After two years, I thought I’d resurrect this blog for a new purpose. Not what my kids do in the Alaskan wilderness, which is regularly featured on Ground Truth Trekking. But what they’re working on the rest of the time. We’ve been dipping our toes into Project-Based Homeschooling lately (love that book). It’s basically a mentoring handbook: how to take what a kid’s already doing and help them figure out how to go deeper and farther with it.
Dinosaurs! – Katmai’s Prehistoric Creature Project
Of course! What almost-4 year-old kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? After having read “My Favorite Dinosaurs” to him several dozen times, something more needed to happen for my own sanity. Luckily, prehistoric life is endlessly fascinating (I’m learning stuff too), goes beyond dinosaurs, and is well-represented in even our tiny town library.
So, we’ve been in prehistory land for over a month now, in an infinite loop between the Pre-Cambrian and the Cretaceous. Katmai’s crumpled pieces of origami paper into “dinosaurs” to display in a museum. He’s drawn and dictated a prehistoric creature book – where the real creatures were quickly replaced by more and more fanciful versions. Squished wire into a “pachycephalosaurus skull”, and threaded beads onto a pipe-cleaner “agnathan” (early jawless fish). He’s cut out dinosaur printouts, scribbled his versions on a dino family tree, and stuck googly eyes on crudely-cut dinosaurs of felt. Cut eurypterid (ancient sea scorpion) claws from construction paper, and then cut the rest of the paper into “fish” for it to eat.
He’s learned how to use the index in his library books (though his sounding-out word skills often need my help), and laboriously typed things like “trilobite” and “pachycephalosaurus” (also with help) into Google Images. He’s watched a few prehistoric life documentaries, who’s visceral realism has driven him to side, consistently, with the plant eaters. I’ve read him books geared way above his age level, over and over and over again until I think he must be memorizing them. Then he bursts out with quotes that make it clear he is memorizing them. Asking questions. Noticing where they disagree. Coming up with his own bizarre theories about which one is true.
His project looks like crumpled paper and scribbled pen strokes. It looks like play. Snuffling in the snow as a Lystrosaurus, eating dinner as Barosaurus, raiding the fridge for swiss chard leaves as a Stegosaurus, slithering and crawling across the yurt floor enacting the evolutionary transitions between lobe-finned fish, early amphibians, and early reptiles, with Lituya slithering along behind him … It looks like conversation, as he eagerly tells me all about “the time that will come after now, when humans will go extinct, after being outcompeted by animals as big as houses that will evolve from giraffes”. Or the dinosaur called “blowcircus” that escaped becoming extinct by “flying way up high into space where the asteroid couldn’t hit it.” His everyday play and conversation is littered with references to the gait of reptiles vs. dinosaurs, the differences between amphibian and reptile eggs, the eating style of jawless fish, the ancestors and relatives of different animals, geologic eras, extinction, evolution, and all the ways the different creatures ate, hunted, and protected themselves.
Does he understand it all? Not as well as I do, but far more than I would have guessed a not-quite-four-year-old could. I’m curious to see where he goes from here. I think the next things on his list are to paddle across Seldovia Bay to look for clam fossils, and to prepare a costume and decorations for his “Plant-eating Dinosaur Bobbing for Apples Party” for his 4th birthday in a week and a half.