Tag Archives: zoology

Hey, We’ve Been There!

I didn’t quite plan it this way, but somehow the last two science books we read for our third grade study of animals were about places we have visited.  And, wow, it’s really neat to read a nice picture book explaining what science is going on behind the scenes in a place you’ve actually been.

Caring for Cheetahs by Rosanna Hansen
This wonderful book is about the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, where we had the pleasure to visit last year during our Africa trip.  It was really out in the middle of nowhere (even for Namibia) but it turned out to be a very worthy detour for us.  If you’re not lucky enough to visit, the book has amazing photos and a great text that tells how the CCF rescues cheetahs and then rehabilitates them to the wild whenever possible.  To help the farmers who feel most threatened by the cheetahs, they also breed and train special dogs to protect their livestock against the cheetahs.  One cheetah they keep that isn’t wild is used to introduce children and others to cheetahs as a sort of ambassador.  That cheetah, Chewbacca, has his story in this book, along with several others, such as about an emergency surgery on another cheetah and the rescue of a baby cheetah.

Mushroom and BalletBoy playing on the CCF's "Predator Playground" which is used to teach kids about how amazing cheetah movement and senses are.
Mushroom and BalletBoy playing on the CCF’s “Predator Playground” at their center in Namibia last year.  It’s used to teach kids about how amazing cheetah movement and senses are.  Somewhere off in the distance, there are a lot of cheetahs roaming around, I’m sure.  Behind a fence.

Wild Horse Scientists by Kay Freydenborg
This book takes place in Montana, where there are thousands of wild horses roaming the mountain ranges, and Assateague Island, where about a hundred horses live in a tiny strip of land off the coast of Maryland.  Assateague is a popular camping spot for people in our area and we’ve had the pleasure of visiting there too.  Our most vivid memory is of a small group of wild horses that refused to be chased away and ate an entire bag of our marshmallows, including the plastic wrap, then used my chair to blow their noses.  Don’t worry, I decided to get rid of the chair.

This is from the excellent Scientists in the Field series.  Like many of the books in that series, the science gets a little complex for my kids, but is still very much worth reading.  Along with talking about the ecology of Assateague, the evolution of horses, and the anatomy of wild horses, the main focus of the book is a scientist’s two decades long quest is to find a way to humanely limit the population of the wild horses through birth control.  We had a number of good discussions about population growth and reproduction stemming from this book.

Mushroom and the Husband on Assateague a couple of years ago. I love this photo. One of my all time favorites.  Horses not pictured.

Life Science

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I usually try to keep science contained, but right now we have so many collections and experiments going for life science that the entire mantle has been completely taken over.

I am finally admitting to myself and to you, dear readers, that I simply have not kept up the Science Without a Net section.  Alas.  However, my enthusiasm for doing science is unflagging.  Sometimes we hit a lull where not much is done, but we have recently revved up again, as you can see.  I was especially excited that we began doing zoology.

When we studied physics, chemistry and earth science we struggled to find good books.  There were some stellar options.  However, there aren’t multitudes of choices.  On the other hand, there are a number of experiment books.  Now that we’re on to life sciences, there are so many good books about the topics that I’m overwhelmed.  But there are almost no good experiment books.  I had to search high and low and find some, but I got some good recommendations and found a few gems.

Grocery Store Botony by Elma Joan Rahn
This older, out of print book has wonderful, simple ideas for how to raid the grocery store for useful plants and then dissect and investigate the way plants work as a starting point.  It’s a very simple book and best for elementary school, but it has the type of open-ended discovery that I look for in a science experiment book.

Biology Experiments for Children by Ethel Hanauer
This is another older book, but one which has been reissued and is widely available.  It contains sections for plant, animal and human body experiments.  Many of the experiments are simplified versions of the experiments you might do at a higher level in biology and would be appropriate for elementary or middle school, depending on how much depth you went into with them.  Our hay infusion experiment, in which we spotted real protozoa swimming around under the microscope, came from this book, as did a recent dissection of mushrooms.  It has many ideas of ways to take easy to find things and use them as jumping off points for exploration.  It’s yet another book that asks open-ended questions about the experiments and asks kids to observe and think.

The Amateur ZoologistThe Amateur Zoologist by Mary Dykstra
This book is a real treasure.  It is full of great experiments that I’m very excited to tackle and would be appropriate for upper elementary to middle school.  It uses insects and occasionally other small animals in simple explorations, such as observing how they respond, such as which color bugs will gravitate toward and which food mealworms like best.  Yet again, these experiments don’t have a set result.  Instead, they’re mostly jumping off points for thinking and observing.

Janice Vancleave's Biology for Every Kid (Hardcover) ~ Janice Pr... Cover ArtBiology for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave
Finally, it’s no surprise that there’s an Every Kid entry for life science.  It’s exactly what you would expect from the Janice VanCleave books.  Each experiment is relatively easy, most are short and she has provided the “right” answer for every single one of them and a clear explanation of why it happened that way.  Many of the ideas in here are good, especially for elementary school.  However, don’t let the kids see the book as it really robs the observation element from them.  Instead of looking to see what happens – which food will the bugs prefer or what is inside that mushroom – they’re waiting for the right answer.  Can you tell that I’ve grown a bit disenchanted by these books?  I’m trying not to let it deter me from using them though.  She has a nice idea about capturing a spider web with hairspray and examining the geometric patterns that I’d like to try, for example.  However, many of the ideas are just flat, such as watching your breath fog up a mirror as a way to think about camels or checking the temperature underground to understand why desert animals burrow.  These are so simple, quick, and predictable, even to eight year-olds, that they seem pointless, especially when the connection to the topic is tenuous at best.