Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

In a recent Facebook book club discussion about science books, the book title The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elizabeth Tova Bailey, caught my attention. Intrigued, I found it on amazon and immediately ordered it for myself.

Though much of my reading in this season is focused on education philosophy, my background is in science, and I’m trying to make room in my reading schedule for more science titles. This book certainly fit the bill.

This book is part memoir, part natural history and biology of the snail. The author manages to find the perfect balance between the two.

“Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.” (p. 6)

Bailey writes about the year following a debilitating illness that left her unable to get out of bed or care for herself. Lying in bed was her existence, and even rolling over was a feat.

“It took time for visitors to settle down. They sat and fidgeted for a while, then slowly relaxed until a calmness finally spread through them. They began to talk about more interesting things. But halfway through a visit, they would notice how little I moved, the stillness of my body, and an odd quietness would come over them. They would worry about wearing me out, but I could also see that I was a reminder of all they feared: chance, uncertainty, loss, and the sharp edge of mortality. Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health.” (p. 40)

During the author’s convalescence, a visiting friend brings in a garden snail with a potted plant. As she watches the snail she becomes intrigued by its habits, and over the course of several months that the two are “roommates” she makes incredible observations.

“Several times I was lucky enough to see it grooming; it arched its neck over the curved edge of its own shell and cleaned the rim carefully.” (p. 33)

The author weaves scientific facts about snails, along with excerpts from a surprisingly vast collection of literature, poetry and natural history writing about snails, with details and reflections of her time being bedridden and isolated from the world.

“I found that every field, from biology and physiology to ecology and paleontology, was packed with insights on gastropods… Then I discovered the nineteenth-century naturalists, intrepid souls who thought nothing of spending countless hours in the field observing their tiny subjects. I also came across poets and writers who had each, at some point in their life, became intrigued with the life of the snail.” (p.40-41)

At the end of the book, we find out that while she has regained some independence, the effects of her illness linger. The release of her snail back to its natural habitat, followed by the release of one remaining offspring she had kept, was somewhat symbolic to her reentry, of a sort, back into the wider world.

“The snail had been a true mentor; its tiny existence had sustained me.” (p. 160)

This book is beautifully written, it is really just lovely. The book is a quick read, but it has a calm pace. And while there are scientific details in the book, it is not science heavy. Readers will gain an appreciation for their own health, as well as an appreciation for the simple garden snail, after reading this.

Curriculum 2016/2017 – Fifth Grade and Kindergarten

We have officially started our new school year around here – lots of new books on the shelves, and new binders are set up and ready to go! Kyri is now working on Fifth grade, and Ender is Kindergarten.

We have started using a few new programs, so look for some detailed reviews on those soon. But this is a good overview of our resources for the year.

Fifth Grade

Math

Singapore Math 3B/4A/4B – We decided to change direction in Math and work on Mastery of concepts rather than the Spiral approach used by Saxon. Kyri has responded well to the change in pace and approach and we will continue with Singapore through the remainder of summer and into the new school year.

Additional Resources:

Usborne Dictionary of Math (3 book series) – not a curriculum but a great resource. Colorful and engaging, these are fun to read and glean knowledge. Click here to check them out.

Family Math (series) – this is a wonderful resource, with games and activities that teach and reinforce math concepts. the series is being used over a range of ages, down to preschool.

Mathmania – this is a subscription magazine through Highlights. Two issues each month arrive, full of math-based puzzles and activities.

Language Arts

Vocabulary from Classical Roots – Grade 4 and Grade 5 This series presents new words that are grouped according to Greek or Latin roots. Covers root words, spelling, meaning and usage.

Writing and Rhetoric: Book 1 Fables and Writing and Rhetoric: Book 2: Narration 1 We are working on writing skills through reading good examples and modeling.

Well-Ordered Language 1A and  Well-ordered language 1B This is an depth study of grammar skills. Each chapter focuses on one part of speech and has extensive practice. Sentence analysis, a precursor to sentence diagramming, is introduced.

Junior Great Books Series 5 – We will be reading short stories and working through the Interactive Activity book for reading comprehension and in-depth analysis.

History

Beautiful Feet – Ancient History this is a literature based curriculum, with Streams of Civilization as the spine, and including a large selection of books, through the Ancient Roman Empire. Each lesson includes several reading selections and discussions.

Beautiful Feet History of the Horse – This study goes through the physical characteristics of horses, specifics of the various breeds, as well as cultural significance of the horse.

Science

Beautiful Feet History of Science – this is a lesson guide that goes through major scientific discoveries and inventions, starting from ancient times up through modern times. This is literature based, with in depth reading on the discoveries as well as the people involved. The two spines (along with various living books) are:

The Picture History of Great Inventors

DK’s The Way Science Works

Experiments are included in the lesson plans and will be extended as interests, time and resources allow.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding  – This isn’t our spine this year, but Volume I  and Volume II are excellent resources for planning lessons as well as having a flow chart of topics in an intuitive order to be studied. I will be using this as a reference and support.

Additional Resources:

Carson-Dellosa Just the Facts: These provide excellent supplemental exercises to enhance and expand lessons.

Earth and Space Science (4-6 grades)

Life Science (4-6 grade)

Physical Science (4-6 grade)

This is a great series that provides in-depth activities and puzzles. I will be pulling from all three volumes to go along with our BFSU lessons.

Real Science 4 Kids – We are using the Elementary level books (Biology, Earth Science, and Chemistry) as supplemental reading this year. These are written for children to be able to read independently, so they serve as a gentle introduction for many of the topics we are covering this year.

Nature Study

Handbook of Nature Study – an extensive resource for implementing nature study time. Incorporates nature notebooking and various nature guides, including as a main resource:

Nature of Handbook Study by Anna Botsford Comstock . This is a must have for a personal library. It is packed full of information about the nuts and bolts of nature study, details on pretty much anything you could want to find during nature study, as well as lessons to carry out during nature study.

Geography

Beautiful Feet – Teaching Geography Through Literature This is a literature based lesson plan. Four spines are read, and detailed discussion and mapwork are used to develop key geography concepts throughout the year.

Bible

AWANA – Kyri is going into her second year of TnT (Truth in Training) this Fall, and is very excited!

Bible Road Trip – This has been a great study this past year. We typically do the daily reading and discussion in the morning during our Kidschool. This year I would like to put a little more emphasis on Notebooking for each week’s reading.

Additional Resources:

How to Study Your Bible – For Kids by Kay Arthur

What the Bible is All About: Bible Handbook for Kids

Reproducible Maps, Charts, Timelines and Illustrations

Health and Wellness

The Care and Keeping of You 2: For Older Girls (book and journal) an excellent resource for learning about body issues, changing bodies, peer pressure, emotions, etc. We have used The Care and Keeping of You 1 extensively and love the series.

Vintage Remedies for Tweens (continuing) – covers a variety of topics from food, natural health

Raising Vegetarian Children  more of a guide for me, but we will be pulling recipes and discussing healthy habits.

Hebrew

For writing practice and mastering the Alef Bet we are using a couple of different resources:

Sarah and David (Read Hebrew Now)

Hebrew for Christians

Torah Tots

For reading and speaking we are using:

Mango Biblical Hebrew

Latin

Song School Latin – this is a wonderful resource aimed at a younger audience. It teaches vocabular and simple sentences. It also teaches about the many words that are Latin derivatives. We are using the workbook, DVD, CD and flash cards.

Character Development

This may go along with Health and Wellness, but I will list separately for organization.

Beautiful Feet Teaching Character Through Literature – this includes a wonderful reading list appropriate for both Primary and Intermediate Readers, as well as Study Guide lessons geared toward Primary and Intermediate Reading Selections.

Laying Down The Rails – this is a compilation of Charlotte Mason’s writings, organized to cover wellness topics (such as Cleanliness) as well as Character topics such as courtesy. There is a book for parents/educators along with a student book that includes discussion topics.

4-H Kyri has participated in our county 4H program since the beginning of 2016. She is active in the Horsemasters Club as well as the Green Thumbs Gardening Club. This year she will continue. In addition, she is working independently on 4H projects, including Cooking 101 and Entomology.

Kindergarten

While more formal education is taking place, a lot of focus this year is still on free play, exploring, read alouds, interactive games.

Math

Singapore Early Bird Kindergarten. A gentle and colorful approach to early math concepts. Counting, sorting, weigh and capacity, etc. are covered.

Starfall – we are a Starfall family. we have subscribed for years. Starfall has continued to add activities to their online lineup, and their Teacher’s Lounge has also expanded. Starfall Math reinforces counting, place value, geometry, addition and subtraction, weight and capacity.

Language Arts

In general, lots and lots of reading together is our focus for the year. But we are tackling some specifics.

Starfall – For language arts we are using Starfall to reinforce letter recognition, phonics and CVC words. There are also rhymes and songs, and talking books to enjoy. From the Teacher’s lounge, I am printing handwriting pages that cover upper- and lower-case letters as well as simple words.

Science

We are not using a formal curriculum for Science. We are pulling activities from a variety of sources, including:

More Mudpies to Magnets – simple experiments for preschool and kindergarten ages to explore basic science concepts

Evan Moor Learning About Animals – reproducibles for teaching about animals.

Handbook of Nature Study – while Ender won’t be expected to keep formal notebooking pages, he will participate in nature outings and will be encouraged to record observations in his own binder.

Bible

AWANA – Ender is officially a Spark this year! He will be working on memoring key biblical concepts and verses throughout the year.

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Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization

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We just wrapped up  A9: Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization. We started our week with some reading, to get an idea of what happens when various substances are put into water. We recently added Chemistry Pre-level I from Real Science-4-Kids as a reference book, and Chapter 6 (Mixtures) was a great introduction to what we covered this week. 

 
Part 1: Some things dissolve: Solutions and Mixtures
 
We covered a few basic concepts first. 
 
What is a mixture? When we combine difference substances, we have a mixture. We talked about a mixture of diffferent types of fruit in a bowl, and various toys in a box. Then, we talked about making a mixture by putting a solid into a liquid, like when we combine sugar and water.
 
For a demonstration, we made up a sugar solution as a demo. After stirring our sugar, we watched the granules slowly get smaller and finally disappear. Our solid dissolves, which means the substance, in this case sugar, comes apart into its basic particles and interact with the particles of water. This makes a special kind of mixture called a solution
 
We compared our sugar water mixture to a mixture of flour in water. After stirring a small amount of flour into a glass of water, we observed our mixture remain cloudy – our flour doesn’t come apart to interact with the water molecules as a solution but instead remains just a mixture.
 
Part 2: Soluble and Insoluble
 

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After comparing sugar-in-water and flour-in-water, we then explored a variety of materials to see what was soluble and insoluble. While we did some basic kitchen items, like vinegar and baking soda, we also found some fun objects like a matchbox car, a small block of wood, and a plastic toy. The kids enjoyed stirring these to see whether they would dissolve.
 
Why don’t certain objects dissolve? This was a great opportunity to review our earlier lesson on solids, liquids and gases, where we learned how objects’ particles are either very close together (in solids), interacting but not closely packed (as in liquids) or not in contact with each other (in gases). Our solid objects, with particles closely packed together, were not able to break apart and interact with the water particles. We prepared a chart to record our observations. 
 

A9 Soluble/Insoluble Chart download

Part 3: Crystallization
 

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We dissolved salt in water to observe not only the process of salt dissolving and forming a solution, but also of salt particles forming crystals. We recently learned about about evaporation, when the water molecules leave the liquid state and go into the gas state. Any solids that are dissolved in the water are left behind and reformed crystals
 
To help with our observation, we placed a couple of teaspoons of our salt solution on a dark plate, and left out to evaporate. We later observed a crusty film where our salt solution was before evaporating.
 
We also made a straw by twisting up a piece of paper and securing with tape. This straw was then placed in a jar of salt solution. Our liquid wicked up the paper straw and after the liquid evaporated, a salt crust (crystals) was observed on the surface of the straw.
 
This lesson helped reinforce our earlier lessons on the particle nature of matter, and the states of matter. Understanding this particle nature is essential for upcoming lessons on atomic and molecular motion.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Air is a Mixture of Gases

This year we have switched over to Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We are focusing on Chemistry topics, and so are working through primarily A thread in Volumes I and II.

This past week we’ve been working on topic A7,  Air: A mixture of gases (mixtures and chemical reactions).

Air is an excellent example for understanding molecules, mixtures and chemical reactions. Air is made up of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is required by animals for respiration, and carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. The oxygen and carbon dioxide in air are held constant in the atmosphere by green plants, which use carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. We’ve covered photosynthesis previously, in Biology as well as earlier this year when learning about energy, so this cycle is familiar around here. Here is a video that sums covers the Carbon Cycle.

We also love the app My Incredible Body  and learned all about respiration to get a better understanding of how we as animals breathe in air to bring oxygen into our body, and breathe out to expel carbon dioxide.

Air is made up of matter and has weight

Sometimes when we can’t see something, like air, it can be a little difficult to understand how it is made up of matter. To help visualize this, we set up this simple experiment. We started by tying string around the center of a wooden dowel, making sure the dowel was balanced. We then blew up two balloons, one much fuller than the other. We tied each balloon to an end of the dowel, spacing them the same.

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Kyri is a pretty smart cookie, so she expected the balloon that was inflated more to weigh more as well since it contained more air. As expected, the heavier balloon pulled its end of the dowel down lower!

Burning Requires Oxygen

We next set up a simple demonstration. Placing a tea light in a shallow plate of water (be sure to not cover the candle!), we then covered the candle with a jar and observed how, after just a short time, the flame sputtered and then was extinguished. I explained that the wax was the fuel (potential energy) and burning released this potential energy as kinetic energy in the form of heat and light. Oxygen is necessary for the fire to burn the fuel. Air is made up of approximately 20 percent oxygen, so in an enclosed jar, the oxygen is used up fairly quickly. Once the oxygen is used up, the flame goes out!

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Mixtures and Chemical Reactions

When we started discussing mixtures, we used some simple examples to understand – a mixture of coins or a bag of mixed candy. In those simple examples, the individual components didn’t change and were identifiable. But sometimes when components are mixed, a reaction occurs and the components are broken apart and new components formed. Our second demonstration involved the release of carbon dioxide during a chemical reaction.

Baking soda and vinegar can be mixed, and when they react carbon dioxide is released. This is a fun chemical reaction because of the intense fizzing!

Burning Releases Carbon Dioxide

Similarly, when a candle is burned (also a chemical reaction!), carbon dioxide is also released. Carbon dioxide, like air, is not visible. But we used a fun demonstration to produce and observe carbon dioxide.

We lit a tea candle in a shallow plate, and in a half-pint mason jar combined 1 Tbsp baking soda and 1/4 cup vinegar (Pour slowly to prevent fizzing over!). The carbon dioxide that is produced from the reaction remained in the jar and because it is heavier than air, can actually be “poured” like a liquid. We carefully tipped the jar toward the flame, as if we were pouring but taking care to not pour out any of the liquid contents. While we couldn’t see the carbon dioxide directly, we could observe the flame sputtering and finally going out, as the carbon dioxide poured over the wick and prevented the flame’s access to oxygen.

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Learning About Mammals

Our co-op had our second zoo field trip this week. Last month we went at the end of our Bird unit.

This trip we focused on mammals, and we kept track of all the animals that we saw. As we observed the different animals and their names were recorded, we discussed if their names came from their looks, or where they were from.

Kyri and Ender had a fun time seeing all the animals. Kyri says her favorite was the elephant, though I know she was enthralled by all the different wild cats.

The ostriches put on quite a show! They were in a gated area and you could only see their necks and heads from behind the fence. They kept dropping below the fence line and then slowly raising their heads up to peep at the folks watching them. It was very funny!

Kyri really enjoyed our field trip. She loved seeing all the animals. Even though we do not usually go to zoos, I have been trying to use our visit(s) as an educational opportunity. Kyri thought the cheetahs were incredible and was amazed to find out how fast they run in the wild (70 MPH!). I asked her later if she thought they were able to run that fast in the zoo. I explained to her that while it is nice to be able to see the animals and have a chance to study them up close like this, a zoo enclosure is no substitute for their natural habitat.

I was honestly a little nervous to see the elephant exhibit. Captive elephants make me very sad, and I hate seeing how trainers hit them with metal hooks. The last time I saw that was at the renaissance fair in Maryland (had I known they were going to have an elephant there to give rides I would not have gone). Anyway, Lucky, the elephant at the San Antonio Zoo did show off some “tricks” for people, lifting her legs in response to her trainer. In the picture below, you can see the sticks he used to tap her legs – they were long bamboo poles with plastic covers on them. He would lightly tap her leg and she would lift it in response. 

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Big Bugs, Little Bugs

This month Kyri has participated in one of the wonderful Science courses offered through SREIT, a local educational resource that provides Science enrichment activities for students of all ages. If you haven’t checked out their course offerings, you are missing out!

Kyri participated in a two-part class called Big Bugs, Little Bugs. She learned many different facts about insects, and got to observe and handle some live specimens as well.  She had such a blast handling the mealworms – she insisted on bringing one over to me. I made sure to check her pockets so that we didn’t end up with any new insect pets at home. At the second class, she  got to observe an Emperor Scorpion and a Tarantula during the class. She was so excited! I’ve got a junior entomologist on my hands!

 

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Butterflies!

As part of our Science curriculum, we have an ongoing project this Spring observing the lifecycle of the Painted Lady butterfly. We bought a butterfly habitat redeemed the enclosed certificate through Insect Lore. Within a few days we had five caterpillars shipped to us.

Our caterpillars (the butterfly larval stage) were only approximately 1.5 cm when they arrived, but they quickly doubled in size. Within a week we had 3.0 cm caterpillars in our little cup.

After a little more than a week from the time they arrived, our caterpillars started getting restless, and finally moved to the top of the cup to pupate. In our pictures, you can see how they hang down, in a sort of J-shape formation. Slowly the crysalis formed from the bottom upward. Within a couple of days, all five of our caterpillars were encased, hanging from the top of the cup. There was a thin piece of paper on the inside of the lid for transferring the crysalides to the larger butterfly habitat.

This past weekend, after more than a week in the pupal stage, our butterflies emerged! We now have five beautiful butterflies in our enclosure. It is so awesome to observe the butterflies up close, seeing their little body parts. For several minutes we watched our butterflies curl and uncurl their little proboscis, enjoying the sliced oranges I placed in the bottom of the butterfly house. We are still undecided on whether we will keep our butterflies for the entire lifecycle (waiting for eggs to be layed) or release them on an upcoming warm day.

One of our co-op members posted a wonderful resource on Painted Lady butterflies – this site has a lot of information and pointers for raising butterflies. While this project was done to follow along with our Biology curriculum, I think this is a great stand-alone project. And once you have the butterfly house you can always order additional caterpillars (the initial set they send is included in the price of the butterfly house, not including shipping costs).

 

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Book Review: Shells! Shells! Shells!

If you haven’t had a chance to read any books written and illustrated by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, you are really missing out. The author has written several books which cover science topics, and her books are geared toward a younger audience. We have read several of her books now, and just love them!

This week we read Shells!Shells!Shells! This book follows the two main characters, Buddy and his mother, as they search for seashells on the beach. Buddy’s mother explains what animals form the shells and what purpose they serve. She points out the different style of shells that are found. Finally, there is a craft suggested at the end of the book.

 

The story is illustrated using a combination of real images (in this book, the images are of various types of sea shells) along with paper cut-outs. It is a wonderful children’s story, with plenty of interesting facts about mollusks and how shells are made. The explanations are simple enough though, so children (target age is preschool through early Elementary) will understand. Wallace does introduce vocabulary that is relevant to the topic, defining words such as mantle, pigment center, operculum, univalve and bivalve.

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Wallace’s books often end with a suggested craft that follows along with the topic. This particular book gave instructions for making a sea shell book marker. We used colored card stock along with some colored construction paper to create ours. We ended up with several colorful and creative bookmarks.

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I would encourage you to include this book in your study of Mollusks, and be sure to check out additional titles she has written on various other topics, including leaves, seeds and rocks. Her other offerings are wonderful and can be a wonderful addition to your homeschool reading selections.