Thursday, 19 April 2018

Making Science Fun : Exploring the Solar System with Kids


Science Fun Solar System Kids Rocky Planets size and distance
Noah looks out on the solar system

Space has often featured quite highly in our homeschooling as at one time or another it’s interested different members of the family. Perhaps you remember the space station we made when Noah was obsessed with Tim Peake? So it’s no surprise that we had a blast exploring the solar system together recently.

Making Science Fun is easy when you have great hands-on activities to do as well as entertaining videos to watch and good textbooks. For the Solar System we were inspired by the amazing book Astronomy Lab for Kids by Michelle Nichols. The 52 activities inside our inspiring and challenging. Even better they use household supplies so you don’t have to run out and spend a lot of money on extra equipment – yay!


Introducing the Solar System



To begin our study of the solar system. I first asked the kids questions like what do you know about our solar system? And, can you name any of the planets? We then watched some videos suggested by national geographic. They were a fun mix with some songs and funny stuff mixed in.


Getting an idea of scale



Once we’d familiarised ourselves with our solar system we got ready to do a demonstration from the Astronomy Lab for Kids book called, Take a walk on the rocky planets. The rocky planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – the four closest to the sun. The other planets are gassy planets.

To do this demo we first had to make a giant circle to represent the sun. We followed the instructions in the book and taped together pieces of A4 until we had a big enough square to trace a circle with a 92cm diameter. We also followed the instructions to trace our circle. What we did was tie a 46cm piece of string to a pen and then held the string down in the centre of the paper while we used the pen to trace the circle. This was a great skill for the kids to learn.

Solar System Sun Model Rocky Planets


Next we made the 4 rocky planets our of play-doh. This was actually quite hard as they had to be really tiny, we’re talking mm. The kids really enjoyed trying and measuring them to see if they were the right size. We then taped our play-doh planets to pieces of paper with the names of the planets on them. Be careful if you do this to make sure the little play-doh planets are well attached or you might lose them like we did! 


Science Fun Solar System Kids Rocky Planets
 

It was now time to head outside. First we placed the sun right at the far end of the (very quiet, read virtually unused and private) road outside our house. Noah (8) sat down on the sun. Yes, he is wearing a helmet as he decided he needed to dress appropriately if he was going into space! 


Science Fun Solar System Kids Distance between Planets
 

Lotta (5) and I then paced out the 62 steps to get to Mercury. The steps had to be approximately 60cm long. We used a tape measure to check. Lotta sat down holding Mercury.



Science Fun Solar Sytem Kids Mercury

Maya (12) then paced out the 54 steps to Venus. Then I took 45 steps and placed the earth and finally my husband Frank paced a whopping 84 steps to be Mars.

Science Fun Solar System Kids Venus

This experiment was easy to set up because we had all the supplies on hand. It was fun to execute. I told the kids we were going on a space journey to see how far the rocky planets were from the sun. It was brilliant for getting an idea of the scale of things in space, not only the distances between the sun and the planets but also how giant the sun is compared to the rocky planets.

The kids really enjoyed not only the making part of this but also the demo.


Making a Model of the Solar System


Later on that day we worked on three different models of the solar system to help fix what they’d been learning in the kids minds.

This was really easy to adapt to different ages. For Lotta, I printed a picture of the solar system to colour in then traced it onto water colour paper because she decided she’d like to paint the solar system. She really enjoyed painting although it was a bit fiddly with some of the smaller planets. If I were to do this again with a five year old I’d probably scale it up so it would be better adapted to their fine motor skills. 

Science Fun Solar System Kids Make Model
   
Noah was lucky to have one of these. His sister has one too but she painted hers ages ago. It had been sat in his drawer for a bit and our morning’s activities really fired up his enthusiasm. He really enjoyed using our DK encyclopedia to make sure he painted all the planets accurately.

Science Fun Solar System Kids Make Model

Finally, Maya drew the solar system in a circular fashion to show the planets in orbit round the sun. She added a scale across the bottom which shows distances between the planets. And also a section on the right of her paper to write a little bit about each of the planets. Again she used the DK Encyclopedia for information. 

Science Fun Solar System Kids Make Mmodel

 


Classifying the Solar System


Our final activity was a sorting game. This activity also came from Astronomy Laboratory. I printed off about thirty pictures of our solar system and the children took it in turns to put them in groups based on their own organsiational systems. The other kids then had to try and guess what their categories were. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how much the kids loved this simple game to the point that they got up and started playing it again the very next day!



Conclusion


Making science fun is easy if you use good books, hands on demos or experiments and let them express themselves when recording what they've learnt. 

Exploring the Solar System has been a really memorable and rewarding experience so far. Yes, so far because we still have a whole host of other projects from Astronomy Labo we'd like to try out as well as some more fun looking documentaries to watch! 

 


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Making Science Fun : Our Top Three Science Shows for Kids

We watched quite a few tv shows last week when we all came down with a horrible flu-like virus. It was one way to feel we were still doing some learning. It inspired me to finally get round to writing this blog post and sharing with you another way of making science fun with our top three science shows for kids. 

Screen time can be a complicated thing when you're homeschooling. On the one hand, we've all read the literature about how too much screen time is bad for our kids. On the other, there are just so many great documentaries out there and it would be a crying shame not to exploit them! Because I have to admit I get tired of the sound of my own voice. I don't want my children only to hear and learn things from me. It's important to shake things up, find other teachers. And a really good documentary or TV show can be just that.

Science Max


Science Max is currently one of the children's favourite things to watch period. It's up there with Star Wars and Coco and many other of their favourite films. Quite a feat. Made by the Canadian company TVOkids, it's secret formula is a young, appealing presenter and a fun concept - let's do everything bigger!

Yes, Science Max takes your average experiment even we can do at home and does it again and again bigger and bigger. The kids absolutely love this especially when it involves Phil the presenter getting wet or dirty. I like it because it repeats the science several times in slightly different ways. This means the kids see the science repeatedly but without it being boring. 





Repetition is really important in any learning situation and a show that manages to do this while having my kids and I in fits of laughter is a definite winner. 


Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom


A BBC show, Absolute Genius is a fun, exciting watch. The first two series celebrate famous scientists. They explore the concepts they were working on in fun and entertaining ways. In series three and four they explore technological inventions and then 'monster builds'. 

As with Science Max there's a high entertainment element to be had from watching the two presenters do stuff. It might be getting inside a Faraday cage or fully clothed in a bath or jumping into canoes to study the principles of Archimedes screw. Whichever, it's always funny to watch as well as informative.



C'est Pas Sorcier 


Ok so this one's in French I'm afraid for all you English only speakers out there. But I couldn't make a list of our top three favourite science shows for kids without mentioning it! We love C'est Pas Sorcier because it covers so many different and fascinating topics. It also combines demonstrations with visits to relevant real life sites that illustrate the science. Hey tv show makers out there, why not copy this fabulous french formula for your next science show! 




Although some people might disagree I don't believe watching shows, even as good as these, is enough by itself. We use them wisely in conjunction with books and home experiments to help us understand more fully the concepts we're studying. We usually do anything hands on before we watch the TV shows too. This way the kids go into their experiments in the real position of a scientists who doesn't know what the outcomes might be. 

What TV shows are great for is consolidation through playful repetition and colourful exposition of the ideas and theories we're exploring. And these shows do this so well that the kids often ask to watch them again and again.

These shows are also good at inspiring kids to see science as being something that's fun. With their goofy presenters, the infallible humour of seeing someone get covered in foam and the excitement of seeing a really big or dangerous experiment they inspire my kids to feel passionately that science is worth being interested in. Without them our educational environment would be infinitely poorer. Well done to all those television makers for making such great shows!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Fun Educational History Activities

I loved History at school. Unlike science, history was always one of my favourite subjects. It's still an area I'm fascinated by. So it ought to be easy for me to plan fun educational history activities for the kids right?

As you know from posts like this one on roman helmets and this one on building roman forts, we like to keep things fun and hands on here. But as Maya gets older our emphasis has also shifted to report writing and written records of the subjects she studies. Sometimes it can actually be a challenge to make history fun for her. 


The factual books that fascinate her brother don't always keep her interest. And she pulls that face, you know the one I mean, when we talk about visiting ruins, castles or any other 'historical' sites. And yet when she gets there she loves it!

So you can imagine I've been tearing my hair out a bit trying to keep our study unit on ancient cultures (Egyptians, Greeks and Romans) interesting and fun.

My own struggles made me think I might not be the only one wanting a little inspiration. There are a lot of wonderful resources out there and we've been exploiting them. Today I'd like to share with you some of the fun educational history activities I've found to keep kids of different ages passionate about history. Bring on Board Games, TV and a bit of Art. I like to think of them as my three secret weapons! 

Board Games

 

Have you heard of 7 Wonders? The amazing board game that's won every award out there? Well we have and we've been playing it sometimes on a daily basis since October. What can a board game teach us about history? Well for starters it introduced the kids to the 7 wonders of the Ancient World.


Playing the game also introduced the notion of what it takes to build a great civilisation. Is it knowledge, is it military power, great monuments or trade? Or perhaps a combination of all of the above. Now I'm not saying this game will teach your kids all they need to know about building civilisations but what it did for my kids is spark their curiosity and get them thinking. And in my opinion that's gold! 

The other great history inspiring board game we play is called Chronicards. It's a French version of TimeLine*. We're planning to invest in some more though.Check out lists here and here for more ideas. 

It would be remiss not to mention here too online games. Many museums now have games aimed at children on their websites. Spending a bit of time browsing the internet can throw up some really fun games for your kids to play. National Museums of Scotland is one place we've found with excellent and fun activities. This BBC game was also great fun.


Television

 

As I've said before great documentaries are one of the cornerstones of our home educating life. I like to think of them as the brain food kind of screen time. 

When I look for documentaries I try to identify what aspects of the period or history in general the kids are interested in. For example, on the Romans Noah is fascinated by their military power and strategies so documentaries on the life of a roman soldier were a must. 



Replica of the golden mask of Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum

 

Sometimes I think more about what kind of historical inquiry might interest them. So this documentary about Tutankhamen kept both older children interested because it was organised like a crime investigation. And of course it featured Dallas Campbell who's fast becoming one of our favourite documentary presenters.

Being British I tend to use BBC documentaries. They're always great visually, feature eminent scientists and other experts and have very high production values. I do my research online and we often use YouTube to watch shows. 

Another route to go down is exploring historical themes through film and story. Asking the question how have people interpreted Cleopatra (or other historical figures or peoples) over time is an interesting and valid one. We've looked at texts and films to do this.



Art

 

This category covers a lot. From model making through dress up and accessory making it also includes producing beautiful visual art to accompany written reports and making things out of Lego.


Yes Lego. Noah (8) is currently what I like to call Lego obsessed. He lives, breathes and sleeps Lego. If I could see into his dreams I'm sure they'd be in Lego. So what's a home educating mum to do but use Lego to learn of course!

Let's take the example of the 7 Wonders and see how Lego got involved. As the kids were already interested in the 7 Wonders and we're studying Antiquity I decided to study them in more detail. I hoped they would help us learn a bit about the great civilisations that built them and inspire the kid's interest. I wasn't disappointed. 

First we watched this documentary. Although quite long all the children (including Lotta 5) found it fascinating. I asked the children how they'd like to record what they'd been learning. Noah and Lotta were both stumped (more about Maya further down). They had no desire to write or draw anything. What about Lego? I asked. They were enchanted. Both went on to construct pyramids.


These were quickly followed up by Zeus' Temple at Olympia and the Temple at Ephesus. Not only did these projects get them thinking about the monuments architecture, how do you build a pyramid? How do you get columns to hold up a roof? They also kept the conversation going about the wonders and what building them meant for their civilisations. We discussed questions such as why did they build them? What did they symbolise? What did building them do for their society? 


Maya didn't choose Lego to express herself, though she wasn't above helping out or making suggestions. Instead she chose to draw each of the 7 Wonders and write something brief about each one. This provided a great opportunity to discuss perspective and architectural drawing. To explore how to represent buildings and space on paper. 


Final Thoughts

 


Finding fun educational history activities is really about what's at the centre of all our homeschooling. Discovering what our children are interested in and facilitating their learning about it in every way possible.  

As I learnt earlier in the week there's no point trying to teach how Rome was found to an 8 year old who wants to reenact the D-day Landings! It's more productive to harness his current interest and see where it takes us. 

Maya who's older is much more able to apply herself to learning about whatever I've decided is on the agenda. It remains essential however to bring things to life and make them fun and rewarding for her to study. That might be as simple as getting her books about mummification for her Egyptian studies and letting that be the central part of her report writing. Or it might be as complicated as sewing her her very own medieval dress (coming soon...).


*We actually prefer the French version as it has more information.



Saturday, 24 March 2018

Observe, Practice, Be Grateful!

tree bark photo blog

Observation


With all that talk about observation I thought it would be nice to share a few photos. Photography has always been a way for me to record some of what I see around me. I take a lot of nature photos.I love tree bark, lichen, moss and blossom. As well as birds, flowers and the ocean.




 



 

Practice


Someone asked me last year, how I took such good pictures of flowers and things. I replied, practice, practice, practice! I honestly believe it's because I've taken a lot that I've started to take a few good ones. I'll often take multiple pictures of the same subject from different angles. The above shots of what we thought were barnacles is a great example of this. As the one below is of serendipity, just being there in the right place at the right time with the camera ready!



Gratitude


I also take and share photos as part of my gratitude practice as I've mentioned before. Nature is a great comfort to me. Noticing small things in each and every day is one of the ways I remind myself to feel grateful and in turn happy each and every day.