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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: January, 2012

Henry came home from Kindergarten with some very interesting and enlightened ideas last week. I noticed that for several days in a row he asked me if he could help feed the cat and take out the trash. The requests usually came in the chaos of our morning routine (dress, eat, OUT!) or the pandemonium of dinner prep (yes, I know you are hungry, can’t you see mommy is cooking?!) I allowed Henry to feed the cat a couple of times with supervision and he made a quite mess of it. But, he is learning. Then, I let him take out the recycling and I found that his help was quite welcome.
We soon had this “aha!” conversation:
“Mom, do you know why I asked you if I could feed the cat and take out the trash?”
“Why, no Henry, I don’t.”
“My teacher thinks that we should be learn to be responsible and she told us ideas of how we can be helpful at home. Like feeding pets and taking out the trash. I can do those things,” Henry said with a shrug.
“Yes you can! Thank you very much!” I replied encouragingly. Have I mentioned that I really like Henry’s Kindergarten teacher?
I am proud that Henry is taking charge and helping around the house. I should have thought of that much sooner. And since this week Sid and his buddies are learning about recycling, I thought we should put Henry’s new skills to work and get Leo involved too.
Our local recycling program does not require that we sort our recycling. They must have a magical machine that takes care of that. However, the container of recycling in the kitchen gets quite full and it is hard to the boys to carry to the big bin out side. So, I devised a sorting system to help them learn about what kinds of materials we recycle while also making the load a little easier for them.
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At first we started out slow, when I realized that the boys weren’t sure about the differences between metal, glass, paper, and plastic. Although they understand the big picture about recycling and can tell me why it is important, the boys were unable to describe the details. I needed to explain that cardboard is paper and tuna cans are metal.
So, we went back to basics. I asked Leo what “sorting” meant and he answered right away “when you put things that are the same all together.” Good boy! Then they took turns sorting each recyclable.
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As they sorted, I talked about where the recyclables would go and how the boxes, cans, paper, and glass would become new things. Henry thought it was quite literal and wanted to know if the milk bottle would become a new milk bottle. I had never thought about it that way, and I was challenged to come up with a list of new items that the materials would be turned into. I really don’t know very much about what happens to our recycling. Thank goodness Leo has a fieldtrip planned to visit the local recycling center. I will be sure to blog about it that week!
I also explained that materials like plastic wouldn’t decompose if we leave them on the earth, so it was a good idea to make them into different things. Both boys immediately asked if we could bury a plastic container in the ground to see what would happen over time. I said no, but maybe I should let them do it, so they can see that the plastic will be in the ground for a long time.
When they were finished sorting, I had them reorder the bags from least to most full. It was interesting to see what we were consuming. Lots of paper and lots of plastic.
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One funny but sad moment came when I explained how paper was made. I explained up how trees are mashed up into pulp and then dried in sheets to make paper. Henry was truly horrified. He said he didn’t want to use paper anymore. I am pleased and proud to say that when I explained that if we recycled more paper then perhaps we would need to use fewer trees, Henry was placated and also interested. It was a really a tangible example of recycling for him since he has a favorite climbing tree in our yard.
I talk to the boys a lot about recycling, and I realize that I may not be doing a great job of making the concept accessible to their world. I am glad that Sid the Science Kid is around to remind me that preschoolers need to get their hands on science with real-world objects from their own lives.
How do you teach your kids about recycling? Do YOU know what happens to your paper and plastic once you send it off in the truck?

This week on Sid the Science Kid we return to the classroom to learn about force and motion. When I first started writing this blog, I was worried about this cycle because of its emphasis on physics. As a student I systematically avoided this subject because it literally made my brain hurt. The concepts frustrated me and I remember feeling like “I can’t do this!” Little did I know that if I just relaxed and let the world around me lead the way, I might have been pleasantly surprised by what I could accomplish. Isn’t that a lesson we all wished we could have learned early on?
I am happy to say that I do think my kids are learning that the world around them can unlock the questions they have about science. Much of that skill has come from our investigations with Sid. When I looked back over the activities in the Force and Motion cycle, I saw that we had investigated all four of them. And upon reflection, I realized that these physics activities had long-term impact for Henry and Leo.
Friction is a great example. I think it has been at least a year since Leo and I slid around our house on the tile and on the rug wearing shoes, socks, and no footwear at all. Not only did Leo remember the concept and the vocabulary, but he was able to reenact the investigation for Henry. Now, when they are solving problems with their play, I can sometimes hear them reference “friction” and having too little or not enough of it.
Another activity that has longevity here in the Helfrich household is the exploration about inertia. It appeals to the boys because they get to roll stuff into a curb or against a wall. The toys go flying and they get the destruction-induced boy giggles. They aren’t even realizing that they learned about inertia, they just know that when the vehicle stops, they toy will not. It doesn’t matter that they can’t articulate that. What I really like is that someday, when they are sitting in a high school science class, they might remember when their stuffed animals flew off the skateboard. They will have background knowledge about science. I envy that!
On the Sid website there is a link to all the cycles under the Cycle Overview Tab. I know that I am supposed to be an expert on all things Sid, but even I forget the resources that available sometimes. Here is what I learned about physics:
Developmental research reveals that human infants know quite a bit about the physical laws that govern objects and events. Using particular experimental procedures, researchers have shown that babies are surprised when a ball seems to float in space, as if they expect it to fall because it is not supported. Infants also notice when one solid object seems to go through another one, as this is not something that “should” happen. These are just a few examples of what is called naïve physics knowledge.
As they get older, children can talk to us and tell us what they notice and think about the physical objects and events in the world around them. That’s exactly what Sid is doing this week when he and his friends ask, Why can’t I slide in my sneakers? Why won’t my play dough ball bounce? Why did Ignatz keep going when the skateboard he was riding on stopped? Why did my soccer ball go farther than I wanted it to go? Designed with physics education expert Dr. Noel Enyedy, each episode begins with an event that piques Sid’s curiosity. His observations take him, and our viewers, on explorations of friction, elasticity, inertia, and force. Through these episodes we hope to illustrate, for kids and their caregivers, that these concepts help us explain really interesting stuff that happens all around us, every day.

Interesting stuff happens all around us every day. That’s a great motto for living with preschoolers. So, give these activities a try this week. Many of us are stuck indoors due to rain, snow, cold, or stuffy noses. These physics activities are sure to keep your kids engaged just long enough to build some great science memories for the future.
I would love to hear how from you about your investigations. Leave a comment and share your experiences!

Sometimes life with little scientists offers up treasures I don’t expect. Some of my favorite treasures are learning opportunities. I get giddy when presented with a real-life situation that illustrates a concept they are learning about in school or on Sid the Science Kid! Last Friday night I was handed such an opportunity by a group of budding engineers.
After school on Friday we went to the park with a group of friends. It was a fun time; so fun in fact that we decided to move the party over to a pizza parlor for dinner. I love spontaneous Friday night pizza parties. We were four moms and eight kids. The restaurant is loud, kid friendly, and lined with arcade games and toy dispensers. We settled in and let the kids explore and play. I was prepared to give up a lot of quarters.
After we ate pizza, I noticed that the kids were congregated around a certain candy machine. They were deep in conversation and obviously up to something. I went over to investigate. Apparently there was a piece of candy stuck between the front window and the machine, way in the back. The two leaders, Sammy and Sierra, were animated as they showed me the problem and the possible solution they had engineered. The girls had rigged straws in an effort to make a pole long enough to reach the candy. Although the pole was long enough, the girls were frustrated because the pole wasn’t stable enough to pull the candy out.
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I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Sid the Science Kid in action! And I didn’t even set it up. By now the boys had joined in too. I had an impromptu science class assembled! I tried to hide my growing excitement and asked the girls some simple questions.
“So, do you know what you are doing right now? You are solving a problem by making a tool! Do you know what you are?” I asked.
Henry jumped right up, bless his little science heart, and said, “Engineers!”
“Right,” I said. “Let’s not get frustrated girls. What do you need to do with the pole to help make it work?”
The girls started to brainstorm solutions. They asked for tape. I went to register and got some. They also wanted something to use as a grabber. Sierra asked for a fork. Smart girl! We went over to the counter and decided a spoon would be better. Then they got to work.
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And the Candy Grabber was born!
They were all so engaged and excited about the project. And it was mostly girl-powered! My boys were particularly interested in how the candy would be distributed. As the girls tried again to reach the candy with their tool, the level of cooperation struck me. All the kids spoke to each other respectfully and listened to all ideas. They were all business as the grabber was extended into the crevice and each of them tried to make the Candy Grabber work.
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Unfortunately, the Candy Grabber was not the right tool for the job. The pesky straws were not stable enough to give the spoon any leverage and they were unable to pull it out. We talked about what kind of tool would do the job.
“A hook!” said Sammy.
“Well, let’s go find one!” I replied.
So our small band of engineers trooped back to the pizza counter. The very kind and tolerant restaurant owner listened to the children’s plight.
He nodded as they spoke and said, “Wait for me!”
The kids ran back to the candy machine with the owner following. In his hand he had a long hook, used for taking pizzas out of the oven. The kids cheered as he reached in with the hook and pulled out the candy prize. And in the final twist of fate, the candy box was filled with enough treats for all the children. It was magical.
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It shouldn’t have surprised me that the kids were so creative and ingenious. I was swept up in the adventure of the project and the creative spirit that emerged. The kids had a blast and were rewarded for their hard work. I felt like I got to take part in a childhood adventure. It was fun and it was science.
On a Sid the Science Kid note, you will find an activity HERE that mirrors the real life activity from the pizza parlor. I had planned to do the activity with the boys and write about it here. But the kids got to it first. Brilliant!

Happy 2012! I have been reading a lot of blogs this week all about New Years resolutions. As a concept, I have nothing against resolutions. I think it’s a good idea to “clean house” and set some goals for the future. My goals don’t change much year to year. Be healthy, move more, work on being a better mom, and eat a few more green leafy veggies. These are things I always work on and I don’t need the turning of a year to remind me. Usually.
This year, however, I realized that once again, I have an opportunity to model some healthy behaviors for Henry and Leo. I decided to voice a healthy resolution and the get the kids on board with helping the family make it happen. It’s simple, it’s affordable, it’s fun, and it’s something we all like to do: bicycle riding!
When I was a preteen my bike was my constant companion in the summertime. My bike afforded me freedom, exploration, and solitude. Our house was near an enormous reservoir and I loved riding along the shore road. It had huge hills, rambling orchards, horse stables, and few cars. I dreamed a lot on those bike rides…mostly about owning a horse and writing novels someday. It was quiet and flying down the steep hills was thrilling. I was young and strong…exercise was a bonus I never thought about. It was splendid.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped riding my bike. Who knows why, but we all have our stories about leaving childhood behind. When I turned 30 I lived in Boston and my parents bought me a wonderful city bike. I rediscovered the joy of biking, this time along the Charles River. But it wasn’t as easy or as freeing…exercise hurt more and I was somewhat resentful of my bike. I was tired and felt far from free. I lent the bike away and only got it back when we moved to California a few years later.
And here I am, with two active boys who want to be outside all the time. They want to explore and be free. Henry and Leo just want to move. They are naturally healthy and naturally strong. It is time for me to find the bicycle mojo again. There’s no excuse because I actually like being on a bike. That feeling of freedom as you fly down the road does not disappear with age. And I want my kids to know that freedom.
Over the past 10 years many communities around the United States have invested in creating safe family bike trails along old railway lines, beach paths, and scenic town roads. From Cape Cod to Ventura Beach there are thousands of choices. Of course, the boys can’t go off on their own to explore the town, but we can find new places together. But I can let them ride ahead a little bit and experience the feeling of an empty road ahead with the ocean at their side. The wind, the air, and the views are enough to make anyone, child or adult, feel free.
And of course, we will be exercising as a family. As I said above, and have written about many times, modeling is the best kind of education for my preschoolers. Henry and Leo want to be with Gerry and I all the time and they look to us for tool to how to live a healthy life. Someday, they will be preteens and, just like me, they will search for some solitude along with their freedom. Until then, I will hop on my bike and ride the adventures with them. And we call all feel healthy and free together.
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What healthy resolutions have you made? What tips can you share about modeling healthy behaviors for your preschoolers?

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