Category: helpful books

Molecules in Motion (“730 Easy Science Experiments” – Book Review)

By , September 22, 2008 10:45 pm

I must admit, my heart sank when my sister gave my kids the book 730 Easy Science Experiments: With Everyday Materials by E. Richard Churchill, Louis V. Loesching, and Muriel Mandell.

This confession will certainly earn me yet another “Mom of the Year Award,” but here it is:

Was my first thought:  “730?? Oh hooray! Think of all the wonderful projects and what we will learn together!!”  Noooo…. My first thought was:  “730?? Who is going to have to do those 730 science experiments with them?? Oh no!”

My childless sister seemed to pick up on my silent consternation and left with a sadistic smile (or so I thought) and the parting words of: “Have fun!”

Well actually, we are having fun.  The book sat on a shelf for a while until my 8 year-old daughter recently rediscovered it.

On Sunday, when I was planning a “Fun With Mom Day,” she showed me some experiments that she wanted to do.  Since we were going to have Fun With Mom no matter what, I was willing to assist in any and all experiments.  We did several.  The one I will share with you today involved the motion of molecules.

This sounds fancy, but actually, like most of the experiments in this very thorough (did I tell you already that there are 730 experiments?) volume, this experiment involved only items we had on hand here in the house.

You need food coloring, two clear glasses, and hot and cold water.  Put hot water in one glass (I used very hot tap water) and cold water in the other (I used super-cooled water from our refrigerator water dispenser).

Put just one drop of food coloring in each glass and watch what happens.  The molecules are moving faster in hot water so the food coloring blends with the water very, very quickly.  In the slower-moving cold water glass, the food coloring barely moves at all.  In fact it makes some beautiful slow-motion droplet shapes that reminded me of a lava lamp.

This glass was the hot water:

And this one was cold (see the “lava lamp?”):

This was just one of 730 experiments.  That means I have another 729 to inflict on you all!!

Seriously, I do like this book.  As I mentioned earlier, the ingredients are mostly household items, or are easily obtainable: no enriched uranium needed here.

The experiments vary in complexity from ridiculously simple yet not boring for young ones (Straw Wheels – moving a heavy book more easily using drinking straws as rollers – p.23) to more complicated yet still easily doable (Seeing Sound Waves p.110 or Balloon Barometer p.249).

The chapters are interesting and fun:  Clutching at Straws; Paper Capers; More Than Lemonade; Dairy Dozen; Adventures With a String; Soap Suds; Slow Start-Fast Finish; Keeping Your Balance; How to Have All the Moves; The Sound of Science; Feeling Stressed? Try Some Surface Tension; Science Can Give You a Warm Feeling; Blown Away; Being Earth Conscious; World Travellers; Leafy Lessons; Dirty Words: Soil, Sand, Humus, and Mud; Gravity and Magnetism: Attractive Forces; Don’t Fiddle With Old Fossils; Weather; Whirling Winds and Gentle Breezes; Water, Water, Everywhere; Building a Weather Station; Air, H2O, and Other Things; Here’s Superman, But Where’s Clark?; Salty Solutions and Sweet Success

Each experiment has a “What to do,” a “What Happens,” and most importantly, a “Why” section.

You’ll be seeing more experiments from us I am sure.  Remember, we still have 729 of them to show you!

“Forgotten Neighborhood Games,” by Scott Strother (Review)

By , June 5, 2008 10:06 pm

How many of you know the game of Hopscotch, Red Light Green Light, or Monkey in the Middle? I would guess that most of you parents know these games. But what about your children?

Do you or your children know how to play Exchange, Sardines, or Hot Box? Perhaps not.

That is why every family interested in getting their children outside for some good old-fashioned play NEEDS this book in their library.

Author Scott Strother’s preface reminded me of how much fun I used to have playing spontaneous neighborhood games with my friends.

Two experiences inspired Mr. Strother to write this book: 1) Coaching 6 to 16 year-olds in tennis, and realizing that they had no idea what he was talking about when he referred to some of the very common games from his childhood; and 2) A paper that he wrote about childhood obesity and today’s children’s sedentary lifestyles.

Here are the highlights:

  • Games are classified and organized according to activity level. The first section is Activity Level V, “…games that require the most exercise. These games mainly entail constant running or movement and are highly active.” Each section decreases in intensity until the final, Activity Level I – “…games where mostly walking or limited physical exercise is required. These games are still active and outside, but are not as physically demanding as the others.”
  • There is only one game per page and the information is complete, and very clearly presented. Each game description specifies number of kids, ages, time allotted, space/area, equipment, description (startup, object, and play), and the author’s personal comments.
  • Many of the games require children to determine who is “it.” Do you remember doing that? Well, I suspect that choosing who is “it” might be another lost art. Fortunately Forgotten Neighborhood Games also has a section entitled “Picking the ‘It'” which includes a description of the process, and a few rhymes from which to choose.

When I first began this blog in February of 2007, I had planned on having a “Children’s Games” page where I would write up the rules for various outdoor, neighborhood games. Like the author of this book, I had noticed that most children today are too focused on video games and TV to spend much time outdoors playing active and social games like these. I did write a few game posts which I later eliminated. The task was just too daunting.

Although it is sad that a book like this might be necessary to teach today’s children how to play this way, I am so thankful that Mr. Strother took the time to write this very comprehensive, yet easy to use book. The blog equivalent of Forgotten Neighborhood Games is precisely what I had in mind in back in “the old days” when I first began Unplug Your Kids.

My advice would be to use this book as a reference to find a few games to teach your kids. Or better yet, if your children read well enough, have them explore it on their own. As the author says:

It might take a little effort at first, learning the games and getting other children to play, but once kids start learning these exciting games, they will not want to stop. Do not be afraid to go find kids and coerce them outside for some fun. More and more children from the neighborhood will start to get involved. Everyone will begin looking forward to playing and will meet more often. Instead of sitting around inside, kids can meet each other, make friends, get exercise, and have a ton of fun! This is what childhood is all about. Kids need to get back outside, exercise, and love it…and this book is the guide!

Forgotten Neighborhood Games: Get Kids Back Outside and Loving It! is another useful tool for parents to help get children away from “The Box” and back outside. Deserves to become a classic.

Non-Toxic Haiku Books for Children

By , November 8, 2007 1:56 pm

I must immediately write about something cheerier than lead paint and toxic Aqua Dots in order to rid myself of this bad feeling. How about haiku?

If you haven’t been following our weekly Unplugged Projects, last Monday’s project involved haiku. I wanted to suggest some children’s haiku books but couldn’t find any at my local library.

A few people came to the rescue and I would like to share their recommendations.

+++ First I must send you over to cloudscome’s blog, A Wrung Sponge. As a professional children’s librarian, she is my most authoritative source. Cloudscome kindly took the time this morning to pull her favorite haiku books off the shelf and listed them for me on her blog. Here are her recommendations:

Today and Today, Issa Kobayashi

Cricket Songs, Harry Behn

Cricket Never Does, Myra Cohn Livingston

One Leaf Rides the Wind, Celeste Mannis

A Pocketful of Poems, Nikki Grimes

Basho and the River Stones, Tim Myers

If Not For the Cat, Jack Prelutsky

Wingnuts, Paul Janeczko

Baseball Haiku, Cor Van Den Heuvel

Dogku, Andrew Clements

Thanks so much cloudscome! If you have never visited A Wrung Sponge it is worth a stop. Cloudscome writes lovely haiku herself and also gives great kids’ book recommendations (she is particularly interested in multicultural children’s books).

+++ Jenny of Wildwood Cottage found one haiku book at her library that 2 year-old daughter CJ enjoyed. She also recommends:

One Leaf Rides the Wind, Celeste Davidson Mannis

+++ Heather of Homeschooling Fun found this haiku book at her library and liked it a lot:

Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids-Haiku, Patricia Donegan

Thank you all for your recommendations! I’ll have to get busy with my Interlibrary Loans.

Dona Nobis Pacem (10 Ideas for Fostering International Understanding in Your Kids)

By , November 7, 2007 12:59 am

Sometimes I am a glass half-full type of person, and sometimes I am more inclined to be a glass-half empty type.

About peace…I think I am running on empty. I feel that throughout history there never has been peace. There never will be peace in the future either. It is just human nature to fight.

Religion, which is supposed to be all about peace (no matter what the religion), seems often to make matters worse. The Crusades, the Inquisition, etc. I’ll stop my brief list there so as to not get myself into too much trouble.

The glass half-full part of me says: “Hey, wait a minute! Why not start with the children?”

Well, why not start with the children? What an excellent idea. If all the world’s children could learn about and appreciate other cultures, races, and religions, then wouldn’t there HAVE to be peace?

Glass half-empty says: “There is no way to teach every child in the world these things!”

Glass half-full says: “Maybe not, but the way to start is with our own children. Let’s teach them about the beauty of diversity.”

Yes let’s.


Here are ten thoughts on how to do that:

1) Have your child learn a foreign language, either through their school or through home, online or language school study. The US is one of the only countries in the world where a child/adult can get all the way through school, and even college and beyond, without learning another language.

2) Take your children to local multicultural events such as Chinese New Year celebrations, Greek festivals, etc. Check your local paper for details.

3) Travel with your children, which leads to the next suggestion:

4) Get your child a passport now so that he or she can travel with you when old enough, and the opportunity for foreign travel arises. Passport processing is taking a long time these days, so why not simply put it on your to-do list and get it over with right away. (Most US post offices can issue passports and even take the passport photos, it is very easy). By the way, passports are now required for air travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, even for infants.

5) If your children are teens and are interested…let them be an exchange student. I did it as a teen (twice) and it totally changed my life!

Youth for Understanding (the program I used)

AFS Intercultural Programs


6) Host an exchange student in your home (it doesn’t have to be for a year, it can be a semester, a summer, or even less!) Check out links above, or Google “international student exchange.”

7) Get your child a penpal. Google “penpal” for some sites that can arrange this. Being the paranoid parent, I would check it out carefully first though before signing up. I would choose a “snail mail” penpal over an email one, and would monitor the whole thing very carefully. Check with your child’s school too. Often penpal arrangements can be made through a teacher at school. If a teacher has contact with a teacher in a foreign country, many times classes can exchange letters.

8) Go to the library and check out an international cookbook. Cook an exotic foreign meal together, talk a little about that country, and find it on the map or globe.

9) If you and your family are really in the mood for adventure, either rent a house in a foreign country or do a house swap. A house swap is where you trade a month in your house, for a month in someone else’s house for example. Sometimes the trade even includes the use of a car. There are many websites dedicated to rentals and home swaps. The classifieds in the back of alumni magazines are also a good source. Many college alums prefer to rent their foreign house or apartment to another responsible alum rather than a total stranger.

Here are some house swap websites (note: I am not personally familiar with any of these):

HomeLink International

Home Exchange

Home Xchange Vacation

10) And of course the simplest and cheapest way to expose your children to other cultures, is to read to them. Go to the library. Read multicultural books to your children. Check my International Children’s Book Day post for detailed suggestions of books and web links to books for some ideas.

For inspiration, here are some of our favorite multicultural/international books. The last one is a real eye-opener: Material World: A Global Family Portrait, is geared more toward adults, but children will find it fascinating too, when read with an adult.

(For more info on two of these titles: I have written posts about Wake Up World, and Let’s Eat – plus another here about Let’s Eat)

Dona Nobis Pacem…Grant Us Peace – PLEASE!!!

Please visit Mimi’s Blog to find links to many, many, many more Peace Posts today.

Also, for more thoughts on peace, please visit my June Dona Nobis Pacem post.

Raising Environmentally Aware Children (Blog Action Day)

By , October 15, 2007 12:01 am

I truly believe that the way to raise environmentally aware children is to instill a love and appreciation of nature at an early age.

Here are some ideas and resources to help parents encourage a love of nature in their children. Just one of these ideas alone may not make much of a difference, but a combination of several should begin to have an impact on the way children perceive the world we live in. I hope so anyhow! Please give some of these a try:

1) Get your kids outside! Go for a hike, or even a walk around the neighborhood. The National Wildlife Federation has a website for parents and kids called The Green Hour which is filled with ideas for what to do outside. Also check out Backyard Nature with Jim Conrad for 101 nature-oriented activities that change seasonally.

2) Have your kids plant a small garden. If you live in the city, have them plant a pot or two on the deck or even in a sunny window. Here are some of my tips for gardening with children: The Children’s Garden.

3) Subscribe to nature magazines for children such as Zoobooks (ages 4-12), Zootles (ages 2-5), National Geographic Kids (6-14), National Geographic Little Kids (ages 3-6), Ranger Rick (ages 7 and up), Your Big Backyard (ages 3-7) or for really little ones (ages 1-4) – try the National Wildlife Federation’s Wild Animal Baby. Not only do these magazines teach kids about nature, but they encourage reading too!

Note: Ranger Rick must have been around for eons, because even I remember getting it, and loving it, as a child.

4) Subscribe to a nature club such as the Arbor Day Foundation’s Nature Explore Club.

5) Put out a bird feeder, or better yet, a variety of bird feeders (hummingbird, thistle seed, suet feeders, platform feeders, peanuts in shells, as well as the traditional sunflower and millet varieties). Even in the city it should usually be possible to hang a small feeder outside a window. If you can put out a bird bath, especially a heated one for climates with cold winters, you will notice an even greater number of bird visitors.

6) Get a kit for raising butterflies, frogs, ladybugs, or hermit crabs for example.

Or how about an ant farm?

Or my personal favorite…sea monkeys!

7) Set an example. Whether we like it or not, kids model parents’ behaviors. Show your own interest in nature, and point out interesting animals, insects, plants etc. on a daily basis. To inspire yourself, I suggest reading Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder. Read my review of it here. Also, you can check out the adult resources here, at the Hooked on Nature website.

8) Come up with some nature-themed art projects for your children, or recycled art. Good resources for ideas are: Nature’s Art Box, Recycled Crafts Box, and Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children

If you are interested, I reviewed Earthways here.

9) Involve children in your recycling. Let them help sort. Take them with you when you drop it off. Older children might benefit from a book like Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming. Read my review here for more information.

10) Read nature-themed stories to your children. Here are some suggested reading lists by age from the Hooked on Nature website:

Ages 3-8
Ages 6-14

11) Set up a seasonal nature table in your home where children can display their outdoor finds. A fall table for example might have fall leaves, acorns, and pine cones, whereas a spring table might have spring flowers, feathers and grasses. Change the table seasonally and see what wonders your children come home with.

12) Start solstice celebrations in your home. Explain about the movement of the Earth, what causes the seasons, and what the solstice means. Last year we had our first annual solstice celebration on the winter solstice. We lit candles and had a special meal. The children gathered whatever they could find outside to create the centerpiece (pine branches, pine cones, rocks, and twigs). They still talk about that evening more than any other holiday celebration that we have had! I believe that being more aware of the natural rhythms of life, helps build an awareness of the importance of nature and the planet.


I really wish I had begun this post three weeks ago instead of last night, because I know that there are many more great ideas for getting kids excited about nature and the environment. This will definitely have to be an ongoing project for me.

I hope you have enjoyed my ideas, and will find them useful. The main point is that children are the future of out planet. Get them outdoors and teach them just how wonderful our planet is…PLEASE!!!!

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