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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: March, 2012

One of my most favorite memories growing up was building forts with my best friend Katie. We would build elaborate forts using anything and everything we could find in each other’s homes. Both Katie and I were afraid of the dark when we were younger so it was interesting that we loved building these places that were all about the dark. The darker the better, the more private the better and certainly NO GROWN-UPS ALLOWED! Being a mom to two girls now, I was not surprised when I heard both my kids say they do not like the dark. When I asked them why, Sophia (age 6) said, “I feel like I’m in a cave and can’t get out and sometimes I worry the door is locked and we can’t get out.” Her younger sister, Sydney (age 5), replied with “It feels like there’s gonna be a monster in my room.”
I decided the best way to show them that darkness can be fun was to do an experiment that we saw on Sid the Science Kid. Sophia is in 1st grade and takes a science class after school that she absolutely loves so I wasn’t surprised that she wanted to do it. Sydney was equally as excited so it was nice to see her so into it. The experiment was entitled “Cave of Darkness” (ooohs and ahhs from my girls as I told them the title!). They were beyond excited.
We started out by figuring out what materials we could use to make a fort that was dark enough not to let light in. We searched our house. The girls decided on four chairs from our dining room table. We positioned them in a square with the seat part facing out.
I then asked the girls what we could use to make the fort dark. Sophia said blankets and Sydney said big towels. Both great ideas. It was nice to see the girls working together since usually it ends up in some type of argument! We decided on blankets since they were bigger. We gathered as many as we could find and started building. Sophia volunteered to be the “cave reporter” and she went inside, with pretend microphone in hand. We quickly figured out that the blankets were going to let too much light in because they were too thin. It didn’t seem to matter that we layered them either, it was still too light.
So we had to come up with something else. Sophia had the idea to use a comforter because they are much thicker and bigger. I dragged out an old King-size comforter and that did the trick! The girls were elated. With Sophia inside the cave, she directed Sydney and me where to put the remaining blankets to make the fort pitch dark.
Once we were all three inside the cave, we talked about what we could see and couldn’t see. We couldn’t see our dog Daisy, who wanted desperately to come in. But we could see the outlines of our hands once our eyes adjusted. The girls seemed perfectly content and said they weren’t scared at all.
We decided to do some experimenting with different toys and shapes. Sophia brought some miscellaneous small items in with her. I asked her what she could see. She said the lighter color items were easier to see than the darker ones. I asked her if her clothes felt different in the dark and she replied no. And the carpet? No, felt the same. Sophia said, “Mom, things are the same whether it’s light or dark!” Mission accomplished. We had so much fun in our cave of darkness, we decided to have popcorn and watch a movie on our portable DVD player!
It was so great to see my girls excited about doing this science experiment. I think it’s really important for girls to be well rounded and interested in all kinds of things and I really enjoyed helping them see how fun science can be!

Sometimes an activity comes along on the show that reminds me that my work as a mom is never done. Not that I am ever expecting it to be! However, sometimes I surprise myself by not following some of the basic rules for teaching and living with young children. Mainly: repetition is your friend. Be it the ABC song, a tattered picture book, or singing You Are My Sunshine, children love to experience things over and over again. My boys never get sick of mac n cheese or playing at the same park every Tuesday. I may be bored to tears by some of these treasured experiences (I DO treasure them) but Henry and Leo happily persist with the familiar.
Some of the Sid the Science Kid activities have become familiar to us because they come up repeatedly in our everyday lives: nonstandard units of measurement, irreversible change, force and friction, etc. What made me pause this week was an activity they DID NOT remember. We were getting ready for bed and I was thinking about the Brush Em Up activity airing again this week. The activity is a clear and visual reminder for kids about conserving water while brushing teeth. After reading a story with the boys, I asked them if they remembered how to conserve water in the bathroom at bedtime. They both gave me glassy stares.
“C’mon,” I persisted. “Remember we brushed our teeth with the water on and then we shut it off and compared how much water we used?”
Nothing. They did not remember.
“It’s a Sid activity. Remember? Okay, let’s do it again right now.”
This got their attention! It was bedtime and mommy wanted to do an investigation. They are always interested in prolonging the bedtime routine!
So we marched into the bathroom and began. I modified the activity for speed and because I didn’t want to go get bowl, but the results are just as meaningful.
Henry went first. I pushed down the plug and told him to brush his teeth with the water ON. He looked at me like I was crazy. I remember the when we did this activity for the first time last year. Henry was not happy about wasting water. Clearly, he still feels that way. Regardless of his beliefs, Henry went along with me. As he brushed his teeth the basin filled up with water about ¾ of the way. We mentally noted the spot and pushed the plunger in so the stopper came out. The water drained away.
(On an aside: I can’t tell you how often I have to tell them not to fiddle with the plug in the bathroom sink. Henry and Leo love to play with the plunger and the handle to the point where we have had to replace it a couple of times. As Henry brushed and spit, he really enjoyed watching the water spill and then drain out. All he wanted to do was stick his hands in the toothpaste water. Ick. I told him to make a good choice.)
Leo’s turn was next. He would brush his teeth with the water off. We set the plunger again and turned on the water to wet his brush. Then we immediately turned the water off. Leo brushed and then spit in the little puddle. We rinsed his brush and he was done. Then we compared. Leo’s water level was a lot lower than Henry’s. He had used significantly less water, of course. The boys saw very quickly how they could save water in the bathroom.
I extended the activity over the toilet. I took the cover off the tank, flushed the toilet, and let them watch as the water rushed out and the tank gradually filled again. We talked about how much water the tank holds (a lot) and how much water we use ever time we flush (a lot.) The boys agreed to stop playing with toilet and over-flushing (do your kids do this?) and even skip the flush if the water wasn’t very yellow. That is way to save even more water!
The lesson for us was in the reminder. We always turn the water off while brushing teeth. They boys do it automatically and it is a familiar part of their routine. But what they didn’t remember was WHY they were turning off the water. By repeating a very simple activity, we were able to talk about water conversation and reinforce an important life lesson.
Do you find yourself repeating activities with your kids? What kinds of lessons need the most reinforcement?

I can’t help but notice a shift happening as we head towards the spring season. There are flowers on the trees and the wet mornings a little less chilly. We are definitely feeling the effects of the time change over the weekend. At seven in the evening the boys observed the twilight sky from the car windows with wonder. “Is it night or day?” they asked. I love that question because it is neither night nor day. It is the magical time of the day that harkens to evening baseball games and picnics on the beach in July. Spring makes summer feel closer, right?
Henry and Leo were chatting in their beds well past nine o’clock on last night. Another time change side effect. I tried to be stern about quiet in the bedroom but it is so sweet to hear them chatting away in whispers. It fulfills a dream I have for them as brothers and best friends. But this morning was decidedly groggy.
Little league season has started. Morning games are chilly and afternoon games are hot. What a happy sign of spring! Baseball is full of science learning around physics, speed, and nutrition. Yes, nutrition. I am trying to teach Henry and Leo about correctly fueling their little bodies for sports. We are learning how to read labels and count our sugar intake. We are drinking lots of water and eating protein before practice and games. Henry, especially, needs to fuel up or he crashes (literally) mid-game and plops down on the grass in the infield. Both boys love baseball (so far) and the exercise is much needed after a quiet winter.
The season of birthday parties has also begun. Outside birthday parties are a clear sign to me that folks are willing to risk the elements in the hopes that spring provides sunny and clear days for celebrating. We got lucky this weekend! And the party was a science party! We were treated to a reptile show in the backyard of Leo’s school buddy. It was so much fun! In the hour-long show the kids were introduced to scorpions, spiders, snakes, lizards, and frogs of all sizes. While the show was entertaining, it was also full of great science facts about the animals: what they eat, where they are from, how they hunt, how the protect themselves from predators. The kids were riveted and I was impressed. And what 4-year-old boy wouldn’t be thrilled by a ride on a tortoise?
On a Sid note: I overheard Leo talking with his friend Devon about friction the other morning. He said, “These socks have friction. I need to change.” And then Leo charged upstairs to change his treaded socks to ones without treads on the bottom. He also brought down a pair of socks for his barefoot friend. And then they started sliding all over the place. I love that for Leo, friction is a noun. Things have friction or they don’t. I couldn’t resist jumping into their fun and asking all sorts of questions about friction. I was informed that the sliding wouldn’t work on the carpet (duh mom!) or without shoes or with socks that have bumps on them. I tried to take a clear action shot of the sliding…but the boys were just too fast!
Spring inspires me to plan new science activities and explorations for us. In April we have new Sid the Science Kid Easter episode to look forward to. I am excited to explore a new science museum on our trip to San Francisco over spring break in a couple of weeks. There is something to be said for spring cleaning: open the windows, put on some shorts, and start adventuring!
Do you have any spring activities planned? How can you bring more science into your springtime?

I finally got myself back into Leo’s preschool classroom this week to conduct an ever-popular Sid the Science Kid experiment. It totally makes me giggle to know that the children in Leo’s class call me The Science Mom. Who would have believed THAT a couple of years ago? I really love working with the kids and look forward to spending time in the classroom. Thankfully, the Sid website has all the activities I need available to print out and take along to the preschool.
Following Sid’s lead I decided to conduct the Frozen Fruit investigation with the kids. You can find it here. The goal of the investigation is to freeze grapes in a cup of water and figure out how to get them out. Along the way we learn about reversible change: Will the grape change once it is frozen and then defrosted?
I did minimal prep work to make things move smoothly in the classroom. I labeled small paper cups with the children’s names. Then I washed and counted grapes so that everyone had 2 and added a few more to a plastic bag. I brought a large container to store all of the cups later in the school freezer. I planned to do the experiment in two sessions, as the water needed time to freeze.
Once in the classroom I sat with the kids in circle time and we talked about the grapes. We used words to describe the grapes: sweet, shiny, slippery, wet. Then I asked them to predict what would happen to the grapes if we froze them. Once again the kids came up with wonderful ideas: the grapes would explode, the grapes would get crunchy, the grapes would lose the peel. Next, I proposed that we test out our ideas by freezing the grapes in cups of water.
The kids were wiggly with their excitement. We lined up to wash hands and then we handed out the cups. Next the kids placed two grapes in each cup. Finally, they patiently lined up to fill the cups with water…just enough to cover the grapes.
The freezer at school is just across the way from the classroom so we marched them over and placed the cups inside. Apparently it is also where the school stockpiles the juice!
I returned two days later to finish the investigation. The children were eager to examine the cups and see what had happened to the grapes. For me, this is where the real fun started. I brought in a couple of deep pans for the kids to use in the experiment in the hopes of avoiding a huge wet mess. Thank goodness for Miss D.; she encourages messes and reminded me that water is no biggie!
Once we distributed the cups back to the kids we talked about how to get the ice block out. Suggestions included screwdrivers, hammers, and a knife. As they talked I made sure they were holding the cups in their hands, warming the paper. I told them to dump the ice out and voila! They had small grape filled cubes to play with. We discussed how the warmth from their hands loosened the ice.
Then came the big question: How do we get the fruit OUT? Again they talked about tools. Finally, Leo, being a smartypants, suggested that we use warm water. He had done this experiment with me before! So, we filled their now empty cups with warm water that the kids poured onto their cubes. It was so much fun to watch them exclaim as the ice melted away and the grapes were pulled free. The children used their little fingers to the grapes and pop the fruit into their mouths. Yum! Science and a snack!
We wrapped up the experiment by talking about the grapes. We learned that after a deep freeze the grapes didn’t change much at all! They were still sweet, still shiny, and still a little cold. Reversible change!
We had so much fun that I didn’t snap as many photos as I would have liked. I guess that is the measure of a great Sid the Science Kid experiment!

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