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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: February, 2012

This week on Sid the Science Kid we are revisiting one of my favorite cycles on the show: Tools and Measurement. Sid and his buddies explore charts, science tools, estimation, and measurement. And as a bonus, the episode where Sid and his friends learn how to be engineers will also air. I love the activities this week because they are so hands-on and concrete. And kids need to learn these basic ideas as a foundation for science learning. I wish I better measurement skills, believe me. I am a measure 5 times cut 3 times kind of girl.
The episode about charts got me thinking about how far Henry and I have come in our use and understanding of charts. As I wrote in a blog last year, charts for us were mainly based on rewards and stickers, and not so much about gathering information or keeping track of learning. Now that Henry is in Kindergarten our relationship with charts is starting to change.
In Henry’s classroom his teacher, Mrs. M, regularly uses charts and introduces the children to all kinds of recording tools such as tally marks, check marks, color bars, and pictures to represent numbers. The kids use an elaborate name/stickie chart to figure out what “job” they have in the afternoons. When I volunteer in the classroom I count on the kids to tell me where to go. Charts are visual learning tools and I believe they also provide a measure of independence for kids as with the jobs chart.
One of Henry’s great accomplishments this year is his growth in reading and reading comprehension. As an educator and a mom, I am fascinated by the process and challenge of learning how to read. Decoding words and learning word families keeps Henry engaged and the reward is instantaneous: I can read that word! Henry was thrilled when the school provided an opportunity for kids Kindergarten to Grade 5 to earn a ticket to Magic Mountain amusement park through reading. The children had to read and keep track of reading for 6 hours to earn their ticket. They could read on their own or be read to, as long as we kept a list of what was read and for how long. We had 5 weeks to accomplish this feat. Easy peasy!
Henry, Leo, and I read for at least 20 minutes every day at bedtime. Henry and I decided to use this time for our Read to Succeed tracking. The first few nights Henry and I would read and in the morning we I would write the books and the time on the log provided by the school. But Henry didn’t understand what 6 hours meant for us. Every day he wanted to know when our tickets would arrive. I needed a way for Henry to understand how much time 6 hours represented. So I made a chart. I based it on the fundraiser thermometer concept and broke up the 6 hours into 20-minute intervals. I posted the chart in the kitchen so that every morning he could color in a section and see how much farther we had to go.
ReadingChart.jpg
Henry loved the chart. He could see his progress and it motivated him to read more and more. He had to remind me several time to log our progress and keep up with the chart. The chart also helped Henry understand time on the clock better as he could see it took three 20-minute reading sessions to make an hour.
When it was time to turn in our log Henry brought the chart to school to show his teacher. Mrs. M displayed Henry’s chart for the class and I thought his face would burst from the smiling. Henry was so proud of himself. I am not ashamed to admit that I was proud of us too, and a bit misty eyed. There are few things more important to me than giving my kids a love of reading and books. I think we are well on our way.
How do you use charts with your preschooler or Kindergartener? How do you use charts as learning tools?

Last week we had a string of rainy days with lower than usual temps. Henry’s elementary school held recess inside and Leo couldn’t play on the playground at preschool. We spent the afternoons inside playing with toys and watching TV. I love a rainy afternoon every once in a while. The weather here is so wonderful on a regular basis that I often feel guilty staying inside instead of going to the park or taking a bike ride. But, after two or three days in a row cabin fever sets in, the sparks between brothers fly, and tensions flair.
I was so happy on the third day to see the sun peeking though the clouds after school. I had a pile of work to do in my office and another pile in the laundry room and the boys were bickering over something silly. Time to change the dynamic. So I made a decree:
“We are going out to get some air. We are taking a walk. NOW!”
The boys seemed surprised but happily put on coats and sneakers. We tromped outside and stood in the driveway. After a short discussion we decided to take the “long” way to the park and explore along the way.
As we set out, Henry immediately jumped into the beautifully landscaped area that runs alongside the sidewalks in our community. I tried calling him out but when he said “But mom, I am exploring! You never know what I will find,” I didn’t have the heart to follow through. He was making up his own nature walk in the middle of our tame, planned, manicured neighborhood. I have to admire that.
Henry was tracking along a cinderblock wall and came upon a huge root. It was growing from an enormous tree on the opposite side of the wall. We stopped to talk about the root and how it managed to thrive, despite the man made wall in its way. Leo was particularly impressed and examined the big root for long time.
Walk1.jpg
Further down the sidewalk, we noticed that the landscapers had been cutting back bushes. Henry and Leo were very interested in the trunks and smooth planes left behind. We talked about how the cuts looked fresh and new. I explained that sometimes we cut bushes to help them grow better. It was fun for them to touch and see the results.
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Then Henry found this specimen and he was really really excited. Where did the holes come from? I really have no idea but we hypothesized that perhaps it was bugs in the tree. I tend to agree.
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Leo started collecting interesting seedpods as we wandered along. There were so many different varieties. Whenever we picked something interesting up, we would look above our heads to figure out which tree had dropped the treasure. Each specimen has it’s own features and cool details. Some were fuzzy, other spiky, one looked like corn in a soft pod. The seeds gave us a chance to talk about how trees deliver their seeds and how the seeds are often protected by a hard shell or husk.
Walk4.jpg
Both boys made unforgettable observations. First, Henry stated wisely that we were on a Nature Walk Walk and that we did not have the proper tools.
“Next time, mom,” he said, “we need a magnifying glass, a bucket, and a picker up thing. Let’s do this every week and see how the walk changes.”
I swear to you, he actually said that. I have a science kid!!!
Leo’s thoughts were more abstract. When we were examining a hole in the sidewalk Leo put his fingers in the dirt and said:
“Now I know what it looks like under the sidewalk.”
Walk5.jpg
I smiled and smiled that afternoon. I felt really good about my decision to get outside for some air. I loved that the boys led the expedition and they were the science observers. I just went along for the walk.

For 16 wonderful months, I have been writing my family’s adventures with Sid the Science Kid. We have conducted many investigations and explored science in many new and interesting ways. So, since I am now an “expert” science mommy, I though I would share some of my favorite Sid investigations. You can find all of these activities online at PBS.org/parents/sid.
Exploring Measurement
This was the first Sid experiment I ever did with the kids. This was long before I moved to California and started blogging for Sid. Henry and I were watching the show, Leo was still really small. The episode was about non-standard units of measurement. Before the show had even finished, Henry asked if we could measure the room in “Henrys”. We did that and had so much fun. I saw him learning and growing right in front of me. It was amazing. I used the idea to send my brother (Henry’s godfather), who lived in Seattle, a life-size Henry on a big piece of paper. Henry, now six, remembers the activity and still talks about it.
Applesauce
Ah…applesauce. The is the very first investigation I conducted with little Leo for the blog. This activity sold me on the science investigations I was trying to write about because my three year old kid could tell me the meaning of “irreversible change.” I am a vocabulary lover and this one really send me over the edge. Here I was making applesauce, something I make all the time, and my kitchen became lab for science learning. The energy for this blog and the idea that everyday life is full of science opportunities was very clear to me and I loved it. Leo was able to participate fully and learn new vocabulary and we had a great time. I am so grateful for the times I have had with my kids in our home fab lab.
FavsApplesauce.jpg
What’s That Smell?
In this investigation, I gather items from the kitchen for the kids to smell while blindfolded and guess what is in front of them. Leo asks to do this investigation over and over again. I think he likes the mystery of the blindfold and the guessing game. I like the idea of using household kitchen items (food, spices, etc) to illustrate the importance of smell. The activity lends itself to repeating because there is an endless variety of things we can experiment with in the kitchen. It is tons of fun. It can be done as a seasonal game, or an outside game, or even as a game with craft items with crayons, glue, markers, etc. Hmmm…Maybe I will do this one when the boys get home from school!
Smell2.jpg
Sid’s Skateboard Inertia Investigation
I love this activity because I learned right along with my kids. I would not have been able to explain inertia if my life depended on it until this Sid episode came along for us. As I have testified before, I am afraid of physics because I am not able to articulate what I know to be true in the physical world. Leo loved this investigation because it joined two of his favorite things: stuffed animals and daredevil stunts. We didn’t even own our own skateboard so we searched the neighborhood, borrowed one from a friend, and conducted the investigation. I knew that the stuffed animal would go flying off the board once it hit the step, but I had no idea WHY. Now I know. I also love this investigation because it provided Leo with an opportunity to teach his brother Henry. Leo was so excited about this one that as soon as Henry was home from school they replicated it over and over again. Leo shared his science.
Inertia1.jpg
Cave of Darkness
Darkness is the absence of light. So simple yet not intuitive, for me at least. The fort activity gave us a chance to an investigation as a family and to learn this concept together. We all took turns adding to the fort, being inside the fort, playing with the flashlights, and trying to achieve total darkness. It was fun and it was also challenging. This activity and this whole episode demystifies the dark. Leo and Henry, to this day, remind themselves of this Sid episode when they are spooked by something in the night. The things in their room at night are the same things as in the day. It resonates with them and I appreciate the help at bedtime.
Fort1.jpg
There is definitely a personal pattern I see when I think of my favorite Sid investigations. I like the activities that are simple, completed with household items, pack a nice academic punch, and create memories for my boys. Come to think of it, most Sid activities are like that. I can’t wait to keep exploring and experimenting with new activities while revisiting come of our old favorites.
What are your favorite Sid the Science Kid investigations? Why do you like them so much?

The most challenging time of day for me as a mom is the very end of the day. Fondly know around here as “the witching hour.” At our house, the witching hour is that short span of time between dinner and bedtime. I am usually at wits ends, waiting for my husband to get home, with my tank of patience running on fumes. Henry and Leo are more combative, whiney, and contentious this time of day. And I tend to handle it less than maturely. However, on the days when I can gather enough brainpower to be proactive instead reactive, there is one activity that always seems to bring happiness and joy to our wilted troops.
Dance party! We dance wildly around the living room and the dining room. The boys bust out their signature moves and we always end up on the floor laughing. Leo is famous for his break dancing and Henry does a spot-on robot. The joy is infectious and it is impossible to be cranky. Sometimes I turn on the music and get the “Oh, mom…” looks from the boys but they always end up dancing right along with me. I’m never self conscious with them and I think it’s wonderful for them to see me letting loose. It’s our happy time.
Over time I have created a play list on the iPad specifically designed to get my boys moving and shaking. A lot of the songs come from music we hear on the radio as we drive around town. (Am I the only one who still listens to the radio?) Leo really likes classic rock and 80’s music while Henry enjoys current techno-pop (is it called that anymore?) music. Last week in the car Leo asked me to get the Bee Gees on my iPad. Yes! The boy knows a good tune when he hears them. Wait until I unleash ABBA on them. And never underestimate the power of Kid Bopz. There, I said it.
Dance party is quite a work out for all of us. We literally dance the last of the day’s yayas out. My kids need that last burst of energy at the end of the day and I find that our bedtime routine is smoother on dance party nights. That goes the same for the nights we have family walks or Friday night swim night. The exercise is so important as way for the boys to get out emotions and settle down for the night. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true for us.
I also think that there’s a bonding component too. Sometimes I start up dance party in the middle of washing dishes or folding clothes. There is a spontaneity to it that delights Henry and Leo. They will ask, “Mommy, you want to dance right now?” And I joyfully reply, “Yes!” I think they feel like we are breaking some sort of norm or behaving out of routine. My boys love it. And I love feeling like I am creating memories — joyful ones at that.
And yes, I need the workout too. Sid tells us to “Get Up and Move!” What are some of the exercise secrets in your house? How do your kids get their yayas out?

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