Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bear Sleepover

I can't even tell you how many school teachers' blogs I read, while I was looking around for Bear Unit ideas, that described a "bear sleepover" where the students brought in their stuffed bears and then discovered them up to all kinds of trouble in the classroom the next day. I thought the kindergartner and preschooler among us would particularly appreciate such a thing, so accordingly, the children gathered all their bears in the living room one night for a sleepover. There are many, many bears in this house.
Although not all of them are, strictly speaking, bears.

Anyway, there was much surprise and delight when the girls discovered what mischief the bears were up to the next morning! They laughed and laughed. It was so fun to watch them notice each new thing.
Well worth the slight effort, really. Those rascally bears! :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Panda Bears and Panda Cupcakes

Who can resist a panda bear? We can't. When I was young, biologists believed pandas weren't true bears, but instead relatives of the raccoon. Now that classification has been re-evaluated through DNA testing, and all is right with the world: pandas ARE bears! We loved making these adorable cupcakes, as shown (to ultimate cuteness, of course) on Bakerella. (We just used a cake mix and our regular frosting recipe, but followed her decorating instructions. They're really easy to make.) Note that these are mini-cupcakes: if you make full-size ones, chocolate chips are too small to be the right size for the panda bear eyes.
I loved the range of personalities these little guys had. Seb and Abe made the funniest expressions on their faces!

With as popular as pandas are, there's no shortage of videos and resources. Here are some we liked:

Live Panda Bear Cam at the National Zoo
Perhaps the cutest video ever?: panda bears on a slide
This was so funny, and darling. We read a book about a wildlife preserve in China where the workers wear panda suits in order to keep the bears unaccustomed to humans. It's the same place where they have a panda kindergarten.
This panda kindergarten book telling about it was Daisy's absolute favorite. She wanted to read it over and over (she seemed to really identify with the little pandas—"They're in kindergarten, just like me!").

Monday, October 27, 2014

Polar Bears and Polar Bear Paintings

We had a great time learning about Polar Bears and especially liked painting these arctic winter scenes. There is a great tutorial for the paintings here: arctic polar bear paintings. Instead of plain white, we used this puffy paint, which made the bears look even furrier and bear-ier.

I liked seeing the variation in how these paintings turned out. The blog linked above suggested that the children use plastic wrap pressed on the wet paint to create a cracked, icy texture on the blue ground. That worked pretty well in some of the pictures:
But not so well in others. On the other hand, the salt crystals in the sky in this picture made quite a nice snowy effect.
This is probably one of our favorite art projects we've ever done. We just love those wintry, puffy bears!

Some more polar bear stuff:

Polar bears have clear, hollow fur, and under the right conditions, it can actually turn green!
Not really about bears, but interesting when discussing the arctic: how to build an igloo 
The boys loved this polar bear "spy camera" so much!
They thought this was hilarious, too.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bear Den/Cave (Geodesic Dome)

During our Architecture Unit, we built a Geodesic Dome out of newspaper, and it was one of our favorite activities. It was also one of those activities where you get better at it as you go along, and by the time it was all built we were convinced we could make it even stronger and nicer if we just started over. So we vowed to do the activity again sometime, and my mom saved newspapers for us.

This Bear Unit seemed like a great opportunity to finally revisit the geodesic dome, since we could cover it with blankets and use it as a bear den!
Original instructions for the dome are here. This time we used three sheets of newspaper for each strut (as opposed to two last time), which seemed to make them a lot sturdier. We also used pencils or chopsticks to roll the tubes around (pulling the pencils out once the tubes were rolled) and keep them nice and thin. And we connected our joints with a flatter tape formation, as above. The joints are really the trickiest part, since they tend to collapse at stress points. Last time we tried staples to make them stronger, but that didn't work too well. We still had a few that seemed weak, but the wide, flat tape-joint seemed to work better.
The bears loved their cozy home!
After we covered it with sheets and blankets to make it nice and snug, we talked about hibernation and bear cubs inside this "den," and spent lots of time just cuddling and reading Bear books and playing Bear. Very fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crinkled Paper Bear Masks

Abe-bear, the King of the Bears

We had the best time making these masks, and I loved the way each one turned out different, depending on how closely spaced and crinkly the "fur" pieces were. Even Junie was able to do this activity, once I cut out the pieces of paper for her.

The original idea for this mask was a polar bear and used white tissue paper for the fur. We adapted it and just used thin brown packing paper which had come in a package, but the white is really cute too.

We used our bear masks several times throughout the unit, and especially when we wrote our story "Goldilocks and the Five Bears." Back when Daisy was a baby, Sam and I made some books of fairy tales for my mom for Christmas. We did The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. But now that we have an actual Goldie-locks, it felt like time to revisit the story, so the kids helped me write a new version. It turned out really cute (you can look through it here—I used Blurb, my favorite book-making platform), and the bear masks were an essential ingredient.
Daisy-bear and Junie-bear

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brown bears and black bears

I love this picture of my Great-grandma at Yellowstone feeding a black bear. That's my Nana standing on the log in the background. So cute!

My brother Philip saw some bears too, when he was in Alaska:
Someday maybe we'll get to see some wild bears ourselves!

We learned that fur color is actually not a very good way to tell bears apart, since "Black Bears" can be brown or white or blond or greyish, and "Brown Bears" can be all those colors too! Grizzly Bears are just a type of Brown Bear. There are lots of resources on how to tell the species apart. I suppose it mostly only matters if you're hunting them, but it's interesting to know nonetheless:

Grizzly Bears vs. Black Bears
More bear identification
Bear ID test
Black bear fur

We have only black bears here in Utah, though there used to be grizzlies too.
More resources about brown and black bears:
Bear safety
Giving birth during hibernation
Brown bear at San Diego Zoo

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bear Unit Schedule and Lesson Plan

This unit was requested by Abe, our resident Bear-lover! He's wanted to learn more about bears for a few years now, and we finally got to it. The rest of us were kind of surprised (though we shouldn't be, by now) by how interesting it was!
Bears and one bunny (Nutmeg really loved hopping up and licking these stuffed bears; he loves soft things)

Here's something interesting we'd never heard of before—bears can delay the implantation of their embryos to correspond with the most favorable conditions for birth:
"Grizzly bears begin to look for mates in the spring and early summer. Females can mate with more than one male during her breeding season. When a female grizzly becomes pregnant, the development of the embryo temporarily stops for several months, a process called “delayed implantation”. Delayed implantation is characteristic of all bear species and some other families of carnivores, including weasels and seals. If a female bear is unable to gain enough weight during the summer and fall, her body will tell her to not proceed with the pregnancy and the embryo will reabsorb. This gives her a head start on gaining enough weight to have a successful pregnancy the following year. When female grizzlies enter hibernation, the embryo implants in her uterus and begins gestation. In January or February, female grizzly bears give birth to 1-4 cubs (usually 2). The female will care for her young inside the den until spring when they finally step out into the world."

Some miscellaneous Bear resources:

Other bear species:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Presentation at midwives' college

I just wanted to post this picture of Seb's poster for the presentation we gave at the Midwives' College in Salt Lake City. I didn't get any pictures of the day itself, but it was really fun—Abe gave a report on the risks and benefits of Ultrasound and Doppler, Seb and Malachi gave an overview of fetal development at 22 weeks (which is how far along I was at the time), and Daisy and I read aloud our very favorite book about babies. (This one.) All the kids did such a great job, and of course we always love spending time with midwives!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cedar City Shakespeare Festival

Daisy and Juliet
Our final activity for this unit was a trip down to Cedar City to see a Shakespeare play! I was so happy that their Fall season wasn't quite over, and even happier that they had a school-group discount to some matinee performances! We even got to have a backstage tour. My sister-in-law, who lives in Cedar City, kindly agreed to watch the littlest girls for us, so we got to make a whole day of it and Sam even got to come! We saw "Twelfth Night" and loved it. Although we had read it and studied it and even watched movies of it, it's always so great to get to see an actual play come to life! There is nothing like live theater. It was a great experience.
While we waited for the play to start, we wandered around the campus and looked at the sort of "Globe-ish" outdoor theater---it's not really a replica, but it looks kind of like The Globe on the outside, and is arranged similarly. The children liked seeing it, anyway.
They also, of course, enjoyed walking around on the outdoor stage soliloquizing. During the summer months the Shakespeare Festival has Renaissance-style entertainment out in this area—musicians, jugglers, etc. Sometime we'll have to come back and see some of that.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Backyard Play

One of my favorite things about this unit was that the children were always putting on plays in their free time. They liked staging swordfight scenes, of course, but after we talked about soliloquies (here are some resources we used, in addition to reading the texts of some of the famous Shakespeare soliloquies) they started incorporating many existential questions about life into their plays as well. I loved it. Seb and Malachi spent a good hour planning and rehearsing this play in the backyard, which featured much walking about, gesturing, and talking about "what shall I do next? He seems sincere, but can I trust him? Can I trust myself? Ah, if only the way were clear!" It was all very philosophical. :)
Oh, there were moments of action too, of course. (They were pleased to have their newspaper swords.)
But there was also much internal conflict. 
And, as it contained something for every taste, the play was a smashing success!
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