Category: sensorial

Sound – Fun Links (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 14, 2009 10:41 am

I had all kinds of thoughts churning about in my head for this week’s Unplugged Project theme:  sound.  A science experiment, a game involving sounds, making a musical instrument.  But this weekend we were so naturally unplugged, that we didn’t have time for an Unplugged Project!

Soccer, a concert fundraiser for our school (a concert involves music which is sound, right?), homework, and then a lazy rainy and cool Sunday afternoon spent reading on the sofa in front of the fire.  That wonderful first fire of the season.  Fall is definitely on its way.

This week I offer instead, a few quick links related to sound.  Not terribly “unplugged” perhaps, but hopefully useful for someone.

Neuroscience for Kids – Hearing Experiments:  Fun activities and experiments for children arranged by grade levels (Kindergarten – Grade 12).

San Fransisco Exploratorium – The Science of Music, Headlands Experiments: What do you get when you mix a tunnel, a metal gate, two musicians, and a physicist?

Hark the Sound Computer Game:  A game designed for visually impaired children that includes games involving naming, categories, math, words, and Braille.  There is also the possibility of easily modifying the existing games to suit your child’s needs, or to create your own new games.

Exploratorium Online Sound Games:  Play “Pong” with your eyes closed (sound guides you to the ball), analyze bird calls, create your own soundscape, do “sound jigsaw puzzles” and play a sound memory game.  Not unplugged, but really neat activities!


If you did a sound Unplugged Project this week, thank you!  As usual, please link to your post in the linky below.  If you didn’t do a sound project, but would like to join in, then please do not link but read more about the Weekly Unplugged Project here.  We’d love to have more people!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Be creative and have fun!


Container – “Find It” Jar (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , July 5, 2009 5:17 pm


This post is a follow-up to last Sunday’s Tiny – Cool Colored Rice post.  The rice coloring was such a fun project in and of itself, that I decided just to focus on that.  I chose this week’s Unplugged Project theme of container because it fit nicely with our original reason for making colored rice in the first place:  A “Find It” Jar.

For a while now I have eyed these “Find It” games, thinking they would be fun for the car, travel or restaurants.  But the the potential fun factor never seemed to justify the price, so I have never bought one.

With a long plane ride to Europe in our near future, I found myself once again considering buying one for the trip (would they let this through security?).  But then it occurred to me that this could be fun and easy to make, so we decided to give it a try!

You’ll need a jar (a container!), preferably fairly tall and with a wide mouth.  I used a glass spaghetti sauce jar, but I would recommend something plastic for travel or young children (a mayonnaise jar perhaps?).

You’ll also need some colored rice and many small objects to hide.  I found that light, flat objects (like Legos) did not work very well since they seemed to stay on the surface of the rice.  Another idea would be to choose objects according to a theme: nature objects (pebbles, acorns, twigs, shells), or animals (little toy animals), etc.

Tip:  Consider the colors of your rice and how choice of color can increase the level of difficulty.  You could hide all green objects in green rice for example, or do as I did and hide a variety of different-colored objects in multicolored rice.

Normally you could just make a list of the hidden objects, but since I wanted my non-reading 3 year-old to be able to play too, I decided to make a picture card instead.

I laid out all the objects on a plain white piece of paper (for clarity) and took a photo of them.  Next I printed out the photo so my 3 year-old would know what to find:

The final step is to drop the objects into the jar and pour in the colored rice.

Don’t fill the jar completely, otherwise the rice and the objects won’t be able to move around very well.

Put the lid on (tightly!) and shake it up.

If you are worried about your children opening the jar and making a mess, you could glue the lid on.  If you don’t glue the lid on however, you can easily change out the hidden treasures for others to keep it interesting.

I glued a bit of ribbon around the lid to make it prettier, but that’s just me being an over-the-top perfectionist and is absolutely not necessary.

Give the jar and list or photo to your children and let them see how many objects they can find.  This is my 3 year-old giving it a go:

For older children,you could even give them a timer to race each other.  For solitary play, they can try to top their own best time!

NOTE – Storing the Colored Rice:  I finally found a use for the lovely, old-fashioned style French soda bottles that I had packratted away in the back of the pantry for years.  I keep them on the kitchen counter now because they look so pretty!  What do you think?


If you did a container-themed Unplugged Project this week then please link to your post below (not just your blog, we always want to be able to find your container post).  If you didn’t do a container project, then don’t link, but please read more about how to join in the Unplugged Project here.  We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Be creative and enjoy!


Tiny – Cool Colored Rice: An all-ages project!! (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 28, 2009 9:53 pm


Our Weekly Unplugged Project post for this week’s theme of tiny is coloring rice (a grain of rice is tiny, right?).

Not very original, but I was going to take this a step farther with a colored rice project.  However this simple first step was such a HUGE hit with my kids of all ages and genders, that it deserves its own post.

I like color.  There is not one white wall in my house.  Therefore I have always wanted to try coloring rice. Is that a logical progression to you?  It is to me.

Instructions for how to make colored rice are all over the internet, such as here and here. Google “coloring rice” or “colored rice” and you will see!

We needed a large bag of white rice. Don’t use brown rice or parboiled (which is sort of beige), since the colors will show up better if the rice is as white as possible.

I checked all the prices per ounce at our one local grocery store and found a 10 pound bag for about $8.00 (I am sure you could shop around and find a much better deal than that).

You’ll also need rubbing alcohol (maybe), food coloring, and plastic ziploc baggies.

I read somewhere that you can use vinegar instead of alcohol, or it can be done simply with food coloring alone, but the rice might not be as brightly colored.

We did a few batches without alcohol and they were fine, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference and the smell when damp was a lot better without it (the alcohol smell does disappear once the rice is fully dry).  I would skip the alcohol next time.

Some people say that paste food coloring produces a brighter result, but I thought ours turned out great with liquid coloring.

I passed out a baggie to each child and then scooped a few cups of rice into each baggie.

Next I added a bit of alcohol to each baggie (not much, a teaspoon maybe?).

Each child chose a color to make and dropped in the appropriate color, or mixture of colors.

NOTE: This is a really fun project for learning how colors mix (if you are a kindergarten teacher or homeschooling parent, be sure to remember this one, because it would make a great kindergarten color project)!

The really fun part is shaking and smooshing the baggie to spread the color.

Just be sure the baggie is closed properly. We had a bit of an accident as you can see here:

(I found these instructions that call for a plastic margarine container for the mixing instead of plastic bags. This method might be safer, as long as you make sure the lid is on tightly.)

We discovered that the more you smoosh and shake, the more uniformly distributed and solid the color is.  If you only do a bit of mixing, enough to just barely color everything, you get a very pretty variation of colors which I preferred:

Once you feel the rice is colored to your satisfaction, then spread it on a foil covered baking sheet and put it in a 200 degree oven until dry.


Stir about half way through the process to uncover the wetter rice from underneath. It took about 15 minutes for us, but if you put in a lot of liquid color and alcohol, it might take a bit longer.  You can also let it air dry, but I am far too impatient for that.

The cooled, dry rice was irresistible to little hands. Even I had to touch it and sift it through my fingers. What a great, Montessori sensory material!

After the rice is dry and cool, use it right away or store it in a baggie or jar.

My kids and I all LOVED this project! We made lots and lots of colors. The children experimented with different color combinations and amounts of mixing.

One of my favorites was this one, where my 7 year-old son put many different colors in. I anticipated a big muddy brown mess, but he didn’t mix it up much and ended up with quite a variety of lovely earth tones in his batch, as you can see here:

Remarkable fact:  The kids are 8 (girl), 7 (boy) and 3 (girl)…plus a guest: age 8 (boy), and me (girl)… age more than 8 and less than 100, and we ALL loved this project. It is hard to find a project that appeals to all ages, but this one was it for us.

As my oldest daughter said, “Our kitchen is a colored rice factory!!”

By the way, anticipate a good lesson in vacuum cleaner use after this project.

Also note the hopeful dog parked strategically under the kitchen table, just waiting for falling goodies:


Did you do a tiny Unplugged Project this week?  If so, then please put your link (to your post, not just your blog) in the Linky below.  If you didn’t do a tiny project this week but would like to learn how to join in future Unplugged Projects, then please do not link, but read more about how to join in here.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Enjoy and be creative!

Homemade – Not So Perfect Taffy (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 8, 2009 12:03 pm

The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was homemade.

My children had been asking me recently about saltwater taffy, wanting to know what it was.  I decided we should try to make some homemade taffy and have a taffy pull!

Well, as the title of my post suggests, this was not a tremendous success, but I am not giving up!  I think I know what went wrong and am planning on trying again one of these days, so stay tuned for the post: “Taffy Part 2 – Perfect Taffy!”

I found a basic taffy recipe here, at this wonderful website:  Science of Cooking.  The recipe is under the category, Science of Candy.

The ingredients are sugar, cornstarch, butter, salt, light corn syrup, water, and optionally: flavoring (we used vanilla extract) and food coloring.  The recipe also gives the option of adding glycerin which will make it softer and creamier, but we left that out.

First we mixed together the sugar and cornstarch.

Next we stirred in the corn syrup, water, salt, and butter.

The whole mixture goes on medium heat.  Constant stirring is required until the sugar dissolves, then continue stirring until the mixture boils.  This step takes a while and the children grew a bit impatient, but from previous candy making experience, I know it is important to leave it on medium heat and not “cheat” by raising the temperature of the stove to hurry things along.

Once it boils, add a candy thermometer and stop stirring.

Why must you stop stirring? Here’s part of the science of this process:

“At this point, you have dissolved the crystal structure of the sugar. Stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in your syrup to rejoin and form sucrose—crystals of table sugar.”

While the mixture boils, it is important to wash down the sides of the pan with warm water and a pastry brush.  This prevents any crystallization on the side of the pan from falling back into the mixture and becoming a seed crystal which could also cause unwanted recrystallization of the sugar mixture.

OUR ERROR NUMBER 1: On the first attempt we forgot to wash down the sides of the pan which probably contributed to our rock hard result!

The recipe says to allow the mixture to heat to a temperature of 270 degrees Farenheit (the “soft-crack” stage). At this point you will notice that the bubbles are smaller, thicker and closer together. Here is what it looks like:

At this point quickly stir in your flavor and color should you choose to add any, then dump the very hot liquid onto a greased cookie sheet, or marble slab.  I just buttered our granite countertop and that worked nicely.  Warn the children that it is VERY HOT.

Have the children butter their hands (they loved this step), and when it is cool enough to handle, begin the pulling process.  Have the children stretch it between them (warning – DO NOT DO THIS ABOVE A DOG.  Our dog jumped up and bit some off!).

Once it is stretched, then they should fold it in half (like folding a sheet), turn it and stretch again.

Here is where it all began to go wrong for us on our second taffy attempt.  Normally the taffy should become harder and harder to pull, but keep on going until it is “light in color and has a satiny gloss” (about 10 to 20 minutes according to the recipe).  Ours got stiff and nearly rock hard in less than 5 minutes.

RESULT NUMBER 1 – An interesting geological specimen:

RESULT NUMBER 2 – A little softer, but still capable of killing an intruder with a single blow:

Oh well. At least it tasted good (like butterscotch!).

Here is where I’ll stop my narrative since we got no farther.  The recipe continues on to explain how to cut it into pieces and wrap it (we would have needed a power saw).

OUR ERROR NUMBER 2: On the first try, we heated to 270 degrees, but it took me a minute or two to get the food coloring and flavor in there, so it might have gone a bit above (the temperature rises very quickly when it gets that hot).  Result:  Rock hard lump, like a giant hard candy rock!

On the second try, I only heated to 260 degrees and worked much more quickly with the color and flavor.  Result:  Pliable at first (we thought it was going to work), but as the kids pulled, it got harder and harder until it was unworkable and was only slightly softer than the first try – still a hard lump.

My realization:  We live at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level.  I had not taken this into consideration when determining the temperature at which to stop the cooking!  In order to avoid over-cooking, we probably need to heat to only about 240 degrees.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Altitude affects cooking time because water boils at a lower temperature here than it does at sea level (due to lower air pressure up high).  Pasta always takes about 3 minutes longer to cook here than the maximum time given on the box. The candy was boiling earlier (at a lower temperature) so it boiled much longer than it should have by the time it reached 270 degrees.  The molecular change was farther advanced at that temperature than it would have been at sea level, making for harder candy (more like “hard-crack”).  Any other high altitude cooks out there might be interested in this link that I discovered about adjusting candy temperatures for altitude: Candy Making Tips (scroll down to the very last paragraph for the high-altitude conversion).

As I said before, I want to try this again and I think we’ll have better luck.  I’ll be sure to post a photo of our “perfect taffy!”


Did you do a homemade Unplugged Project this week?  If so, then please put a link to your post in the Mr. Linky below.  You had also better leave one in a comment too, since Mr. Linky has been acting up lately.  If you did not do a homemade project, then please do not link, but read more here about how to join in.  We’d love to have you!

Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:




Kitchen – Non-Newtonian Fluid; aka “Oobleck!! – (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , November 10, 2008 10:00 pm

Today, along with a visiting friend, we finally got to do this week’s kitchen Unplugged Project.  We used cornstarch, a common kitchen ingredient, to create a non-Newtonian fluid.  The other name for such a mixture is Oobleck, from the Dr. Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

It was SO COOL!!  The kids and I found it fascinating!  I was so enthralled that I felt that the mess (and there WAS mess), was actually very worthwhile.

I set out four small mixing bowls and spoons, one for each child.  I also set out water, cornstarch, and measuring cups.

The kids each put about one cup of cornstarch into their bowl.

I had them add water just a bit at a time,

and stir until we got the “right” consistency.

It was probably close to about a half to two thirds of a cup of water, but the “right” consistency was quite obvious.  When the mixture starts to feel hard to stir although it looks like liquid on the top, then it is probably about ready.

Test it by dipping your hand in, lifting out some fluid, and squeezing it into a ball.  It should feel like a hard, dry ball in your hand but when you open your fingers, it will turn back into a liquid and run back into the bowl.

Here is a fleeting picture of it as a solid:

Adjust your mixture by adding a bit of water if too dry, or a bit of cornstarch if too wet.  You’ll know you have it right when the oohs and aahs begin!

This was so much fun to play with and was a very weird sensation that is quite hard to describe.  The children (including my 2 year-old) and I played for maybe an hour:  squeezing, stirring, punching, and even hammering!

My favorite trick: If you roll it between your two palms as if you are making a ball with clay, it makes a nice solid ball, but as soon as you release the pressure, it all runs away!

Also, put a finger gently into it and it will slowly and strangely be sucked under as if in quicksand.  Jab the finger in quickly, and it will hit a hard surface.

The Science:

As I understand it, when you squeeze the mixture, or compress it quickly in some way (hammer, punching, etc.), the molecules compress and become a solid.  When the pressure is released, the molecules spread out again and the mixture becomes a liquid.  As my oldest daughter said:  “Oooo!  I can feel it changing from a solid to a liquid!”

Here are two good explanations of what a non-Newtonian fluid is:

“Oobleck is often referred to as a ‘non-Newtonian’ substance because it does not behave as Newton’s Third Law of Motion states; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applying this principle, you would expect Oobleck to ‘splash’ when you ‘smack’ it with your hand. (Smacking is the action, splashing is the reaction.) However, when you try this out Oobleck does not splash, in fact, it becomes a solid substance for a few moments.”

(from Oobleck – a Non-Newtonian Fluid)


“Isaac Newton defined normal liquids as having consistent flow behavior affected only by temperature or pressure; so fluids that change their resistance to flow (viscosity) under stress are not ‘normal’. Some of these fluids get runnier when stress is applied, like paint, toothpaste and slug mucus. Some get thicker, like quicksand and Oobleck.”

(from Science in the City – Bullet Proof Goo)

As to why it behaves this way, it seems that this is actually a matter of some controversy, but here are some links that are more knowledgeable than I:

Oobleck –  a Non-Newtonian Fluid

More About Liquids: Thick and Thin


You can actually walk on this stuff!  My son wanted to try it after seeing this You Tube video.

(There are a few other walking on cornstarch videos out there if you are really into this!)


1) I STRONGLY recommend that you either do this outside in an area that you can just hose off afterwards, or use a vinyl tablecloth that you can remove and hose off afterwards.  Why didn’t I use mine?

2) Be sure to add the water a bit at a time, it is easy to overdo it.

3) If you do forget the tablecloth like I did, you will find that non-Newtonian fluids can be difficult to clean off a table.  When you try wiping what looks like liquid, it turns into a solid and sticks.

When you stop scrubbing it returns to a liquid state!  After a bit of frustration I used my science brain and poured water on the table.  I was able to wipe the now runny cornstarch liquid into a trash can.


Although I suggested it humorously yesterday, I have actually had several votes for an Unplugged Project theme next week involving “sort, trash, junk, donate.”  Well, why not??

As Captain Jean-Luc Picard would have said (see, I haven’t always been without a TV!):  “Make it so.”

Let’s call next week’s theme:


Remember, the theme can be loosely interpreted if you don’t feel like cleaning your house this week.  Just be creative and have fun!

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