Flying Balloon

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There’s some neat science behind making a balloon fly with a hair dryer, whether the push of the air on the balloon that directs it up, or using “fins” to catch the air and make the balloon hover and spin. But truth be told, Travis and I went light on the science this morning, and more just had fun because, well, balloons + hair dryers = excitement!

Travis was stoked when he saw me pull out the hair dryer for an experiment. After I inflated two balloons, he just liked scooting them along the floor with a flow of air.

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Meanwhile, I rolled two pieces of construction paper into tubes, securing with tape. Cut the bottom into fringe and then tape onto the balloons. These will act as weights for the balloons.

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If you want the balloon to spin as well as fly, you’ll need to add fins. Cut strips of construction paper, then fold in half. Bend the ends, so they make little tabs.

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If you’re going for exact science, you’ll need to wind string around the center of the balloon to mark the equator, then draw two meridians (the horizontal and vertical lines that intersect the equator) with a sharpie. Glue your fins along this equator at a 45 degree angle.

Well, we weren’t that exact. We just used double-sided tape to add the fins in a circle roughly near the balloon’s center.

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So… it wasn’t perfect, but it did get some spin and some air. It was unfortunately difficult to hold the camera and the hair dryer and launch the balloon, so we never got great photos or videos.

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But we did have fun!

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Waterfall Game

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A rather aimless Veronika seemed in need of entertainment of a Sunday morning, so I pulled out two simple items to create a game: pennies and a jar!

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I placed all the pennies on a tray and then filled the jar almost all the way with water. If you’re playing with big kids, turn it into a more of a competition. Take turns dropping pennies into the container. Game over when a player’s penny makes water spill over the edge!

Of course Veronika couldn’t have known we were playing a game against each other, but she did get into the rhythm of turn-taking. I added a penny, she added a penny, and so on.

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Then we just started adding pennies by the handful!

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I made a big deal out of it when we reached that point where water sloshed over, so she got excited too.

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Your toddler won’t get it yet, but there’s watery science at work here (surface tension! displacement!) that he or she will absorb (heh). Veronika loved watching the water spill.

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After that I dumped the water out so she simply had a jar and pennies. Now, she loved the ker-plunk of dropping in the coins and kept busy solo for a while longer.

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Kiwi Air Crate

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Travis latest crate from Kiwi Co. focused on the science of air, using a game of homemade air hockey to illustrate that air has matter, weight, can push things around, and more. This kit earns high marks for both the Science and Art components of the STEAM acronym.

First, we made the various parts of Balloon-Powered Air Hockey. The mallets are a simple matter of attaching felt to the bottom of provided cardboard circles, with a foam donut on top as the handle.

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The puck was a touch complicated to rig together, with a balloon stretched over a tube on top of a smooth clear disk. There is a hole to insert the provided air pump and inflate the balloon. Travis loved doing this and wanted to practice over and over, before we even set it down on a table.

Once on a table, the air is released from the balloon, which then propels the disk forward.

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To make Spray-Art Scoreboards, we again needed to use the crate’s air pump. Now, it attaches to the lid of the Kiwi Crate (or any shoebox) with a sticky foam piece. Attach a provided ink marker just below where the air will come out.

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We then affixed number stencils to the paper on the provided scorecard pads. When you squeeze the air pump (hard!), it blows on the marker so forcefully that ink sprays down onto the paper around the stencil.

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This had definite wow factor. You do need to pump the air quite hard, so some grown-up assistance was required. Repeat until you’ve covered all the scorecards, then remove the number stencils.

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Now it was time play! We rigged our regular table into an air hickey table which form the alleyways on either side that will stop the puck from flying off sideways.

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Pump up the balloon and play!

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I do have a few small quibbles with this crate. It comes with two balloons, but both had an air leak after only one round of air hockey. Also, because the balloon puck lasts under a minute each time you inflate it, you really can’t get into a rhythm of playing the game.

But in terms of illustrating the science of air, it made its point. And my 6 year old liked beating mommy at the game!

We turned to the Explore magazine for a few final experiments. First up was an oldie-but-goodie (a Coat Hanger Balance), that gives an easy visualization that air has weight. Attach two balloons to either end of a hanger, one inflated and one not. Suspend the hanger from a pencil and notice the slight tilt.

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Then we made a Marshmallow Squasher! Add mini marshmallows to an empty plastic water bottle until it is about half full. Insert the air pump into the bottle, sealing around the top of the bottle with play dough so no air can escape.

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Hold the play dough firmly with one hand and squeeze the pump with the other… and watch the marshmallows squish down!

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The Great Chase

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Here was one last fun craft to illustrate the science of tension for Travis, using only a rubber band and some paper!

First we needed to draw two pictures on cardstock. These can be anything your kid wants, so long as there is one thing being chased and a chaser. I copied a template for a mouse chasing cheese for our first version.

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Travis of course chose two Star Wars characters for a second version! We colored in the images, then cut out.

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You’ll also need to cut a rectangle from cardstock measuring 1×2 inches for each image.

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Cut 1-inch pieces of straw. Place a straw piece in the center of each rectangle, using double-sided tape, and fold the cardstock over the straw.

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Attach one of your images to the resulting strip of paper with a second piece of double-sided tape.

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Cut a rubber band open and thread the straw pieces on. Make sure the thing being chased is below the chaser!

As you expand or tauten the elastic, the little straws “run” down it. Travis giggled watching the mouse chase its cheese.

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And loved the Star Wars version!

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Mayflower Soap Ship

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Here’s an easy history lesson for “summer school”, if you’re helping kids transition back towards an academic mode for the fall. It’s a project that’s equal parts history, STEM, and play!

To start, I wanted Travis to learn a bit about the Mayflower ship that carried the Pilgrims to America, and we found an online read-aloud for kids on YouTube. Travis was thunderstruck (pun intended) by images of the voyage across the ocean as the ship was caught in storms and waves.

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Once he finished the video, it was time to create our own ship! Ideally you’ll want a bar of soap that floats for this project and be careful because not all do. Ours was a heavy soap and had a tendency to sink, but we could always nudge it gently back to the top.

To make the sails, cut construction paper (Travis chose blue) to the same size as the soap bar, and tape these “sails” to toothpicks.

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Insert the toothpicks into the soap.

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Travis sent his boat out to sea! Blow gently on the sails and watch the boat move.

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Again, this was tricky since we had to rescue our soap from the bottom of the basin a few times, but Travis loved that he could move it along, and learned a bit about how real sailboats operate.

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And then of course he gave his Legos a ride!

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Finish the project with a drawing of the boat to add in a little art to the mix!

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Beach Day Sun Clock

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Should you find yourself on the beach for a full day, or even just a span of a few hours, there’s no lovelier way to mark the passage of time than to make a sun clock!

To start, Travis needed to find a stick that we could poke in the center of our dial. But the beach was short on sticks! A sturdy piece of sea grass did the trick instead.

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We took note of the first shadow (around 1 pm) and marked the line with stones and shells. It was neat to see how quickly the shadow “ticked” along, already a new line we could mark at the next quarter hour.

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It turned into a fun game, too, to protect the sun clock (soon dubbed the ‘Castle of the Sun’) from waves, using moats and mounds of sand.

You can continue the fun with additional rocks and shells for as long as you stay at the beach, marking each new hour or half hour shadow as it appears. And at the end of the day, take the collection of rocks and shells home!

Craft Stick Chain Reaction

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If you thought dominoes made for a great chain reaction, try this neat craft stick version! It’s sure to make kids (and grown-ups!) say wow.

The set up is definitely a little tricky, and best done with two sets of hands.

Cross two jumbo craft sticks into an X. Add a third stick, so that it is under one part of that first X and over the other. You have to keep your fingers on the cross of that first X, or the whole thing is going to jump apart!

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Keep adding sticks in an X pattern, under one, and over the other. Once your start to move outwards, move your fingers forward by one X to hold it all steady.

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As I mentioned, this gets tricky, and I needed Travis to lift the bottom craft stick so I had space to slide the new one under. You can literally feel the tension building in the sticks as your chain gets longer.

We only made a chain that was 4 X’s deep, but hypothetically you can keep going. Release and it pops apart! It all happens so quickly that it’s no surprise my picture is blurry.

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You might want to set a slo-motion camera on a smartphone to really grasp what’s happening, but here at least is a fast video.

A fun one!

Easy Elevator

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Travis extended some recent science fun about the notions of push and pull with this cute elevator craft. Use a leftover Kiwi Crate (or any similar shoebox) as the shaft of the elevator. Cut two strips from the lid of the box, one wider and one narrower. Bend them so there are flaps at either end and then glue together so the narrower strip nests above the wider strip; this will be your elevator car.

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Now punch holes in the top of the car with a pen, near each edge. Cut a piece of string that is twice as long as the shoebox and loop it through the holes; secure with a knot at the top.

Use a pen to punch two holes in the shoebox, near the top as it is standing upright. Insert a dowel.

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Tape the string on the elevator car to the dowel. Your elevator is ready to rise! Now when you twist one way, the elevator goes up. Simply twist the other way for descent!

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Of course Travis immediately needed to add little figures for some play. He wanted to make pom pom people, so we hot-glued wiggle eyes onto tiny pom poms.

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And of course his Lego people needed to go for a ride!

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That meant this was not only a great STEM craft, but also a great prop for imaginative play.

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Tension Kiwi Crate


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This month’s crate for Travis from Kiwi Co was all about push and pull. Between puppets to push and turtles to pull, there was lots of hands-on fun in this one.

First up were the Push Puppets. Travis helped rig together a base that relies on tension, meaning lots of wooden pieces held together by rubber bands, nuts, and bolts.

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To assemble the puppets, thread one end of the provided elastic through a hole in the wood base, and then layer on three wooden beads. These look like little people: a body, a head, and a hat!

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Two sticky wiggle eyes complete each person. Pushing on the wooden lever now releases the tension on the elastic, and the puppets fall flat.

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Needless to say, Travis thought this was a riot! We could add the provided backdrops for little puppet shows that took place at the beach or in the moonlight.

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He colored his own background of a big hairy spider on the blank sheet of paper. Oh no, the puppets fell down in fear!

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Next up were Woven Turtles. This was the crafty Art part of STEAM for this crate, with a turtle shell to weave from yarn on a wood frame. This project came right on the heels of several other weaving activities we’ve done this summer, so Travis is becoming more dexterous at the motion.

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It was a lot of yarn, though, so he still needed me to take over! The fully woven shell is then adhered to a foam cut-out of a turtle, with a nut and bolt to fasten things in place.


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Travis added wiggle eyes and a little straw in the turtle’s nose. We made two because now it was time for… a Turtle Race! Use the provided blue tape to attach a piece of straw to the edge of your Kiwi crate (or any similar box).

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Tie the provided string to a table leg, making sure it’s at the same height as your prepared turtle.

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Thread the string through the straw on the turtle’s nose, and then through the one on the box. Add a wooden bead at the other end of the string, securing with a double knot.

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When you give the string quick tugs, your turtle moves from the table leg to the box. Here he goes:

What’s more fun than watching one little turtle scoot along? Making it a race of course!

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Mommy’s turtle won by a nose!

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In addition, Explore magazine had fun facts about ways people use ropes and tension in everyday life, whether the cables of an elevator, the strings of a guitar, or a game of tug-of-war. So of course we needed to play the latter!

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Finish with a read of the following:

  • Give It a Push, Give It a Pull, by Jennifer Boothroyd
  • Cece Loves Science: Push and Pull, by Kimberly Derting

Kiwi Tension books


Start a Tree

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Unlike a tree sapling we planted earlier in the summer, today Travis conducted more of a science experiment; could he start a tree sapling from seeds we collected outside?

After dinner, we headed off on a pajama walk (one of the best parts of these long summer nights!) in hunt of seeds. You’ll want ones that you can easily plant in a cup, so think maple keys, acorns, or walnut seeds.

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Once home, we investigated all of our finds, talking about their similarities and differences. Travis was especially fascinated by the black walnut pod we brought home, and then cracking it open to get to the seeds inside!

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We then spooned a little potting soil into each of 3 foam cups, and added our tree seeds. Cover with a little more soil and water.

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We labeled the cups and Travis sat down to begin a nature notebook, jotting down how the seed pods had looked on Day 1. The goal is to continue until we see little saplings grow!

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To conclude the project, be sure to talk about the various ways that seeds can move to a new place. Travis laughed imagining seeds that could get up and walk, but then we reviewed some of the real methods (like wind, rain, or hitchhiking on animals!).