Homeschooling S.T.E.A.M.: Dinosaurs – Week 1

As you may recall from two weeks ago, we finished up our unit on fruit and I decided to give the kids a chance to suggest our next topic. They came up with lots of interesting suggestions, but I was most impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the littlest one for one topic: Dinosaurs. He doesn’t usually join us for much of the homeschooling time, since he’s still only three, but I thought this particular topic might give him the chance to interact with all of us, in an educational setting, a lot more. So we’re going to be talking about all dinosaurs all the time for the next couple months. Books will be easy, but finding S.T.E.A.M. activities will, I assume, take a little more work. I look forward to the challenge!

For a basic text, we will be using Guide to Dinosaurs from Harvest House Publishers. This text is too difficult for most of the kids to read independently, so I’ll be doing the whole thing as a read-aloud. We’re looking at around ten pages a week to finish by my goal date. That makes sound like a lot, but these kids love being read to, so I’m not worried. Besides. It’s dinosaurs!

This text was selected because it doesn’t present the theory of evolution as fact, and that was an important consideration. Instead, it presents solid scientific evidence for a young Earth and for a creation event. While I know this isn’t an issue for every homeschooling family, it is for this one, and the text reflects that fact. I’ll be supplementing this text with lots and lots of great picture books about dinosaurs. I’m ever so glad right now that o work in a library! If I had to buy all these books, it would cost me a fortune!

For this first week, we read three fun little books, all pulled from the library’s collection. I’m pretty much grabbing whatever I see with the word “dinosaur” in the title, so we’re getting an interesting variety!

  • We started out with Dinosaur Dinosaur by Kevin Lewis. This is a fun little book about a dinosaur who acts and feels a lot like a child, and the kids seemed to identify with him quite a bit.
  • Next up was How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen. I’m tentatively planning to use one book from this series each week until I run out. They’re just so…fun!
  • Finally, we read Curious George’s Dinosaur Discovery by Margret Rey and H.A. Rey. It’s George and he finds dinosaur bones. What’s not to love? Plus, it talked about the drudgery of paleontology, and that’s something important for kids to see: If they want rewards, they’re going to have to work hard!

Once we finished our reading, we moved on to the activity portion. As this one involved sugar, the kids were immediately excited. Kids and their sweet teeth. What can I say?

We were talking about dinosaur footprints today and showing how they could become fossilised. We had talked a good deal about that during our textbook reading today, so it was a good match. We made sugar cookie dough (gluten free and vegan so all the kiddos would get to eat some) and the kids worked on measuring skills. While the eldest is quite competent in this area, the younger ones still struggle, so cooking helps greatly in their understanding of fractions.

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Once the batter was done, we spread it into a round pan and gave at some oven time. I pulled it out when the surface was dry but the cookie-cake (as the kiddos called it) wasn’t yet cooked all the way through. Then came the fun part. I had the four oldest kids each pick any one implement they wanted which they thought would make good fossil impressions. After washing their choices, I divided the cookie-cake in quarters and let each child press in their implement into their quarter. We had a variety of choices. Fork, toy wolf, baby toy, and a spoon handle combined with a couple pieces of chocolate rescued from a melted bowl of ice cream. Each was unique and made unique impressions, just as all dinosaurs left unique footprints.

I did have to remind the kids to be careful and hold the pan myself with a pot holder since it was still quite hot. When the kids were done, we talked about what story each set of impressions might tell. They were very creative!

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In the image above, you’ll see their creations. We had ( starting at the top and moving clockwise) dinosaurs who were walking, standing, trying to outrun rising floodwaters, and taking a nap. They thought it was interesting that the impressions could be made so easily in a soft surface, and we discussed how mud makes such a great medium for that reason. Then it was time to fill in our fossil impressions, just like ancient footprints were filled. In our case, though, we used chocolate instead of mud. Because yum.

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After a little more baking time, the cookie-cake was done and the chocolate chips could be spread out to fill the fossil. Then we voted on our favorite. We do a lot of voting. There’s never a prize, and the kids know they aren’t allowed to vote for themselves. I give them specific voting parameters (which I never reveal until it’s time to vote), and they are good about following them. In this case, they were voting for the one that looked the most like the story it was trying to tell. The youngest won, getting three of the four votes, for his cookie-cake fossil interpretation of a meat-eating dinosaur with claws on his feet standing in the mud while waiting for prey. Pretty impressive, I think!

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This ended up being a very fun and educational lesson, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the unit and lot more than I expected. See you next week for more Dinosaurs!

 

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