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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: December, 2011

Leo does not fit in his froggy raincoat and yellow boots anymore. We discovered this last week when the rain was coming down in buckets and we were late for school. “Get your froggy raincoat!” I yelled from the kitchen. I heard Leo head to the hall closet and rustle around. When he came back, I discovered the sad truth. Leo’s arms were sticking out of the raincoat and the Velcro was straining at closure. I stood there for a moment and watched my baby morph from a two year old into a tall four year old before my eyes. Here is Leo in his froggy raincoat less than a year ago.
That’s been happening a lot lately with Leo. I pulled down Henry’s old 5T clothes this week to transition into Leo’s wardrobe. When Leo put on one of Henry’s old long sleeve t-shirts he protested because it was too “long.” Leo is used to wearing shirts that barely pass his belly button because his mommy (ahem) can’t bear to put away some of his cuter t-shirts. Invariably when I take either of the boys to get new shoes, I discover that they have been shoving their feet into a pair of sneakers at least a size too small. I am in denial…and Leo is only 4! What happens at 16?
The loss of the froggy raincoat hit me hard. We’ve had it for at least fours years because Henry wore it too. Raincoats are important to us because rain watching and puddle hopping is a big event with the Helfrich family. It doesn’t rain very often where we live and when it does, we get right out in it!
Leo loves to observe puddles and searches our neighborhood to find the deepest specimens for jumping into. The other day I watched him squat down next at the sidewalk’s edge and observe the water run off with great interest. I leaned down next to him to see what was going on.
“Mom, see that little leaf?” he said pointing. “It is stuck in a whirlpool spinning and spinning. I like that.”
And indeed it was. The leaf was turning gently as the water rushed by to the drain. We talked a bit about whirlpools before he rushed off to find worms.
My favorite time to observe the rain is early in the morning, from the comforts of a cozy bed. Leo and Henry usually make their way into our bed for a morning cuddle. Recently we were all snuggled in when Henry said, “Listen to the rain!”
It was pouring outside. The rain was hitting the house hard and for a moment we imagined we were in a tropical rain forest. As the rain hit the skylight in the bathroom it sounded like a big drum. The boys made observations about the sounds and we all snuggled in a little closer. This was a magical kind of science moment. And a fleeting one.
The good news is that Henry has also grown out of his raincoat and Leo is acquiring the coveted fireman rain outfit complete with red fire detailed boots. Henry claims that the fireman raincoat is for babies and he doesn’t like it when the grownups at school call him “Little Fireman.” Alas, 6 years old is too mature for some good clean rain fun. Luckily, Leo does not share that sentiment. He is more than happy to don the fireman raincoat.
The froggy raincoat will be retired and passed on to a worthy family friend. No matter what the color or style of the rain gear, all of us look forward to our next romp in the rain.
Happy holidays everyone! Science Kids on the Loose will be off for the next couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

Those of you who listen to the Sid the Science Kid podcast might recall that Gerry and I decided to “unplug” for the Thanksgiving holiday and head up to Sequoia National Park with the boys. We are eager to start exploring the wonders the National Park Service has to offer. So we rented a cabin by a river and went out into the wild.
I knew that this trip would be full of opportunities for science learning, observing, and practicing science words. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming sensation of trying to capture the science in the midst of all the nature. Oh, and nature is dangerous in my mom’s eye.
Exhibit A: Big Wet Rocks by a River.
The boys were so very excited to go bouldering by the river. I can’t think of many more activities that would appeal to Henry and Leo as much. Especially Henry, the boy with no boundaries. So, while I am trying to take in the scenery, the boys went scampering off. Soon they were out of site. Gerry and I had to drag our forty-something selves over the rocks to make sure they didn’t go splash into the moving river.
Science Lesson: We discussed the meaning of “current” and threw objects in the river to see how fast they disappeared downriver. Then we extrapolated to how fast a person would go. Henry seemed skeptical, feeling confident that he could swim it out. Uh oh.
Exhibit B: Giant Sequoia Trees
I was very eager to get up into the park and see the Giant Forest of Sequoias. As far as I am concerned, these lovely towering trees are heaven on earth. The boys, however, just saw them as lots and lots of big trees. In their defense, all trees are big to kids their size. I especially wanted to see Sherman, the oldest tree, most majestic tree. We walked with the kids into the grove and I felt a special kind of reverence for nature, while the boys explored lots of climbing opportunities. There were fences marking the pathways with NO CLIMBING signs all over. So, Gerry and I spent a lot of time pulling the boys off.
Science Lesson: I do think the boys were interested in some of the facts about Sherman. For instance, scientists calculate that the Sherman is 2,200 years old. We looked at the rings of a fallen tree and they were mightily impressed. We also got to spend some time looking at trail maps and talking about scale. Leo found a sequoia seed and reflected on how something so small could become a gigantic tree. Made my heart sing!
Exhibit C: Snow
Weather played a big role on our trip. When we left home it was 80 degrees. In the Three Rivers, outside the park, the temperature was in the 60s. As we drove in the park and made the climb up past 5000ft, the temps dropped into the low 40s and we found SNOW! The boys started to squeal when we first sighted snow in the Giant Forest. As we parked the car, we put on snow gear on in a frenzy so that boys could get out. They literally threw themselves in a pile of snow by the side of the road. I guess there is still a little New England in these California boys.
We managed to find a great sledding spot and spent a glorious sunny morning racing down a small hill. The whole family gave it a try as we blazed our own run down an untouched hill. We laughed and laughed. The boys had snow pants but I was soaking wet. And it wasn’t cold!
Science lesson: The weather and the temperatures gave us a chance to talk about altitude and temperature. The boys know the air has to be cold enough for snow and the connection to how high we were was interesting to them. While sledding we inadvertently learned about friction, speed, and “catching air.” I did have to talk with Henry about thin ice as he stepped into a stream and broke through the thin layer.
Exhibit D: We Saw a Bear.
As we drove out of the park on our last day, we saw brown bears by the side of the road.
Bears. Real live bears.
We couldn’t believe it. Several cars had pulled over and we all took pictures while the bears ambled about and did their thing. I know that the National Parks are famous for wildlife, but I really didn’t expect to experience it first hand. All four of us knew we witnessed something special.
Science Lesson: Natural science doesn’t get too much better than this. We chatted about habitats, food sources, and endangered animals. The boys asked questions about where the bears live while I explained that WE were visiting the bears’ home. I hope they never forget it.
We purchased a National Park Passport and inaugurated our book with the Sequoia Stamp. Henry and Leo are already asking when we can explore another park. It isn’t easy to head into the wild with young children, but I think it is worth it. The science opportunities were everywhere but it was also about the opportunities we had as family to learn together, grow together, and laugh together. I can’t wait to get back out there.

I love my smart phone. I really love it. I can take pictures, spy on my friends on social media websites, play word games, look for recipes, update my calendar and even answer phone calls. It keeps me company during some of my most boring times of the day like basketball practice or watching the boys at the park. I turn to my phone for help in for those tricky moments in the post office or doctor’s waiting room when the boys need something to keep them quiet. Is it a crutch? Perhaps. Will I ever give it up? Never ever.
But I certainly don’t want my kids to know that! And as Sid the Science Kid shows us this week, the little eyes are always watching and the little ears are always listening. It’s no secret that our children learn from the behavior we model. Sid made this point in a comical way in the latest episode about computers. He giggles as his parents respond to every alert on their computer, interrupting conversation to check email with every “ding!” Sid even says something like, “The computer makes my parents do stuff.” Talk about perspective! The episode goes on to teach about the computer as a tool for science. Sid and his friends learn that scientists use technology to share information and research new ideas.
It really made me think about the ways I use technology in my life. I certainly use the computer as a tool for writing, research, banking, travel, shopping, and scheduling. But that isn’t the way my kids see me using technology. I work when they are at school or asleep. Henry and Leo see me talking on the phone, playing games, interacting socially, taking photos, and basically “playing.” I realize that I need to purposefully take time to teach the boys about using technology as a tool.
And the kids on Sid the Science Kid did an activity on the show that does just that. The kids complete a simple science activity, journal about it, take a picture of the journal, download the picture onto the computer, and then email the picture to a parent.
I enlisted Dad’s help with the activity. While I went out shopping, they took a nature walk on the cul-de-sac looking for evidence of nature in the winter. Apparently, the whole neighborhood got involved, as the boys wandered around. Our neighbors offered information about trees, squirrels, and the weather. Gerry recorded their findings on a list as they explored. They had a great time.
When I got home, I asked to see the list. Then I invited the boys into my office to talk about the computer. I wanted them to make the connection between the information they gathered and the computer as a way to share that information. I asked them how they could share the list with Dad. Henry wisely stated that since Dad wrote the list then he probably didn’t need to see it again. I explained that Dad often forgets things and that he needed a copy of the list. So we took a picture.
Then came the process of downloading the picture onto the computer. I let them connect the wires and press the keys. And then we waited. And waited. It felt like the days of dial up. The boys got antsy so I quizzed them on the parts of the computer. Henry knew the names for mouse, keyboard, and screen, but Leo didn’t. Leo liked “mouse” because “it moves fast and quick.”
When the photo was uploaded we talked about email as a letter we send over the computer. We worked together to compose an email to Dad and press the correct buttons to send the information. Here is the email:
I know that Gerry will be tickled to receive the email and the picture. I am glad that the boys know they can use the computer to communicate. There is a more to do than play Angry Birds with a computer!
For now, I know that I won’t cut back too much on my smart phone usage. But I do think I can be smarter about what I model for my kids and when I choose to use the technology.
Do you limit your smart phone usage when the kids are around? How much do you children know about technology?

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