9 Fun Holiday Science Activities for Kids

Looking for some fun science activities for the holidays?  Try some of these ideas to keep the learning going during the holidays!

Borax snowflake1. “Snow ornaments” –  Make ornaments using pipe cleaners and a saturated borax solution.

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2. Bake cookies –  Everybody loves Christmas cookies.  Take some time over the holidays to get the kids in the kitchen.  The skills kids learn in the kitchen transfer straight into the chemistry lab.  At Learning with Boys we’ve even converted some of our favorite cookie recipes to metric units.  Check out our “Metric Kitchen” post.

 

3. Snowflake science – Maybe you will be lucky enough to get snow over the holidays  to view the crystals with a magnifying glass.  If not check out The Secret Life of a Snowflake – by Kenneth Libbrecht.  Libbrecht is a physics professor at Caltech but his book is suitable for all ages.  The photographs are just incredible and he does a great job explaining the formation of snowflakes.  He also has a website www.SnowCrystals.com.   Of course no snow study is complete without studying Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley.

4. Circuits – Let kids explore circuits with an old string of Christmas lights.  Depending on their age set them up with a AA battery pack, wire cutters and old lights.

5. Mini-mythbusters – Pine tree preservation – Let the kids use any leftover branches to determine the best way to keep the tree fresh.

6. Set up a taste test.  Is your favorite brand based on taste or packaging?  Find out what your families favorite brand of hot chocolate really is.

7. Do a germ study.  Winter is prime for spreading germs.  Use Glo Germ Gel and a UV light to test how well your family or class mates wash their hands.  Prepare some Petri Dishes and Agar and find where bacteria lurks in your home or school.

8. Make gingerbread houses – Everything from the thickness of the dough to the consistency of the icing affects the final outcome.  Have the kids use graph paper to plot out their designs.

9. Make homemade lip balm, soap, or lotion.  Kids love to make things they can give as gifts and natural ingredient lip balm is a must have item for winter.  Salt scrubs are also easy to make and a good gift.

 

What science activities do your kids enjoy when the weather is cold?

 

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List_it_Tuesday   HHH

10 Ways to Promote STEM Learning

STEM – Science, technology, engineering and math.  It can sound so serious, which is really a shame.  STEM learning is fun!

This past week we went to the Children’s Museum in Pittsburg.  It is a wonderful place.  The kids love it and I feel inspired every time we are there.   I happened to notice this Mr. Rogers quote on the wall:

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
― Fred Rogers

I thought, “That’s what science is all about.   It’s about discovery.  It’s about playing around and pushing the limits.”

Promoting STEM learning in the elementary years isn’t about lists of vocabulary terms.  It’s about play and discovery.  So today I provide a list of tips to promote STEM learning in your home:

1. Allow failure.  Failure is part of the science experience.  Sometimes things don’t work out and we have to figure out why.   This is tough for parents.  We see a mistake and we want to correct it before our kid fails, even if it’s a 2 year old building a tower or a 9 year old hooking up a circuit.  It’s okay to ask the child, “What could you do differently?” and brainstorm after a failure.  But try to let them choose the solution.

Mindstorm NXT

 

2. Play with Toys –  Invest in toys that promote learning.   Buy snap circuits, radiometers, hand boilers, and plasma balls.   Bouncy balls, marble runs, and Newton’s cradles all teach principles that can be explained later with physics.  Magnets are wonderful play objects.  Marble runs and wooden train sets build a great foundation for understanding potential versus kinetic energy.  Robots, like the NXT, are a great starting point for learning to program.

 

3. Watch TV.  Not just any TV.  There are great programs on PBS for kids – Cyberchase, Fetch, and Wild Kratts come to mind.  Discovery channel and History channel both have some good shows.  PBS NOVA has some great episodes.  Modern Marvels is fantastic.  If you don’t mind a little innuendo Myth Busters really reaches kids, although you might find yourself explaining to relatives how your 7 year old knows the exact temperature that causes rapid frost formation on the outside of a beer bottle.

Ribbon Snake

 

4. Nature Walks / Observation – Whether it’s birds at the backyard feeder or a trip to the beach, nature provides a rich learning experience.  Many an inventor has found his/her inspiration in nature.  I also feel it is absolutely critical to teach our future scientists and engineers to be nature lovers. Nature teaches keen observation skills.  We frequently have to listen for what we hope to see.

5. Play games – Play games like Blockus, Battleship, Mastermind, Checkers, and Chess to name a few.  These games promote critical thinking skills, but mostly they’re fun.

The Family with the Penquin

6. Visit zoos, science centers, museums, and botanical gardens.  Most of these places do a great job rotating exhibits, so there is always something new to learn.   It’s one thing to read about space exploration, but actually seeing the size of the capsule the early astronauts used is mind boggling.  Taking the elevator from the feet of a apatosaurus up to its head really brings home the scale of these dinosaurs.  Even mom can learn something new when she gets to pet a penguin.

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7. Do science experiments / activities.  It’s okay to do science activities multiple times if you find them fun.  We keep the plaster volcano in the  basement and sometimes we break it out to play with it.  It’s more an activity than an experiment, because we know what will happen. We also do all sorts of egg experiments the week before Easter, because it’s tradition.   If you have trouble thinking of experiments buy a few experiment books or buy a science kit.

Apple Picking 2013

8. Cook – Bake cookies together, make soup, make apple pie.  There is so much to learn in the kitchen – everything from good measuring technique to acid / base reactions.  You can teach nutrition and talk about why you chose the ingredients you do.   Baking bread introduces the importance of temperature on yeast growth and the properties of gluten.   Kids are really proud of their accomplishments in the kitchen.

9. Read non-fiction books and magazines–  I think too many of us have come to associate non-fiction reading with testing.  Personally I became a non-fiction reader about 7 years ago when I discovered books like, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”,  “For All the Tea in China” and “Freakonomics”.  It can be so pleasurable to just learn a little more about the world or think of things from a new angle.   I began to understand why my boys were selecting stacks of books about animals, inventions, weather and geology.  They wanted to learn more about their world.

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10. Share your discoveries –  Kids are great at setting up their own experiments and testing hypotheses. They also tend to be keen observers when we give them time and don’t rush them.  When they make a discovery celebrate it!   My kids love sharing new observations like zombie caterpillars on Learning with Boys and through social media posts. When we found several off cycle cicadas in our yard, they were delighted to make a report to a website that tracks cicada emergence cycles across the country.

 

How do you keep the spark of discovery alive in your children or students?

 

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List_it_Tuesday       HHH

 

 

 

 

Toys and Gifts for Science Fun

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Here at Learning with Boys we are all about making science fun and accessible.  Here are some of the toys and tools that make it happen.*

 

1. Snap Circuits –  Snap Circuits are great for teaching the fundamentals of electricity.  The directions include several projects and can be followed even by children who aren’t reading completely independently.  The sets allow plenty of room for experimentation.

2. Microscope – Every home needs a microscope.  The Duo-Scope is really nice for kids because it can function as a compound microscope, where the light shines up from underneath for viewing slides, or it can function as a dissecting stereo microscope, where the light shines down for observing solid objects.  This allows you to look at slides and every day objects.

3. Catapults and Trebuchets – Great lessons in machines.  The particular one in this link is a size that matches up well with LEGO minifigures.

4. Hydraulics Kits  – These kits are great for developing an understanding of mechanical motion and how hydraulics are used.   Again the scale works well with Playmobil and LEGO creations.

5. Newtons Cradle – I still remember questions about Newtons Cradles on my Engineering Physics exams.  This simple desk toys is a great demonstration of transfer of motion.

6. Handboilers – These are fragile and sometimes get broken, but they are a hit with our friends.  I keep a couple on the entry table and kids gravitate to them.  Great stocking stuffer.  (You might want to order an extra or two.)

C watching sand blow @ Science Center7. Science Center, Museum, and Zoo Memberships –  An afternoon spent at the science center or museum provides hands-on experiences we just don’t get at home.  Whether it’s a giant pendulum, a high wire unicycle, a giant water table, a visit to the planetarium, or walking through a life size replica of a whale – these experiences create memories that can’t be matched by a book or video.

8. Science Kits –  Kids love getting science kits especially when there is unstructured time to enjoy them.  We enjoyed both Magnets and DNA from ScienceWiz.


9. Magazine Subscriptions – Ranger Rick, Big Backyard, and Zoobooks are a wonderful way to promote literacy and science at the same time.   MAKE magazine has some neat ideas for the DIY crowd.

10. LEGO EV3 – This is the only item on the list we don’t actually have yet.  We have the predecessor NXT version and really enjoy it.  The great thing about the LEGO robots is the combination of programming and mechanical action of the device.

11. Building Toys – Lincoln Logs, KEVA planks, LEGO sets, K’Nex, Erector sets, Zoob.  There are so many great building platforms out there.

12. Spirograph –  Remember this from when you were a kid?  Gear ratios and cool patterns combined!  Unfortunately they stopped making these for a while and none of the knock offs were very good.   The original is back so get it while you can!

What is the best science toy you ever gave or received?

*This post contains affiliate links.  No products or services were obtained by the author in exchange for this post, however this blog may benefit from purchases made as the result of outbound links contained in the post.

List_it_Tuesday   HHH

Back to School with BIG Science

One of our back to school traditions is to start the year with a science experiment.  So while traditional school parents are buying backpacks,  we are ordering a solar bag.  The experiment works best on a sunny morning.

Solar Bag 1

 

We tried this at our house last year and  decided it would be a much better idea to go to the park.

The bag is really long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solar Bag 2

Solar Bag 3

 

Solar Bag 4

 

Finally its almost full!

We tied it off and added a string.  Then we waited a little bit for the sun to do its job.

Solar Bag 5

 

Solar Bag 8

 

Solar Bag 9

 

 

 

 

 

If only we had reeled it in and called it a day right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noooo!!!!!

Solar Bag 9

 

The string wrapped up in a tree.

Solar Bag 10

I spent about 15 minutes walking across the ball field rolling up string!

 

It was a great way to celebrate the “first day” of back to school with a great hands on science activity.  You can order a solar bag from Steve Spangler.  In addition to the solar bag make sure to take some invisible tape and scissors.  Oh and be prepared to answer questions and make friends.

Wishing you many happy experiments!

Carol

Every Day Science – The Metric Kitchen

Does anyone else find the gram measurements on food labels abstract?

I truly would like to see the U.S. start using more metric units.  All scientific measurements are taken using metric units.  It is easier to make conversions between units by simply multiplying by 10 or 100 or 1000 instead of multiplying by 12 or 3 or 5280 or 16.   Not only is it easier to make conversions within length or volume,  did you know that a mL is 1cubic cm and 1 mL of water weighs 1 gram?

When we have a solid understanding of what a gram looks like, it makes food labels so much easier to understand.

With the above in mind, we’ve started taking advantage of our digital scale in the kitchen. Cooking with Scales

We started by taking the boys favorite cookie recipes and measuring the ingredients first in English units  then weighing out and recording the weight in grams.   Liquid measurements were easy because our measuring cup is marked in both mL and cups.

The next time we made cookies we used the metric measures we previously recorded.  So instead of saying, “I need a cup of sugar” we said, “I need 200 grams of sugar,”Chocolate Chip Cookie

 

This simple “experiment” :

1. Develops an understand of metric units by making concrete connections.

2. Develops a greater understanding of volume v. weight.  A cup of sugar weighs more than a cup of flour.

3. Provides a chance to practice good lab skills.

Plus,  we get to eat cookies!

 

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HHH

 

 

 

 

10 Fun Science & Engineering Activities for Summer or Anytime

Incorporating science and engineering into your summer is not only fun but easy.  Try these simple ideas to bring more science to your summer.

Red-spotted Newt hiding under root

1.  Go on nature walks. Take along a camera and magnifying glass. Kids are naturally curious and observant.   Repetition is key to maximizing the benefits of nature walks.  Some days we don’t find much, other days we see lots of animals. Sometimes the kids really enjoy looking for rocks or observing how a stick or leaf flows down the stream.  It might feel like this is just play, but it sets the foundation for learning theory.  The more often you go,  the more interesting things you will find.  We have a mile long paved walking path close to us. We try to walk there at least a couple of times a month in addition to other walks.  Over the last couple of years we’ve observed  foxes, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, hawks, deer, groundhogs, black snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, ducks, geese, and other birds .  Of course we don’t see all of those every day, but sometimes we get lucky and see 18 snakes in one day or two foxes together.

Plasma Ball @ Science Center

2. Visit a science museum. We love visiting science centers and natural history museums. Your time at a good science center will look like play and it is. Play is imperative to developing scientific reasoning.  I love when we begin studying a topic and the boys say, “Oh, like the ……..at the science center.”

Racing Solar Cars

3. Science kits and toys.  Speaking of science centers pick up a science kit or toy while you are there.  Hobby Lobby is also a great source for science kits and toys.  Tornado tubes, circuit kits, magnets, geodes, Newton’s cradles ….. they all allow a child to investigate their world and learn through play.  Steve Spangler also has a lot of kits and ideas.  Don’t worry if the science principles behind the toy are beyond your child’s development.  They are building experiential knowledge of the world.

Illuminated Naked Egg

4. Open the Kitchen Pantry – The chemistry that happens in the kitchen is amazing.  Check out these fun experiments:

  1. Oobleck – simply mix cornstarch and water into a non-Newtonian fluid.  It seems like a solid under pressure but quickly liquefies when the pressure is removed.
  2. Make your own pH indicator–  You can use cabbage or black bean juice as a pH indicator.
  3. Make naked eggs – simply soak a raw egg in vinegar for a few days.  The shell will dissolve but the membrane will stay intact.
  4. Freeze water, salt water, and sugar water
  5. Make ice cream
  6. Make hard candy or lollipops – All you really need is sugar, water, and a candy thermometer.  Hobby Lobby has a kit that uses powdered corn syrup that is actually easier.

5. Programming– There are several ways to bring programming to a kid level.  Check out scratch, Light-bot, Alice,  Lego NXT or EV3.

We were fortunate to join an FLL (First Lego League)  team this year.   It is a great program that combines a research project and a robot game.  I’m fond of the Lego NXT and EV3 because they combine programming and robotics.  The ability to tell a robot what to do seems especially thrilling to kids.

Cookies Ready to bake

6. Bake – The kitchen is excellent preparation for the chemistry lab. It provides great opportunity to measure accurately, mix ingredients, and observe chemical reactions. My kids have actually requested to re-write some of their favorite cookie recipes into metric units and use the scales.

Mardi Gras flowers w/ bee

7. Garden – Whether you stick to flowers or have a kitchen garden, gardening helps you study plants, weather, the water cycle, insects, butterflies, birds, slugs, and much more.

Growing Borax Crystals

8. Do some easy experiments.  We have a few different books of easy science experiments.  One of our favorites is 101 Great Science Experiments, because it has great color pictures of the experiments.  The kids enjoy looking through the book and picking out a couple of experiments each week.

The Great Wall of China

9. Build – Build with LEGOs, PVC tubes, sand, cups, straws, toothpicks, books, or blankets. Build a pop boat.  Make paper airplanes.  Install a pulley system on your play set. See how high you can build a marble run.

Borax snowflake

10. Mix Art and Science – Grow crystals.  Create paper mache sculptures, tessellations, or optical illusions.  If you are really adventurous try a kinetic sculpture.  Take a look through the recycle bin and see what you can create.  Sculpt a clay creation and have it fired.  Watch a glass blowing demonstration.  Learn how to weave.  All of these hands on activities are great not only for our creativity but teach math and science principles.

Wishing you a happy summer full of learning!

 

 

 

 

 

Vernal Pool Unit Study

A local vernal pool

A local vernal pool

We continued our study of vernal pools this week.  We’ve had so much fun with this unit study and learned so much about these unique ecosystems. Vernal pools are filled with water part of the year but dry up for at least 2 months every year. Because these pools dry up completely fish can’t survive in them and that makes them the perfect breeding ground for many amphibians.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

Spring peepers and wood frogs come to vernal pools in late winter/early spring to lay their eggs.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

During the first warm rainy nights of spring, salamanders emerge from their underground burrows to make their way to these shallow pools and lay their eggs.

Fairy shrimp, caddisfly larvae, and water beetles also make their homes in these pools.

Salamander underwater during the day.

Salamander underwater during the day.

On one recent trip we were delighted to see a young salamander during the day. There was a lot of reflection on the water but if you look closely you can see the salamander.

Ribbon Snake

Some predators do of course enjoy visiting these pools. On a recent trip we came across a few ribbon snakes.

“Frog Heaven” by Doug Wechsler was a very helpful resource for this study and I am very grateful to our local naturalist for leading salamander walks on rainy spring nights.

What ecosystems have you explored near you?