Posted in family life

going to the zoo!

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.

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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.

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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!

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This is what I get when I tell the kids to smile at me… I guess Rondel is somewhat close?
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Playing together – I think they are subduing the Komodo dragon so it can’t fight them.

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.

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.

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D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!

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Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in family life

a little stegosaurus!

There’s a little stegosaurus running loose around here!

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(His tail still needs another row of plates but he can’t wait!)

He looks pretty friendly to me, and he’s definitely excited to see the moon still up in the morning sky.

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I mean, have you ever seen such a smily dinosaur?

I wouldn’t want to get spiked by that tail, though! Even friendly little stegosauruses can be fierce when they need to be.

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Someone remembered that stegosauruses walk on four legs!