Monday, June 6, 2016

No Batteries Needed

Summer is almost upon us and, as Spring comes to a close, so does school for my kids. But that does not mean that learning has to end too. We have simply ditched the textbooks for the wonderful outdoors – well, our back yard but its all good and green!

I have been looking for some creative activities for us to do that combine nature with learning. There are many books out there on the subject but, being a fan of Asia Citro’s books, I couldn’t wait to try her new book, A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature. 

This is actually now my favorite of her three books. I just couldn't say how much I absolutely LOVED it because that would not be possible. Each page was just awesome. I love the design and layout. I love the colorful photographs and the creative activities. And I'm not embarrassed to say that I was just as excited to do the crafts and activities as my kids were. It's a real gem and wonderful source of inspiration for me when it comes to getting outdoors with my kids and as a family.

After having fun just sifting through the beautiful pages alone, we just could not decide which activity we wanted to try first but I assured each child we would get to their choice!

We started with a nature walk to find some leaves for the Nature Cutting Tray activity on page 40. I knew this activity would be a good one for my toddler.
We simply took along a pair of scissors and a small bag (plus my little one brought with him a magnifying glass to 'inspect') and started collecting a variety of leaves and flowers as we walked through trails near our home. 

We took our time and just enjoyed being together, discussing the names of the leaves we were clipping and how they appear throughout the seasons. We talked about the different uses that leaves can have (healing, homes for birds etc).  We breathed in the fresh air and laughed. It was so nice! I realized how little I actually get outside with my babies. I will definitely be doing it more for sure.
Once we had a collection of leaves, we took them back to the house and I set them out on a tray in our ‘school’ room and let my toddler start cutting at them with his ‘big boy scissors’. Such a simple activity but he absolutely LOVED this and remained occupied with it for about half an hour. I could have got the huge pile of dishes in the sink done but it was such a joy to see him pause every now and then just to study the plant he was holding. Twisting and turning it, smelling it and throwing little bits of stem and leaves everywhere giggling.
The other activity we did was called Frog Hunt on page 42 ­­­. The instructions were to go on a frog hunt using little toy frogs but since we have an abundance of real life frogs in the ponds around us, we got to hunt for real ones.
The kids managed to find a huge bullfrog at one point which provided endless amusement. They pointed out his different features (slimy skin, claw-like feet, ear drum etc) and laughed as he hopped around and finally to his way back into the pond.
It was so neat to see how he camouflaged into his environment. The search also led to finding salamanders and turtles. There’s no shortage of them this time of year.
My husband so nicely volunteered to cut up a small tree branch for the activity on page 36 entitled Nature Blocks. He used an electric saw which made nice little round disks for the kids to build towers with.
But the best part was counting the rings together to see how old the tree had been. Something I learned personally from this activity as quoted from the book:

“If a certain ring is especially thick, there was a lot of rain and sun that year and the tree was able to grow much bigger. If a ring is thin, there was a drought or other hardship that kept the tree from growing much that year.”
Asia notes in her book that not all of the activities need to be done outdoors in a natural space. You can gather the materials you need and bring them inside which will still provide that sense of connection to nature – by observing, touching, and manipulating natural objects.


Our last experiment we did (so far) was the activity Coloring Flowers on Page 74. So simple to put together with few items needed.
We collected three white flowers, cut the stems to the same length and placed each in its own glass of water – making sure to use the same amount of water in each. Next the kids added food coloring to the water. We used one color (they chose purple) and added different amounts to each glass of water, labelling as we went. We tried 1, 5 and 10 drops as Asia said she had tried with her kids.
As suggested in the wonderful ‘extensions’ section on the page; we also tried a different color flower. But looking back, I think we should have tried a darker colored flower, less similar to white. So then we left them overnight to see how the food coloring had affected the flower’s color.  The kids thought it was really neat the next day to see how the flower had moved the water from the cup up to it’s petals via the stem.

I am so thrilled with this book. It is such a great resource for parents who are looking for ways to enjoy being outdoors with their children. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy today! 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Science Fun

I enjoy science. Not all aspects, but I love to do experiments. As a kid, I was always nagging my science teachers to let us do more hands on learning. There was never enough for my liking. And they were never as fun as the variety of experiments there seem to be for kids to do today. As a homeschooling Mom, I’m always on the lookout for new, educational and fun science projects to do with my kiddos. I love seeing their eyes light up at a mini explosion they made or at the feel of a gooey slime etc. It’s just as enjoyable for me to do with them. Which is why I was really thrilled to come across a wonderful book called Kitchen Science Lab for Kids by Liz Lee Heinecke. 

Along with the 55 super fun activities that are this book, it also includes detailed instructions and photos of children demonstrating them which enticed my children as they flicked through the book. There were lots of, ‘ooh I wanna do that!’ and ‘ooooh can we do this one!’ I had to promise we would get to them all eventually and to just pick the one they most wanted to do first. They chose the Soda Geyser Experiment. Naturally the experiment of choice involved an explosion!
Fortunately it was a nice, sunny day also so we went outside to set up. We placed a bottle of diet coke on a low wall and my daughter dropped in a packet of Mentos mints. Now, the book suggests to insert a tube into the bottle’s spout and we did initially but I didn’t do a very good job due to not having any tape with me to make the tube hold together, so we made do without. And, while I’m sure the eruption was smaller than it would have been had we used the tube, it was still cool and acquired lots of oohs and aahs by the children who wanted to do it again and again. We actually found that trying to do it again in the same bottle didn’t work but luckily I had more soda.

I like that I could refer to the book for an explanation of the chemical cause behind the reaction (the carbon dioxide, combined with the Mentos causes a pressure build up in the bottle which results in it shooting out a jet stream of foam.)  It also contains suggestions and questions for further exploration of the activities.

One fun experiment we did at home was the Zooming Fish experiment (fun name!) My children made little fishies out of thin cardboard, cut a small slit in the tail and placed them in a tray of plain water. Next, they added just a drop of dish soap onto the tail and observed as the fish ‘swam’ away. They were intrigued and enjoyed 'racing' their fish, "It actually works!" The kids and I discussed the scientific explanation for this as in the book; the dish soap weakens the molecular bond on the surface of the water. The fish move as a result of the surface tension forces in the soap-free water. They thought it was cool that water had a skin and were gently touching  the surface to see if they could 'feel' it.
We actually did a few more simple experiments that same day due to the kid’s enthusiasm with this book (see pics below). It’s kept us busy and learning new things. What’s also neat is the appeal to all ages so we can come back and do the experiments again as they get older.
Finding the Dew Point Experiment

 Tie-Dye Milk


Thank you, Liz for letting me have a copy of this book for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cancer Prevention - How YOU can help yourself.

I normally don't post serious topics in this blog but I will make the exception for one so important that needs exposure.  Cancer is a subject that touches all of our lives. With the busyness of everyday life, it is sometimes hard to keep personal health a priority. The reality is that there are so many things you can do in order to live a healthier lifestyle, which can later help prevent cancer for you, your family, and your loved ones. The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness center works to spread the word about the rare but preventable cancer mesothelioma This cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, a toxin that is still around to this day because it has not yet been banned in the United States or Canada. They’ve compiled a checklist of preventative measures you can take that can help you bring your personal health at the forefront. 

    There are so many things you can do to help live a preventative lifestyle. For example, exercising for 30 or more minutes a day, getting up and taking a walk instead of sitting all day at work to get your blood flowing, avoiding secondhand smoke, routinely seeing your doctor for yearly appointments, all of these things can make a huge difference. Many people think that developing certain cancers and diseases comes down to your genes, or bad luck, but your risk of developing these cancers are also determined by factors that you have control over. Eating a healthy balanced diet, cutting down on alcohol consumption, and protecting yourself when you’re outside in the sun by using sunscreen can help you beat the odds as well.

    With cancer being one of the lead causes of death, why wouldn’t you want to live a healthier, happier lifestyle? It will only benefit you and your family down the road. The MAA Center hopes to one day see an end to preventable cancers like mesothelioma, which starts with generating conversation around the topic and spreading awareness!




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Little Scientists!

A while ago, I bought a really fun book called 150 Screen Activities for Kids by Asia Citro which is full of lots of different crafts and activities to do with kids. It's been a regular in our home since.

So when I came upon Asia Citro’s latest book: The Curious Kid’s Science Book I couldn’t wait to try it out at home with my kiddos. As a homeschooling family, we really enjoy doing projects and science experiments and I knew this would give us some fun new ideas.

It didn’t disappoint. Just like her other book, it was beautifully colorful and exciting to flick through with lots of fun yet educational activities. There are several categories in the book that seem to cover everything science-related. Such as:

  • Plants and Seeds
  • Water and Ice
  • Mold, Bacteria, and Fungus
  • Engineering
  • Food and Candy
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar
  • Environmental Science
  • Living Things
We got stuck into our copy right away. Willow and Ryder were most excited about the baking soda and vinegar section, which is what I figured – they love things that react and fizz etc, and so they chose the experiment on page 157 - exploring what happens to ingredients when you mix them with others (i.e. cornstarch, cabbage juice, baking soda, sugar, vinegar etc). It was so simpleto follow  and quick to set up using everyday ingredients suggested in the book. And it was a big hit! It was awesome seeing their reactions when they added the ingredients, especially the vinegar!
I have to say, another great thing about this book is the many suggestions it contains for further discussion after each project. Instead of an experiment ending when you have the result, Asia suggests inquiries and questions to ask your kids to engage their minds further and delve deeper. For us, this often led to more experimenting as they wanted to try ‘this out’ or ‘that out’ too to see what might happen. So much learning going on!

My son wanted to do the Design a Ramp to Make Cars Roll Farther project on page 111. And this page was in the Engineering category. I knew this one would intrigue him because he has been obsessed with anything car related since birth!
We used a piece of wood, several of Ryder’s little matchbox cars and propped one end of the wood up on some books. We tried a few different heights to determine how the speed of the cars would be altered as they ‘drove’ down the ramp. To find the answer we marked the spot where the car landed or stopped and then we measured the distance by cars! We also tried wrapping several of the cars up in tape to see if weight helped at all with the speed.
A third one we recently tried was on page 114 which was to build a boat that would hold the most weight. I filled a container full of water and had the kids make little boats out of foil. Then we chose some ‘weights’ to fill our boats with. Such as pony beads and pennies etc. We tried the suggestions given in the extension which were to try different sizes of foil and different weights/positions to see how this affected the outcome. It was so interesting to them! 

Normally they lose attention much sooner but this kept them going for so long! 

On Page 137 there is a simple but fun challenge. How to Make an Egg Float Using Ingredients. Assuming you're using a fresh egg, if you place it in water it will sink. So the kids experimented with different food items (such as coconut, flour, salt, sugar) to see if they could get it to float. And I think there was a silent competition going on between them!  
 Afterward I had my kindergartner draw a picture of the experiments and my 4th grader write in her science journal to record all our findings. It's so easy to make this book work for all different ages and be able to do the experiments together.

We seriously can’t wait to do more!

Go and grab yourself a copy of this book. Whether you’re a homeschooling family or not, you will be glad you did. It would make a great gift idea also. You could add a pair of safety goggles and a couple ingredients along with this book in a basket, maybe tie a ribbon. So cute!

Thank you Asia for letting me try a copy of your fantastic book. You really do so good! It has been a great addition to our book shelf. Not that it stays on it!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Willow's Lunch(es)

Been quiet around here! 

I see I still have my lovely loyal readers and have gained a few new friends since my last post :D *Waves*

I am touched by the concern I have received in email and wanted to just come on here and say that there's nothing to worry about. I haven't fallen off the earth, I've just been busy - creatively at least, with my new adventures in cake land! 

I'm trying hard to better my decorating skills and having a great time doing it. It's just, kinda, taking all I've got right now. 

I'll be back eventually ... when time allows! 

I'll leave you with these two photos I had on my computer of Willow's lunches.


And a link to my cake blog!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Cake

Hi all, hope everyone had a great Easter!

My daughter still hasn't done her easter egg hunt and I'm hoping she forgets because, thanks to all the easter baskets she received, she has candy coming out of her ear holes! Mom might just have to help her out a bit I think ;) You do what ya gotta do!

We spent Easter with Stephen's family and had a nice, while interesting to say the least, day. But I won't bore you with all the details!

I am going through a real cake phase right now. Just making, not eating ... fortunately! And I've been coming across some really awesome blogs and web sites that have inspired me so much.  This year, I decided to make an Easter bunny cake and, for the first time, worked with gum paste. It was so much fun! 

It was a white chocolate pound cake made from a doctored mix with white chocolate frosting and filling with raspberry filling also. The little bunnies and flowers were made from the gum paste. My father - in - law ate some and said what he usually says, 'did YOU make this? You sure you didn't BUY it?' So funny.

The first cake I made I used my new ultimate cake leveler with which turned out to be not so ultimate but flimsy and wonky and ruined the cake. I was mad but then decided to use the cake to make cake pops before making another. See below!

Red ones.
White and blue ones
(hey! New idea for July 4th!)
A weird pale green and white ones.
And colorful ones made by Willow! She got to do these all by herself while I got busy dipping and decorating the others.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scrumptious Trifle Loaf

Well, incase you haven't noticed, I've not been making many many bentos lately. None pretty much. I've just been so busy. There's something about having a one year old toddling about on newly walking feet that doesn't allow you much time! That, and I've been busy with other activities whenever there is any time. I do plan on getting back on the ball soon though! I just can't bare all the plain sandwiches! No, just kiddin'.

Here's a recipe for a dessert I 'threw' together recently that went over really well with the family so I wanted to share it here with you guys! Please excuse the poor quality of pics though - the lighting wasn't so great.

It's real simple. 

Buy or make a pound cake and slice into 1-inch thick slices (you only need about 6 slices in total so the pound cake doesn't have to be real big and you'll probably have some leftover)
Whip up some pudding (I loooove white choc flavor with this) with some heavy whipping cream until soft peaks.
Mix sliced fresh strawberries with fresh raspberries (or blueberries etc) and mix with some raspberry sauce. Make your own or do like me and buy a can of the pie filling.

Now to assemble.

Lay three slices of the pound cake on the bottom of a glass loaf dish and spread with half the fruit mixture.
Spoon over half of the pudding mixture.
Again layer three slices of pound cake plus fruit mixture. 
Then add 1/2-1 cup of cool whip to the remaining pudding mixture and spread on top.

To make it pretty you could pipe something with chocolate on top or decorate with some fruit.

It is so absolutely delicious. I have never seen a dessert disappear so fast.

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