Category Archives: Science and Exploration

Earth Day activities and lessons for young children

earth day activity water bottle recycle piggy bank preschool kindergarten

In honor of Earth Day (April 22), we’re sharing quick, easy lessons to use with young children to tie-in to your day. These lessons are suitable for children in grades pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Introduction to Litter for Young Children with The Wartville Wizard

Prior to reading about litter, I was surprised to learn that not all of the four year olds I was working with knew the word “litter.” Together, we defined the word and think of other words that may also mean litter. (Kids will likely list garbage, trash, mess, and junk.)

teaching kids litter earth day

One of our favorite stories, The Wartville Wizard, features an old man who is tired of tidying up the Earth to keep it clean. But when Mother Nature provides him with a special power, he learns he has what it takes to keep the Earth clean. This is a great read-aloud to engage children and begin a conversation about litter and picking up after yourself.

Discuss litter

Next, discuss what we think of litter. Ask the kids why litter is bad and what we can do to stop littering. We created charts with the kids’ responses.

Create Earth Day Posters

trash litter earth day activity kids

Collectively, take the information you shared and create ideas for slogans, posters and poems with the kids. Older kids can work independently or in small groups.  Younger kids can color pictures and get help from teachers and parents to write their thoughts on the paper.

litter earth day poster kids

Go on a Picnic

earth day picnic science littering

What better way to enjoy and appreciate our Earth than to spend time with it? Before Earth Day, plan a picnic with the kids. Create a list of everything you’ll need (include an extra trash bag). Older kids may be prompted to discuss the merits of plastic vs paper.

When you arrive at your picnic spot, take time to look around and identify the nearest garbage cans, reminding the children that it’s their job to clean up after themselves. The “leave no trace” campaign, reminding everyone that when you leave, there should be no trace that you were ever there. For resources, activities and more information, visit the Leave No Trace webpage.

Picnics are always a great time for games and activities, but while there, take a break and have quiet time. Let the children spread out and observe with their senses. What do they hear? See? Smell? Touch? After a few minutes of observing, gather together to discuss the kids’ observations.

Next, ask the kids to look around at the animals in nature. Who else enjoys the Earth when you do? (Look for answers such as other people, babies, birds, dogs, and squirrels.) Discuss why taking care of the Earth is important for everyone in nature and how we can help to take care of the Earth.

Before leaving, play a clean up game and make sure that you Leave No Trace of your picnic and learning time.

Art and Science Activity Using Don’t Throw That Away

recycling earth day kids preschool kindergarten first grade second

Another favorite story, Don’t Throw That Away!: A Lift-the-Flap Book about Recycling and Reusing (Little Green Books), gives us great ideas of what we can do with products that are often thrown away, and helps little minds brainstorm many recycling activities. A few days before Earth Day, ask families to collect reusable products such as cardboard boxes, egg cartons, plastic bottles, jars and containers, as well as old buttons, hair clips and nearly anything they’d usually throw away or recycle that’s clean. (Request that families clean out the bottles and jars before sending them to school.)

egg carton art preschool kindergarten elementary crafts

Just two of the cute creations made with recycled egg cartons.

Gather supplies into a box or on a table and read the book, Don’t Throw that Away! with the kids. After reading, discuss what the kids learned about recycling. Ask them about items they throw into the garbage that could be reused, then share the collection of recycled materials and allow the kids to create freely.

earth day activity water bottle recycle piggy bank preschool kindergarten

This piggy bank was created from a recycled water bottle and scraps of tissue paper.

7 More Earth Day Books for Children

Picnic image used with permission from Hillary Chybinski, My Scraps. Book cover images are publisher images. All other images from Rusty & Rosy contributor Julie Meyers Pron, Julieverse. This post contains affiliate links.

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow

Snowflake Fun Facts

We are working through our holiday advent right now like so many others and today we are making snowflakes.  I decided to add a little education to our activity this Christmas and we looked up facts about snow and snowflakes.  The kids had a blast with this since in sunny Arizona we don’t get to see much snow.

Here are our 15 favorite facts:

 Snow Facts

  1.  Each snowflake is six-sided and made of as many as 200 ice crystals.
  2. The ice crystals form around tiny bits of dirt that has been carried up into the atmosphere by the wind.
  3. As the snow crystals grow, they become heavier and fall toward the ground.
  4. To snow the temperature must be below 32 degrees.
  5. The size of a snowflake depends on how many ice crystals connect together.
  6. Close to 80% of the worlds fresh water supply comes from snow and ice.
  7. Snow is not actually white but clear.  Snow looks white because of the way the light reflects off of the ice crystals.
  8. Snow forms in a variety of shapes.
  9. Heavy snowfalls are called snowstorms.
  10. Heavy snowfalls with high winds over 35 miles per hour with limited visibility are called blizzards.
  11. When the weatherman predicts a blizzard is coming, people buy more cake, candy and cookies than any other food.
  12. The most snowfall over a year was in Mount Rainier in the state of Washington.  It snowed 1,224 inches from February 19th 1971- February 19th 1972.
  13. The most snow to fall in a 24 hour period was 76 inches in Silver Lake Colorado in 1921.
  14. The largest snowman was 122 feet tall.  It was built-in Maine in 2008.
  15. The snowiest place in the US is Stampede Pass in Washington State. On average it snows 430 inches a year.

Tricks and tips for snowflake making:

  • Use coffee filters.  They are much easier to cut than paper for little ones.
  • Use a pencil and trace the pattern on the folded paper for little ones that tend to just cut up the paper. My kindergartener loved this and was so excited when it turned out.

  • Staple them on white yarn or tulle and hang them up in an arch way so your kids can enjoy them all winter long.

 

Exploring The UndergroundC

While we were in Virginia recently we had the opportunity to visit Dixie Caverns in Western Virginia. Dixie Caverns was first discovered when a dog wandered off from his owners back in 1920. The cavern opened three years later to the public and has been a tourist spot to thousands of visitors since then.

The cavern is an underground cave full of science and exploration for children. If you are lucky to come across one, I definitely recommend taking the kids for a guided tour. During our 40 minute tour, we learned so much and I was thrilled to see the kids were full of questions. We were hesitant at first thinking they would lose interest,but boy were we wrong!

The experience was fun and the kids were able to bring to life what they have been exploring in science class.  We learned that there were several different types of caves in the U.S. but this particular cave was a solutional cave that was filled with limestone stalactites and a stalagmites.  The kids learned the difference between the two and that they are formed by water dripping from the ceiling of the cave then creating mounds on the ground. (For my sixth grader, it was a nice review of what he already knew.)

There were also very cool puddles of water that looked very deep but were only two or three inches deep. And the reflections it created with the light really gave us an opportunity to see how amazing science really is!

The water was only two inches deep in this puddle- super cool!

Another important lesson we learned was how to preserve the caves. It took thousands of years for the cave to form, but if we’re not careful, we could destroy the caves very easily. We weren’t allowed to touch several parts of the cave and we had to be very careful with leaving any trash behind.

Finally, we learned about the ecosystem of caves. The types of animals commonly found in caves which includes bats. Lots of them! And bears. Thankfully, we didn’t run into either of those on our tour!

Cave exploration was a lot of fun and learning and a great time for the kids. Definitely give it a try!

Owl Study with Children

owl study

I have always been fascinated by owls. For a few years we lived in northern California and there was an owl living in a tree outside our bedroom. It would ‘hoot’ throughout the night. This might bother some people, but to me I found it very relaxing. I’ve missed that sound  since moving to San Diego.

Here are some fun and educational activities to teach children about these magnificent birds.

CRAFTS

Paper Plate Owl

What you need:

  • 2 paper plates of different sizes (perfect if you have leftovers from a party)
  • scrapbook paper
  • glue stick
  • 2 brads

Using a fun piece of patterned scrapbook paper cut out part of a circle to fit into the bottom section of the large paper plate and glue it down.

Cut out eyes, feet and a beak from scraps of plain paper. Cookie cutters in various sizes are perfect for tracing around to get the shape of the eyes. Glue all pieces onto the large paper plate.

Cut the small paper plate in half and attach it to the large paper plate using brads so that the wings move.

Cardboard Owl Ornament

For instructions on how to make these please visit my owl ornament blog post.

Paper Roll Owls

For instructions on how to make these please visit The Centsible Life.

BOOKS

Teach children about owls with these books:

  • The Barn Owls, by Tony Johnston
  • Owly, by Mike Thaler
  • Owls, by Adrienne Mason and Nancy Gray Ogle
  • Owls, by Sarah Courtould
  • Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell
  • Owls, by Gail Gibbons
  • Barn Owl, by Bert Kitchen
  • Owl Puke, by Jane Hammerslough

ACTIVITIES

Here are even more ways you can teach children all about owls:

  • Visit a local Nature Center, State or National Park, or Wildlife Park to learn all about the owls that live in the area.
  • Dissect owl pellets to find out what owls eat.
  • Head outside after dark. Can you hear any owls?

Learning in Nature

20 nature themed activities to do with kids at national parks

Did you know that National Public Lands Day is on September 28, 2013?

What does this mean for you?

It means free admission to the 401 national parks.

Visiting national parks is a wonderful way for children to explore and learn more about animals, plants and the planet.

20 Nature Activities with Kids

  1. Bark and leaf rubbings: Place a leaf or piece of bark under a piece of paper and rub over the top of it with a crayon.
  2. Nature hunt: Print out a sheet of wildlife, flowers, or other items children might find in the national park you are visiting and have them mark each off as they find them.
  3. Become a Jr Ranger: Here is a list of national parks with Jr Ranger programs.
  4. Animal Tracks: Look for signs of animals. Find tracks, poop, trails, and holes in leaves.
  5. Color journal: On a piece of paper make circles of colors (ie blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, white, black, brown, purple). Write down, or draw a picture of everything you see in the different colors including flowers, birds, leaves, and insects.
  6. Get up close: Take a magnifying glass with you to get a closer look at insects and inside flowers.
  7. Map it: Have kids draw a map of the area you will be visiting and mark things they saw along the way, such as a really big tree, animal, bird, flowers, or signs.
  8. Hiking: Get out and breathe the fresh air and get some exercise too. Choose a hiking trail, just make sure you pick one suitable for your child. You don’t want to get halfway and then have to carry them the back to the start. Don’t forget water and snacks.
  9. Tic-Tac-Toe: Using sticks, rocks and leaves take a break, sit down and play a few rounds of tic-tac-toe.
  10. Geocaching: Visit geocaching.com and look for geocaching locations. Don’t forget to take a few little trinkets with you to leave if you find any caches.
  11. Picnic: Enjoy a picnic out in nature. Just please don’t feed the animals and birds, and remember to throw your trash away.
  12. Visit a Nature Center: Speak to a ranger or volunteer at a nature center or visitor center and learn more about the national park you are visiting. They may even have animals, birds and plants that you can see up close.
  13. I spy: “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with …”. What did you spy?
  14. Insect Safari: Make a chart and graph all of the insects you find. You may want to skip ants though for this project.
  15. Birding: Print pictures of birds you may find at the national park. As you find each bird draw a picture of where you found it and listen to the sounds it makes, can you make those sounds too?
  16. Alphabet walk: Make a chart of the alphabet. How many things can you find in nature for each letter?
  17. Cloud observation: Lay down and study the clouds overhead. What kind of clouds are they? Do they form anything fun?
  18. Play a game: What is that? Blindfold each of the children and hand them a different item ie. feather, rock, leaf, stick. Have them identify each object. What did it come from? Can they identify different flowers by their scent and shape? How many did they get correct?
  19. Sun prints: You will need a shallow dish, water, and special sun print or nature print paper. Place nature items such as leaves, feathers and berries on the paper in the sun, wait the desired amount of time, submerge the paper in water, and then set aside to dry.
  20. Nature Journal: If you return to the same national park throughout different seasons, keep a journal and document how things change with the weather.

Did you know that 268 of the 401 national parks never charge an entrance fee? Not only that but there are other free days throughout the year for admission to national parks who do normally charge a fee. If you are military, just show your military identification at your national park visitor center for a year pass.

Source: National Park Service

Education at the Zoo and Aquarium and Jellyfish Craft for Kids

learning from zoos and aquariums

Visiting zoos and aquariums are more than just wholesome family fun. These visits can be beneficial to many aspects of education both in and out of the classroom.

The first step is to find programs and exhibits that promote conservation and research. Teaching your children that zoos are more than just cages of animals for us to look at but are facilities that rehabilitate abandoned and injured animals and places where we can study animal behavior is a great starting point for conversations about animal extinction or rain forest depletion.

Many zoos & aquariums provide first hand experiences with wildlife that their audiences would never get the chance to view in normal circumstances. Seeing animals up close and personal can impact your child’s imagination and thought process when incorporating animals in play and school time.

Learning about animals that may be struggling to survive could give your children new insight on how to better care for our environment and their community. Knowing that they can make steps to keep waterways clear and the streets less polluted can give them a goal to strive for, or even a career idea!

Animal safety is a topic that isn’t always discussed at home. Having pets in our home is often taken for granted. Animals both domesticated and wild need to be approached with proper care and attention. Encountering wildlife or even a stray dog in nature can quickly turn to tragedy if boundaries aren’t respected.

A visit to the aquarium or zoo most definitely should be a fun time with lots of smiles and laughs but keeping the dialogue going about an animal’s origin or eating habits will add some education to the experience also. Taking that knowledge home and creating some fun from it will only make you realize that what they’ve experienced will stick with them.

Jellyfish Craft for Kids 
(This craft can be modified to be simpler for younger children)

Jellyfish Craft for Kids

Materials

  • Paper bowls
  • Ribbon/string/yarn of all varieties, fabrics and colors
  • Kid safe paint & brushes
  • Glue or tape
  • Fishing line for hanging
  • Googly eye, sequins, glitter (optional)

Directions

Always start off by protecting your work surface from paints or adhesives.

Flip one paper bowl upside down and punch 2 small holes in the top for hanging. Let your child paint the top of this bowl and the bottom of a second bowl however they wish. This part can be done to replicate something seen in an aquarium or just because they enjoy the colors chosen.

Jellyfish Craft for kids

While letting your bowls dry select the ribbons and string your child will be using and cut them to desired lengths, depending on where this will be hanging. A starting point of 12-18″ makes for a more dramatic look.

Once the painted bowls have dried loop your fishing line or string through the tiny holes and tie at the top in case the hanging length needs to be adjusted.

Go ahead start adhering your ribbons to the underside of your top bowl.

Tape is a quick solution but glue is more fun. I helped apply a layer inside the entire bowl so the ribbons could just sit on top of the glue. Once your ribbons are in place, add a bit more tape or glue and press your other bowl into place. You should now see the painted bottom of one bowl and the painted top of the other bowl and the ribbon ends tucked neatly inside them both.

Add googly eyes or other decorations that appeal to your child, let dry and hang.


*If you find the bowls separating simply staple them together along the edges for a quick fix.

Seven easy lessons learned while fishing

My kids love fishing with daddy. When they hear him move the tackle box, their ears perk up, they turn their heads, and they run to fetch their pink and blue fishing poles!

What they don’t know is what they are learning. A few questions the next day proves what they learned. It is amazing how naturally they learn it, and how they help each other learn the concepts through the lakeside conversation.

FISHING LESSONS

1. Carnivores / Herbivores / Omnivores

Beginning biology: what do different animals eat to survive and grow? David helped his dad put the worm on the hook and Josh explained, “This worm has meat on it. Not much, but enough for a fish to eat. Catfish also eat plant matter. An animal that eats both plants and animals is an omnivore.” 

Lizzie had just learned this lesson at kindergarten and excitedly joined the conversation, “Yes! Just like us! We eat meat and plants like spinach!”

2. Water Ripples – Personal responsibility

As they cast their lines (another bonus – large motor skills development and hand-eye coordination!) they watch as the hook lands in the water. The ripples cascade outward. In between the excitement of doing it on their own, Josh tells them, “ssshh! Look! Do you see those ripples?”
They look. They reel in their lines and do it again.

“I saw it, Daddy! I saw the ripples!” David shouts.

“Your hook did that, didn’t it?” Josh asks

“Yup, and it can do it again!” David casts his hook again, and watches more ripples take place.

“Your hook and fishing pole causes that to happen, David,” Josh explains. “Every single thing we do effects somebody or something else.”

From here, the conversation broke down as Lucy needed help when her hook was caught on some sticks. But it continued later on and gave them a visual for later lessons.

3. Habitats

As they sat and waited for a bite, they discussed different homes animals have. An animal’s home is their “habitat.” Fish live in a lake habitat – how does it feel to always be in the water? Can it get too warm or too cold for the fish?

Then we discussed the habitat of other animals they know – like the birds they hear at our house. And the habitats of animals they don’t know – like polar bears and elephants.

Seeing and smelling and feeling the fish’s habitat was very eye-opening and fun!

4. Effects of pollution and littering

This flows naturally from the discussion about the water ripples and the habitats.  All it takes is showing them one piece of trash in the lake and the point is made. Our actions affect other animals.

The lake is the fish and turtle’s habitat – their homes.  We should not dump anything into their home.

5. Patience

Waiting…waiting…it is a fact of life. We wait in lines for lunch. We wait for the doctor. And while fishing, we wait for the fish to smell the worm and bite the hook so we can reel it in.

This waiting is not always fun – it can be very boring! But we will have a much happier life if we learn how to wait and occupy our minds.

A few ideas we had for making the waiting more fun:

*Playing games
*Observing nature, talking about what we see
*How to relax our minds and bodies and enjoy the quiet (not so easy with really young children!)
*Hand clapping games/songs

6. Story telling and tall tales

This has to be one of the more fun parts of fishing – making up the story of the “big one” that got away! I told the kids about Paul Bunyon and other “fictional tall tales.” They can be so much fun to make up and tell, as long as you are honest with people and tell them it is a tall tale!

So they made up story after story about the HUGE fishes they caught and we had a great laugh!

7. Interpersonal relationship building

No doubt about it, anything you can do to just spend time with your kids, will teach them valuable interpersonal relationship skills.  Conversing, laughing, compassion, helping – all skills they need to use in other relationships later in life.

I hope this post encourages you to grab a fishing pole and help your child learn in a fun new way this summer!

Cool Treats for Your Cool Kids as the Weather Gets Warmer

I’m a big fan of making treats at home to control the amount of sugar, salt and especially preservatives that my kids eat. Also, making food together is a great family activity and can always be educational. You are preparing, reading directions, measuring ingredients…  And more importantly, you are teaching your children about making better, more informed decisions about the food that they eat. If they don’t like what’s on the market, they can make their own!

The kids scream for ice cream this summer–but instead of store bought, try this healthier and easy-to-make iced treat!

Chocolate banana cupcake

You’ll need:

  • Foil cupcake wrappers (leave paper cup in), or silicone cupcake mold
  • Wooden pop sticks
  • Aluminum foil
  • Banana yogurt (I used Stonyfield Organic Low Fat Banilla)*
  • Nutella
  • Chocolate sprinkles (optional)

*To make this treat healthier, substitute plain low fat or Greek yogurt for banana flavor, and add small bits of chopped banana.

To make:

Spread 1 to 3 teaspoons of Nutella on the bottom and partially up the side of each wrapper or silicone mold. Freeze until hardened, 1 to 2 hours. Fill with banana yogurt (or plain yogurt and banana chucks), cover with foil, make a slit and insert a wooden pop stick. Freeze an additional 3 to 4 hours or until they are solid. Gently peel off wrapper, or peel from silicone mold and enjoy!  Note: For a smaller treat, I use a silicone mini cupcake mold. Great for younger kids!

Another favorite:  home-made popsicles

Below are two of our favorite home-made popsicles that we make. For these you’ll need standard 3-oz. pop molds, wooden sticks and foil to cover your pops in the freezer. Freeze both mixtures for 3-4 hours. If pops are hard to remove, run molds under warm water for about 10 seconds. Remember, you can blend, mix or puree any fruits or veggies for your pops. These are just examples of our favorites. Keep cool and enjoy!

Fruit Smoothie

Puree 1 ½ cups of sliced strawberries, 1 banana and a cup of plain or vanilla yogurt. Thinly slice another banana and put those slices against the slides of molds. Then fill with the berry mixture.

Melon Madness

Scoop out the flesh of a ripe, medium-sized cantaloupe. Puree in the blender. Pour into pop molds.

What are some of your family’s favorite summer time treats to beat the heat?

 

Summer Bucket List – Creating Summer Fun

How to create a Summer Bucket List

Summer break is just around the corner! Are you ready for it? I felt myself get a little antsy about a month ago to start planning some summer fun for my kiddos. I know from experience that when I do not plan ahead of time, we miss out on some fun activities during the summer months. Even making a list of summer possibilities helps give us a general guide of what we want to get done during the summer. NOW is the perfect time to get planning for summer fun. One way to do this is to make a Summer Bucket List.

Last year I sat down with my kiddos and asked them to tell me some things they wanted to do during the summer and made that into our Summer Bucket List. They loved being able to have input on what we were going to do. I took their ideas and made it into a list that they could check off and hung it on the wall where everyone would be able to see it. You can see on our Summer Bucket List that they got pretty creative and specific (i.e. “play queen”). We kept our list pretty simple, as we had a lot of reading we wanted to do last summer.

Here are some ideas to help you create your own Summer Bucket List:

The possibilities are endless. Keep it fun, keep it as simple as you want/need and throw some educational learning opportunities into it. A fun summer is sure to be on its way to your house!

 

Top image courtesty of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bottom image courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

Gardening With Kids

Tips for Gardening with Kids

Create memories, flowers, and home grown vegetables in the garden this spring.

Here are some fun ways to get your kids out in the garden.

Planting seeds and seed bombs

All you need are pots with soil or a garden bed, along with seeds or seed bombs to get the kids started.

Use this planting time to hold a ‘garden classroom’. Teach them about what it takes to grow plants from a seed – from planting it in the soil, to watering it, and how the sun plays its part. They will love planting flowers that bring butterflies and birds to the garden.

Growing their own fruit and vegetables is a rewarding experience, not only will they be able to grow and care for their plant, but they will also learn where their food comes from and how it is grown. Kids are also more likely to want to try new fruits and vegetables if they’ve grown it themselves, so encourage them to pick it when it’s ready and teach them how to wash and prepare their food.

Gardening Kits

If you don’t have a green thumb (like me) and are looking for a simple way to get your kids into the garden, there are lots of gardening kits available that come with simple step-by-step instructions.  Here are a few that you might want to start with:

  • Miracle-Gro® Kids Gardening Kits
  • Growums Garden Kits
  • Creativity For Kids Garden Crafts
  • Klutz Good Growing Kit
  • Gardening with Kids Kits
  • Potting Shed Creations Kids

Books about Gardening with Kids

These books offer lots of tips, advice and fun activities to encourage your kids to spend more time in the garden.

  • Gardening with Kids, by Catherine Woram
  • Kids’ Container Gardening: Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out, by Cindy Krezel
  • Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden, by Edith Pattou
  • The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown
  • Wildlife Gardening, by Martyn Cox
  • Organic Gardening for Kids, by Elizabeth Scholl
  • Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, by Sharon Lovejoy
  • Grow It Cook It, by DK Publishing
  • Ready, Set, Grow! A Kid’s Guide to Gardening, by Rebecca Spohn
  • How a Seed Grows, by Helene, J. Jordan