The Magic of Mulch

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For a final science experiment in his summer workbook, Travis learned a bit about gardening and soil. You’ll need potting soil for this experiment, as well as any “mulch” that your child gathers, either from your yard or on nature walk. Simple dried leaves and pine needles work just fine!

Travis helped measure out potting soil into two small plastic containers, making sure each contained the same amount (we used 3/4 cup soil per container). Add water to make the soil very wet, and again measure to make sure the containers have an equal amount; we used 1/2 cup.

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Now cover only one with the mulch you’ve gathered. Travis proudly patted this on.

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Place the containers some place sunny and wait 3 days!

After the third day, we headed out to check on our soil, but rain had skewed our results! The idea was that the soil with mulch should remain moister, but instead, both our containers were swamped. Luckily, we had a teachable moment; the soil with no mulch was washed away completely. But the soil under the mulch had been protected! So without intending too, Travis also learned how mulch enhances a garden’s drainage.

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He finished the lesson by answering a few workbook questions about the experiment, which was a great chance for inventive spelling.


Mayflower Soap Ship

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Here’s an easy history lesson for “summer school”, if you’re helping kids transition back towards an academic mode for the fall. It’s a project that’s equal parts history, STEM, and play!

To start, I wanted Travis to learn a bit about the Mayflower ship that carried the Pilgrims to America, and we found an online read-aloud for kids on YouTube. Travis was thunderstruck (pun intended) by images of the voyage across the ocean as the ship was caught in storms and waves.

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Once he finished the video, it was time to create our own ship! Ideally you’ll want a bar of soap that floats for this project and be careful because not all do. Ours was a heavy soap and had a tendency to sink, but we could always nudge it gently back to the top.

To make the sails, cut construction paper (Travis chose blue) to the same size as the soap bar, and tape these “sails” to toothpicks.

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Insert the toothpicks into the soap.

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Travis sent his boat out to sea! Blow gently on the sails and watch the boat move.

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Again, this was tricky since we had to rescue our soap from the bottom of the basin a few times, but Travis loved that he could move it along, and learned a bit about how real sailboats operate.

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And then of course he gave his Legos a ride!

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Finish the project with a drawing of the boat to add in a little art to the mix!

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Shredded Paper Sensory Play

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A recent tub of tissue paper was a fun sensory hit for Veronika, so today we tried it with shredded paper instead! We don’t own a shredder, but I actually wasn’t aiming for the small crinkles of paper that those machines produce. Instead, I use a roll of craft paper and just ripped up tons of it. Because the paper is so thin, I could quadruple layers of it and cut through with scissors, meaning it actually didn’t take long to get a big pile.

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I pondered which container to use (something large enough for Veronika to sit in!) and decided the laundry bin would be most fun. Once it was filled, in went Veronika!

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For the youngest toddlers, simply the sensory experience of all those paper shreds will be enough. Kids can crinkle it, stomp on it…

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…or toss it in the air to make it rain down.

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For older toddlers, consider encouraging a little imaginative play. To wit, Veronika happened to have little astronaut toys in her hands, so we decided this was a far away planet and the astronauts were brave explorers.

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She loved sifting through it with curious fingers.

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We also discovered we could thread bits of shredded paper through the holes of the laundry basket. So it turned out to be a great activity for fine motor skills, too.

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Don’t be surprised if it looks so fun that older siblings steal the bin for a few of their own games! Yes, big brother Travis’s Legos have taken over, in the image below.

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Cloud Dough with Vehicles

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It’s been a long time since I made cloud dough, which is basically just a super soft play dough requiring only flour and oil. In the past I’ve made this with baby oil, but this time I used regular vegetable oil.

Cloud dough should be 8 parts flour to 1 part oil, so I used 4 cups flour and 1/2 cup oil. Mix with a spoon or your fingers until incorporated.

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To add purpose to the play, we added Veronika’s construction vehicles. I also gave her two little cups that I thought we could use to mold sandcastles, but she preferred to use them for scooping, pouring, and filling up her trucks.

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Or vice versa, using the trucks to fill up the cups!

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It was fun to drive trucks through the dough and make tracks.

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Or just to sift through with her fingers. This stuff is always so soft and fluffy.

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It’s also nice for play because it clumps together enough to momentarily hold a shape.

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And when she tired of the game, a quick rinse of cold water got the vehicles clean!

Cork Printing

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Veronika and I have played around with several ways to make dot paints recently and since I had a few corks left over, I figured we’d test out how they worked.

I set out a craft tray with several different colors of metallic craft paint, construction paper for Veronika to dot onto, and the corks.

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It turned out the corks were the perfect size for little toddler hands to hold!

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She loved to dip in the paint…

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…and dot on the paper.

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She tested out all the different colors in this way.

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Then she tried dotting two of the corks together, with a look of very serious concentration on her face.

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This didn’t keep her busy for that long, but it was a cute alternative to a paintbrush, and we always like testing new tools around here.

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