 50 remaining Pilgrims, a full 25 were children, and there were only 4 mothers left to tend to them!

The remaining families crammed together into the first seven houses, and worked together on tasks that would help them survive. Children contributed heartily for the greater good - boys assisted the fathers, and girls assisted the mothers. Everyone had important jobs to do.

The houses were small and dark, and had raked dirt floors. To let in light, there were window openings, but no glass. There was no way for the Pilgrims to make glass, so they filled their windows with sheets of oiled paper!

Oiled Paper Windows: 1 sheet of computer paper, 2 old socks, a small cup of vegetable oil, and a tray if you'd like to contain the mess. 

I explained to the children that the Pilgrims gathered their oil from rendering the fat of animals they hunted. In comparison, we used a different kind of oil - vegetable oil from the store.

I stuffed one old sock way down inside the toe of the other, and used this as a blotting tool to soak up some oil and rub the paper. As I rubbed in a circular motion, adding a bit more oil, the paper became suddenly clear enough to show the design engraved on the tray, but retained it's strength as if it were dry! The kids thought this was pretty cool, and everyone took turns "painting" with the oil.

When held up to a window, you can see how the oiled paper is clear enough to let in sunlight, but not clear like glass. You can't see through it at all.

We discussed how a paper window doesn't keep the heat inside very well, so the Pilgrims built heavy shutters to close up tight when the sun went down.

Finally, I printed out fold-and-cut patterns for log cabins onto cardstock. The kids colored them in, remembering to do a yellow or green thatched roof. I helped cut out each house, fold it into cube shapes, and tape it all together. We added these to our imaginative play area.

Day 6: The Wampanog Tribe. We haven't gotten this far, yet, but soon we'll discuss the Native Americans who came to the aid of the Pilgrims and showed them how to plant crops in the New World. We'll make paper dolls of Wampanog adults and children to add to our play area, and I've built a "bark" wigwam out of fringed brown construction paper attached to a cylindrical breadcrumbs canister.

It came out looking more like an Iroquois longhouse... but I don't think they'll be fact-checking my artistic efforts.

We'll look through books about Native Americans and discuss how they dressed, what they ate, their daily lives, and what tools and weapons they used. We'll discuss the language barrier and how Squanto was able to overcome it after learning English.

We'll look at a list of place names and words with Native American origins, and discuss how we use these words now because the Native Americans and Plymouth Colonists have passed them down through the years to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all the way to us! (This conversation will sow the seeds for a genealogy unit which we'll be doing after the holidays.) 

The paper patterns for this lesson came from the book Pilgrims: complete theme unit developed in cooperation with Pilgrim Hall Museum, by Susan Moger (Scholastic). It can be ordered directly from Scholastic, here.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Columbus Day lesson with ship-building and role-playing

This afternoon, the children (ages 4 and 5) and I discussed Columbus Day and what it must have been like for the ninety sailors who accompanied Columbus across the Atlantic, as well as how the Native Americans may have felt after their encounter with the European explorers.

We constructed a cardboard Santa Maria, dressed up as Christopher Columbus, made a telescope and compass, consulted the globe and other maps, and discussed the Columbus story and explored MANY little tangents along the way!

To see the tutorial of our Santa Maria ship and our petri dish compass, just skip past the Lesson portion of this post. 

The Lesson:

We began this lesson by talking about "the olden days" before cars and trucks, electricity, and indoor pluming. We talked about chamber pots, outhouses, candles, and wash basins to set context. 

We looked at a picture of Christopher Columbus and discussed some of his characteristics and attributes, as explained by various sources. They were not all pleasant. He was known to be an angry and bossy Captain, who beat his sailors.

Next, we consulted a print-out of a map of the known world in 1492, and compared that to a modern world map. The children noticed differences in the accuracy of each map, the shapes and sizes of the continents, and that some land masses were missing from the older map. We discussed how difficult map-making would have been before satellite images and safer forms of transportation were invented.

We discussed how many people at that time still believed that the earth was flat, and imagined sailing a ship from Spain across the Atlantic, and falling off the edge of the Earth. Then I introduced Columbus's theory of a spherical earth. We rolled up our 1492 map to show how short the passage to India would be, if Columbus's theory was correct. The children agreed that his route was a much shorter and safer one, and supported his exploration.

We discussed how challenging and difficult such a trip must have been for sailors who were unaccustomed to sailing straight across such a large body of water.

Concerns included; 

  • falling off the edge of the earth
  • giant sea monsters
  • not enough food or fresh water (we recalled that salt water is not drinkable)
  • terrible storms
  • sunburn
  • boredom

While I spoke, I held a globe and positioned a little laminated fleet of ships over Spain, and slowly moved them across the Atlantic until they arrived at the Caribbean. With my storytelling, I painted a picture of the sailor's relief at after 60 days, finally spotting those first tangles of seaweed, at spotting those first land birds which must belong to some country, and at noticing those clouds which turned into real mountains and trees.

The children were fairly well captivated, and I was glad I chose a story-telling method rather than simply reading from a book.

When Columbus and his sailors landed, they saw people who looked and dressed very differently from themselves. I presented a few select images from a Non-fiction Native American book to show how the people looked and what their dwellings looked like. I reiteratd that these events took place a very long time ago, and there were no cities, tall buildings, or vehicles, because they hadn't been invented, yet.

The children wanted to know where the native people got their clothes and food, since there were no stores, so we read a brief passage about the wild foods that the Native Americans gathered and prepared, and how they made their clothing from tanned animal hides.

I made a rather brief conclusion to the story, but did touch briefly upon Columbus's unpleasant interactions with the Native Americans along the eastern coast, as well as his requests for ever more gold, and dissatisfaction with the "treasures" which the Native Americans shared with him. We imagined what it would have felt like to be a Native American who gave away many of their special possessions to someone who seemed ungrateful and kept asking for more. We also imagined how frustrating it would have been for Columbus to think that the "Indians" were holding out on sharing the gold, pearls, and spices which he "knew" they possessed!

From a Humanistic perspective, we believe that it's very important to discuss opinions that seem in opposition to each other, but are equally valid in their own contexts.

Making our Santa Maria
I threw together this cardboard ship with supplies we had handy and cobbled it all together with packing tape and pipe cleaners. It withstood a very active afternoon of role-playing, and is awaiting further adventures. 


1 curtain with tabs
2 light-weight curtain rods
packing tape
4-6 pipe cleaners, wire, or good strong string
1 large cardboard box - as sturdy as possible
1 pizza box
Boxcutter and scissors
1 sheet red scrapbooking paper
1 paperclip

I made a house/roof type of structure by attaching the pizza box to one end of the large box. The pointed end would be the bow of our ship.

I filled in the "floor" of the triangle bow with a scrap piece of cardboard, cut into a triangle shape, and held in place with packing tape. This helped reinforce the bow.

Our ship begun taking shape, and from here after, I was working around the kids, who were already inside, recreating the Columbus story, while I worked.

Next, I stood up one curtain rod against the wall of box, towards the front of the ship. Patrick held it in place while I used the box cutter to poke a small hole on either side of the rod, in three locations down the length of the rod. I was able to thread a pipe-cleaner through each of these holes and twist it good and tight to hold the rod upright. This would be our Mast.

I threaded our tabbed curtain onto the second curtain rod, and at the top of the mast we just attached to the box, I balanced the second curtain rod in a "T" shape. I used packing tape to hold the two rods together, and reinforced that with twisted pipe-cleaners. It isn't pretty, but it did turn out very sturdy.

On the front of our sail, I attached a red scrapbook paper cross, Columbus-style, with a paperclip.

We used some scrap fabric for a Columbus cape, and dug out our under-used tri-corner hat.

Columbus didn't have the luxury of using a telescope, but we made one anyway, for the sake of play.

Columbus DID use a compass, and we made a very pretty  "play" compass by setting a circle of construction paper into the bottom of a petri dish. We labeled the circle with North, South, East, and West. Inside the lid of the petri dish, we attached an arrow. By spinning the lid, the children can adjust their direction, and decide which way they must travel to find the New World.

Another good option: use the petri dish to make a real, working Water Compass.

Finally, the original Santa Maria had four cannons, two on each side, so we cut a little hole in our box and installed a hefty piece of driftwood to serve as our makeshift cannon. The children used it to fight dragons and sea monsters, of course.

Construction of our Santa Maria took less than an hour, and it was a leisurely and fun build. The children were active helpers when they weren't already re-creating and expanding upon the story of great adventure upon the high-seas!

Additional Columbus lesson ideas:

  • Discuss navigation by using the sun and stars. 
  • Draw some play maps of your own to roll up into scrolls, tie with string, and consult as the "Captain" sees fit. 
  • Trade with the Native Americans. (Prop-supported role play) Sailors should offer sheets, blankets, cookware, or other interesting things, and the Native Americans can offer necklaces, bracelets, vegetables, shells, baskets, or "weapons". 
  • Use hand gestures to try to communicate with each other, due to the language barrier. Try making stick and dirt drawings of the things you want to trade, and what you want to eat. 
  • Read In 1492 by Jean Marzollo for a simple rhyming poem and pretty illustrations suitable for ages 4-6. 
  • Cut and paste construction paper to create the Santa Maria and attach the text, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Point out that two and blue rhyme, and that helps us remember the year. 
  • Discuss how it would feel to be a Native American seeing the European ships for the first time. And who were those strange-colored people on board the ship? Why were they dressed in heavy robes and fabrics when it's so hot, out? 
  • Make a list of what you would bring on a long sea voyage. Label one side of the list "WANTS" and the other side, "NEEDS". 
  • Weave a mat. Christopher Columbus's father was a weaver - a very important job in the 1400's. What things are woven? (A: Clothes, blankets, table cloths, curtains, rugs). Weave a paper mat using one piece of paper cut into slices and separate stripes of paper. Demonstrate the over-under technique. Show a real woven piece of fabric,and discuss how much harder it would be to weave so many small pieces of fabric. 

Have fun with your upcoming Columbus Day history lesson!

Happy Columbus Day to you, and Happy 100th post, to me! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Host an Alphabetic Car Show

This week, we were gifted with a large collection of petri dishes, so I've been looking for creative ways of using them. This morning, we discovered that they make excellent "rotating floors" in an alphabetical order car show!

For my transportation-loving kids, this was an awesome project!

The ABC element helped improve my (almost 4-year old) daughter's letter recognition, and my 5-year-old son loved that we looked up and used the proper Make and Model names for each Matchbox vehicle.

Our supplies:

26 petri dishes
Set of uppercase alphabet letters 
Assortment of diecast cars

We used letter tiles for this project, but flash cards or hand drawn letters on a long strip of paper would work just as well.

First, the children lined up the 26 petri dishes like a showroom floor.

Next, I told them that we'd be working with UPPERCASE letters today, and handed out their letters one at a time. The children ran to a petri dish, put their letter inside, and replaced the lid.

Time-saver tip: DON'T hunt through your letter tiles or flashcards for a complete uppercase or lowercase alphabet while the program is in swing. The children may become impatient and lose interest. BETTER: sort out your 26 letter tiles while the kids set up their showroom floor (in our case, the petri dishes), and be ready to hand out the letters when they're done.

Last, the children took turns picking diecast cars out of their basket, while I read the Make and Model, which is written on the underside of most vehicles. We said the name of each vehicle together, and sounded out the first letter. Then the children had to hunt for the petri dish that contained their special letter, and place the car on top, on "display".

Volkswagon Beetle ..................... V or B
Chevy Impala ............................. C or I
1966 Dodge Pickup ................... D or P

As most of the letters became taken, we took more liberties with our vehicle names, and sometimes used more general terms, like Ice Cream Truck (I), Tractor (T), Convertible (C), or even Goodyear (G).

In the end, we filled up most of our display floors, except for K, Q, X, Y, and Z.

This program took about 20 minutes from start to finish, and was improved by cooperation between the children. My daughter can say her alphabet, but has difficulty identifying letters out of order, so her brother kindly helped her find the letters she was searching for. And using vechicles to mask our ABC practice kept them focused on a lesson they otherwise would not have tolerated.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Art History: Make your own pre-historic Cave Painting (using paint and scratch methods)


Flat stones (for writing on)
Pointed stones (for scratching with)
Sidewalk chalk
A little water
Paint brushes
Pictures of cave paintings

Today we looked at the first pages of an Art History book, and read about Cave Paintings. We learned about how four teenagers discovered the Lascaux caves in France in 1940 after chasing their dog, "Robot", into one of the earthly fissures.

My children, ages 3 and 5, thought this was a pretty cool story, and they were pretty engaged in the lesson and activity.

Pictured: two of the four teens who found the cave.
 Next, we discussed why paintings inside caves are better preserved than paintings left outside, which are susceptible to the weather and air pollution.

We looked at some examples of single-figure paintings, like animals, and discussed how that object or animal might have been important to the artist, and why he chose to paint it.

For the horse, might it have been used for transportation? For agriculture? As a pet?

I asked the children to think about their own lives, and objects or animals that are important to them. If they were early humans, what special thing would they chose to draw and share with future humans?

Both children named their favorite toys, and we later used those objects as the subject for our own paintings. 

Next, we looked at pictures of cave paintings found in Libya, Africa, and discovered that the area currently known as the Sahara Desert used to be filled with lush greenery, as illustrated by paintings and drawings by early humans from that area.

 This helped us return to a discussion from earlier in the week about the water cycle, large-scale planetary changes, and the precipitation necessary to create vegetal or barren landscapes.

 Last, we compared two methods of making cave art; painting and scratching.

We wondered how early humans made their paint (something we'd also learned about during our Leonardo da Vinci unit), and imagined how we could grind up certain brightly colored stones or bits of clay to make a powered pigment. We read about how black lines were made by using burnt sticks, charcoal, or wetted soil, and looked at animals that were painted with these methods.

To easily recreate this process, we ground up sidewalk chalk and wetted the powder to make our own "paint".

 We used brushes to paint our animal and toy figures onto flat stones.

Next, we looked at some images of cave paintings made by scratching stone-on-stone.

 We went hunting for a few thin, sharp stones to use as our tools.

 We practiced making marks on different kinds of flat stones...

... and discovered that some stones worked better than others.

We looked at images of some of the more busy cave paintings, and discussed how a lack of alphabet meant that these people told their stories through images. For example, footprints symbolized a long journey.

We arranged our stones to tell a story.

In the end, the kids were really excited that they had effectively created "cave paintings," which if left deep inside a secret cave, could (in theory), survive for hundreds of years and become a message to future humans!