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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: April, 2012

Time is flying by. We are staring right at May this week and Leo only has 6 more weeks of preschool. How is that even possible? At the end of May Leo will be 5 and in the fall we will wave to him as he marches into Kindergarten. I am feeling very nostalgic and a little panicked. We are all looking forward to summertime fun, but in the meantime I am savoring and treasuring my days with Leo.
Wednesday is our “together” day. I try not to schedule too many activities. We alternate between story time at the library, play dates with friends, errands, and at home hang outs. I have been leaning more towards the at home hang out days where we cuddle on the couch for PBS TV watching, cook in the kitchen, fold laundry, create art, dig in the garden, or have an adventure.
This Wednesday I really wanted to roll up our sleeves and jump into a great Sid the Science Kid investigation – just like the old days when preschool began. With that in mind, I consulted the activities tab on the Sid site and found Wing It!
Leo and Henry have both recently become interested in planes and paper airplanes. This activity, along with the accompanying episode, is perfect for them. Leo and I watched the video clip for the episode and set off on our own adventure. We learned that the first designs for the airplane came from observing birds and learning about how birds fly.
Our first step was to head outside and search for airplanes and birds. We could hear planes overhead (we are on the long descent flight path for LAX) but the cloudy skies made it difficult to see the planes. After much searching Leo spotted a small plane flying very high in the sky.
We watched little birds swoop from tree to tree up our street. Their small wings allowed the birds to glide and dive. We wanted to stay outside longer, but the misty weather wasn’t cooperating so we went inside to conduct our research. On our way in we stopped to examine a birds’ nest our neighbor had found while trimming a tree in our front yard. It is lovely and delicate. Leo loves to hold it gently in his hands and imagine the bird family that called the nest home. It is so cute.
Once inside we pulled out a sketchpad and the “good” colored pencils to start recording our ideas. I wrote “Birds” at the top while Leo drew a picture of a bird. We talked about the parts of a bird and how those parts help birds fly. We made labels too. When I asked him what a feather was he said: “Little extra wings.”
Next we pulled out the iPad and got a little side tracked. I looked up tutorials for drawing a bird. So, the next thing I knew, there we were, drawing a real bird step by step. I was as engaged as Leo and I am quite proud of my little drawing. I am usually so art challenged!
It was a great exercise to draw the bird. It really helped us see the different part and lead us into the next step of our investigation. Planes.
Leo could have spent the next two hours on the iPad looking at images of airplanes. We clicked on thousands and thousands of images. (Okay, maybe only 50 or so.) We discussed the similarities and differences between birds and airplanes. I was interested to hear what Leo had to say because his teacher commented recently that Leo had trouble with comparisons. I was proud to discover that he could generate the similarities (wings, nose/beak, tail) and differences (birds are animals, planes have motors) quite readily. We wrote down our observations and continued to browse through pictures of airplanes.
I see a trip to the local airfield in our future. This investigation flowed so well for us and concluded in such an organic way. It felt like a seamless part of our time together as opposed to an “organized” activity. I am really looking forward to next Wednesday. And time just keeps flying by!

For years I have wanted to plant a vegetable garden. I have romantic notions about seedlings, planting, growing, and picking my own salad. Back in Massachusetts I tried a couple of times to grow herbs and lettuce but it was a disaster, to say the least. It seems so easy in my mind, but once I get to the garden center I am overwhelmed and leave with my hands empty.
This year, I have resolved to try again. First of all, I live in a region of California where food actually comes from and farmer’s markets abound. My friend and neighbor Jennifer grew beautiful tomatoes in pots last summer. She was generous with her bounty but I was envious. (Full disclosure: Jennifer can make anything grow and her garden is stunning.) Seriously, I surely should be able to manage container gardening, right?
Another reason is for the boys. Not only is gardening a fun activity to do as a family, but the nutritional rewards are huge. Henry doesn’t like tomatoes in their true form (he is a huge fan of ketchup) but maybe he will change his mind if he grows and picks his own tomatoes. Over the past few months I have been intrigued by the clean eating movement. Basically, the idea is to only eat foods that you make yourself from real food. No packages, no processing. I love the idea but I am scared by the commitment. It would be better for the boys but more work for me. Just writing that sentence makes me feel like a slacker…but a food garden should get me going in the right direction!
So, this weekend I dove into the world of container tomato gardening. And it was easy! Leo and I went over to the local garden center. He picked out three kinds of organic tomatoes: cherry, big boy golden, and purple heirloom. Leo loves tomatoes and he is totally on board. In fact, I believe Leo is on his way to becoming a vegetarian so I am truly giving him a valuable life skill. We made our purchases, bought pots and drove home.
The next day, Leo, Henry, and I began our project. (Dad was out at an e-cycling event getting rid of an old TV.) Just like on Sid the Science Kid we talked about what plants need to grow. We designated a sunny spot in the side yard, near a water hose. Then we got dirty. We dumped a whole bag of dirt into the pot. Leo and I dug a hole and put the first plant in. Leo got the coveted job of watering the first plant.
Then, we were stumped. No more dirt! Thank goodness for good neighbors. Jennifer came to our rescue with dirt and tomato cages. (Who knew?!) After a detour across the street Henry watered the second plant.
Our cherry tomatoes came prepotted with a cage and there are even some tomatoes ripening on the vine. I am hoping that this plant yields first and gets the excitement building as we wait for the other two plants. We also have two strawberry buckets (gifted from Jennifer) and a little lemon tree. Jennifer had a great idea about planting a salsa garden with peppers and cilantro or a pasta sauce garden with herbs to compliment the tomatoes. I think the boys would love that. Maybe I can plant my salad garden after all.
I like it when Sid activities connect with all kinds of science concepts from the show. This planting activity is from the Environment and Habitat cycle but I easily made connections to the Health cycle with nutrition. I even reminded the boys about germs and hand washing from the activity about dirt and germs. We have enjoyed so many investigations from our time with Sid and it feels great to connect to the boys’ prior knowledge as we conduct new investigations.
I will keep you updated on our little garden. How does your garden grow? Do you have any gardening advice for me? Believe me, I would love to hear it!

Today’s Sid investigation was a perfect recipe for a fun and successful science activity.
3 preschool people
2 moms
1 mirror
3 prepared lunches
1 Sid investigation on my iPad
Have children wash hands. Give them a mirror. Ask them to examine their teeth. Teach them the vocabulary for the types of teeth. Give them lunch. Ask them to think about and use their teeth as they eat lunch. Talk a lot about teeth. Laugh often.
Honestly, can it get any more delightful and simple to teach our children about teeth, supply them with academic vocabulary, and then put what they learn into action? I think not.
In all seriousness, I have stated MANY times on this blog that I appreciate the thoughtful academic design behind the Sid the Science Kid investigations posted online. Today we had a lunch date with our friends Devon and Morgan (returning guests to this blog) and it was so simple to incorporate the investigation into an ordinary activity. Let’s face it; feeding kids multiple times a day is less than glamorous. But if I bring learning into everyday activities a tedious time can become interesting and fun. Of course, I can’t pull this off in every tedious moment of parenting but it is totally worth is to sprinkle in the science every once in a while.
My friend Hillary filled in as my teaching assistant today. Ironically, Hillary is actually a teacher. It’s always a bonus to have her help. First we made sure the kids washed their hands. Then we asked them to show off their pearly whites for the camera.
Next, I pulled out a simple hand mirror and began showing them their teeth. It was interesting to see them touch and prod at their own teeth as if they had never seen them before. My guess is that Devon, Morgan, and Leo haven’t spent much time thinking about their teeth as individuals. But there we were with a mirror pointing out incisors.
I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful their tiny teeth are and reflect on the havoc those teeth caused on these preschoolers as babies. The trials of teething seem like a distant memory. It was sweet and a little strange to see my baby Leo looking at his own canines in wonder.
We talked about molars as they chomped down. Interestingly, the vocabulary was challenging to them. I kept repeating the names of the teeth, but for some reason the kids weren’t readily able to repeat them back. It must have been the mirror distracting them. I did tell them that canine is another word for dog and that struck a cord with the three of them. They won’t forget it now!
After looking in the mirror, we went to the kitchen for lunch. I prepared a meal with soft and crunchy foods, so we could continue talking and learning about our teeth.
As Leo, Morgan, and Devon eagerly dove into their pb&js, I asked them to tell me which teeth they used to get the job done eating. They knew for sure that the molars did the chewing but it was harder to narrow down the first bite. Incisors or canines? It took a few bites to figure it out: incisors! With the apples and carrots the kids knew for sure that they needed to use the canines…which they employed with gusto and giggles.
Then I asked them to try and eat a bite with only their front teeth. It was hilarious watching them try and figure that out. Not such an easy task and it led to some pretty funny faces.
I was grateful for Hillary’s help as we extended the conversation to the teeth and chewing habits of animals. We talked about elephants and sharks, which lead to a conversation about plant eaters and meat eaters. Talk about building on a concept!
Lunch today was a science adventure. I can’t say what will happen tomorrow, but I sure will keep my eyes open for other science opportunities. And Leo DID spend a little extra time brushing his incisors, canines, and molars tonight before bed.

I am so lucky when it comes to museums. Throughout my life from childhood through mommyhood, I have lived in cities and towns that provide amazing educational and family experiences through museums. Growing up in the Boston area I was able to explore the Boston Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. In college I hit the museum jackpot in Washington D.C., where the Smithsonian was a simple metro ride away. As an adult I have visited museums in London, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Cincinnati (to name a few). I had parents who encouraged a love of museums and my own natural curiosity about what those big buildings have to offer. I still dream of someday visiting Paris, Istanbul, Cairo, Beijing, and all the great museums of the world.
But when it comes to kids I still need to think locally, not globally. That’s why I made sure (thanks to my best friend Susan) that the boys and I visited the California Academy of Sciences on our recent trip to San Francisco. Susan has been telling me about this museum for years and I was always like “Yeah, yeah, I am sure it’s great.” I try and take the kids to museums often so I felt like I had “seen it all.” Oh boy, was I wrong.
I fell in love with Cal Academy. It was a day I will remember for a long long time in the way that the museum captivated all of us and kept the boys engaged long after the usual melt down window. We started with the glorious rain forest biosphere where the boys got to experience a tropical climate where vibrant birds and butterflies flew at arm’s length. There were exhibits with tree frogs, snakes, and giant spiders. We were in another world in the middle of Golden Gate Park.
Cal Academy also houses a stunning aquarium. I don’t know where else in the world Leo and Henry could see an ALBINO alligator named Claude. So cool.
My favorite kind of museum is an aquarium. At one point in my tween years I dreamed of being a marine biologist, international diver, and renowned dolphin linguist. Yes, it’s true. Instead I became a writer and a mom who finds peace, beauty, and infinite opportunities for learning about science and community in an aquarium. We learned about seahorses and the males who care for baby seahorses. The boys stared for what seemed like an eternity into a tank containing rare sea dragons only found in Australia. I could literally see their imaginations and knowledge swimming at the same time.
We could have sat for hours in front of the huge marine tank, the centerpiece of the museum. We followed the fish, sharks, rays, and other creatures as they circled around and around.
When it was time to leave, I literally had to pull the boys out. It was getting late but even I was reluctant to leave. We had all learned so much and we don’t live close enough to drop in regularly. Those of you in the Bay Area are very lucky.
However, it is not my intention to just write a review of this particular museum. This day is just a reminder to me of how much I love creating these kinds of memories and experiences with Henry and Leo. For a long time I was afraid to go to museums with my little cute monsters. I was worried about the crowds, the tantrums, and the daylong negotiations. But my boys continue to surprise me. Be it the Boston Museum of Science or the tiny Gulls Wings Museum in Oxnard, CA, Henry and Leo rise to the occasion. Like Sid and his buddies, they are happy to explore a place that is tailored to learned with interactive exhibits, engaging science to look at, and a mom who loves to experience it right along with them.
Museums don’t have to be an expensive day or even an all-day event. Many museums are located near pubic transportation and have free days on the calendar. Discounts and free tickets are often offered through your local library. AAA, local magazines, and many web sites also post coupons and discounts. Even a yearly membership to your local museum will allow you entrance to thousands of other museums for free.
So, get thee to the Science Museum! I want to hear all about your adventures. Tell me about the museums in your area. What do you kids love to see? Happy exploring!

I am not what most people would call “crafty.” Please don’t laugh at me. I have failed many times when it comes to anything that involves sewing, stitching, painting, decoupage (what??), or scrap booking. In the past, the closest I have come to being crafty is making our annual family calendar online. But that is changing! Since I have become a mostly stay at home mom, I have opened myself up to becoming more hands-on and creative. It is coming slowly, with the help of a patient neighbor (very crafty) and my new obsession with Pinterest. At Christmastime I turned old Scrabble tiles into ornaments. Just this week I cut up paint sample cards into an Easter egg garland. Crafty, right? Good for me!
But what does this have to do with science?
It’s all about rocks this week on Sid the Science Kid‘s Rock and Roll Easter episode. Sid and his friends learn all about rocks because Sid finds an interesting rock in his backyard while on an egg hunt for Easter. This leads the kids on a wonderful exploration of different kinds of rocks and the gang paints rocks for Easter. As the kids and I watched the episode I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sid the Science Kid made an investigation out of my latest craft. I had already done this activity, but without the science tie. The kids and I collected rocks as a crafty Easter Art activity!
Over Spring Break the boys and I spent a night on the Central California coast. It was wonderful. The weather was cool and sunny and the beach was almost deserted. Henry and Leo ran in out of the waves squealing with the cold and laughing until they fell down. The dug deep holes in the sand and made tunnels. I walked around looking at the beach rocks. My husband can attest to my love of beach rocks. I grab a couple almost every time I head to the shore and I have collection from all around the world. I think they are beautiful. On this particular beach day I was looking at the shapes of the rocks. Many of the rocks on this beach were very smooth and round. As I thought about it, I realized they looked like eggs. And a craft was born!
I took the boys on a long walk and instructed them to hunt for rocks that looked like eggs. It was harder than I thought it would be. Henry and Leo kept bringing me rocks that weren’t quite right. I used all the adjectives I could think of: smooth, round, oval, egg like, not rough, not jagged, not flat. I think they thought I was crazy. At once point Leo brought me a rock AND a ladybug.
After a while the boys moved on to other adventures but I continued collecting egg rocks. I wanted us to paint the rocks as an Easter project and as a memento of our holiday at the beach. Here are the rocks we took home:
A few days later, I was struggling over how to paint the rocks. I wanted the rocks to have color, but I wanted them to still look like beach rocks. I called my mother, who is a painter, and told her my dilemma. What kind of paint, I asked? Acrylic? Could I mix it with water? Tempera paint? My mom, every practical, replied: “Dye them like an Easter egg.”
So, the boys and I plopped the rocks into the cups provided in the Easter egg kit with the tablets, water, and vinegar. We experimented with different combinations and learned what colors came out the best (blue and pink). It was a fun activity and a nice preview to the egg decorating we will do this weekend. I think the rocks turned out beautifully.
So when Henry, Leo, and I sat down to watch the Rock and Roll Easter special, we got all excited about our beach rocks again. What kind beach rocks do we have: Igneous, Metamorphic or Sedimentary? To be honest, we can’t really figure it out. A quick search online revealed that the rocks could be any of the three kinds. We will just need to keep investigating and looking at the rocks with our magnifying glass.
Usually, I plan an activity with the kids aimed at revealing the science behind the investigation. This time, we completed a fun art project and learned later that there was a lot of science we could learn from the experience. I can’t wait to get “crafty” with some more science!
What kinds of art projects do you enjoy with your children? Do you have any rock stories to share?

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