Bugs vs. Birds

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To slip some subtle math and science into your child’s next summer nature walk, turn it into a tally hunt for bugs and birds. I told Travis we’d be counting both, and asked him whether he thought he would find more birds or bugs. He quickly replied birds, but then thought about it for a moment; we passed a bunch of flowers, already teeming with five bees. “Bugs!” he guessed.

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To prepare a little scientific notebook, print out a picture of a bug and a bird, and tape or glue down to notebook paper. Now you can tally as you walk.

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This will also be a great lesson on tallying and making marks in groupings of 5 (good for skip-counting!).

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As we walked, Travis sometimes forgot to count, since there was so much else to see. Eventually we decided he would look out for bugs, and I was in charge of birds.

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It quickly became apparent that bugs were far more abundant…so much so we eventually stopped our tally at around 35. Although hard to see, the picture above shows two beautiful dragonflies perched on a limb.

In short, this game is a great way to get your little one noticing nature on a closer scale, as well as to think about the differing populations of species within an area.

Osmosis vs. Diffusion

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The final lesson plan to go with Travis’s Backyard BBQ Raddish Kids kit was quite scientific and a little over a five-year-old’s head. But thanks to two yummy experiments, even my kindergartner could keep up with the concepts involved.

First, I came to the table with a cup of clear hot water and a tea bag. I put the tea in the cup and asked Travis what he observed happening. “It’s turning golden,” he noticed.

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I agreed, and more specifically told him he was seeing diffusion: molecules moving from an area of high concentration (close together) to low concentration (further apart). This actually wasn’t too foreign an idea for him, since he loves a book about Albert Einstein pondering molecules.

Explain to your child that osmosis is a specific case of diffusion, having to do with the movement of water molecules. Two suggested clips on diffusion and osmosis helped Travis understand a bit better, though to be honest, this part was over his head. To make it more accessible, you can give examples of each. Diffusion might mean:

the aroma you smell from a cake baking

food coloring dispersing in water

Osmosis might be:

wrinkled fingers in a bathtub

rehydrated dried fruit

Now it was time to experiment! For diffusion, I asked him what he thought would happen to a scent if we trapped it inside a balloon. Would we be able to smell it? His hypothesis was yes! We carefully added a few drops of vanilla extract to a balloon.

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Inflate the balloon and tie the end into a knot. Place it in a closed box and let rest for 10 minutes or so.

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When we lifted it out, the box smelled a bit like vanilla; in other words, the scent had diffused. The result was subtle, which I think underwhelmed Travis.

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You may want to leave your balloon inside longer, or put more vanilla in it, to wow your kids with the results.

Next up: osmosis! For this one, we tested out the affect on gummy bears of being in plain water, salt water, and no water.

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We filled out the provided chart with his guess for the results. After some prompting about those plump rehydrated raisins, he was able to surmise what might happen.

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Big kids can really get scientific with this, filling in measurements before and after for color, length, width, thickness, and mass.

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For the set up, you’ll need three clear jars. The first simply received a gummy bear. The second had the bear plus 1/2 cup plain water. The third had the gummy in a saturated salt solution; add 1 teaspoon salt at a time to 1/2 cup water until no more will dissolve.

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We left them overnight, then checked in on the bears the next morning! Again, the results were a bit underwhelming, which may have been the vegan gummy bears we were using. But our plain water one looked a bit more plump, and our salt one looked a bit scrunched.

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Well, if all else fails, you can watch this osmosis rap video!

Magnetic Hearts

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This quick craft not only teaches about the topic of symmetry, but is also a fantastic way to explore the properties of magnets!

To cut out symmetrical hearts, fold cardstock in half and draw half a heart; cut out.

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I thought to only have Travis help cut out the accompanying two long rectangles we would need from each color of cardstock, but he insisted on cutting out the heart himself – great practice along curves!

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Open up the paper to reveal a symmetrical heart, then cut it in half.

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Fold the rectangular strips you’ve cut out accordion style to form 5 pleats.

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Fold this strip around itself to form a square and use tape or glue to adhere shut.

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Tape a magnet to one side of the square, facing towards the center of your heart.

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Tape down onto the heart and repeat on the other side.

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Now, your two heart halves will snap together!

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The other fun way to do this is to deliberately set up the magnets to repel each other. Travis loved chasing halves of hearts around the play room this way!

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As you play, have a quick talk about attraction and repulsion in magnets, and you’ll have thrown a little learning into the fun.

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Water Work

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This easy experiment will teach your preschooler or kindergartner about evaporation in an easy to see, hands-on way. Plus get you out into the sunshine each morning!

Travis filled two equal containers with 1 cup water each. We made sure to measure carefully before pouring, so our results would be accurate.

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We screwed the lid tightly on one container but left the other container open. Place them somewhere that gets direct sunlight.

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Each morning for a week, we headed out and measured the water. On the first day, the difference wasn’t that great, 1.5 inches of water in the lidded container, versus 1 inch in the open one.

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By the next day, the results were 1.25 inches in the closed container (some had condensed on the lid!) versus only .75 inches in the open.

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I asked Travis where the water was going and he correctly understood that some was evaporating into the air each day.

We continued to check on subsequent days, until a final reading of .25 inches in our open container. As a final component, Travis drew what had happened, showing a very full closed container and only a small layer of water in the open one. Those are three hot orange suns boiling off the water at the top!

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A fantastic STEM/STEAM project for your summer!


Pollinators for Every Flower

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The final lesson plan for the Garden Party kit from Raddish Kids was a huge hit, since Travis loves bugs and everything about them. He was a whiz already at much of this topic, but enjoyed the hands-on and artistic aspects of it!

When he came to the table for our lesson, he was surprised to find a flower waiting.

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We explored the flower in detail, including: rolling the leaves between his fingers to see how that changed the texture; smelling it; feeling the fluffy petals; and looking closely with his eyes.

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As he explored the flower, I read to him from a provided chart about plant anatomy. Much of it was a bit over a preschooler’s head, so focus on the bits your child will grasp. He liked the rather astounding fact that while people and animals are either a man (male) or woman (female), a plant is both!

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Some pollen ended up on the table… the perfect segue-way!

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I asked him to name pollinators he knew and he quickly rattled off butterflies and bees. After some prompting, he also guessed birds. I told him he was correct, especially hummingbirds, and then named a few surprises: bats, beetles, and the wind!

The next challenge was to pick a pollinator and make a flower with art supplies that was specific to that pollinator. First up was a bee! Thanks to the provided pollinator profile cards from Raddish, we learned that bees like flowers that smell sweet and in bright colors like yellow and purple.

Travis chose construction paper for this flower, and added glittery “pollen” in the center. To make it smell sweet, we dabbed a vanilla extract-scented pom pom around the petals. Travis loved this!

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Next he wanted to make one for a hummingbird. Our card said the birds don’t land on the petals but instead dip in their beaks, so I helped him fashion a tube-shaped flower from tissue paper (we used red, since the birds like the bright colors). It was fun to add vanilla to the “pollen” pom poms in this one, too, even though the profile card said the birds had good vision but a poor sense of smell.

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Travis next wanted beetles, delighting in the notes on the card that they like “unpleasant” smelling flowers or ones with no scent. We used white pom poms, since beetles prefer pale or dull colors, and added lots of yellow pollen in the center, which the beetle eats.

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He was so proud! I loved watching him think carefully about each pollinator, as well as use different materials each time.

Finally, he wanted a flower for butterflies! This one needed petals for the butterfly to rest on, bright reds and oranges, and no vanilla extract since the butterfly has good eyesight but a poor sense of smell.

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Overall, a fantastic lesson, with a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and important information about the role pollinators play in food crops thrown in there.

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.