Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie Review - Island of Lemurs: Madagascar

Now open at an IMAX theater near year, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, takes audiences on a journey to the remote and wondrous world of Madagascar. And it’s a 3D journey at that.

Movie Review - Island of Lemurs: Madagascar

Narrated by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, this 40-minute documentary explores the plight of the lemurs that call this island home. These critters have an amazing story of adaptation to tell, having arrived somewhat accidentally in Madagascar more than 60 million years ago. Have a peek:

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar introduces us to the lemurs living within Ranomafana National Park, 112,000 acres of protected rainforest, and the preservation work of American primatologist Dr. Patricia C. Wright.

Where once these amazing creatures thrived, today more than 90 percent of their forests have been destroyed. Many of the diverse species that had once evolved are now lost. And more than three quarters of the lemurs that remain are at risk of extinction. It’s a message worth spreading.

What you’ll like:
  • All the playful lemurs. They’re cute, they’re playful and the kids will love ’em. The 3D footage certainly makes you feel like you’re among them.
  • The focus on conservation. Neither The Big Explorer nor I knew too much about lemurs or their plight, so we both learned a lot.
What you might wish was different:
  • It’s only available in IMAX 3D at select theaters (see below for listings). And yes, the 3D version left me with a slight headache, though The Big Explorer was fine.
  • It feels short. Yes, the lemurs are cute and the footage is amazing. But both myself and The Big Explorer were left wanting more information at film’s end. What can we do to help the lemurs?
Rating: G

Running time: 40 minutes

Where it’s playing: In Los Angeles at the California Science Center (click here for show times); for show times elsewhere in the U.S., Canada & worldwide, click here

Note: We received complimentary tickets to see Island of Lemurs: Madagascar in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy for more information.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature

I had a lot of fun sharing ideas for learning to read outdoors on Childhood 101 last year. Now Christie and I have put together another great series I think you’ll enjoy – this one on discovering math in the great outdoors.

One simple outdoor math game The Little Explorer enjoys at the moment is a twist on a basic nature scavenger hunt. Instead of simply looking for certain items in nature, we count how many of each item we find.

 Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature

Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature
 Before you head outside, create a list of items for your scavenger hunt. Since we planned on having our adventure at home, we thought about what types of natural items we might find in our front and back yards. Then we made a list. Ours included things like trees, dandelions, flowers, spider webs, roly-polies and birds.

Once you’ve created your list, grab something to write with and head outside. To play:
  • Look for the first item on your list. Count how many of those items you see. For example, we found two trees in our backyard.
  • Write down that number. If you’d like, you can keep a tally instead, using a line to indicate each item you find instead of numbers. This works well if you find a lot of one item, like flowers or leaves.
  • Continue through the list, searching for each of the items. Record how many of each you find. 
  • Don’t forget to take your time and look around. When we were counting trees, we spotted a hummingbird. When we were looking for bugs, we discovered “a billion ants” (by The Little Explorer’s count, that is).
  • When you’re done, take a look at the results. Which natural item did you find the most of? The least?

We made this outdoor math game a little more challenging by counting items in both our backyard and our front yard. Then we added the two together.

It might be fun to compare the results of our late afternoon hunt with those from another time of day – or even another season.

If you liked this activity, the fun doesn’t end here! Come see how The Little Explorer used his growing math skills to make nature art over on Childhood 101. 

Have you ever used nature to help your children learn about math?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Our Library: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs

As you might have noticed from the recent posts about roly-polies and nighttime creature hunts, we’re big into getting to know our local backyard bugs at the moment. It seems like a good time to share a resource we’ve found helpful in our research and learning, The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs.

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs |

The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs is written by the sister-and-brother author/photographer team who also brought us The Lifecycles of Butterflies (which we haven’t read but looks wonderful). These two got their hands dirty while researching this book, literally turning over rocks to find minibeasts, climbing trees to seek out caterpillars to raise and release, and scanning the world from a bugs’-eye view to bring us amazing field notes and photos of the insect world.

This award-winning guide to backyard bugs introduces readers to many of the most common critters in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. But really it’s the photographs that make this book so incredible. Each creature is featured in its natural setting, and many are shown progressing through all of the various stages of their life cycles.

While there is no suggested age range for The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs, both of The Explorers (at 5 and 9) enjoy it – and me, too! The younger loves all the photographs; the older all the sciency stuff and I’m not too grossed out by any of it.

What’s inside: This 144-page guidebook to backyard bugs features hundreds of stunning photographs combined with expert information. In it, you’ll find:

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs |
  • An overview of life cycles (of seasons, plants, soil, and insects and spiders)
  • Detailed descriptions of some of the more common and easy-to-find garden dwellers, including ants, ladybugs, bees, cicadas, aphids, butterflies and moths
  • Stunning, close-up photographs of each stage of the life cycle
  • Comparison guide of each stage of a bug’s life cycle
  • List of top host and nectar plants
  • Informative, kid-friendly glossary of key terms
What you’ll like:
  • Tons of color photographs! When you’re trying to identify a new-to-you critter, quality, up-close photographs are key. This book is full of ’em.
  • The price – it sells on Amazon for less than $15.
  • It’s kid friendly, with short, digestable snippets of information, photos and lots of interesting facts.
Book Review: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs |

What you might wish was different:
  • It’s not all-inclusive and some of the critters we see in our backyard aren’t included. And remember, the backyard bugs in this book are those found in North America.
Note: I purchased a copy of The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs for personal use. I received no compensation of any kind to share my honest review with you here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Studying Backyard Animals: Roly-Polies

Both of The Explorers enjoy a good bug hunt. Not only do they like searching for backyard animals, they also love the chance to observe them up close for a while.

Roly-polies are a fun backyard animal for kids to study. They are fairly easy to find – just check under rocks or potted plants – and slow enough for even the unsteadiest of hands to gently grab without harming.

Studying Backyard Animals: Roly-Polies

Lately, we’ve been using a Roly-Poly Playground (which costs about $7) as a portable habitat for the roly-polies we find in our backyard. The “playground” is a domed habitat with a snap-tight lid and air holes. There are ramps for the roly-polies to explore and a receptacle for adding water, too.

If you don’t have a fancy playground, you can make your own roly-poly terrarium instead. In either case, both containers allow you to keep the roly-polies safe while kids make their observations. Then be sure to release them back into their natural environment when you’re done.

There’s lots of interesting stuff for kids to learn about roly-polies. During our observations and reading, we discovered that:
  • They have a lot of different names. We call them roly-polies, but they’re also called pill bugs, potato bugs, wood lice and more.
  • Roly-polies aren’t bugs at all; they’re crustaceans. Their outer shell looks a lot like their relatives, crabs and shrimp.
  • When they get scared, roly-polies curl up in a ball. Turns out they aren’t dead, just protecting themselves from a threat.
  • They like to live in dark places, so if you bring them inside your home, place them in a dimly lit or dark area.
  • Roly-polies turn bright blue when they’re sick. We didn’t witness this first hand, but have seen blue roly-polies in our school garden and wanted to know what caused the color change.
  • They need food and water, just like humans! Damp leaves or a moist paper towel will work during your observations. They will eat leaves and pieces of carrots, potatoes or apples.
  • Roly-polies are great decomposers. They feed on dead plant matter, then return vital nutrients to the soil.
Your kids may want to write about what they learn in a nature journal. They might want to add drawings or photos, too.

Note: I purchased a copy our Roly-Poly Playground for personal use. I received no compensation of any kind to share my honest review with you here.

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