Sometimes, as we get focused on learning all the skills I’m trying to teach: sounding out new words, adding bigger numbers, telling time, and so forth, I forget that one of the best ways to learn at this age is through imagination. Luckily I’ve got the kids to remind me.
One of the first times I taught one of our co-ops, the kids had chosen to study dinosaurs so I threw together a “time machine” in the basement and we went on an imaginary journey through time, exploring the dinosaurs and the history of life on earth, using a picture book as our guide. The kids loved it so much, that I did it a second time, when we were studying jungles. For that adventure, the time machine took us through an entire year in the desert with the excellent book Jungle Days, Jungle Nights by Martin Jordan.
Now, I’ve been typecast. The kids insisted that I do another trip in the time machine. Since we were studying space, I figured the topic had to be the Big Bang and the life and death of the earth.
In practical terms, all we do is climb into the makeshift time machine, press the imaginary buttons, rattle it around and then tumble out. Sometimes we put on special imaginary protective gear first. Then we walk around pretending to see things. Typically, certain kids like to get stuck – on the other side of a lava floe or a flood or trapped as a dinosaur hunts them. Then the rest of us have to rescue them so we can get back in the time machine and on to the next stop.
This time, I added a twist. I made each kid a “Universal Passport” where they had to apply for visas by answering questions about their destinations after I read them the “travel guide.” Our Big Bang guide book was Big Bang! A Tongue Tickling Tale of a Speck that Became Spectacular by Carolyn Decristofano. This was a strange book, with an alphabetic poem that told the story, but with cool images and some good analogies that helped the kids understand things. As is often the case, I found just the right book after the fact, so if you want a simple picture book on the Big Bang, I think the book Older than the Stars by Karen Fox is a better option. Our second guide was the book The Beginning of the Earth by Franklyn Branley. As the book is so old, I had to make some corrections (and have to admit I don’t know if I got them all). I love that our library keeps their old books, but sometimes you want something slightly more up to date than 1972 for a topic that has changed a good bit since then. Next, I got to pretend to be the “Passport Officer.” I put on a special hat and sat behind the “Passport Control” desk. Also, I did a silly voice. You have to do a silly voice.
The travel visas, which you can see the picture above, are made from sticker paper and put along a little mini-timeline inside the passport which I drew ahead of time for the kids. I have gotten so much out of using printable sticker paper, by the way. I’ve used it to print timeline stickers, tiny monuments of the world for our map, and for many projects like this. I highly recommend it.
Other than the moment when a couple of the kids nearly got stuck in a Black Hole near the end of the universe, it was a pretty good trip.