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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: August, 2011

Let’s talk about dirt. Dirt is interesting. Dirt is fun. Dirt is everywhere! I am as enthusiastic about dirt as I am about cleaning it up. Honestly, I have never given more than two seconds thought to the dirt in my backyard. That is, until Sid the Science Kid, reminded me once again that most obvious and simple things can sometimes be the most rewarding.
This week’s cycle on Sid is about Backyard Science. Sid and his friends explore bird nests, animal communication, leaves, and yes, DIRT. When I read the activity called Dirt Detectives, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of looking at brown dirt collected from all over my yard. I really didn’t think the activity would hold the boy’s attention for too long.
When am I going to learn? The folks at Sid the Science Kid know their stuff and they know what preschoolers will like. And Henry and Leo were ALL IN for this activity. I did tweak the activity a little bit and made it a family affair. Dirt IS fun. Let me explain…
I told the boys that we were going to be dirt detectives. I went through the instructions step by step. We were going to have a family dirt hunt. But first I wanted to get some predictions.
“Do you think the dirt is going to look the same in each pile?” I asked.
Henry thought about it and said, “I think there will be worms.”
“And twigs,” Leo added.
“But what about the way it looks?” I repeated.
“I am going to find bugs,” Henry said.
So, off they went. Dad got little shovels and I sent them off with instructions to fill the shovel and bring me back the dirt. In the meantime, I prepared paper plates, labeled with the locations of the dirt samples. With Dad’s help Henry and Leo gathered samples from 4 different spots in the backyard.
Then we really started having fun. (As if digging in the dirt wasn’t enough!) We began to talk about the dirt. I had the boys touch the dirt and tell me what it felt like. We talked about color and texture and weight. We looked at what was inside the dirt and found rocks, twigs, leaves, and white fertilizer balls. No bugs or worms, by the way. I asked the boys to tell me what pile was the darkest, the lightest, the finest, the coarsest. As they talked I wrote their ideas down on the paper plates so we could remember. When we finished gathering our impressions, we thought of statements to describe every plate of dirt. As usual, Henry and Leo impressed me with their thoughtful observations and understanding of science concepts. They used great vocabulary and of course, we laughed.
The boys wanted to continue gathering samples and talking about dirt. They could have gone on and on. (The mark of excellent scientists!) However, it was getting late and even though summer is still in the air, it was a school night. The last part of the investigation was to remind children to wash their hands and clean off all the dirt. So, although it was bedtime, I bent the rules a little bit and lured the boys out front the driveway. I turned on the hose and chased the boys around until their hands and the rest of their little cute selves were drenched and cleaned off. The squeals and giggles were the perfect end to our “dirty” investigation. Summer lives on for a bit longer.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by an activity? What kinds of fun adventures are you planning for the end of the summer?

I was still in my pjs one morning last week when my cell phone rang. I saw that is was my friend Joy from around the corner, and decided to call her later. I was busy washing the kitchen floors while the boys were quietly watching TV. I went back to work and the phone rang again. It was Joy calling for a second time. Strange, I thought. I realized I should answer, but needed to run out to the garage to put away the mop first. From the garage I could hear kids running around and calling out to each other excitedly from the street. On my way back in, the doorbell rang. What the heck was going on? This morning started to feel far from normal.
I opened the door to a tall blond woman with enormous white dog on a leash.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly. “Do you have Bob’s phone number? I am Kate. I used to live across the street. Sherman is loose and walking into the road. My kids are keeping and eye on him. And this is Scooby, my dog.”
Sherman loose and in the road? Then it all started to make sense. Joy calling from around the corner and the kids in the front yard. Sherman, the tortoise next door had somehow escaped from his yard and was roaming the neighborhood. This required immediate attention.
“Henry and Leo!” I yelled. “Put your shoes on! We need to rescue Sherman!” And we all sprinted out the door in our pjs.
The boys know exactly who Sherman is. Sherman is a celebrity in our neighborhood. Sherman is a teenage tortoise who lives next door with his owner Bob. When we first moved in, the boys were delighted. Bob often walks Sherman around the neighborhood and everyone comes out to watch. People stop their cars and take photos. On July 4th, Sherman paraded around the neighborhood with an American flag taped to his shell. Sherman is cool and the kids love him.
And today Sherman needed out help. We raced up the street where we found Joy, her son Brayden, Kathy, and her three kids trying to corral Sherman. And Sherman wasn’t having it. He wanted to walk into the street it was hard to keep him on the sidewalk. Size wise, Sherman is quite large and very heavy. We were all afraid of hurting him. And none of us could pick him up. What were we going to do? The kids had all sorts of ideas involving ropes, muscles, coaxing Sherman with food, and even calling a zoo.
While we pondered this dilemma, I called Bob and explained the situation. Needless to say, he was distressed about Sherman. He explained that his son had been by house earlier and must have left the gate open.
“Trina, go get the scooter in my side yard,” Bob implored. “You can use that to wheel Sherman home.”
Wheel Sherman home! Of course! A SIMPLE MACHINE was what we needed. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. Bob always had the scooter when he took Sherman out for a walk. I sent Henry and one of the other boys running back to the house to get the scooter. From then on it was pretty easy. Joy’s neighbor Steve came out to lift Sherman on to the scooter. Then the kids carefully rolled him home. Within 10 minutes Sherman was back home, safe and sound.
The kids all knew that the scooter was the right tool for the job. Wheels made our impossible task a success. I, of course, took the opportunity to point that fact out and basically got the equivalent of “DUH” from the participants. I was just glad to get the tortoise back into the yard. It was quite an adventure and something the whole neighborhood will talk about for a while.
After the commotion died down and we were all just chatting in our pjs my cell phone rang again. It was Bob.
“Thanks for all of your help Trina. But one question: Is the dog still in the backyard too?”
Uh oh…this one might take more than a scooter! Off to the rescue gang!

I love a fair. I have been telling anyone who will listen just how excited I was about heading to the county fair this weekend. I love the animals, the rides, the games, the lights, and of course, the food. Ah…the food. It is one of those days in the year when we let the boys have and do whatever they like, as long as it isn’t too dangerous. Cotton candy? Yes! Humungous scary slide? Yes, yes, and yes! It is wonderful to see their little faces light up when they ask for treats and actually get what they want.
This year, I decided to put on my Sid the Science Kid filter while at the fair. Would I be able to tie some our learning from Sid to a day at the county fair? I wanted to try.
For starters, I dragged all three of my boys (Dad included) through all of the animal exhibits. It is my favorite part. Not so much for them, because they were chomping at the bit to get into the Hall of Mirrors. Natural science abounds in the livestock exhibits! We saw baby pigs and a big mama pig. We learned about their weight, age, and even got to vote on names. (Lots of data!) We examined chickens and saw more varieties than I even knew existed. We used our senses as we walked among smelly cows, sheep, and goats. Leo had his nose pinched all the time. It was fun to see the prize animals and learn more about the farm. I wanted to look more, but the Hall of Mirrors beckoned.
The rides were a wonder of engineering and physics principles. If I thought about it too hard, I got butterflies in my stomach. My boys are brave, and no ride was too scary. Thank goodness for some of those height restrictions. It was so great to see science in motion, so to speak. The best example was the long slide. Both boys climbed the tall stairs, carrying a sack, and came speeding down with smiles of glee. The immediately wanted to do it again, and we said Yes! This time, the boys came sliding down flat on their backs, laughing even harder. When I questioned Henry about it later he explained that lying down was faster because there was less wind than when they sat up. Science Kids at work!
I thought a lot about lights as the afternoon turned to evening. This week on Sid the Science Kid, the children explore light and it’s sources. There was no lack for light sources at the county fair. As we went up on the Ferris wheel, I pointed out that it was twilight. Henry had asked me the meaning of the word, earlier in the week. It is the time when day turns into night…not dark but not sunny. The fair was the perfect place to see that: it wasn’t dark, but the carnival lights were wondrous to see from above.
We played a game where the force of water caused a balloon to fill up and POP we had a winner! Henry and I watched a man use all his strength to hit a hammer and make the lights go on for a prize. Both boys learned about measurement as they stood tall to see if their height would allow them on a ride. We think that Leo is about 41″, because he had to stretch to follow Henry onto rides that required 42″. And Leo learned that a corn dog is a delicious Sometimes Food.
The last stop of the night was on the bouncy trampoline. Henry and Leo were outfitted in harnesses, attached to long elastic ropes, and jumped on a big trampoline. Gerry and I observed as the instructors adjusted the length and tension of the ropes to help the boys jump higher and higher. To be honest, I don’t know how to explain the physics of how the whole thing worked, but boy, did I have to trust the science! Henry and Leo were gleeful, so I am thankful for science that made it all work.
As you may know by now, I really like the way Sid teaches my family how to find science in our everyday life. I thought that the fair would be a tough science challenge, but I was wrong. Science is everywhere, even at the county fair.
Happy summer to everyone! What kind of science do you find at the fair, or on other unexpected adventures?

This week as we watch Sid the Sid the Science Kid, I have a chance to remind the boys and myself about the simple things we can do every day to help the environment and be mindful of the world around us. Recycling seems to be a snap for the boys (their school environments really set them up for success) and I am often the one who needs reminding about turning off the water. What I really like about this week’s cycle is that the activities and the lessons that tie into things families do every day.
Take, for instance, gardening. My husband does most of the yard work and he can spend hours in the garden, mowing, trimming, pulling weeds, etc. I like to handle the flower boxes, container gardening, and front walkway. To be honest, it is about instant gratification for me, or at least after a morning’s worth of work. This weekend, I decided to include the boys, so we could talk about plants, water sources, the sun, and air. Also, Gerry is out of town and I needed something to keep us all busy! So, we headed over the garden center to buy materials to replant flower planters on the backyard patio.
In the car on the way over, I asked the boys some prep questions.
“What is the environment?” and all I got was silence.
After a few moments, Henry said, “It is everything in nature.”
Not bad! At that moment, I wished I had the glossary from the Sid website at my fingertips. I started talking about the water, air, earth, and plants around us. Then we moved on to dirt.
“Not dirt, mommy,” Leo corrected, “It is SOIL. Plants grow in soil.”
And so they do! So when we got the store, the first thing we did was go in search of soil.
Next we looked at plants. I explained that we needed to find flowers that liked a lot of sun. We examined the labels and pictures in various kinds of plants and came up with a cartload of flowers.
As we were wandering around and looking at all the flowers and plants it dawned on me that the garden center was a wonderful and somewhat inexpensive excursion for us. The center has lots of information, visual support for learning, and wide aisles for the boys to run up and down. I have to remember that the next time I am desperate for a simple afternoon jaunt.
Once we got home, I gave each of the boys their own planter to work on. The flowers I had planted in the spring were dried out. We discovered they were root bound. It was a great opportunity to talk about roots and how plants need space to grow. Then we opened up the bag of soil and the boys got to work.
It took a while for the kids to fill the planters with soil and place the flowers. I pointed out the sun on the patio and the placement of the pots. After the flowers were settled in their new home we soaked them with water. The boys lead every step of the process and learned about what plants need to grow: soil, sun, and water.
Soon Henry and Leo were on to other activities in the yard. I decided to do some more gardening. So I weeded, tended to the ailing lemon tree, and pruned roses. I called the boys over to look at various bugs and tickle their palms with wriggly worms. It was a great afternoon. I am starting to understand why Gerry can spend hours in the backyard. Our environment is a lovely place.
Do you garden with your children? How do you incorporate science words and concepts into you experience outdoors?

Until Trina asked me to write a guest blog I would have told you that both my children have had equal experiences in math and science. But I was lying to myself. Writing this blog has made me pause, reflect and question. Have I been parenting my daughter with the same eye on academics that I employ with my son? A walk into their bedrooms had a sobering effect. My 8-yr old son, Nathaniel’s room is filled with maps, books on dinosaurs and nonfiction text. My 4-yr old daughter, Morgan’s is a whimsical journey to far-off lands of talking animals and small winged creatures.
I need to bridge the area between my two children’s interests as well as expose my daughter to a higher framework of scientific thought. But how?
(Sound trumpets) Enter Sid the Science Kid! Aside from watching Sid’s show on PBS and amusedly following Trina’s blogging exploits I never took time to delve into all that Sid has to offer. I had no idea of the music video clips, supporting games, and activities that the website provides.
In episode “Slide To The Side,” Sid can’t do his “brand new fabulous Slide-to-the-Side dance” in his rubber-soled sneakers. It’s all about friction. He was able to do it just fine in socks. Why the problem now? Living in a house with hard wood floors my kids understand all too well the problems associated with running in socks on slippery surfaces. This prior knowledge and life experience allowed for my kid’s immediate buy-in to Sid’s dilemma.
We started with some basic ideas on friction: the force that resists the motion of one thing on another thing. Nathaniel pointed out that the reason his hands heated up when he rubbed them together was because of friction. Morgan quickly discovered that her hands didn’t get warm when she rubbed them up and down on the wall. This lead to a good discussion examining properties of surfaces and determining which ones create the most friction.
We then moved on to a suggested activity: In the investigation with sliding an object across different surfaces a hockey puck is recommended. I don’t play hockey. I don’t even really ice skate. I do however, own a puck-shaped paperweight and thus, substituted. This was working well until I came upon the recommended list of surfaces to test the slide distance. Slippery surfaces were no problem (see above the treacherous existence of raising children on hardwood floors). I had an area rug we could use to test “carpet”. The third surface suggested was a yoga mat for a rubbery texture. I would truly like to believe that I could simply walk to my fitness closet and readily access my yoga mat. I know at one time I have owned something of this nature. It was purple. I haven’t seen it in at least 2 years. I am not proud.
Undaunted, I went in quick search around the house for a rubbery surface. Voila! Wouldn’t you know, there it was, sitting in the bathroom directly in front of the shower? My bathmat has a rubbery backing and when flipped over certainly fit the bill for friction testing. I don’t think I’ll be busting out any downward dogs coming out of the shower but hey, nice to know what’s out there in a pinch!
Introducing the idea of a hypothesis as having no “right” answer leveled the playing field for my two young scientists. It was exciting to see Morgan taking risks with her predictions. I loved hearing 4-year-old logic explain why the rubber mat would allow for the greatest sliding distance: “Because a rubber duck can go really far in the tub.”
We tested our hypotheses.
Their findings did not stop their enthusiasm for wanting to know more! This is where I discovered the true beauty of Sid. Our exploration and experiments with friction didn’t end with our hand-on investigation!
We moved over to the computer! Online, my kids got to “play” with Gerald as he tested the friction of various surfaces doing an activity that looked very familiar to them. Because we had just done a similar one in our house!
We then went on to watch racecars zooming around a track at breakneck speeds to the tune of “Go As Fast As You Can”. We watched the history of the rubberized wheel unfold in a readily comprehensible manner for any age group. We used multiple methods to explore the same concept again and again. Each time it was novel, engaging and appropriately timed. This whole experience in friction, including experimentation, took under an hour and yet provided conversation for days. As we finished our time on the computer my daughter walked off saying the eight words that guarantee a repeat visit, “That was fun! Can we do it again?”
Have you explored all that Sid has to offer? Will you schedule science fun into your summer?

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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