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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: April, 2011

I was reminded of how verbal and sensitive my boys can be this week as we talked about the meaning of Earth Day. I didn’t plan a special activity but I did comment over breakfast that this was the day we celebrated the Earth. “What is Earth?” Leo wanted to know. Then the discussion began. Our conversation took us from planets, to recycling, to compassion, to littering, to pollution, and ultimately, to water.
Henry and Leo know that we try and conserve water. They often scold me for leaving the faucet on too long while washing dishes or run to tell us that one of the garden hoses is leaking. We talked a lot over the year since we moved to California about living in a dry climate and making sure we don’t waste water. It mostly started when we received our first water bills and understood the cost of keeping a green lawn. The talk has worked because Henry and Leo have taken up water conservation as their “cause” and I am not complaining. It’s a bit like a crusade.
So, even though we didn’t make big plans for Earth Day, I was sure glad to see that Sid the Science Kid website has a whole cycle of activities for us to choose from. Naturally, I chose the activity called Brush, Brush, Brush ‘Em Up. Basically, the kids needed to compare how much water they used if they turned the faucet off while brushing their teeth vs. the amount used if they kept the faucet on. Simple, right? Our investigation took an interesting twist.
I knew before we even started that both boys DO NOT leave the water on while brushing. We taught them from the beginning to turn it off and they have also talked about it extensively at school. The experiment wasn’t intended to teach them to do this…for us it was going to be a cool way to measure and compare.
Leo went first. We put a bowl in the sink to catch the water from faucet. Leo turned on the water to wet his brush, and then turned it off as he brushed. The bowl only filled a little bit. We talked about the amount and predicted how much the bowl would fill when Henry brushed his teeth with the water ON.
So Henry stepped up the sink. He put the toothpaste on, turned on the faucet, dipped his brush, and then turned the water OFF.
“Henry, you need to turn the water on for the experiment. We want to measure how much water you use,” I said.
“I can’t Mommy. That will waste a lot of water,” Henry replied.
“But sweetie, that is the point of the investigation. We want to see how much water is wasted if we leave the faucet running.”
“I know!” Henry exclaimed, becoming agitated. “I don’t want to waste all that water and I don’t want you to take my picture!”
Point taken, my little conservationist. I guess my kids didn’t really need this experiment. I liked the simplicity of the activity and I thought it would be fun. But to Henry (and then Leo by default) we were wasting water. And that was NOT okay, even in the name of Science.
Water1.jpg
As you can see in the photo above, Henry brushed his teeth with the water faucet in the OFF position.
How well do your kids understand the concepts of Earth Day and water conservation? What activities or tips can you share?

I have been waiting for Sid the Science Kid to produce some episodes about the environment. I am so glad they did. The topic really got me thinking about how we can help preschoolers to learn to be respectful of the environment. In my mind, I believe we should start small with our little ones. I want to build the foundations in our home and teach the boys how that applies to our broader community and world. Like a Preschool version of Think Global/Act Local.
Recycling is an everyday thing at out house. I try to be quite diligent about it. We have recycling pick up every week, so it is easy to sort and take care of recycling. I have been teaching the boys about it their whole lives, so they know to recycle paper, cans, and plastic. It is amazing to me how much has changed in just one generation. When I was a kid, we never recycled. Littering was the big thing back then. I vividly remember the commercial depicting a crying Native American looking out over a littered landscape. It really scared me and to this day I never, ever litter. My boys will never know a world without recycling and they already do it without thinking. Sometimes they ask about certain items, but for the most part, they know where the trash goes. If only I could start composting…
Speaking of composting, I also believe that growing a garden, visiting a farm, or shopping at farmer’s market is another good way to teach children about the environment. We have a great farm in our town where kids can pick many different kinds of fruits, veggies, and flowers. We talk about how our food grows, where it comes from, and the work that goes into caring for the land and feeding a community. When Henry asked about pollution and what the word meant, I was able to use a familiar location (the farm) to talk about the impact of direct air and water.
Henry’s school also does a great job teaching awareness about the environment. Henry’s elementary school does a plastic recycling drive every month where each class competes for prizes based on how much they gather. Henry’s teacher did a great project with the kids too. She had us all collect gallon milk jugs for several weeks. We even enlisted the help of local cafes to collect the jugs. Then she and some other moms made the jugs into an igloo for the classroom. The kids were thrilled to have a cozy reading nook. When it began to fall apart they piled all the jugs into bags and their class won the recycling drive that month.
Igloo.jpg
I feel like I have a responsibility to provide Henry and Leo with a running narrative about how to be environmentally conscious and care for our planet. Last year Henry was really struck by the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. He was captivated with trying to come up with a way to stop the leak in the ocean. Every day he came up with new ideas how to plug the leak, like a little engineer. Henry knew it was a terrible tragedy and was moved to think of solutions. I also think it is about teaching compassion for the earth, animals, oceans, and air. The boys and I also take nature walks where we observe animals, trees, bugs, and flowers up close. I try and build in a narrative about keeping nature clean and picking up our trash when we leave. I have been known to hug a tree every now and then. The boys think it’s funny and join right in. I try and give them the right vocabulary and the understanding of the consequences of human action. I weave it into our every day lives, much like I am trying to do with nutrition, in the hopes that it becomes a part of the fabric of who the boys are as people and good citizens.
How do you teach your preschoolers about the environment? I would love to hear about any tips or activities that work for you!

We learned about the word “oomph” this week and we are all the better for it. Oomph is Sid-speak for “force” and during the episode called “Sid’s Super Kick,” we had lots of opportunities to explore oomph. Leo was particularly struck by the episode because he just began taking a pre-soccer class at the recreation center in our town. After only a few Saturday mornings my boy is hooked. Leo already has great moves and strong focus. So, having the show open with Sid asking question about kicking a soccer ball was great.
I am always saying that preschoolers need to have concrete ways of understanding science concepts. Force is no exception. The example of the soccer ball was a perfect way to get out to the park with the boys and practice our oomph with kicking. Honestly, the idea that you have to kick the ball harder to get it to go farther was not unfamiliar to Leo or Henry. They knew intuitively as we practiced kicking the ball with different degrees of force what the outcome would be.
Oomph1.jpg
However, knowing the concept is different from mastering the words and using the academic vocabulary on your own. So, although Leo and Henry didn’t have trouble understanding the concept of force, they didn’t have the science vocabulary until this week. And I think that is cool. I’ve notice that the boys discuss new ideas in the car, and all week they’ve been chatting about force and “oomph.” I love listening from the front seat.
Sid’s use of the word “oomph” and soccer example also got me thinking about another True Trina Confession. (Yes, I need to trademark that.) So far in this blog I have confessed to not liking vegetables, forts, or playground snacking. This week, I will confess to not really doing a good job at all at being an active mom. My kids are very active, don’t get me wrong, but this Mom need to get her rear in gear.
I had no idea that baseball and soccer oomph would be just the thing I needed!
Leo’s soccer class requires parent participation. So there I am, at an early hour, running around with Leo, passing the ball, and chasing him around. Leo absolutely loves it. To be honest, I do too. I get winded, but to share that time with Leo and watch him learn to be healthy and active is really inspiring to me. It’s the same kind of excitement I get when we read a really great book together and the story makes us laugh or learn something. I never realized that I could get the same enjoyment out of running around. It’s the best incentive I’ve ever had to exercise. And boy, do I need it.
Henry is also beginning his first season of sports with baseball. My town takes little league very seriously and T-ball is the first introduction to the culture that makes my town tick. Gerry and I are pretty excited about it. Henry, unfortunately, is not as jazzed. So, what that means is that Mommy needs to don a glove at practice every week and help to motivate Henry.
My job is to warm Henry up before practice by playing catch. I have never played catch in my life. Really. When Henry whips that ball at me, it is all I can to keep from yelping and hiding my face in the glove. I am terrified, but exhilarated. Anyone who knows me will tell you about my fanaticism for the Boston Red Sox, but I have never ever played the game. It’s fun because Henry gets to watch me learn a new skill and I get to participate in his practice. He’s getting more comfortable with the idea of playing and I am trying to throw with “oomph.”
Oomph2.jpg
I am always looking for news ways to build some “oomph” into my life. I like the idea of finding ways to exercise and be active with my kids. The benefits are boundless and the rewards will show in my waistline and in my relationships with Henry and Leo.
Do you have any advice for how to be a more active parent? What sports or activities do your preschoolers like? How do you motivate your kids? I would really love to hear from you on this one!

My little boy Leo has always been a keen observer of smells in his ever-expanding world. When I give him a hug after my shower he always comments on how yummy my hair smells. When Leo is unsure about trying a new food, he always insists on smelling it first. I don’t wear perfume very often, but when I do, Leo is the first with a sweet comment. And we can always count on Leo to inform us about stinky smells with a wrinkled nose. Sometimes he can be quite vocal about his distaste for a certain smells (think bathroom) and this can lead to awkward moments when guests are over. But Leo is true to his sense of smell and seems to enjoy life with a “nose first” approach.
When I found the Sid investigation called, What’s That Smell? I knew that Leo would get a kick out of it. Our friend Donald was at the house for a play date and he was thrilled to participate in one of our Sid experiments. Apparently, our friends have gotten wind of the fun science investigations happening over here and are asking to take part. Leo, Henry, and I are happy to spread preschool science into our small universe!
The investigation calls for kids to identify distinctive scents while blindfolded. We wanted the boys to take a whiff and then describe the smell. I then recorded their ideas on a chart. I chose coffee, cinnamon, chocolate, lime, and play doh as our scents.
Donald went first. We used an old pink bandana for a blindfold. He giggled as we put the coffee can under his nose.
“Smells like coffee!” he said.
Donald proclaimed the cinnamon as spicy and the lime as sour. Clever boy! Then he called the chocolate “chips” and nailed the play doh. Preschoolers are honest little people and he quickly told us he could see the last two items. We were proud of his observations and his honesty!
Smell1.jpg
We weren’t going to take any chances with Leo. I found a hat to pull down over his eyes for a peek-less investigation. Just like Donald, Leo was very giggly. He proclaimed the coffee smelled like cherry. What? And the cinnamon was “sweet.”
Smell2.jpg
Leo was back on track when he said the lime was sour, but then he said the chocolate smelled like crayons. It seems that when Leo was put on the spot with his sight blocked, he was unable to identify the scents. Or perhaps it was the vocabulary he was missing. I tried to give him smelly words like sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, but Leo wanted to strike out on his own and make connections to other familiar smells like crayons. I like to watch my boys think.
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The great thing about this investigation is that there aren’t really any incorrect observations. This one forced the boys to concentrate in an unfamiliar way that made them giggly and a little uncomfortable. It was a lot of fun. Leo was more aware of his nose and the scents around us for the rest of the day. Thank goodness we were having spaghetti and meatballs for dinner – that’s a smell we all like!
What scents would you choose from your pantry for this experiment? Do you think your kids have a scent vocabulary to investigate with?

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