Category: other

Keeping Girls “Girls”

By , May 3, 2010 12:11 pm

One benefit of no TV that had never occurred to me when I began this experiment after the birth of my daughter nine and a half years ago, is the lack of exposure to “sexy teens!”  I am shocked sometimes when I see how some teens and tweens, dress and act.  I really am not a conservative person, in fact I consider myself to be quite liberal, but I do believe that 9 year-old girls are emotionally girls and NOT women.  What ever happened to childhood?

Some might think it backward (please don’t flame me), but I am SO relieved that my 9 1/2 year-old daughter still believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  She still plays dress-up and fairies with her little sister and like-minded friends.  She is not on Facebook, nor has she ever expressed a desire to be.  Don’t berate me for “stunting” my daughter’s social and technological development.  Believe me, I am sure she will “develop socially” as soon as those hormones hit her system!  She also knows how to use a computer just fine thank you.

There are certainly many factors involved.  Her stage of physical development, her personality, and the fact that she attends a very small Montessori School all surely play a role.  But I do truly also believe that part of the fact that she has not yet become interested in “popular teen culture” is that she is not exposed to TV shows and commercials that cause her to emulate those behaviors.

My good friend friend just sent me a link to a review of an interesting-sounding book by Leonard Sax, the author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.  His new book is about girls:  Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins.  I urge you to read the review and see what you think.

Meanwhile, I hope that my little girls stay little girls for as long as they need to.

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!

Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)

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By , August 11, 2008 7:19 pm

caramel

Finally, here is my hot post that disappeared into the ether last night. Thanks so much to Julie K in Taiwan, Angi and Nature Mama for having the brilliant idea of emailing me the post from their Google Readers. That saved me at least an hour of rewriting! I was so down on computers this morning, but this evening I am uplifted by the fact that three people I have never met in “real life” can help me out! Thank you!!! Now, on to the post:

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The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was hot. Finally, we managed to get back on schedule and do it, although we broke away from our usual craft project and went in a more scientific direction.

While away this summer, I found a number of good books in my Dad’s favorite thrift store (he’s a packrat too). One is called Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb (more about the book at the end of this post). While we were trying to come up with hot ideas, my 7 year-old daughter picked up this book and wanted to choose a food-related project. We decided on Caramel Syrup: Sugar Decomposes from the Kitchen Chemistry chapter.

Older children will find this scientifically interesting and fun to do. Younger kids will enjoy the end result!

The goal of the experiment is to teach about chemical compounds and how they can sometimes be broken down into completely different substances. Although I always liked science in school, I am not a chemist so forgive me if I am not 100% perfect in my description.

Since I am a terminal nerd, I didn’t trust the book’s very simple explanation, and actually researched sugar and how it decomposes. I learned that sugar and its breakdown process is rather complicated. (If the mysteries of caramelization keep you awake at night, then read this.)

I tried to keep it 7 year-old simple and explained to my daughter that sugar is actually carbon and water fused together. When you heat sugar, it breaks down into its original carbon and water elements. I showed her the scientific formula for table sugar (sucrose): C12H22O11 . She already new that H2O was water and could see that in the formula. After I explained that C meant carbon, she saw the carbon and water in the formula.

Heating the sugar would cause it to become watery (the release of the water) and dark (the carbon). It would no longer really be sugar.

What we needed – sugar, water, a heavy frying pan:

First my daughter poured half a cup of sugar into the frying pan:

We heated the sugar over medium-high heat and my daughter stirred it:

After about 5 to 10 minutes, the sugar started to melt:

As my daughter continued stirring, the sugar melted further and began to darken and become very watery:

Finally it turned “straw-colored” and we had transformed our sugar into a new substance – caramel. We turned off the heat and slowly added half a cup of water in order to create a runny, edible solution. I did the pouring as the caramel was so hot that it steamed and spattered:

The shock-cooled caramel formed a brittle sort of candy-lump that we just had to taste:

My daughter continued stirring the mixture on low heat for about another ten minutes – until the big caramel chunk dissolved into a solution:

This is what we ended up with: a delicious carbon-water mixture that we ate over ice cream!

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If you haven’t heard of Science Experiments You Can Eat and you have scientifically-inclined children (or you homeschool), you might want to check it out of the library. Ours is an old version (1972), but the new one is supposedly revised and updated. I haven’t seen the new one, but our book has the following chapters about the science of food: A Kitchen Laboratory; Solutions; Suspensions, Colloids, and Emulsions; Carbohydrates and Fats; Proteins; Kitchen Chemistry; Plants We Eat; Microbes; and Enzymes.


If you did this week’s hot Unplugged Project, please put your link in Mr. Linky below so we can all find you. If you didn’t, please read how to join in, and consider doing next week’s project.

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Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:

Trees

Have fun!

“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.

Magic Words

By , May 20, 2008 2:11 pm

Despite writing a blog for all the world to see, I actually tend to be a rather private person. I am very bad at self-promotion, but I have news that I simply can’t keep to myself any longer.

That picture above may look like any old page from any old book to you, but to me it is astonishing, amazing, and quite unbelievable. It is something that I must pick up and look at again and again in order to be completely sure it is real.

Those words on that page, and several others like it, are MY words (“Mines!” as my 2 year-old would say). My words in print, published in a real book that is available in real bookstores for anyone to pick up and read as they sit and sip their Starbucks. A fat, solid book with a lovely glossy cover and that wonderful “new book smell.”

The book is called How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel: And Other Misadventures Traveling with Kids and is edited by Sarah Franklin. It is a very funny anthology of absolutely true nightmare stories about traveling with children. I feel very honored that my unusual adventure was chosen for inclusion. Suffice it to say that my contribution involves a small single-engine airplane piloted by me, and a screaming, hungry 3 month-old baby (my oldest daughter).

Anyhow, I really enjoyed reading all the tales in the collection, and I often laughed out loud! I would have recommended it as a great summer or travel read for all parents, except that now I am a bit embarrassed to do so since my piece is in it. How weird is that?

Seriously though, consider reading it this summer on your United Airlines flight to Chicago, or your cross-country car trip to Grandma’s. If your little darlings fuss on the flight or vomit cherry slushies all over your new car, this book will lift your spirits and you’ll immediately feel better knowing that it COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE.

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