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Friday, January 23, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment #3

I have a confession to make: I am, by education and inclination, a historian and not a scientist.  That's all fine and dandy, except that I am also a homeschool mom and homeschool moms do not get free passes to skip subjects they are not naturally adept at - like science.  So, in order to insure that my kids get a well-rounded and thorough education, I search books and the internet for science experiments, only to discover part way through the demonstration that I don't really know the answers to all the questions that my kids ask about how and why the experiments work (or don't work, as the case may be).  Hopefully their textbooks (or their father) will fill in these gaps for them!

This week, for our third experiment, we mixed colored water.
Each kid started out with a mostly full glass of water and added several drops of food coloring in a single primary color (red, yellow, and blue).
We arranged the glasses in the primary color triangle and then added three more glasses in the secondary color (orange, green, and purple) positions.  The kids know about mixing basic colors, so they were able to correctly predict what colors would appear in the secondary glasses, but they were really curious about how the colored water was going to get into those glasses.  Then we rolled up pieces of paper towel and draped one piece over the rim of two glasses, making sure one end was well immersed in the colored water.
The colored water immediately began to move up the paper towel toward the uncolored water.
After a few minutes the colored water started to swirl out of the paper towel into the secondary glass and then eventually to mix together to form the new color.
When we were all finished, the kids were quite pleased with their complete color wheel, even if their technical science vocabulary hadn't been increase by very much.  Maybe I should have called this an art experiment?
Either way, happy experimenting everyone!

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Sewing Machines

Oh, isn't new equipment fun?  The urge to make something is never quite so strong as in that first moment when you open the package of a new tool.  Suddenly you need no special urging or perfect timing to haul out your materials and starting making.  Brynnie can describe that feeling to your perfectly because she got her very own child-sized sewing machine for Christmas.  She wanted to start sewing almost immediately.
Her first project was a blanket for her precious stuffed animal King the Buffalo.  Together we cut the fabric and pinned the seams and learned about sewing inside-out and proper pin placement.
 We sewed the first few seams with Brynn's new machine, but then we started having trouble.  The tension was extremely sensitive and Brynnie started to loose patience as I played with it.  In addition, the machine was decidedly child-sized and my hands are most certainly not, so I had trouble reaching things and adjusting the thread and fabric.  I tried having Brynnie sit on my lap and sew together, but then the cord for the foot pedal wasn't long enough to reach the floor, so I had to try and operate it with my elbow.  After that comedy of errors, we decided to put her machine aside for a while (until I can get a better understanding of how it works) and finish the project on my machine.  Here is her finished blanket, complete with King's initial zig-zagged in the center.
 And of course you need to see King draped in his new finery.
I might have been a bit jealous of Brynn's new sewing machine except that I got my own new sewing machine - although I got it for my birthday, not for Christmas.  The machine I have been using for the past few years was a refurbished machine that I bought for myself.  It had a cheap price tag because it came from a school classroom and it wasn't designed to do much or hold up for very long, but since I was a rookie seamstress it fit my needs exactly.  However, my skills have improved over time and things like wobbly presser feet, poorly functioning feed dogs, and no zipper foot began to annoy me.  I decided it was time to save up and buy a big-girl sewing machine, but deciding and doing are two different things.

Then, my mom did something awesome for me.  She rescued a machine from my grandma's garage, took it in to the local sewing machine shop for a tune up, and gave it to me for my birthday.  I was beyond happy.  This machine appears to have NO plastic parts and the sewing machine guy said I couldn't break it unless I took a wrench to it!  The presser foot doesn't wobble, the feed dogs work in forward and reverse,  and it has all sorts of special parts like zipper feet and button-hole makers.  It does everything I want and it stitches beautifully.  It may not be a brand-new piece of equipment, but it is new for me and I have enough projects stacked next to it to prove that I have the "new machine motivation."
 One of these days, when I'm not busy sewing blankets with Brynnie, I'll get to finish one of my own projects.
Happy sewing, everyone (especially if you have a new sewing machine)!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment #2

Thank you to everyone who offered support and encouragement after I reported on the failure of our first weekly science experiment.  I wasn't overly discouraged, but a few kind words are always appreciated.  We persevered, and this week our experiment was much more successful.

For week number two our experiment grew out of Ian's health curriculum.  The lesson was on "Touch Contamination" - which is basically germs being passed from person to person indirectly via things like doorknobs and other dirty surfaces.  We started by labeling two plastic bags - one with "washed" and one with "unwashed". 
 Then I thoroughly washed my hands, carefully removed a slice of bread from the bag and slid it into the bag marked "washed" as quickly as possible.  I also added two tablespoons of water and sealed the bag.  This piece of bread was meant to illustrate that clean hands do not spread germs.  Then I took out a second piece of bread and began to rub it on all the places where "touch contamination" is likely to occur - several doorknobs, a commonly touched windowsill, the buttons on the microwave and even the garbage can for good measure.  Then that slice of bread went inside the bag marked "unwashed" with two tablespoons of water.  
 Three days later we examined the bags.  The bread in the "washed" bag was slightly soggy, but had no noticeable changes.  The bread in the "unwashed" bag had specks of black mold and patches of white fuzz all over it (although it is not easy to see in the photo).
The kids were all rather grossed out by the mold and when I reminded them that the mold came from things the bread had touched that they also touch there was a stampede to the bathroom to wash their hands.  Yep, voluntary hand-washing by an 8-, 6-, and 4-year-old!  That's what I call a successful science experiment!
 Happy hand-washing, everyone!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment #1

Last year, the kids and I embarked on 52-week science project that we called "Pond Study."  We visited the swampy pond behind our yard each week and documented our observations on how the pond changed from week to week.  It was a fun and easy way to teach seasonal cycles, the impact of temperature on water and plants, and animal habitat.  I wanted to do a different but similar weekly project this year, but I just couldn't come up with an idea that didn't involve packing up and traveling to a different place.  In principle I wasn't opposed to a long-distance project, but in practice I knew that things would come up and the field trip would get put off for weeks at a time because of the inconvenience.  Then the really cold weather (wind chills -30 degrees) hit, and I lost any lingering interest in an outdoor science lesson.  I decided that instead we would do a simple science experiment each week.

Yesterday we did our first one.  I found it in a book Ian had called 50 Science Things to Make & Do (One of the famous "Usborne Books"!) and the experiment was called "Climbing Ink,"  The goal was to show that marker ink is actually made up of different colors that can be separated using water, because the chemical components of each color behave differently when they come in contact with water.  It seemed simple enough and best of all I had all the supplies already in the house!
We cut strips of absorbent paper out of coffee filters and used 5 different colored markers to make dots about  1.5 inches from one end of the strip.
 Then we hung a string across a large Tupperware container that had just enough water in it to cover the bottom.  We used paperclips to attach the strips to the string, hanging the strips so that just the very end of the paper was in the water.
Then we set the timer for ten minutes and waited.  When we checked back, we could see the water moving up the paper, but it hadn't reached the marker dots yet.  

 After another ten minutes "Something is happening to the ink, Mom!"  It looked like our first experiment was going to be a success!
 Yet another ten minutes passed and the ink was certainly moving up the paper strips, but it wasn't separating into different colors
 In hind site, using "Extra-washable Crayola Markers" probably wasn't a good choice for this experiment.  The ink never separated into separate colors, it just "washed" up the strips of paper.
Oh well, we ended up talked about gravity and water moving up due to "capillary action" (thanks to Daddy's knowledge) instead.

Happy science, everyone!

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Hereby Resolve!

Happy New Year to all my loyal readers.  Have you all made your resolutions for 2015?  Resolutions are kind of a big deal - they set the tone for the future, they help you define your priorities, they even help reveal your personality.  I only made one resolution this year.  It wasn't about weight loss, or exercising more, or changing the way I eat, or even about de-cluttering my life.  Those are all worthy resolutions, but this year my single resolution was a decision to remove something - and to do WHATEVER it takes to make the removal complete.  No, it's not an addiction.  Or plastic surgery.  Actually, the item to be removed is in this picture:
 Do you see it?  The little white birdhouse just above the swing in the center of the photo?  It's gotta go.  It is driving me crazy (has been for 7 years now - answers a lot of questions, doesn't it?) and I am bound and determined that 2015 will not pass until that thing is gone.  
Let me give you some background.  We bought our house in the summer of 2006 when I was pregnant with our oldest son.  The house had previously belonged to an elderly couple and that couple loved junk and hated to clean.  I lost track of how many loads of trash we hauled out of basements and garages and how many trips I took to the dump with yard waste that I cleaned out of the flowerbeds and yard.  They also  loved birdhouses, because every tree in the yard (and several fake "post trees" that they added) held at least one birdhouse.  The problem with the birdhouses was that the birds had given up on them several decades before, and left them to be infested with earwigs.  It was quite disgusting, as the least jiggle of a birdhouse brought down a hail of earwigs, both dead and alive.  Throughout the summer I slowly removed all of the birdhouses, except the one pictured above.  It was VERY securely attached and in a place rather awkward for a pregnant woman to reach, so I decided to leave it for the future.  Like I said, that was back in 2006.  Each summer I would forget about the birdhouse, because the leaves would disguise it from my view, but then winter would arrive, and the birdhouse would reappear - taunting me with my forgetfulness.

But no more.  My resolution this year is to remove that birdhouse.
 So today, I got bundled up against the chill, collected my son's baseball bat, and headed outside into the snow.
Five minutes later, the birdhouse was tossed onto the "burn next spring pile" and I was back inside, resolution completed.
 Check out that birdhouse-free view.  A weight has been lifted from my shoulders!
Happy resolution keeping, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Last Quarter of Our Pond Study

Most of the blogs I regularly read appear to have a common theme this week: "Best of 2014" where each blogger posts a collection of favorite, or most visited, or most pinned posts from throughout the year.  These posts allow them to continue to post on their regular schedule but not have to really actually write a post.  Not me though.  You see I don't have a brand to promote, most of my posts get almost exactly the same number of visits, I don't think I get pinned much, and since I wrote each post I guess they are all my favorite so instead of a "Best of" list, I have to write an actual post today or else go without (which would be terrible for my schedule and my brand - if I had them).

However, we have kind of taken a break from making and doing since Christmas because we were all a little burned out.  The kids have been busy fighting over - er....PLAYING WITH.....- their new toys and I have been drinking extra coffee and purging toy boxes, so I have no new crafty production to post.  Instead, I will share the last few months' worth of Pond Study photos, since we finished up that year-long school project on December 27.

Our last quarter of study got a big chaotic.  We missed a few times because of other events on "Pond Day" and also because of sickness, so I am just going to lump the photos into months, rather then label them week by week.  Here we are way back in October, when the world was still mostly green:
In November we got some snow, and it looked like winter was settling in early.  I also made a little change in that I let the kids do their study on their own a few times.  They had to make their observations without my hints and they did better then I expected they would.  It also meant I had to give Ian charge of my camera.  They probably had a bit more fun with that then they should have, but he still managed to get a few "scientific record" shots of the pond.
And finally, December, when it warmed up again and all the ice and snow melted:
Overall I would say it was an excellent year-long science study.  The kids learned a lot about how one place changes from week to week and also about the long term cycles of the seasons.  They also learned about ice safety (when my foot went through "solid" ice), got an up close look at muddy water (when I fell in), learned about pond creatures (like leeches), and discovered wild-growing food (grapes).  I think we'll repeat it in a few years when we can do some more difficult activities like collecting specimens, identifying plant and critter species, and gathering weather data.  Until then, I need to come up with a new year-long study to start after the New Year.  Any ideas?

Happy science lessons everyone, and especially Happy Christmas Break and New Year!