Thursday, 6 March 2014

Playing with wolves

Jaelyn requested a deep dive into the lives of wolves when we returned to our normal rhythm after the winter holidays.  I must confess that I didn't put in a lot of effort into ordering our activities - they just sort of happened as the books we requested from the libraries started trickling in.  Here's a peek into the resources we used and the activities we did.

We started off our unit by reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.  This is the story of a 13-year-old Eskimo girl who was lost on the tundra and resorted to befriending a pack of wolves in hopes they would bring food to share with her until she made her way back to civilization.  We learned a lot about how wolves communicate and the incredible loyalty wolves possess for the members of their pack.  In fact, there was one day that Jaelyn started giving me commands with wolf-talk - she put her hands on her head like ears, pointed them at me, and bared her teeth.  She was telling me to lie on my belly.  We also learned about the social structure of a pack, as well as Inuit and Eskimo traditions.  Later, we also read through the last two books of the trilogy - Julie and Julie's Wolf Pack.

When Julie met the wolves in Julie and the Wolves, there were pups in the pack.  We further explored the first year of a pup's life by reading Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary, also by Jean Craighead George.  This story describes the timing of a pup's development stages with changes in nature or important milestone dates children might remember.  It doesn't use specific dates, and we had difficulty relating to some of the milestones (such as when certain flowers or birds appear further south) so I printed out a calendar and we did our best to identify the development stages based on the milestones we did know (such as when the fireworks fly).

We learned about the important role that wolves play in maintaining healthy ecosystems by watching Wolves:  A Legend Returns to Yellowstone.  We supplemented this by reading When the Wolves Returned, which provided even deeper insight.  For example, it mentioned the detrimental effects of rising elk populations on the trees, which impacted the number of bird species and other animals in Yellowstone.  Since the wolf was reintroduced, there is more diversity in the park.  I really appreciated how a complex subject could be written about in simple terms.  The book ended with a simple food chain that showed the trickle-down effect of wolves on both plant and animal species.

Lastly, we watched several other videos:  Living with Wolves and Wolves at our Door.  Both these videos were shot by a husband and wife team (Jim and Jamie Dutcher) living in a yurt in the mountains of Idaho.  Their closest neighbours was a pack of wolves, which they were observing to learn more about their social behaviours.  This duo also put together a book with amazing photography called The Hidden Life of Wolves

For each book or video we watched, I asked Jaelyn to draw a picture from a favorite page or scene.  Later, she would narrate what she had drawn.  Other activities we did during our study of wolves was creating a wolf from modelling wax and building a diorama of a wolf pack's habitat.  And there has also been lots of impromptu play-acting - like the "pups" ganging up on the alpha male and trying to assert themselves as the alpha, or Jaelyn identifying herself as the pack beta and making sure all was well with each pack member.  This play-acting is by far my favorite part of homeschooling.

We finished off our unit on wolves with a trip to the zoo while on vacation.  Our hope was that the wolves would be active and we could try to guess what their behaviours were communicating.  Unfortunately for us, the wolves were communicating that they were sleepy.  I guess that happens in the life of a wolf too - it just doesn't make for good TV or reading.

What projects have your little ones been immersed in?

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