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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Montana Life - Living History and the Summer Road Trip

We made it out with friends again this weekend, for another dose of Montana history on the road - this time with a local Lewis and Clark event, and I'm wondering... it only in Montana where the Native American dancers carry cell phones (handy for rounding up their lost drummer) and cameras...

...and children are called to the front chairs for the beaver skinning demonstration?

Or, is this everyday life everywhere in the country?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sidewalk Chalk Circles

I slipped out early this morning to freehand a few lopsided circles, of varying sizes, on the sidewalk...

...for the girls (and I) to color in today.

They hadn't taken their box of sidewalk chalk from our box of summer yet... I thought a fun and fanciful project might help spark some creativity.  There's something whimsical, aesthetically pleasing, and hard to resist about a large number of circles grouped together. Even the Man of the House smiled when he saw them, and he generally dislikes sidewalk chalk projects in the front yard.  He didn't even make a comment about the risk of tracking chalk in through the front door - so I know he liked them.  Coloring them in was amazingly relaxing (therapeutic even).

Not to mention, that squatting down to draw, and color in, all those circles was a great workout for our quads.  And, it was a long enough project to keep the girls outside in the sunshine and fresh air, on and off, throughout the day.

But really, best of all, I was afforded the biggest belly laugh of the week, when my 18 year old appeared at the door, wondering when I was coming in.

"Maaahm, are you ever coming in?  Everybody's up in here, and there's no Mom - who's going to make breakfast?"

As there were neighbors within earshot, I restricted my answer to semi-quiet laughter, holding my stomach and rolling in the grass, letting tears of pure mirth fall freely.  I think he got the message.

Anyway, tips for engaging your children in sidewalk chalk art:

  • provide a nice selection of colors of chalk
  • if the chalk sits idle for too long, provide a structured project (you can find several here, from summers past)
  • keep it simple and doable
  • try not to have a completed "look" in mind
  • join in the fun - children are much more likely to enjoy a project if they see you're interested in it as well.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Making Messy Ice Cream Cone Clowns

It's been a few years since we tried our hand at decorating ice cream cone clowns.  If you haven't tried them yet, let me encourage you to add them to your summer fun list.  They're messy and imperfect, but super simple, and a lot of fun to make (and to eat).

To get started, clear a flat spot in your freezer, with enough "headroom" for the cones. 

Cover a cookie sheet with tinfoil (anything to help reduce the washing up is a plus).

Place flat cookies of your choosing (we went with a soft chocolate cookie this time, but have made our own sugar cookies in the past) onto the cookie sheet.

Scoop ice cream onto the cookies... with cones, and place into the freezer for a few hours, or until the ice cream has had a chance to harden back up.

 Prepare your decorating paraphernalia (maraschino cherries, marshmallows, chocolate chips, candies, sprinkles, frosting, whipped cream, etc.) and pull the cones back out of the freezer.

Move each cookie/cone onto a plate for decorating, and have at it.  Just remember, it's dessert - not a work of art - so have fun, and don't worry about perfection.

Pop the decorated clowns back into the freezer to firm up once again.

Serve, and enjoy.