School Projects

Fun Projects

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Transatlantic Project

Hello, gentle readers.  I would like to introduce you to my sister.
Her name is Sonja and she is standing inside a mosquito net.  She and her husband moved to Africa a little more than a year ago now and if you don't want to catch tropical diseases you need to sleep under a mosquito net.  She is also pregnant in this picture ("No way," you say and I jealously say "Yes, she is one of THOSE people who don't show until the day before the baby comes"), and this particular mosquito net was purchased for the then future baby.   She sent out this photo because she thought it would be fun to create matching polka dot and triangular banner themed curtains and decor to spruce up her baby's nursery.  Our mother volunteered for the curtains and I got to make the decorations.  It was kinda like an intercontinental baby shower!

Before I was able to work on my assignment, Mom did the fabric shopping - doing her best to match colors and patterns to emailed photos.  I got the leftovers to use for my part in the project.  Sonja wanted me to get 4" and 6" embroidery hoops and using fabric and felt make coordinating pieces to hang on wall.  For several evenings I had fun cutting and pinning and arranging.  Several emailed photos went back and forth accompanied by questions:
"Do you like this one?"  
"What do you have in mind instead?"
"Too busy?"
"Is this one better?"
"What about this?"
Eventually we were both happy with the rough drafts and I replaced the pins with good strong fabric adhesive.  I also glued the fabric to the back of the hoops, just so it couldn't work loose, and then trimmed the extra fabric so the hoops would hang nice and flat on the wall.
Then my mom packed everything up in her suitcase and flew to Africa to meet the new baby.  The curtains and mosquito net and embroidery hoops were hung and the nursery is just the cutest thing.
Thanks, Sonja, for letting me have a little part in welcoming your baby girl into the world.  This was one of the "fun-est" projects I've done in a while.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment #16

This week's science experiment again took the nature of a demonstration: What happens to fire when it is deprived of fresh air (oxygen).  This post is rather lacking in pictures because it involved fire - when you have four little kids anywhere near lit candles it seemed wise to focus on their activities and not accidentally take pictures of them igniting their hair or clothing.  Once again this science experiment created opportunities for talking about personal safety as well as good ways to put out fires!
For this demo, each child had a lighted tealight candle on the table in front of them as well as a glass container.  Ian had a small glass votive holder, Brynn had a drinking glass, Blair had a quart mason jar, and Cam and I managed a large glass vase.  At "go" we all turned our containers over our candles and began timing.  Ian's candle burned out in less than five seconds, while Cam's candle (under the vase) lasted almost 1.5 minutes.  It was a short experiment, but illustration that fire needs more than just fuel to burn.

Happy science, everyone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cherry Blossoms in the Snow

It is officially springtime now, and all around the internet people are celebrating the return of green and flowers and especially cherry blossoms.  I am struggling with having charitable feelings towards those people because here in the Midwest we have snow flurries and not cherry blossoms and I am feeling very jealous.  So, I decided to make my own cherry blossoms to brighten up my kitchen.  I actually thought my kids would enjoy doing this, so I made my usual call: "Who wants to do a project?"  Instead of the usually enthusiastic response I was expecting, I got total rejection.   Each of my kids was involved in their own "thing" and weren't interested in projecting fun.  So, like the Little Red Hen, I said, "Then I'll do it myself."  And I did.

The first step is not pictured.  I dipped a bunch of coffee filters in water colored with red food coloring and then spread them out to dry.  Then I folded the dried papers into quarters and drew a heart shape pattern to cut out.  It took a few tries to get the right size and proportion, but this wide version worked the best. 
 After I cut out the shapes, the flowers looked a little boring, so I added dots of red marker in different places and then touched the spots with a drop of water.  The water made the red bleed into the paper and look more natural.  I also drew little lines to represent the stamens.
 Then I dressed up a Lemon Verbena shrub that I have been trying to overwinter.  It wasn't looking to good before I added the flowers (by cutting little slits and slipping them over branches), and I don't know if it will ultimately survive or not, but for the moment it looks quite cheerful!
Of course after it was done my children all said "I didn't know you were going to do THAT.  I wanted to help!"  Unlike the Little Red Hen, I let them enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Maybe they won't reject me next time.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment #15

Every year around this time my children start to play outside for longer periods of time, and we always receive a rather rude reminder from the sun that we are ethnically speaking mostly Northern Europeans.  Our white (not quite albino, but close) skin quickly turns a painful red as an indicator that we don't have much natural protection from the sun's UV rays.  So every spring I run to the store and stock up on SPF 365 sunscreen in an effort to provide ourselves with some kind of protection against the burning and peeling cycle.

This week I decided our science experiment could be turned to a useful end by demonstrating to the kids what that sunscreen actually does for their protection.  We took two pieces of black construction paper outside and weighted them down with rocks.  One piece played the role of skin without sunscreen (a good chance to talk about "control groups" in science) while the other piece got a generous coating of SPF 35.
 After a few hours we came back and looked at the papers.  It was easy to see how the un-sun-screened paper had faded, while the part covered by sunscreen had stayed dark.  The kids also noticed that the paper that had been under the rocks was also still dark, but agreed that covering themselves with rocks would probably NOT be a good sunburn prevention plan.
Maybe this science lesson will decrease the amount of fussing that goes on whenever I pull out the bottle of sunscreen this summer......or maybe not.

Happy sunburn prevention everyone!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making Brownies - a Team Effort

Yesterday my sister had some stuff going on in the afternoon, so she asked me to watch her kids for a few hours.  One of the benefits of having family that lives nearby is that the parents have built-in babysitters and the cousins have built-in buddies.  My sister has four girls, roughly the same ages as my kids, so there is always "Big Fun" when they come over.

After the obligatory screaming and shouting "The girls are here, the girls are here, Hi, how are you....did you you want to.......come and see......" the kids settled down to some serious playing.  After a couple of hours though, they hit that lull.  You know, the lull where they have run out of new games to play and maybe they are just a bit tired of each other and the bickering starts to increase?  That lull.  Well, they were beginning to lull (or would it be "they were lulling"?) and I was beginning to ponder the wisdom of a movie when the older kids appeared out of the basement bearing a box of brownie mix.  "Can we make these?  Can we?  Can we?  Pleeeeeease?"  Only a crazy person says no when other people offer to make brownies, and I am not a crazy person, so I said yes.
 It was fun to see the older kids all working together - especially for the all important step of licking out the bowl.
 The pan of brownies came out of the oven just as my sister arrived to pick up her girls, so we quickly lined up all the kids and dispensed somewhat molten treats to the mob.  They enjoyed every mouthful.
 I had one (or two) myself.  They really are the perfect anti-lull activity and treat!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Weekly Science Experiment Catch Up: Weeks 12, 13 and 14

I don't really know why I got so far behind on this series of science experiment posts.  We've done the actual work each week, but I've been feeling just a bit harried lately and I just never got around to posting.  On the other hand, these posts are probably mostly for my own benefit than any of you readers - so that when the kids are bigger and voicing complaints about things we did or did not do when they were little I can pull up these posts and say "SEE??? SEE??? We DID do stuff."  Maybe that is taking advanced planning to an insane level, but that's how my mind works.  So, let's get away from my personal insecurities and move on to science.

Week 12: We made crystals using a borax solution and coiled pipe cleaners.  We set up the experiment on Thursday afternoon, and by Friday morning we crystals all over the pipe cleaners and the bottom and sides of the glass.
Week 13: During this week the weather improved greatly and the kids wanted to be outside as much as possible, not inside doing science experiments.  I gave Ian a mason jar and told him to collect some swamp water.
"Mom, what are we going to do with this muddy water?"
"Just wait and see."
After sitting still overnight, the kids were surprised by how much "stuff" had settled to the bottom of the jar and how clear the water had gotten.  Ian's comment was "Boy, I'm glad I've never gotten a drink from that swamp!"  So am I, son, so am I!
Week 14: This week we talked briefly about how sound is really made by vibration and how vibrations are made.  The obvious one - pounding on the table - came immediately to the children's minds and they acted it out with great gusto.  Then I demonstrated how air could be made to vibrate by blowing across the top of a bottle.  They had a little more trouble imitating this one, but did eventually manage it.
Then we experimented with the amount of liquid in the bottle, so see how that influenced the pitch of the sound.  The kids quickly figured out that the more air that was in the bottle to vibrate, the lower the sound.  It's too bad I didn't have enough bottles to put together a complete musical scale, but that is a lot of apple cider vinegar to use up for one science experiment.

Happy experimenting, everyone!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Marble Easter Eggs

Did you decorate Easter Eggs this year?  For some reason, Easter is a holiday that I haven't been very good at developing traditions for.  It sneaks up on me each year and then I suddenly realize "Easter is this weekend!" and I start to scramble.  This year was no exception.  We did, however, have the supplies to try a new-to-us method of egg decorating that a friend suggested to me last year, so I was able to manage that child-required project without too much trouble.

Step 1: Spray a shallow layer of shaving foam in the bottom of the pan and spread it out smoothly.
Step 2: Squirt drips of food coloring around the pan - I limited each child to three colors.
Step 3: Use a skewer or other pointy object to swirl the colors together
Don't swirl too much or you start to get muddy brownish puddles
Step 4: Set a hard-boiled egg down in one end of the pan and roll the egg through the shaving foam.
This part was a bit tricky, as the egg sort of mounded up the foam in front of it but didn't really want to roll.  It got very messy!
Step 5: Carefully lift the very slippery egg out of the foam and set it to dry.
Step 6: Wait for the food coloring and foam to start to dry, and then you can carefully wipe the remains off the eggshells.
The kids really like this one and I think, if I can remember, that we will do it again next year.  The eggs really are pretty.  I would do one thing differently, though.  The shaving foam left a slight smell on the eggshells that wasn't exactly appetizing, so I might try a different base for the food coloring.  Do you think whipped cream would work?

Happy belated Easter, everyone.

PS - If this project seems slightly familiar, the kids and I have done a similar project using paper.  You can find it here and here.