Ice Skating Rink

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This special holiday crate from Kiwi Co. is a fantastic way to fit in a STEM activity this holiday season, whether you’re currently home-schooling, or school has gone remote once more, or you just have extra hours to fill indoors now that cold afternoons are here!

To start, Travis screwed the provided table leg pegs into bolts so that the wooden base of the skating rink stands sturdily just above the ground.

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That quickly, it was time for wires and batteries… The good stuff! Travis loved helping insert batteries into the provided case and attaching to the bottom of the table base with sticky foam. The provided motor sticks on next, and he then helped connect the wires: red to red and black to black.

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Turn the table over and add the center gear on the peg above the motor. Additional gears then slot in between this central one and the outer frame.

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The hardest part of the whole project, oddly, was the background decorations that came next. The provided snowy backdrop and trees are supposed to fit into slits in the felt, but it’s very hard to get them to stay put. This is a minor quibble, since the decor is cute but not necessary for the rink to work.

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So we moved on to the real excitement! The “skaters” are tiny felt figures (gingerbread men, penguins, and snowmen) who each slot into a metal nut. These are placed on the plastic that covers the gears, which each have magnets. So once kids switch the motor on, the gears begin to spin and the magnets on the gears are attracted to the metal of the the nuts, making those little felt figures skate around.

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Truth be told, the contraption is very temperamental and the felt figures easily snap out of their metal nut. Likewise, the magnets come off of the gears very easily, so we had to do lots of fixing and problem solving in between rounds of having the motor on. But here’s an adorable clip of the rink in motion!

I loved the way Travis quickly learned to troubleshoot these glitches. He had his head bent over the skating rink along with little sister Veronika, both of them delighting as they watched the figures snap onto the magnets to skate, then laughing at how quickly everything tumbled apart, then fixing it and starting all over.

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In sum, a great STEM project. Plus, the booklet had in-depth explanations about why ice is slippery and about precisely how the gears and magnets work to make the contraption move.

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Flurry in a Hurry

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If your kids are like mine, then they are so excited for snow this winter. To help them wait it out, make a snowstorm in a jar instead!

This is one of those classic experiments that never grows old. Simply stir together 1 teaspoon white paint and 1 cup water in the bottom of a mason jar. Fill nearly the rest of the way with baby oil.

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Now drop in Alka-Seltzer tablets, one at a time. Veronika loved plopping these in!

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The resulting bubbles will immediately make the white paint rise up and then down again, a little snowstorm in miniature.

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If we added two tablets in at once, it was more like a blizzard!

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After watching for a little while, we decided it would look even prettier in blue stormy skies, so added a few drops of blue food coloring.

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It was a little harder to see the white paint as “snowflakes”, now, but Veronika was equally delighted watching this stormy sky.

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We went through six Alka-Seltzer tablets before she tired of it!

Make Your Own Diving Fish

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This quick STEM project was intended as an extension of recent coral reef play for Travis, but it turned out that little sister Veronika loved it even more! There’s nothing like a good reaction of baking soda and vinegar to bring smiles in the morning.

Fill a tall clear container with 2 cups water. Make sure there is still room at the top of the container to add more liquid (e.g. a flower vase might work better than a drinking glass, unless you have very tall ones).

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Add 1 tablespoon baking soda to the glass and then pour in 1/2 cup vinegar.

Working quickly, start adding “fish”. These can be just about anything light and small from the kitchen. We used raisins, but dried beans or rice would work, too!

“They’re swimming!” Veronika exclaimed with delight. We added the vinegar in increments, so each time our little fish would be set swimming anew.

The magical work of producing carbon dioxide!

Coral Reef Kiwi Crate

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Travis kit from Kiwi Co this month was all about Coral Reefs. The focus was primarily on the science of a coral reef’s ecosystem, with a little bit of art and engineering (ratchets!) thrown in for good measure.

First up was the art component: to color in a Reef Scene.

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Travis loved the pastels that came with the kit for this step. There was also a blending stick to mix colors or make scratch-art, so kids can really have fun with this step if they’re feeling artsy.

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Next up he needed to Assemble the Jellyfish. The pastels are used again, this time to color the tentacles of the provided jellyfish shapes. Fold down these tabs of paper, then add strings as additional tentacles for wonderfully wavy creatures.

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A plastic cap (which looks like the top of an Easter egg) sits on top as the jellyfish’s bell. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes in the plastic head and twist to make a loop. Wiggle eyes completed each wiggly fellow.

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Finally, it was time Build the Race Frame. Kids add a disc and ratchet to each of two bolts, which then screw into a spool on either side of the wooden race frame.

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When we came to the next step, it turned out we were missing the long strings to thread through the spool and onto the pipe cleaner loop of each jellyfish. Luckily this was an easy material to replace, and I grabbed twine from the craft bin.

Travis then attached the handles (pieces of wood which will hitch onto the teeth of the jagged ratchet). As we raced our jellyfish, we learned that whether you push or pull on a ratchet, it will always turn in only one direction; the left side grabs when you push, and the right side grabs when you pull . Once Travis got the hang of it, he loved having jellyfish races with me!

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For some final fun, Travis read facts in Explore magazine, solved a brain coral maze, and then made a quick Pet Jellyfish:

Cut a circle from a plastic bag and gather the center of the plastic to form a head; tie loosely with string. Snip the edges of the circle to make the tentacles.

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Fill a clear plastic water bottle with water and add a few drops of food coloring to turn it into a blue ocean.

Now fill the jellyfish’s head about halfway with water; you need enough room for an air bubble to form as well. Insert into the bottle and tilt it back and forth to watch your new “pet” swim.

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This didn’t work perfectly for us, but the kids liked the wavy tentacles in the bottle!

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Butterfly Migration Map

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As a final component of Travis’s Raddish Kids about the Day of the Dead in Mexico, he learned about the connection between the festival and the annual arrival of monarch butterflies. This made for a neat lesson on a day off from school.

We started with a read-aloud of Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, helping Travis understand how the festival and butterflies were linked.

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We then printed a map of the migration paths and Travis drew red arrows for the different flight routes. Older children can draw their own map showing the United States and Mexico, rather than simply coloring a template from online. You might also consider watching a nature show or Wild Kratt’s episode on the monarch migration to help kids appreciate the dangers undertaken on the journey!

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Of course there was no better way to explain the migration than to make it hands-on. We’re lucky enough to live not far from a butterfly garden, so we took a special trip!

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The kids marveled as they watched the delicate wings of the butterflies, or paused to see them sip nectar from flowers and soft fruit.

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Travis’s favorite was whenever a butterfly landed on him!

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He even brought wings home from the gift shop for further exploration  under the magnifying glass!

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Now he could really appreciate what it meant for this delicate wings to fly 3,000 miles.

Little Passports: Argentina

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Travis quite enjoyed his Argentina package from Little Passports, particular how hands-on this particular country’s activities were.

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He dove right into the usual fare (a passport stamp, a sticker for his suitcase). The booklet had a few activities that were right at his grade level (learning colors in Spanish, a dot-to-dot) and some that were tricky to grasp as a first grader (adding team scores for Argentina’s national game of Pato).

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Travis always wants to know what “Sam and Sofia” have sent right away, and this one did not disappoint. After learning that some of the world’s largest dinosaurs have been found in Argentina, kids will have a little fossil kit to dig up their own Gigantosaurus.

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Travis loved alternating between the pick and the brush until he had carefully unearthed the skeleton.

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Further Activities:

The optional add-on for Argentina was a Weather Lab kit, based on Argentina’s active Andean volcanoes and snowfall in Patagonia. We’re so glad we opted for it! First we made instant snow, which little sister Veronika loved playing with even more than Travis.

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I read them facts about how ice crystals form as the kids played with the neat mixture. Next was a tornado jar which Travis could spin to watch a funnel cloud form.

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But best of all were the provided materials to make a volcano. We mixed warm water into powdered clay (I was proud of Travis getting his hands in there!) and then shaped a little volcano around the provided plastic cups.

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To be honest, this clay was hard to work with, but we got something vaguely resembling a volcano. Once it dried (which may take a few days), Travis painted it with the provided watercolors.

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Time for an explosion! Fill that central plastic cup with 1 tablespoon baking soda. Add a few drops of red food coloring and liquid dish soap, then pour in 1/4 cup vinegar.

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Online, the fun continued with an Argentine flag to color and a picture-search based on the prehistoric paintings in Cueva de las Manos. The latter was definitely aimed at older subscribers, requiring multiplication, but Travis still a learned a little something.

The final website activity was a bonus recipe for empanadas, yum!

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At last it was time for dessert. The dulce de leche-filled cookies called alfajores were tough to make vegan, but we did our best.

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  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 and 1/2 cups cornstarch
  • 1 and 1/2 cups Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 8 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • Shredded coconut
  1. To prepare the dough, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch in a bowl ;set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until combined. Whisk the flaxseed into the warm water to make vegan egg yolks. Add to the butter mixture, along with the vanilla and beat until combined.
  3. Stir  the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to form a soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thick and use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to make circles. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  5. Once cool, spread half of the cookies with a little of the sweetened coconut milk and top with the remaining cookies. Roll the edges in shredded coconut before serving.

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Halloween Countdown Day 26: Pumpkin Power

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It turns out that October 26 is Pumpkin Day, as if the gourd needs one specific day in a month that seems to be all about it! But we took the opportunity to test an unappreciated ability of pumpkins: to generate electricity!

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Much like those old potato or lemon experiments, you can hook up two pumpkins to make a clock run or an LED light turn on.

I originally tried to follow online instructions, but had to maneuver things a little differently to line up with the particular items that came in a fruit-battery kit we purchased. The set-up looks like this: lnsert a cooper strip and a zinc strip into each of 2 small pumpkins.

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Use an alligator clip wire to attach the copper strip from one pumpkin to the zinc strip from the second pumpkin.

Now, use a second wire with alligator clip to attach the zinc strip from the first pumpkin to the negative node of either a multimeter, clock, or LED light.

Use a third wire with alligator clip to attach the copper strip from the second pumpkin to the positive node of the multimeter, clock, or LED light. Hopefully the photos in this post make all that clearer!

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Your circuit should be complete.

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Travis was wowed watching our clock blink on. At one point we left it running for over an hour.

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Why does this work? Pumpkin flesh has acid (though not as much as lemons), which means the zinc strip will start to lose electron ions. Those ions travel over to copper, which generates electricity.

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Now that’s pumpkin power!

Melted Crayon Planets

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Here’s a novel way to talk about the different colors of the various planets in our Solar System, while making a neat piece of art. Kids are sure to love this craft because anything involving melted crayons is just cool.

We only had two paper plates, so decided to make a blue and green one for Earth and a orange and yellow one for Jupiter.

I cut the wrappers from jumbo crayons, and first we tried making small pieces by grating them on the large holes of a grater.

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This didn’t work that well, so I ended up chopping the crayons with a knife instead. Arrange the pieces as you want them to look on each paper plate, then begin microwaving at about 1 minute intervals until the wax melts (you may need less time, depending how thick your crayon pieces are).

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As they start to melt, swirl the colors into the design you want with a toothpick. Our Earth came out pretty neat!

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The orange and yellow, unfortunately, mostly just blurred together for Jupiter, but we added next textured lines with a toothpick.

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Without even a single prompt, Travis realized, “Mom, we need the giant red spot!”. Simply add pieces of red crayon to one portion of your plate for that.

If you have enough plates and crayons, go ahead and make all eight planets!

Bubbling Cauldron

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Halloween-themed crates from Kiwi Co have been a huge hit in the past, and this year’s did not disappoint!

This year we opted for a witch’s Bubbling Cauldron, which relies on that old trick of baking soda plus an acid (in this case citric acid) to make a bubbly explosion.

The first step was to Make the Witch of course. Travis helped fold the provided felt pieces into her cape and hat, which he decorated with spooky stickers (bats!), and which then slide onto the wooden peg body.

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A pipe cleaner forms her warty nose and we added spooky features with black marker.

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Next he needed to Build the Witch’s Lair. Decorate the provided backdrop with more stickers, then attach to the base with sticky foam dots.

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The witch and her cauldron are then attached to the base with additional sticky foam.

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An air pump is then threaded through the back of the scenery. One hose dangles down into the base, and the other dangles into the cauldron (these are helpfully color-coded red and black so your child can be sure the pump is going to flow in the right direction).

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It’s time for some bubbly science! Pour the provided packets of citric acid and baking soda (colored green!) into the provided cup and mix well.

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Add 4 scoops to the cauldron; Travis loved being in charge of his own “potion” here. Pour 1 and 1/2 cups water into the holes of the base, and then start squeezing the air pump…

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…and marvel at the bubbling cauldron that results!

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This was so cool and eerie and scientific and magical all at once. And needless to say, pretty soon there were poor Lego fellows drowning in the witch’s pot.

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A definite win for a Halloween project.

Rubber Band Racer

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This project unfortunately didn’t work as hoped for Travis, namely because we didn’t have a drill bit small enough to make the necessary tiny holes. But we decided to go ahead with the craft because it made the perfect “barge” in his make-believe games.

The idea is to make a racing car that can wind up on rubber bands, similar to the Mars Rover from his recent Kiwi Crate.

This time we needed to prep all the materials ourselves! Cut the tip from a wooden skewer to measure .75 inch. Cut two additional skewers into 4 inch pieces, and cut 2 lollipop sticks into 2 and 1/2 inch pieces.

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Well already we were in trouble! We didn’t have lollipop sticks. Instead, we thought straws might work, but soon realized this was going to be our first hurdle.

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Take 2 additional decorative straws and mark with a pen 1 inch and 2 inches in from each end (so 4 pen marks per straw). This is where ideally you’ll use a drill to make tiny holes. I tried poking with a straight pin, but this warped the straws. I was able to thread through our first axle (the first 4 inch skewer piece) but not the second.

Thinking quick, we turned to hot glue. We could put the racer together, but the glue meant our wheels wouldn’t turn.

If you have a drill, here’s what you’ll do: thread the skewers through the holes that are 1 inch in, and thread the lollipop sticks through the holes that are 2 inches in. Next use the drill to make a hole in the center of two large round plastic lids and two small round plastic lids (we used the tops from juice and almond milk cartons). Use hot glue to add the .75 inch skewer tip off the center of the back axle.

Since ours was now just a hot glue project, of course this meant that our wheels wouldn’t roll, so we skipped the step entirely of looping a rubber band around the front lollipop stock, to then stretch around the back skewer tip. Need a visual for all that? Check here.

But as you can see, Travis’s vehicle now was Jabba the Hutt’s barge!

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Can your child get the rubber band racer to truly race? Please share in the comments!

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