Circuit Workout

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Travis needed to get his wiggles out today, so I knew he needed a game that would get him moving. This was a fun suggestion from Kiwi Co., where instead of building a battery circuit, your kid gets to be the the electricity zipping around the “wires”.

To set up a life-sized electrical circuit, choose a round object to be a light bulb and a rectangular object to be the battery. Make a rectangle on the floor from painter’s tape to connect them, being sure to leave a little gap along the top.

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For the switch, we used a book. When the book is open, the circuit is complete. But if it’s closed… Oh no, the electricity can’t zip through!

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Travis laughed at this little role-play. He started out at the “battery” and ran to the “switch” book.

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Finding it open meant hopping across, running a circle around the light bulb, and then dashing back to the battery.

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If the book was closed, he had to freeze. Keep playing until you’ve worn out your kid-sized battery of course!

Lemon Battery

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Travis has enjoyed learning about circuits lately, and today we tried to make our own battery! This is a bit of a spin on the old potato battery experiment you might remember from elementary school.

For the set up, first we washed a penny in warm soapy water to make sure it was clean.

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Cut two small slits in a lemon, about 3/4-inch wide and deep enough to reach the lemon juice under the pith. The juice is key!

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Fold a square of aluminum foil in half and then half again, so that it makes a sturdy strip. Insert the penny into one slit of the lemon and the foil into the other, making sure both touch the lemon juice.

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Now you can test your battery! The easiest way is to do a reading against the two nodes of a multimeter. Alternatively, try attaching alligator clips and wires to an LED light, and see if you’re able to power it up.

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We didn’t have fantastic success with our “battery”, which might have been because our aluminum strip was too long, or perhaps was due to a slightly faulty multimeter. If you do the project, please share your results in the comments!

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Circuit Science Kiwi Crate

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Travis’s Kiwi Crate has never been so welcome as during this period of home school and social distancing, particularly on a rainy day when we couldn’t get outside for a spring nature walk. The package literally saved the day! Sometimes Travis wants to spread out the projects, but this time he insisted we dive into the crate right away and do all three projects start to finish.

The big concept this month was electric circuits, which Travis has grown to understand recently from a few at-home projects, so I was glad the concept wasn’t foreign to him.

First up was the Lamp: A simple set-up involved attaching a lamp base and LED light holder onto a cardboard base, then inserting batteries into the provided battery pack. Travis connected red wire to red wire and black to black, and his lamp turned on!

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The second project, the Lampshade, was really the only “A” component of STEAM for this crate.

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Travis loved punching the holes along the lines of a Steve the Kiwi template, with a sheet of black paper underneath, since it was similar to punch art he does at school.

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The black paper then slips easily inside the lamp, and Steve glows!

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We put it all together with the Electric Bowler Game. This was definitely complicated, but Travis was determined to put together a circuit board that involved four brads against a wooden plate and wires that slip over the outer brads.

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He slotted the wooden frame together and held it all together with provided rubber bands.

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A wooden dowel in the middle is the switch to deactivate the circuit when needed. 3 silver balls then trigger the circuit; these need to be scuffed with scratchy pads first, although to our disappointment, the booklet did not explain why.

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To complete the game, a wooden board sits on top with a foam bumper. Take turns rolling the three metal balls towards the holes at the end. Once all three metal balls fall into place between the brads on the circuit board below, the circuit is complete, and the lantern turns on!

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Definitely play in a dim room, for the best effect.

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Travis enjoyed the Explore magazine that delved deeper, including an experiment called Let It Flow. What else could complete the circuit in our set-up, other than the three metal balls?

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Three plastic beads failed, as did three marbles. But three strips of aluminum foil did the trick!

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There was no suggested further reading this month, but I recommend Oscar and the Bird: A Book About Electricity.

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We also plan to check out I Am Benjamin Franklin when the title is released in October, as there’s sure to be some fun bits about electricity in there!

Baking Soda and Vinegar with Color Fun

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This activity was intended for my toddler, but it turned out to be my kindergartner’s favorite part of the day. Since there’s some STEM involved, keep it in mind if you find yourself home schooling!

For set up, I wanted Veronika to have the option of color mixing, so I filled three cups with vinegar. I left one clear, added yellow food coloring to the second, and blue food coloring to the third.

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I then sprinkled a box of baking soda into a shallow tray. Veronika instantly liked making lines through it with the pipettes I had left out. It was sort of like an indoor sandbox for a moment.

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Then it was time to start squeezing in vinegar! I used the clear cup first, knowing the bubbly reaction was enough to get a “wow” even before we added color.

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Then we started piping in the colored vinegar. I had hoped Veronika might get in some fine motor practice with the pipettes, but that was too much for 16-month-old fingers. Big brother Travis loved using a pipette and baster, though! Then the kids poured the cups of vinegar instead, for even bigger reactions.

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The blue and yellow turned into a nice green, of course, which I’d also hoped to demonstrate.

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After that we just had a big pile of green bubbly “lava” that the kids loved scooping through with pipettes and cups for ages.

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Eventually they wanted to drip in other colors from the food coloring set, which was fine, although it didn’t look so pretty.

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A great afternoon activity!

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Ice-Cream Snowballs

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The weather hit an unseasonable 75 degrees F today, so we celebrated with homemade ice cream!

This project was a fantastic (edible!) addendum to Travis’s recent exploration of crystallization. To start, fill a large zip-top plastic bag about halfway with ice. Add 6 tablespoons coarse salt.

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In a sandwich-sized zip-top bag, combine 1/2 cup plain non-dairy creamer, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Seal tightly.

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Place the creamer mixture in the larger bag, making sure it’s covered by the ice cubes. Now shake!

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Travis and I took turns, as the recommended shake time was 7 minutes.

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Whoops, a spill at about the 4 minute mark! But we were undaunted and kept going.

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At 5 minutes, we declared our ice cream done (and our arms exhausted).

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The ice cream turned out amazing! It looked crumbly at first, but after a few minutes it softened up just enough and was just like store-bought ice cream. Rainbow sprinkles were a must of course.

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Wow, ice cream on the back patio in March!

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What a treat this was for the kids.

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Crystal Chemistry Tree Crate

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Of all the holiday projects from Kiwi Co this year, this was by far Travis’s favorite. You can follow along on this project with materials from the craft store and drugstore; do supervise very closely, as chemicals (ammonia in particular) are involved. But the result is stunning!

To start, we needed to prepare the planting pot. Insert a plastic cup into a silver cup, and decorate with the provided red ribbon for a festive touch. The tree is two pieces of cardboard that slot together. Travis “planted” this firmly.

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He loved the felt ornaments to hang on the tree!

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As a final decoration, twist together three silver pipe cleaners, and arrange as a star on top.

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Now it was time for some science. I poured the bluing solution into the plastic cup first. A bluing solution is potassium nitrite and sodium hydroxide dissolved in water. Travis was a good sport listening to all the safety cautions about handling these chemicals

Next I poured in the provided ammonia. He was not a fan of the smell! Finally, we poured the provided salt packet evenly around the tree.

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Use the provided pipette to drip the solution over the tree branches until saturated.

Only an hour later, I noticed that already a few little sparkles had appeared. Travis went to bed full of wonder at how it might look in the morning.

To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten about it when we came down for breakfast. “Mom, look!” he called out. I, too, was stunned with the white frosty crystals blooming all over the branches.

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One note of caution: the crystals are very delicate and will fall off at even the tiniest budge, so have your tree some place up high where it won’t get jostled.

Over breakfast, read about what happened. The cardboard soaks up the solution (so a plastic tree, for example, wouldn’t work here), but the liquids evaporate overnight as gases. The salt can’t do this, so it is left behind. Ammonia is present because it helps the evaporation happen faster. And voila – a chemis-tree!

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Crystal Suncatcher

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This neat science project will require a few days of patience, but has a beautiful ice crystal reward at the end, perfect for winter!

To start, poke a hole through the rim of a clear plastic container (we used the top of a Pringles canister) with a needle or push pin. Make slightly wider with a pen or pencil, then set aside.

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In a microwave safe bowl heat 1/2 cup water for about 45 seconds, or until warm. Add 1/2 cup Epsom salts, stirring until dissolved. Travis loved making this “potion”.

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Fill the container lid with the salt solution and set someplace that gets a lot of sunlight. Now wait! Here’s how our crystals looked after 24 hours:

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And now after 48 hours!

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The science here is fairly simple. When you stir the Epsom salt into the hot water, it doesn’t disappear of course; it dissolves. But when the water evaporates off, the Epsom salts are revealed again. Hence the beautiful crystals!

To capture your experiment into a work of art, cut the rim off an identically sized lid (again we used a Pringles container). Hot glue them together carefully so as not to crush the crystals.

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Thread a length of string or yarn through the hole you poked in the beginning. I worried we might crush the crystals because our hole was quite tiny, so we hot glued on our string instead, which works in a pinch! Now it looks like Jack Frost has come to call at our window.

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Fruit Ripening Science is Bananas

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Just before Halloween, Travis made Boo-Nana Bread form Raddish KidsSpooky Kitchen crate. Now we’re finally getting around to the fruit-ripening science lesson attached to it!

Before anything else, we needed to set in motion an experiment that would take 5 days. I purchased a bunch of (fairly) green bananas at the grocery store, as well as a few riper ones.

Ask your child to describe the differences they notice between the ripe and unripe bananas. Travis pointed out the obvious color difference, first. A little probing helped him go deeper: the ripe ones were softer, and smelled sweeter.

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I asked him if a banana needed anything other than itself to ripen. Somehow he knew it needed air (oxygen). Smarty pants!

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But for scientific backup to this hypothesis, we experimented by placing the following:

  • 1 green banana out on the counter
  • 2 green bananas in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 1 green banana and 1 ripe banana (for ethylene) in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 2 green bananas in a sealed plastic bag
  • 1 green banana wrapped in layers of plastic wrap

That last was Travis’s favorite, pretending we were making a banana mummy!

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Meanwhile, it was time for a little science behind the lesson. I set out two plates for him, one featuring non-climacteric fruits i.e. they do not ripen after picking. Raddish provided a long list to choose from, and our plate included: a bell pepper, blueberries, cucumber, orange, and yellow squash.

The second plate had climacteric fruits i.e. ones that do ripen after picking. This plate held an avocado, a pear, and a mango.

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“Can I eat it,” he asked right away of the mango. “Is it ripe?” At first he was stumped about how I had categorized them, guessing I had sorted them by color. But hmm, why wasn’t the cucumber on the green plate?

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I loved watching him really ponder this! I guided him back to his very first comment about the mango. Was it ripe? Now he understood that one plate held fruits we needed to wait for; the other plate was fruits that wouldn’t ripen further after picking.

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Time to explore! I let him have at the food just for fun. He loved peeling the squash and taking little nibbles of it, plus practicing his knife skills on the bell pepper…

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…and crunching into the cucumber for a big bite.

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He decided to wait until the mango was riper before peeling it. Good choice! Plus he gave the unripe avocado a big squeeze and it was solid as a rock.

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Five days later, we finished with a little more science now that we had our banana results. Our finding weren’t quite as promising as hoped, likely because I had to start with green bananas on the verge of yellow and a yellow banana on the verge of green, based on what the grocery store had to sell. But we still could see that the countertop banana was the brownest/ripest and the plastic bag bananas had retained the most green.

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Interestingly, our plastic-wrapped banana had gotten quite ripe, so we must not have made the “mummy” tight enough.

The green bananas in the paper bag had ripened faster than the ones in plastic, since the porous paper gives them access to oxygen. But the one that also enjoyed the company of a ripe banana had both oxygen and extra ethylene, so that was riper still.

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Enough science; as it turns out, leftover bananas are lots of fun to play with, even for little sister!

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We enjoyed one final video of a similar experiment done with supermarket food. If your kids loved the banana experiment, try out an avocado one!

Travis and I also decided to check out the suggested book Science Experiments You Can Eat, by Vicki Cobb. We read through a couple of the experiments, but didn’t actually put any to the test.

Solar Eclipse Science Project

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I put together a simplified version of this box back when there was a solar eclipse in our area in 2017. Today we wanted to see if the box would work for Mercury’s transit across the sun, and now Travis was old enough to help with all the steps!

To start, we upcycled a Kiwi crate (though any shoe box would work). Measure 2 inches in from one edge and poke a push pin or thumb tack through for a small hole.

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On the opposite side of that same edge, measure in 1/2 an inch and cut a square that is 2 inches on each side.

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Cut a square from black paper that is 2.5 inches on each side. Travis loved cutting along the lines I measured with our ruler.

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Trace the inside of a small roll of tape in the center of the black square, and cut out this circle (a mommy step).

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Tape down on the inside where you’ve cut the viewing hole.

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Next cut a rectangle from white paper that is 10.5 inches long x 3.25 inches tall. Use double-sided tape to attach on the inside of the box opposite the viewing hole.

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Now cover any seams or cracks with tape. Travis took it very seriously to ensure that we had no points where light could filter through.

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We peeked inside in the kitchen, but if course there was only darkness without any sunlight coming through our tiny pin prick.

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The answer to our initial question (would the box work for Mercury), alas, was no.

Mercury entered its transit across the sun the next morning at 7.30, but it was so cloudy that the sun wasn’t visible all day! Further research suggested that Mercury would be much too tiny to spot in our viewer anyway, and what we really needed was a telescope with a proper sun filter. Instead, we checked out the transit online. And now we’re going to set aside our solar eclipse viewer for the next one… in 2024!

Rainbow CD

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If a gray day has you wishing for rainbows, make some at home with this easy craft! It’s just one of several ways Travis and I have made light after dark, lately.

We made our project a bit whimsical by turning it into a sort of “hunt” for the rainbow at the end of a pot of gold. That meant we wanted to decorate our CD with shamrocks. To make them, use a heart-shaped hole punch.

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For every shamrock, fit 3 hearts together into a clover-shape. Tape the hearts to the back of a blank CD.

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Now head some place dark, and shine a light!

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Travis loved holding the flashlight and seeing the rainbows appear on the wall. We experimented with different angles; if he held the light directly over the CD, the rainbow was like a laser line on the CD itself.

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If he held the light close to the floor, the rainbow appeared on the wall, growing bigger or smaller as he altered the angle.

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Note: there’s no need to decorate your CD to make this craft work, but it does add a nice touchy of whimsy!