Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Baby Brontosaurus (Not Apatosaurus) Cookies

This one is for my inner eight year old, one more victim of O.C. Marsh and the great "bone wars", who has never quite gotten over the loss of the brontosaurus. I know it's just a name, but a "thunder lizard" by any other name is not the same.

I based these cookies on a cartoon drawing of a brontosaurus, from FunDraw.com. I traced the clip art right off the computer screen, onto wax paper, to use as a template for the main part of the body, but I got the neck a little short. So, just pretend they look like brontosauruses, or apatosauruses, or whatever you want to call them.

I made a half batch of sugar cookie dough, added green food coloring, and rolled it out. A half batch is enough to make 10-12 dinosaurs. I made six (plus one extra in case one crumbled), and rolled the rest of the dough into balls to freeze.

I cut one dinosaur for each child, minus the legs. For the legs, I cut two, "H" shapes, curved in at the top, to go with each dinosaur (see below). Then, I cut two notches in each dinosaur, kind of guessing on the width the baked cookies would be, where the legs would attach. (I should give a nod here to Design Sponge's "Bahhh-licious" sheep cracker design.)

At the last second, I stuck a chocolate chip "eye" in each cookie as well, before baking them for 14 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

While they were still warm, I tested, and trimmed the notches, with a sharp knife.

When putting them together to serve, I found it was easiest to put the back legs on first, holding the dinosaur, and legs, with one hand, and then slipping in the front legs, with the other. Keeping the legs fairly short, allows them to balance easily, so they are sturdy enough to carry across the room, on a plate, without having them collapse.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Colander Sewing Practice

We woke up to 34 degrees, and a slushy rain, today. Needless to say, we won't be going out to any Memorial Day services, or parades. Instead, I found myself pulling out my two colanders, a couple of balls of yarn, and our blunt end, child safe, plastic needles, for a little impromptu, boredom buster, sewing practice.

Why colanders?

Well, because I have two colanders, and two little girls. The colanders have pre-punched holes, big enough for the chunky needles to fit through. And, I don't currently have any of that grape bag type mesh, which is also good for beginning sewing practice.

I threaded each needle with a nice long piece of yarn, knotted at one end, and pulled it through the first hole for the girls.

Then, I set them stitching the thread, in and out of the holes.

E (age 6), took right off, without much supervision, but C (age 4), needed more help, to figure the right hole, and direction to pass the yarn through, and how to keep the yarn on the needle, as she pulled her stitches tight.

Once they got going, they looked so cute, stitching and chatting away - just like an old fashioned sewing bee.

They kept at the task for quite a while this morning, E's interest lasting longer than C's. Though, both girls were happy to discover, that pulling the yarn back out of the colanders, one stitch at a time, was even more fun than the sewing it in.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dinosaur Nest Activity

I had a group of very disappointed children yesterday, when we had to postpone a trip to Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, because of a threat of iffy weather (snow, rain, thunderstorms, and the like) on the passes.

To cheer them up I picked up a box of Quaker Oatmeal with Dinosaur Eggs. The children loved it. But, the best part was the grow-in-water dinosaur toys I found on the same aisle.

We almost never buy the special theme oatmeal, much less toys from the supermarket, so it was already a pretty big surprise. But, I decided to up the ante on the toys, and turn them into a full blown activity.

First I encased them in paper mache eggs (made just like standard pinatas, only tiny, around water balloons). I hadn't told the children about the toys, so they had no idea what I was making, and I did most of the finish work while they were sleeping, to keep it all a surprise.

I started them yesterday afternoon, and had them finished, and dry enough to hide in a brown towel "nest", in an out of the way corner of the living room, before we headed off to church.

After lunch, I read Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld's Dinosaur Babies, with the younger children...

...and then sent them on a search for the nest.

Once the eggs were found and broken open, the dinosaurs were immersed in water, and left to grow.

Hopefully, we'll make it over to Bozeman soon to take a look at, or rather another look, because we have been there before, real fossilized, Maiasaura eggs. If I remember right, the fossilized eggs are far less colorful, than our paper mache copies. Hopefully, the children won't be too disappointed.

In the meantime, while we're waiting for our toy dinosaurs to grow in their glasses, I'm off to check out the Science Sunday link-up at Adventures in Mommydom, for more science themed projects, and ideas for children.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Learning to Share Like a Paleontologist - Dinosaur Fossil Cookie

We spent some time this evening, listening to Music Little People's A T-Rex Named Sue, after seeing it mentioned by Christy over at Superheroes and Princesses. It retells the story of Sue Hendrickson's find of the most complete T-Rex skeleton yet, interspersing the story with silly little songs.

The styles of music vary widely through the CD, so if you don't like one song, you might like the next. If you're curious, you can listen to a sampling of the audio at Amazon.com.

Even though we live in "the treasure state", where the effects of gold fever are well known, the children have been having a hard time understanding the greed of the bone wars during the mid-nineteenth century, or how the ownership of a modern fossil find, like Sue, could end up needing to be settled with a lawsuit.

I thought I'd give them a taste of fossil fever - literally - you know, with a cookie.

I started by mixing up an entire batch of sugar cookie dough (click here, for the recipe). Normally for a snack for the six children, I only use a half batch, so this time they were getting extra. I divided the dough in half, and added two tablespoons of baker's cocoa to one half, which I used to make my "fossilized bones".

I followed the same basic bone pattern we had used a while back, when we made our salt dough fossils, except I reversed the colors, because we've learned through our recent reading, that the fossilized bones are darker than the surrounding sandstone. That's part of what makes them possible to spot.

I baked the chocolate pieces for 12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and then removed them from the oven, two minutes earlier than normal. While they cooled, I patted out the remaining vanilla dough, into a flat oval, maybe a quarter inch thick, and baked that for 12 minutes, too.

After removing it from the oven, I pressed the almost baked chocolate pieces into the almost baked oval, reduced the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (because the center of the oval was still pretty doughy, but the edges were nearly done), and popped the whole thing back into the oven for about 7 minutes, until the vanilla dough was beginning to brown, and the center seemed firm.

When I served it to the children, for their snack, I explained it was more cookie than they normally get, so there was plenty - just like there were plenty of fossils for all the paleontologists during the bone wars, and even now. No one needed to loose their head.

Then, I stood back, and let the bone, or rather cookie, wars begin.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

What My Child Is Reading - More Paleontology, History, and Confusion

We've kind of become paleontological historians this week, thanks to Nathan Aaseng's ten short biographies of past and present paleontologists in his American Dinosaur Hunters, and because of a call we put into the The Museum of the Rockies, attempting to find out, what we thought was a simple questions - "How many T. Rex fossils have been found worldwide, representing how many skeletons? And of those, how many have been found in Montana."

The answer proved difficult for them to find (though they did make an attempt, something I really appreciate). That fact, together with PBS's American Experience: Dinosaur Wars, which we watched to go along with the Aaseng's biographies of O.C. Marsh, and Edward Cope, led us to understand the history of American paleontology has been more about treasure hunting like pirates, than investigating like scientists.

We saw this theme repeated in Judith Williams' The Discovery and Mystery of A Dinosaur Named Jane, where we read about a team from the Burpee Museum of Natural History hiding a dinosaur find under fresh dirt and rock, until they could return to the sight a year later, with proper permits allowing them to dig, and remove the fossils of a juvenile T. Rex. It wasn't enough for them to make the find, they needed to keep it for themselves.

This has been the case with many fossil finds, but no more so than with the remains of the T. Rex, as we read about in Douglas Dixon's The Discovery of T. Rex. Even the learned halls of academia have made a series of errors in their presentations of fossils and findings, in the rush to be the first to present a new dinosaur.

Another thing we've noticed is that many of the men and women (mainly men) who are considered giants in the history of paleontology, the ones who have formed our thinking of the "prehistoric" world, were not as educated, or trained, or even atheistic, as the current scientific literature might have led us to believe. Even Dr. John "Jack" Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, holds only an honorary doctorate, and as far as I can tell, has not even earned a bachelors degree.

Still he's a fascinating researcher, we appreciated his TedxVancouver presentation entitled, "The Shape-Shifting Skulls of Dinosaurs", found here, on You Tube. And, I'm thoroughly enjoying his How to Build a Dinosaur, Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever co-authored by James Gorman. I'm reading it pretty well as a work of science fiction, set in Montana, but with a few tendrils of truth, and glimpses into where the science is heading.

If nothing else, it's extremely well written, and brings to surface another fact I've learned personally this week, reading it along side Faith, Form, and Time by Kurt Wise (a creationist, who earned his doctorate in paleontology from Harvard) - that when men of science, or letters, choose to write about their field for the layman, they should always use a ghost writer.

I would love to jump up on a soap box, and rant for a bit about all of the above, but ranting is not really my forte. And besides, this post is growing rather long, and I still wanted to recommend one more book we read this week, before linking into Mouse Grows Mouse Learns' What My Child Is Reading link-up (where you can find out what other families have been reading, and are recommending this week), and that is Dinosaur Mummies, Beyond Bare-Bone Fossils by Kelly Milner Halls.

The main reason for my recommendation of this book, beyond it's very interesting topic, can be found in the last few pages, where Halls lists eleven major mummified finds, including where, when, and by whom they were found, as well as the expert in charge of the dig, and the headquarters, or organization behind the "expert". It's not all that often you come across such clear, well mapped out, and presented paleontological information, and is definitely worth note.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Folk Toy Fridays - Hand Propeller

I would probably call this toy a helicopter, but I've seen it referred to as a hand propeller, Chinese top, or bamboo dragonfly. At any rate, it has a less interesting name than some of the other folk toys.

HistoricalFolkToys.com writes, that the toy has an Asian origin. They also claim, a similar toy was given to the Wright brothers, by their father, when they were children, and helped to inspire their interest in flight.

My own children have played with inexpensive plastic versions, brought home from birthday parties, and children's fairs. We've always enjoyed playing with them. But, making a few ourselves proved educational, fun, and surprisingly easy.

Our supplies were pretty basic - an empty cracker box, bendy straws, scissors, a ruler, and a hole punch.

We started by cutting a strip of cardboard, from the side of the box, somewhere around two inches wide, and 9 inches long, more or less.

We folded it in half, bringing the short sides together, to find the middle.

Then, we started at one end, and cut away about a half inch from the top of the horizontal side, toward the middle. We did the same, but cut away from the bottom of the horizontal side, once we crossed the middle (see the picture below).

We punched a hole in the center (or pretty close to it) with a hole punch.

Pinching the bottom of the straw, we slid it through the hole, until it caught on the ridges of the bendy part. The straw was a tight fit in the hole, so we didn't need to add any tape to keep it from moving around.

But, we did trim the top of the straw, down to the ridges.

After giving it a test flight, we trimmed a little more off of each side of the propeller, and bent the ends up a little. Then, we made several more, so each child could fly their own.

Which they did, by holding the straw between the back of one palm, and the fingertips of the other hand.

Then, they pushed their second hand forward, spinning the propeller towards, and off, the fingertips of the first hand.

Our hand propellers acted with a boomerang-like action, flying up and forward, and then down, and back toward the launcher.

But, they fly differently, depending the length, and shape of the propellers, and how they are bent, leaving room for experimentation, and play.

It's great to be a homeschooler.