Saturday, April 30, 2011

Big Messy Art - Splat-Splat-Splat

Oh, this was the most exciting (and the messiest) project this far. M loved it and returned to it the next day.
The project itself was simple. I had 3 old socks laying around and some old sand from the sand box that we recently turned into a pool. So we filled the socks with sand, dipped them each into paint and splat-splat-splattered them all over a piece of butcher paper.
And then I turned away to answer the phone and came back to the splat-splat-splatters all over the deck (it's a washable paint, so no worries). My objections were quickly overruled as M said he was busy decorating for a party. Hmm, after some negotiations we agreed to limit the decorations to a big banner.

All in all, a really successful art project and we might repeat it next week. Or we might do something new. There are a ton of big and messy projects left in Mary Ann Kohl's book after all.

Math Games Week 1 - Symmetry

This week we've been doing a lot more math than usual. Or rather we've been playing and talking a lot more math than usual. Specifically, it was all about symmetry.
We went out on math scavenger hunts and checked objects for symmetry with a special symmetry checker tool (usually a pine needle or a small stick).
We mirrored each one's movements sort of like live mirrors of each other.
Tried making some symmetry art with markers...
... and with paint.

Folded and cut paper and created beautiful math stories...

... about a lonely small pine tree in the deep woods and a ray of sunshine
... about a small fish being chased into seaweeds by a big stinging jellyfish
... about a horde of giraffes snacking on palm fronds in the heat of African day
... and about a small black kitten in a dark room

Finding symmetry seems to be easy for M. He quickly identifies one or more lines of symmetry in objects. He also built a very small collection of things that are symmetrical - a globe, a small clay pot, a magnolia leaf.

He seems to be interested most in the story-telling aspect of it though. If there's a story that can be spun out of a game, he'll play it (or watch and listen) for a long time. If not, his attention wanders off quickly.

Next week - grids galore!

Yard Work Never Ends

And that's just the front yard. Last year we made a bold move - put 3 raised beds in the middle of the lawn and set up a few veggie beds along the walkways.

This year we took it a step further. Or rather I did since Chris is on crunches and can only help with a few key tasks like pulling a few weeds and digging.So I've been busy with the front yard garden since we got back from NY.

I wish I could say I'm done, but that's simply not the case. Part of it has to do with budget limitations. Another reason is our car. You see, it's not so big. Its load capacity is 10 bags of mini bark nuggets. So it takes me a lot of trips to Lowe's to get everything we need. On the plus side, I get to make friends with cashiers there and they know us quite well.

The third reason is our yard. Our yard is pure clay. Which really wouldn't be all that bad. Except that it's pure clay mixed with A LOT of rocks of all sizes, from dime-sized to brick-sized. It's extremely depressing trying to dig holes for trees and bushes in this kind of soil. Fortunately, I have Chris who, even on crutches, can dig better holes in no time and stay perfectly calm (I
curse like a sailor after the first 100 rocks).

So here's what we've done so far:

  • Planted a row of blueberry bushes along the driveway (and a few lingonberries in between)
  • Lined up 3 existing beds in a nice grid and added the 4th bed (Chris built it last fall and all I had to do was to move it from the backyard and filling it with soil)
  • Put yardscape fabric and mulch on the paths between and around the garden beds
  • Put stepping stones between the blueberries and the garden beds
  • Enlisted a neighbor who happened to have a rotary cultivator to till soil along the woodline
  • Planted a strip of shade-loving perennials in the tilled soil (Chris dug up all the holes)
  • Moved goji berry to the backyard and replaced it with a dwarf peach tree (again, Chris did the impossible and dug up a huge hole for it through all the clay and rocks)
  • Created a new pathway
Of course, now we have just a few more things to do

  • Finish putting mulch in the paths around the beds
  • Line up the outside edges of the mulched paths with logs (the cheapest, free really, option we can think of; plus it's very easy to install and remove)
  • Plant herbs in the pots and set them in a nice sunny location (it's a challenge to find one in our front yard)
  • Bribe the neighbor to come over again and till the rest of what needs to be tilled
  • Plant the rest of the veggies (peppers, eggplants and tomatoes)
And a few odds and ends here and there. So tomorrow morning I'm getting up early to a) pick up a few logs at the neighbors who recently cut down a tree and b) to pick up 6 bags of compost and some tomato cages at Lowe's.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Squishy Circuits - Playing with Electricity, Sort of

I first saw this idea on in this fabulous talk. The experiment sounded so fun, that I looked up AnnMarie Thomas's Squishy Circuits site, copied her recipes for the resistive and conductive playdoughs, picked up some "ingredients" at a local RadioShack and came up with an idea.

Actually, M came up with an idea. For some days he's been pretend-playing the episode of Megamind where Megamind lures Metro Man into a trap. Naturally, next thing he wanted to build was a trap for Metro Man. Perfect opportunity, isn't it?!

Being very ambitious, I wanted to build an activity that would combine pretend-play with math, science, and fine motor skills. Yeah, and have some sort of art element to it too.

And so the idea of a labyrinth was born. We started off by using a manila file folder that was laying around and converting it into the base of our labyrinth. I wanted M to help me draw it, but he wouldn't budge. So I drew it myself.

We then used regular playdough to build the low walls. M participated in this activity - pinched off little pieces of dough, rolled them into long noodles (he didn't like that part) and carefully laid them onto the drawn lines. This last part was particularly hard 'cause he had to make sure there were no gaps or cracks or the Metro Man would escape.

Next we painted the path bright red, sort of like a red carpet. Red is still M's favorite color, but it also fits here - looks like a red carpet (and Metro Man, with his good looks, fab hair and a knack for publicity seems like a Hollywood type).

Then we went to the kitchen to make special "electric" playdough. M helped me measure and mix the ingredients for the conductive (pink) dough, but then started experimenting on his own recipe. He eventually created something very goopy, but of beautiful pea-soup color, some fancy paint products call it "moss green" (I can never achieve this shade of green when I try, but he did it).

I then proceeded to show how a small LED light lights up when electrical current is applied to the playdough. M played with it a bit and discovered the importance of maintaining proper polarity. Finally, we built a small enclosure with the dough and put a plastic dome on top (since it's an old observatory. Told ya before - watch the movie for details). We then stuck a couple of LED lights into the dough above the entrance and connected the wires.

The trap was set and sure thing, Metro Man was caught... and caught again... and again... and then again only this time he was an astronaut.

M even wanted to play with this dough the next day, putting LEDs in, connecting the wires, and testing what happens when you stick an LED into the same piece of dough. We also built a playdough cake with a red LED candle and in the process found out that our resistive dough wasn't resistive enough and we were much better off with a piece of plastic.

We'll try this activity again in a few months. Hopefully by then I'll devise a more interesting setup that creates more opportunities for experimenting (and cook a more resistive dough).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Math At the Arboretum

This past Tuesday we finally joined other homeschoolers for a Math Trek quest. It's a weekly math adventure for homeschoolers of all ages. The idea seems simple - we go out looking for math and when we see it, we take a picture of it.

The reality proved more difficult, but also way more fun. This week's Trek was at the NCSU Arboretum. It's just minutes from our house, but the last time we went there was well over a year ago. And M hated it back then. He simply couldn't get out of there soon enough. This time, however, everything was different. First, he loudly proclaimed that he loved it there and that the garden was just so very beautiful. Then he said that we should stay there for a long-long time. And so we did, for almost 3 hours.

But back to the math part of it. We were all given printouts with scavenger hunt-style math clues. There were lots of things to look for - spirals, Fibonacci sequence, right triangles, examples of infinite sequences, polygons, Platonic solids, boundaries, simple machines, and representations or models of the Universe, among other things. Not all Quests are this intense, but this was a Super Quest.

Of course, since M is only 4, I had to limit the quest to a few of the simpler concepts. And so we walked around the Arboretum, oohing and aahing over all the beautiful plants and exploring all the little pathways and nooks and crannies of the gardens. And while we were at it, we kept our eyes open and the camera ready for great math discoveries.

One of the first things we found was an example of a simple machine, a lever in our case. There were many more examples later on 'cause that particular day a group of volunteers was busy with landscaping chores, shovelling mulch and carting it off in wheelbarrows.

This was M's independent discovery. He noticed this one rock that was red (the rest were whitish-grey) and said that it was obviously a Martian rock.

Later on we came across a beautiful spiral path...

... and a long and mysterious-looking infinite sequence with a limit (a tree tunnel). So we ran along its entire length.

We stopped at a small pond with koi fish and frogs and watched them. M wanted to catch fish, but I had to explain that these are not for catching. So he just sat there looking for the largest and the smallest of them for a while.Another unexpected zomatical (zoologically-mathematical) find was this little lizard that we spotted. I mentioned how both sides of the lizard's body were symmetrical and we talked a bit about this lizard's line of symmetry.

Then we walked around some more just enjoying the gardens. And then it was time to go back to where we started - to another koi pond with a big waterfall. And so we found another one of the clues - the boundary between two states of matter (in this case - solid and liquid).

When the rest of the trekkers all got back, there was a short discussion of the trek and then we all made a right-angle triangle (since I guess none could be found in the arboretum).

How much of this all stuck with M? Ok, the Martian rock and the spirals did, but the rest - I'm not sure. But you know, it's ok. This was our first Math Trek outing and we both loved it. The main idea was to discover all the beautiful things around us and to not be afraid of connecting them with mathematical concepts. Who knew math could be this relaxing!

Birthday in Charlotte

Last weekend we were in Charlotte, visiting our friends whose son was turning 3. I had to drive both to and from since Chris is still on crutches. Somehow we managed to get lost on the way to Charlotte AND on the way back. This worries me a bit considering our upcoming trip to FL.

Anyway, the weather was kind of weird with very strong winds and rain. At least there were no tornados in Charlotte. We mostly stayed indoors and ate delicious food prepared by Sveta. When the weather improved we would go outside into the yard and the kids would run around.

The most surprising thing to me was that M made a complete turn-around from his usual attitude toward getting wet or running around barefoot. Actually, he spent most of the weekend without shoes or socks, running on wet grass, playing with sand, and stomping in the little puddles.

Even when we went to a little playground, he wanted to run around a fountain without shoes stopping once in a while to test water temperature.

On Saturday the kids were busy for a little while dyeing eggs. M selected one egg, put 3 stickers on it for the eyes and a mouth, and spent quite some time trying to chat it up (as usual, I provided the voice-over).

The next day was M's little friend's birthday. Lots of balloons and new toys to play with. The weather has improved enough and the men were out grilling. Then it was time for a birthday cake and for our drive back.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big Messy Art: Rocket Stuff

Our next Big and Messy project was very simple. A large scale painting is all it really was. But the awesome part is when you work with something large-scale, you get to use big and important tools, adult tools that would otherwise be off-limits. Ok, almost off-limits...

So for this one the set up was super simple. I just rolled out a long sheet of paper (we got this perforated paper for free from a local store that was getting rid of quite a few rolls; it's thin, kinda like printer paper which it just might be.)

The tools I offered included a real-life roller (saved from our room-painting project), a small yellow crafts roller, a big foam paint brush and another real paint brush, also from our room-painting. I thought M would go for the big roller or a brush, but he mostly used the little yellow roller. Go figure!

M got to choose paint colors. He wanted yellow and red because, as he explained, he was going to paint fire that comes out of the space shuttle's engines. My suggestion to use glitter was enthusiastically accepted.

There was a bit of a snag in the project. You see, the paper was pretty thin (and perforated in places). The driveway - pretty rough. Plus all that paint made the paper kind of soggy. Well, to make a long story short, the wonderful fire painting got a fairly sizeable tear in it. Which led to tears although M didn't stop painting, but instead painted more furiously.

Once the entire thing was dry and I patched the holes with some clear tape, M rolled the painting on the floor and used it as a launch pad for all his rockets.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Messy Art: How to Become Megamind

The next Big and Messy project we tried involved powdered tempera and lots of soap bubbles. We tried it on a very warm, clear and sunny day.

Here's how it was supposed to work:

I were to put some powdered tempera into a flour sifter. M would then sift it over a large piece of paper. He then would blow bubbles over that piece of paper. Bubbles would pop, their liquid mixing with tempera to form beautiful circular patterns.
Here's how it really worked:

Most of the tempera fell straight through the sifter into a neat little pile almost in the middle of the paper. We had to use our hands to spread it around more evenly. We had to shake of excess powder (which was most of what I poured into the sifter). Then we learned one simple truth about bubbles - when you blow on them, even on a very calm day, they don't exactly want to float downward. Not right away anyway. First they want to fly up and sideways and this way and that way, anywhere but the tempera-covered paper. Maybe we needed bigger and wetter bubbles...

So as an art experiment it wasn't as much success as I expected. But it's not my expectations that count here, right? M loved it! First, he discovered that he can quickly make his hands blue "just like Megamind's, mama!". If that wasn't exciting enough, there were tons of bubbles to chase all around the yard and pop (being careful not to step into the vegetable beds).

This run-around was done in rainboots ('cause you know, they are simple to clean). This pair of boots, cute as they are, is a bit too big for M. So as he was chasing the bubbles, one of the boots came off and flew in a surprisingly graceful arch through the air. Which, naturally, led to a game of "kick the boot of my foot". Which somehow lead to a not-altogether unrelated game of "toss the boot to the fence".

If you've never played either of these games, try! They are really fun. How do I know? Well, I was wearing my own fancy-shmancy pair that was a bit too big for me.