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Homeschooling Resources: Spectacular Spectacles and More By Becky Rupp

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Homeschooling Resources: Spectacular Spectacles and More By Becky Rupp

January is National Eye Health Care Month. So why not study – say – eyes?

Homeschooling Resources – Books:

Ellen Weiss’s The Sense of Sight, a “True Book” from Children’s Press (2009), is a good introductory pick for ages 5-9. Nicely designed, and illustrated with color photographs, the book – in short large-print sections – covers light, eye anatomy and function, optical illusions, vision problems, blindness, and the fundamentals of eye care. Included are interesting “True Statistics” (number of times you blink in a minute: between 6 and 30), cartoon-illustrated question-and-answer boxes, and helpful resource lists.

For those who don’t want, but absolutely have to wear, glasses, Lane Smith’s Glasses (Who Needs ‘Em?) (Puffin, 1995) for ages 5-8 is hilariously convincing: a little boy debates with a doctor over whether or not he needs glasses (“I’m worried about looking like a dork”). The illustrations are all blurry pictures of people, pink elephants, planets, and potatoes, all wearing glasses, until finally, in the last spread, everything snaps dramatically into focus.

Similarly Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Eyes (Little, Brown, 1988), featuring Arthur, everybody’s favorite aardvark, is a tale of glasses trouble. Arthur – teased and called “four eyes” because of his new glasses – decides to give them up. This only makes things worse (Arthur, for example, stumbles by mistake into the girls’ bathroom), and finally he’s convinced to put his glasses back on. (After all celebrity Wilbur Rabbit, star of The Bionic Bunny Show, wears glasses too.)

WormWearingGlasses Homeschooling ResourcesIn Lauren Child’s I Really Absolutely Must Have Glasses (Grosset & Dunlap, 2009) Charlie’s endearing little sister Lola – having seen a friend’s perfectly gorgeous glasses – now insists that she needs glasses too, despite Charlie’s patient explanation that nobody gets glasses unless they really, really need them.

Gorgeous glasses also appear in Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy: Spectacular Spectacles (HarperCollins, 2010), the latest in the picture-book series about the charming and flamboyant Nancy, who wears lace-trimmed socks, writes with a pen with a plume, likes lots of sprinkles on her ice cream, and uses very fancy vocabulary words. In Spectacular Spectacles, Nancy’s friend Bree shows up with a pair of glasses that are just Nancy’s cup of tea: they’re lavender, glittery, and come in a silver case.

Or what about magic glasses? In Vivian Vande Velde’s Now You See It… (Graphia, 2008), for ages 10 and up, Wendy – after breaking her glasses on the way to school – finds a pair of mysterious sunglasses that perfectly match her prescription. It turns out that the glasses have the ability to filter magic: suddenly Wendy sees little blue imps; the most popular girl in school turns out to be a witchy crone; and the new kid in class is an elf prince with pointy ears. With the help of the glasses, Wendy plunges into a fantasy adventure that ultimately changes her own life as well.

In Neal Shusterman’s The Eyes of King Midas (Simon & Schuster, 2009) for ages 12 and up, 13-year-old Kevin, mercilessly picked on by the class bully, Bertram, finds a pair of magic glasses that have the power to give him anything he wants. The problem is that he can’t undo the spell – so when he shouts “Go to hell!” at Bertram, the ground cracks open and swallows him up. Kevin, appalled, has to figure out how to restore things to normal.

Young scientists (ages 3-6) may enjoy Vicki Cobb’s I See Myself (HarperCollins, 2002) in the “Science Play” series, designed to encourage kids to explore and experiment on their own. I See Myself is a just-beginning introduction to optics in which kids investigate light, vision, and reflection by playing with a flashlight and a mirror.

For ages 9-13, see Vicki Cobb’s Light Action! (SPIE Publications, 2005), a terrific introduction to the science of optics with many better-than-average experiments. Topics covered include light and sight, reflection and refraction, concave and convex lenses, shadows, waves, and polarization.

The Edmund Scientific Company (800-728-8999) is a good source for educational optical supplies and equally educational optical toys. Available, for example, is a 25-piece bag of optical components (lenses, prisms, filters, and the like, all for $9.95), a good bet for curious and self-motivated young optics students. Also available are spectroscopes, comprehensive optical experiment kits, kaleidoscope kits, visual illusion cards, polarizing disks, and a wonderful “Animation Praxinoscope” ($12.95), an old-fashioned (but very cool) toy with which kids can make “moving pictures.”

Also see Delta Education (800-258-1302) for affordable magnifiers, prisms, lenses, make-your-own spectroscope kits, color-mixing glasses with interchangeable lenses, and plastic insect-eye viewers (through which you can see what things would look like to a bug).

Homeschooling Resources Online:

Neuroscience for Kids: The Eye
From the University of Washington, this terrific site covers all aspects of the brain and nervous system for elementary and secondary students. The section on the eye includes an explanation of eye structure and function illustrated with diagrams and photos, interactive puzzles and quizzes, and experiments and activities.

Optics for Kids
The science and engineering of optics, targeted at upper-elementary and middle-school-level kids. Included are illustrated explanations, resource lists, supply sources, and online activity guides.

Cow’s Eye Dissection
From the San Francisco Exploratorium, a video demonstration of a cow’s eye dissection, an illustrated explanation of how the eye works, and printable instructions for tackling a dissection on your own.
Cow’s eye specimens can be obtained from the Carolina Biological Supply Company at (800-334-5551).

Just for Fun Vision
Included here are online tests for color-blindness and visual acuity (via the Snellen Eye Test – the one with the big E), optical illusions, a collection of famous photographs, and an overview of animal vision.

Make Animal Eye Viewers
In this great-looking collection of hands-on projects, kids learn how different living things see, including bugs (you’ll need a whole lot of soda straws and a roll of tape for this one), mice, moles, and cats.

Toy Glasses Craft
For kids who want to make their own spectacular spectacles, this site has a long list of hands-on projects, including instructions and patterns for heart-shaped glasses, star-shaped glasses, Harry Potter glasses, and origami glasses.

Colorful Eyeglasses
See the world through rose-(or any other)-colored glasses. The site has a printable template and instructions for making glasses with different-colored cellophane lenses.

And some more cool (homeschooling resources) stuff:

It’s a Book
Lane Smith’s It’s a Book (Roaring Book Press, 2010) is a wickedly hilarious picture-book defense of books – real books – in the face of the increasingly overwhelming digital world. The characters are a monkey and a floppy-eared jackass. The monkey is a reader, and the jackass, who clearly isn’t, peppers him with questions – “ Where’s the mouse? How do you scroll down? Does it need a password? Can you blog with it? Can you make the characters fight?” – to all of which the exasperated monkey replies, “No. It’s a book.”
Finally the monkey lets the jackass take a look at his book – Treasure Island – and the jackass is hooked. There’s a wonderful double-page spread of enthralled reading – ears up, ears down, eyes wide – as a clock on the wall shows the hours ticking by.
A couple of librarian friends worried about the use of the word “jackass,” but they shouldn’t. Kids will think it’s screamingly funny and I’ll bet most parents can cope.
For ages 5 and up.

Spitefuls Disaster Dioramas
Free projects for papercrafters, all utterly disastrous. Kids can cut, fold, and assemble dioramas of the Boston Molasses Flood, the Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion, the Chicago Fire (featuring a paper lantern and a doleful-looking paper cow), the sinking of the Titanic, the explosion of the Hindenburg, the eruption of Vesuvius (with a foreground of doomed paper Pompeiian houses), and Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, trapped in paper Antarctic ice. (Coming next: the Alamo.)
Visit the site for printable templates and instructions.

Name your own mathematical theorem! TheoryMine is a British-based company devoted to “automated theory exploration” – that is, they have software that uses artificial intelligence techniques to churn out mathematical proofs. For a fee (about $24, American) you will receive your own, legitimate, personally named theorem. It’s silly, but math nerds will love it.


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Accompanying options include a pitch-corrected slow play – that is, you can slow the program down without it sounding funny; captions in both the featured foreign language and in English translation; a phrase repeat feature for bits you didn’t catch, and an online dictionary. Available languages are Spanish (in both adult and content-vetted K-12 versions), French, German, and English (as a second language).

A subscription costs $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year. Visit the website for more information and a selection of demo videos as homeschooling resources.

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