Prehistoric Creatures Unit Study - Lesson 3: Pre-Cambrian Period

We studied the pre-Cambrian period of scientific history.

Surprisingly, it was a mass extinction event which gave rise to life on the planet during the Cambrian period of history. Before the Cambrian the only known life was single celled organisms. The seas were filled with a type of blue-green algae known as scienobacteria. Then a series of events took place which caused the Earth to freeze. It was the devastating ice age which caused the bacteria to evolve by surviving the harsh conditions.

Catastrophe: Miracle Planet is a series of videos which focuses on mass extinction events throughout the history of our planet. The first two episodes detail the ice age which took place between the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods of evolution.

Scientists believe the Earth was completely covered with ice at least two times since it was formed, hence the title of the video "Snowball Earth". At one time the air was filled with methane gas giving the atmosphere a reddish hue. Then one celled organisms which produced oxygen began to thrive changing the red to blue. The abundance of oxygen then caused the planet to freeze. Although the surface was frozen, forces beneath were still very active. Plates continued to move and volcanoes continued to erupt. Volcanoes erupting on the surface spilled carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. After years of eruptions, the carbon dioxide built up and rewarmed the planet. The increased temperature caused the ice to melt and life to once again thrive.

Episode 2 of Miracle Planet, Snowball Earth continued discussions of how the Earth was once completely covered by ice. 650 million years ago, there were no plants and animals to balance the carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gases within the atmosphere. Scienobacteria, one of the only living creatures, absorbed carbon dioxide. After years of carbon dioxide use, the gas became depleted in the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide keeps the Earth warm, the lack of carbon dioxide allowed the planet to freeze. In addition to exploring how the Earth froze and later thawed, scientists explored winter caves to see how single celled organisms may have survived when the Earth was frozen and explained how they had altered DNA which enabled them to survive. It was this mass extinction event between the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian period that was the turning point for life to thrive.

To gain a better understanding of how the Earth and Universe were formed, please refer to our earlier Earth Science study.

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Prehistoric Creatures Unit Study - Lesson 2: Overview

We populated our evolution timeline noting mass extinction events, the types of creatures living during each time period and major evolutionary changes.

It is important to have an overall understanding of how life evolved into its current diverse forms before we can truly understand any one part of evolution. In studying this evolution lesson, we read the book DK Eyewitness Books: Prehistoric Life slowly over a period of several weeks. The book begins with an evolution timeline, followed by a section describing the characteristics of the creatures which were living during each time period.

Timeline periods listed below were on the timeline from the previous lesson. During this lesson, mass extinction events and types of creatures were added to the timeline.

 A. 4.5 billion-570 million - Pre-Cambrian
    - one celled organisms
     * MASS EXTINCTION EVENT (99% of species died, Earth's surface completely frozen)    

I. 570-245 million - Paleozoic Era

 A. 570-500 million - Cambrian
    - shells evolved
    - shallow seas
    - molluscs, sponges, trilobites
    - all animals were aquatic
 B. 500-440 million - Ordovician
    - jawless fish
    - early land based plants
    - 1st vertibrates
     * MASS EXTINCTION EVENT (60% of marine species died, Earth cooled)
 C. 440-410 million - Silurian
    - jaws evolved
    - spore based plants
 D. 410-360 million - Devonian
    - lots of oxygen
    - limbs evolved (1st tetrapods)
    - 1st land animals (amphibians)
    - wingless insects and spiders
 E. 360-290 million - Carboniferous
    - plants evolved
    - mostly spore based plants
    - amniotic eggs evolved
    - 80% Oxygen
    - lots of giant insects
   i. 360-320 million - Mississippin
   ii. 320-290 million - Pennsylvanian
 F. 290-245 million - Permian
    - primitive reptiles
     * MASS EXTINCTION EVENT (95% of species died, Severe volcanic eruptions)    

II. 245-65 million - Mesozic Era (Dinosaurs)

 A. 245-210 million - Triassic Period
    - ferns in south, conifers in north
    - hot and humid
   - 1st flowering plants
    - marine reptiles (plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs)
    - flying dinosaurs (pterosaurs)
    - 1st dinosaurs (size of small turkeys)
    - primitive mammals
 B. 210-140 million - Jurassic Period
    - plant and meat eating dinosaurs
    - pterosaurs were abundant
    - marine animals (ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, crocodiles, bivalves)
    - brachiopods, allosaurs

 C. 140-65 million - Cretaceous Period
    - ray fish widespread
    - 1st sharks
    - 1st flowers and grasses
    - dinosaurs (T-Rex, triceratops, velociraptor, spinosaurs)
    - birds evolved
    - 1st ants, butterflies, grasshoppers
    * MASS EXTINCTION EVENT (Asteroid Impact)

III. 65 million-present - Cenozoic Era

 A. 65-23 million - Paleogene Period
   i. 65-54 million - Paleocene Epoch
    - turtles, crocodiles, lizards, fish
    - nocturnal mammals
   ii. 54-37 million - Eocene Epoch
    - running animals (horse)
    - grasses evolved and prairies formed
    - beech elm, chestnut, magnolia, redwood, larch, cedar trees
    - small mammals
   iii. 34-23 million - Oligocene Epoch
    - elephants and rhinos
    - cooler climate (woodlands)
    - 1st apes
 B. 23-2.5 million - Neogene Period
   i. 23-5 million - Miocene Epoch
    - increased grasslands
    - cooler, dryer climate
    - cattle and deer evolved
    - wolves, horse, deer, birds - similar to today
   ii. 5-1.8 million - Pliocene Epoch
    - modern climate - deciduous and coniferous forests, tundra, grasslands and deserts
    - 1st humans
    - seals and sea lions thrived (mammals)
    - Mediterranean Sea formed
 C. 2.5 million-present - Quaternary Period
   i. 2.5 million-11,700 - Pleistocene
    - Great Lakes formed
    - glaciers formed and retreated 
    - some mammals became extinct (mastodons, saber-toothed cats, grounds sloths, cave bears)
    - Neanderthals became extinct
    - migratory birds evolved
    - smaller, swifter mammals developed
   ii. 11,700-present - Holocene

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Fantasy Writing Activity for Kids - Setting

We learned about settings of fantasy stories and wrote our own fantasy setting.

One of the best ways to acquire great writing skills is to study great writing. It may sound counter intuitive, but great writing is not only found in written form. Movies are wonderful sources for writing inspiration and a fun treat for kids when studying writing.

The goal of this lesson was to make the children aware of how authors describe settings in the fantasy genre. Since the mind can wander in a million different directions, the fantasy genre is the perfect one for this lesson.

Monsters, Inc.

In the popular movie Monsters, Inc, the Monsters live in their own unique world. The movie gives many wonderful visual descriptions of the monster world which is both different and similar to our own. In Monster world, there is a business which makes power called Monsters, Inc. Unlike power plants on Earth, power in Monster world is generated by getting kids to scream. Like factories on Earth, there is a boss and workers with a variety of different jobs. Some monsters handle paperwork, others work on the electronics and machinery and others are professional scarers. After watching the movie, the kids listed a number of items which described the setting of the movie.

Patchwork Girl of Oz

In addition to discussing the setting of Monsters, Inc, we discussed the setting of the Hopper's and Horner's lands in the book The Patchwork Girl of Oz. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz and eighteen sequels, was a master at describing characters and settings. Each of his books are filled with descriptions of different lands his characters visit on their adventurous journeys.

The Hoppers are creatures with one leg who live in houses which are fancy on the outside and plain inside. The marble exteriors are decorated with elaborate carvings. They hop everywhere they go and they are afraid of the Horners. The Horners, are creatures with one horn in the middle of their forheads and tri-colored hair. They are not scared of the Hoppers as long as the fence is locked. They like jokes, have two legs, round bodies and live in houses which are fancy on the inside and plain on the outside. The kids had no trouble listing items which described both the Hoppers and the Horners.

Hedgehog Land

When my children have free time and aren't running around outside, they love to play with their stuffed hedgehogs. They have given each of their hedgehogs personalities, and created many fantasy lands where they live. Vanilla is the queen of all of the hedgehogs. She has her own land where she rules like a tyrant. Among other things, she visits the supermarket in her very own diamond studded golden tank.

J.J. Peter is an inventor who lives in Vanilla's land. He spends all of his time in his room inventing. He doesn't like to socialize much but does tolerate Vanilla most of the time.

Inside Vanilla Land, Vanilla has her own palace. It is quite extravagent and filled with servants and high-tech inventions from J.J. Peter.

Since the kids play with each other in their fantasy world the writing was already done. The challenge of this assignment was getting the descriptions down on paper. When kids play, they are often writing. It can be amazing to watch.

* I did not receive any compensation for this recommendation. I'm just a homeschooling mom who has found many products that I like. If you're interested in the products I recommend on this blog I want to make it easy for you to find them. 
** I am an Amazon associate and receive a small portion of the sales on orders made after clicking in from this site, which I promptly spend on homeschooling books and supplies for my children.

Prehistoric Creatures Unit Study - Lesson 1: Timeline

Lesson 1: We created a timeline which began with the formation of the Earth and ended today.

This is the first post in our evolution unit study. In the recent past we studied both Earth Science and Astronomy. Several of those lessons covered how the universe, stars and Earth were formed. Continuing where those lessons left off, this evolution unit study will cover how life evolved from single celled organisms into the current diverse forms of today.

Before jumping into a single prehistoric time period or evolutionary event such as the ice age, age of dinosaurs or human evolution it was important to provide an overall view of time. To do this we created a floor to ceiling timeline beginning with the formation of the Earth and ending with modern day. Unlike the timeline we used in conjunction with our history studies, on this timeline the length of the line did not correspond proportionally with the actual length of time. Instead a line was drawn down the paper and divided into the three Era's of time; Paleozoic, Mesozic and Cenozoic. In addition, a small section was left at the bottom for the pre-Cambrian time period when the Earth was formed and life began. Each Era was further evenly divided as follows:

 A. 4.5 billion-570 million - Pre-Cambrian

I. 570-245 million - Paleozoic Era

 A. 570-500 million - Cambrian
 B. 500-440 million - Ordovician
 C. 440-410 million - Silurian
 D. 410-360 million - Devonian
 E. 360-290 million - Carboniferous
   i. 360-320 million - Mississippin
   ii. 320-290 million - Pennsylvanian
 F. 290-245 million - Permian

II. 245-65 million - Mesozic Era (Dinosaurs)

 A. 245-210 million - Triassic Period
 B. 210-140 million - Jurassic Period
 C. 140-65 million - Cretaceous Period

III. 65 million-present - Cenozoic Era

 A. 65-23 million - Paleogene Period
   i. 65-54 million - Paleocene Epoch
   ii. 54-37 million - Eocene Epoch
   iii. 34-23 million - Oligocene Epoch
 B. 23-2.5 million - Neogene Period
   i. 23-5 million - Miocene Epoch
   ii. 5-1.8 million - Pliocene Epoch
 C. 2.5 million-present - Quaternary Period
   i. 2.5 million-11,700 - Pleistocene
   ii. 11,700-present - Holocene

As we journeyed through our Evolution Study, we added new images of the creatures which lived during each time period.

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Essential Homeschool Supplies

With so many educational products available and a multitude of options for educating children, there are very few items I consider essential.


For preK and kindergarten aged children most parents want to encourage their children to learn in a way that is fun and motivating for the child. At this age, fun is key. Kids can quickly see the difference between a game and an educational activity disguised as a game. When parents push too hard, kids begin to rebel, so keeping learning fun and making activities a choice, not a requirement goes a long way toward building a lifelong love of learning.

School districts and states have long lists of requirements that specify when children should learn their letters, sight words, numbers, and a host of other skills. Although these guidelines can be helpful, most homeschoolers are free to teach the same skills in any order that works. Typically, kids aged 4-6 learn their letters and numbers, the basics of reading, adding and subtraction and begin writing letters and words. Teaching these skills does not require curriculum and should be fun.

Many parents believe that workbooks and reading curriculum are required to teach these skills, but these methods are not always enjoyable for the children. In addition, parents can save lots of money and have fun playing with their children teaching these same skills.

Now my list of essential items may be surprising, but homeschooling youngsters should be fun and cheap. Remember curriculum is not required.

1. Library Card
2. Art Supplies
3. Paper, pens and pencils
4. Deck of Cards - 12 Decks (6 Red/6 Blue) Wide-Size, Regular Index Playing Cards by Brybelly
5. Dice - 30+ Polyhedral Dice | Random | 35 Dice in 5 Complete Sets
6. Small objects such as beans, little plastic animals, coins, bottle caps, etc - Eureka Tub Of Animal Counters, 100 Counters in 3 3/4" x 5 1/2" x 3 3/4" Tub

Reading to children is the best way to get them to develop a personal interest in reading, so a library card is an obvious item for the list. Choosing quality books goes a long way towards developing excellent readers and learners. Not all books are created equal. Some books use rich language and tell an entertaining story all while managing to teach. Others use simple language and contain plots that all seem the same. One character was mean, the other overcame the problem and they were all friends in the end. While this common plot may be engaging, it can become very familiar and repetitive.

Given time and practice, it becomes easy to spot quality books. My Language Arts page is a good place to begin selecting quality books.

Art supplies may not be such an obvious choice for the essential list, but they are a sneaky way to teach a variety of math, reading and writing skills. Drawing pictures develops the same hand muscles required for writing, as does cutting, gluing and creating. Letter books, number books, personal calendars, recipes, can all be created with art supplies. In addition, parents can write down stories kids dictate and then children can illustrate them. Although math workbooks present math problems in the abstract way they are commonly seen in schools, the same skills can be introduced using dice and cards. So many simple games can be played and invented. For example, a parent could draw a picture with clowns holding balloons. There could be one clown holding one balloon, a clown holding two balloons, etc, up to six balloons. The dice could be rolled and the first person to roll each number could be declared a winner. Just playing simple games, or playing on a daily basis can result in kids learning these essential pre-K and kindergarten skills.

If this isn't convincing enough, here are some of my favorite preK-kindergarden resources which provide a little more direction.

Five in a Row (Five in a Row): Volume 1 - This is a literature based curriculum for young children. Parents read the same quality picture book to their child five days in a row. After reading each day an activity which focuses on a traditional subject area is completed. For example, after reading The Story of Ferdinand, kids may color a map of Spain, discuss vocabulary words found in the story, or try creating their own black and white drawing. Here are a few more resources that are helpful for preK-kindergarten age.

ThinkFun What's Gnu (ages 4-9)
LeapFrog: Letter Factory (ages 3-7)
LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory (ages 4-8)
LeapFrog: Complex Word Complex (ages 4-8)
Leap Frog videos - Letter Factory, Word Factory, Complex Word Complex - These videos are great for teaching kids to read with little effort. All three of my children loved them as they were the only videos they were exposed to at this young age.

Early Elementary (6 yrs-8 yrs)

Once kids begin reading, the real key is to keep them reading. Again, there are very few items I consider essential. On the contrary, I believe, if kids are interested in learning about spiders, they should be given a multitude of spider books. After all, they will learn about spiders while improving their reading skills. If they enjoy fiction, they should be filled with stories. Whatever they are interested in, they should be given tons of books on the topic. Many people believe that children need exposure to all types of genres such as non-fiction, biographies and fiction. As they get older, there will be plenty of time to explore different genres. A better goal than exposure to various genres at such a young age, would be to develop a love of reading. What better way to develop the interest than to help children find books on topics they enjoy.

Therefore, a library card tops my list of essential items as it will at each and every age.

This is also the perfect age for developing an interest in a hobby. Whether its photography, knitting, fixing bicycles, or cooking, hobbies motivate kids to improve a variety of skills. Reading is most obvious, but hobbies also help to develop math and writing skills as well as logical thinking and executive function skills. So my recommendation is to skip the curriculum and instead focus on deepening and broadening interests. Here's a list of games, kits and toys that help children develop hobbies.

Science Toys
Thames and Kosmos Air+Water Power Plus Science Kit (ages 7-12)
Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machines (ages 7-12)
Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit (ages 4-11)
ALEX Toys Craft My Flower Press Kit (ages 4-12)
The World Record Paper Airplane Book (ages 6-11)
Syma S107/S107G R/C Helicopter with Gyro- Red (ages 7-18)
Elenco 300-in-One Electronic Project Lab (ages 12-18)

Lost Cities (ages 8-18)
Classic Farkel Game (ages 5-15)
Sumoku (ages 7-18)
Speed! (ages 4-12)
The Settlers of Catan (ages 7-18)
Bananagrams (ages 4-15)
Bicycle 3-Track Color Coded Wooden Cribbage Game (ages 5-18)

Imagability Wedgits To Go 35 Piece Set (ages 3-10)
Magna-Tiles® Clear Colors 100 Piece Set (ages 3-10)

Harrisville Designs 7" Potholder (Traditional Size) Loom Kit (ages 5-10)
Hand Made Maple Drop Spindle With 2 oz Merino Wool Spinning Fiber Kit (ages 7-15)
Rainbow Loom 2.0 Bands with Metal Hook (ages 5-13)
Kumihimo Starter Kit: KumiLoom(TM) Disk/Bobbins/Booklet/Necklace Kit (ages 5-15)
Perler Beads 6,000 Count Bucket-Multi Mix (ages 3-10)
Clover Flower Large Yo-Yo Maker (ages 5-12)

Upper Elementary (9 yrs-12 yrs)

This is the age I like to introduce some curriculum to students. Once kids can add, subtract, multiply and divide, read and write on their own, they are ready for more structure. Here's my list of essential resources for upper elementary students.

Parents should continue reading to kids and try to expose them to new topics. Science can be introduced through books and hands-on experiments. The The Magic School Bus Chapter Book (20 Book Set) and InquisiKids Discover & Do Volume 3 Science with Batteries, Science and Your Body, Science with Weather are super science resources.

This is a short list of essential items. In addition to the above items, kids should continue to develop their hobbies and interests by reading and researching on their own and with help from adults. They should be given lots of time to read and exposure to books either through the library or an at-home library.


Junior High and High School (13 yrs-17 yrs)

At higher levels kids should continue with their math program and expand on their knowledge of history. Strong readers will enjoy this selection of history story books. American Government, American History, American Literature and Economics are all interrelated subjects that should be taught together. Uncle Eric Series 11-Book Set Latest Editions is by far the best place to begin these subjects. As opposed to the traditional approach to education which tends to have students memorize a series of facts, these books answer the question why. They explain how government policy changes the economic prosperity of people. After reading these books, students will have a deep understanding of how America works and know much more than the names of the three branches of government.

High school aged students should begin a blog or keep a writing notebook where they either answer essay questions related to their reading or give their opinions on topics related to their reading. For example, Should every organization be self-supporting in order to justify its own existence? For example, if an organization, whose sole purpose is to enlighten, educate or inform, cannonot survive without the contributions of government or private benefactors, should it exist? Students should be given the opportunity to express their opinions on topics such as this.

Education should be flexible as each student is unique. They should be challenged based on their own personal level and interests. Because of this, it is difficult to create a list of essential resources, but is easier to create guidelines for recommendations. Education should be motivating and interesting with goals of developing interests and independence.

Comments and questions! I would love to hear from you on this topic.

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