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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: June, 2012

This week’s Sid cycle, Tools and Measurement, is one of my old favorites. If you haven’t tried the fun hands-on activities in this cycle you can find them here. As I looked online at the activities, I was struck by the flood of great Sid memories. I remember writing about Henry and his potty chart, Leo’s fascination with Rolie Polies, the shock I had watching the boys tackle estimation, and finally, conducting our first Sid investigation when I measured our living room in “Henrys”. I love revisiting these fun times and I am proud that so many of our memories over the past couple of years are tied to learning science with Sid.
Now I want to take these things we learned a little but farther. Henry and Leo are getting older and they are ready for me to take these foundations from Sid and start building. I want to expand on some of the familiar investigations, using the old as a foundation for the new. This week I tried it out with measurement.
Every year, right around the boys’ birthdays, I have them stand up against our big wooden bookcase and mark how tall they are. The kids are always excited to see how much they have grown.
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Usually, we just make the mark, compare it to the last, and go on to another thing. But this year, we pulled out the measuring tape. I have the small-kid sized tool for the boys to use, but a large one would have been fine. After measuring Leo, I asked him to see how many inches he measured with the tape. Henry held it steady at the bottom while Leo pulled the tape out.
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“What does a 4 and 3 make, mommy?” Leo asked
“Forty three inches,” I replied. Then, of course, I asked Leo to record his information.
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Leo is just learning how to write his numbers and I love how he worked so hard on the number 3. It isn’t easy to write the number 3! I made the double tic marks to show him how to record inches. Then we were talking about inches and feet. It isn’t as simple to explain as I thought it would be! Thank goodness, I could remind them about nonstandard units of measurement and they made the connection.
After Henry measured and recorded his own height, I invited the boys to measure other things around the house and record the information in inches. I wasn’t too concerned with accuracy; I only wanted them to practice with the tool and record numbers.
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I am very pleased to report that this activity kept the boys busy for a very long time. They ran around the house measuring the couch, the kitchen chairs, the floor tiles, and the television. They even measured a Lego!
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Who knew that such an educational exercise could keep two young boys engaged for so long! I have to say that these are my favorite kinds of investigations. After a while, the boys were all measured out. I am already thinking of ways to take this activity further by comparing measurements and solving simple addition and subtraction problems.
Clearly, the foundations the Sid Investigations provided are helping my kids grow and expand in new directions. I have been worried about the day when Henry and Leo grow out of Sid the Science Kid. Now I realize that isn’t really ever going to happen. We won’t leave Sid behind; we’ll just take him with us.
Have you ever taken a Sid investigation in another direction? How have the foundations Sid teaches helped your children?

I love watching the kids in Leo’s class interact with science and art experiments. Some kids, like Leo, dive right in and get messy, wet, and dirty without a second thought. Others carefully roll up their sleeves, insist on wearing a smock, and carefully examine their messy options. One girl in Leo’s class refuses to touch anything and is easily upset with messes and wardrobe changes. I think that it is great for kids to express what they need in a safe setting. But I often wonder how this is going to play out as they get older and interact with many different opportunities in their world.
I got to see their traits in action when the Mobile Marine Lab came to school last week. I was so excited for this event. We had such a great time last year and Henry was able to join us because the elementary schools are out. The basic set up is this: the marine animals arrive in containers on a truck. The truck pulls a 4-sided water table with all sorts of pumps and contraptions to keep the water cold and salinated. Before the kids come out to the parking lot the animals are placed in the water table along with seaweed, shells, and other sea props.
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It is quite a set up. The owner of the lab goes to a beach every morning to collect the creatures and then returns them in the evening. I totally geeked out asking him questions about tides, water temps, and habitats. We even had a conversation about the east coast tide pool creatures vs. the west coast tide pools. It made me long for Maine. I was enthralled…but enough about me.
Leo and Henry had an amazing hands-on experience with sea stars, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers, to name a few. At the beach, I have a hard time convincing them to touch any creatures that we encounter, but at the Marine Lab, the boys were elbow deep and completely engaged. Leo couldn’t get enough of the sea stars (I call them starfish). The kids held the sea stars and used seashells to gently pour water over the animals. With patience and water, the kids could get the sea stars to relax and suction onto the palm of their hands. Very cool.
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Henry was surprised by the texture of the sea cucumber. I was proud of him for touching, since he usually shies away from icky stuff (unlike his brother). All the kids in the photo below seem to be surprised and excited!
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We even saw creatures that looked like hairy aliens. This crab uses bits of seaweed to disguise itself from predators. I wonder what kinds of questions Sid would come up with about this crab!
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We could have spent all afternoon at the Mobile Marine Lab. Long after Leo’s class went inside for lunch I was out there chatting with the owner while Henry splashed around. He needed a complete change of clothes when we got home. I got in the car scheming about hiring the Mobile Marine Lab for Henry’s next birthday party. It would be so much better than that place with “Cheese” in the name.
If any of the creative folks at Sid are reading this…please do a show about marine life! I think it would be amazing for the Sid gang to visit an aquarium or even go to the beach. Think of all the science investigations you could dream up!
Do you kids enjoy hands-on experiences with animals? Is your kid a messy scientist or a lab coat professional?

The two weeks of school at Leo’s preschool are akin to Senior Week in high school. They are up to silly antics and theme oriented days. The agenda includes, pajama day, water day, teddy bear picnic, mobile marine lab, and a hot dog lunch. The highlight for Leo, however, is Wacky Hair Day. We poofed out his golden locks and I spray painted his hair green. He was giddy with excitement. Henry got to come too, as the elementary school is already done for the year.
Wacky hair day also coincided with my last visit to Leo’s class as the “Science Mom.” I soon learned that ALL the kids were giddy with excitement. Thank goodness I had the perfect activity planned. I decided to modify the Move It activity and have the kids listen to their heartbeats.
First, I had the children try and find their heartbeats while at rest. We checked pulses, wrists, and chests. Partners used their hands to find a heartbeat. They took this job very seriously.
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We had a very interesting discussion about why a heart beats and the import job the heart has in your body. I love how they combine the literal and the figurative as we talked about blood, muscles, love, and friendship. A heart is a busy organ.
Then we did some stretching before I began the official dance party. I let my boys choose the song so I cranked up “I Got A Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. Then we all started jumping and dancing and laughing and silliness ensued. (The pictures are blurry, but I love how they capture the joy of the dance.)
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When the music stopped, I can tell you, ALL of our hearts were beating fast. The kids had no problem at all finding their heart beats. As we caught our breath, I explained the importance of exercise and how good it is to get our hearts pumping and our bodies moving. The kids agreed whole-heartedly. So much so that we waited until our hearts had slowed down a bit and started the dance party all over again. They had such a blast. It was so funny to see them dance like crazy and stop to check their hearts and then ramp it up again. And most of them were singing at the top of their lungs too.
After the second round, the whole class decided to take a rest. The room was quiet for about 15 seconds.
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It was bittersweet to do this activity with Leo’s class. I love that I could adapt a Sid activity to meet the need of this group on a very exciting day. I would have loved to expand it and include the Bones investigation with the splints, but there wasn’t enough time. As the kids bounced around it struck me how much they resembled our friends on Sid the Science Kid: wacky hair, fun science learning, and children who cooperate together. I will miss this bunch!
Have you ever adapted a Sid activity or changed the way you do an investigation? I would love to hear about your ideas!

Talking trash. That’s what a bunch of colleagues and I found ourselves doing last week. Some of our trash talk was the kind you might expect to hear on the basketball court (this group is not shy about making fun of each other!), but most of it was a discussion of trash and the kinds of activities that would engage kids in thinking about ways to care for the environment.
As part of our work designing a new preschool curriculum, we spend a lot of time brainstorming classroom activity ideas. Last week, we were all about the environment and conservation. I’m pleased to report that Dirt Detectives and Teeth Time were mentioned as models for great, engaging learning experiences by those who watch Sid and have tried the activities with kids. How gratifying that was! But, there’s always more science fun and learning to be had, so we had to get to work, gabbing about garbage.
One idea involved an activity for older children in which a class collects the garbage leftovers from, say, a week of lunches. After each day, kids put together all the paper waste and food scraps and plastic bags and bottles and weigh the pile. After a week, totals are added. It’s pretty surprising what a heavy burden just one week of lunch leftovers puts on our landfills and recycling centers! Over the next weeks, children learn ways to reduce the amount of garbage they create, and they apply these techniques to putting lunch on a diet – less paper, fewer disposable bottles and cans, fewer wrappers, and minimal food scraps. Then they collect and weigh for another week, comparing the amount of garbage generated before and after.
I love this activity because it is so clear what a difference just a few small changes can make in the amount of garbage we create. To adapt it for preschool, though, required that I spend a little time wearing my thinking cap.
First, time is not a concept that preschoolers understand too well. Collecting for a week, then waiting weeks, then collecting again just seems like too much waiting! When I try this, I’m going to go with one day of collecting garbage, then a week or so learning about ways to limit waste, and another day to apply this new knowledge to a new kind of packed lunch.
Also, although preschoolers can and should learn about measurement and also understand lighter and heavier, putting numbers on weights – especially larger numbers – is not something that they are likely to be able to do, so we need a different way to measure and compare. Two possibilities come to mind. One involves using a large plastic bin and just piling all the garbage in it on the first day. Take a digital photo to record the mountain of trash. On the comparison day, do the exact same thing, in the exact same container. Compare the photos to tell the trashy tale! Wet food scraps can be collected in a separate container (say, a plastic bowl) and compared in the same way.
You can get more math into this exploration by doing some counting. Use plastic gloves when touching, but count up how many juice boxes are tossed, how many plastic bottles are going to the recycling plant, or how many crumpled paper napkins are going in the can. Write those numbers down, then create a graph comparing before and after. Let’s hope those numbers go down!
In between, of course, we have some learning to do. I’d start by asking children for their ideas about ways to reduce the amount of trash that they create when they eat lunch. How can we solve this problem of too much garbage? Who knows what great ideas they might come up with? Engage children with books and the internet to research some other techniques for reducing garbage (see prior posts on the environment, too). Some methods you might learn about include composting organic food scraps, using re-usable bottles for juice and water instead of disposable ones, trying cloth napkins instead of paper, and using foodsaver containers instead of individual serving bags that just get tossed.
Changing how lunches or snacks get packed is going to necessarily involve families. You might get them on board by having kids create a poster of the new ideas they have learned through their research. Be sure to show it off to families or, even better, email a digital photo with an invitation to join the effort to create “less litter lunches.” It’s science in action and science that leads to action – the kind of action that empowers kids and families to change the world for the better and helps them say, “I’m a scientist. I can do this, too!”
If you give this idea – or a similar one – a try, please let us know how you do it and how it goes. After all, great ideas don’t end up in landfills, but we should re-use them anyway!

My little Leo turned 5 last week. I feel like we have stepped from babyhood to boyhood. Although he’s been out of diapers for over two years and he no longer asks me to pick him up, I could still squeeze his chunky legs and cuddle him at bedtime. This week Leo looks taller to me and not as squishy. We still have lots of cuddles (thank goodness) but I see the Kindergartener in him. Tall, confident, talkative, and a little more defiant than the 4 year old I knew. It is all good news, it is all natural, and I am proud of him.
But I couldn’t resist the urge to throw him a good, old-fashioned birthday party. Leo requested a pool party at our community pool and I was more than happy to plan it. I love planning birthday parties. I spent hours on Pinterest, on birthday websites, in party stores, and at Target (of course.) We invited Leo’s buddies from school and planned it all for a Friday afternoon. Siblings were welcome. We invited 16 children in all. Then I thought about it: 16 kids swimming in a pool, under my supervision. Uh oh.
The best money I spent for Leo’s party was on a certified lifeguard. I found her through a friend and it was well worth the expense. Her only job was to watch the kids in the water and it allowed me to throw the party and the other moms to relax a bit and enjoy what I put together. The lifeguard is also a swim instructor and she happily agreed to talk with the kids about pool safety.
Water safety is a big deal out here in California year-round. Many homes and communities have pools, there are plenty of vacation areas with lakes, and of course, the Pacific Ocean is in our backyard. Drowning is a huge concern for children’s safety out and it is imperative to me that Henry and Leo learned how to swim. We took lessons last summer and the focus was on floating and treading water. More money well spent.
For Leo’s pool party, the lifeguard waited until all the guests had arrived and the kids were in the pool to give them her talk.
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She had three main rules:
1. No running and jumping into the pool.
2. No pushing or jumping on your friends.
3. No swimming in the deep end.
It was hard to keep the swimmers’ attention but Leo did offer to demonstrate a dead man’s float to illustrate drowning. I have to admit, I did not enjoy watching my little man float around on his belly. I prefer the new term for that kind of float: the jellyfish float.
Surprisingly, there were no mishaps that afternoon. Everyone got along and no injuries were reported. The lifeguard sat on the steps of the pool for two hours and then we all had cake. It was wonderful. We all felt safe and relaxed. Summer has arrived! One look at Leo at the end of the afternoon confirms it:
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What rules do you have in your family for swimming safety? Do you children take swimming lessons?

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