Em The Engineer

One of our family’s favorite books is Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, which tells the story of a smart little girl who loves to create and build, turning the ideas in her mind into a reality.  It’s a wonderful book for the little girl in your life, who may have had her fill of princesses.  My little girl resembles Rosie in more way than one, although she is still a princess through and through.

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Em has always been very visual-spatial, loving puzzles and creating castles and creations out of blocks of all sizes.  On this day, I loved watching her build a tower as high as she could reach, and when it fell over, she just plopped down on the ground and began building something else.

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Who needs a prince when you can build a castle of your own?

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Wires Crossed

Don’t ask me what they’re doing.  I barely scraped by high school science.  I think I got a few wires crossed in that department.

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Luckily my kids are already smarter than me (must have gotten it from their Papa)!

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Best part of having family nearby–constantly learning and having fun in so many ways!  My little scientists are so lucky!

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Tracking Animals (In Play-Doh)

My kids are so full of questions, I’ve started writing them down so we can remember to answer them all.  With so much snow on the ground, we started talking about deer and where they sleep and how they survive the winter.  Lord knows I have no clue, but Jason (the outdoorsman) went snowshoeing in our backyard and found tons of deer tracks which led to a little deer sanctuary–if only the snow weren’t literally two feet deep, I would love to bring the kids up there so we could explore nature together!  Unfortunately, there seems to be no spring thaw in sight, so I considered an indoor (and less freezing cold) activity that the kids absolutely loved and also kept the science conversations going.

Tracking Animals in Play-DohI pulled out our awesome bucket o’ Shleich animals, which has proven so valuable over the years, until I found a diverse group of animals that we could analyze and compare.  Here’s the all star team.

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Then the kids got to push, roll, and flatten Play-Doh until we had a great surface for leaving footprints.

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One kid closed his/her eyes while the other walked our animals through, which was super interesting to watch!  They were meticulous and tried so hard to get it right.  They LOVED stamping the animal feet in the Play-Doh!  It would be worthwhile just to have that as an option while playing with any sort of clay.  Then the other kid would guess which of the animals made the tracks.  They were allowed to analyze the animals’ feet/hooves/paws to find distinguishing characteristics, which was totally up Jax’s alley.

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Tracking Animals in Play Doh @ Rub Some Dirt On It

This led to some pretty interesting discussions about which animals have hooves, which animals have paws.  Why do they have pads on their feet?  Why are some hooves solid and some cloven?

After a while, we switched up the animals, and Jax, trying to be tricky, threw in a surprise guest to see if Em knew her Rescue Bots as well as she pretends.

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She nailed it.  Better luck next time, Heatwave.

Lastly, they wrote down their findings in their journals.  Basically, they traced the animal feet and I helped label them.  Those journals are worth their weight in gold–they just love any opportunity to write in them, and Jax loves anything scientific that he can record.

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Do Bubbles Freeze? An Experiment

Jax’s love of science experiments continues, and so we pulled out our handy dandy journals and asked ourselves the question,

Freezing Bubbles Experiment @ Rub Some Dirt On It

First we wrote some important data in our journals, such as the outside temperature (11 degrees F) and our hypothesis regarding whether or not the bubbles would freeze, and if so, how long it would take.  Jax thought it would take 10 seconds.  Em thought it would take 5.

When it came to the actual experimenting, the kids stayed inside and watched through the sliding glass door as Mommy braved the freezing weather to determine if bubbles would indeed freeze.  It took several tries because I, being a total wimp, was staying too close to the house and sheltering the bubble with my body.  It wasn’t until I went out into the raw wind that we got the results we were looking for.

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It took about 30 seconds, but when it did happen, I was as excited as the kids.  Watching the icy pattern swirl across the bubble’s surface was really amazing.  And I was surprised and impressed by the solid texture of the bubble when it popped.

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The kids wrote their findings in their journals and talked about the experiment all afternoon.

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Em was impressed with the pattern on the bubble, which of course reminded her of Elsa and Frozen, and therefore she dubbed this experiment her favorite one yet.  Jax liked it, too, but wished it has lasted longer.  Baby H just wondered why I was outside and whether or not the slider was tasty.

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 Conclusion: Not so much.

Since then we have been keeping a list on the refrigerator of things that we wonder as a family.  Jax wonders how the heater works and whether fish sleep.  I wonder how deer survive the winter.  It’s been a nice way to channel all his inquiring-minds-want-to-know energy, and gives me a list of ideas and experiments for the future.  I have my hands full with wonderful fun as they question all the amazing phenomena and how they work in this world of ours!

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Inquiring Minds Want To Know

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that it has been bitterly cold across the country lately, and with subzero temperatures comes lots of indoor play.  When the kids started wondering what the magnets Santa left them would stick to around our house, I knew this was an opportunity to turn a five minute passing fancy into some legit learning.  And so we got our science on.

Experimenting With Magnets @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Is it crazy that I want to invest in dress-up lab coats for my kids for days like this?

This isn’t our first foray into the science world–we’ve been blowing stuff up all winter–and my kids are comfortable with the words hypothesis, observation, and conclusion thanks to Sid the Science Kid and Dinosaur Train (shout out to my babysitter PBS).  All we did was make it feel more formal by writing down what materials we were using in our journals and recording our findings with an X or a happy face depending on the outcome.

Magnet Experiment @ Rub Some Dirt On It

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So the kids wrote down what kind of material we were testing in their journals, which up until now had been used solely for stories and drawing.  We tested the magnets on wood, plastic, paper, and metal.  Jax’s biggest source of disinterest is in writing, and I never thought he would stick through it to write down all those words.  Maybe I have a future scientist on my hands, but he stuck with the experiment long after Em’s interest had waned and she took to just doodling.

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And as we all knew he would, Jax concluded in the end that magnets stick to metal.  He didn’t want to write all that himself, so he passed the baton.  I was happy; I couldn’t believe how seriously he had taken the entire experiment and was proud of all his effort.

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Mommy’s Conclusion:  Maybe science isn’t so bad after all?

So how are you exploring your world this winter?

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A World Of Mysteries

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One day I will live close enough to Boston to take advantage of all of its glorious opportunities to learn about our world more frequently.  For now, I will settle for taking our kids into town as often as possible, such as sneaking in a trip to the Boston Museum of Science the day after Thanksgiving with JDubbs, my sister Amanda, and her boyfriend Chris.

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If you can believe it, I had never been to the Museum of Science, and I thought it was a fantastic day.  We probably only saw half of all the wonders the museum had to offer; there was just so much to do and see!  There are awesome volunteers who had little experiments on hand that helped extend the learning or make it more accessible to my preschoolers.  Then there were exhibits that were so amazing they needed no explanation, just a moment to stop and consider all the amazing elements at work.

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After a trip to the dinosaurs and monkeys, we had dinner overlooking the Charles River and then went back for more.

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We had a fantastic time in the butterfly garden, where it was a little too chilly for the butterflies to be super active (their heater wasn’t working properly).  It was actually nice because we were able to get close and really investigate them.  The kids tried to coax them into flying by making butterfly motions with their hands, but no luck.

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The only picture of us five–not our best!  But one of my resolutions of 2014 is to be in more photos this year, so my kids can look back on these awesome times together with both me and JDubbs.  Obviously I was there, but I’d like some evidence!

We headed home just as the sun was setting.  One of my favorite times of day in the city.

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I love learning alongside my kids and appreciating all the wonders our world has in store for us, from the tiniest butterfly to a monstrous dinosaur.  I think it’s important to show kids how much you can still love learning, even as an adult, and it keeps us young! The best life has to offer.

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Blowing Stuff Up

Jax has recently become a blossoming scientist, asking me lots of questions about habitats and dinosaur eating habits that have me running for reference books at the library or what I hope are reputable, kid-friendly websites.  I figured I should squelch my own dislike for all things science-y (my worst and most loathed subject) and do my best to encourage Jax’s excitement, so I gave the old Baking Soda & Vinegar experiment a try.

Having never done this experiment myself (insert gasp of homeschool horror), I had visions of volcanoes exploding and thought that Jax was going to be applauding me as the most awesome mom of all time.  I did get Jax and Em totally fired up by telling them we were going to be blowing stuff up, as I have some vague memory of Peter Brady building a volcano for a school science fair, but that was actually inaccurate.  We got some serious bubbles, though, and preschoolers are not to be disappointed with this experiment, no matter how lame the explosion.  Jax and Em were both delighted with the entire process, and proved to be much better scientists already than I have ever been.

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I had separated the vinegar into small bowls and added food coloring for fun (and further scientific geekiness–by adding certain primary colors together, we could do the whole OK Go Primary Colors from Sesame Street song and dance).  Then I gave them each half a straw and let them dribble the vinegar into the baking soda.  Turkey basters would have been great, but since I don’t have one, I eventually gave them each medicine droppers to help increase the force with which they could shoot the vinegar.  We needed not only chemical reaction, but also power!

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They were entranced.  Completely psyched.  Totally enthralled.  And the best part was, they didn’t need me for any of it!  At one point Jax asked me why adding vinegar to baking soda made bubbles, but Lord knows I have no idea.  All I could find online were words like acid and base and gas, so I mumbled a bunch of nonsense and distracted him by giving him more vinegar.  Totally worked.

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So the moral of the story is Learning Is Fun! or maybe it’s Science Can Keep Your Kids Busy While You Shop Online And Check Facebook!  Either way, it’s a win, and if Jax gets to dirty his little science nerdy hands in the process, who am I to complain?  All in the name of good, clean fun!

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