Rain Catcher

With two days of rain in the forecast, we took advantage and decided to make a rain catcher. This version is especially fun for toddlers since it involves a little “person” standing guard in the rain.

To set up, cut an empty plastic water bottle apart about two-thirds of the way up with a craft knife. Turn the top portion upside down so it forms a funnel down into the bottom portion, and then add masking tape along the rim to cover any sharp edges.

To make the person, mark off 1/2-inch increments on a wooden spoon with permanent marker. Add character with wiggle eyes and additional features in permanent marker. Travis decided our fellow should be called Dave.

We set the handle of “Dave” into the bottle, then placed him out in the rain. And just in time! Within a few hours, there was already half an inch of water in the bottom. Then, this happened:

Yup, snow in mid April! It was a wonderful and unexpected chance to show Veronika how several inches of snow melted down into only about 1/2 an inch of water, once the temperature warmed back up.

By the end of the evening, the water was nearing Dave’s two inch mark. But oh no, then the wind picked up… and knocked Dave and all our hard work over!

How much rain can you collect in your rain catcher? Please share in the comments!

Water Cycle Bags

Travis has been learning about the water cycle in school, so here was a fun way to make the lesson hands-on at home.

In the morning before school, we each copied a template onto sandwich-sized zip-top plastic bags with Sharpies. Travis insisted that his sun have sunglasses and a smile! Make sure to draw the arrows showing evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, the three main movements of the water cycle.

We then added a little water to each bag (filling them about half way) and added a few drops of blue food coloring. Now it was time for a test! Travis’s bag went in a sunny window. Mine went in a window on the shady side of the house. The idea was to observe them for a few days and spot any differences.

After school, Travis could scope out the differences. The condensation was noticeably more apparent in the sunny bag. Obviously since the bags are a closed system, it won’t mimic a perfect water cycle, but kids can observe any changes over a few days and even take notes!

Density Tower

Travis and I have explored density with a jar like this in the past, but our layers haven’t always mixed quite right. Using our past experience as a guide, Travis helped set up the following 6 liquids today:

Corn Syrup

Maple Syrup

Water – tinted blue

Dish Soap – tinted green

Vegetable Oil

Rubbing Alcohol – tinted red

A few of the liquids were left their natural color but for those that would otherwise be confusingly clear, we added a little all-natural food coloring.

Travis and I talked briefly about our hypothesis (the day’s fancy word!) for the order they should go in. The only one we got wrong was water and dish soap, having thought water would float atop the soap, but it turned out to be the opposite.

As our layers took shape, Travis loved bending down to see the strata.

The red alcohol on top was hard to see, but the rest of the layers were quite well demarcated. Overall, this was a neat little STEM experiment in a jar.

Pond Ecology Kiwi Crate

Here’s our unboxing review of Travis’s latest from Kiwi Co, all about the ecosystem of pond life. This was a neat divergence from past crates, in that it focused on a place rather than one scientific principal. There was lots to learn about frogs, fish, and more!

The first project was the most creative of the lot: making Chalk-Art Frogs. The process relied on surface tension (floating chalk) to color in the provided paper frog shapes. Travis helped put together the provided chalk grater and loved carefully grating a mix of chalk colors into it.

Tip over the provided tray of water and gently tap out the chalk. We did a test run on a provided square of paper first.

Lift up gently for the big reveal!

Next Travis carefully added the frogs, which didn’t pick up the chalk as clearly as the white paper, but were still neat. Let dry completely, then move on to…

…project two, a Leaping Lily Pad. The scientific principal in action this time was energy, as in a spring (or a frog’s legs). Travis decorated the provided cardboard lily pad with a few of his completed frogs, then it was just a matter of wrapping it with the provided rubber band to create tension.

Release, and…. Pop!

We found that this only worked if we used both provided elastics, not just one.

Now it was time to peer under the pond water and make an Aquarium in a Bottle, with the scientific concept of density at play. Travis mixed the provided salt into warm water, and filled three small plastic cups. For a fun way to color them, Kiwi instructs kids to scribble marker over thin paper squares. Place the paper in the cups, one each for red, yellow, and blue, and the water immediately changes color.

Next, he used the provided syringe to fill plastic fish with this colored salty water. The booklet contained helpful tips for testing the buoyancy of each fish. If there was too much water and not enough air, it sank; squirt out a little. If it floated on the top, there was too much air and not enough water; add a little more from the syringe!

When all our fish were just right, Travis added them to the provided clear bottle for a little “aquarium” he can keep on display.

Kiwi often provides ways to upcycle the crate itself, and this month was no exception, with a suggestion to make another “leaping” project: Lively Leaper frogs.

Cut the front flap from the crate (or a similar box) that measures 7 inches long x 2 inches tall. Make notches at 1.5 inches and 3.5 inches. Fold in half at the 3.5 inch mark, then fold again at the 1.5 inch mark, down in the opposite direction.

Just like the lily pad, hold your finger on it, then release and the frog “jumps”. We added a little green frog with marker for extra effect.

Overall, Travis liked that this crate explored lots of scientific concepts instead of just one topic in depth.

Motorized ArtBot Robot

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This quirky little project results in a “robot” that can draw on paper, thanks to the use of a small hobby motor. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it… until I spotted a hobby motor in my junk drawer! If you don’t have one, check with your local electronics store.

To start, secure three or four colored pencils (or thin markers) around the sides of a sturdy plastic cup with masking tape. Add wiggle eyes to give your Bot some character, or even draw on a face with a Sharpie.

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Next, you’ll need to attach the hobby motor to a battery pack, and then secure all that on top of the Bot. This part was tricky, since the wires from the battery pack came off the motor unless taped tightly. The whole thing was so heavy that when we turned on the power, it often either fell down or couldn’t move far. It actually worked best if I held the battery pack lightly, my hand following along in the robot’s wake.

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We did get this quick clip!

Next time I would use a much sturdier cup, and find a way to tape both motor and battery pack on the top, to see if we got better artwork. But for some novel STEM play, this was a great project!

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Thermal Powered Flower

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Caution: This project uses real candle flame, so requires grown-up supervision. It’s worth it though, because it’s a neat way to show your child thermal power in action.

To set up, I printed out a template for a flower and traced onto yellow paper. Cut slits inward for each petal and fold them like the blades of a fan, all in the same direction. Set aside.

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Next, I trimmed a plastic straw to 3 inches and a wooden skewer to 4 inches. Stand the straw up in a little clay on a sturdy base. Attach the skewer to the flower with a little more clay. Slip the skewer into the straw, making sure it isn’t stuck in the clay below.

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Set out 4 tea lights and carefully light. As the air under the flower heats up, it will rise and – ta da! – the flower starts to spin.

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Note: Because our skewer and straw rubbed against one another, the most our petals really did was wave up and down and occasionally a little to the side. For better spinning power, attach a small screw eye at the top of the straw to hold it apart from the skewer. You can check out the full details here. This project still got a thumbs up from Travis though!

Tipping Egg Toy

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Here’s a silly DIY bobble toy, for which all you need is a leftover Easter egg, either plastic or wooden.

We used a wooden one because we wanted to paint it first. Little blue pants, an orange tie, and a thick black mustache made a dapper looking little fellow. Kids could also paint their egg more like traditional Easter eggs, with dots or stripes.

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Travis giggled when he saw the little fellow!

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Next, you’ll need to add a weight in the bottom half of the egg. Travis loved pressing clay down into the bottom of ours, and we added a marble for good measure. If you have no clay, you may need to secure your weight with hot glue.

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Give it a push with a finger and watch your egg wobble up and down, thanks to the weight at the bottom!

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Here he is in mid-motion!

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As a bonus, Travis loved playing with leftover clay for a while after, being artistic in a way I haven’t seen from him in quite a while!

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Spinning Penny

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Balloons are always fun but balloons with objects inside are even better! And this particular version has some science thrown in, too.

To start, we wanted to see how an object would move inside a balloon, which means clear balloons are definitely best for this project. Before inflating, add a penny (or similar round metal object). Inflate and tie a knot.

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Now give that balloon a shake! You want to shake in a tight, circular motion to get the penny rotating. Even once you stop, the penny will “climb” the walls of the balloon in a circular motion. Travis was thrilled that he could make this work all by himself!

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The penny can seemingly defy gravity in this way because as soon as the balloon is spinning, the force of the penny pushes outward. It will stop after a few rotations, but was so much fun for Travis to watch, plus made an echoing bouncy sound.

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We intend to try this with other objects in the balloon, too, and see whether they work better or worse than the penny. Here’s the quickest of quick clips:

Monster Automaton

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Here’s a neat way to show kids how the parts work and move in a very simple automaton (e.g. moving machines like cuckoo clocks), with no fancy equipment required!

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To start, place a plastic cup over cardboard and trace four times to make four circles. Use hot glue to make two stacks of 2 circles, then poke a sewer up through the center of each pair. The cardboard circles are the “cams” and the skewer is the axle.

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Next, poke a hole in the top of a shoebox, as well as one in each side. Widen the holes so they are big enough for cut pieces of a plastic straw to fit through; use a little hot glue to secure the straw in the holes.

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Slide the skewers through the straws; they should be able to spin freely.

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Arrange the cams such that the lower one holds up the top one. When you spin the horizontal bottom skewer, the top cam spins! I only got a few second of video, but it was neat for the kids to see this in motion!

For a little fun, we added a “monster” on top. A little green marker, wiggle eyes, and a jagged mouth turned a simple paper cup into a scary creature.

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Origami Fidget Spinner

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Travis can have a hard time concentrating during school Zoom sessions, and we’ve tested out a few kinds of fidget spinner as a solution. There’s more behind these spinners than just a fad; they really can help kids focus by keeping fingers busy. Here’s a way to make a beautiful fidget spinner at home that rivals any store-bought version!

To start, Travis selected two patterns from our pack of origami paper. Fold in half, then open up and tear each sheet in half (so you now have 4 pieces of paper). Set aside two of these and work with the remaining two.

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I loved how focused Travis was as we went through the first few steps together. Fold the pieces of paper in half again, so you have two skinny rectangles. Next bend down at the tops and bottoms so they look almost like Zs. From here, the fingerwork grew too tricky for Travis, and I took over.

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Rather than reinvent the wheel, check out the full instructions from Kiwi Co, where the steps for folding are described far better than I can. At the end, you’ll have one finished side of your fidget spinner, which looks like this:

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Repeat the folding steps with the two sheets of paper you set aside at the beginning, and both sides of the fidget spinner are now complete. Next, poke a push pin down through the center of each side. Using hot glue, add a small coin (like a dime or penny) to each of the four arms on one side of your spinner.

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Hot glue the second half of the spinner over the coins.

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Finally, straighten a paper clip and push through the holes you’ve made in the middle, then bend the ends so they provide finger holds.

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Give that fidget spinner a whirl! Thanks to the colorful origami paper, these look so beautiful as they spin.

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