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“B is for Bear, A Natural Alphabet” by Hannah Viano


B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano is a book that fuses science, nature, and art into one neat package. I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, my six-year-old daughter did not like it one bit. Sasquatch Books sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Viano takes the traditional format of an alphabet book and includes a word and a sentence for each letter. There’s just enough content that the former K-1 teacher in me thinks it could would be a great supplement for the Common Core State Standards.  Vocabulary words such as “predators,” “scat,” and “investigate,” are sprinkled through the book, and the pictures provide great prompts for discussion.

I can definitely see B is for Bear being very welcome in a classroom environment. At home however, it would depend on the kid. My daughter thought it was boring, which really surprised me because she had previously enjoyed Viano’s book Arrow to Alaska. My daughter also thought it was too babyish, which I argued with her about, because this book isn’t babyish at all. There’s a lot of science!

Can’t please everyone, I guess. Pfffffft!

Lovely books from the Pacific Northwest

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High quality non-fiction can be hard to find for children, especially at the lower grades. That’s why I was so excited to review these three new offerings from Seattle-based Sasquatch Books. They are fictional picture books, but include so many facts that a K-3 teacher could use them to support several of informational content threads from the Common Core State Standards Initiative.


Elliott the Otter: The Totally Untrue Story of Elliott, Boss of the Bay by John Skewes and Eric Ode gives kids a close look at life in Elliott Bay. From tugboats to orcas, Elliot the Otter explains all. He also describes what fish ladders are and why they are so important to salmon.

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My daughter is five and a half years old and I feel like she learned a lot of science and social studies from Elliott the Otter. Technically this is a fictional book, because I’m pretty sure we don’t have talking otters in Seattle, but there were so many facts conveyed that it could definitely be used to meet Common Core standards for informational texts.

My daughter and I were both charmed by the colorful illustrations. Elliot himself is very loveable and altogether this was an enjoyable book to share.


Another collaboration from Eric Ode and John Skewes is Larry Gets Lost Under the Sea. When Larry the dog and his human friend Pete go to the beach, Larry sneaks away for a maritime adventure. Or perhaps I should say a “marine biology” adventure because this book is packed with science.

My family recently went to the Aquarium in Vancouver, Canada, and this was an excellent text to reinforce everything we learned about sea life. From the oceans of the world to how tides work, Larry Gets Lost Under the Sea explains crucial concepts with beautiful illustrations and a very cute dog.

I could definitely see this book being part of a K-3 classroom library supporting Common Core standards for informational text, but it’s also a fun book to have at home for bedtime read aloud.


Arrow to Alaska: A Pacific Northwest Adventure, written and illustrated by the talented Hannah Viano, tells the story of a six-year-old boy named Arrow who travels from Seattle to Alaska to visit his grandfather. Along the way Arrow rides on a salmon tender boat with his Aunt Kelly and sees a wide variety of ocean life.

Reading about Arrow’s journey immediately made my daughter and I think about our own trip to Alaska aboard a cruise ship. I wish we had been able to read Arrow to Alaska two years ago when we were on the Celebrity Solstice. Hopefully cruise ships take note and stock this book in their gift shops!

The illustrations in Arrow to Alaska are absolutely stunning and convey the beautiful of the Pacific Northwest in a stylized way. The only criticism I have regards the picture of the coffee mug that has “I Heart Mom” stenciled on the side. The way the “O” is drawn in stencil letters is very confusing for emergent readers and/or individuals with dyslexia. To them the stenciled O looks like a backwards C and they might read it as “M-C-M.” This can be really frustrating for children, especially when “Mom” is one of the first words they are consistently able to decipher.

Mom mugs aside, my daughter and I both loved Arrow to Alaska and would highly recommend it to anyone.

P.S. I received free copies of all three books from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Giving “blood sugar” new meaning

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The kids and I had a lot of fun with this one. Be warned, it’s sticky! Thanks to Morning Hugs and Goodnight Kisses for the idea.

The sweetest science book ever!

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What’s so great about doing science experiments at home with your kids? Watching them fall in love with science. What’s even better than that? Sitting on the couch reading a book while your spouse leads the activity. 😉

For the past few weeks my husband and kids have been obsessed with a book called Candy Experiments by WA author Loralee Leavitt.

Every evening when Dad comes home, he brings new candy from the office vending machine. They’ve done over twenty experiments so far. I don’t necessarily have blog-worthy pictures of all of them, but my husband did snap a few shots:

Red and Yellow Make Orange--Or Do They? experiment

Red and Yellow Make Orange–Or Do They?

Watery Stripes experiment

Watery Stripes

Halley's Comet M&M's experiment

Halley’s Comet M&M’s

Mentos Soda Fountain experiment

Mentos Soda Fountain

Right now Taffy, Tootsie Rolls and a Peppermint Patty are dissolving in water on my kitchen counter. Apparently chocolate won’t dissolve in water but caramel, sugar or mint will. The kids have also experimented with cutting candy in half and then trying to dissolve it.

Really, the possibilities for experimentation are endless. Now for an extra good brush of the teeth!

Candy Experiments

Magic School Bus Science Kit, Mold and Fungi

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Can I just say “Eeew”??! When I set off this year to do a better job helping my kids learn science at home after school, I didn’t know it would involve mold and dead rodents.

Actually, maybe I should blame this on Santa. He bought my daughter a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club  through a 50% off deal from Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Here’s our latest kit:

Mold and Fungi

Mold and Fungi

This is the first kit we’ve gotten that is next to impossible to recreate at home. It came with a bunch of things I wouldn’t know where to buy: petri dishes, test tubes, Agar solution, etc. I guess you could find that on Amazon, but it would end up costing a lot more than $12.

Anyhow, here’s a look at some of the experiments we did:

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

A week later something is growing on the A side!

A week later something is growing on the A side!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

The great news is my kids will hopefully have a better time remembering to use soap. 😉

For more posts about our Magic School Bus science kit adventures, click here.

 

Will hummingbirds reject GMO sugar?

Can hummingbirds tell the difference between GMO and Pure Cane Sugar?

Can hummingbirds tell the difference between GMO and Pure Cane Sugar?

My son’s third grade class has been gearing up for the Science Fair. For Bruce, this meant experimenting with conventionally grown versus organically grown potatoes.

The organic potato sprouted.

The organic potato sprouted.

The conventional potato did not.

The conventional potato did not.

My son was having so much fun, that I decided moms should get to do a science experiment too. So I headed to Fred Myer and bought two brand new hummingbird feeders. I also purchased Pure Cane C&H sugar, as well as the store brand.

 It didn't say explicitly on the package, but I'm guessing that the store brand is GMO sugar from beets.

It didn’t explicitly say so on the package, but I’m assuming that the uber-cheap store brand is GMO sugar from beets.

I mixed up the hummingbird food with the ratio of 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water. I also added a few drops of red food dye, which I normally don’t do. Since I was “launching” two new feeders, I wanted to make sure and get the birds’ attention.

Then I set the feeders in my tree and waited. The GMO feeder was on the left, and the Pure Cane C&H sugar feeder was on the right. After one week, this is what I saw:

The birds don't like the GMO feeder!

The birds don’t like the GMO feeder!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. That feeder on the left is half empty. So maybe the hummingbirds like the GMO sugar, but just not as much as the other one.

WRONG!

It is now three weeks later. I have emptied, bleached out, and refilled the feeders three times. The birds refuse to eat from the feeder they know to be GMO.

I’ve tried filling up the “bad” feeder with “good” sugar, and the birds still avoid it like the plague. They won’t go near it at all.

That, my friends, really freaks me out. If hummingbirds won’t eat the stuff, then why would I feed it to my kids?

Static Electricity Science

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 26

The Young Scientists Club, Kit #26

I’ve got two new Young Scientists Club kits to review:#26 and #36. I ordered our subscription in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now we get a new science kit every month for a total cost of about $9 a kit.

Kit #26 is about static electricity and is pretty cool, #36 was about famous scientists through the ages and was awful. If that had been our first experience with The Young Scientists Club, I would have been asking for my money back.

Kit 36 was a bust.

Kit #36 was a bust.

The main problem with #36 was that a lot of the experiments needed clay, but the clay the kit came with was all dried up and worthless. That meant that almost every experiment failed, which caused a lot of eight-year-old frustration, which caused mommy-frustration, which pretty much ruined a perfectly good Saturday morning. It was like a chain reaction of awful.

So if you engage in this science-by-mail adventure, don’t order kit #36.

#26: Static Electricity

#26: Static Electricity

Kit #26 however, was pretty good. Some of these experiments you can try at home for free. All you really need are balloons, cereal, and a comb.You just won’t have the nifty script that the kit provides.

Important science fact: When you rub a balloon on your hair, all of the negatively  charged electrons from the balloon jump to your hair. Then the balloon has a positive charge. When the positively charged balloon comes into contact with something that has a neutral charge, like cereal, water, or the wall, electrons from the new item will jump to the balloon.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens when they touch.

There are lots of other static electricity experiments you can do with balloons. Use your imagination and have fun.

Magic School Bus Science Kit, Magnets

Hide your infants!

Hide your infants!

Our latest Magic School Bus Science Club  purchased through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op was all about magnets. Thank goodness we don’t have any babies in the house because I’ve very paranoid about small childrend eating magnets. (I get worked up just thinking about it.)

But for a four-and-a-half year old, this kit was fun.

A lot of the experiments involved (included) iron filings, which wasn't as messy as it sounds.

A lot of the experiments involved iron filings, which wasn’t as messy as it sounds.

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Okay, this one was messy when big brother opened up the bag…

The classic "magnet on a car" experiment.

The classic “magnet on a car” experiment.

Making  a compass.

Making a compass.

The total time commitment for this kit was about thirty minutes. It required no unusual at-home materials and was really easy to teach.

But I must confess, I threw all of the magnets away in the trash when we were done. Just in case!

 

The Magic School Bus Science Club, Solids, Liquids and Gases kit

The Magic School Bus "Solids, Liquids, and Gases" kit

The Magic School Bus “Solids, Liquids, and Gases” kit

“Santa” brought Jenna(4) a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club this year. It was a 50% off deal through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. That comes out to $12 a kit, which is totally worth it.

A lot of these experiments you can do at home for free. The only drawback is that you won’t have the teaching script to read from. I’m not going to lie, the script is pretty nice because it’s so foolproof. But if you go to the library and check out some books, you’ll probably be fine.

Here are some titles to look for:

The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake: A Book About Kitchen Chemistry

Solids, Liquids and Gases (Starting with Science)

Experiments with Solids, Liquids, and Gases (True Books)

Here are some experiments to get you started:

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

First the raisins sink because they are heavy. But then the gas bubbles (which are light) attach to the raisins and lift them up to the surface.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

If we had used a 2 liter bottle this would have been better. What happens is that the baking soda and vinegar make carbon dioxide, which takes up room and forces the air out of the bottle up into the balloon. Our dinky little bottle didn’t have enough air in it to blow up the entire balloon. Note to self, buy 7-Up!

Fizzy tablets and water.

Fizzy tablets and water.

The citric acid and the baking soda inside the Alka Seltzer tablet react to produce the gas, which is lighter than water, so the bubbles rise to the surface.

Milk goop: you need milk and vinegar.

Milk goop. You need milk and vinegar.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

The vinegar causes the protein casein to separate from the milk. The result is an ancient type of Egyptian glue.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

This is an experiment you have to feel to understand. The result is not exactly a liquid, but not really a solid. It changes forms depending on how you squeeze it.

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That was a lot of  fun! We still have two more experiments to do before we finish the kit: making slime and a bouncy ball.

For more information about the Magic School Bus Science kits, visit the Young Scientists Club website.

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 30

Kit 30 from the Young Scientists Club is about owl pellets.

Kit 30 from the Young Scientists Club is about owl pellets.

Our latest Young Scientists Club kit has come in the mail! Kit 30 came with an owl pellet to dissect. There were also some food-chain pictures to cut out, but the main event was looking through poop.

This activity can last between ten minutes to an hour, depending on interest.

This activity can last between ten minutes to an hour, depending on interest.

The dissection begins!

The dissection begins!

This owl ate a lot of critters!

This owl ate a lot of critters!

If you’re interested in doing owl pellet dissection at home, you can find materials on Amazon. We’re kicking around the idea of doing an owl dissection birthday party when Bruce turns 9. That’s how much he loved this!


Pkg (2) Owl Pellet Kit with Tweezers, Pointing Stick and 8-Page Booklet

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The real question is, how long to I have to have a dead rodent skeleton on my kitchen counter?

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 6

Kit 6: Volcanoes!

Kit 6: Volcanoes!

This is our first kit from The Young Scientists Club. (I ordered this in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.) We began our subscription with Kit #6: volcanoes.

I think (but I’m not positive) that the yellow goggles and animal tracks activity in this picture were some sort of special promotion with our membership. I don’t believe they are actually part of Kit #6.  Perhaps the blue folder doesn’t belong either?

Anyhow, kit #6 is all about making a classic baking soda and vinegar volcano. There’s also a pumice stone to examine with a magnifying glass. That’s about it.

Extra things you’ll need are:

  • a box
  • a bottle
  • tape
  • newspaper
  • flour
  • water
  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • food coloring
  • dish soap
First we got a box and small water bottle. You tape the water bottle into the box.

First we got a box and small water bottle. You tape the water bottle into the box.

Next, you wrap (included) black paper around the water bottle.

Next, you wrap (included) black paper  around the water bottle.

Using flour, water, and newspaper, wrap paper-mache strips around your volcano. Let dry overnight.

Using flour, water, and newspaper, wrap paper-mache strips around your volcano. Let dry overnight.

Paint the volcano black.

Paint the volcano black.

Experiment with different mixures.

Experiment with different mixtures.

Eruption time!

Eruption time!

The Magic School Bus Science Club, Human Body Kit

The Magic School Bus "Human Body" kit

The Magic School Bus “Human Body” kit.

“Santa” brought Jenna(4) a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club this year. It was a 50% off deal through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. That comes out to $12 a kit, which is totally worth it. (That deal expires on 1/12/14 btw, so if you’re reading this post way off in the future try hunting around on Groupon, Homeschool Buyers Co-op, or maybe the Young Scientists Club FB page for a discount.)

Here’s what the Human Body kit was like:

This dismembered soda bottle and balloon represents your lungs breathing in air.

This dismembered soda bottle and balloon represent your lungs breathing in air.

This straw, balloon, water and plastic person contraption represents the circulatory system.

This straw, balloon, water and plastic person represent the circulatory system.

A taste test with cocoa, sugar, lime juice and salt.

A taste test with cocoa, sugar, lime juice and salt.

Synovial Fluid in ear experiment: First you put glitter on top of a jar of water. It will float.

Synovial Fluid in ear experiment: First you put glitter on top of a jar of water. It will float.

Next, you spin the jar around. When you put the jar down, the glitter will keep spinning. This represents how the fluid in your ear keeps moving even after you stop, making you feel dizzy.

Next, you spin the jar around. When you put the jar down, the glitter will keep spinning. This represents how the fluid in your ear keeps moving even after you stop, making you feel dizzy.

Some of these experiments you can easily recreate at home. Try checking out The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body from the library first, or else watching the video on Netflix.

Science Kits by Mail

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Sorry about the dearth of blog posts recently. Our schedule right now is completely packed. The good thing is that brains are being fed, kids are being exercised, and the house is (marginally) clean.

I still want to do more science with my kids. That’s been on my mind ever since we went to the Pacific Science Center a couple of weeks ago. I just don’t have time to plan anything.

Yesterday, I saw that Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a deal going on with the Young Scientist Club.  I’m not familiar with this particular kit, but we have used a lot of the other products that the YSC also carries, like the one pictured up top and The Magic School Bus kits. Those kits have been fun, educational, and engaging, but not perfect. Every single one we’ve tried had at least one thing about it that I wished was different.

But… The idea of science experiments arriving at our door every single month without me having to do anything is really appealing. Even expecting imperfection, I’m intrigued. My eight-year-old son Bruce is thrilled with the prospect.

So I went ahead and placed an order for a 12 month subscription. The grand total was $157.92. That comes out to $13.16 a month, which isn’t too bad.

On November 25th Homeschool Buyers Co-op starts a similar deal with for The Magic School Bus kits. I’ll probably sign up for that plan too, because it will be a good fit for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.

Unfortunately, shelling out all that money for science kits is really expensive. I would hate for my blog readers to think that Afterschooling is only for people who can afford it.

So here are two top-notch, lower-cost alternatives from the homeschooling blogosphere:

  1. Science Without a Net
  2. Learning to Be a Scientist

I also have some Afterschooling science ideas on my Pinterest Board.

As for our house, guess what Santa’s bringing? Who knew they made science kits at the North Pole!

Life Sciences Extravaganza!

Fresh ideas from the Pacific Science Center

The best science fair you’ve ever experienced!

We are all really tired, but my whole family had a lot of fun at the Pacific Science Center today. There were scientists from all over Puget Sound presenting hands-on activities as part of the Life Sciences Research Weekend.

Extracting strawberry DNA

Extracting strawberry DNA

Touching a real sheep's brain!

Touching a real sheep’s brain (up at the top)

I wish I had the energy to share more inspiration from today, but I’m pretty zonked.

Here are a couple of projects I’m tagging to look into later:

Sing about Science and Math was there from the University of Washington. I really want to find out more about them, because their project sounds interesting.

There was also a booth from the Seattle Science Foundation’s Kids in Medicine program.

The Pacific Science Center is awesome to begin with. So the Life Sciences Research Weekend was like icing on a very good cake. No wonder I’m exhausted!

Only one section of the many exhibits.

Only one section of the many exhibits.

Coffee Table Science

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Halloween is just a few days away, which means it’s almost time for rotting pumpkins!

Watching jack-o’-lanterns decompose in our front yard is an annual family tradition. This year we have a head start. One of our pie pumpkins was mysteriously stabbed, and the culprit has yet to confess.

I gathered the rotting pumpkin, as well as some other biological specimens, on our coffee table. Then I surrounded them with science books. Setting up a learning table right in our living room is an easy way to get kids interested in science.

It’s also a good lead-in for when we go to the Life Sciences Research Weekend at the Pacific Science Center.

From November 1st-3rd real scientists from all over Puget Sound are coming to meet families, lead demonstrations, and talk about how scientific research impacts our everyday lives. Entry to the event is included with an admission ticket.

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Both of my kids love science, but finding time to set up experiments at home is hard. Some of the things we’ve done in the past include building atoms with marshmallows, discovering osmosis with food dye, and experimenting with desalination.

If I was a cooler mom, I’d be setting up a science experiment for my kids to do each week. In the meantime, I bet a day at the Pacific Science Center will provide lots of inspiration.