Category Archives: Science & Sensory

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.

Introductions & Outcomes

I think of a ‘Lesson’ as a planned activity with an expected outcome – structured and defined.  An adult led activity with a predefined goal that upon completion is either right or wrong.  Any activity that requires me to constantly ‘correct’ or ‘redirect’ what a child is doing with the supplies is not a learning activity – it is an obedience activity with the goal of conformity to rules and following directions.

Learning through play is all about exploration, experimentation and observation.  Unstructured play offers opportunities for learning without a predefined result – no right or wrong conclusion – no pass or fail.  I consider the majority of our activities to be unstructured.  ‘Planned’ activities are generally just activities that require some type of advance preparation rather than a specific outcome.

Last week I introduced the infants and toddlers to a new sensory bin.

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You might think that the bin has a Valentine theme but that was not intentional.  I wanted the flower petals and the dollar store only had red ones in stock.  If they had had other colors I would have used more than one color.  The foam hearts were chosen for their texture not their color or shape.

The various pieces of green wool were also added for their texture – I have many different colors and types of wool but these ones were left over from another craft and already cut into small pieces so I used them.  The metal trays, paint brushes and water were ‘extra’ textures outside the bin.

Throughout the activity I didn’t instruct the children but I did describe and comment on what they did.  The baby insisted on sitting in a chair;

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Normally the smaller children just use these chairs when they are sitting at the little table because it is difficult for them to reach items on the table when they are sitting on the floor. The sensory bin was on the floor so it was easier to access without the chair but he wanted to sit in it.  His preferred activity didn’t involve the bin anyway.  He enjoyed using the water to paint his hair;

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That’s still a sensory activity using the supplies provided.  It also helps to develop motor skills and coordination.

Some painted individual hearts;

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And arranged them – sorted by colour – on a tray.  Wet foam pieces stick to the metal trays but dry ones slide off;

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Others enjoyed a more physical approach diving into the bin – stirring, tossing, and squishing the items at the same time as another child was meticulously balancing the white hearts around the edge of the bin;

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And the baby moved on to pushing the hearts and petals through the little hole in the top of his paint container and down into the water.

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All of them are learning and developing new skills. The learning outcome is not their ability to copy what I asked them do.  It is their demonstration of what they have discovered and how they put it to use.

We’ll use this bin again in the coming week(s) and I’ll add some other items too.  Maybe the children will continue to pursue these same activities.  Maybe additional equipment will enable them to expand on these activities.  Maybe they will try something completely new.  I’ll make the introduction but we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome will be.

Cold

I’ve had a weather station in my yard for the last eight years.  This has allowed me to get a more accurate idea of the actual weather conditions before we head outside.  Windchill factors in my sheltered yard are considerably different from those reported at the airport or the Forks.

Last month my weather station ceased to transmit data and replacing the batteries didn’t solve the problem.  So, I was very excited to find a new weather station at Costco.  It has even more features than my old one did.  You can read more about it here.

With or without a backyard weather station our recent weather conditions would be described as ‘unseasonably cold’.  We have not been spending much time however the temperature has not been the main reason for our limited outdoor time.

With four infants/toddlers I need allow a minimum of one full hour of time to get everyone dressed, outside, and back in.  Even then some days that ‘hour’ is really only 10 minutes of actual ‘play’.  Between arrival’s, departures, meals and naps there are rarely any time periods long enough to accomplish any more than 30 minutes of outdoor play even when they don’t argue about getting dressed.

Outdoor play is still a very new experience for this group and so far they are not so sure that the fun factor is worth the effort to get dressed. It would have been easier if we had a more gradual decent into cold winter weather.  Hopefully we will soon have some milder days when we can acutally enjoy spending some time playing in the wonderful mountains of snow that have accumulated in the yard.

There is another interesting ‘cold’ result.  Last month I wrote about how I rearranged the playroom.   In the old arrangement the ‘refrigerator’ had been located on an interior wall but it is now located on the exterior wall.

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The walls in my 100 year old house don’t have a lot of insulation and when the refrigerator doors are closed  that section of the wall doesn’t get much warm air from the room.  Consequently, as one of the children recently pointed out, when you first open the refrigerator doors the items inside are actually cold.

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I didn’t even plan for that – it’s just one of the benefits of our Manitoba climate 🙂

Remember When…

Friday was an inservice day so the school-age children were here for the whole day.  I decided it might be a good day to bring out ‘the bin’.

I had filled the bin months ago when I collected some of the leftovers from the garden.  I had intended to use it as a sensory bin for the toddlers.  Now, with a good layer of snow on the ground I thought the bin might also assist the older children to remember our past gardening adventures.

As the children gathered at the table in the sunroom I opened the bin – the aroma was amazing;

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MMmmm, sweetgrass smells so wonderful.  There were other things in the bin too but the scent of the herbs was overpowered by the sweetgrass.  The children spent some time exploring the items and were able to identify both the wheat and the oats;

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They selected items they wanted to include in a little sachet to take home.  They cut up the bigger pieces to fit;

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And created their own sweet smelling little bundle;

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The sunlight streaming through the sunroom window was so bright one of the children wished he had sunglasses – and suggested that we could use the craft supplies on the table to make some.  Good idea 🙂

He selected items from the craft bin that could be used to make sunglasses – egg carton pieces and colored transparent film.  Then the construction began;

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As I assisted a toddler to put glue on the front of the egg carton the older child suggested it might be better to glue the film onto the inside of the egg carton – good idea.

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He also suggested that if we attached a stick on the side of the glasses they would be easier to hold instead of trying to tie a string around your head – so creative.  The finished products may not have worked as well as we would have liked but the process was amazing to watch.

Do you remember when the product was your major concern and ‘I can’t’ was a common complaint?  I do.

The Delightful Mistake

I wanted to do some type of play dough/sensory activity with the infants and toddlers but didn’t have the time to make a batch of cooked dough.  However, I did have some flour and baby oil to make cloud dough – such an easy recipe.

I starting adding flour to a bowl containing the baby oil.  At first it was a little too sticky and wet so I added more flour.  Then it was too dry – this was a problem because I had no more baby oil left.  I considered other liquid options.

Vegetable oil would work but it would make the dough turn yellowish and I was hoping to keep it white for now.  I wasn’t sure what plain water might do to the texture of the cloud dough and I didn’t want to experiment at the moment due to the limited time I had.

I decided to check the cupboards to see what other liquids I could find.  First I had to wash the dry flour mixture off my hands though.  As I rubbed my hands together with the soap and water I made a discovery.  The white cream soap could be the perfect liquid for the dough.

It took a little trial and error to get the texture just right.  Too dry – add more soap.  Too wet – add more flour.  I was slightly concerned that it may just be an endless cycle but it didn’t really take long to get the perfect consistency.

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At first the toddlers only poked at it.  Even with rolling pins and play dough tools they still prefer to simply poke the dough or tear off little pieces.  I provided some tissue paper for them to tear up and add to their dough.

This was why I wanted to leave the dough white.  I know when we use glue with tissue paper the dye from the paper tends to transfer onto hands and other surfaces.  Usually I find this a little annoying but this time I thought it could be helpful.  I hoped that as the children mixed little pieces of tissue paper to the dough the dye would spread through the dough.

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It didn’t.  I guess that the dough wasn’t wet enough to release the dye from the paper.  The little flecks of colour still looked pretty and the children enjoyed adding the little paper pieces.

We also discovered that the addition of the cream soap instead of more baby oil made the dough stretchy.  Wonderfully pliable without falling apart even when the infants waved it about;

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Then I gave them each a small container.  Their favorite activity is putting stuff in containers and taking it out again.  This amused the little ones and extended the activity for much longer.

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Even though it didn’t necessarily go as planned it was still a wonderful engaging activity.

 

Weekend Outing

Last Sunday was Open Farm Day.  First off I must say that I was thrilled to have found out about the event before it actually occured instead of from an evening news report after the event is already over.

My only complaint was that the event was held on the weekend when I had no children with me – well, two of my sons tagged along but they’re really young adults not children.  We didn’t have much time – weekends are busy times – so we only went to one of the participating farms.

With a time limit on our excursion we needed to pick a farm that was nearby.  It was an easy decision – Perimeter Alpacas – because alpacas are basically the same as llamas and we LOVE llamas.  Granted, alpaca isn’t nearly as fun to say as llama but seriously, look at them;

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SQUEEEE! I just want to hug them;

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I managed to drag myself away from the alpacas long enough to see some ducks and and a peacock family too – pretty birds but not soft and fluffy like an alpaca.

There were some other displays and sales of products from the farm.  I bought a stuffie – handmade from alpaca fleece.  After I paid for it the woman asked “Do you want a bag or are you just going to cuddle it all the way home?” — silly question;

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Of course I would have preferred an alpaca shaped stuffie – they had one but it was out of my price range.  Still, I do love this one too.  My cats also love it but they’d like to shred it so I have to keep it out of their reach.

I’ve brought the stuffie out for the children to see/feel.  It would be irrelevant to try to ‘teach’ them anything about alpacas without any actual experience with alpacas.  However, it has been very useful for our discussions about ‘gentle’.  With four infants/toddlers ‘gentle’ has become an important part of our curriculum.

Be gentle and take turns – difficult lessons even for me when you’ve got something so lovely that you just want to squish it and never let go.