Friday, July 29, 2011

The Colors of Us

This was a fun one!

We read the book The Colors Of Us by Karen Katz, which explores the difference in skin colors among the people in one little girl's life. Her mother, an artist, tells her that she can create every skin tone by combining red, yellow, black and white paints. So, that's what we did.

I liked how it was both culturally sensitive and artistically relevant. Even little Vance caught on that black makes colors darker while white makes them lighter. And trial and error taught the kids that mixing both black and white to red and yellow makes a much less attractive color than adding only one or the other.

As the kids painted different face shapes, we talked about various people we know whose skin tones more or less matched the color of the paint. After the paint was dry, I suggested the kids use markers to add facial features since I figured the fine tips better suited their dexterity levels. In the end, we had a happy village of diverse people--and great paintings to showcase!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Belly Laughs

It's hot. We get bored. What can I say?
Oh, I can say that washable markers are not quite as easily removed as you might think. You probably shouldn't do this right before a doctor's I learned the hard way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stowing the Seeds of Love

One surprise from our garden this year was how much my husband and I love arugula. It grew fast and easy and was a welcome complement to salads, sandwiches, and just about anything else we could think of. While pulling weeds, I often plucked an arugula leaf or two and munched on them right then and there.

We were sad to see the arugula run its course, but with its demise came the opportunity to learn something new: how to collect arugula seeds. After the leaves had flowered, we saved a bunch and dried it in the sun. Then, we were able to harvest the seeds for our next crop!

The kids helped shuck the tiny seed pods to collect the seeds. We'll store them in a dark, dry place and hopefully plant them again in the fall. It felt like a great way to help the kids understand where their food really comes from. And it whets my appetite for omelets, fritattas, pasta salads and more....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning on Vacation

Our family is spending a week at the beach. To be sure, there is plenty of wave jumping, sand digging and boardwalk walking. But, being a mother who likes to suck the fun out of everything by making it educational (ha!), I also made a point to get off the beaten path and explore the shore in a different way.

We rode a skimmer boat through salt marshes and explored bird habitats and wetland ecosystems. There was all sorts of direct education that the kids may or may not have learned from. But what I appreciated even more were some of the accidental lessons. When the boat driver had to pull the boat over not once, but twice, to pick up abandoned swimming noodles, the kids got to see the impacts of carelessness and littering on nature. And when the tour guide pulled sea grass, shrimp and snails out of the water to investigate, the kids helped dump them all back in, remembering to leave nature the way they found it.

I like injecting a little learning into our relaxation time. It is extra nice when it's a whole family affair and when the kids see it as part of their vacation adventure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for a Science Project!

I've always known that you could make ice cream in a Ziploc bag, but I had never actually tried it. Until now. It is sooooo easy!

Fill a small, zip-top freezer bag with 1 cup of half-and-half, 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 cup of sugar. Insert the small bag (after squeezing out the air and sealing it) into a gallon size freezer bag full of ice and coarse salt. Shake for ten minutes and voilĂ ! You've got ice cream!

In addition to being delicious (truthfully, it was delicious. The consistency was not great, but the flavor was as good as any vanilla ice cream I've had.) and fun, this project is science in motion! My kids have already been exposed to the effects of salt on ice. This took it to the next level by showing them energy molecules at work. No, they don't quite understand that ice was absorbing heat energy, thereby melting, and then the water molecules used that energy to freeze again, but the salt made it difficult, so it had to work harder thereby making the ice colder which caused the cream to freeze. But they have some sense that something happens when salt and ice interact and that whatever it is can cause cream to freeze! Not bad for people around three feet tall.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Self Motivators

I've had this project in my mind for months now and only finally got around to doing it. In the end, it was definitely worth the wait!

I should disclose that I find floating and/or oversized heads to be universally funny. I have been known to glue oversized photographed heads of family members in places they don't belong, to hilarious effect.

So, you could imagine the fun I had watching my kids scotch tape their own heads to popsicle sticks. I made some outlines of clothing shapes and helped them cut outfits from patterned paper. Then Fifi designed her own paper clothes, taking full ownership of her paper doppleganger.

But enjoying this project even more than Fifi or me was Vance. Oh, how he loved having his own little head to play with. He made one outfit for "Lil' Vance" but then carried the lone-head-on-popsicle stick around with him for a whole day. Lil' Vance has become a huge motivator for Big Vance, which helps me out as well. While I might not be able to get my son to clean up or get dressed, if Lil' Vance asks him, he gets right to work! Lil' Vance might even give Big Vance a kiss or play Legos with him in honor of a job well done. Yes, it's kind of weird. But it's also silly and sweet and makes the real Vance both smile and do his chores. I think we'll make 50 more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Local Treasure

For my local fans, I want to share this awesome place we just discovered. Briar Bush Nature Center is like half an hour away, straight up 611, in Abington. It's the perfect place for a family-friendly hike. First, it's totally free. Second, there is more to do than just hike!

We started in the nature center which included many live animals to examine, pieces of nature to touch and activities to do. From there, we set out on an easy hike. There were several worthwhile stopping points along the way. First, a pond just teeming with toads. Vance even reached out and touched one! Then, the "playscapes" section where the kids played in a sand pit, walked through a man-made tunnel and enjoyed other thoughtful hands-on activities.

In addition to the toads, we saw scores of adorable chipmunks and even a fat and fluffy rabbit. All that before the bird observatory. That was a whole cabin with more kid-friendly activities and flocks of birds to admire from rocking-chair vantage points.

It was fun, easy and entirely free. If you haven't been there yet, I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer in the City

Growing up in the suburbs, my idea of how city residents spent their summers had been based exclusively on Lovin' Spoonful lyrics and whatever I saw on TV. Open fire hydrants were standard, viable means of cooling off for city folk. Right?

Now that I am a city dweller myself, I realize that people can use community pools, park sprinklers and their very own garden hoses to beat the heat. As an adult, I realize it is neither legal nor wise to open a fire hydrant. But, there is another urban oasis that beckoned to my kids---and I finally let them indulge!

I had been told by the tour guide on a double-decker bus that swimming in the majestic fountains of the city was perfectly legal. The guy's job was to spew off little known facts about the history of the city, so I followed his legal advice with confidence. Yes, there was a spattering of "No Swimming" signs encircling the fountain. But I figured they meant no swimming, like breast-stroke and stuff. Surely a couple of pip-squeaks splashing around in the glistening water under the close supervision of their law-abiding mother was fine, right? I had certainly seen it done by countless other children. That means it has to be legal, no?

At any rate, the kids frolicked and had fun. At one point another kid entered the fountain as well. Within thirty minutes, they were all done and so we packed up and left.

Upon returning home, I figured I would try to find out whether or not I had aided and abetted my children in any crime. I consulted the internet, called the city and pored over the city code, but found nothing indicating fountain swimming was illegal. There were plenty of instances clearly illustrating it was discouraged, but nothing saying it was against the law.

For the sake of their permanent records, I'll probably keep my kids in the pools and sprinklers from now on. But between you and me, I'm glad they got to have that fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Well, here's something out of the ordinary for me. My kids and I got all teched out.

We read the book Make Way for Ducklings, only, since I was going all technological, the kids listened to the book on CD. 'Cuz we're old school like that.

After listening to the story several times over the course of a week or so, we took a trip through This site coordinates literature with Google Earth, allowing you to follow the steps your characters take through satellite images. I won't deny that it was kind of neat. Google Earth is kind of neat. But I'm not sure how much it added to our literary adventure.

My kids are way too young to really appreciate gazing upon satellite photos of far away places. But even when they do comprehend the coolness of that, I don't fully value the experience, as far as reading goes. If we were reading about ancient ruins in Mexico or the Eiffel Tower, absolutely. A bunch of ducks that fly and waddle around Boston? I don't know that pictures of the real place make the experience any better. Is seeing a photo of the actual river the ducks swam in better than the river in our minds? Or the river drawn in the book? I'm not convinced. Good writing gives you good pictures.

I perused  the site again to see if there were other "Lit Trips" I might like to try in the future. I came upon one book I enjoyed reading with my sixth graders, Fever 1763. Now if Google Earth could take readers back to Colonial Philadelphia, that would be something else. But, it can't. I'm not sure the trip through the modern city would really enhance the readers' experience.

The one thing the "Lit Trips" does that is worthwhile, is it asks probing questions along the way, hitting key areas in Bloom's Taxonomy. If activating your kids' higher level thinking does not come naturally to you, you might appreciate targeted comprehension questions at key stopping points.

All in all, it was kind of a cool thing to do once. I won't rule out doing it again one day. But for now, I think we'll stick to the old-fashioned way of picturing the places we read about: using our imaginations.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Easy Pleasin'

We have rocketship popsicle molds. Need I say more?

In case I do, I usually fill the molds with just two ingredients: vanilla yogurt and fruit. This time it was strawberry, but we've tried lots of flavors. Mango is my personal favorite. Super yummy, super healthy, super cold. Blast off!

Monday, July 4, 2011


I let my kids use glitter. Straight up, spillable, sparkly, messy, shiny, dazzling glitter.

I know most parents these days think Glitter Glue is a godsend, and often, I would tend to agree. But, feeling festive and adventurous, I let my kids glob the white glue on cut-out stars and pour mountains of silver glitter on top. Their reaction? According to Fifi, "This is the greatest project I have ever done!"

I kept the dustbuster handy and always had the kids work on top of a piece of paper which I used to easily pour excess glitter back into the bottle. It was messy, to be sure. But usually the really fun things are.

And now we have a star-spangled front door just in time for the holiday!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

The kids cannot get enough of water play. And, given how cheap and easy it is, neither can I. I have no problem keeping them outside with just a kiddie pool or an extra large bucket full of water. But some days, I go the extra mile.

I set up two water stations on a sunny day that were both winners. First, I filled small containers with water and added a drop of food coloring to each. The kids then painted the wall using real paint brushes. Truthfully, the color didn't even show up. But it didn't matter. They would have been happy painting with plain water. But mixing the colored waters was an added bonus.

Secondly, I drew three rectangles on the wall in diminishing sizes. The largest was worth one point, the mediumest (to use Fifi's word) was worth two and the smallest one on top was worth three. The kids dunked one of those squishy water balls in a bucket of water and took aim. They were allowed five throws in a turn and I kept track of each result on the wall. It was pretty easy because the ball left a wet spot on the wall. After the fifth throw, I had the kids use their fingers to add up their points, and we wrote the final score on the wall. Water play + math = win for everyone!