mama scout lab e-course

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

the BEST tip ever for looking at pond water under a microscope - (giveaway)

I am sorta obsessed with looking at things under a microscope and especially in love with tiny, micro-organisms. (So into it, I am, that I might have been known to shove my kids out of the way, so I could look in the microscope.) 

I don't quite understand my fascination. 

Maybe because they are always there, these little creatures, living full lives - eating, resting, reproducing - and we ignore them. It makes me wonder if we are the micro-organisms to something so much bigger and are completely clueless. 

Something tells me we are. 

Watching a euglena or diatom or the best, an amoeba move through a few drops of water is relaxing and lulls me into a meditation on notions of smallness and importance and life forces and ... anyways, let's just say,  it is pretty amazing. 

If you have not tried this with your kids, I encourage it with excited clapping and fist pumping! Be sure to try water from different sources: lakes, ponds, the ocean, turtle and fish tanks, still water from your yard, etc.

Here is the equipment we have:

Our  microscope is a duoscope - which means you can look at things lit from above (something opaque, like a penny or rock) and you can look at things lit from below (slides and anything translucent). It is heavy weight and focuses like a charm. 

And the most brilliant thing ever invented, that I only just learned about, that has changed my life, is the demo slide!

Holy Macaroni! I have spent hours looking under a microscope at prepared slides of pond water only to find a few things. But with a demo slide - you get a packed area with loads of micro-organisms. 

The idea is that you load the little tube up with some nasty pond water (a bit of sand or green algae is great, because little things are many times connected). Cap the tube, tie a string to it and twirl it thought the air. 

Who knew science could be so fun? Kids love this part. 

By using centrifugal force, all the little micro-organisms get thrown down into the very thin end of the tube. That is the "slide" and it will blow your mind when you peek under the microscope at a whole world you might not have thought about much. 

We bought ours from Amazon and love them so much. I am surprised that they are not included in kid's microscope sets, since they really facilitate successful viewing.     

PLEASE share if you have other microscoping tips to share!

I want to send someone a demo slide! Leave a comment and friend me on Facebook here. I will do a drawing next week. This is the cheapest giveaway ever - but hey, it is fun :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

i never teach my kids

I never teach my pupils. I only offer them the environment in which they can learn.  - Einstein

We have spent the last week learning about trees and neighborhood history, shadow puppets and story telling, whip scorpions and granola bars, old movies and the Louvre, cleaning and taxes and vacations and more. Amazing and exhausting.

How about you?

What are you learning about?

How does your environment help you learn?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

100 creative kickstarters for families

this is a project i have been working on for a long time, mostly in my journal. these are things we have done with great fun together with our kids. i expect i will write more elaborate posts on many of them in the future - but in the meantime, i think you get the idea of what we were trying for. there is a link at the bottom for a printer friendly version of this. and as always, please share your family's kickstarters! i would love to hear what you do.

1. say “yes” more than “no”
2. let your kids wear whatever they want
3. keep money in your pocket to do photo booths more often than not
4. do play doh and sculpty together
5. throw a party for a mundane reason (like it’s Tuesday)
6. read and believe in fairy tales
7. make seed bombs
8. cook together. alot.
9. skip school and eat breakfast at the oldest diner in your town
10. conduct a taste test (on apples, cheese, candy, whatever...)
11. eat by candle light
12. throw some food coloring and glow sticks into the bath tub
13. make (and photograph) a detailed time line of one day
14. create a set of family paper dolls
15. write a family manifesto (or at least a motto)
16. freeze things in ice and play with them (flowers, toys, beads...)
17. make lemonade from scratch
18. paint a wall in your house with chalkboard paint
19. go on a texture hike. make rubbings along the way
20. organize a museum exhibition in your dining room
21. write the front page to your family’s newspaper
22. take apart electronics
23. play board games together
24. make your own board game with elaborate and changing rules
25. throw a bunch of boxes and a few rolls of duct tape in the yard with a gaggle of kids
26. walk in the rain. on purpose
27. make a little altar somewhere in your house
28. explore vintage media (slide projectors, record players, film strips...)
29. make a hopscotch inside with painters tape
30. learn 5 native trees/birds/flowers/butterflies
31. act out your favorite scene from a book
32. have a weekly movie night
33. make a fort
34. blow bubbles inside
35. make some environmental art
35 1/2. go to the hardware store and let the kids look at everything they want for as long as it takes
36. have a fabric bin available
37. think of  a random act of kindness and do it together
38. serve breakfast cereal from huge mixing bowls with big ladles
39. volunteer somewhere together
40. blow up a bunch of balloons for your kids to find when they wake up
41. take turns doing a puppet show for each other
42. create a club, complete with membership cards and t shirts
43. give each kid a roll of crepe paper - see what happens
44. create fancy drinks
45. make vision or wish boards together
46. read lengthy chapter books. every night
47. make some big public art together
48. wrap up small gifts and leave at the breakfast table for NO REASON
49. put candles in your meal and blow them out
50. write a song together
51. buy dress up clothes at goodwill
52. make masking table and newspaper sculptures
53. eat popcorn for dinner
54. take a class together in something new
55. gather and spend some time practicing your signatures together
56. chalk quotes in public places
57. find one free event in the paper and go - no matter what it is
58. tell a story about when you were a kid
59. plan some inter generational field trips
60. if your kids are older, bring out all the blocks and build together
61. buy dry ice, put it in the sink for a foggy bath
62. make a family flag
63. visit a local museum and then go home and make art inspired by the trip
64. get in the habit of talking to strangers
65. play a video game with your kids
66. lay on a blanket outside, eat popsicles and look at the sky
67. learn a parlor game
68. give your kids all the laundry baskets in the house to play with
69. spend the whole day in your pajamas
70. go canoeing or kayaking
71. buy a birthday cake from the grocery store and have something weird written on it
72. get a microscope and look at stuff under it
73. go to yard sales together
74. make a time capsule and bury it somewhere
75. eat at a new restaurant
76. have everyone in the family wear a hat or scarf or gloves when you go to an event
77. dig a hole
78. play with fire
79. draw comic strips
80. decorate your bikes with crepe paper and have a parade
81. write a letter to a business complaining about or complementing their work
82. raise butterflies, tadpoles, grubs...
83. get lost together
84. design your dream house with the Ikea catalog and old magazines
85. camp
86. ride public transportation
87. have an impromptu dance party
88. visit a skate park
89. stock up on cheap beans, flour, rice, herbs for a sensory pantry
90. visit a local nursery, give each kid a few bucks to buys a plant that speaks to them
91. create a map of an invented land, design the government, money, flag, national costume...
92. send a message in a bottle
93. take an oral history of a family member
94. paint everyone’s toenails - even dad’s
95. go to a local fair that celebrates a harvest (garlic fest, strawberry fest...)
96. research your favorite candy/food/drink/car
97. grow mushrooms from a kit
98. visit the farmer’s market and give each kid a few bucks to buy a fruit or veg of their choice
99. learn a song in another language
100. start your own list of adventurous things your family has done or is planning to do - share...

you can print out a copy here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

real role models for kids :: Gertrude Ederle

In this series, real role models for kids, I will feature some of the amazing people we have gotten to know better through our reading explorations. These people, to me, offer great examples to kids and adults. Examples that can be drawn on during challenges and dissapointment. 

While no one is perfect, I do think role models share at least these five characteristcs.

1. They are hard working.
2. They embrace failure and know that much is to be learned in it.
3. The are innovative and big thinkers.
4. They are driven by their personal passion.
5. In some way, they make the world a better place.  

"When someone tells me I cannot do something, that's when I do it."
Gertrude Ederle

Gertrude Ederle's story quickly drew us in and astounded us! An early 20th century swimmer, Ederle won gold medals and broke many records, but she is most known for being the first woman to swim across the English Channel. When she accomplished this, only 5 men had done it (some attempting it up to 20 times) and she shattered their records! This was at a time when womens' roles and identities in society were changing drastically. She is like the Bille Jean King of the Roaring 20's. 

The actual story of the swim had my children on the edge of their seats. She attempted the feat the year before, only to be pulled out of the water by her trainer when she was just a few miles from the finish line. She found a new trainer and returned the following year to swim 35 miles in 14.5 hours. Her sister designed her bathing suit and goggles and she layered her body in 3 layers of grease to help retain body heat in the frigid Atlantic water and protect against stinging jelly fish. During the swim she would eat floating on her back, listen to the music being sang by the press boat and sing herself. At one point she was having trouble using one of her legs, and refused to be pulled out. She proclaimed that would finish or drown trying.

She accomplished this amazing feat and was the world's hero. After her triumphant ticker tape parade in NYC, she continued to swim, designed dresses and taught swimming to deaf children. She died at 98 years old in 2003. 

We read, America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener. This is an engaging, beautifully illustrated book that captures the excitement and daring of the swim.

With the wonder of the internet, you can instantly look up footage of Ederle preparing for her famous swim, the actual swim and her parade. Here is a great silent video showing all the above. Check out how rough the water is when she is swimming near the boat!

Extension activities

1. Design sports gear. If your child plays a sport or has a physical hobby, ask them to design new gear that would make their sport easier.

2. Try the grease experiment. Prepare a bowl of icy cold water. Dip one hand in for as long as you can. Then fill a large ziploc bag with shortening, wrap you hand with another bag and put in to the shortening bag and then dip the whole thing into the cold water. How much longer can your hand stay in the water when it is insulated with the grease?

3. Find the English Channel on the map. Talk about the various ways people have crossed it. (One of my kids is really into the Chunnel).

4. Mark the time of swim. Start in the morning at 7 am and say, "she is in the water now." As the day goes on, you can casually mention, "she is still swimming." At the end of the day you can note when she finishes at 9:40pm. This will make the length of the swim more real than the abstract idea of 14.5 hours. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

kids :: sew a stuffed animal based on your own drawing

I have made all sorts of simple stuffed animals for and with my kids, but these are by far the easiest for many ages. It is a great first sewing project or can be something carried in your bag to pull out when the troops are bored waiting at an appointment.  
What you need
-printer fabric - This is fabric that is stiffened so that it can run through a printer. There are many brands at the craft or fabric store.
-a kid drawing
-embroidery floss 
What to do
Use your printer to copy or scan the image and print on to the fabric.

Cut out the rough shape of the image on the fabric and felt.

Help your child stitch around the image, leave a little opening to put in some stuffing and then seal up. 

Trim your new stuffed animal and start planning the next one! It is that quick and fun. 

I particularly like this project because it makes finishing a possibility for kids. They can have a finished product to play with in a short time, which beats the drawer full of more ambitious projects that we have started and failed to complete. 

If you do this, I would love for you to share!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

sound lab: play a record with a needle!

I had to share this sound lab I have been working on with my kids for the last few weeks. It blows my mind and seems to have captured their imagination. And you can gather up the supplies easily and very likely will already have them in your house now. 

So, I do not want to over explain this project because the real value is in discovering for yourself how sound (and records) work. But basically, the goal is to try to play a record with a needle and a paper cup or cone to amplify the sound. This is a DIY phonograph. You get better sound if you use an old turntable because the speed is consistent, but we had fun spinning the record on a chopstick too. Try both ways.

There are many methods to this project, but I highly encourage you to explore the possibilities with your kids. Otherwise, you will just copy a pattern and be done - keep it OPEN ENDED.

This can be set up on a table for awhile as an ongoing project which is what we did. We played around with it, then left it for a few days. As kids wandered through their days, they would stop in and try something new until one day, my son spent over an hour making a arm with blocks and pencils and came up with a new way to attach the needle to the cone. He was INVENTING! Problem solving at its best and the spark and smile on his face coupled with the breathless awe as his project worked was why we work so hard to live a creative, curiosity based life. 

Do you want to try this? Here are the materials you should gather:

turntable if you have one
lazy susan
old records - this is not good for your records, so do not use your pristine copy of The White Album
sewing needles - try different sizes to see what works best
paper cups of different sizes
paper (both printer paper and card stock)
maybe: straws or dowels, small wooden bits, legos...

If you do this, please let me know how it worked and your experience. 

Here are a few videos of our projects. Feel free to shoot a video and link up. I would love to see what other kids and families made!

Monday, February 13, 2012

burn your valentine

My 8 year old son was not interested in making valentine cards for an upcoming party. He was repelled by anything that had to do with hearts or love. 

We have been doing alot of wood working and wood burning projects lately. So, after brainstorming a while, he decided to wood burn the names of his friends onto some of our extra blocks.  My entomologist then spent time thinking of an insect that would appeal to each kid and drew them on with colored pencils. 

I love his project and how it is thoughtful and creative and did not make him uncomfortable with this holiday that must be tricky for so many young boys. 

book review:: The Organic Family Cookbook (& a recipe)

I recently received a review copy of the cookbook, The Organic Family Cookbook: growing, greening, and cooking together by Anni Daulter. Ironically, the book arrived on a day that I purged many other cookbooks from my kitchen, realizing I rely on them less than ever these days. Organic Family is a little different and will stay on my shelf for a while. 

The recipes and concepts Daulter touts are sensible, whole food focused, easy and delicious. I have other whole foods cookbooks that do not appeal to my kids at all - with flavors that just don't jive with 6 year old taste buds.

 I appreciate that Daulter included sections on breakfasts, snacks, deserts and condiments - areas that can usually use some healthy rehab. Homemade fruit roll ups, berry quinoa and red velvet cake (without the red dye!) all temp me into the kitchen.

This book is in no way gluten, dairy or fat free... just healthy, whole food recipes. It would be ideal for a young family or parents who need help learning to cook nourishing food - but do not want to be bogged down with complicated ingredients and recipes. 

Essays sprinkled throughout the book support connecting food to children in the family and are great reminders to include kids in the planting of, shopping for and preparing food. My children have grown up in the kitchen and garden and are pretty good eaters for it. 

I needed to make a quick lunch and decided to try Daulter's Pasta with Spicy Tomato Caper Sauce. I am not a huge pasta fan (but my kids are), but I really wanted to make the sauce. Every time I cook with fresh tomatoes the sauce seems too juicy - so I was on the lookout for a new way. And I love capers. 

This recipe is brilliant because it is made from things you might easily have in your pantry, and after you make it once, you can start customizing. It took under 30 minutes to pull together and was delicious! The tomatoes and lemon made it fresh and the capers added their wonderful floral breath to the dish. A keeper! See below for the recipe.

Linguine with Spicy Tomato Caper Sauce
from The Organic Family Cookbook, by Anni Daulter

1 T olive oil for boiling noodles and 1 T for sauce
sea salt
13 oz (3/4 package) linguine pasta (we used a whole package of spaghetti)
2 garlic cloves
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup capers
juice of 1 small lemon
1/4 t red pepper flakes (adjust according to your taste - this amount was perfect for us)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

cook the pasta 

to make the sauce (while the pasta is cooking):
sauté the garlic for a minute or so in the olive oil

throw everything else in, except for 1/2 of the cheese, and stir and sauté for 5-7 minutes (just until when the pasta is finishing up)

assemble the pasta and sauce and top with the rest of the cheese and some basil if you have it - that's it! fast, simple and really tasty!

image from here

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

nuts and bolts

This is a simple, classic kid activity - but I was surprised at how much my nearly 6 year old loved it. 

Gather up some nuts and bolts. 
You can use ones you have in the garage or buy some from the hardware store. In fact, you can let your child help pick some out. There are some really interesting ones! The ones we used were all really close in size, so it was very challenging. 

Match the nuts and bolts and screw together. 
My son loves helping us build things, so this was extra engaging for him. I think most kids would find it a fun puzzle - and the fine motor skills along with the practical life skills make it a useful game. I plan to add in some new nuts and bolts from time to time. And when he is done with this tin, we can use the hardware to build and connect more things. 


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