Support for PBS Parents provided by:

  • Arthur
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Let's Go Luna
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Pinkalicous and Peterriffic
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Sesame Street
  • Ruff Ruffman Show
  • Mister Rogers
  • Cyberchase
  • SciGirls
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Martha Speaks
  • The Electric Company
  • WordGirl
  • Caillou
  • Oh Noah
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM
Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Category: Light & Shadow

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!

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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?

Generally, Gerry and I are pretty strict about bedtime. Ever since the boys were babies, we bowed to the power of the bedtime routine, including a consistent lights out time. Even though the rest of our day is usually a study in ordered chaos, bedtime is different. It a time of harmony, cleanliness, literature, cuddling, and whispers. That’s the ideal, anyway.
But, as all of us who parent know, even the most honored routines can be tweaked and sometimes disregarded. Summer is a good example of that. Our evening routines stayed the same, but the time was a little bit later. Weekends are often a toss up, if we are out having lots of fun. I believe that the structure has made my boys flexible, if that makes any sense.
I have wanted to take the boys out for a nighttime walk for quite a while. I wanted them to don their headlamps, and head out into a dark night with their parents as nature neighborhood guides. I think it would be fun to see their everyday world through the gleam of a flashlight. Unfortunately, I haven’t found just the right night, where the stars align on a weekend evening to make this night walk possible. But I will do it. Eventually.
However, I did find us stretching the boundaries of bedtime one evening this week. We were playing with the kids on our street after dinner, and I lost track of time. Gerry arrived home late from work and wanted to play with the boys for a while. The daylight started to fade as they played. I called Henry aside and asked if he wanted to stroll up the street and get the mail (there is a box at the end of the cul de sac).
We walked hand in hand up the sidewalk. I asked about his day and he was surprisingly chatty. At the mailbox he admired the pink clouds and said “Mom, I love twilight.” I had to smile, because is my favorite time of the day too.
Every evening at the same time, every day, a huge flock of black birds flies over our neighborhood. There are so many that the event goes on for a few minutes. During our walk this evening the birds appeared. We wondered where they were going, where they had been all day, how they all knew to meet up at the same time. I remarked that those birds have a perfect nighttime routine, like us.
Like magic, all the streetlights flickered on at the same time. As a girl, I used to watch for that moment every night from my bedroom window. I thought it was wonderful when I was able to catch it. Henry also felt the magic as he exclaimed, “Wow Mommy! Those light make our shadows really really long!” And indeed they did. Our shadows looked like long stick figures on the sidewalk.
Our evening stroll didn’t last more than ten minutes, but it was perfect. A small window of time with my boy at the end of a busy day. He probably won’t remember our walk, but I know that I will. I will remember his five-year-old hand in mine and how we felt wonder at the sight of birds and shadows. I think I may have to build an occasional stroll into our nighttime routine. It was totally worth it.

I love a fair. I have been telling anyone who will listen just how excited I was about heading to the county fair this weekend. I love the animals, the rides, the games, the lights, and of course, the food. Ah…the food. It is one of those days in the year when we let the boys have and do whatever they like, as long as it isn’t too dangerous. Cotton candy? Yes! Humungous scary slide? Yes, yes, and yes! It is wonderful to see their little faces light up when they ask for treats and actually get what they want.
This year, I decided to put on my Sid the Science Kid filter while at the fair. Would I be able to tie some our learning from Sid to a day at the county fair? I wanted to try.
For starters, I dragged all three of my boys (Dad included) through all of the animal exhibits. It is my favorite part. Not so much for them, because they were chomping at the bit to get into the Hall of Mirrors. Natural science abounds in the livestock exhibits! We saw baby pigs and a big mama pig. We learned about their weight, age, and even got to vote on names. (Lots of data!) We examined chickens and saw more varieties than I even knew existed. We used our senses as we walked among smelly cows, sheep, and goats. Leo had his nose pinched all the time. It was fun to see the prize animals and learn more about the farm. I wanted to look more, but the Hall of Mirrors beckoned.
The rides were a wonder of engineering and physics principles. If I thought about it too hard, I got butterflies in my stomach. My boys are brave, and no ride was too scary. Thank goodness for some of those height restrictions. It was so great to see science in motion, so to speak. The best example was the long slide. Both boys climbed the tall stairs, carrying a sack, and came speeding down with smiles of glee. The immediately wanted to do it again, and we said Yes! This time, the boys came sliding down flat on their backs, laughing even harder. When I questioned Henry about it later he explained that lying down was faster because there was less wind than when they sat up. Science Kids at work!
I thought a lot about lights as the afternoon turned to evening. This week on Sid the Science Kid, the children explore light and it’s sources. There was no lack for light sources at the county fair. As we went up on the Ferris wheel, I pointed out that it was twilight. Henry had asked me the meaning of the word, earlier in the week. It is the time when day turns into night…not dark but not sunny. The fair was the perfect place to see that: it wasn’t dark, but the carnival lights were wondrous to see from above.
We played a game where the force of water caused a balloon to fill up and POP we had a winner! Henry and I watched a man use all his strength to hit a hammer and make the lights go on for a prize. Both boys learned about measurement as they stood tall to see if their height would allow them on a ride. We think that Leo is about 41″, because he had to stretch to follow Henry onto rides that required 42″. And Leo learned that a corn dog is a delicious Sometimes Food.
The last stop of the night was on the bouncy trampoline. Henry and Leo were outfitted in harnesses, attached to long elastic ropes, and jumped on a big trampoline. Gerry and I observed as the instructors adjusted the length and tension of the ropes to help the boys jump higher and higher. To be honest, I don’t know how to explain the physics of how the whole thing worked, but boy, did I have to trust the science! Henry and Leo were gleeful, so I am thankful for science that made it all work.
As you may know by now, I really like the way Sid teaches my family how to find science in our everyday life. I thought that the fair would be a tough science challenge, but I was wrong. Science is everywhere, even at the county fair.
Happy summer to everyone! What kind of science do you find at the fair, or on other unexpected adventures?

I have a love/hate relationship with daylight savings. I love summer! I hate it when I can’t get predictable sleep. I am NOT a morning person. I work pretty hard at maintaining a schedule with Henry and Leo, especially at bedtime. The structure and predictability works well for the boys. The knowledge that I will be done for the evening at 8pm is essential for my sanity. Henry and Leo also wake up at 7am on the dot every day. I know how lucky I am; believe me. We’ve got a nice thing going here and I don’t want to mess with it.
But twice a year, the calendar (or is it the government?) steps in to tinker with my harmonious schedule. When Henry was a baby I followed the advice of friends and started putting him to bed 15 minutes earlier a week before the changing of the clocks. It was hard work, but seemed to be worth it. The past year or two we’ve hit the time change running and struggled for at least a week to get back to our sweet spot at bedtime and in the morning. I think the key is to stick to the same bedtime, no matter the time change. Act as if it never happened.
My own mom and dad employed that technique. I remember having to go to bed when the light was still out in the summertime as a child. I could still hear my neighborhood friends playing outside. But bedtime was sacred. And I guess it was the best thing for me…it’s not like I didn’t fall to sleep.
I think it is time for me to relax about daylight savings time. I don’t need to be afraid. If I examine it from a scientific standpoint, the idea of daylight savings is quite interesting. I did some Internet research and realized that my ideas about daylight savings were all wrong. I always believed that we moved the clock around based on some sort of old-timer farming/harvest thing. Wrong. Turns out that daylight savings is about saving energy. Some folks think it works, other don’t. Here is the link to the article I read, in case you are interested. (Yes, I can be geeky.)
Fact checking can be useful and even fun. As Sid will learn later this season, we can’t always believe what we hear when it comes to science and sometimes we need to check our sources. It’s hard to let go of what you think you know sometimes…what do you mean we aren’t moving the clocks for the farmers? But local folklore isn’t always true. Although I am not convinced that daylight savings can make a huge impact on energy consumption around the country, I do know it gets us outside in the light of the sun for more time every day.
For all of my complaining about daylight savings, I cannot deny the relief of knowing that summer is right around the corner. The days are already longer. This evening we were able to play on the beach well after 6pm and dusk seemed to fall a little gentler. The boys played in the long shadows cast from the light from the beach restaurant where we had dinner. Henry made monsters with his shadows as Leo giggled and jumped beside him. It was fun, and it was simply like summer.
Longer days mean more time at the pool, the park, and in the backyard. It’s shorts, bare feet, sand, and sun. So I have to sacrifice a few days of normal sleep. More light and longer shadows are worth it.
Do you have any tips about how to manage daylight savings with your kids? What are you looking forward to this summer?

Happy New Year! Thanks for coming back to read more about our family adventures in science. I am happy to report that we enjoyed the vacation holiday season in spite of a nasty stomach flu that rendered us housebound for both Christmas and New Years. Such is life with our germ-attracting little ones. To be totally honest, I feel responsible for bringing the plague to our family. In an effort to fill every moment of vacation week, I planned lots of events with the boys that involved cavorting in germ ridden locales, such as a jolly jumper play space, an indoor park at a fast food chain, and the play space at the mall. I know that many of you out there are groaning and wagging your fingers at me. I just wanted the boys to busy and really exhausted every night. Well, I got that and SO much more. I will spare you the details.
On to the brighter side of the holidays…
Among the many wonderful gifts the boys received was a Sid the Science Kid microphone. Leo enjoys running around proclaiming: “Science Kid in the HOUSE!” Adorable.
Today’s science discussion was about shadows. In the episode “Shadow Smile,” Sid sets out to discover why his shadow does not smile back at him. It is one of those episodes that gave me the correct academic language to back up what I instinctually know about shadows. While watching the show Henry and Leo joined in with the Sid gang as they pretended to be each other’s shadows. I was fascinated to watch them work together to take on the role of each other’s shadows. As usual, there was plenty of giggling.
The boys were really motivated by the activity from the episode: making shadow puppets. Our shadow puppet project lasted a full afternoon and employed aspects of science, art, fine motor skills, and lots of fun family time.
The first step was to make the puppets. Since I am not much of an artist, the boys and I used stencils of trucks for our puppets. The fish is freehand, as you can probably tell. Here are the boys hard at work:
I had to search around for paper that was hefty enough to hold the craft stick. I ended up using the back of a construction paper tablet.
The final products:
Then it was time to make shadows. We used our trusty headlamps as the light source and started the show. Leo and Henry understood right away that the colors from the puppets wouldn’t be visible. We spent more time experimenting with the distance between the puppet and the light source. The size of the image on the wall was directly related to how close or far the puppet was from the headlamp. We also had to practice keeping our bodies and hands out of the way so as not to block the light.
Here is what the show looked like:
The headlamp also has a red light that we used to make more discoveries. Henry made a prediction about the color of the shadow in the red light and he was correct! The shadow stays dark, no matter what color the light.
After the bulldozer and snowplow devoured the fish and rammed into each other a few times, Henry and Leo were ready to make their own hand shadow puppets. They talked a lot about the animals and how to manipulate their fingers. Here they are trying to figure it all out:
This one of those activities that I know we’ll come back to again and again. I really liked listening to my two boys talk together and make predictions as a team. They learned by trial and error while being totally entertained. I can’t wait for the next puppet show!
What kinds of activities inspire teamwork and collaboration with your kids? Are you noticing more science in your family activities?

Last month I told you about a fun fort activity we experimented with to explore the absence of light. Sid the Science Kid is a gift that keeps giving, as far as we’re concerned. As the Light and Shadow cycle rolls around again this week, I have a few more stories about the role of light in our lives.
On a recent Friday night, we found ourselves without power. During dinner. Henry and Leo were very excited and a little scared as Gerry and I ran around trying to find candles and flashlights. I overheard Henry reminding an apprehensive Leo that things were the same in the dark as they are in the light…nothing to be afraid of. (Thanks Sid!) Gerry searched our box-filled garage for flashlights while I hunted around the house for dusty candles. I say “dusty” because I don’t think we’ve lit a candle since before Henry was born. To tell you the truth, I was thrilled about the blackout. I didn’t care about the whys or how long or even that dinner was forgotten. I immediately saw the potential for family time. We all gathered in the living room for a family dance party to music from my fully charged iPad. We danced by candlelight and it was so special. I definitely felt a twinge of disappointment when the lights came back on at bedtime. I am sure Gerry and I watched Leo and Henry make a life-long memory that night.
The blackout led to a great dad purchase: headlamps for the boys. Now they spend full afternoons finding dark places in the house, like my closet, to hide away in and switch on their lamps. Great scientific tools! I pretend not to notice where they are and eavesdrop as they whisper secret instructions and crawl around among my shoes. I think there is something universal in this childhood spirit of adventure, as they explore light and dark, what scares them and what makes them feel safe. I listen to my sweet boys and I am transported to my own mother’s closet where my brother Jeff used to hide. I remember the smell of leather and Chanel No. 5. I wonder what Henry and Leo will remember.
While the boys spent the month of November learning about the dark, December came roaring in with all the light and cheer of the holidays. And I mean that literally. As a transplanted New Englander, I am grateful for the bright sun illuminating my days. I am also grateful for the gift of diversity in our lives as the boys learned about Chanukah for the first time this year. The boys were captivated by the Chanukah story and very interested in lighting Menorah candles. Leo was particularly enchanted as we watched a dear friend light the candles and sing the blessings at a Chanukah party last weekend. As I watched Leo in the candlelight, I choked up, knowing that he was growing a little bit in front of my eyes. It was beautiful.
In our own home, Christmas came barreling in over the weekend. The lights are up on the house, on the tree in the living room, in the little tree in the boys’ room, and wherever else I decided to string lights. At night when I turn off the regular lights, the house glows with Christmas illumination. I love it and the boys do too. For me, the Christmas lights make this new house in California feel like home for the first time. Maybe I am finally settling in.
And what does all this have to do with Sid the Science Kid? Well, on the surface, not too much. However, as this tends to be the time of year for reflection, I can think of quite a few ways in which Sid and this blog have illuminated my life this year. I am so much more aware of the questions Leo and Henry ask. I am more present and less likely to brush the questions off in the bustle of the day. I am willing to admit when I don’t have the answers and explore with them. Henry and Leo are becoming critical thinkers right before my eyes and that is amazing to me.
I would love to hear about the way you illuminate the holidays!

I am really enjoying the new cycle on Sid the Science Kid about light and darkness. In the episode “Discovering Darkness,” Sid learns about darkness in order to overcome his fears. While Henry and Leo are not afraid of the dark, I really like the idea of using science and experiments as a way to allay a child’s fears. The episode also featured an activity that involves building a fort.
The mom in me is not a huge fan of “forting.” My living room is turned upside down (quite literally), cushions stacked in precarious positions, blankets unfolded, toys under the furniture, and little boys fight as it all comes tumbling down on their heads. Clean up is usually a battle. Not fun for me.
On the other hand, the little kid in me remembers the joy of building a fort in the living room: an indoor clubhouse and adventures in the living room created out of cushions and blankets. I loved pretending with my own brothers in our couch forts. It was fun and adventure. I just don’t remember there being such a mess!
When I suggested that we conduct a family experiment the boys had a lukewarm reaction. However, when I said our experiment would include making a fort it was like they hit the jackpot. Whoops, hollers, yells, and hurrahs rang through the house.
Dad joined in for the fun as we gathered chairs from the kitchen, blankets, a flashlight, and a cardboard box for a roof. I asked the boys to sit under the chairs as Dad and I covered the fort with blankets. Their job was to tell us when it was dark in the fort. No light coming in. They were confused at first because they wanted a door to the fort, but soon got the hang of it. I think Henry and Leo liked telling us what to do. They boys yelled out directions like: Over where the leaves are! NO OVER HERE! WAIT! There’s light at the bottom! Cover it!
We had to use many blankets and even though it was nighttime, we never achieved full darkness. But that didn’t matter. Once it was mostly dark, I crawled in with Henry while Dad and Leo shone the flashlight around. I took a moment to bring some science concepts into the play:
“Darkness is the absence of light. Do you understand what that means?”
“Mom, I thought that absence was when someone was missing at school.”
“You are so close, Henry! Absent is like the word absence. The light is missing from our fort!”
Talk about a light going off in a kid’s head! I was so impressed by Henry’s word association. I am a word person and I love making vocabulary connections with the kids. It was a great moment.
We played in the fort for a long time. The kids really enjoyed switching roles around: light spotter, blanket adjuster, flashlight holder, and fort architect. I am always looking for new things we can do as a family at home. This activity was great because everyone was involved, we learned something, and it did not involve removing all the cushions from my couch. You can’t go wrong with that.
What are some of your favorite family activities for at home? How do you build learning opportunities into family time?

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

What's this?

PBS Parents Picks

  1. Wild Kratts image

    Wild Kratts App Teaches Young Children How to Care for Animals

    In this app, kids are charge of feeding, washing, and playing with baby animals.

  2. Curious Kids image

    How (And Why) To Encourage Curiosity

    "...when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better."

  3. Gardening Benefits image

    The Benefits of Gardening With Kids

    Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. A few containers and soil in a sunny spot will do.

PBS Parents Newsletter

Find activities, parenting tips, games from your child's favorite PBS KIDS programs and more.