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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Elementary Electricity--Tricky Science Activities

Turn a plastic comb into a "magic wand" and explore the science of static electricity with these simple activities.

Here's What You Need:
a plastic comb
a piece of wool fabric (other materials work, too)
a teaspoon of salt
a teaspoon of ground black pepper

Here's What You Do:

Have your little one mix a spoonful of salt and a spoonful of pepper together in a separate bowl, or just on the table.

Rub the plastic comb vigorously with a piece of fabric; or your child can try rubbing the comb on the fabric of his or her clothing. Hold the comb about an inch above the salt/pepper combination.  The pepper will start to jump onto the comb!

*Variation:  Use small snippets of colored tissue paper instead of salt and pepper. The charged comb will lift the the tissue paper.

Why?  Every object is made up of atoms which contain electrons. Some electrons are negatively charged, some are positively charged, and some are neutral. Atoms usually have a balance of electrons. But when the comb is rubbed on the fabric, it becomes unbalanced with a negative charge.  When it is held above the salt and pepper, it is attracted to the positive charges in the pepper, (which is lighter than the salt)--and opposite charges attract, like magnets! The pepper or bits of tissue paper jump to the comb. 

Now bend a stream of water with your science magic!

Charge the comb by rubbing it vigorously on fabric, or combing it through clean hair at least ten times.  Turn on a faucet so there is a small stream of water, and hold the comb near the stream without touching it to the water. The negatively charged comb will pull the neutrally charged water toward it--the water appears to bend!

Rub a balloon on your head, and the same principle will make it stick to the wall, or your body!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ginger Root Garden

Ginger Root Grove in a Pot 

Ginger root can be planted in a pot and grown at home. When choosing a root at the market, look for a fresh one with buds.  It will grow into a lovely houseplant, with fragrant, ginger-lemon scented leaves, which can also be used for tea and for cooking. And eventually, (in about a year) it will produce other bulbous roots that you can use in cooking.  This gardening project teaches patience!  It may be a good idea to plant some faster growing seeds, such as radishes, so that children can experience the magic of growing a plant from seed right away.

Here's What You Need:

A pot or container at least 12 inches diameter and 12 inches deep.
Potting soil to fill
A large fresh nob of ginger root

Here's What You Do:

     Soak the ginger in a bowl of warm water overnight.  Let your child handle it first and explain that it is a rhizome, a mass of roots that grow underground horizontally and sends out roots and shoots from its nodes--the little buds on the mass.
     When you are ready to plant, fill your pot with potting soil and let your child break the ginger root into two or three pieces and space it on top of the soil.  Press each piece of root about halfway into the soil, but do not cover with soil.

  Water your new planting thoroughly and place it in a sunny spot.  Keep the planting moist, and practice patience!  It will be several weeks before green shoots appear above the soil.  

Roots are growing underground, though. If you have a root-view type planter, you can see them spreading.

Keep a garden journal and write the date that you planted your ginger, the date when you first spot a green shoot, and the date that you finally harvest a bulb for cooking.

In the meantime, you can explore powdered ginger, candied ginger, ginger tea, and ginger in stir-fry!  
Fresh ginger tea is calming, soothes stomach aches and 
can even help with morning sickness
Use fresh grated or thinly sliced, peeled ginger root.  Several slices or a couple of tablespoons of grated ginger per cup.  Boil in water for 10 minutes, cover and let steep for 5 or 10 more minutes.  Strain and sweeten with a bit of honey  and a twist of lemon or lime if desired.


3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
     Cream shortening and sugar; add molasses and egg; beat well.
     Sift dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture; mix well
     Form dough into small balls; roll in granulated sugar to coat; place 2"
     apart on cookie sheet.
     Bake in 375 degree oven, just until set, 10-12 minutes.
     Let cool on cookie sheet one minute; remove to cooling rack

Click on the link below for recipe

Monday, February 13, 2012

Will You Be My Valentine?

All photograph credits:  Seth Chrisman--what a sweetie!

This post is a grown-up mess-cipe, although you can certainly adapt this and have your children help you.  I couldn't resist posting my favorite sugar-cookie recipe and technique that I have been using for years and years at every holiday--Christmas, Valentines, Easter, Halloween--any time you need a sturdy, delicious cut-out cookie to decorate.

The recipe is from "The Joy of Cooking," Iced Sugar Cookies:

Here's What You Need:

3 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

20 Tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar

1 large egg, room temperature
1 Tablespoon milk
2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest (finely grated lemon peel)  This is optional, but I find it cuts the sweetness and makes these cookies unique.)

Mixing bowls, wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons.
waxed paper or parchment paper.

Here's What You Do:

Whisk together the first three dried ingredients.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the egg, milk, vanilla and lemon zest and beat thoroughly.  Gradually stir the flour mixture into the sugar/butter mixture until well-blended and smooth.

Divide the dough in half.  Place each half between two sheets of waxed paper and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. refrigerate until cold and slightly firm, at least 30 minutes.  

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.  Remove top layer of paper from one of the sheets of dough. Cut out cookies in any shape desired and space them on the cookie sheets about an inch apart.  Form the scraps back into a ball, place between sheets of waxed paper, re-roll and keep in refrigerator until ready to use.

Bake one cookie sheet at a time for 6-9 minutes.  Watch carefully, and do not over bake.  I like to turn the cookie sheet half way through the baking time.  Let cool for a couple of minutes on cookie sheet and then remove to a wire rack to cool.

Decorate with frosting when cool.  If you don't want to use icing, you can sprinkle the dough with sugar sprinkles before baking.

To Make Valentine Sandwich Cookies:

Prepare sugar cookie dough.  Choose a heart-shaped cookie cutter in the size desired.

Cut two heart shaped cookies out—leave one for the base.  In the second cookie, use a smaller heart shaped cookie cutter and  cut the center out.

Bake as directed.  When the cookies are cool, spread a dollop of red jam on the base cookie.  ( I used home-made strawberry rhubarb jam, but you can use raspberry, strawberry, or even blackberry!)

Sift some confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) onto the top of the second cut out cookie.  Place this cookie on top of the cookie with jam.

Voila!  What a scrumptious sweet treat for your Valentine!

Favorite Valentine books to read with your sweetie-pies:
By Eileen Spinelli
By Diane de Groat
By Felicia Bond
By Brenda Ponnay

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eggs in a Basket--cozy breakfast fare

Little ones love cooking eggs in a piece of toast!
Older children can break the egg and tip it into the prepared bread:  Younger children can scramble the egg first.  

Here's What You Need:
*Toasted bread, or waffles-or a bagel, cut in half
*Butter, or cooking spray
*small bowl  and fork to scramble eggs.
*Heart-Shaped or other shape cookie cutter, or a simple drinking glass to make a circle

Here's What You Do:
*Toast a piece of bread, waffle or bagel
*Have your child press a cookie cutter or drinking glass into the middle of the bread or waffle to make a hole--the bagel already has one!
*Show your child how to crack an egg on the edge of a bowl and empty it into the bowl.  Alternately, have your child hold an egg in the palm of his or her hand.  Demonstrate giving the egg a whack with a table knife and then pulling the two halves apart to empty the egg into the bowl.  If you are willing to sacrifice a few eggs, this process is fascinating to children, and a good skill to practice and learn.

*Let your child whisk the egg with a fork.  
*Place a cold frying pan on the table.  Grease with butter, or use cooking spray.
*Have your child place the prepared bread into the center of the pan.  
*Your young chef can pour the whisked egg from the bowl into hole in the bread.

*For safety,you take over now by heating the stove and frying the "egg in a basket" as your child watches. Flip and cook on both sides.

A few books featuring eggs......

By Michael Dahl

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ice Fishing Game

Adam displays a fine catch!
(all photo credits:  Seth Chrisman)
Here's What You Need:
large bowl filled with water
ice cubes
container of salt
pencil, or wooden spoon

Here's What You Do:
Make a "fishing pole" by tying a foot-long length or yarn or string to a wooden spoon or pencil.
Add a couple dozen ice cubes to a large salad or pasta bowl filled with cold water. Place the empty small bowl near the bowl of ice.
Your fisherman chooses an ice cube and dangles the end of his or her yarn so that a half-inch or so is in contact with the cube.  Pour a bit of salt over the end of the yarn and the cube.  Wait a few moments, and then when the yarn is lifted gently, the cube will lift out of the water.
     See how many ice cube "fish" each player can lift and move to a smaller bowl during his or her turn. Ask the players what kind of fish they are catching.  Is it a salmon, trout or catfish?--Or maybe a shark or whale! 
     Salt melts the ice and it quickly re-freezes with the yarn.  The strategy lies in figuring out how much salt to use and how long to wait before lifting out the cube.  It will take a little experimenting!
Basic science vocabulary to introduce:
Matter:  anything that has weight and takes up space.  All matter is made up of tiny particles called molecules.
Liquid:  a substance that flows, like water.  The molecules move about freely.
Solid:  a substance that is stable, like ice cubes.  The molecules are tightly packed and don't move. Ice is the solid form of water.
Freeze:  When the temperature is so cold, a liquid substance becomes a solid.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bird Cafe

On the menu--a variety of ideas for feeding your neighborhood birds:

    Pine cone bird feeder, a classic
Go for a walk and collect pine cones found in nature-
the cones bought in craft stores are usually treated with chemicals.

Here's What You Need:
pine cones
bird seed--you can also add ingredients like oatmeal and raisins.
peanut butter (if allergies are a problem, use vegetable shortening, lard or suet)
yarn, twine, string or ribbon, for hanging the bird treats.
plastic knives, craft sticks, or table knife for spreading the peanut butter
shallow dish

Here's What You Do:
*Pour some bird seed into the shallow dish.
*Fasten a foot-long piece of string to each pine cone.
*Have your child spread the peanut butter or one of the alternative substances onto the pine cone.
*Let your child dip and roll the covered pine cone into the birdseed mixture.
*Take a walk outside and find a place to hang your bird-feeder--from a tree or shrub. If you can find a place outside your window, you may be able to watch your feathered friends enjoy their treats!

Bird-seed cakes

Here's What You Need:

unflavored gelatin packets
boiling water
wooden spoon

Here's What You Do:

*Dissolve one packet of gelatin into one cup of boiling water (an adult's job). 
*Put the dissolved mixture into a bowl and pour in about 3 cups of birdseed.  Let your child mix it up.  Add more seed if needed, to make a stiff "dough." 

 *Spoon the mixture into molds, or empty yogurt containers, etc--even cookie cutters can work if you tape some cardboard to make a bottom. Pack the mixture down firmly.
*Tie a loop of yarn for hanging later, and press the knotted end into the cake.  Press a bit more of the seed mixture on top to hold it in place.  
*The cakes will harden at room temperature, but for quicker results, place them in the refrigerator until firm.
*To release the cakes from the molds, dip briefly into hot water.  The cakes should pop out easily.   
*Now they are ready to hang in your garden!

Variation:  Mix one part lard with two parts birdseed.  Children can mash and mix this with their hands and press it into yogurt containers, molds, or cookie cutters.  Freeze or refrigerate until firm.  Tie with twine, or hang in a recycled mesh bag (such as the kind Laughing Cow cheese comes in) and dangle it in your garden.

Watch out for marauding squirrels!

What to do with a recycled milk carton:

"Feeding the birds" from Jennie's Hat by Ezra Jack Keats