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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: November, 2011

I have noticed over that past month or so that Legos are becoming more popular with Henry and Leo. I have been waiting for this shift for quite a while and I am pleased that the Lego fascination has begun. Don’t get me wrong; the boys are still wrecking the house with their huge plastic cars, bat caves, and super heroes. And Legos aren’t the easiest toy to wrangle and clean up…but at least they inspire a different kind of imaginary play. Dare I say simple science play?
At the end of most Sid the Science Kid activities you can find additional fun things to do with your children related to the science topic of the show. This week I took a look at the suggestions related to Simple Machines and the wheel. There was a wonderful idea to use building blocks to make cars, some with wheels and some without wheels. The object was to race the cars and understand the role that wheels play as simple machines. Fun and simple, just the way I like it!
So, I gave the boys quick instructions and we got to work building cars. Henry worked independently while I teamed up with Leo. The playroom was silent except for the sound of Legos clinking against each other in the bin as we looked for wheels, axels, drivers, and steering wheels. I don’t usually play Legos with the boys, but this time I made sure to give it a try and overcome my fear of Legos. Yes, I said fear. I am afraid that I won’t be able to make anything cool. My brothers were brilliant Lego engineers. I just couldn’t keep up! Thankfully, I get to try again with Henry and Leo.
Henry decided to make a “slanty” racecar. It was a neat concept and we were all eager to see how the car would race. Once Leo and I finished our collaborative effort (he insisted on a slanty car too) we started racing.
I used blue masking tape to mark the distance each car traveled with the wheels on. Then they boys went back to work reconstructing their cars without wheels. We made predictions and raced again. As expected, the cars didn’t travel as far without wheels. Surprisingly though, the cars did manage to move quite well. Henry pulled in other science concepts by remarking, “Mom, it’s about the friction on the tile floor!” Bravo!
Next our investigation took on a new hypothesis. We wanted to learn about the role of wheels, but we also wanted to explore body style and aerodynamics. Would a slanty car be faster or slower than a flat model? Uncharted territory for Sid scientists! Once again, we made predictions and got ready to race. The boys altered their cars again for the next stage of our race. I thought for sure that the flat car would be faster, but what do I know? Henry had a lot of confidence in his slanty model.
And Henry was right! The slanty cars traveled farther than the flat ones. We jumped, whooped, and clapped! I have never had so much fun with Legos! I asked the boys to also think about the weight and steering on their cars as we reexamined the design. All three of us had equally important input and ideas. We really enjoyed the collaborative effort.
Every night at bedtime they boys say something they are grateful for from the day. That night Henry said he was grateful for playing Legos with Mom. Made my heart sing! I guess I can say now that I DO like playing with Legos, especially when it makes my boy so happy.
What are your children’s favorite toys? Can you think of ways to bring simple science into your everyday play? I would love to hear your ideas!

One of my favorite Sid activities is the Decayed Pumpkin investigation. Kids get to experience first hand the wonders of an icky yucky rotting vegetable. Last year, on this blog, I admitted that I was wary of this activity due to the smell and mold factors. But not this year! This year I decided to go for it in a BIG way. I wanted to conduct the decomposing pumpkin activity with Leo’s entire class. Many hands touching the slime and ooze. It was going to be great! Miss D. was on board immediately. She volunteered to sacrifice the class pumpkin that had been acquired at the field trip to the local farm. Note that this field trip occurred in early October.
This very special pumpkin has been through the preschool ringer. First Miss D. had drew a big happy face on the pumpkin, complete with curly hair. For a couple of weeks the face smiled as the children “shaved” it’s face with real shaving cream and play razors. Then Miss D. introduced a new activity with the stalwart pumpkin. She invited the children to pound small plastic nails into the pumpkin with small plastic hammers. So much fun! So in addition to the happy face the pumpkin acquired small holes all over it’s shiny orange surface. This activity went on with gusto until the end of October when it was my turn.
I decided to divide the activity into two separate days in the classroom. The first visit involved cutting the pumpkin and scraping out the seeds and sticky inside. Before we began, I took a picture of the pumpkin in it’s whole state:
The kids were not sentimental about their classroom friend…they were excited when I got the top off and the scooping began! It was fun to see which kids wanted to get in with bare hands vs. the kids who wanted to use the fancy scooper. Miss D. and I lined them up for the task.
I had toasted some seeds at home for the kids to sample at school. It was interesting to see them react to the seeds…some liked them and other didn’t.
Jonathan was a big a fan!
Then I explained that we would be putting the pumpkin away for a few days to see what would happen. I asked the children to make predictions. The word “moldy” came up and we guessed that the pumpkin would decompose. Miss D. and I decided to wrap the pumpkin in a plastic bag, place it between two large black containers, and set it in the sun outside for a few days. It was important for the school that we not attract critters to the classroom.
So, the first part of the experiment happened on a Thursday. I returned on the following Tuesday to see what state our pumpkin was in. I was hoping for lots of gooey, sticky, gross decomposition.
Back in Miss D’s classroom, we talked about the word “decompose” and what we expected the pumpkin to look like. The kids were ready to see what had happened to the pumpkin. I was reminded of the challenges of classroom management as we helped them all put on plastic gloves. It took a while because the gloves were big. Finally we were ready to head outside to see how our experiment turned out.
With great anticipation we unwrapped the plastic and pulled out…
A completely intact and healthy pumpkin!
Yup, the pumpkin did NOT decompose. I couldn’t believe it. We all examined the pumpkin, looking for signs of decay, but there was none to be found. Leo claimed to see tiny black spots on the top, but for the most part that pumpkin was fresh.
Miss D. wisely stated, “That’s why we conduct experiments in science!” We talked with the kids about the tight plastic bag and the lack of air. We also decided to give it a few more days to see what would happen. I was disappointed but thankfully, the kids were not. They were curious and mostly happy about getting to wear plastic gloves. And they did learn about one very important part of science: trial and error. Also a great life lesson!
That is one stubborn pumpkin.
Have you had any experiment go awry? How did you explain the circumstances to your kids?
UPDATE: I checked in on the pumpkin today (13 days later) and it still looks pretty good! The inside has started to mold but the outside is still orange and hard. Miss D. wants us to keep waiting!

Leo and I have spent some time this week playing the new math-based science games on the Sid the Science Kid website. Or perhaps I should say that Leo has been playing the games while I fold laundry and clean out the boys’ closet. I listen from the floor as he sits on a big chair in front of the computer and plays with Sid and his friends. And let me tell you, I like what I am hearing. These games are COOL!
The nine new games, collectively called “Sid’s Science Fair,” can be found on the first game screen (they are marked with a small math symbols bar). In a nutshell, these math games cover various skills, including matching, sorting, measuring, weighing and patterns. These are not easy concepts for a preschooler who has little or no background knowledge. But the games are “hosted” by Sid and his friends, who explain the tasks in kid-friendly language, and during the game the host provides tips and encouragement.
That said the games do need parental support as children navigate the site and learn the rules and goals of each game. Most of the important instruction is available through audio cues, but Leo still needed help with navigation. I was in the same room so it was easy for me to help him along. Then, I found myself leaving my laundry in the pile so I could participate with him. As I have found in the past with Sid investigations, Leo was capable of completing activities and mastering concepts that I would not have thought possible.
For example, there is a game called Pan Balance. In the game Leo had to click on weight and move them to onto the pan to balance the object on the other side. He had never seen this kind of tool before, but through trial and error he got the hang of it. Amazingly, I was able to actually watch him learn the concepts of weights and balances. Leo liked the clicking and he also enjoyed seeing what the object on the other side of the balance would be.
I also watched Leo gain proficiency in basic computer motor skills. We have a tricky wireless mouse (I often want to throw it against the wall) but Leo managed to work through the frustrating moments. I showed him some tips and we worked with the mouse together and he did fine. He also asked me to show him how to get to the game from the main Sid page. I was able to teach him about icons and show him how to navigate the site. In those moments I am reminded how I never touched a computer until I was in college and how my children will never use a rotary phone. Am I dating myself?
I also appreciated the “Tell Me More” feature in each game (found in the lower right corner of every game on the site). Each one provided extra facts I could share with Leo, or a way to think about the math concept more offline.
These Sid’s Science Fair games provide a moment of peace for me in the midst of a media gaming storm that is raging in our house. My parents generously gifted our family a gaming system last year for the holidays and it has been tough going. Henry, especially, has had a hard time managing his emotions, competitiveness, impulsiveness, and patience when it comes to video games. We tried many different strategies and rules with the rated E games to help the boys negotiate the charged emotions that came along with the gaming system. However, more often than not, the strictly monitored sessions would end in monumental tantrums. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself: “Why are we letting them play these games?”
Why indeed. Last week after a particularly terrible tantrum involving both Leo and Henry, the gaming system was put away for good. Surprisingly both boys took the news with a wise nod of the head. They are hoping to get it back when Henry is 8 years old. We’ll see about that.
That is why the Sid games are a welcome oasis for us. The games do not cause any of the aforementioned tantrums and I feel like they boys are learning valuable computer skills while being exposed to important educational concepts. That’s a win-win, in my book. I can participate without feeling like a mean referee and that is how it should be with a family activity.
Please go check out the new games and let us know what you think. What is your philosophy about computers in the home with preschoolers? I’d love to hear from you!

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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