Letter Detective

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For 26 days, Travis has been playing detective. Letter detective that is!

For the assignment (a neat suggestion from his summer pre-k to kindergarten workbook), I purchased a small glass jar with a lid and set aside a collection of pennies.

Each day, he was tasked with finding one letter of the alphabet. Every time he notices it, a penny goes in the jar. Fair game includes magazines we read, food labels, street signs around town, and more.

When we started with A, he needed lots of prompting, but over the course of the day he spotted 8 As.

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8 pennies in the jar!

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Truth be told, it was hard for Travis to find the letter of the day as we drove; his recognition isn’t fast enough to keep up with the speed of a car. But at-home materials proved more fruitful, and the goal is to count up the pennies at the end and perhaps earn a small reward!


Play with a Pile of Pennies

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If you’re traveling with a preschooler, look no further than the pennies in your wallet for heaps of entertainment. Travis and I had fun with a few variations on penny games over a recent weekend away!

For the first, place a plastic bowl on the floor. Challenge your child to see if they can get all the pennies in the bowl dropping them from a height.

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We liked seeing how high we could go – from all the way over our head?

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Travis decided it worked best from forehead height!

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Next we placed a penny under a piece of paper, and traced over it to reveal Abraham Lincoln.

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Get silly and add a little hat and body!

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Finally, we played a guessing game: If we tossed our whole handful of pennies, would there be more heads or tails?

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This was Travis’s favorite of the games. We played a few rounds and counted them up each time. If you want to be more statistcal about it, make a chart and see how many times you’re right out of 10 tosses (or more!)

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How else could you play with pennies on a trip? Please share in the comments!

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.

Coin Conundrums

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Here’s a neat brain teaser that helps your preschooler learn on multiple levels. You can use it to teach about coin denominations, counting, and shape recognition and formation, plus there’s a puzzle to solve! Travis was a bit frustrated at first, but so proud when he cracked the code for the final teaser.

For each of these three teasers, all you need is pennies (or any other coin). Travis counted out six pennies for the first one.

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I set the pennies up in a triangle, with the point away from Travis. Could we move only two pennies so the point was facing toward him instead?

At first he just randomly dragged two pennies.

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I prompted him to try moving the bottom two pennies up, and voila, our triangle was reversed. Now he was intrigued!

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Next we counted out four pennies and put them in a line. Could we make it so each penny was touching all the others? Squares didn’t work, or diamond shapes, or lines.

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Turns out you can’t think in one dimension for this one! The key is to build up, with one penny poised atop the other (touching) three.

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Finally, we counted out nine pennies, and I arranged them in a large triangle. Could Travis figure out how to turn this into a square, moving only two pennies?

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We identified that the shape toward the middle was nearly square already.

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Carefully, he tried moving one of the bottom pennies up. Now he could see the square forming, and complete the final move without any help.

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We got these ideas from Highlights; can you think of other penny brain teasers? Please share in the comments.

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Wishing Well Game

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Kids love throwing pennies into wishing wells, as was evident when Travis and I recently visited a garden with fountains and he needed to use up every penny in my wallet before he was satisfied!

We took the fun home with this simple game. If you have a water table or empty sandbox, fill that with water for bigger fun! I filled a simple craft bin with a layer of water, and then added small plastic containers to be our targets.

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Before we could begin our wishing, we had to break open the piggy bank to sort out all the pennies – extra fun!

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Encourage your kids to stand back and aim at the containers (the water will make the containers float around a little, for moving target practice). Travis preferred standing right up close.

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But grown ups and bigger kids can take aim from far away. If your penny lands in the container, your wish comes true!

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How to Make Pennies Turn Green

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We’re on winter break and the science fun continues! With this easy experiment, you’ll create a simple chemical reaction – and help explain to your kids why the once copper-colored Statue of Liberty is now green!

The project was fun from start to finish because first we had to break into Travis’s piggy bank. This meant using a screwdriver (under careful adult supervision of course). We separated out the pennies from the rest of the coins, making it a quick lesson in currency denominations too.

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Place your pennies in a bowl covered with a paper towel.

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Pour white vinegar into the bowl, making sure the paper towel is completely saturated.

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Now observe! We were surprised when the first penny had green spots after only a few hours.

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The next morning, several of them were quite green!

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I honestly have no idea why some of the pennies turned green and others did not, but here’s what’s happening: The metal copper and the acid in the vinegar react with oxygen, and form a new blue material, called malachite.

Make sure to observe under a magnifying glass, too!

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