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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: July, 2011

One of the most satisfying things about summer vacation is the freedom the boys and I have to pick and choose our activities every day. Without the constraints of the school/soccer/baseball/life schedule we can take each day as it comes. It can also be a trap, where we stall within our freedom and end up doing a lot of nuthin’. As I reviewed my blog post about summer activities from earlier this month, I realized we need to get moving. Summer doesn’t last forever and here in Southern CA it ends with an August 23 school start date. Oh no!
At bedtime I asked the boys what they wanted to do the next day. I suggested the zoo or a museum. Henry was quiet for a bit and then asked if we could go to the farm. The farm! The one in our very own town, so conveniently located, inexpensive, and fun?! Yes, of course we could go to the farm! It felt satisfying as a mom to let Henry take the lead and choose the activity. It made him feel good. In the morning I called a couple of our friends and we made an afternoon farm date.
Our local farm is a family destination in the LA area. Not only can kids pick all kinds of fruits and veggies, but there the farm is home to many animals: goats, cows, chickens, oxen, emus, rabbits, horses, and the biggest pig I have ever seen in my life. Not to mention a view that makes me think I have landed in a postcard.
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After visiting the animals we grabbed a wagon and went out to see what we could pick. I think I was more excited than the kids. As we came up row after row of green we loved looking at the sign to see what was growing. Many times the kids had to push aside lush greens to find the vegetable below. The cucumbers were especially fun. The skin of the cucumber was surprisingly bumpy and even spiky. It was a great opportunity for the kids to use description words and a stark reminder to the moms about what happens to veggies on their way to the grocery store. How DO cucumbers get all waxy and why?
We tried to pull our some carrots, but soon discovered that they weren’t ready for picking yet. We stuck them right back in. I hope they keep growing!
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The big highlight for the kids was the berry picking. We walked far out into the fields to find the most delicious and sweet strawberries. As my friend said, we should have weighed them before the picking started and then after to pay for what landed in their bellies. It was an idyllic afternoon; the weather was perfect, the sky blue, and the kids were happy.
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On our way out, we came across some unfamiliar vegetables that I had to pick. One was called a sunburst squash. I have no idea what to do with it, but the kids were delighted. It will turn into a kitchen investigation soon! The other was a purple pepper. Who knew there were purple peppers! When we got to the front to pay everyone was hot, dirty, and tired – exactly what we want after a day on the farm! Look at our bounty (and Henry’s dirty face!)
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Of course, I can’t sign off without reminding you all about our good friend Sid the Science Kid. This week is a great week to sit down with the kids and watch some special Sid episodes! Some of our favorites are on this week, including the camping episode and the sing-along special. As I have said before, I like to remind my kids it is okay to sit down and take a break in the middle of our busy day. I like to get them out of the hot sun and give them a chance to rest before we head out on our afternoon adventures. Why not let them hang out with Sid? I hope you are all enjoying your summer so far! Tell me what you’ve been up to with your kids!

When the boys and I are at the park, I sit with my friends and we watch the kids run around for hours. Inevitably, from time to time, one of us says something like: “Can you remember having that kind of energy?” Or “Don’t you wish they could bottle that?” One day last week our kids ran around the park for over 4 hours! My favorite comment on days like that is: “They will sleep well tonight!”
My boys don’t think about keeping their heart rates up while exercising like I do while trying to walk off my extra pounds. The boys just run and play. Nature and metabolism do the rest. (I am guessing on that point…not a scientific observation.) However, in light of the Sid the Science Kid Health cycle this week, I thought it was a good idea to illustrate the power of the heart.
On one of our park days I called the Henry, Leo, and their friend Logan over. They came running, explaining a complicated game I was interrupting. When I asked if they wanted to do an experiment they all yelled “Yeah!” I hope their future high school science teachers received the same kind of enthusiasm.
I had the boys sit on the grass and listen for the thump thump of their heartbeats. It was challenging for them — mostly because they kept talking as they searched. I asked them to be very quiet and very still and showed them where to place their hands. Eventually, they all felt the steady rhythm of their heartbeats at rest. It was sweet to watch them listen in earnest.
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I also tried to show them how to feel heartbeats through their pulse, but we were less successful. I did, however, talk with them about the job of the heart and helped them understand how important it was to keep it healthy–specifically with exercise.
Then, I told them to run: “Go up the little hill, run around the big tree, run back down the hill, come back to me, and then DO IT AGAIN!” They took off in a sprint. Of course, they fumbled the directions and balked when I sent them back out again, but they ran with gusto!
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By the time Leo, Logan, and Henry flopped back on the ground they were obviously energized. I quickly told them to put their hands on their hearts and tell me what they felt. All three boys were amazed at how swift their hearts were thumping. They didn’t feel challenged to find their heartbeats this time. I asked them to cover their ears to feel the sensation in their heads of their hearts beating after exercise.
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A moment later Henry asked, “Can we go now?” and off they went back to their game. Energy unbound. Hopefully our little investigation on a sunny summer day will have impact so they remember and understand the importance of heart health through exercise. It is somewhat like the nutrition instruction I try and work subtly into their lives. I don’t force the information on them; I try and weave information about health into our everyday lives. For now, I can feel good about the fact that Henry and Leo will run and play and swim for hours a day without complaint. I hope they make time for that as adults too!
What activities keep your kids’ hearts pumping over the summer? How do you talk with them about heart health?

Summer is in full swing and with it brings new opportunities. Both the boys are out of school and we recently returned from a family trip. Now the rest of the summer stretches before us, full of endless possibilities.
I am challenging myself to think of science as I plan our summer. Here is a list of things I would like to try with the boys over the next few months–some big and some small. Mostly, I want to keep it inexpensive, fun, and full of opportunities for science learning and language development.
Garden
I want us to plant something and watch it grow. I am thinking about planting strawberries or an easy flower from seed. It seems crazy that we’ve never done this before, but it’s true. I like the idea of having something to check on daily, chart progress, and even teach a little about jobs and responsibility.
We can also learn about the creatures in the garden. We have lots of snails. Henry sometimes wants to step on them while Leo is repelled and fascinated at the same time. They are really, really slimy. I see lots of investigation potential involving trips to the library, Internet research, and hands-on investigations. High yuck factor here!
Museums
I have to admit that we haven’t spent a lot of time at museums with our preschoolers. But I think I may be missing out on some learning opportunities. For example, Henry said last week as he gazed at the mountains, “When I grow up I want to be the guy who jumps into caves and measures how deep they are.” How cool is that? We started talking about geology, paleontology, and archaeology. So, I think we should explore those three professions through museums. Many libraries offer free passes and many museums have free days each month. My bank even has agreements with some museums for free and discounted admission. It’s time we start taking advantage of that!
The Kitchen and the Farmer’s Market
I will teach the boys to prepare a 5-course meal. Just kidding. But I think I’ve been babying them too much. Cups still have lids around here. I am so ashamed. Henry made his own sandwich last week and was so proud. Leo wants to get his own cereal. It’s time for me let them try more food preparation on their own. I want to raise men who know their way around a stove and know how to feed themselves and their families.
Nutrition is still foremost on my mind. I am planning to hit the Farmer’s Markets in the area with the boys. I want to talk with the growers and have the boys ask questions. In addition to purchasing familiar foods, I want us to pick out something new and unfamiliar every week. We can then research how to prepare the new food and have some fun. Leo chose kumquats last week and we had a blast. Everyone keeps telling that when kids participate in meal prep they are more likely to eat new foods. I am all in!
Nature Centers
In our area, there are many state parks, national parks, wildlife refuges, and ocean labs. Although my boys might not be ready for daylong hikes, camping in the wilderness, or three-hour whale watching tours; they are ready for the nature center and activities that can be found there. Many centers are free and offer great programming for small children. As you learn about nature and the science of the area, children can cultivate an interest and desire to move onto the bigger stuff. Every state has somewhere you can go!
The Beach
The beach, the beach, the beach! There is almost too much for me to say about the ocean. (Feel free to substitute whatever body of water you travel to in the summer time.) I feel like I am seeing the beach with a whole new science filter! We can talk about tides, dunes, erosion, and surfing! I have no idea what is involved in surfing, but I bet there’s a fair amount of physics and fitness involved. Another research topic! We can collect ocean creatures in buckets, observe them, draw pictures, and put them back. I want to paint beach rocks and make sand castles. (Engineering anyone?) I am excited to just BE with Henry and Leo and make summer beach memories.
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As I keep saying in this blog…it is all about creating opportunities to bring science into your life. Our preschoolers are natural scientists and they can’t wait to get out there and explore. What kind of adventures will you have this summer?

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