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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: September, 2011

Generally, Gerry and I are pretty strict about bedtime. Ever since the boys were babies, we bowed to the power of the bedtime routine, including a consistent lights out time. Even though the rest of our day is usually a study in ordered chaos, bedtime is different. It a time of harmony, cleanliness, literature, cuddling, and whispers. That’s the ideal, anyway.
But, as all of us who parent know, even the most honored routines can be tweaked and sometimes disregarded. Summer is a good example of that. Our evening routines stayed the same, but the time was a little bit later. Weekends are often a toss up, if we are out having lots of fun. I believe that the structure has made my boys flexible, if that makes any sense.
I have wanted to take the boys out for a nighttime walk for quite a while. I wanted them to don their headlamps, and head out into a dark night with their parents as nature neighborhood guides. I think it would be fun to see their everyday world through the gleam of a flashlight. Unfortunately, I haven’t found just the right night, where the stars align on a weekend evening to make this night walk possible. But I will do it. Eventually.
However, I did find us stretching the boundaries of bedtime one evening this week. We were playing with the kids on our street after dinner, and I lost track of time. Gerry arrived home late from work and wanted to play with the boys for a while. The daylight started to fade as they played. I called Henry aside and asked if he wanted to stroll up the street and get the mail (there is a box at the end of the cul de sac).
We walked hand in hand up the sidewalk. I asked about his day and he was surprisingly chatty. At the mailbox he admired the pink clouds and said “Mom, I love twilight.” I had to smile, because is my favorite time of the day too.
Every evening at the same time, every day, a huge flock of black birds flies over our neighborhood. There are so many that the event goes on for a few minutes. During our walk this evening the birds appeared. We wondered where they were going, where they had been all day, how they all knew to meet up at the same time. I remarked that those birds have a perfect nighttime routine, like us.
Like magic, all the streetlights flickered on at the same time. As a girl, I used to watch for that moment every night from my bedroom window. I thought it was wonderful when I was able to catch it. Henry also felt the magic as he exclaimed, “Wow Mommy! Those light make our shadows really really long!” And indeed they did. Our shadows looked like long stick figures on the sidewalk.
Our evening stroll didn’t last more than ten minutes, but it was perfect. A small window of time with my boy at the end of a busy day. He probably won’t remember our walk, but I know that I will. I will remember his five-year-old hand in mine and how we felt wonder at the sight of birds and shadows. I think I may have to build an occasional stroll into our nighttime routine. It was totally worth it.

This week on Sid the Science Kid, the children on the show investigate Environmental Systems. It is one of my favorite learning cycles because the learning is so relevant to our world today and children can see directly how their actions can have results. In the episode called Save the Stump, Sid learns that a stump that was once a tree can turn into a new habitat for living creatures.
Funny how life can mirror what we see on TV…or is it the other way around?
Leo and I arrived home last week after dropping Henry off at school to find a man digging a big hole in our front yard. I had been expecting this, since the HOA had mentioned that work was being done on the sprinkler systems on the street. Leo, of course, had no idea. It’s amazing what little kids find exciting and interesting. I was ready to smile, say hello, and walk into the house so the man could finish his work. Leo, however, wanted to check it out. What could be more interesting than a huge hole in the grass?
Well, a lot it turns out. As we got closer and started talking with the man, we saw that the hole wasn’t very deep, but the area around the hole was very wet and very muddy. Apparently, the site of leaky pipe. The gardener showed me the culprit and sighed. I guess it was going to be a bigger job than we thought. The front lawn had to be completely torn up.
But out of the holes, dirt, and mud Leo and I started noticing the LIFE all around us. We could see rolly pollies, worms, bugs, and snails. Lots and lots of snails. To be honest, snails kind of gross me out, but all the kids on the street love to find snails. And I was about to be introduced to another gross garden creature.
“Mom! What’s that?” Leo said, pointing.
“It’s a snail,” I replied. “Look Leo, its whole body is out and it’s moving pretty fast!” We admired the large shell and the antenna.
“Look Mom, a snail without the shell! Right there.”
A what? I looked closer and saw that, yes indeed, there was a snail without a shell, antenna and all. It was yellow, slimy, and moving a good clip. We were both fascinated. I didn’t know that a snail could live without a shell. Both Leo and I started asking questions. How does a snail get a shell? Was that a baby snail? How big do snails get?
So, we went inside and started investigating. I got out the iPad and we started searching for information about snails. WOW! I had no idea there was so much to learn about snails. We learned about the life cycle, habitat (our yard to be exact), what snails eat, and how they reproduce. Our shell questions was answered when we learned that baby snails start their shells from their broken egg and it grows from there. The best part was looking at the images of snails, some beautiful and some weird. So much fun!
We also learned that the other creature we saw was NOT a snail. It was a slug. A yucky icky slug. Leo was so happy! I was horrified but still curious. So, off we went on the World Wide Web to learn more about slugs. Amazingly, there is a lot of information about how to get rid of slugs and snails in gardens. I stayed away from those sites. It was mostly the photos that had Leo and I entranced. We eventually found ourselves looking at the Giant African Snail. Go and Google this creature. You’ll be blown away. Thank goodness its natural habitat is not my yard in southern California!
It was great to conduct informal research with Leo. We learned some good facts about snails and slugs while having a great time together. We also talked about habitats and why our wet yard is just the perfect kind of place for slugs and snails. Our next stop should be the library, where we can find more information in books about the critters on our street.
What kind of animals, big and small, can you find in your neighborhood habitat?

I don’t think that science is supposed to be random, but sometimes the boys come up with science when I least expect it. By now, I should probably expect it all the time…Henry and Leo are such charming young scientists. Maybe it is just that this year of science has opened my eyes to the things Henry and Leo investigate and explore every day.
For example, we were sitting at the dinner table the other night when Henry asked: “What are calories?”
Uh oh.
“Well, I said, calories are the energy your body uses as fuel.” (I have no idea if that is correct, by the way.)
“Mom, what happens when your body has too many calories?” Henry continued.
Obviously, Henry was trying to make a connection between calories, health, and what he may have heard out there in his small universe. I decided to go for full disclosure about calories.
“When a body has too many calories, it stores the calories to use later.”
“As fat.” And I pointed to my hips. That seemed to do the trick because Henry nodded knowingly and went back to eating his dinner.
I also enjoy when the show itself gets one of the boys so excited that they need to tell me about it IN THE MOMENT. For example, Leo likes to watch Sid while I take a shower. I like the arrangement because I have episodes recorded on our bedroom TV, which means Leo can be close by while I have some private time. Theoretically. I always remind Leo that Mommy needs to be alone while showering and to please stay out of the master bath. This may not count as a random act of science, but it was memorable.
I was showering, hair full of shampoo, when Leo came busting into the bathroom.
“Mom! Mom! Mom!” he yelled excitedly.
I just about jumped out of my soaked skin. My moment of shampoo zen completely disturbed by 4-year old frantic energy.
“What Leo, what? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Mom! Bees think my ears are flowers!”
“Bees. Think. My. Ears. Are. Flowers!”
‘Wow, great Leo! Now leave mommy alone.”
I really appreciate the excitement that Sid can generate, and I may have lost a wonderful teachable moment, but I really wanted my quiet time back!
Later that day Leo was lying on the grass in the backyard waiting for patiently for bees to land on his ears. I wish I had taken a picture.
I am often reminded that Henry has the makings of good engineer someday. We’ve been having plumbing problems in our downstairs bathroom toilet. The toilet has flooded a few times leading to unmentionable messes. When the plumber was here, Henry was fascinated by the mechanics of the toilet.
The plumber suspected that perhaps a small something had been dropped into the bowl and caused a blockage. (WHAT? My kids would NEVER drop anything into a toilet bowl.) So, the toilet was hauled out to the front yard for inspection.
Henry shadowed the plumber as he used the garden hose to flush out the bowl and inner workings in the middle of the driveway. Amidst the horror of having a toilet in my driveway, I was impressed by Henry’s curiosity. Henry was armed with several different hypotheses about what may have happened: the pipe to the street was blocked, the toilet paper was bunched up in the small pipes, the bolts were loose, or there was too much water. Thank goodness the plumber was patient, because he listened to Henry with a smile on his face.
Thankfully, all we needed was a new toilet and not a major plumbing overhaul. But days later, Henry was still trying to figure out what made the water overflow and what could have stopped it. I often joke with Gerry that we would be fortunate if Henry became a plumber and Leo an electrician. Maybe I might not be that far off the mark!
Finally, I am so enchanted by the ordinary things that Henry and Leo do that clearly reflect a scientific structure. At the beach this summer the boys discovered the joys of digging holes and constructing tunnels in the sand. They spent hours up to their elbows in sand trying to dig deeper, hit water, route tunnels, and build retaining walls. In the course of an afternoon, little cities would emerge with complex designs. Henry and Leo had to come up with logical solutions to problems such as poor drainage or being in the way of mom’s beach chair. They were always so proud of their creations. A couple of days before school started we hit the beach for last hurrah. They managed to dig a hole that was so deep, they could both sit down inside and be rendered invisible. It was their crowning achievement of the summer. This time I did capture the moment on my cell phone camera. It is grainy, but you can see the pride on their faces.
How are your scientists exploring the world around them? Do you have budding engineers, nutritionists, and chemists in your house?

When Henry and Leo were babies, I watched them breathe. Hearing your baby take his first breath and start wailing is the beginning of relationship that is as important to you as your own breathing. I think it is primal for mothers to make sure their babies take air into their lungs and let air out of their lungs. Even if it means we are up in the middle of night instead of getting precious minutes of sleep. I remember positioning Henry with rolled up towels so he could sleep on his side, fearing that he would stop breathing if I allowed him to sleep on his stomach, even though he really slept better that way. I loved to watch his little torso move up and down as he slept. It was beautiful.
Fast-forward almost 6 years later and my sweet baby boys are running, laughing, screaming bundles of energy. A lot of their breath is expelled on baseball fields, soccer fields, on bikes, and in running up and down the stairs. I let out a lot of hot air yelling at them to slow down, quiet down, and come down those same stairs. Breathing is no longer an event I watch in the still of the night (although I do sometimes sneak in for a peek). It is something I just depend on.
So, when I saw that there was a Sid activity about lungs this week, I was happy to go back to basics with my baby boys. And who doesn’t want to play with straws and bubbles?
I got us set up on the front patio with tall glasses of water and straws. Henry was fidgeting, as usual, asking if he could drink the water. Leo wanted to pour it on the flowers. To get them engaged, I started asking question about breathing: What do humans breathe? Where does the air go? What comes out? Do plants breathe? What do you think will happen when you blow softly into the straw?
They answered the questions eagerly and I reintroduced them to the terms oxygen, carbon dioxide, and photosynthesis. We talked about the lungs as an organ and how we need oxygen to live. It sounds like a complicated conversation, but in fact it was quite simple. And the fun part was trying it all out.
I first asked Henry and Leo to blow softly into the straws.
They laughed like they couldn’t believe I was letting them get away with such horrible table manners. Then I told them to blow really hard into the straw and feel their lungs working. The reaction was priceless. Water came spouting out of the glass and drenched their faces. They cackled and tried it again and again.
By this point neither Henry or Leo was interested in talking about lungs anymore, they just wanted to explore with the straws and water to see how wet they could get. And that was great because experimentation is the fun part.
While they go soaked, I went and found some bubble wands for our next part of the investigation. For the next hour or so we played with bubbles. At first, we were experiments with our lungs, seeing how what happened when we blew softly into the wand and then with more strength. Their predictions were mostly correct, but none of us anticipated the volume of bubbles that came out the wand with the stronger air for a sustained amount of time. All of sudden there were bubbles everywhere!
It was delightful to see Henry and Leo chasing bubbles around the front yard. It was like they were babies again, discovering the magic of bubbles for the first time. It was lovely family time, sitting on the grass, laughing, and experimenting with a bubble wand. And yes, we learned a bit about our lungs. And I got to watch my boys breathe for a while.

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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