Thursday, November 04, 2010

Homeschooling: The Knight and the Dragon Unit

The 3rd unit we did this year was around the book by Tomie DePaola, The Knight and the Dragon. It was a fun unit! Not only is it a really creative book with a twist at the end, it was pretty easy to create (and choose from our Read, Play and Learn curric.) activities to do with knights, castles and dragons.

As usual, we did a lot of building. This is one of Mr. T's castles he built several days into the unit after lots of practice copying my castles. It's definitely a bit less tower, a bit more of an actual structure (though you can see he does add a beloved stack at the top!).
This is one of O Boy's castles that he built all by himself at the end of the unit after looking at tons of castle books, drawing castles etc. He really got pretty sophisticated with his design. There is a clear Keep, a jail (a must in any O Boy castle), several gates with drawbridge-type enclosures. Pretty cool!
Of course you have to make castle snacks. O Boy wanted to add a roof and drawbridge to his. You can barely see his apple slice soldier inside his castle. Fun to make, even more fun to eat.
Mr. T's castle. The Little Sweetie was with us but ate her castle before it really had a chance to come into being.
This was an interesting activity suggested by our curriculum: sorting fantasy (dragons) and real animals. They suggested using pictures but I thought it would be more tangible to use actual toy animals. I did it first with O Boy because I wasn't sure how it would play out and I was very glad I did. I asked him how he could put them into 2 groups, or families, and he quickly separated them into exactly what the curriculum anticipated: dragons and real animals. But to get him to explain why he did that was incredibly difficult. He didn't have the language labels to describe the difference between the two groups...he just knew they were different. He also thought you couldn't use the term "real animals" to describe the "real animals" because...of course they weren't real. They were plastic toys. So the result was what the book wanted; the process was wildly different. When I did it with Mr. T (I didn't take pictures) he really struggled to tell the difference between the real and imaginary animals. Instead he grouped them by categories like color or size (more tangible). And, as with O Boy, he really struggled to describe why and how he grouped the animals as he did. Very interesting activity!
You can see O Boy here thinking and talking.
One of the PT activities I came up with to combine both building and upper body/core strengthening we named Castle Crash. The boys had to build a set number of castles (with Mr. T I gave him a specific number of blocks to use or he just built and built and built and built...). It really helped to put a spot of tape on the ground so that they knew where to build the castles. They they'd hold onto the rope and CRASH into the castle.

We've been doing a lot of activities to try and help Mr. T build a sense of "numberness" with each number. He knows his numerals and can count past 20 but asking him to lay out a certain number of items past 4 or 5 is really difficult. So this week we did a lot of counting of knights, cannonballs and dragons. Here he is laying out armies of different numbers. The page he is working off of has all sorts of numbers on it, but I have to cover them all up except for one to help him focus. First he just matches up the knights on corresponding dots (2 dots next to the number 2) and then I have him do it again on a page without the dots to help guide him.
Three other number sense games we did we called Cannonball, War, and Go to Sleep Knights. In Cannonball I had him roll a die, count the dots and then place the right amount of smooth, black pebbles (cannonballs) in an icecube tray. Another way we did it was to have him grab as large a handful of pebbles as he could hold, place them in the ice cube tray and then count them. Then I'd cover them, move a few around, and he'd have to say how many there were originally (conservation of number).
War was a very popular game. We'd have each boy roll a die, count up their score and then line up their number of knights and horses across from each other on a battle line. Then we'd count each army and decide who won that battle. We'd shout "RETREAT!" They'd gather up the knights and start the game all over again.
For Go To Sleep Knights I put different numbers in the different rooms of our play castle. The back story was that the knights all had a big party in the castle and now they were all ready to go to sleep. So Mr. T had to put the correct number of knights to sleep in each room. All these number sense activities are still pretty difficult for him so we'll keep working on them for the foreseeable future.
O Boy really likes doing pattern block puzzles and I guessed that he was ready to move off the "match" pattern block templates and do one just by looking at a picture. I found a website where you can design your own pattern block puzzles and then print them out. I did both a castle (very challenging for him) and a dragon for him and he did very well with them!
After meeting with Mr. T's OT, she recommended we really pull back from so much emphasis on writing the letters and make sure he really has a better sense of what each number looks like as a whole unit. So each week he has to create the letters we've done (we're following the Handwriting Without Tears order) in a variety of ways - with playdoh, in kabob sticks, and sometimes in shaving cream or cornmeal. He's also working very hard on learning to write his name well and so he has to do that on just about anything I can think of! After asking him to do all the letters at once I realized that he needs this activity to be more focused and so he now does one letter at a time and it works much better!

Here are O Boy's letters - he threw these all together so quickly it was almost a blur!
Here's one of Mr. T's "castles" that he built all on his own. I think I gave him a set amount of blocks to work with and then asked him to build a castle all on his own.
Here's one of my castles that Mr. T copied.
Here's another number sense/counting/spotting activity I had Mr. T do with knights. He had to count the dots (arranged like dots on a die face) and then match the correct number of knights.
Here's one of O Boy's early castles which wasn't very complex but still had a Keep!
One of the first things O Boy did in our castle unit was to fully arm his horse in very elaborate "armor" and decorations. This process took several days and drove the Little Sweetie crazy because she considers the horse hers and she didn't think it should have any decoration on it! Here he is in his full battle gear with his horse all rigged up.
One of the most elaborate things we did in this unit was to take up a large part of our living room with an actual castle. It didn't end up being at all what I envisioned (as usual). We had two large boxes which we cut up and added a drawbridge and windows to. But the rest of the castle was just about a dozen same sized boxes that got stacked and restacked (almost every day) into various towers and walls. That made it an ever-changing castle. We added a tunnel just for the Little Sweetie and O Boy added different items depending on the day. Sometimes he had a throne with a treasure chest and gold pieces. Sometimes he had a fully equipped kitchen and all the armor laid out neatly in a tent (for the knights to sleep in inside the castle). One day he had his horse (fully armed) tied and taped up to the outside of the castle walls. Mr. T loved stacking and restacking the tower boxes while O Boy was adding and subtracting details. We added a step ladder (thanks, Papa!) to the outside for the Little Sweetie to climb up and down on as well.
Here's Mr. T wearing his breastplate and standing in the drawbridge. You can see this day we had a secret tunnel rigged up going into the tent inside the castle.
At the same time we were reading The Knight and the Dragon we did a little study on the Armor of God. I found a great song which incorporated "first, second, third, etc." and listed out all the armor in a really easy-to-remember way on DLTK ( Then every few days we added new pieces of armor to our own soldiers. This was a great way to do a bunch of different kinds of art activities all with one big huge end product! We traced our bodies (not Mr. T's favorite thing because it tickles so much!) first. Then we looked at all sorts of books with medieval paintings of knights for the various pieces of armor on those days. They each chose what they wanted their helmet (and plume) to look like. This involved gluing and placing it in the right spot. Almost every pipece of Mr. T's armor was blue, because that's his favorite color. Then we did breastplates (and actually made breastplates for the boys to add to their armor set). These and the belts we decorated with stickers. For the shields we looked at all the different shapes shields could be and then they chose the shape they wanted. I had them cut their shields out. On the shoes we did some stamping with pencil tip erasers and marker lids. They loved adding each new piece as we created them.

Mr. T's soldier
Little Sweetie's soldier
O Boy's soldier (if you enlarge this picture you can see the details he added like fingers and toes!)
At the end of The Knight and The Dragon book, the two main characters create a restaurant together. Though we have very few actual restaurants in our town, we do have an excellent pizza place called Papa Bear's Pizza. I asked Mr. Scott, the owner, if he'd show us around one day to close out our unit and he graciously agreed. So we invited another homeschool friend, Tolin and went to see how a pizza restaurant runs. They showed us the huge ovens (big favorite with the boys), the mixers, the ingredients, how they make a pizza, the fryers, and much more. They capped it off with a make-your-own pizza session! It was a delicious and delightful tour. I have an even greater appreciation for the pizzas we enjoy from Papa Bear's now that I've seen all the hard work that goes into each pizza. Thanks for the fun tour, Papa Bear's!

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