Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Pretzel Stick Tower

The tree was down, the bathrooms were clean, the laundry - well the laundry is never ending, but under control.  So, what to do with a long New Year's Eve afternoon? 

Clean out the cupboards, of course.  And, in our house, that means finding some creative way to use up all the open, left-over holiday odds and ends, like for instance the open bag of peanut butter chips and partial bag of pretzels left from making pretzel stick stars for the preschool Sunday school class.

When I made the stars, I noticed how well they held together once the melted peanut butter chips re-hardened, and thought it would be fun to try a three dimensional project, too.

A little bit of searching to a blueprint for a spaghetti and marshmallow tower from Scott Bedford's Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff (click here to see the page in Google images), that seemed nicely adaptable to pretzel sticks and melted peanut butter chips.

We didn't have the book, and our building materials were different, so while we followed the general pattern, the actual building was by trial and error.

We placed out the initial foundation squares...

...connecting them...

...with melted peanut butter chips, piped on from a plastic baggie.

40 seconds in the microwave, and stir.

snip a small corner for piping
 While the joints were drying, we also made up a bunch of right angled pieces... connect across the base squares... the first step in turning each square into a pyramid (in progress in the pictures).

As well as the bottom 4x3 rectangle, we also made a 2x3...

...a 1x2...

...and a single square with triangle "buttresses" coming out the sides (ignore the right angle piece, we took that off)... stack up, and peanut butter chip together, into the bottom part of our tower.

While that hardened, we worked on the top part of the tower...

...which we (very carefully) attached to the base.  It turns out, that piping melted peanut butter chips onto set peanut butter chip joints, causes the set joints to melt - leading to a near catastrophe...

...and a slightly sloppier, if entirely edible, edifice than we had originally envisioned.

It leans a little, the joints are globby, and there are a few fallen pretzel sticks here and there within the framework - but it's standing!  All in all, a good way to pass a holiday afternoon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Aww-Cool! D.I.Y. Educational Science Fun

My sister sends a big box full of assorted candies and presents to the children for Christmas.  This year, in among the Life-Saver type candy books, scarves and hats, craft kits, and toys that she assembled were three Aww-Cool! DIY Educational Science/Toy kits - a maze challenge, a bowling set, and a bubble machine.

We pulled them out today to put together, starting with the maze challenge.

At first, I thought it was a pretty basic, complete-the-circuit, electric science sort of thing.  Following the instructions, the children inserted the components into their proper places on the board, connected the wires, added batteries, turned the switch on, and it was good to go.

That's when I realized it was actually a build-your-own-toy set.  With the switch on, the object of the game is to move a looped wand over and around a twisted, roller-coaster shaped length of wire (that you bend, shape, and reshape again later, yourself), without touching the loop of the wand to the wire (completing the circuit and causing a bell to ring, like in Operation).

We all took turns giving it a try. 

And, that's when I realized the boxed kit was really a catalyst for creative thinking, problem solving, and scientific investigation, as the children began to notice things like the spark generated when the wand got near to, but not touching, the wire (you can only kind of see it in the picture below - but in real time, it was very visible)...

...or asking questions like - how does the spinning arm ring the bell, when it clearly isn't long enough to reach it?  (Hint: It has to do with a stretchy spring arm, and centrifugal force)...

...or when they realized they could bypass the on/off switch by touching the metal wand to the correct connector spring, and make the bell ring even if the switch was off.  Anyway, all that to say that without additional questions, or answers, or suggestions for further exploration, the toys simply lend themselves to very natural learning.

In fact, we didn't even manage to get the bubble machine put together...

...before C (age 9) noticed a comment about making soap bubbles with your hands or other simple tools (written by someone to whom English is clearly not a first language)...

...and she was off and running with a series of experiments of her own.

I can't wait to see what happens when we finally get back to the kit - especially now that I've read that you can connect all the toys together for even more challenges and fun.

It might be a while though.  For now C's pretty happy with her sink full of soapy water.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Matthew 2 - Preschool Sunday School

Our Sunday school lesson today was from Matthew 2 - the wise men visiting Jesus.  So, after we talked about all the gifts the children had gotten and given for Christmas, we turned back to the wise men, and talked about why we give gifts. 

While we were talking, we were building a house from wooden blocks, so when we talked about the wise men, I pointed out that when the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was referred to as a child instead of a baby, and the wise men found him in a house rather than the stable.  Then, we moved the little people from the Nativity stable to our newly built block house, ready for the wise men's visit.

Of course, you can't talk about wise men without talking about the star they followed.  To introduce that, we played a game of find the stars.  I had "hidden" (or placed) plastic, glow in the dark, stars around the room.  When we were ready to play, I turned off the lights, and let the children look for the glowing stars.  Our room, with a window in the door, was just dim enough for the stars to glow, but not so dark as to make the searching risky.

Once all the stars were found, we made our own stars from craft sticks and glitter glue... 

...and while those dried, I paraphrased the story from Matthew 2, while the children had a snack of pretzel stick stars (made of pretzel sticks held together with melted peanut butter chips, following the directions I had used with my own children a few years back).

Finally, we worked on learning our verse - a paraphrased and shortened version of Matthew 2:11, by following the outline of a masking tape star on the floor, singing a part of our verse (to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" - causing some words to be stretched out to fit the tune) for each of the five lines of the star (sort of like what's pictured below).

By the time the children had each walked the star, with the rest of us singing along to help, the children all had the verse - including the reference - down, pretty well, and parents were arriving at the door, marking the end of our Sunday school hour for another week.