Category Archives: Science & Sensory

Stick Insect(icide)

We have had stick insects as ‘pets’ for the past six years.  When we got our first one the children were all so excited and there was a long process to pick a name for her.  It didn’t take long for us to discover that stick insects are so prolific that naming them all is impossible.

I think having stick insects is a wonderful science activity.  As with any activity some of the children are very interested – watching the insects for long periods of time, eagerly anticipating the hatching and molting stages and more.  Other children have little interest and rarely even notice their existence in our room.

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The ‘baby’ stage is my personal favourite.  They are cute when they first hatch although they can occasionally escape when they are that small;

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I only keep a few of the eggs that are laid and even then when they hatch it sometimes seems like we may have too many.  Sadly (luckily?) only a small percentage of the babies make it to adulthood and lay eggs for our next generation of insects.

Sometimes the little ones are hard to find when they camouflage on the sticks or on the lettuce leaf;

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As they continue to grow they are easier to see but they also make more mess;

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On a few occasions we have run into a problem when we have a particularly large number of insects at various stages.  The adults make the cage very dirty but the numerous hatch-lings make it difficult to properly clean and keep everyone contained.  If it is winter I will take the container outside briefly to clean it – cold insects are slow insects.

Last month we were at the overcrowded, filthy cage level but it wasn’t yet cold enough outside to slow them down.  Then something unexpected happened.  I ran out of romaine lettuce and there was NONE in the fresh produce section of the store where I was shopping.  Instead of making a special trip to another store just for insect food I decided to buy a package of romaine hearts.

Back at home I tossed two leafs into the cage for the insects.  The next day ALL of them were dead.  A hundred + infant to adult stick insects were strewn across the bottom of the cage.  I assume insecticide caused the mass extinction and I know I won’t be buying packaged romaine hearts for any reason anymore.

For the first time in six years we have no stick insects.  I managed to save a few dozen eggs when I cleaned the cage but only time will tell if the insecticide affected them too 😦

Spiders

I think most young children are fascinated by insects, caterpillars, worms etc.  I recently had an Early Childhood Education student here to do her practicum. She was required to plan activities based on the children’s interests and she noted that insects were definitely popular with my little group – as they have been with all my groups.

Spring is always the peak insect love season – I assume because they are rarely seen over winter and  so they are ‘new and exciting’ when they emerge in abundance in the spring.  Of course I always encourage it further by bringing out the insect toys and puppets too.  One of the toddlers was repeatedly dropping this little stuffed spider through the tube – as they like to do with all small toys.

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I didn’t think much about it until I heard him very quietly singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song too 🙂

Admittedly there are some creepy crawlies that I am not particularly fond of because of the damage they do to our garden  yet I am careful not to instill in the children any fear or hatred towards even the ‘bad’ bugs.  It is simply another learning opportunity –  we may not want them in our garden but we can find appropriate ways to coexist.  We also include bugs in our many discussions about ‘bullies’ – great big humans picking on little bitty bugs usually because they don’t understand their purpose.

Many children are fearful of spiders – I believe this is a learned fear – one that I spend a lot of time discussing with the children.  With every fear, like or dislike I always ask the children ‘why’.  I’ll admit that I have often been startled by spiders – they are speedy little critters, but startled by and afraid of are two entirely different things.  Spiders are good – they are very welcome in my garden and even in my house.

I noticed that the youngest of the toddlers seemed to be afraid of my very favourite spider puppet – never touching it and always giving it a wide berth if someone else left it on the floor.

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What was even more interesting was how quickly the other two toddlers – who had previously liked this toy – now picked up on this ‘fear’.  Upon arrival each of them would timidly survey the playroom to ensure they knew the spider’s location so they didn’t come across it unexpectedly.

So, for several days I carried and played with the spider puppet.  I talked about how cute I thought he was – how much I liked his little beady eyes and his fluffy hair.  Then even the timid children took turns talking to and petting the spider puppet.  Soon the spider’s fan club got bigger and several of the children ‘begged’ to have the spider walk up their arm and tickle their neck.

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Loving or hating things that are ‘different’ begins with something as small as a spider.  It is important to understand why we don’t like something or someone – is it the color, texture, or something else?  What are some appropriate ways to address those fears or dislikes? Should you build walls and avoid contact or spend some time learning to understand and accept the differences and the benefits.  You don’t have to love them but what can you do before the fear becomes hate.

Hope this year we are lucky enough to find some more cat faced spiders in the yard – they are my favourite ‘real’ spiders.   I don’t enjoy the sensation of having any insect crawl on me but that is not their fault and I can still enjoy the benefits of having them around.

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The Christmas Bin

I have a couple of big bins that I call sensory bins.  Mostly we just use them for mixing stuff for messy play.  Recently I added a bunch of Christmas items to the biggest bin.

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There are so many decorations that have wonderful sensory qualities but wouldn’t be acceptable to have as loose parts in the playroom with infants & toddlers (and cats).  Putting them in a sensory bin gives the opportunity for exploring these materials in a safe, contained, easy to supervise manner.

I included some of our tubes which were used as funnels for dropping other items through.  The bead chains were a challenge because if you let go before you got them in past the half way point the weight of the chain pulled the whole thing out.  It was frustrating but with a little trial and error and a lot of persistence there was success.

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Many of the children enjoyed wrapping and tying the long strands.

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Decorating the tubes was very popular – sometimes you couldn’t even see the tube after it was decorated.

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I was going to add scented items to the bin but it still smells like the sweet grass we had stored in it last year – Mmmm.  I did add some bells, they don’t make much noise if you hold them but sound great as you dig through the bin.

So many colours, shapes, and textures to explore. These star shaped springs were fascinating.

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The older children enjoyed collecting and sorting all the tiny, little rubber shapes (erasers – hundreds of them).  It was like a tactile seek & find.

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We are all really enjoying this bin.

 

Lumpy Dough

Play dough and other sensory materials are very popular with children of all ages.  I like play dough because unlike paint and many of our other sensory activities there is little set-up time required for play dough.  I always have a batch of prepared play dough stored in my refrigerator.  The fact that it is cold at the beginning of the activity and warm at the end is an added sensory experience.

The recipe I like to use most often is;

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized saucepan.  Add water and oil: cook over medium heat stirring constantly.  When mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a large ball, remove from heat and let cool.  Knead dough, divide and add food colouring if desired.

I do usually add some time of colouring to the dough and sometimes I add herbs, spices or some other scented material as well.  I have plenty of tools to use with play dough – knives, scrapers, icing decorators, cookie cutters etc but I find that many of the children become so focused on tool ‘ownership’ that the play dough gets forgotten.  Since this is a ‘process’ activity there is never a required product so I rarely offer tools unless the children specifically ask for them.

I chose not to add any colouring or scents to the latest batch of play dough.  Instead, I started the activity by introducing foam ropes and tissue paper.  The children then got to rip the tissue paper into tiny pieces and cut the foam rope – this was more challenging than I anticipated.  The foam was so dense that none of the children’s knives could cut through it.  Scissors worked but the cut pieces tended to fly everywhere – amusing to some of the children but annoying to anyone (me) trying to collect all the pieces.

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The children then had the opportunity to mix the foam and paper into their dough – three very different textures.

15-10-LD02Some chose to add their ‘decorations’ one at a time while others did so by the handful.  Some used tools and played with their play dough as usual during the decorating process.

15-10-LD03Interestingly several of them mixed the paper and foam pieces in the dough and then meticulously picked them all out and then mixed them in again.  In fact, we have played with this dough several times since we first made it and ‘undecorating’ it has been a very popular activity – fantastic for fine motor skills.

15-10-LD04By far my favourite response to this activity came from the school-age children.  When they arrived after school and went to wash their hands for snack they saw the post-activity play dough on the counter.  They were super excited about having ‘cookies’ for snack – followed by a little disappointment that it was just play dough.

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Water Day

Every summer I schedule at least one ‘Water Day’.  Of course water play is not limited to just Water Day.  Water is one of the ‘loose parts’ that is seasonally available through spring thaw, rain, and water collected in the rain barrel.   Some of the children choose to incorporate water into all their daily outdoor play activities whenever possible.

However, Water Day is never a spontaneous activity – it requires planning, plenty of set-up time, and the right weather conditions – hot enough so soaked children do not get a chill.  On Water Day there is water everywhere in the yard which actually makes it a little difficult for me to take pictures but I still try.  Here are a some that I took on our most recent Water Day.

The water table;

15-07-water01  The rivers/water ways;

15-07-water02 15-07-water03 15-07-water04The bins;

15-07-water05 15-07-water06 15-07-water07And above us the mister hose covers the yard ensuring no one can avoid getting at least a little wet;

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The Squeaky Door

It was back in December that I rearranged the play space again.   When I looked back at that post I realized that I mainly wrote about the history of the loft and the reason for the changes.  The post was getting too long so I didn’t include pictures of the finished space.  I will have to do a full post about that soon but right now I want to focus on one small area.

The refrigerator in the housekeeping area;

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The new block bin is now located on the right hand side of the refrigerator – this is where the entrance to the block area used to be.  The counter top above the block bin is centered over the block bin and overhangs the bin by several inches on both sides.  This was an intentional design feature.

Due to the placement of the counter top the right hand door of the refrigerator only opens part way before it touches the counter top.  The left hand door opens a full 180 degrees.  I didn’t think it was a major issue so I didn’t correct it then.  Months later the problem is getting worse instead of better.

Even though the food in the refrigerator is easily accessible when the right hand door is only partially open the toddlers insist on pushing on the door to force it to open fully.  Since it is physically impossible for the door to open that far all they manage to do is get the door jammed so tightly against the counter top that they can then not close it.  Meltdowns ensue.

The hinges on the right hand door had also begun to squeak.  Some of the children like to move this door slowly back & forth simply because they like the sound.  I do not like that sound – especially not for a solid 20 minute stretch of time.

Last Friday was an school inservice day which meant I had the older children here for the whole day.  It also meant that my school-bus-driver husband was home for the day too.  So, as the children and I were getting ready to go outside to play I said to my husband “We will be outside for the next 2 hours.  While we are gone please unhook the brackets holding the counter top and move it an inch to the North.  Also, grease the fridge door hinge.”

For the second half of Friday and all of Monday I have silently watched and waited.  Only one of the two-year-olds has noticed the change.  On several occasions he has stood by the refrigerator and slowly moved the right hand door all the way open and then all the way closed.  Sometimes he stands in the space behind the door so he can watch the hinge action from a different point of view.  I’ve been observing him as closely as he is observing the door.

The other children either don’t notice or don’t care that the door doesn’t stick or squeak any more.  I notice, thank-you very much.

Mushrooms & Fungi

There is some kind of fungi that is growing on one of the old maple tree slices in the yard;

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Its texture has attracted the children’s attention all summer.  It is fairly solid – like rubber – but it also has soft ‘fur’.

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I know nothing about mushrooms and fungi except that I like eating the ones I buy from the store.  The ones that sprout up in our garden every year I think are gross, ugly, and possibly poisonous.

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I once asked an experienced gardener what I should do about the mushrooms.  They looked somewhat confused and said I was lucky to have them.  Mushrooms would only grow in healthy soil and probably liked that I use only compost and no chemicals in our garden.

I still think they are ugly.

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Luckily most of them are only there for a day or two.  They sprout up, turn black, and then disintegrate back into the soil.  They are usually so fragile that picking them is nearly impossible.

I always tell the children the mushrooms are not edible even though they grow in our garden.  I probably don’t have to worry about them eating the garden mushrooms – none of the children will eat store bought mushrooms either.  Actually, now that I think about it, maybe they don’t eat store bought mushrooms because I keep telling them not to eat the garden mushrooms.

Last week we found a mushroom in the garden that I thought was much nicer than the ones we usually see.  It was quite solid and I was able to pick it.  I brought it inside for ‘science’.

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I also cut off a piece of the maple stump fungi for comparison.  It was surprisingly difficult to cut and I had to try several different tools before I could hack off a piece.

The toddlers were very excited as they gathered around the table.  They love the magnifying glasses.  They each had one – it is very important to have the same number of magnifying glasses as there are toddlers – they don’t like to share.

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There were not enough pieces of mushroom and fungi for all the children to have a piece of each.  That didn’t matter because the children had no interest in looking at the mushrooms or fungi.

They did spend nearly 30 minutes using the magnifying glasses to look at everything other than the items on the tray – and several times they asked when the ‘Fun Guy’ was going to arrive.

That’s what happens when you try to have science class for toddlers.