Flying Paper, Two Ways

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Here are two fun ways to harness the power of paper and watch things take flight.

Both of these projects are far less involved than the rockets and planes Travis and I have made recently, but sometimes you just need something simple to fill a lazy morning.

First we made a school of  “flipping fishies”.

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Draw rectangles on white paper and color in. The more colors the better!

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Cut out the rectangles, and cut a notch on each end, facing in opposite directions.

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Slot these notches together and you have fish. Soon we had mommies, daddies, and baby fish.

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Toss them in the air and watch them whirl!

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Interestingly, we discovered that our baby fish swirled much better than the bigger ones we made.

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Next up, we did a repeat of a flying straw we’d made recently with a Kiwi Crate; as with our repeat of the Balloon Rocket, this time we used wide (“milkshake”) straws for better effect.

Cutting out rectangles was great practice for Travis to cut in straight lines!

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For each straw, make one long rectangle, and one short; tape these into circles, and tape onto the straws.

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Hold your straw so the small circle is at the front – and let it soar!

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Those paper circles really catch the wind, and will carry your straw across a room. It’s fun to compare these to a plain old straw, which nose-dives right down.

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Happy flying!

Paper Parachutes

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Travis and I recently made fabric parachutes that were a bit complicated and tangled easily while soaring down. Today we wanted something simpler, because the goal wasn’t so much about the parachute itself as it was to test how to make a parachute fall faster.

For our experiment, we quickly put together paper napkin parachutes.

Decorate your napkins with markers first.

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Travis quickly learned that you need to be gentle drawing on napkins, and was proud when he got the hang of it!

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Cut 4 equal lengths of string for each parachute, and tie around the napkin corners.

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Gather the four lengths of string together in the center, and tie around any small object. Our “contestants” were a feather and a rock. But if you want, multiple toys can get in on the action; this game would be great with Lego people!

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Travis made his hypothesis: that the rock parachute would fall faster than the feather one.  So we headed outside to test it out! A fenced-in overlook made the perfect launch site.

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Even in a still photo you can see the feather parachute lazily drifting down as the rock plummets to the ground.

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The difference here was extremely stark, of course. As mentioned, your kids might want to do multiple launches with items closer in weight. Enjoy the discoveries!

Sidewalk Constellations and Mini-Books

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It was a beautiful morning for sidewalk chalk art, and to add purpose to Travis’s art, I decided to throw in a little STEM learning, too!

We headed outside with our book of constellations, and I challenged him to lay out shells (rocks would work well, too) to represent each star in the pictures. We started with the Big Dipper.

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Could he now connect the lines, following along with the picture in our book? This was a bit of a challenge for Travis, who had to consult the picture between each line, but he ended up with a great dipper.

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The Southern Cross was next. He loved using big shells for two of the stars, and had an a-ha moment when he figured out which way he should draw his chalk lines.

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Then we got silly and made up new constellations. I let his imagination run wild, and soon we had a snake constellation:

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And a ninja constellation:

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Make sure you take pictures of all your artwork before you head inside! I then had these printed so we could put them into a booklet.

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Add one picture per page, along with a fact or two about that constellation.

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We left a page blank, for future imaginative additions!

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These mini-books will serve both as a memory capsule of your day and for storytime down the road.

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Marshmallow Launcher Redux

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Every once in a while, it’s fun to repeat an activity at one- or two-year intervals, and see the differences in the way your children play at different ages. Travis and I first made a marshmallow launcher nearly two years ago, but with some extra Dandie’s marshmallows in the pantry, today we decided to do a repeat!

First, cut the bottom from a few paper cups, one for each launcher you want. At nearly 5 years old, Travis can handle the scissors himself, unlike at age 3!

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I tied the end of a balloon into a knot, then had Travis help snip off the top of the balloon.

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Stretch this balloon over the cut end of the cup, and secure with an elastic.

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Place 1 marshmallow in the cup; pull down on the knot of the balloon and release. Boom!

Needless to say, we soon had marshmallow bombs all over the apartment, and an eager little boy who had to run and grab all the ammo.

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For some experimentation, we tested what happened when we put multiple marshmallows inside, but unsurprisingly, they didn’t launch as far. Then we tried to hone our aim, using some unwitting Ninja Turtles as target practice. Here’s a quick clip:

All in all, what fun!

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Newton’s Tower


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Yesterday, Travis and I marveled at some good old laws of physics and inertia, making pennies fall into a cup. We wanted a repeat of this magic today, so made this tower named in honor of Isaac Newton and his first law of motion: that an object will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

The idea here is to hit only the bottom box in a tower of boxes. The bottom box is moved by an external force, but not so the others. So what would happen to these higher boxes?

You’ll want to use small boxes for this experiment. I had some old gift boxes that were probably about as big as you want to go; smaller would be even better.

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To make them pretty, I wrapped each in a separate shade of construction paper.

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To start, Travis and I tested if we could make the experiment work only three levels high. Zoom! The orange got whacked away with a dowel, and the red and yellow stayed put.

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Could we make it work with four? It worked perfectly – not the orange box off to the side, now.

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Notice the orange off to the side there.

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Needless to say, Travis loved a science experiment that involved whacking things with a stick. I taught him that the secret is to whack the bottom box as hard and as fast as you can. Finally, we challenged ourselves with all 5 boxes.

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As always, there’s something a bit magical about this every time it works.

Motion Magic

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You’ll stun your kids with the way a penny doesn’t move in these games, a fantastic illustration of inertia. You can give a quick physics lesson – basically, things that aren’t moving want to stay put – but whether they grasp the concept or not, they’ll be amazed by the results.

We tried out the motion magic in two ways. For the first, we cut a square of cardboard as a base (using a bit of our Kiwi Crate from the Disk Launchers set). Place the cardboard over a glass, and put a penny on top.

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Quickly flick the cardboard away (from the side, not from underneath). The cardboard will fly away but the penny…

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…falls in the glass! This got a whoa from Travis, who then tried himself and was so proud it worked.

There is something sort of magical about inertia, even for grown-ups. Logically we want that penny to fly away, and every time we heard the clink of the penny in the glass, we were excited.

For the second method, we cut a strip from cardstock. Form it into a circle and staple the edges.

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Place the circle over the glass, with the penny on top.

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Very quickly, put a finger inside the cardstock circle and flick it out of the glass. Where did our penny go?

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Down inside!

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Want to really up the wow factor? Try the classic trick of pulling a tablecloth out from under a plate (you might want to use a paper plate, just in case).

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Is it magic? Nope, it’s inertia of course.

Balloon Propeller

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We were dealing with big stuff for a four-year-old today! After our disk launchers from Kiwi Co introduced Travis to physics in a way even a preschooler could grasp, now we were talking about Newton’s laws of motion. Full disclosure: this required some review for mommy, who hasn’t touched this kind of material since college!

Here’s my quick recap: Newton’s third law of motion states that for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So if the air from a balloon is escaping in one direction, the balloon will try and move forward in the opposite direction, making it spin, in this case.

Here’s how we set it up:

Slightly tug on a balloon and partially inflate it, just to loosen it up – don’t tie off. Now tape the balloon securely to the end of a straw (on the non-bendy side).

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Travis immediately wanted to test out if he could blow up the balloon through the straw – neat!

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Hold the straw on your fingers to identify the point where the straw balances. This is where you’ll insert a straight pin. Poke the pin all the way through the straw, then down into the eraser of a pencil.

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Now blow up the balloon. Have your child hold the pencil, making sure their hand and arm won’t interfere with the motion of the balloon.

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Let go and watch! The balloon will deflate, which causes it to spin around on the pin (Note: You may have to tug on the pin or spin the propeller by hand a few times to loosen things up enough).

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We did this experiment over and over – a great visual of forces and energy, understandable even at the preschool level!

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Rainbow Science

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With all the talk about rainbows this month, whether cooking or crafting, it was time to get scientific. What exactly makes a rainbow appear? Today Travis and I answered the question in two ways, one more scientific, and one more artsy!

First, following the lesson plan provided by Raddish Kids, we did a visualization exercise. This was a first for Travis, but with a few prompts he got the idea. I told him to close his eyes and imagine and rainbow. He said he could see his rainbow through the trees in the morning, and it was star-shaped! Guide your child through this: what does the air feel like? Where is the rainbow? What time of day is it?

Next we did the quick run-down on the science. Raddish Kids provided two great video links to add some visual fun to hte science.

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We watched a few suggested video clips, to understand the science behind refraction. Raddish provides a very detailed write-up that older children can study, too.

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Next up was a challenge: Could Travis make a visual of a rainbow that not only showed all the colors, but also showed how the rainbow is formed? It turns out this is called process art, and I laid down lots of material for Travis to choose from but provided little direction beyond that.

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He decided he wanted a ribbon rainbow, so used lots of glue to adhere the lengths.

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I was so proud when he realized he was gluing in the wrong order, and fixed things with his red placed first!

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Next he needed to add the science part. He chose to use marker for sun and rain drops, and cotton balls for clouds. Now he had all the ingredients necessary for a rainbow to form!

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I made a second version alongside him to show him how open-ended this project is: cotton ball clouds, tin foil raindrops, and pom poms for my sun and rainbow.

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Finally, we formed a rainbow with science! Place a prism in a glass of water. Shine a flashlight or other light source on it.

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Hold up a piece of white paper behind the glass, and you should see a rainbow reflected on the paper. It’s a bit tough to see in the photograph, but it was there!

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Fingerprint Kit

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Following up on some recent secret agent fun, today Travis got to delve into real forensics! We’ve already talked about how everyone’s fingerprints are unique, and how real detectives use this fact to find “bad guys.” With a few simple tools, we could play detective, too.

First, make sure you have a few sharp pencils on hand, and rub on sandpaper.

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The graphite will flake off, which Travis thought was neat. As we made piles of it, we dumped it into a small plastic jar until we had a nice amount.

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Now invite your suspects (family members or friends, that is!) to press their finger against a piece of glass. We used a baby-safe mirror, but in retrospect I wish we’d used a window pane, as the imprint of a finger would last longer.

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Dip an old make-up brush into the graphite, and then swirl over each print. The black will adhere to the fingerprints.

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Press a piece of tape over the print, and transfer to paper. You can make circles on the paper in advance and label each with “suspect’s” name, if your child wants to!

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Once the prints were on paper, we could examine them with a magnifying glass, too. Hmm, what case would Travis solve?

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Overall, Travis thought the project was neat, but was most into the brush. This then became a forensic tool to dust all about the house. Let the imagination go wild from here!

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Invisible Ink

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A few weeks back, Travis and I had fun exploring different ways to hide messages, including revealing lemon juice with a hot iron and exposing white crayon with paint. Today we found an even cooler method; did you know you can reveal a secret message with a flower?

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First, we wrote messages in two kinds of “ink.” The first was plain lemon juice, and the second was baking soda mixed with a bit of water.

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Travis made scribbles, but to help illustrate the results better for him, I wrote his name on one piece of paper and a secret map on the other.

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Be sure to use slightly thick paper, such as construction paper or watercolor paper, or it might tear during the reveal. Let dry.

Once dry, we rubbed over the paper with a red rose. Travis loved the forensic feel to the project!

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This worked significantly better with the baking soda than with the lemon juice, and we also found that the results are much clearer on on large letters or drawings than small ones.

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Perhaps the most interesting takeaway was that the baking soda was revealed in blue, and the lemon juice comes out red.

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In sum, a fun little project for any budding detectives, with results that are both pretty and scientific.

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