Buttons + Craft Sticks = A STEM Morning

With baby down for a rare morning nap, I left the boys an invitation to math play on the breakfast table: a bag of colorful buttons, numbered baby food jars, a dollar store pill organizer, a craft-stick ten-frame, and a color-coded craft organizer. The pill organizer and the ten-frame caught John’s eye immediately.
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He wasn’t interested in filling the jars with the indicated number of buttons. Instead, he set up an estimation game for me that involved guessing the jar with the most buttons, running after him carrying the jar, then returning to the table to dump it into the bowl and put the contents in the pill organizer.
Anthony got into the ten-frame and the color sorting on his own, and counted out buttons into the jars with a little encouragement. He loves counting and counted to 30 by himself as he filled his jars.
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Free play with the buttons lasted 1.5 hours and the boys have gone back to the table again and again to pour and sort. John worked out how to use a craft stick to get the buttons to flow neatly from a wide-mouthed bowl into a narrow jar.
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The most exciting part was watching John build structures with the jars and craft sticks, determining how to balance narrow jars on planks of craft sticks over wider jars. DSC_0325
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t first John got frustrated that the bigger craft sticks were just a bit too short to reach across the wide bowl. He came up with two solutions–using sticks to support the bridge on each side, and angling sticks to support each other.
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Finally, Anthony and Dominic both enjoyed building with blocks. Pinterest is abuzz with STEM activities for preschool and kindergarten ad here we had a great morning of math and engineering/physics–and no one even knew they were “doing school”!
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The Magic School Bus Under the Sea

Junior Scientist insisted on more experiments today, so I finally pulled out the first Magic School Bus kit (on water). The first three experiments were easy to set up and largely review for John, but water makes everything fun. John couldn’t wait to get started. While I was eating lunch he explored the materials.
John directed the experiments himself, using the pictures to tell me his favorite characters’ instructions.
We reviewed floating and sinking and added a “boat”.
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We made a “submarine” to see how filling the can with water made it sink and how filling it with air lifted it back to the surface.
We dissolved food coloring in water to make a solution and observed how oil and sand did not dissolve.
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The experiments were fun, but the best part was the free play with the water tub. John dumped the food coloring, oil, and sand in, then repeated all the experiments on his own. He used the sink/float materials for a little dramatic play about a group of people in a boat who got caught in a storm. He sang his story to the tune of “Strolling Through the Park”: “They were floating in the sea one day, then the boat began to sway, and the people fell down to the bottom of the sea!” Then a sea monster attacked them but they found a golden jar…and somehow icebergs/ice cubes got involved, a spoon made some waves to swamp the boat, and an underwater volcano exploded and the people sank to the bottom.
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My mad scientist worked on his own for 30+ minutes, mixing, blowing bubbles, filling things with water, and watching ice cubes melt.

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States of Matter: It’s getting hot in here

The GI bug of death is finally done wreaking havoc on our family (please please please), so we’re back to work. A little breakfast, a little Star Wars math work, a little phonics, then experiment time!
John has been fascinated by the idea of melting things and the various temperatures at which substances could melt, so we began by turning solids into liquids. We picked four substances (butter, cheese, chocolate, ice, and a rock. John loves volcanoes and how lava becomes igneous rock, hence the seemingly random addition of a rock).

I asked John to guess which would melt first. He thought the chocolate would melt first, likely his desire to hurry up and eat the chocolate talking. He observed the water pooling in the ice cup as it melted, the spreading pool around the butter, and the squishiness of the chocolate and cheese as they softened.
He read the thermometer as the water heated and made comparisons between the water temperature and that of his skin (sort-of, he kept trying to skewer himself with the meat thermometer, so I doubt he got a good reading) and the inside of his mouth. We watched the water come to a boil and observed the steam, so he could compare water in all three states.
Since we had warm water on hand, I had John stir in salt to set up a crystal growing demonstration. We will have to wait for three days to observe the crystals left behind on the construction paper after the water evaporates.
Returning to our states of matter discussion of molecules, we observed what happened as we added food coloring to a jar of still water. We watched as the food coloring diffused throughout the water without us stirring, thanks to the invisible movement of the water molecules.
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Since the previous experiments were too slow for John and he asked for more explosions, he set up his own food coloring, vinegar, and baking soda for some splashier fun.DSC_0251 DSC_0252 DSC_0257

* Today’s inspiration courtesy of two consignment sale finds:


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Lemon Scented Science: Invisible Ink & Cleaning Pennies

A fridge clean out yielded two lemons of dubious vintage, so Junior Scientist had a new material for science experiments (seriously, we can’t grow mold on ANYTHING around here! Those lemons were a good 4 months old, the bread we wiped all over the ground isn’t showing any signs of mold, and a loaf of bread forgotten in the pantry 20 days after sell-by is still mold-free).
Since I asked him to haul in the giant bag of baking soda from the garage, he anticipated a lemon-baking soda reaction and rubbed some all over the outside of the lemons. No go for any reaction, but a good hypothesis and test. John cut the lemons himself (supervised, of course) and juiced them (fine motor skills + strengthening hand and finger muscles, check). He was so proud to use the adult knife and cut through a large fruit all by himself!
DSC_0184<–Not lemonade, but he actually liked the “sour” lemon juice.
We added vinegar to baking soda as our control reaction, since we knew what would happen (and it never gets old to watch it fizz!).
Then we tried our “unknown” and added lemon juice to baking soda. John observed the similarities in the reactions (they both fizzed up and made bubbles) and the differences (the bubbles in the vinegar fizzed up quickly and died down quickly, whereas the lemon juice bubbles took a few seconds longer to fizz up to the same level, created bigger and foamier bubbles–almost like bubble bath bubbles, and the bubbly foam lasted longer).
After the bubbles died down, John and I used Q-Tips to write secret messages with lemon juice.
I showed John how to make the messages appear (although he didn’t have the patience to hold the paper level for long enough to see the letters appear so I did all of them but one).
I used the opportunity to write some words he learned a few weeks ago–“cat”, “hat”, “mat”, and “love”–and he was excited to watch the letters appear one by one and read the secret word. I can’t wait to try this method of writing invisible messages–I know John will love it, since it involves his favorite ingredient (baking soda) and looks a bit messy.

While we were waiting for the messages to dry, we found some dirty pennies to clean. John added salt to a bowl of vinegar and to one of lemon juice, stirred them up, and added the dirty pennies. We left the pennies to sit for about ten minutes while we revealed the secret messages. John fished out the pennies and I wiped them with a cloth, revealing the shiny surprise.
Before: Ick                                                                After: Bright and clean
We talked a bit about the chemical reaction that cleaned the pennies (the acid in the vinegar and baking soda reacts with the copper oxide that made the pennies look dirty). Finally, we put a shiny new screw into the vinegar bowl used to clean the pennies and left it there until after dinner. When we pulled it out, John noticed how much “dirtier” it looked.
I didn’t go into the science behind this change, other than to say the copper from the pennies that had dissolved in the vinegar was attracted to the metal screw (protons and electrons may be a bit too much at this point).

After all that experimenting, Junior Scientist was feeling a bit peckish and we got some natural sorting, counting, and comparing practice at snack time.
(Captain America crackers came in #1 with 7, while he had only 2 Hulk crackers).

Anthony is crazy about the Three Little Tamales and The Library Gingerbread Man, so John made some little tamales again and acted out some of the book.
DSC_0222 <–Obviously these are tamales and clearly not used tissues I should throw out. Ooops.

John is still talking about the “dirty” screw the next morning and wanted to see what would happen if we put a clean screw and the dirty one in unused vinegar. We will wait and see!

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Playtime = Learning Time. A day in the Pre-K life.

“Are your boys in school?” Well, they’re learning, but so far it’s not “school”. As we work out our homeschooling philosophy and methodology, a more relaxed approach–dare I say it, an unschooling approach–is particularly attractive to me at this point with young children (4K and 2K + baby). This is both liberating and terrifying–it is so easy to be swayed by others’ recommendation of “the best” curriculum and to feel I “ought” to take a more school-ish approach, but as I see John and Anthony engaged and curious about their surroundings and in love with reading, I think we’ll stick with this for now.
photo (4) <–I brought books home from the library and was mobbed by both big boys begging to read everything I brought home.

Simple Homeschool’s The Myth of the Uninvolved Unschooler made unschooling seem a lot more reasonable and doable–and it looked a lot like what we do, or at least what I’d like to do. Perhaps we may move to more formal schooling later, but for now our days are full! I am loving reading through Jaime’s day-in-the-life posts as I try and get us into a rhythm of our own. Here’s what Monday looked like at our house:

6:00 a.m. Baby wakes up. Groan and roll over.
6:30 a.m. Drag self upstairs to feed and change baby. Baby falls asleep nursing, I catch up on morning prayers and Facebook.
7:15 a.m. John comes in, baby re-wakes, boys play while I shower. Anthony is quiet in his room, we leave well enough alone.
8:00 a.m. Find Anthony reading and playing Legos, everyone tidies boys’ room. We read Winnie the Pooh An Arts & Crafts Day together.
8:30 a.m. Anthony goes outside to play Octonauts in the water table, John screws in some nuts and bolts and makes a book for me with stencils and stapler (the cover says “To Mama, Love John”), baby looks for interesting dirt and fuzz to eat, and I make pancakes.
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8:45 a.m. Anthony is still playing, so John and baby eat pancakes and I chug coffee. Anthony comes in and I read Tomie dePaola’s The Parables of Jesus to the boys. Anthony insists I read The Three Little Tamales, so we read that too.
9:15 a.m. Both boys head outside to play. Baby and I fold some laundry.
10:15 a.m. John comes in and we read about fungi and bacteria and classify various types of living creatures. We talk about yeast and make connections with our yeast experiment and bread making.
10:50 a.m. John heads back outside with Anthony. Baby and I play and do more laundry, then eat an early lunch.
11:50 a.m. Boys come back in and change after playing in the dirt, then eat lunch while I read more Parables of Jesus. I put baby to sleep while they watch Octonauts and read. John loves his new bug robe and Anthony pretends a too-big camo hoodie is his “robe”.
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12:20 p.m. The boys and I cuddle on the couch to read more Parables of Jesus, Hedgie Loves to ReadThe Library Gingerbread Man, The Pirate Cruncher, and The Mitten. Then John watches a Magic School Bus episode while I bring Anthony up for his nap (and read him The Three Little Tamales and a Scooby Doo book).
12:50 p.m. John watches another Magic School Bus while I write this post.
1:20 p.m. John and I set up our fungus experiments and look for fungi outside. John gets the experimental fruit moist with a sponge, then wonders why the sponge floats and tries to make it sink (which he accomplishes by smushing it under the Gup A).
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1:30 p.m. John asks to make chocolate chip muffins, so we make these delicious beauties. We use the sliding measuring spoon to go over fractions. DSC_0152
He eats some chocolate chips and tells me they are like eating a salad before dinner–a pre-snack appetizer. Riiiight.
2:15 p.m. I clean a bit and write a bit while John plays. He shows me his bug/Joker creation and we play a dice game (throwing foam dice up to see who gets a bigger number, then stopping after we both roll the same number twice).
3:30 p.m. John eats a muffin (or, as I realize when I get downstairs, 3 muffins) while I nurse baby and wake Anthony.
4:00 p.m. Snack time! Muffins for all as we talk about today’s saint (St. Louis, our parish’s patron). Somehow we end up talking/reading about St. Thomas Aquinas as well.
4:20 p.m. John makes some crazy guns that shoot up, down, and sideways. We head back to the couch to read more Parables of Jesus, Library Gingerbread Man, and Little Tamales.
4:40 p.m. Boys play ball together while I clean up the snack detritus and hang laundry out to dry.
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5:00 p.m. John makes up stories about Senor Robo the evil scientist robot from his sticker book and tells me and Anthony all about the dastardly robot and his friends.
5:10 p.m. Anthony goes out to play. John tells me about the three little tamales he made from dinner napkins and toy rings and makes up a game involving a fishing pole, toy egg, and the tamales.
5:20 p.m. John realizes the fishing pole is magnetic and hunts around the house to see what is and is not magnetic. I suggest going outside to search for magnetic items and he follows Anthony out.
5:30 p.m. John calls me out to show me the magnetic scissors he found. Anthony uses the scissors to move Octonauts toys from the boat to the basket.DSC_0159 DSC_0162
5:45 p.m. John calls me out to show me that the sun warmed up the water in Anthony’s boat, but that it hadn’t all evaporated yet. He then turns the water red with a washable marker and puts different things in the boat to see how they looked in colored water (the truck still looked dark orange but the silver spoon looked red).
DSC_0165Anthony brings some trucks over to wash in the water table.
5:55 p.m. I change baby and start thinking about dinner.
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6:07 p.m. Dinner is on, I’m called out to see…I’m not sure what. John is fascinated by how an old piece of paper looks after it was covered in mud that dried out. Anthony makes me some “food” in the mud pit, then he plays with cars in the mud.
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Dominic crawls out the open door and plays with some sidewalk chalk and practices standing unaided by the playhouse.
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The boys dig and hoe the dirt and John explains to Anthony that roots are the part of the plant that go underground and suck up the nutrients and water to feed the plant. Anthony plays with the messy water table, pours water from a cup into his elephant watering can and waters some plants.
6:17 p.m. After the 10th time Dominic tries to eat the sidewalk chalk, we go in to check on dinner. The boys are still out playing with dirt and Play-Doh.
6:30 p.m. Two filthy boys come in for dinner. They eat while I read The Pirate Cruncher. John tells me his favorite part of the day was playing with the warm water. Anthony says he liked playing with the cool water. We all pretend race around the living room (John is himself, I am Mrs. Margaret–a friend who is running the road race series with me, and Anthony is Mrs. Margaret’s dad).
6:50 p.m. Tidy up downstairs, then bath time.
7:10 p.m. Husband gets home, bed time.
7:45 p.m. Baby fed, boys in bed.
7:47 p.m. One last question: “What can a protozoa do to a fungus?”
8:00 p.m. I sit down to dinner and beer before cleaning up the terrifying mess that is the kitchen/breakfast area, taking in the laundry, and relaxing with my husband.

It’s unusual to be home all day–we have Mother’s Day Out, two play dates and a preschool session with friends, and a MOPS meeting later this week, so it was relaxing to have a day together without any plans!

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A Fungus Among Us

Junior Scientist is obsessed with all things gross–bugs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold–so in addition to letting him follow the exterminator around and talk his ear off about various insects (“Are those carpenter ants or termites?” “Termites live in the ground and eat wood. The queen is big and lays eggs.”), I pulled out our books on fungi and bacteria (purchased like-new at <$1 from a Friends of the Library sale) and left them on the dining room table for him to find. Within minutes, he picked out these beauties:
After reading them a few times and discussing the characteristics that distinguish living things from non-living, we hunted around the house and outside for living and non-living things (ie, cat, baby, bugs, and trees = living, chairs, tables, toys, shoes = non-living). Then John sorted pictures of various kinds of organisms into the 5 kingdoms, and we talked a bit about what made the kingdoms different.
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Next up is experiment time!
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We wiped the bread on dusty sections of floor (super hard to find here, of course!) and sprinkled them with a bit of water. Then we put an apple and some almost-rotten cherry tomatoes in an open bag out in the yard. We’ll check them in the coming days to see how the mold grows and how the fruit starts to decompose (we may or may not dump it out, I don’t want to attract big critters). I hope the floor was dirtier than John’s mouth was so that these slices of bread actually grow some mold!
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We also investigated some fungus we found on one of our plants and on a tree stump in the messy play area. I was thrilled that both looked just like some of the fungi pictured in John’s book!

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Does it dissolve?

Junior Scientist needed another experiment, so we experimented with dissolving solids in water in preparation for this month’s Magic School Bus water unit.
John chose salt, sugar, baking soda, and powdered sugar for his experiment. I added cornstarch, flour, and sprinkles. Half the fun for John was spooning out the substance and stirring it up. We talked about hypothesis, experiment, and result and he enjoyed testing his hypotheses and telling me his results and observations.
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John noted that the sugar and salt dissolved–although the coarse salt took more stirring and a trip to the microwave–and that the powdered sugar and flour made the water cloudy (likely because he added a ton of each, so the small amount of water likely reached its saturation point fairly quickly).  He also noticed that the blob of flour floated and the sprinkles, granulated sugar, and coarse salt sank. DSC_0080 DSC_0090
The experiment was easy to set up, kept his attention, engaged him in both hypothesizing and testing, and lead to post-experiment free play (“What would happen when I add salt to the flour cup?”). The only thing I would change would be to have small quantities of the substances pre-measured in cups as they did here, to make it obvious which substances dissolved and not “cloud” the issue (and perhaps make more available to illustrate saturation point).
We went one step further and talked about dissolving liquids. We tried olive oil, dish soap, and pancake syrup.
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John was fascinated by the insoluble olive oil, especially after adding dish soap, which broke down some of the oil and made a pretty glittery look.
Finally, John checked on the jar of salty water and ice cubes he had put in the freezer after our cloud demonstration. He noticed the layer of slushy ice on top and the still-liquid salt water underneath and just had to taste it.
He was not impressed with the salt water, but wanted to play with the slush and ice, so we brought it outside to the water table and the Octonauts visited the Arctic.
For 45 minutes! The wonders of ice + water.

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