Archive for April 22nd, 2011

One of the ways we try to inspire our kids to learn is through mini unit studies based on the animal, geographic location, or historical period explored in the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne.  If you’re not familiar with this wonderful series, the books are about a brother and sister (close in age to my kids) who discover a magic tree house that will take them to any place that is pictured in a book.  Because of the variety of locations (the time of the dinosaurs, a Medieval castle, the American Revolution, the moon, etc.), these books provide an opportunity to introduce kids to a variety of topics.  If something piques their curiosity, we check out lots of resources from the library and delve even deeper into the topic.  Some units are easier to expand than others, but from time to time I’ll share units in this blog that are particularly fun and interesting for us, in case you want to try these at home.

Last week we read book #13, “Vacation Under the Volcano,” which is about Pompeii. I happened to have found an earth science book on the new release shelf at the library, so I decided to incorporate some earth science into our study.  Here’s what we did for last week’s Magic Tree House Adventure.

DAY 1:

  1. Earth Science Study – The Earth’s Layers.  Read about the earth’s layers in, “Explore Rocks and Minerals!” by Cynthia Light Brown and Nick Brown.  Also read about shifting plates and how they cause earthquakes, mountains, and volcanic activity.
  2. Activity – Earth Candies.  To illustrate the different layers of the earth, make Earth Candies.  I first made my Peanut Butter Ball recipeand rolled some into balls.  I cut the balls in half, made an indentation in the center of each half, then invited the kids to make the rest.   We put some caramel in the indentations, then put a chocolate chip in the caramel on one half, and pressed the two halves together.  We then dipped them in melted chocolate, and sprinkled chopped nuts on top.  While waiting for the chocolate to harden on these delicious candies, we reviewed what each layer represented:
    • Chocolate chip – Inner, solid core
    • Caramel – Outer, liquid core
    • Peanut butter ball – Mantle
    • Outer chocolate layer – Crust
    • Chopped nuts – Soil and plants (although we thought they looked like mountains)
  3. Historical Book – “You Wouldn’t Want to Live in Pompeii!” by John Malam.  The “You Wouldn’t Want to…” series are wonderful books for kids!  You can find them on just about every topic.  My son loves them, since they are definitely written to appeal to 9-year-old boys (and their parents).  They go into detail about what it was like to live in different time periods and cultures, and tell stories with funny illustrations.
  4. Geography – Italy.  Get out the globe and find where we live on the globe first.  Then travel with your finger to Italy, where Pompeii is located.

DAY 2:

  1. Begin Magic Tree House Book, “Vacation Under the Volcano.”  We like to start reading in the upper level of our jungle gym outside when the weather is nice, since each book begins with the main characters going to the tree house which spins around and takes them to a new place.  When it’s cold, the kids go in our tiny kids tent to begin their adventure.  Now that my daughter has finished her first grade reading curriculum, she and my son take turns reading the chapters.  I let them read as far as they want to, then pick up with more the next day.

DAY 3:

  1. Earth Science Study – Volcanoes.  Read about volcanoes in “Our World” by Usborne.  (We love anything by Usborne, Eyewitness Books, or DK for kids!)
  2. Activity – Types of Lava.  Read about types of lava in “Explore Rocks and Minerals,” then do an activity to demonstrate what happens when gas is under pressure:
    • Open a can of soda and pour some into a glass.  Let sit for an hour or two.  Explain that lava has dissolved gas in it, just like soda.  Thin lava rises slowly, leaving lots of time for the gas to escape, so it pours out onto the surface without much fizz, like the flat soda.
    • OUTSIDE, shake up a second can of soda and carefully open it.  When a lot of gas stays trapped in pasty, thick lava, it acts like the shaken soda when the pressure is finally released.
  3. Read more of “Vacation Under the Volcano.”

DAY 4:

  1. Finish “Vacation Under the Volcano.”
  2. Let kids look through the Earth science books and decide if there’s anything else they want to study.

DAY 5:

  1. Movie – Watch National Geographic’s “Volcano: Nature’s Inferno” on Netflix streaming.*
  2. Snack – Discuss benefits we receive from volcanoes, like rich soil for growing food.  Serve some fresh pineapple from the Hawaiian islands (the pineapple in our grocery store comes from Hawaii), which were formed from volcanoes.
  3. Activity – Make a volcano from a science kit (my son got one a year ago, and we’d been saving it for this week!) or follow the instructions for a homemade vinegar and baking soda volcano in the Usborne “Our World” book (p. 61).

*Depending on the age and sensitivity of your kids, you may want to preview the volcano movie before showing it.  My sensitive, 6-year-old daughter watched it, and definitely was bothered by the scenes of devastation and reports of lost lives due to volcanic activity.  However, since my children lead fairly sheltered lives, I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss some important realities with them:

  • Even though our lives are fairly secure, we live in a world where disasters happen.  We should be upset when we see people losing their homes or lives.  And if there’s something we can do to help, we should be God’s hands and feet to reach out to hurting people.
  • We don’t need to live in fear of something bad happening to us.  In our country, geologists monitor volcanoes and seismic activity, and the emergency broadcast system is in place to warn people of impending danger.  When we are afraid, we can pray and ask others for help.
  • We should have a healthy fear and respect of the powerful forces at work in nature.  If government officials tell you to leave an area for your safety, you should listen to them.  The volcanologists who died in the movie did so because they lost their fear of volcanoes and unnecessarily risked their lives because they didn’t respect the power and unpredictability of nature.

The kids responded well to this discussion, and they now have a greater understanding of the awesome forces at work in nature.  Most of the resources I used were inexpensive or came from the library, so unit studies can be fun and interesting without costing a lot of money.

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These are one of my family’s favorite Christmastime treats.  I posted the peanut butter filling as an option for fondue, and I’ve also used this recipe to make Earth Candies, as a way of showing the layers of the earth.  However you make these, you can’t go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate!

1-1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter or dairy free margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, and vanilla.  Stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.  Roll into small balls and freeze one hour or until hard.

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 squares almond bark chocolate
4 T. shortening

Melt chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl on 70% power until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds.  Dip peanut butter balls in chocolate and place on waxed paper to harden.

Earth Candies:

If you don’t want to make a huge batch of the peanut butter ball dough, you can use the amounts below.

1/4 c. + 2 T. peanut butter
2 T. butter or margarine, softened
1/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. powdered sugar, plus enough to make it firm but not crumbly
3 squares almond bark chocolate
16 – 20 chocolate chips
Caramel ice cream topping (I used a McDonald’s caramel dipping sauce)
Chopped nuts (I used a McDonald’s hot fudge sundae nut topping bag)

Follow directions above to make peanut butter balls.  Freeze for about 30 minutes.  Cut open balls and press the tip of a baby spoon in the center of each half.  Fill halves with caramel sauce.  Fill one half with a chocolate chip, then replace the other half and pinch edges to seal.  Re-roll, if necessary.  Dip balls in melted chocolate and place on waxed paper.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts.

My post, “Unit Study: Volcanoes, Pompeii, and Earth Candies,” contains the explanation of the different layers.

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