While the kids were playing together, I set up an activity for the next lull in their imagination. Pulling out two of our giant whiteboards, I quartered them and placed a biome card (from our Waseca materials) into each of the eight sections: Oceans, Wetlands, Tropical Forests, Temperate Forests, Grasslands, Desert, Mountains, Polar Regions. Pulling out the box of toy animals, I began sorting them into the biomes: zebras in Grasslands, tigers in Tropical forests, dolphins in Oceans.
It wasn’t long before Rondel came out and was instantly engaged, asking if he could help sort the animals. So we sorted together, talking about which biomes would make the most sense for animals which are domesticated, for example, or adapted for a range of habitats. When we had at least a few animals in each biome, I brought out the biome question and answer cards.
There were six questions altogether (asking about temperature, moisture, soil, plants, animals, and humans), and each one had an answer for each biome, so Rondel’s task was to match each answer to the correct biome after I read the card. He only needed help on one or two of the cards, and showed a good conceptual understanding of how the environment differs between biomes, how plants and animals have adapted to different biomes, and how humans have interacted with biomes in different ways (both positive and negative).
I noticed that our animal representation was heavily skewed towards African grasslands and oceans; the Waseca teacher’s guide recommended using animals cutout from magazines, which would increase the diversity, but I didn’t have any that I was willing to cut up. I may just need to buy a big batch of old National Geographics or ZooBooks off of Ebay – old magazines can be really useful craft and learning supplies!
This activity was a good summary of the information we’ve learned about biomes as well as a good overview before diving into more detail on any one area; I think we’ll explore animal adaptations next but I have a lot of ideas.
As a way to document our unschooling journey in case we need records or information for doubtful friends and family, as well as for our own memories, I’m going to showcase once a week some of the things we’ve been learning. It may be through conversations, books, TV, exploration, or more (and I’ll try to mix it up week to week!), since our goal is to be whole-life learners. Hopefully it may also provide some ideas for others, especially when I’m sharing resources we love!
In a search for a new animal documentary that Rondel “hadn’t even seen one of yet!”, we discovered BBC’s show Hidden Kingdoms.
I know this show generated a bit of controversy because it is more scripted and less observational than a typical nature documentary – but almost because of that it is an excellent introduction to these animals for people (especially young children) who may not have enough background information about them to appreciate something purely observational. These episodes showcase the unique abilities and challenges faced by its “stars” in a very compelling way, while still remaining biologically accurate. And the extra feature at the end of each episode, explaining how they filmed parts of the show, is fascinating in its own right!
Some of our favorite facts:
African sengis create trails in the grass for themselves to make it easier to run away from predators or catch prey – it is essentially a maze that they know by heart. (All of Rondel’s current imaginary animals are now building trails for themselves in the grass too.)
Arizona grasshopper mice are immune to scorpion venom and will fight, kill, and eat scorpions! They also howl to claim their territory, somewhat like wolves. (All three kids will now run through the house howling in a very high and squeaky way, telling me they are grasshopper mice.)
When chipmunks fight, they move so fast that the human eye can barely make out what is going on, but in slow motion you can see incredible twists and turns they are performing in midair. It’s absolutely amazing.
Marmosets (monkeys small enough to sit in your hand) who live in cities are often pursued by street cats, but are typically agile enough to escape. (Rondel uses stuffed animals to imitate this, constantly telling me how so-and-so escaped through his “amazing agility”.)
All small animals move at a much faster pace than large animals. They run faster compared to their body size, their metabolism is faster, and so on.
Without dung beetles, the African savanna would be pretty disgusting! It’s so neat that a creature exists whose purpose is simply to clean up (and eat) other animals’ poop, making the world better for everyone. They may appear small and lowly, but they are determined, strong, resourceful, and crucial for the ecosystem. Hmm… that may be a good object lesson someday 😉
What have you been learning this week? I’d love to hear about any fascinating, weird, exciting, or unexpected fact you’ve learned – or about any great resource that has facilitated your learning!
Rondel loves the zoo. I think he would want to go there almost every day (some days have to be for Grandma’s house) if possible, and he never wants to leave no matter how long we’ve been there. There are always more animals to see, more wonders to explore, more facts to learn. As much as he enjoys the splash pad, he always asks to see another exhibit instead, despite the heat, until I mandate a water break on behalf of his siblings.
So I thought to myself, I wonder if the zoo is doing any summer camps? Rondel will probably still be too young, but I can still see what’s available. Blithely thinking these things, I went onto their website and discovered that Rondel is not too young by any means, and would be eligible to attend a half-day camp focusing either on animal stories or animal art.
Part of me leaped up in excitement! He loves the zoo! What a great opportunity! How awesome would it be to get to spend that much time at the zoo, talking about animals, looking at animals, surrounded by people who also love animals! What a chance to try to integrate with a group of peers, in an environment without a parent, to stretch his comfort zone and expand his social skills! And oh… what about dealing with loud groups, bright sunlight, the challenges of speech articulation delays, and the anxiety of the unknown? This is, after all, the boy who struggles in a typical Sunday school classroom even with a personal aide, and the boy who cries at the park if he turns around and can’t see me – even if I haven’t moved from where he left me. Would a summer camp be an adventure or a nightmare?
My husband had the wisest words about this dilemma, about the dichotomy between excitement and fear: that if we, as Rondel’s parents, make a decision for him based on our fears of what might happen, based on what we think his limitations and struggles might be, than we are placing that limitation on him instead of giving him a chance to grow and soar and potentially surprise us all with his abilities. We would need to plan well for it, obviously, to give him the best possible chance to succeed and to give him a way out if it proved to be too much, but it would be foolish – especially in the long-term – to simply close this door because we fear he will fail.
It reminded me of a passage from (you guessed it!) Differently Wired. (Reber really seems to have covered everything. I promise I didn’t begin writing this post trying to sneak a quote in!)
“Choosing fear equates our child with their diagnosis, rather than seeing them as creative beings who are here to shake up the world in their own magnificent way. Choosing fear is the very thing that keeps us stuck. Choosing fear creates a culture of apprehension and anxiety in our families, and affects the way our children, many of whom are already highly sensitive and anxious, feel about themselves. Operating from fear leads to more limited thinking and fearful energy, which both we and our child will feel, and less chance of our child’s uncovering and experiencing their extraordinary possibilities. It’s the epitome of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Instead of choosing to direct my child away from opportunities and experiences because I’m afraid they’ll be too hard for him, I am choosing to present him with the options and let him come to his own informed decision – and then, I am choosing to support him through the results of that decision, even if they prove to be difficult or unpleasant. That is the process that will help him grow in self-awareness and confidence, that will help him develop autonomy and independence, and that will therefore help him grow into greater possibilities instead of holding him back in a box created by my own anxious and limited imagination.
If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!
The boys – especially Rondel – have been deeply interested in dinosaurs for quite a long time now, and are beginning to branch out into animals of all types. It really began with the Planet Earth documentaries that I would put on for them during Aubade’s nap times, and has continued with a short series called Africa’s Deadliest that is just as overly dramatic as the name suggests but which contains some great footage of wild animals as well as a lot of scientific facts. When we found and caught a lizard (well, rescued it from a bowl it had fallen into, to be more accurate) not too long ago, he was entranced: he understood intuitively how to hold it gently and carefully, and let it climb all over him with no fear, and ended up playing with it for 45 minutes before releasing it so it could return to its natural habitat.
So I was not surprised when he asked to go to the zoo this week, nor when he actually showed in interest in seeing the animals instead of just the dinosaur exhibit and the splash pad! And it was a good day to go!
We did of course have to visit the dinosaurs:
Obviously we couldn’t observe any live, wild, natural animal life here – but we had some discussions about the different types of nests made by different dinosaurs (we compared the twig nest of the Citipati – a feathered broody dinosaur – to that of the Diabloceratops, which was too large to brood its eggs and most likely made a mud nest like a crocodile), as well as about how the different types of dinosaurs might react if they saw us!
From the dinosaur trail the bighorn sheep exhibit is also visible, and Aubade got very excited when I pointed them out and told the kids what they were. She leaned forward in the stroller as far as she could, waving and yelling, “Hi!” – and then she turned to me, smiled, and matter-of-factly said, “Baa!” It was neat seeing her make the connection between the distant animal on the mountainside and the fuzzy white blob in her Moo, Baa, La La La board book by Sandra Boynton.
When we left the dinosaur trail, it seemed like a lot of the animals were active and awake – we got to see baboon, mandrills, oryx, cheetah (unfortunately they were difficult to see, but we did manage to spot them), otters, flamingos, zebras, and more! The flamingos were standing right by the fence, so we stood on one leg like they did, and noticed how they could turn their heads all the way around backwards to use their back like a pillow, and wondered why their large beaks only ever opened a very small amount.
Per Rondel’s request, after a cool-down break at the splash pad we visited the Tropical Birds trail, which includes a small aviary. Apparently, it is mating season at the zoo – so all the birds were awake and showing off their finery! The male peacock had his full tail fan extended, and kept shaking it at the peahen, making a surprisingly loud rattling noise when he did so. In the aviary, the male argus pheasant was strutting around on the path, making a call that the zoo keeper told us he only made during this season, instead of hiding in the back corners as he tends to do the rest of the year.
Rondel was absolutely captivated. He approached the bird slowly and quietly, and held his hands tightly back so he wouldn’t accidentally touch it (he would jump out of the way if the bird turned around so that he wouldn’t end up touching his long tail feather!), and just squatted down gazing at him for a long time, as other groups of people came and went.
Limerick was a little less certain, but he eventually went over as well. I was super proud of both of them – they are often very impulsive and active kids, and they had no trouble at all adjusting their behavior to what was needed by the animals. We talked a bit here about how a lot of viruses can jump between birds and people, so if we touched the birds we could get them sick or they could get us sick… my molecular biology background always ends up showing itself somehow 🙂
We finished up with the tiger and the Komodo dragon. I had never actually seen the Komodo dragon exhibit at our zoo, but Rondel instantly remembered them from the new Planet Earth series and was incredibly excited about them. They weren’t moving much – just soaking in the sun – but they are impressive creatures. We noticed how it was basking in the sun to soak up the energy it needs as a cold-blooded animal, and counted its claws (five on each foot, just like us, in case you wondered).
And of course we played on the Komodo dragon statue for a while!
The most wonderful thing about homeschooling is the ability we have to follow our interests – obviously in going to the zoo for a whole morning instead of adhering to a lesson plan or a class schedule, but also in deciding when to linger at an exhibit and when to move on, when to talk about the details of how an animal lives and when to stick to the basic overview, when to focus on the live animal exhibits and when to simply just have fun. The experience we had today was so real and so rich that I wouldn’t trade it for any classroom I’ve ever known.