Thursday, June 28, 2012

Only Cavemen Can Write on the Walls

Do you remember making dioramas in school? They probably involved a cardboard box, a few lessons about habitats, and begging your mom for craft supplies. I made my first diorama in third grade for an open house. This was back when open houses meant your parents came to your school to inspect your work. If you made a convincing case, you could generally count on a trip to the ice cream shop afterward. So this was a big deal. Anyway, my diorama involved turned a shoe box into a desert, I think because we had a sand box in the back yard, which meant half my work was already done. I stole a camel from the nativity set (The wise men were already there. What did they need a camel for?) and borrowed my mother’s compact mirror to look like a pool of water in the middle of the desert. (Or in case the camel needed to reapply mascara.) I don’t remember what grade my teacher gave me, but I’m sure I got ice cream.

Not wanting my kids to miss out on this childhood pleasure, I had them use a Safari Ltd Toob to recreate a prehistoric world. We used the Prehistoric Life set, which includes a dozen small figures from the Pleistocene epoch. How do you pronounce Pleistocene, you say? I have no idea. I had to look it up just to have a shot at spelling it right. Here’s a look at the toys: 

You won't see these at the zoo
First we got out our encyclopedias to figure out which of these creatures should be eating the trees and which ones should be eating each other. Yes, we have encyclopedias in the house. Yes, I know there is a thing called the Internet. But I don’t need my six-year-old seeing ads with women in bathing suits trying to sell a granola bar or whatever.
Brennen finding information without seeing advertisements for online dating sites

Then we got out the glue, which led to an immediate feeding frenzy. Why do kids assume glue tastes good? In fact, how do kids innately know that some things taste better than others? Put a plate of carrots and a bowl of jelly beans in front of a child, and they go for the jelly beans every time. But I digress. Some of the glue actually made it where it needed to go.  

Princess Glue Stick
Sir Sticks-a-lot
Check that. A lot of glue. No amount of coaching can get a two- and four-year-old to use less glue. If the bottle is not empty, they need to apply more glue. Or eat more of it.

Once we had the thing looking colorful, the kids grabbed rocks, sticks, and leaves from the yard, driveway, and my wife’s landscaping to give their diorama a more realistic feel. 

My three children deciding the fate of a Woolly Mammoth

Then came the tough part: deciding where to put all the realistic replicas. My oldest insisted that each animal be engaged in some sort of life-or-death duel with another figure (including the Saber Tooth Tiger battling a volcano). My daughter wanted every animal blissfully munching leaves. In the end, we didn’t glue down the animals at all, so everybody can play with the diorama as they wish: Death Match, Vegetarian Delight, or anything in between.

Brennen insists that one of the animals should fly

As you can see, the final product looks great! Plus the kids have a toy they can rearrange and play with over and over again. I was so impressed, I decided to take them out for ice cream. Maybe it will mask the glue flavor.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Play Ball

I’ve decided it’s time to teach my oldest son how to play baseball. It’s not that I have delusions that he’ll someday turn out to be a highly paid professional ballplayer and buy me a beach house (although I wouldn’t turn down the offer). Rather, I think young boys should know how to handle themselves around a baseball bat and be aware that a slider isn’t just the name of a disgusting sandwich from White Castle.

Now, when I was growing up, my brothers and any neighborhood kids we could rope in played ball in what you might call a nonstandard field. It sloped uphill, with a large pine tree between second and third base, a boat parked in center field, and a steep ravine behind home plate. Game stoppages to chase wild pitches through patches of poison ivy were common. We also had a few special rules to make up for the fact that we usually couldn’t scare up more than eight players at a time. If you’ve never heard of pitcher’s hand out, opposite field out, and ghost runners, you’ve lived an overly sheltered life.

The first game between my six-year-old and me was going great. Then I hit a double off the roof of the shed in our backyard and stood on second while he approached me to tag me out. “Ghost runner on second” I called, and began trotting back home.

“Daddy,” my son called in a quivering voice. I turned to see a look of confusion and sorrow on his face. “I think you’re cheating. There’s no one on second.”

The explanation that followed could go toe-to-toe with any calculus lecture in complexity. No, I wasn’t cheating. No, there wasn’t anyone on second. No, he couldn’t tag me out even though I was walking back to home plate. No, I didn’t make this rule up just now. Yes, he could have ghost runners too.

My son must have seen some inherent disadvantage in this new rule, because he immediately asserted that we could each have only one ghost runner. Maybe he was nervous about being surrounded by phantoms while pitching.

We continued our game in peace with no further accusations of cheating. He won, 10-8, but I was robbed of a few runs when he insisted that a ball I drove over the neighbor’s fence was an out rather than a home run, because there was no way for him to retrieve the ball.

It’s okay though. It’s not like I’m trying to recover any lost glory days by smacking Wiffle balls into the next yard. If this keeps up, I’ll be smacking them into Lake Michigan from my lavish retirement villa.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Around the World in 80 Minutes

“Daddy, what’s inside the Parthenon?” Questions like these have replaced “Why is grass green” at my house thanks to the Around the World Toob® from Safari Ltd®.  The educational possibilities of this collection are almost unlimited, and my kids are drawn to the beautiful replicas.

Around the World
 We started by using the Around the World figures to make matching cards, which are popular in many elementary classrooms.  In this case, we have colorful replicas in place of pictures. I wrote cards with the name of each wonder and its country. Then my six-year-old worked on matching them up.

Brennen tries to remember where Big Ben is located
He was thrilled when he was able to match each of the ten figures to its name and country. Then we practiced saying the name of each wonder. Fortunately Machu Picchu wasn't included in this group, or I'd have been in trouble.

Then we brought out our world map. My four-year-old joined us for this, and both boys enjoyed trying to locate the country where each figure belongs and place it on the map. Although we have a large world map, this would work with any sized map, as the figures are just a few inches wide at most. 

Caleb sets the Empire State Building in New York
This turned out to be a wonderful group activity, as my oldest gave the name and country for each replica and his little brother tried to find it on the map. I was no help at all, as I spent the whole time trying to figure out why my camera batteries kept dying. A few minutes later, they had each model in the right place, and were they ever proud of their work!

Emily joins in for a group shot
So in one morning, my kids learned some history and some geography while playing and having fun. I learned what's inside my camera, which was far less fun. Now if I can only figure out what's inside the Parthenon.