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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Category: Weather

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?

Leo does not fit in his froggy raincoat and yellow boots anymore. We discovered this last week when the rain was coming down in buckets and we were late for school. “Get your froggy raincoat!” I yelled from the kitchen. I heard Leo head to the hall closet and rustle around. When he came back, I discovered the sad truth. Leo’s arms were sticking out of the raincoat and the Velcro was straining at closure. I stood there for a moment and watched my baby morph from a two year old into a tall four year old before my eyes. Here is Leo in his froggy raincoat less than a year ago.
That’s been happening a lot lately with Leo. I pulled down Henry’s old 5T clothes this week to transition into Leo’s wardrobe. When Leo put on one of Henry’s old long sleeve t-shirts he protested because it was too “long.” Leo is used to wearing shirts that barely pass his belly button because his mommy (ahem) can’t bear to put away some of his cuter t-shirts. Invariably when I take either of the boys to get new shoes, I discover that they have been shoving their feet into a pair of sneakers at least a size too small. I am in denial…and Leo is only 4! What happens at 16?
The loss of the froggy raincoat hit me hard. We’ve had it for at least fours years because Henry wore it too. Raincoats are important to us because rain watching and puddle hopping is a big event with the Helfrich family. It doesn’t rain very often where we live and when it does, we get right out in it!
Leo loves to observe puddles and searches our neighborhood to find the deepest specimens for jumping into. The other day I watched him squat down next at the sidewalk’s edge and observe the water run off with great interest. I leaned down next to him to see what was going on.
“Mom, see that little leaf?” he said pointing. “It is stuck in a whirlpool spinning and spinning. I like that.”
And indeed it was. The leaf was turning gently as the water rushed by to the drain. We talked a bit about whirlpools before he rushed off to find worms.
My favorite time to observe the rain is early in the morning, from the comforts of a cozy bed. Leo and Henry usually make their way into our bed for a morning cuddle. Recently we were all snuggled in when Henry said, “Listen to the rain!”
It was pouring outside. The rain was hitting the house hard and for a moment we imagined we were in a tropical rain forest. As the rain hit the skylight in the bathroom it sounded like a big drum. The boys made observations about the sounds and we all snuggled in a little closer. This was a magical kind of science moment. And a fleeting one.
The good news is that Henry has also grown out of his raincoat and Leo is acquiring the coveted fireman rain outfit complete with red fire detailed boots. Henry claims that the fireman raincoat is for babies and he doesn’t like it when the grownups at school call him “Little Fireman.” Alas, 6 years old is too mature for some good clean rain fun. Luckily, Leo does not share that sentiment. He is more than happy to don the fireman raincoat.
The froggy raincoat will be retired and passed on to a worthy family friend. No matter what the color or style of the rain gear, all of us look forward to our next romp in the rain.
Happy holidays everyone! Science Kids on the Loose will be off for the next couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

I spend a lot of time thinking about the weather. Maybe it has to do with growing up in the Boston area where it can be sunny and warm on the way to work and blizzard conditions on the commute home. I hate to be cold, and I am always worried that I won’t have the right gear for the outdoors. I also like to talk about the weather, compare seasons to other years, and make fun of weather forecasters. It’s in my roots!
One of the big selling points for our move to Southern California was the warm weather and sunny skies. For over 7 months now I have tried to educate myself about layering clothing, the Santa Ana winds, the 40 degree temperature difference between my town and the beach, fire weather, and UV rays. But in a strikingly New Englandish way, the weather in my area has been anything but predictable and “normal.”
The weather forecasters are calling for SNOW in our area this weekend. Really?!
I don’t know what to think! Do I pull out the boots and parkas? Should I drive the boys into the foothills to enjoy the snowfall? Didn’t I move 3,000 miles to escape winter? It might just mean that the snow followed me. There must be a scientific explanation!
In a further burst of irony, I planned to conduct science experiments with Leo this week about the weather. He received a cool Sid the Science Kid Learning Science Kit over the holidays. The kit, called Why Do I Need a Jacket? contains fun tools for exploring weather. I like it because it has experiments like the ones on the show and online, but the tools are included. There is also a science journal, which Leo was quite interested in.
Since it is raining today, we decided to set up the rain gauge to see how much rainfall we could measure. The kit provided great questions about the sky, along with the scientific names for some clouds. Leo is always so happy to put on his froggy coat and yellow rain boots. We tromped into the back yard and stuck the gauge in the dirt. It’s been there all day and we keep checking on it. Even though the rain had been falling steadily, the gauge is not filling very much.
My favorite item in the kit is the UV bead bracelets. We spent a bit of time threading the beads onto the bracelet. Easier said that done! I explained to Leo that the clear beads would change color outside with the UV rays. We talked about our previous sunscreen experiment how the sun can be harmful to our skin. Then I asked him to predict if the colors on the bracelet would change. Remember, it was raining outside. We both predicted the beads would not change colors.
The proof is in the scientific evidence!
UV rays are present in the daytime, even when it is raining! We were so surprised. Leo kept the bracelets on in the car to when we went to pick Henry up from school so beads changed to clear again. It was so great for Leo to have the immediate cause and effect relationship to observe. We had a lot to talk about in the car. I am looking forward to expanding on the activity on a sunny day. Will the beads be brighter? What will happen if we put sunscreen on the beads? We can’t wait to find out.
The great thing about a science kit aimed at preschoolers is the hands-on, exploratory nature of the tools and activities. I even learned something valuable too: sunscreen is necessary on cloudy days! I may even have to take the bracelets with me as we frolic in the southern California snow!
How do you explore the weather with your kids? What kinds of conversations to your have with your kids about the weather?

Sometimes when I get together with other mommy/parent friends we end up chatting about “when we were kids.” We talk about the cartoons we watched and how simple, yet violent they were. We reminisce about the hours of playtime around the neighborhood without parental supervision. This often leads to a discussion about technology…who remembers the rotary phone? Cable television was new and we were a one-car family. Parenting trends have certainly changed. Sometimes I feel like we, as parents and caregivers in the 21st century, have a lot more to worry about. And that makes me crabby.
However, one thing that has certainly changed for the better is the prolific use of sunscreen on our children and on ourselves. And let me tell you, it took me a long time to get there. I was a teen who spent the months of June to September covered in baby oil. Sun protection was to be avoided at all costs. As a teen in the 80s, bronze was the color I wanted to achieve. (What is bronze, exactly? I wanted to look like metal?) As I got older, I started to listen to the health news and wore more sunscreen. But the moment of real understanding came when a close family member was diagnosed with skin cancer a couple of years ago. It was treatable and all is well, but for a little while it was extremely scary. I went to the dermatologist for a baseline check of all my freckles and spots. That’s when I built sunscreen into our daily life.
Then there are my boys. Henry is so fair that you can practically count all his veins. Leo is less so, but we still have to be careful. Sunscreen has become an everyday thing for me. A no-brainer. Especially as we live in Southern California. For my kids, sunscreen is a part of the daily routine like brushing our teeth. As we move further into winter and fall here it is easy to forget sometimes. The funny thing is that the boys DO remember. They have never (knock on wood) had a sunburn so the idea of one is terrifying. (Good work Mom! Isn’t fear an old-fashioned parenting strategy?)
Leo was very interested in the Sid episode about sunscreen and we decided to try the Sunblock Investigation. When I asked Leo about sunscreen he turned out to be quite the little expert. When asked why we wear sunscreen he replied: “So the sun doesn’t hurt our skin. (Pause) And so we can go swimming.” He also described a sunburn as “when you skin is hot and red.”
The investigation involves smearing sunscreen on one half of a sheet of
construction paper (Leo loved that!) and letting the paper sunbathe for several hours. We chose a blue piece of paper and put it on the back porch. Then, for the rest of the afternoon we ran around, following the sun, moving the paper from spot to spot. It eventually ended up across the street in a neighbors’ driveway.
Unfortunately, our results were inconclusive. We used the wrong paper. A little investigation into our inconclusive results revealed that the construction paper was the wrong kind for this experiment. It was not the fuzzy kind but matte. I think when I was a kid, there was only one kind! We talked about how the paper was supposed to look and speculated about why it didn’t turn out that way. Leo wisely observed that blue paper is different than skin. I was impressed that the sunscreen didn’t dry up after being in the sun all day. Leo wasn’t disappointed by the results, but he did mention that he prefers painting with paint, not sunscreen.

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
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