Posts Tagged With: science

Simple Science Experiments: Tornado-in-a-Bottle + Tornado Facts!

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An easy, fun way to learn about the power of tornadoes

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You’ll need: Glass (or plastic) bottle with cap, dish soap, glitter (or dirt) and a pencil (or straw)

Fill bottle about 2/3 with water. Add a few drops of dish soap. Dip the pencil (straw) in water, then in glitter and swirl it in.  That’s it!  Simply swirl the bottle to create your very own tornado.

Cool facts about tornadoes:

1.Tornados are sometimes called twisters.

2.A tornado is a rapidly spinning tube of air that touches both the ground and a cloud above. The tornado on the ground follows the same path as the thundercloud.

3.Tornadoes develop from a thunderstorm when warm, moist air rises and cools. This creates clouds. Water vapor condenses and releases heat. This release of heat creates the energy in a thunderstorm. Under certain conditions, when the air moving up into the cloud is very strong, a tornado can develop.

3.The Fujita Scale is a way of measuring the strength of tornadoes. The scale ranges from F0 tornadoes that cause minimal damage through F5 tornadoes which cause massive damage.

4.In the southern hemisphere, tornadoes usually rotate in a clockwise direction.

5. The US averages more tornadoes than any other country in the world. The states of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Florida are the most often hit by twisters.

6.Most tornadoes travel for only a few miles before exhausting themselves.

7. Extreme tornadoes can reach wind speeds of over 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour).

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We hope you enjoy learning about one of the amazing powers of Mother Nature: the tornado!

A powerful funnel of goodwill to all,

Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Make a Lung Model out of a Plastic Bottle, Straws & Balloons!

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It’s funny how this thing has become a toy to her. This morning she was in her room explaining the respiratory system to Scooby Doo and the Gang!


It’s anatomy time, and the human body unit is in full swing at The Cabin. In learning about the respiratory system, we created a simple lung model that has been a hit in our household. I doubt Captain will ever forget how this system works!

You’ll Need: A plastic 2 liter bottle cut in half, two straws, two balloons, masking tape (or black electrical tape as that is what we had around and it worked great!) a rubber band and a piece of plastic bag.

* As you are creating this model with your kids, be sure to use the proper terminology. Explain that you’ll be making a model of the lungs to show how the respiratory system works. Let them know that the plastic bottle represents the rib cage, the straws represent the trachea/bronchi, the balloons represent the lungs and the plastic bag represents the diaphragm. While assembling, use only the anatomical names! For example: “Can you hold the ribcage while I slide the trachea and lungs in?”

Step 1: Put a straw down into a balloon, almost to the bottom. Securely tape the top of the balloon to the straw so that it is air tight. Go around with the tape a few times to be sure it is sealed. Do the same to the second balloon and then secure the two straws together with more tape.

Step 2: Put the straws down into the bottle top and tape around and around the rest of the bottle-opening to be sure that it is air-tight. If air gets in, the model won’t work.

Step 3: Place the bottle onto a piece of plastic bag and use a rubber band to secure it tight to the bottom. Trim off the excess bag, if needed.

Step 4: It is helpful to tape a little piece of paper, or a string, to the bottom of the diaphragm to pull it up and down.

That’s it! Now the child can pull the diaphragm up and down and see the lungs expand and contract! In the human body, the trachea goes down and splits into the two bronchial tubes that go into the lungs. We weren’t able to show this extra step in our model, but we looked at pictures and learned how it works. Here is a good explanation to share with your kids, if you don’t have other learning materials handy:

“Your body needs air to live! Air is a mixture of many things, but the oxygen in air is what your body needs most. Oxygen is a gas that your body combines with the food you have eaten to make energy. When you inhale, or breathe in, air goes in your nose or mouth, down a cool tube called a trachea and into your 2 lungs. Your lungs are big bags made of a bunch of tiny bags that fill with air.Oxygen from the air goes into the blood and carbon dioxide, a waste your body makes, comes from your blood and goes into the air sacs. When you breathe out, the carbon dioxide leaves your body. Ya-hoo!”

You take about 20,000 breaths a day and sneeze at about 100 miles per hour! Lungs weigh about 1 pound each and adult lungs are each about the size of a football! Your right lung has 3 regions, or lobes, while your left lung has two lobes and each lobe has its own blood supply. That way, if one part is damaged, the other 4 keep working! How cool is that?

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One more note: It is very beneficial to have kids draw a picture of what they learned, coloring the balloons, straws, etc. Help them label the simple parts.

The human body is amazing! Happy breathing into all of those lovely lobes!

Cheers, Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Learn About The Night Sky With Constellation Collector Cards and Astronomy Fast Facts!

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Simple, bejeweled constellations on rounds of cardstock add a tactile (and glittering!) experience for learning new things about the night sky!  Add a few reference facts on the back of each card and you may just be answering questions about the mythical story of Andromeda at the dinner table…

Greetings star lovers! Captain has been interested in the solar system, stars and constellations lately, and this project really goes nicely with the process. Stars really do twinkle up there in the sky, and why not have a little fun with some simple supplies to stimulate the imagination?

I got the idea to make constellation “rounds” from designer, and artist, Dina Edens of Country Eden. In her version, the stars of the constellations are made by using a hole-puncher, which means you can hold them up to any light and behold the lovely shapes of the pictures in the sky. Click here to see Dena’s cool astronomy punch-hole cards for kids.

To make our version you will need:

Cardstock in blue or black (we used a heavy “textured” cardstock and they came out nice and sturdy)

A glass, pencil, scissors, hole-puncher, ruler, fine black sharpie, book of constellations (pictures and facts) or internet, and adhesive jewels (*see photo below of the Recollections brand adhesive jewel pack that we purchased from Michael’s Crafts for $6.95.  It has a nice assortment of sizes, and plenty of leftovers for other projects)

A “toilet chain” key chain, string, or a thin, old bracelet (which is what we had on hand to use 🙂 )

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Trace the glass onto the cardstock and cut out your rounds. This is an ongoing project for us, as it is fun and relaxing to make a few at a time and talk about them for a while. Using photos or drawings, draw the stars onto the cards and use a ruler to add the lines.  Older kids can do this part themselves. For the littles, a parent, or other helper, can draw the constellations for them. Do this all in pencil so that you can erase a bit to get them as accurate as possible.

Go over your lines and star “dots” with the black sharpie and write the name of the constellation and stars onto the card.

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Help your child choose sizes and apply the jewels to represent the real stars. On the backs of the cards, write a little bit about the particular constellation. There are so many things to learn!

Here are a few fast facts about stars and constellations to share with your little astronomer!

1. Stars are gaseous spheres that appear close to each other, but they can really be millions of miles from each other!

2. Some star formations appear to form the outlines of figures, and observers throughout history have given these shapes the name “constellation”.

3. Constellations are usually named after mythological characters, people, animals and objects. In different parts of the world, people have made up different shapes out of the same groups of bright stars. It’s kind of like connecting the dots!

4. In the past, these “pictures” in the night sky helped people navigate and keep track of the seasons.

5. Stars are composed mostly of gas and plasma, a super heated state of matter made up of subatomic particles. Cool!

6. Our planet’s sun is a star.

7. Why do stars appear to be different colors? Because their temperatures are not all the same. Hot stars shine white or blue, cooler stars appear to have orange or red hues.

8. Stars occur in many sizes, which are classified in a range from dwarfs to supergiants!

9. The constellation Andromeda is named after a mythical princess who was chained to a rock as an offering to a sea monster called Cetus. The star Alpheratz marks her head, and with binoculars, you can see lines of stars marking her chained, outstretched arms. The constellation also holds the Andromeda Galaxy. At 2.5 million light years away, it is the farthest object visible to the naked eye. The name Andromeda means “The Chained Princess”!

10. How many stars are out there?

According to astronomers, there are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, stretching out into a region of space 13.8 billion light-years away from us in all directions. And so, if you multiply the number of stars in our galaxy by the number of galaxies in the Universe, you get approximately 1024 stars. That’s a 1 followed by twenty-four zeros. That’s a septillion stars!

But there could be way more than that, and isn’t that delicious to think about?

Cosmic Cheers to all,

Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Solitary Cougar: 13 Fast Facts!

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Gorgeous Puma Concolor, I admire and respect your ways, and I hope we never meet…

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Captain and I discovered this incredible adult cougar print on our road in the forest.  It was about 4″ long!  We regret deeply that we didn’t get back out to take a plaster cast of it before the rains came…

Oh mountain lions! We are certainly on the lookout these days for these magnificent creatures, as we have been finding scat around regularly.  We do live in the Sierra Nevada, where cougars, black bears, rattlesnakes and bobcats share the land, but there is something especially eerie about the thought of a large cat stalking my kid or dogs.  It is simply a responsibility of the land in which we live.  Captain knows that she cannot run around outside alone during these times. She is learning to live as safely as possible in a remote mountain location.  This does not mean that I don’t watch her like a hawk!  It just means that we exercise precautions as necessary.

Lately, we have found a LOT of cougar scat all around us, and do know that they are on the move.  They are solitary and elusive, mostly moving about at dawn and dusk, and to see one is a rare sight. My husband, K, and I did see one years ago while driving slowly home down the dirt road one night.  The headlights flashed upon a face in the trees that nearly took our breath away!  A fleeting glance was enough to see and feel the power and beauty of this animal.  I would like to share some facts about our calm, and quiet, friend, the cougar.

1. Mountain lions are also known as cougars, pumas, panthers and catamounts, and many other names as well.  In fact they hold the Guinness record for the animal with the highest number of names in the world.  The term “mountain lion” is incorrect actually.  They do not only reside in the mountains, and they do not roar like a lion, but it is a name coined “back in the day” and it has kind of stuck.

2. Cougars have powerful limbs and can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40 feet.  Their top running speed is between 40-50 mph (64-80 km/h)!

3. Cougars can swim.

4. These big cats measure 2+ feet at the shoulders and weigh 110-180 pounds typically.

5. They have a lifespan of about 12 years in the wild.

6. Cougars are solitary animals.  They are extremely territorial and actively avoid other cats, except during courtship.

7. With the exception of humans, cougars have the largest range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Their range can vary in size from 10 square miles to around 370 square miles. They are found from Canada to Argentina.

8. There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western United States.

9. They eat large mammals like deer, and also smaller mammals like mice, raccoons, rabbits, beavers and squirrels.

10. They are active hunters and will travel long distances in search of food.  They hunt alone and attack from behind, breaking the neck of their prey by biting it at the base of the skull.  Their weight coming down helps with the kill as well.

11. After killing their prey, they will bury it and leave it, coming back to feed when hungry.

12. Cougars commonly mate from December to March, but are known to mate at any time of the year.  Moms have 2-4 kittens, which they raise alone.  The kittens nurse for two months, then start to travel with mom so that she can teach them to hunt.  They will stay with her for about 1.5-2 years.

13. Mountain lions are on considered a low-alert species on the United States endangered species list, due to population increases.

Cougars are fascinating, and beautiful, and I hope they stay healthy and at a distance from our home!  We have learned to identify their scat, and will keep an eye out for scat that contains a lot of hair.  Healthy cougars tend to eat the fleshy, good, parts of their prey, and leave the skin and hair behind.  If they are unhealthy, or mal-nourished, their scat would contain hair, which would put us on extreme alert.  Mountain lions don’t tend to attack humans unless they have been imposed upon and their habitat taken, or if they are unhealthy and HUNGRY!

Let us not have these creatures get a bad rap for taking down the occasional human.  I suppose if we delved further into the story, we would find out that whole neighborhoods have been built on their land and whose fault is that?  In the meantime, we root for them!  Let them live in the peace and quiet that they are born for, and we will do our best to stay out of their way.  Thanks for reading.

I stalk you with good thoughts!  Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Ammonites Rock! 10 Fast Facts For Kids…. Plus Ammonite Craft and Homeschooling Note

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Ancient, and beautiful, ammonites!

Have an interest in prehistoric carnivores? We certainly do! Learning about ammonites is wonderful, and interesting, for kids of all ages, and there is a lot of available information to be found. Captain and I have been talking about ammonites a lot lately, and we have been doing an ammonite art project as well.  We will share our ammonite art project on a post very soon, so be sure to keep an eye out for it!  Here we go….

Ammonite Fast Facts:

1. Ammonites were predatory, squid-like creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells.

2. Ammonites had (very sharp!) beak-like jaws inside a ring of tentacles that extended from their shells to snatch prey.

3. They ate small fish and crustaceans.  (Crustaceans are animals that usually have a hard covering, or exoskeleton, and two pairs of antennas, or feelers, like crabs, lobsters, and shrimps.)

4. Ammonites constantly built new shell as they grew, but only lived in the outer chamber.

5. Some ammonites could grow as large as 3 feet (1 meter) across! Scientists suspect that creatures such as the giant mosasaur Tylosaurus preyed on them.

6. A group of ammonites was called a “school”, just like fish.

7. Ammonites scooted through the shallow seas by squirting jets of water from their bodies. A thin tube-like structure called a siphuncle (sounds cool!) reached into the ammonites inner chambers to pump and siphon air that helped them move through the water.

8. Female ammonites grew up to 400% larger than males.  Could this have been to make room to lay eggs?

9. Ammonites first appeared about 240 million years ago!

10. They went extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Scientists use ammonite shells to help date other fossils.

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Ammonites are among the most abundant fossils found today and they are amazing! Try drawing a simple coil and turn it into a colorful ammonite. How big would it have been? What did it hunt to eat that day?

Ammonite Fossil Ornaments:  You can make a craft dough with your kids (recipe here), roll it out and make ammonites!  Cut out a simple shape, like the one above, and have the child etch a deep coil into the dough. Alternately, you can have kids roll out dough “snakes” and coil them tightly and scratch the lines on it with the tines of a fork. Follow the recipe instructions for baking and painting. Perhaps the pre-cooked dough could be pressed into some sand for texture?  Or a bit of food coloring could be added to the dough. Or, something we have been meaning to try: adding brown food coloring to the dough, then coiling into an ammonite and pressing the raw dough into dirt or red clay before baking.

Before I say goodbye, I would like to add a homeschooling note. Captain first became interested in ammonites because of her Auntie Sheryl. It was when she was two years old that they first began to talk about them together at family gatherings. Auntie would print information for her, and bring ammonites to show her. She would hold Captain in her lap and let her play with her ammonite jewelry. Because of her Aunt, Captain gained an interest in learning about ancient things that is much deeper than zipping through “subjects’ because she was interested, curious, and wanting more. As homeschooling parents, my husband and I cannot possibly know all of the things we should be teaching our daughter.  I was afraid of this very idea about a year ago, when we really had to decide about what we were going to do about school/unschool/ANY school!  How could we know what to do? We aren’t scientists, artists, or mathematicians! Family, friends, tutors, and cool people in general, are vital to teaching kids. Exposure to other people’s ideas, art, interests, and skills really do change the lives of kids. Within the circles of our family and friends, we know so many people who have so much to offer.  Our job is to be sure that our daughter gets to spend as much time as she can with the people that can light her up with what they know, and sometimes, something very special will happen too.  Children benefit from being connected to their place in their family history as well. I don’t think my daughter will ever look at an ammonite and not remember her Aunt Sheryl.  Prehistoric carnivores and family love. What more could I ask for?

Good thoughts, Karen
Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Our Homeschooling Plan, Science Rocks For Kids!, Social Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Science AND Fun: Build and Erupt a Cool Papier-Mâché Volcano With Your Kids!

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Hooray!  The volcano erupted to squeals of delight from us all!

Greetings science (and fun) enthusiasts!  I want to share a terrific project that is challenging, and fun, from start to finish. Please note that this is not a “quickie” project. The newspaper will have to soak overnight, the paper mache volcano will have to be built, and have a chance to dry for a few days, and then it will be painted and sealed.  It is worth it, the volcano is super durable!  Captain, for her young age, had no trouble waiting in between steps. In fact, to do it all quickly would have taken away from the learning and fun. The photos you see here are of Captain’s experience, last year.  I helped her blend up the paper mache mix and to construct the volcano. She painted it herself and then I sealed it for her. She did all of the mixology to create the eruption herself.  Did she learn exactly what the chemical reaction did when it took place?  No. I explained what was happening and she has never forgotten what happens when baking soda and vinegar are mixed together! Once again, simply brushing up against all of these “scientifically based ideas” at a young age, in a fun (and completely excited and willing way) just puts those crumbs of knowledge in the brains of kids and makes learning all of the deeper details later much easier and fun!

One other side note:  The chemical reaction that causes the eruption took place in a small film container.  This small-sized receptacle was recommended for use in the instructions that I used (see below) and keeps the “lava flow” from being too much, and too messy.  We were completely satisfied with the eruption for our first time, and have a wonderful, sturdy volcano to this day to erupt any time we want.  However, we have decided to build another one with a much BIGGER receptacle (like a soda can?) as we like to do it up big here at the Cabin and will do it outdoors again!

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Little volcano drying…

Part 1 of 3:  Making the Papier-Mâché!

You’ll Need: 

At least 2 full sheets of newspaper,  large bowl,  water,  measuring cup (or two),  blender

Nylon stocking, white school glue

What You Do:

1. Have your child tear the newspaper into pieces about 2″ wide or smaller. Encourage her to have fun with it! These pieces are going to be turned into a pulp, so there’s no need to make them perfect.

2. Soak the newspaper in a bowl of water for 1-8 hours.

3. Ask your child to scoop 1/2 cup of newspaper and 2 cups of water into the blender. The water is necessary so that the blades of the blender don’t jam up and burn out the motor.

4. Put the lid on the blender and puree on high power until you have a nice newspaper pulp.

5. Have your child hold a nylon stocking open for you and put the newspaper mixture into it. Now she can squeeze the extra water out!

6. Repeat until you have about 4 cups of relatively dry pulp. *Note from Karen:  We didn’t find 4 cups to be quite enough.  I would recommend using more newspaper and making about 8 cups of pulp…

7. Mix in about 1/4 + cup of glue. Your child will probably want to help with this step, since it works best if you use your hands.  Squoosh it on up, it’s fun and messy! The papier-mâché is ready! Now it’s time to construct the volcano.

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Part 2 of 3: Making the Volcano!

You’ll Need:

Papier-mâché mixture,  more newspaper, plastic juice bottle, scissors

Hot glue (for adult use only), film canister (or other small container), acrylic paint (brown and red are good volcano colors), paintbrush, polyurethane (for adult use only) to seal the paint on and make it water proof.

What You Do:

1. Lay some newspaper down before you start. Papier-mâché and paint can get very messy!

2. Cut the plastic juice bottle in half. The cone-shaped top half will be the base for the volcano.

3. Use the hot glue to attach the film canister inside the top of the juice bottle. This is where the chemical reaction will take place and the lava will flow! (For a mini volcano, use the film canister alone and cover it with papier-mâché to make it cone-shaped.)

4. Let your child construct the volcano by applying the papier-mâché mixture to the outside of the plastic bottle. It should be about half an inch thick, but don’t worry about making it smooth! Volcanoes are always lumpy and bumpy and would look very strange if they were all “smoothed out”.

5. Let the volcano dry for about a week before painting. (Also, remember to wash the paintbrush.)

6. When you’re sure that the papier-mâché is dry, it’s time for your child to paint it. Let the paint dry for about a day.

7. Since polyurethane is flammable and can irritate the eyes and lungs, you (not your child) will be responsible for waterproofing. Use the paintbrush to coat the volcano and let it dry for at least a day.

8. Before the eruption, you can grab a cool volcano book to read.  Hill of Fire by Thomas P. Lewis was recommended in the book.  We didn’t have it, but looked online and found some other books (there are dozens out there!).  Check out this wonderful fact page from Scholastic! Kids really connect with what a volcano is when they are excited by this project. This is the perfect time to read about them, or find video online!

As soon as the volcano is dry, it’s ready for action. Your child will be glad to help you gather the materials; this is the fun part.

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Part 3 of 3: Erupting the Volcano!

You’ll Need:

Your new papier-mâché volcano, baking soda, white vinegar, red food coloring (optional, but c’mon, it has to be red!!), small scoop or measuring spoon, small pitcher or cup

Towels and a bucket for clean-up

What You Do:

1. Have your child scoop a little bit of baking soda into the film canister.

2. For realistic red lava, let her add a few drops of food coloring to the film canister as well.

3. Pour some vinegar into the cup or pitcher. (Captain wanted the whole vinegar jug!) Ask your child what she thinks will happen when she mixes the liquid vinegar with the dry baking soda. Then, hand her the pitcher and let her see for herself!

4. Watch as the ingredients react. Ask your child what happened to the vinegar and baking soda. What does the lava look like? Is it runny? is it bubbly or smooth?

5. Chances are, she’ll want to do it again. Go for it!

This do-it-yourself eruption sure is fun, but it’s also jam-packed with science! Try discussing these scientific concepts with your child:

Changing states of matter (Chemistry): Is baking soda a solid, liquid, or gas? What about vinegar? What happened when she mixed the two together? Was the mixture solid? Liquid? What about the bubbles? Volcanic rock (Geology): When real volcanoes erupt, rock melts to form the magma or lava and re-solidifies (changing states of matter again!). If our lava could solidify into rock, what would it look like? Show your child pictures of igneous rock to extend the discussion. Why do the rocks look the way they do? Why do they have holes in them? (Hint: bubbles!)

Keep your volcano for the science fair, just for fun, or for “historical reenactments.” This little project has a lot to give!

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To find the complete volcano project, and tons of other activities, click the image to access the book.  I would like to thank Peggy Ashbrook for sharing such a terrific project with us, and Stephanie Roselli, of Gryphon House Publishers, for assisting me in obtaining permission to print the adapted instructions here on Kartwheels!

I wish you all an explosively colorful day!

Karen

Categories: Art Rocks For Kids!, Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

A Simple Way to Excite Young Scientists: Go on a “Specimen Tube Walk”!

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Captain had a blast with her test tubes today!

Who wouldn’t love collecting little bits of nature into neat little vials?  It is so much fun!  Today Captain requested some specimen vials to go outside and collect some samples of nature.  She told me that she needed to go out alone and “be a real scientist”, and she had a great time!  She stuffed her pockets with 5 little vials that I found at Target in the dollar bin (they were $1 for a pack of 10~ great price!) and proudly walked out the door.  I can’t believe how valuable these simple tubes are for homeschooling, or for just about any curious child.  It is a great way to get kids outside exploring and collecting, and the learning possibilities can go on from there.

For example, Captain collected her plants and brought them back to the house for identification.  The vials each had a separate specimen contained within.  She had gathered: wild strawberry leaves, rosemary, oregano, a wild grass and the leaf of a wild plant that is native to our area, that we have been meaning to identify.  The act itself of collecting the samples is great fun, but to be able to find out what is inside these cute little vials is the basis for scientific experimentation in all of its budding wonder!  If you are lucky enough to have a decent microscope, kids can really have fun looking at their treasures up close.  What happens when you compare a pine needle with a strand of your own hair? Hmmm.. We plan to get a microscope as soon as we can since Captain is ready for it, and the cheap one we bought doesn’t work…It will be a joyful addition to sample-collecting!!

Even very young kids can have fun with these tubes, as long as they are old enough to know not to pop the caps into their mouths.  The vials are made of sturdy plastic and are terrific to fill with sand, plants, tiny pebbles, pine needles, colored water, etc.  (They are helpful storage for leftover glitter as well 🙂 ) I want to add that kids don’t necessarily need to be “learning something” by collecting samples and having fun stuffing test tubes.  The very act of being excited to collect things, especially bits of nature, is very stimulating for kids, and it doesn’t hurt that science exploration grows from the basic desire to gather and observe!

I highly recommend inviting kids to go on a “specimen tube walk”! Each child should have about 5 vials for collection and it is wise to instruct them to take their time and be selective.  The tubes can be purchased at learning stores, and sometimes at dollar stores, so if you see them, grab some up for future projects! Plastic test tubes with caps can also be purchased on Amazon.  They come in a pack of 10 for around $8 with free shipping.  Learning Resources has a terrific 6 pack (with rack) of larger size test tubes with colorful lids for about $12 (We really want to try these!).

We would love to hear about your adventures with specimen vials, or other fun uses for them, here on kartwheels.

Happy exploring!  Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

California Newts Rock! 10 Fast Facts For Newt Lovers

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Taricha torosa!  The gentle California Newt  

They are adorable, they are orange, and they’ll kill you if you eat them!  Who couldn’t love a California newt?  Over the years we have noticed some interesting things about them, like how they always seem to be moving in a purposeful direction, and on rare occasions, we have even come upon several of them all balled-up together in a stream. Newt balls! Delightful!  It wasn’t until recently that we delved more deeply into learning about these special creatures that are found mainly in California, on the coastline, and in the Sierra Nevada.  Captain asked many questions and we discovered some remarkable things about our little orange friends that we would like to share.  Most kids love newts and we invite you to read on for 10 fast facts.  You can also find free coloring pages of California newts, and other cool creatures, on the USGS site by clicking here.

Fast Fact 1. California newts are poisonous!  There are glands in their skin that secrete a potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, which is hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide.  It is the same toxin found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs, and one drop can kill up to 7,000 mice.  The neurotoxin is strong enough to kill humans, but they are only dangerous if ingested.

Fast Fact 2. Due to their toxicity, California newts have few natural predators, although garter snakes, and some other species, have developed a resistance to tetrodotoxin.

Fast Fact 3. California newts eat earthworms, snails, slugs, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and other invertebrates.

Fast Fact 4. They reproduce between December and early May.  The adult newts will return to the pool in which they hatched.  This “homing instinct” is probably why they seem to be moving with purpose.  Cool!  The “ball of newts” is actually several males wrapped around a female during the mating process.

Fast Fact 5. When a female releases her egg mass, it will have between 7 and 30 eggs.  The egg masses attach to stream plant roots or rocky crevices.

Fast Fact 6. California newts make sounds that humans can’t hear, unless under special conditions, like in a lab or aquarium environment. They whistle, squeak and click to tell other newts that this is “their territory”, to attract mates, or to warn predators that they are poisonous.

Fast Fact 7. These newts can live up to 20 years!

Fast Fact 8. California newts grow to be about 3-8″ in length.

Fast Fact 9. When threatened, a newt will take a sway backed position and close its eyes.  It will extend its limbs to the side and hold its tail straight out in warning.

Fast Fact 10. California newts are currently a California Special Concern Species due to population reduction.  Human habitation and invasive species are the biggest contributors to the reduction. We hope that if you read about them here, or elsewhere, you will encourage others to do so as well so that they are not overlooked.

There are many more things to learn and I encourage you to check out Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy I. Storer and Robert L. Usinger, and, for lots of great photos, visit californiaherps.com.  Thanks for reading!

Good thoughts, Karen & Co!

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

15 Fabulous Ladybug Facts For Budding Entomologists!

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I can’t help myself but to forever photograph the ladybugs of Sequoia National Forest!

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The scientific name for ladybug is Coccinellidae. Sounds romantic, eh? 

Ladybugs are truly beautiful, beneficial, and deserving of some major praise as we polish up the house, shake out our rugs, and open our hearts to spring.  Okay, I can’t promise that I am going to get the windows washed anytime soon, but I can say that I might just be forgiven if I am caught bumbling around in the forest with a camera looking for more of these beauties!

My 5 year old loves ladybugs, as so many kids do, and we adults could spare a few moments to give a nod, and learn a bit about these lovelies as well.  Here are some fabulous ladybug facts for all of us insect-lovers! At the bottom of the page are links to my sources as well as links to some fun ladybug crafts and coloring pages for the kids.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do and thanks for reading on!

1. There are about 5,000 different species of ladybugs in the world.

2. Ladybugs can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all, and come  in many different colors. The most familiar ladybug in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug.  They have 6 short legs.

3. Ladybugs breathe through openings on the sides of their bodies.

4. The seven-spotted lady bug is native to Europe.  They were brought to North America in the mid-1900’s to control aphid populations.

5. Ladybugs are also called “lady beetles” or “ladybird beetles”.  They get their name from European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests ate their crops.  The ladybugs came to the rescue, and the farmers called them “beetle of our Lady” which became shortened to lady beetle or ladybug.

6. Ladybugs (and aphids) were studied by NASA up in space (1999)!

7. A ladybug can retract its head into it’s body.

8. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime.  They eat aphids and other plant-eating pests. Farmers and gardeners love them!

9. In many cultures ladybugs are considered good luck.

10. A ladybug’s bright coloring tells predators that they will taste terrible. When threatened, ladybugs secrete an oily, yucky-tasking fluid from their leg joints.

11. Birds are the main predators of ladybugs, but frogs, wasps, spiders and dragonflies like to eat them too.

12. There are both male and female ladybugs and it’s almost impossible to tell them apart without a microscope, except that females are usually larger.

13. According to Alive and The Sierra Club, pesticides and GMO’s are threatening ladybugs.

14. Ladybugs are most active from spring to fall.  When it gets cold, they hibernate.

15. The ladybug is the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Tennessee!

Thanks for reading and happy spring to all!

Karen

Visit  The Ladybug Lady and Nat Geo Kids for more information and pics! Click here for more about entomology.

Click here for a cute ladybug terra cotta wind chime craft!

Click here for free printable insect coloring pages!

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Fast Facts About Hematite For Little Scientists!

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Endless entertainment… These magnetic “sticky stones” were a gift from Captain’s grandparents after they traveled across the United States

These magnetic pieces are lots of fun, and can be found in many gift shops in touristy places around the world.  Captain and her dad had gotten a few in Sequoia National Park, and then her grandparents added to her collection.  We keep the pouch on our counter, where we hang out and eat, talk and play, and they seem to get handled, stacked and just generally played with a lot.  We decided to learn about hematite because we are a family quite interested in all things magnetic. Although the “hematite” sold as sticky rocks, like the ones shown above, are, in fact, usually a synthetic form of magnetic hematite, sometimes called “hematine”, they are still the perfect introduction to talking about minerals.

Here are 10 fun facts about hematite that are fun to talk about while playing with these sticky stones.  As always, memorizing the facts isn’t necessary!  Just using the language and talking about things in a fun and interesting way stimulates our thirst for knowledge and gives us all some of the language of natural minerals, and isn’t that alone enough to build up the fundamentals of the burgeoning scientist?  So here we go to some hematite facts that we chatted about with Captain, letting whatever parts interest her jump into her brain and, excuse the pun!, stick where they may and get her thinking…

1. The name “hematite” comes from the Greek work for blood, haima (or the root “hema”), because hematite can be red.

2. Hematite is the mineral form of iron oxide and is harder than pure iron, but much more brittle.

3. Hematite is usually found in places where there is water and in areas where hot springs are found, like England, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Brazil and in the Lake Superior region in Michigan.  However, there are forms of hematite that result from volcanic activity without water.

4. Hematite has been discovered on Mars!

5. Hematite is weakly magnetic (although it does display magnetic capabilities at high temperatures) and that is why other minerals are used to create synthetic hematite for sticky stones.

6. Hematite can be used as a pigment in paints, and the colors range from almost black to silvery gray to blood red.  One of the most famous forms is the lusterous silver gray used for jewelry and other ornamental things. (We want to get some hematite beads and make bracelets!) No matter the color, there is a rust-colored streak in every hematite stone.

7. Hematite forms in a series of crystalline plates, which build on each other.

8. Hematite is believed to be a healing and grounding mineral that can strengthen the body and lessen life’s stresses.  It is also considered by some to be helpful for some conditions, like seasickness.

9. Hematite powder was used in Egyptian tombs to stop intruders from entering. Hematite powder can be irritating to eyes and skin and can be lethal if inhaled. If tomb robbers disturbed the sarcophagus, the hematite would fly up into the air and get in the robbers’ eyes and lungs.

10. Hematite in powdered form has been used as a red chalk for thousands of years.

I am unable to quote all of my sources exactly because I have gathered facts along the way.  Everything here is completely accurate to my knowledge.

Minerals Rock! Thanks for reading.

Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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