Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Spelling - Fruit Snack Challange

I picked up a few boxes of Kellogg's Froot Loops (fruit snack) Letters in the hopes of using them as a part of a VBS snack, I'm working up for later in the month.

I was hoping there would be at least one or two of the letters "A", "B" or "C" in each serving packet.  It turned out the letters were very random, and not good for what I had in mind for VBS, but perfect instead, for a quick spelling game or two, with the children.

To play, I gave each of the children:

  • one packet of the letter themed fruit snacks
  • a small piece of paper
  • a pen
  • and a dictionary (all I could find was our foreign language dictionaries, but they have lists of alphabetized English words one side - so good enough).
And, finally, I placed a napkin in the center of the table.

For the first round of play, the children opened their packets (when I said go)...

...and tried to use as many of their letters as they could, either spelling as many small words as possible, or (for the older children) the largest single word they could create.   Any letters used in a legitimate word were the players' to keep and eat.

Left over letters (those not used in words) were placed on the napkin in the center of the table.

Then for round two, the children wrote down the letters from the center, on their pieces of paper, and tried to use up each letter, making as many words (or the longest word) possible using each letter only once.

The player using up the most letters won all the fruit snacks from the center of the table (or they were divided evenly between players in the case of tie).

As soon as we had finished the first game, C (age 10) asked if we could play again.  She's normally a reluctant speller, so I'll take that as a success.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Boredom Busters - Don't Forget About VBS!

Vacation Bible School (VBS) season has officially started, and is already in full swing (the pictures above represent just a few being offered around the country, this summer). 

Depending on the size of your town, you could conceivably keep your children (ages K-6th grade, in most cases) busy for at least half the day for every week (with the possible exception of the week of the 4th) from now until the end of summer - for free!

I like free.  And, I love Vacation Bible School - with the crafts (these are a few from our summer so far)...

...the songs...

...the snacks (I get to be the "snack lady" at our churches VBS this year, so I'm especially psyched about the snacks)...

...and best of all the stories and verses (which are different from VBS to VBS, so children can attend several without repeating stories during the summer).

If you're not familiar with Vacation Bible School - think church based day camps. 

They run one week, usually from 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning to around noonish, or for a couple of hours each evening, depending on the church. 

You will get a little different teaching from church to church - you can check out a churches website to see the particular things they believe (and teach) if you're unsure - and you can find sample lessons and songs on the publishers' sites, by searching for a VBS by name.  For the most part though, if you stick with the major denominations - Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Faith Evangelical Free, Assembly of God, Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA), Mennonite Brethren, or Evangelical Mennonite (this is not a comprehensive list), you'll get pretty much the same style of teaching - Bible stories, such as those above, with a simple salvation message, something like the one below.  You can also check with individual churches to find out about how they screen workers (most have very good policies in place, to keep children safe).

You do not need to attend a church regularly to send your children to their VBS - they are open to the community - and generally very welcoming. 

At the end of the week, there might be a parent night, to show off the songs and verses the children have learned through the week, often with an ice cream social, or swim party thrown in just for fun. 

You will probably receive a flyer with information about that church's children's programs for the fall - but you won't be on any type of "please bug me" list.

There is no cost (usually, and if there is - I'd say skip that one), but there is often a missionary type offering during the week, where the kids are giving money towards a school in Africa, or a local homeless shelter, or something along that line.  Children do not have to give money - but there is often a competition between girls and boys, to see who will raise the most for the project by the end of the week.

To find a Vacation Bible School, check out church websites (just google "churches and your town's name), their Facebook pages, your local paper (under summer day camps),  or watch for flyers on bulletin boards around town at grocery stores, the library, or ice cream shops.

E (age 11, and in her last year for most VBS's) and C (age 10) have made it their personal goal to attend as many Vacation Bible Schools, this summer, while they still can.  Their currently on week two, with hopes of hitting several more - and making lots of new friends from all around town, before school starts back up in the fall.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Favorite Unschooling Tip - Making the World Your Classroom

Theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, is often quoted as saying,

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

Of course, the truth of the statement is a little more subtle than the quote implies, and in the 1970's interview below, he did admit that knowing the name of things can be handy if you actually want to talk to people.

I've said it before, I'm sure, and I'm sure, given the opportunity, I'll say it again - the best education you can give your children is to teach them to identify everything they see. 

Work alone, in front of your children, reading details of what you find, to them. 

Work together with your children, teaching them how to look-up and find specific details.

Let your children flounder in the sea of information, picking out the specific details they need to find their way.

Knowing the name of something is not the same as knowing about it.  But, to find the name of something - the correct name - you've got to know, observe, compare, sort through details, persevere, and stretch your bank of knowledge in many different subject areas at once.

Want to make the world your classroom?  Then, take a look around, and try to identify what you see in front of you.  It's not easy, and you won't always get it right - but you'll learn things you never expected to know (and you might even be able to talk to people about them).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Movies and Books to Kick-Off Summer Reading

This year, to kick-off our summer reading, I think we'll be turning to a few of our tried and true, family favorites for inspiration.  Such as the book filled flick, The Pagemaster, which we've watched pretty much once a year since T(age 18) was about 4 years old.

Except that this year, I'm ready with a few of the classics mentioned in the movie, already on hand, in both "Junior Classic" form (for the younger girls)...

...and full blown versions (just in case we find enough time altogether for a family read aloud).

Then, of course, there's Inkheart...

...which I'm hoping will inspire the younger girls to pick up at least one more classic children's story...

...while leading the teens to check out the Cornelia Funke series it's based on.

Edward Eager's Half Magic is another story we've listened to summer after summer (for long enough now, that our audio book is in cassette form) to set the scene for long, lazy summer days full of the promise of adventure and all the books we can carry home from the library.

We have never, until now though, read the other books in the series.  I'm hoping this will be the summer.

And, if there's any summer left after we've read all of the above, I noticed, while passing through our local bookstore, that Chris Grabenstein has added a couple more book themed tomes to follow-up on his Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library - which we enjoyed quite a bit as a family read aloud, a few summers back.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

STEM - Making the Most of Grocery Store Toys - Spin Bot edition.

I know a lot of people feel that buying the toys hanging on the aisles at the grocery store is a terrible waste of money.  I will grant that these "grocery store toys" are often cheaply made (one of our robots came out of the box missing an arm), and somewhat overpriced for their initial play value.

We have had a lot fun over the years with our grocery store finds though, not only playing with them as toys, but learning from them as scientific exploration kits (where the real pay-off is found).

Take for instance the JaRu Battle Bops Spin Bots I picked up on C's birthday.  They're a simple ripcord type toy - pull the serrated ripcord to make the hat spin and the bot bounce around (a little)...

...and light up.  Just as the box described, they did spin (a little) and light up, but they didn't really move enough to battle (or even knock into) each other.

Having made our own battle bots in the past, the children started brainstorming ways to increase the movement, and action of the toys.

First off, they felt the springs on the legs might be absorbing too much of the motion, and set about adding straight, stiff legs.  This led to issues of...

...balance, and how to properly secure the new legs... they wouldn't fling off from the centrifugal force of the spinning post in the center.  Legs were secured, and balanced, but they reduced the motion instead of increasing it, so...

...the legs were shortened (with little change to the motion)...

...the spinning top hat was freed (allowing it to move more easily), and "feet" were adding to the legs (reducing the motion even more)...

...and weight was added to one foot (still with no improvement of movement).

Finally, remembering the offset motors we used in our own battle bots, the spring legs were put back onto the bodies, and play dough was added into one side of the hat.

It worked like a charm, giving us a much more active robot.

Then, the children moved onto wondering about what was making the light go on.  Clearly the ripcord was spinning the post in the center of robot, which put the robot into motion, but how was that turning on the light?

The consensus among the children was that there was a magnet inside, spinning around wire, to make a sort of hand operated generator to light up a tiny light bulb.  But, when we looked inside...

...we found there were three little light bulbs...

...secured over a half of a rubber sphere...

The lights were on the backside...

...of a little circuit board...

...and the rubber sphere, held three tiny batteries.

After pulling out our alligator clip wires, and an extra bulb (from a finger light - an old grocery store purchase), so we could experiment with closing the circuit...

...while still testing to make sure we hadn't shorted out our lights (thus the need for the extra light)... 

...we finally decided the two strips of metal on the circuit board worked as some kind of centrifugal switches, making contact with the posts, or board, in the right spots, as the central post spun, also spinning the rubber base, causing the strips to move outward just enough.  Or, they made contact by being jarred into place by the bouncing bot (the central hole is lot bigger than the central post - making it move and bang against the board, as it spins).

Satisfied with our discoveries, we reassembled our toys, which were no worse for wear, excect for their faces, which had been partially removed by the tape.  C (age 10) is already making plans for drawing new faces with permanent markers, and maybe adding googly eyes.

Circuit boards, centrifugal force, engineering, brainstorming, problem solving, and art to boot - I really don't think our $2.50 a pop was wasted at all.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Flipping Rainbows - 30 Second Science - Refraction

The light was shining through the cut glass window of our door this morning...

...casting rainbows on the kitchen walls and floor.

We didn't have much time for an in depth science lesson, as D(age 13) was getting ready to head out the door for camp.  There was just enough time to fill our one clear glass mug (all our glasses are colored) with water, to show the children what would happen if we placed the mug in the way of the light coming in through the door.

The mug wasn't making a new rainbow (you can see the colors reversed on the right side of the picture above).  The colors were coming from the light passing through the angled glass in the door.  So, when we let plain white light pass through the cup, it stayed white.

Instead, the light, colors and all, was being refracted (or bent) through the cup at such an angle as to make the reflection on the other side appear to be flipped from the original, much like when you look at an image (like for instance the graduation invitation below) through a glass of water.

Hold it close to the cup and it will look pretty normal.

Move it away, and the picture will start to blur.

Move it a little bit more, and the picture will become clear again, but appear to be reversed.

Putting our cup down into a rainbow on the floor (with a piece of white paper underneath), we could see exactly how the light was bending in such a way as to come out of the cup, crossing, and then reversing.

The next time you have a rainbow reflecting on your floor, you might want to give it a try too - it's a surprisingly simple, but effective demonstration, with no expensive light box, lasers, or lengthy lectures required.