Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science

I love growing crystals. Makes sense, right? My name is Crystal. Perhaps this is why I have always been drawn to chemistry. But really, if you haven't grown crystals before you need to do it today. The results are completely awe-inspiring and gorgeous, and it's a really easy process. I have gone a bit loco crazy growing crystals since we did this science activity, as you'll see in my posts in the coming weeks. For today, we made our own crystallized borax Christmas tree ornaments and, I have to tell you, they are stunning.
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science | Star
Total Time: About 20 minutes to prepare and then several hours to wait for the crystals to form.

Safety Concerns: You will need to boil water for this. Just watch the kiddos!

Materials You Need:
Pipe Cleaners
Festive Cookie Cutters
String
Pencil
Mug, vase, or jar
Boiling Water
Borax

Directions:
  • Bend your pipe cleaner into your desired shape. We did this by using cookie cutters as a guide as seen below.
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science
  • Tie a piece of string to your pipe cleaner shape. You can use string, yarn, or even dental floss if you want!
  • Attach the string to a pencil, pen, spoon, or other long object and set aside.
  • Fill your jar or vase with boiling water. Add 3 TBSP borax per cup of water and stir. It's okay if some borax settles on the bottom of your container.
  • Lower your pipe cleaner shape into the hot water/borax mixture. Make sure it is not touching the sides or the bottom of your container, and that you can get it through the mouth of your container easily. Feel free to trim or bend your shape accordingly. It is fine to have two ornaments in one large container just as long as they don't touch.
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science
  • Make sure your jar is in a quiet place where it won't be disturbed. You don't want it to get jostled or bumped at all while the crystals are growing.
  • After a couple of hours you will start to see crystals growing! Leave your mixture overnight for best results, or remove your ornaments after just a few hours if you just want a light dusting of crystals.
  • Let your ornament dry on a paper towel for an hour or so. Then pick it up and admire it in the sunlight. Seriously, the crystals are intricate and gorgeous. You will want to grab a magnifying glass to observe them more closely!
Print These Instructions

The thing I was most surprised at is how sturdy these are! I thought they would be delicate and fragile, but they are deceptively hardy. Also, they look edible, but they aren't. I even found myself tempted to gnaw on them. Don't do it.
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science
Crystal science is amazing. The word crystal actually refers to any material that is arranged in an ordered form. Some crystals (like borax) are arranged into little cubes. Other crystals (like snowflakes) have six different arms. You can grow crystals from many substances including salt, sugar, epsom salt, baking soda, and borax. In most of my undergrad chemistry labs the last step was to crystallize the product so we could weigh it. I'll tell you, though, these borax crystals are much easier to grow than most of the substances we had to grow in my lab, and they are more beautiful, too!
Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science
I love the way these ornaments reflect the light on our tree. The crystals give the shapes a delicate frosty look.
And, yes, I know we have a very obviously fake Christmas tree. And, yes, I know this ought to get me kicked out of Portland and banned from ever returning. But it's still kinda pretty, right? RIGHT?!

So now you have a big box of borax. What else can you do with it? How about making some slime? Or crystallizing more stuff like I've been doing all week? Let me know what you are up to in the comments!

*This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy. 



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Borax Crystal Ornaments | Christmas Science

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math

This week we did a very simple math activity as part of our special Gumdrop STEM blog hop. My kids are currently five and two years old, respectively, so I wanted to do a simple home learning activity without too many tricky parts. Luckily for me, the kids love counting and coloring, so a little sorting and graphing activity seemed right up their alley. It was super simple. I mean, really really simple. But they loved it. Because CANDY.
Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math The Science Kiddo
First, we took the gumdrops and put them in a bowl. Then we sorted them and counted how many of each color we had. This was the part that the two-year-old enjoyed most. (She's not always sure what comes after ten, but she sure loves to count.)
Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math The Science Kiddo
On paper, we made a table of all our delicious data:
Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math The Science Kiddo
Second, we made bar graphs of all of the data points, using free printable graph paper from this site. We filled in one square for each gumdrop. (Note: It's a good plan to wait until after counting to label your graph axes--you never know how lopsided your candy bag will be!) We didn't do a lot of decoration on ours, but if you or your kid has a particularly artistic mind, you can do all kinds of interesting things with these graphs.
Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math The Science Kiddo
After our graphs were completed we talked about the results. Which color did we have the most of? The least? I pointed out how a bar graph makes it easy to know this data at a quick glance. If your kids are older you could also do some beginning statistics with them to figure out the mean, median, mode, and range.

Last, we ate the candy. This was the five-year-old's favorite part. (Naturally.)
Gumdrop Graphs | Candy Math The Science Kiddo



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Saturday Science


And now on to our special edition of Saturday Science, "STEM with Candy Gumdrops"! Check out what our wonderful co-hosts have been up to with their candy and link up your own math and science activities:
Building Structures with Candy Gumdrops from Lemon Lime Adventures
Gumdrop Bridge Building STEM Activity from Little Bins for Little Hands
Gingerbread & Gumdrops Grid Game from Stir the Wonder
3D vs. 2D Shapes from Suzy Homeschooler

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter

Welcome to another edition of Make Your Own Window Gel Clings! Today we are featuring Christmas and winter themed gel clings...ya know, snowmen, bells, candy canes, and stars. I can honestly say that these are my favorite window jellies we have made so far. The key? Glitter. Lots of it.

It is becoming a bit of a tradition in our household to make new gel clings for each season/holiday. We started with our spring/summer clings, which were replaced by our Halloween bats and pumpkins. Embarrassingly, those stayed up until November 29 when I finally deemed it appropriate to put up Christmas decorations. The Christmas edition may stay put until Spring. We'll see...

Making your own window gel clings is super-easy. They are even edible if you leave the glitter out. (But really, a small case of glitter-tummy never hurt anyone, right?)

Grab your favorite Christmas/winter cookie cutters and let's get started!
DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter
Total Time: About 10 minutes to prepare, 20 minutes to color, 10 minutes to cut out with some waiting time between each step

Safety Concerns: You will need to boil water for this. Just watch your kids around hot water and the resulting hot gelatin. Let it cool a bit before your kids get close.

Materials You Need:
Four cups of boiling water
Six packets of unflavored gelatin (or about 43 grams)
Food coloring and glitter of your choice
Toothpick for stirring
One large cookie sheet with a rim or two 9 x 13 casserole dishes
Cookie cutters
Spatula
DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter
Directions:
  • Add gelatin to hot water. Stir to make sure it all dissolves and spoon out any bubbles.
  • Pour your mixture into you cookie sheet or casserole dishes. You want it to be about half an inch thick. It doesn't have to be exact, but you want it to be level.
  • Once gelatin is cooled a bit (10-15 minutes), have fun dropping food coloring into your gel and swirling it around with your toothpick. Sprinkle it with glitter if you desire. You only have about 30 minutes before the gelatin starts to harden so don't dawdle!
  • Let the gelatin harden. It should only take 30-60 minutes, but you can leave it out overnight if you desire. Since it's super-concentrated it hardens quickly without being in the refrigerator. We usually leave our gelatin overnight and cut it out in the morning because it seems to stay together a bit better that way.
  • Once it has set use cookie cutters to cut out shapes or cut out your own shapes using a butter knife.
  • Use a spatula to lift your gel shapes out of the pan. Don't worry if they tear because you can simply mold them back together on the window. Stick them to your windows and enjoy!
DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter
*Please Note: I have had some readers say their gel clings were too wet or heavy and didn't stick to the window. If this happens to you, simply leave your pan of gelatin out uncovered overnight and try again in the morning. If they are still too heavy, leave them again until the next day. Each day, water evaporates out of the gelatin, making it stickier and lighter, thus more likely to stick to your window! Also, they stick better to cold windows than to hot ones, so you may have more success putting them up in the morning when the windows are the coldest.

Print These Instructions
DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter
I love how these window jellies catch the rare rays of sunshine during the winter. They light up our front room!

In addition to being a fun art/sensory/family bonding activity, there is great science to be learned as well! You will notice as the gelatin cools down it gets thicker, or more viscous. When the gelatin is hot the food coloring moves easily through it, but as the gelatin cools down and hardens, the food coloring doesn't mix in as well. My kids had so much fun coloring this batch that they had to rush at the end to get in all the colors and glitter before it firmed up completely!

Also watch as the days go by how the gel clings dry out. They start out squishy and plump, but within a few days they will be paper-thin plastic-y shapes on the window as the water evaporates out of them. My kids touch them every day to see how they are changing.
DIY Window Gel Clings | Christmas/Winter
*This project was inspired by The Kitchen Pantry Scientist. Check out her post for more details about the science of density, diffusion, and evaporation!

**This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.



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Sunday, November 30, 2014

4 Must-Have Science Materials

People who know that we homeschool and that I have an advanced degree in chemistry often ask me what books and resources we use to teach our children science. As you know, my kids are still very young (5 and 2, respectively), and I don't like to spend money when I don't have to. The books and resources I have chosen all fit the following criteria:
  • These are materials that will last our kids for several years, at least until they are 12 or so. I hate the idea of buying new books and a new curriculum every year, with new kits and manipulatives to go along with it. The materials I chose are adaptable to kids of all ages and are high quality so they will last for several years, through several kids.
  • They have to be interesting! I can't tell you how many times I hated a subject in school just because the textbook was so. dang. boring. The books have colorful pictures and simple, short text that make them appealing to children and the movies are captivating.
  • A feature that sold me on the books we purchased is that they are internet-linked, meaning you can go online to a designated website to learn more about the subject you are reading about. For me, that is a HUGE value! In the Science Encyclopedia, for example, each and every page has links where you can go to play games, watch videos, or print activities that go along with what you read. UH-mazing!
Without further ado, here is my list of my top four science materials every family (especially homeschoolers) needs to own:
4 Must-Have Science Materials Every Family Needs to Own
  1. Science Encyclopedia from Usborne. Seriously guys, this is the only science text you are going to need until your kids are in high school. As mentioned above, it contains internet links that expand on the knowledge that is already contained in this 450-page text. It is really geared toward children 9-years-old and up, but my young kids love to flip through it and look at the pictures. They ask questions and we read short paragraphs together. I can't say enough about how much we love this text.
  2. 100 Science Experiments, again from Usborne. This book contains hands-on science activities that my kids love, and that inspire a lot of the activities on this blog! Many of them can be done with young children, some of them are geared more for older kids. As the kids get older I plan to have them do a lot more of the planning and preparation for these experiments as well as further research into the how and why behind what they see.
  3. The Story of Science by Joy Hakim. This is a three-part history series that is centered around scientists and their achievements and contributions to society. It starts out in ancient times with people like Pythagoras and Archimedes and progresses all the way through Einstein. We use this as our foundational text for history and geography, diving deeper into subjects as my children are interested.
  4. Planet Earth from the BBC. This is a 5-disc DVD set that is as amazing to adults as it is to kids. It literally takes you all over the world to observe animals in their own habitats. Watch elephants migrate and fight off a lion attack, watch polar bears emerge from their den, watch exotic birds in the rainforest do their mating dances. These are events that are virtually impossible to see without these videos!
I want to give my children a science-based education, meaning that history, art, math, language, music, etc. are all based in science. These resources are meant to be a foundation for my kids that they can build on based upon their interests. So far it is working incredibly well. My kids are curious, creative, and confident, and they know more about science than any other 2- and 5-year-old I have ever met.

So what do you think about my choices? What do you use to teach your kids science?

*This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.



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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Soda Can Submarine | Diving and Surfacing

Have you ever wondered how a submarine works? How does it dive and then surface again? The key lies in the ballast tanks which can be alternately filled with water or air. When they are filled with air, the submarine is less dense than water, so it rises to the surface. When they are filled with water, the submarine is more dense than the surrounding water and dives. Check out this great article on How Stuff Works that explains how a submarine works in greater detail with a nice picture.

A couple of months ago my husband took Tommy, our then four-year-old, on a tour of the USS Blueback. Since then, Tommy has been hungry for any information he can get about submarines. One morning he woke up so anxious to learn more that we spent our entire homeschool day on submarines. We read Submarines, looked up links from the book, played Battleship, and did this awesome science activity to see how a submarine's ballast tanks work.
Soda Can Submarine | Diving and Surfacing | How a Submarine Works
Total Time: About 5 minutes
Safety Concerns: None.

Materials You Need:
A tall vase, bowl, or pot 3/4 full of water
An empty soda can
Plastic tubing
Soda Can Submarine | Diving and Surfacing | How a Submarine Works
Directions:
  • Place one end of the tubing inside the soda can.
  • Fill the soda can with water, making sure no air bubbles are trapped inside.
  • Place the soda can in the vase. If it doesn't sink, fill it with more water and make sure no air bubbles are trapped inside.
  • Once the soda can sinks, blow into the plastic tubing. Watch as the air travels through the tube into the can, making it surface!
Soda Can Submarine | Diving and Surfacing | How a Submarine Works
As air flows into the can, water is displaced, and flows out. This makes the soda can less dense than the surrounding water, which is what makes it rise to the surface!
Word to the wise: Once you are done blowing into the tubing a siphon is created, meaning you will get a mouthful of water if you are lower than the water level. My son actually loved this and thought it was a super fun reward, but if you don't want a drink, make sure your end of the tubing is higher than the water level!

We got this idea from The Usborne Book of Science Activities, which is totally jam-packed with hands-on science fun for kids of all ages.
    Print These Instructions

    How Can I Learn More About Submarines?

    • Go on a tour of a submarine if you live close to one. Here in Portland, we have the USS Blueback at our science museum! 
    • Read Submarines (buy it here) and check out the Usborne quicklinks page that go along with the book to watch video clips, listen to sounds that a submarine sonar operator might detect, and build your own submarine!
    *This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.



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    Saturday Science

    Saturday Science
    And now on to our Saturday Science linky party! Check out our wonderful co-hosts and link up your own math and science activities:

    Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Why Does Salt Melt Ice?

    Have you ever lived in or visited a snowy place in the winter? Have you ever wondered why salt is spread over the roads after it snows or why people sprinkle salt over their stairs and walkway when they get icy? Wonder no more because we are going to answer those very questions right now. We are going to bring winter science inside of our kitchen to do an experiment the kids will love.
    Why Does Salt Melt Ice? The Science Kiddo
    When salt is mixed with ice it lowers the freezing point. Usually water freezes at 32° F (0° C), but when it is mixed with salt it lowers the freezing point significantly. This simply means the ice melts. We have used this same trick to make yummy treats like fruity ice slush and easy homemade ice cream!

    For our experiment today we will use this phenomenon to do a little trick I like to call "Fishing for Ice".

    Total Time: Less than 5 minutes
    Safety Concerns: None. All ingredients are safe and edible, though perhaps not very tasty when mixed together!

    Materials You Need:
    Cup full of water
    A few ice cubes
    Table salt
    A piece of string
    Why Does Salt Melt Ice? The Science Kiddo
    Directions:
    • Place the ice cubes in the cup of water. They will float on top.
    • Try to "fish" for an ice cube with the string. It won't "catch" anything.
    • Place the string in the water and across the top of the ice cubes. 
    • Now sprinkle a little bit of salt across the ice cubes. Wait for a minute or so.
    • Pull the string out and see what you caught!
    Print These Instructions
    Why Does Salt Melt Ice? The Science Kiddo
    When salt is sprinkled over ice it melts. However, when it is used in such a small amount, like in our experiment, the water around the ice freezes again quickly. This means that the string gets trapped as the water around it refreezes, thus making it stick to the ice. We were able to freeze all of our ice cubes to one piece of string. How about you?
    Follow Crystal's board Fun in the Kitchen With Kids on Pinterest.

    Saturday Science

    Saturday Science
    And now on to our Saturday Science linky party! Check out our wonderful co-hosts and link up your own math and science activities:
    Popsicle Stick Catapults STEM Activity from Little Bins for Little Hands
    Leaf Number Hunt and Match from Stir the Wonder
    20 Must-Try Winter Science Experiments from Lemon Lime Adventures
    Sledding With Newton's Laws from Suzy Homeschooler





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    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Spirograph | Math Fun for Kids

    Kids learn by playing. I had a pediatrician turn to my oldest son when he was four and tell him, "Your most important job is to play, OK?" As kids play their brains pick up on patterns and notice inconsistencies. They experiment, hypothesize, test, and retest. Through play, kids learn all kind of stuff without even realizing it! Today I have some suggestions for mesmerizing play that will help your child learn some pretty complicated math while creating beautiful art.
    Math for Kids Spirograph
    The math behind spirograph is elegant enough for a college trigonometry course, so we're not really going to touch on the specifics on this website for kids. (If you want to know the math behind the patterns check it out here.) Suffice it say that the patterns that are created depend on three variables: the radius of the fixed disc, the radius of the revolving disc, and the location of the pen on the moving disc. By manipulating any one of these variables you can get incredible patterns that are varied and beautiful and mind-blowingly complex. I find myself holding my breath until the pattern overlaps and connects the picture perfectly from start to finish.

    You may wonder where the educational value lies in letting your child play with spirograph. Sure, it's fun and it's art, but does it actually teach your child mathematical concepts?

    YES!

    OK, so maybe they won't be writing out formulas, but in playing with spirograph, in experimenting and trying all kinds of crazy combinations of variables, kids develop mathematical and scientific intuition. Kalid Azad from Better Explained wrote an enlightening article on this subject that I highly recommend you read. He said, "Math is about ideas - formulas are just a way to express them. Math becomes difficult and discouraging when we focus on definitions over understanding." If we work on understanding the ideas first, the formulas will more naturally follow.

    Kids draw spirograph patterns because they are fun. In the act of playing and varying which discs they use and seeing which ones produce the illustrations they enjoy, they will notice patterns. Their math intuition gets stronger, providing a solid foundation upon which to learn more and to learn deeply. That's something we all want, right? Right.

    We recently found this free game called Inspirograph where you can draw your own spirograph patterns online. You can even save and print them if you like! I highly recommend playing with it with your kids and letting them create their own beautiful art! Even my two-year-old has figured out how to use this program. She sat at the table for almost an hour one morning creating and recreating beautiful math art. At two years old she is already building her math intuition.

    Do you have a more tactile learner? If you are looking for a paper and pencil set for your kids the original Spirograph Set is really awesome. I also found this fun Spirograph String Art Set that would be a fun gift. I can see my kids making little ornaments and gifts for their friends with that one. If you have a hands-on learner, one of those sets would provide hours of fun, crafting, and learning.

    Have you played with spirograph before? What are your favorite patterns to create?

    *This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.



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    Saturday, November 15, 2014

    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix? | Colorful Bombs

    Want an easy science experiment that will keep your preschooler's mind and hands busy for awhile? Well, here it is! I don't know any kid that can resist the fun of food coloring, especially when associated with the word "bomb". This experiment is super easy to execute and opens itself to lots of hands-on freeplay with colors and mixtures, in addition to teaching the kids some really fundamental science concepts.
    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix Science Activity for Kids
    Total Time: 5 minutes to infinity
    Safety Concerns: None. All materials are nontoxic and edible!

    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix Science Activity for Kids
    Materials You Need:
    Clear glass or plastic cup(s), half full of water
    Vegetable oil
    Food coloring

    Directions:
    • Pour enough oil in each glass to make a thin layer of oil on top.
    • Drop 1-5 drops of food coloring in each cup. The food coloring will bead and sit in the oil layer.
    • Wait and watch for a minute or two for the food coloring to drop from the oil layer to the water layer. Bombs away!
    Oil is made up of different chemical bonds than water is, which is why the two don't mix. (Water is polar, oil is nonpolar, in case you wanted to know.) Oil is less dense than water so it floats on top. The food coloring only dissolves in water since it is water-based. When you drop the food coloring into the cup it beads and sits on the oil layer until gravity finally wins and it drops down to the water layer creating the exciting "bomb" effect.
    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix Science Activity for Kids
    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix Science Activity for Kids
    Watch as the color slowly disperses through the water. Molecules are always in motion, which you can see as the color mixes with the water without any outside stirring. Try stirring the mixture and notice what happens. No matter how much the mixture is stirred the oil will always form a layer on top while the colored water remains on the bottom. If your child is like mine they will want to do this experiment over and over again with different colors!
    Why Don't Water and Oil Mix Science Activity for Kids
    One note: Sometimes it takes several minutes for the colors to drop into the water. Some kids are patient and are willing to wait. Some, like my two-year-old, can't wait for longer than a few seconds. Feel free to spin the glass a little bit to get the color to drop a little bit sooner :)

    Want another variation of this experiment? Try our super simple Lava Lamp using these same materials!

    Follow Crystal's board Chemistry for Kids on Pinterest.

    Saturday Science

    Saturday Science
    And now on to our Saturday Science linky party! Check out our wonderful co-hosts and link up your own math and science activities:
    Water Sensory Science Activities for Kids from Little Bins for Little Hands
    How to Make Math Grid Games With Stickers from Stir the Wonder





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