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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Category: Tools & Measurement

It has been funny to watch Leo navigate through his first few weeks of Kindergarten. I wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to feel or respond to the new environment, friends, and routine. To be honest, Leo has surprised me. The best way I can describe his reaction is call it “cool and curious.” Leo likes school, but doesn’t have a lot of excitement. He has some gripes about playground rules and access to toys, but he is sailing along with a measure quiet curiosity. “When can I buy lunch?” “When can I play with the blocks?” “When can my new friend come over?” The academics seem to be taking a back seat.

At home, however, Leo is very excited about learning. Henry has started bringing homework to complete, and Leo wants to participate. We have been playing a math game where I show the boys a group of pennies (5). I take pennies (2) and hide them in one hand. I show the boys what is left (3) and they have to tell me how many pennies they need to make 5 (2). It is a fun way to work on addition facts. Henry is a whiz and we are already working with 12 pennies. Leo, not to be outdone, wants to work up to 6. It’s interesting to watch him work it out in his mind. Henry understands that there is a level of memorization happening while Leo patiently counts with his fingers. I am enjoying bringing math into the house in a fun way.

It seemed like a perfect time to introduce Leo to the concept of Estimation. Henry and I did the Sid Investigation called Estimation Exploration last year, but I hadn’t introduced the concept to Leo yet. When I told Leo we were going to do Sid Homework, he jumped with excitement. Sid has such a special place in his little heart! I put a handful of colored rocks in a bowl and we began.

First, I asked him to look at the bowl. How full was it? He answered that is was almost half full. Next, I asked him to count out 10 stones. I wanted him to see what that amount looked like.


Then I had him put the stones back. This was where the fun started. I asked him to make a guess, or estimation, about how many stones were in the bowl. He took a very long time deciding and came up with 24. Before I could even ask him “How do we check your estimate?” Leo was counting the rocks in the bowl. We lined the stones up in two groups of 10 and counted to 20. Leo was very pleased that his estimate was so close.

We played more rounds; I would add stones or take stones away. A couple of times Leo tried to count stones with his eyes instead of estimating. He didn’t want to be “wrong”. I also took the opportunity to start basic grouping and understanding of sets and skip counting. We made groups of 10s, 5s, and 2s with the stones. We counted by 2s and tried counting by 5s. Leo could have plugged along all night.

More and more, I am finding myself in a position where my boys’ abilities and mental capacity far exceeds my expectations. At this age, they are so smart and so willing to take on new concepts. Leo isn’t wary of math or science, much in the same way he isn’t afraid of Kindergarten. New things mean new possibilities and another chance to “get it right” and excel. It’s amazing how much I learn from them, even with the simple act of doing homework or math games.

What new concepts are your kids bringing home? Are you surprised about how much their little brains can soak up?

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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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?

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.
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?

I was still in my pjs one morning last week when my cell phone rang. I saw that is was my friend Joy from around the corner, and decided to call her later. I was busy washing the kitchen floors while the boys were quietly watching TV. I went back to work and the phone rang again. It was Joy calling for a second time. Strange, I thought. I realized I should answer, but needed to run out to the garage to put away the mop first. From the garage I could hear kids running around and calling out to each other excitedly from the street. On my way back in, the doorbell rang. What the heck was going on? This morning started to feel far from normal.
I opened the door to a tall blond woman with enormous white dog on a leash.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly. “Do you have Bob’s phone number? I am Kate. I used to live across the street. Sherman is loose and walking into the road. My kids are keeping and eye on him. And this is Scooby, my dog.”
Sherman loose and in the road? Then it all started to make sense. Joy calling from around the corner and the kids in the front yard. Sherman, the tortoise next door had somehow escaped from his yard and was roaming the neighborhood. This required immediate attention.
“Henry and Leo!” I yelled. “Put your shoes on! We need to rescue Sherman!” And we all sprinted out the door in our pjs.
The boys know exactly who Sherman is. Sherman is a celebrity in our neighborhood. Sherman is a teenage tortoise who lives next door with his owner Bob. When we first moved in, the boys were delighted. Bob often walks Sherman around the neighborhood and everyone comes out to watch. People stop their cars and take photos. On July 4th, Sherman paraded around the neighborhood with an American flag taped to his shell. Sherman is cool and the kids love him.
And today Sherman needed out help. We raced up the street where we found Joy, her son Brayden, Kathy, and her three kids trying to corral Sherman. And Sherman wasn’t having it. He wanted to walk into the street it was hard to keep him on the sidewalk. Size wise, Sherman is quite large and very heavy. We were all afraid of hurting him. And none of us could pick him up. What were we going to do? The kids had all sorts of ideas involving ropes, muscles, coaxing Sherman with food, and even calling a zoo.
While we pondered this dilemma, I called Bob and explained the situation. Needless to say, he was distressed about Sherman. He explained that his son had been by house earlier and must have left the gate open.
“Trina, go get the scooter in my side yard,” Bob implored. “You can use that to wheel Sherman home.”
Wheel Sherman home! Of course! A SIMPLE MACHINE was what we needed. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. Bob always had the scooter when he took Sherman out for a walk. I sent Henry and one of the other boys running back to the house to get the scooter. From then on it was pretty easy. Joy’s neighbor Steve came out to lift Sherman on to the scooter. Then the kids carefully rolled him home. Within 10 minutes Sherman was back home, safe and sound.
The kids all knew that the scooter was the right tool for the job. Wheels made our impossible task a success. I, of course, took the opportunity to point that fact out and basically got the equivalent of “DUH” from the participants. I was just glad to get the tortoise back into the yard. It was quite an adventure and something the whole neighborhood will talk about for a while.
After the commotion died down and we were all just chatting in our pjs my cell phone rang again. It was Bob.
“Thanks for all of your help Trina. But one question: Is the dog still in the backyard too?”
Uh oh…this one might take more than a scooter! Off to the rescue gang!

When I first read through the Estimation Exploration on the Sid website, I was a bit confused. How could they expect preschoolers to understand such an abstract concept like estimation? I even thought about talking to Kim Brenneman, an educational consultant on Sid and my blogging partner here online. I thought that maybe they intended this activity for older kids. Henry and Leo certainly couldn’t be expected to grasp estimation, right?
Boy, did I ever underestimate my boys.
First Leo watched the episode called Enough with the Seashells! where Sid estimates the amount of shells in a jar. Leo watched the show and went on to do other things. Later in the car, I listened as Leo began to tell Henry about estimation.
Leo: Henry, did you know that you can look at a pile of stuff and guess how many there are?
Henry: What kind of stuff?
Leo: You know, seashells, rocks, M&Ms.
Henry: Cool.
Okay, it’s not rocket science, but it was clear to me that Leo learned something from the show. So, I decided to give the activity a try. I had Henry watch the episode too, and Leo watched for a second time. I watched too and I noticed the usage of important terms such as more than, less than, and fewer during the episode. I have to admit that I had no idea there was such a thing as an “estimation jar” as a science tool.
The boys have a basket of pretty stones and a small jar that we use as a reward counter. The boys do great things like making a bed, sharing with each other, or cleaning up toys and we give them a stone or two for the jar. When the jar is filled, they boys get a reward such as a movie outing or a trip to a toy store. It works (when we remember to do it). The stones and the jar were perfect for this activity.
I asked Henry to count out 10 stones and put them into a pile. Then I counted 22 stones and put them in the jar. I kept the visual pile close by and asked the boys to estimate how many were in the jar. More than 10? Less than 10? Leo immediately went for an outlandish answer: 109. Henry however, took his time and guessed 12. Granted, 12 isn’t close to 22, but it is in the ballpark and made for a good guess.
Then, it was time to count. I was pleased to listen as Henry counted out all the stones. I showed him how to place the stones in groups of 10 to help with his counting. Henry understood that his estimation was off, but that he recognized more than 10.
Leo just likes to count. It was so cute to watch him meticulously count the stones and put them in a line. He counted out of order in the teens, but I gently put him back on track. We played the estimation game a few more times and by the end, Leo was making reasonable estimations. Henry even got the number right on the last time through.
I very rarely play any kind of math or counting games with the kids. This estimation activity brought math and science together in a really fun and engaging way. Henry and Leo clearly understand that you don’t have to count out every single number in a pile (although they like to sometimes) and that an estimation can tell them “about how much” is there. I clearly understand that I need to build more math into our play and stop underestimating what my preschoolers can do. This was a nice, gentle reminder. I’ll let Kim and the team at Sid keep doing what they do best, without any complaints from this mom!
What kinds of everyday objects could you use to conduct the Estimation Exploration with your kids? Have you ever underestimated what your preschooler can accomplish?

I love charts. Visual organization really appeals to me. Although I struggle to stay on top of my crazy life, I do enjoy making a list, planning a trip, charting progress, or looking at a cool pie chart on my bank statement. As children will learn this week on Sid the Science Kid a chart is: A science tool that we use to record information. This information is called data. Charts can help us remember how many chores we’ve done, tell us what the weather will be, and record how many children are in school. It’s never too early to teach children about charts, I believe, because of the visual nature of how information is organized.
Charts can help parents too. When I was a new mom, and Henry was under two years old, Gerry and I took a number of “parent enrichment classes.” We went to a CPR class, a baby nutrition class, a potty training class, and a positive discipline class. These evenings provided us with good tips, practical strategies, connections with other parents in our community, and a night out. They also provided a ton of great charting ideas: charts for food, charts for how to get dressed, charts for chores (later on), homework charts, and sticker reward charts.
Ah, the sticker reward charts! Our biggest event with a sticker reward chart was with potty training. By the time Henry was well into his third year, I got a little antsy about the potty training. At the potty training class I was comforted to hear that only 80% of boys are potty trained by the time they are 3 ½. Still, I wanted something to kick-start the process. I went online, found a chart, and let Henry pick a Spiderman motif. We bought stickers and I explained to Henry that he could have a sticker every time he peed in the potty. (Along with an M&M to sweeten the deal.) Finally, I told him that he could pick out a new toy when the chart was full. He needed to have stickers in all the little boxes.
And the games began. Suffice it to say that Henry was only mildly interested in the stickers and often forgot about the candy. I reminded him about the final reward occasionally, but Henry didn’t seem to make the connection. That all changed when Henry saw the big plastic Bat Cave.
Henry really wanted that Bat Cave. It was HUGE and came with Batman, Robin, and a Bat car. So my clever little boy got to work on his sticker chart. In ONE day. Yes, one day. Henry diligently went into the bathroom many, many times during the day and peed in the potty. He did not have a single accident in his big boy underwear. I had no choice but to follow along and reward him as I promised. Lots of M&Ms and many stickers. In fact, a whole chart full of stickers.
I admired Henry’s entrepreneurship while fuming at being outsmarted by a three year old. That weekend we were at the toy store. Henry was beyond thrilled. Two years later, that Bat Cave is still one of Henry’s favorite toys. And he is fully potty trained. Touché, young man!
I think charts can be such an amazing resource when used in the correct way. Both boys really enjoy it when Sid conducts his interviews with the other kids and shows his results on a chart. I have to admit that Henry does understand how to make and use a chart. However, I think that in our house, charts will be used purely as informational tools, as opposed to reward systems.
Have you had success with sticker reward charts? How do you use charts in your everyday life with your children?

I think that Henry and I were among Sid the Science Kid’s very first fans. Sid was his favorite for a long time. Nowadays Leo and I do most of the Sid watching while Henry is at Jr. Kindergarten. But one episode this week brought back a great Sid-inspired memory with Henry.

The Whale Episode about non-standard units of measurement was a big hit in our house. As soon as Henry saw the classroom measured in “Geralds,” he insisted on trying it himself. I mean right away. He wanted to know how many “Henrys” our living room measured. At that point, we lived in MA in a teeny tiny house and our cramped living room was decorated in Early Century Toys for Boys. I had to clear a Henry-sized path across the room for our investigation. With lots of giggling and a train track as a block we learned that our living room was in fact 6 ½ Henrys wide. Henry promptly asked for a “real” ruler and told everyone about the measurement for weeks.

It was obvious that the activity stuck with my little scientist when a few days later he asked if we could make a “paper measure of himself.” It took a moment for my cluttered brain to realize he was talking about the Kid Ruler from the Whale episode. With more giggling and planning we made a traced cutout of Henry. (I used the roll of paper from our easel. At the time it was the perfect size, which is hard to believe when I look at him now.) Neither Henry nor I really gravitate towards art projects but this one was a blast. We were excited to dig into our markers and “dress” the Henry ruler, give him a face, hair, and shoes. When we measured the living room again it was fun to verify our earlier calculation: 6 ½ Henrys wide.

Then the activity became something extra special. I suggested that we send the Henry Ruler to Uncle Jeff in Seattle. Henry loved participating in packing up the Henry Ruler and putting it in the mail. My brother was thrilled to receive a life-sized portrait of Henry. He has it hanging in his apartment to this day. I loved the idea that Jeff could see how much Henry had grown since our last visit and it was fun to listen in on their next phone conversation as Henry told Jeff about the investigation. It was sweet.

Measurement is a tough concept to teach a preschooler. They need concrete background knowledge. Of course, the folks on the show know their stuff. What I appreciate is that the episode taught the concept from Henry’s perspective and then, by extension, gave him an outlet to express himself creatively in a hands-on way. I learned that Henry likes to participate in art projects that have a purpose and a story behind them. My son may not like to sit with a blank piece of paper and crayons, but tell him to decorate a paper airplane and he is all for it. I am happier with some structure as well. I may have to steal the Henry Ruler back someday!

Have you had any lasting Sid fan moments? How does your child like to express him or herself creatively?

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