Thursday, July 27, 2006

Masterpieces from an English Country House: The Fitzwilliam Collection

Have you seen the Fitzwilliam Collection at the Chrysler? I'll give you a few ideas for preparing your children to have an interesting experience at the museum.

Okay, it's not like Masterpieces from an English Country House: The Fitzwilliam Collection is going to change your life or rearrange your laundry room or open your eyes to the world of... giant books about birds, for example. But it is an interesting an eclectic exhibit, and something my children found enjoyable. The collection displays some interesting artifacts from the a stately home in England, collected over a family's long history.

The exhibit is divided into sections based on the centuries. The first room introduces you to the house with photographs of the exterior and interior. Then there are the portraits. Look for the Anthony Van Dyck portrait of Thomas Wentworth and his very cool dog. If you go to the link above, you can show your child a picture of this portrait before you go. The next room features work by George Stubbs. Check out this link for lots of pictures of his paintings. His style of drawing horses has been copied often, but not so much his penchant for painting them being attacked by wild animals. Interesting man, that Stubbs.

The next room is mostly about enoooormous books: Audobon's _Birds of America_. They can't turn the pages, but the kids will likely be impressed by the scale of these massive volumes.

Then there's some religious art, including a triptych that Benny really loved, and some other more recent family acquisitions. Don't miss the black and white photograph of everyone out in front of the house with the King of England, on your way out. I guess when the King comes over, you want to snap a few shots before he toddles off.

How to make this exhibit interesting to kids? A little preparation will help. When we're going to see something new, I like to make a little "treasure hunt" for Benny to use to seek out things I want him to notice. Then when we're in the exhibit, *he* can point things out to *me*, which is much more exciting and satisfying than the other way around. This works for lots of different experiences, from ballet to boat trips. It also helps to learn a bit about the artists ahead of time, like Van Dyck and George Stubbs for example. Or Audobon.

Here are a few lesson ideas for after the trip:

1. Create HUUUUGE books with wrapping paper or butcher paper. Make a field guide to birds in your backyard, or another type of animal entirely. Why would someone want to make a huge book?
2. Take a digital camera and photograph your house's exterior and interior as if you're illustrating a magazine spread. What elements do you want to highlight or hide? (Hide my laundry room. Please.)
3. Create an art exhibit from items in your house. You can pull your art objects into one room, if you want, for display, or you can leave them where they are and make plaques to describe their origin and significance. You can highlight your own artwork, or artwork your family has purchased, or certain books you like. Create a tour guide pamphlet for visitors to your exhibit. Or make a Podcast, like the museum did for their "open house."

Have fun at the museum! Here are my kids in the garden outside after their trip:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Human Body: In Benny's Words

Well, I asked him to teach me what he knows:

First your food goes in the mouth and you crunch it up small enough to swallow. Then, you get it down into the esophagus. It's something you push, push, push, push down into the stomach. The stomach can drift down into the small intestine. Now the small intestine is a river that flows to the large intestine. The large intestine is so stinky! Because there's POOP inside! Back to the stomach. We'll teach you that the stomach can let everything down to the liquid part of feel. In the small intestine, the food will be soaked up into villi. It gets delivered to all parts of the body in veins and with arteries. What gets sucked out in the large intestine is water. The extra water goes into the tube, gets through the kidneys, and then it goes into the bladder. When that happens, you start to tinkle. Even the food in the large intestine can get pushed out of your body too. But when that happens, that is not tinkle. It's... POOP!

Here in the breathing, your air goes down the trachea, which is not like the esophagus, as the esophagus pushes it down, and the trachea doesn't push the air down. You breathe, and the trachea blows it down like the three little pigs. Like the wolf blows down their houses. Like it does to the trachea, as it blows the air down into the body. And the part in the body that it goes into is the lungs. And there's another part of the body that's air. It's red and it's liquid. When you get a cut, you'll see it bleeding sometimes and you'll see some scrapes sometimes. And you can not see it when you don't have any cuts. It's about the good blood and the bad blood. And there's the heart. First, the bad blood goes into the heart, and then it goes into good blood. What helps it is the lungs. And then it comes out of the heart, and then it comes into the body!

And there's something else about the digestive system. Girls have three holes, and the boys have two holes. Both the boys' holes are to the digestive system. And the girls don't have all their holes to the digestive system. They just have one hole to the reproductive system. The reproductive is where the baby comes out. You'll see it so tiny, the size of a baby dolly. And they have just two holes to the digestive system.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Deep Sea 3D IMAX

I've seen a few of these underwater IMAX movies now, and I don't honestly know why they don't fill the whole thing up with just jellyfish. 3D jellyfish RULE.

We went to see Deep Sea 3D, one of the IMAX movies showing at the aquarium, and I have a few thoughts.

1. Children do not appreciate overarching themes and ideas. Children appreciate jellyfish apparently floating out into the audience. If the movie spent a bit less time hammering home the whole predator/prey/symbiosis idea and a bit more time wafting through jellyfish forests, they'd be doing us a favor. Everyone waits for the jellyfish. No one waits for the really unusual behavior of small fish at certain parts of the reef.

2. We get it. Predator. Prey. But sometimes, they help each other. Do you really need a thesis statement, to make a movie like this? Can't you just move us around in some kelp and make us think the sea turtle is about to leap into our row?

3. I forgive Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet for all the repetition of how predator and prey help each other. Why haven't these two done a movie together, besides this one where they placidly discuss giant squid? One wonders.

4. You never get through a movie about things underwater without some villainous behavior and some inflammatory language. "The ultimate killing machine" and "ravenous jaws" and whatnot. Perhaps that helps to wring a little interest from the teenage crowd, but the six-year-olds found it overdone to the point of absurdity.

5. Actually, the six-year-olds really liked the movie, and even the squeamish one was not disturbed at all, even by the dramatic music and obligatory "scary parts." We didn't see the shark movie, because we thought it'd be too scary. This one was just scary enough, without being traumatizing.

6. Sadie Grace, my two-year-old daughter, has never actually worn glasses and watched a 3D movie before, although she's had a few opportunities, notably at Disney World, in the one where Donald Duck shoots out of the movie at the end and then *can be seen* with his tail hanging out of the back wall of the theater as you leave. She wouldn't wear her glasses for that one. So, all she usually sees are blurry shapes and she doesn't actually watch.

7. She wore her glasses all the way through this and REALLY loved it. It was well worth the price of admission to see her gasp, and ooh/aah, and reach out for the bits of floating things in the ocean, and stuff like that. A nice helping of childlike wonder for all in attendance.

I exchanged a look with the mother of the small toddler sitting next to me, who was also saying "Ooooh!" and reaching for the jellyfish, and the look said, "This is why we came here. Because they will say OOOH and make that face, and reach for jellyfish."

In conclusion, I thought the movie was just fine. Kate and Johnny need a feature film together. The squid were really not all that scary, in spite of the accompaniment, and Sadie wore her glasses.

More jellyfish! It's what we all liked best!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Geocaching on the Fourth

If you've never heard of geocaching, you're probably normal. But if you're a certified geek in every other way, you need this sport in your life.

For educational merit, Geocaching is awesome. This time of year, it's pretty high on mosquito content too. Bugs notwithstanding, it's fun for the whole family, and all you need is a GPS thingy, and a willingness to get off the beaten path.

Geocaching is a worldwide game based on the old practice of explorers, cowboys, woodsmen, and other outdoors types -- leaving "caches" in secret places, so they could come back and get stuff they couldn't carry. Players hide caches in public places (or with permission on private property) and post the latitude and longitude coordinates on the internet so other players can go find them. Caches can be as small as a film canister and contain nothing but a log to sign and replace, or they can be a big waterproof container, where players can trade items. Lots of people leave Happy Meal toys, for example, for kids who are joining their parents on a treasure hunt. Caches can be hidden deep in the wilderness, or right on a downtown street corner.

You need a GPS unit, so you can wander around in the woods, walking this way and that, staring at the radio in your hand which tells you you're 15 feet away, then 400 feet away, then that you're standing on it, then that you're a mile away, all between two adjacent trees. You need a free account at the Geocaching web site, so you can look up caches to find. And you need BUG SPRAY!!! Don't forget the bug spray. And boots. Today I was ankle deep in mud.

Geocaching is fun for the kids because they like to find treasures, and leave treasures for other kids to find. My six-year-old loves signing the log books. For homeschoolers, this is a deep mine... which I haven't even really begun to think about properly. For example, you can put a "Travel Bug" in a cache, and send it around the world, tracking its progress on the internet, as other cachers transfer it from place to place. You can hide your own caches too. Some are puzzle caches, math-based caches, and of course you learn about the compass, the lat and long, and finding your way in the woods.

Today we went out "caching" and found four of the four we were seeking. A good day! They say days like that can make the game addictive. Tomorrow we're going to Ohio to visit grandparents. I'm *trying* not to look up geocaches to visit along the way.