Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in experiments (6)


Young Scientist Series Kit 5: Solids, liquids, and gases (review)

The solids, liquids, and gases kit came in a box with the volcano kit I wrote about last summer. We used it this week alongside the BFSU section on, of course, solids, liquids, and gases, and the demonstrations suggested there. As a side note, I bought a selection of these kits when they went on sale for half price at and paid only $12 a piece for them. So far I'd give them a generally favorable review, but I wouldn't ever pay $24 for one.

Included in the kit:
Instruction booklet (with a section for the parent and one for the child)
popsicle stick
fiz tablets

Needed from the house:
water, bowls, cups, measuring cups and spoons
small glass bottle with narrow neck
soda water
corn starch
food coloring
baking soda

Instructions in the kit guide the user through observing raisins bouncing around in the soda water, using the vinegar and baking soda reaction to inflate the balloon, making a solid with corn starch, making "slime".

The good: we had fun with the kit. I handed Calvin the instruction booklet and we identified all the things we needed from the house and collected them, then he read through the instructions for each experiment and we tried almost all of them out (I didn't have corn starch). The experiments are fun—especially making "slime"— and I liked the "materials, methods, results, and conclusions" breakdown in the instruction booklet. Eventually he'll be writing those for himself, but seeing the process first is valuable.

The less good: After really enjoying his reading through the decently scientific insructions while we did the experiments/demonstrations, we realized that he'd been reading the "guide for parent, teacher, or supervising adult". The pages aimed at kids are less scientific, more cartoonish. The kid pages are still decent instructions, written as though a conversation with a bug, but Calvin and I preferred the parent instructions and will ignore the second half of the booklets from now on.

The disappointing: Every one of the experiments described and included can be found described in a variety of home chemistry and experiment books, while the list of what was included versus what was required additionally seemed random at best. I understand supplying the liquids, and also the bowls, utensils, etc., but if they're supplying the raisins, borax, and glue, why not supply sugar, food coloring, corn starch, and baking soda? Or how about supplying only the very rare oddities, like fiz tablets, and charging less for the kit?

Conclusion: I think I've said this before, but the only reason I would consider buying these kits again (at half price) is to have the instructions in a neat format (in the adult pages) that I can conveniently hand to Calvin and which we can write on and get messy, etc., etc. Plus there is something to be said for pulling out the box and having him get excited about what is coming up, but I assume that sooner rather than later he will be asking to experiment with household goods on his own, and then the kits will have done their job and become obsolete as a material good.

When we finished the kit I left Calvin at the counter with all the materials in reach and let him go to town, resulting in fizzy raisin and goop soup.


Kitchen science—demonstrating matter

I admit it. I ordered a book of science curriculum. It was highly recommended by other homeschooling moms, and it isn't filled with worksheets and quizes, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding is more of a guideline for parents, and that's a "curriculum" I can live with.

The "lessons" start with categorizing, so last week we took a walk and categorized everything by its manner of life or lack thereof. Is it living? Is it organic non-living, or inorganic non-living? It was a fun talk, and walk.

The second section deals with matter and the states of matter. I don't feel the need to keep up with the book's suggested pace, or even necessarily stick with its order (although it strictly warns me that deviation is unacceptable, I think rules were made to be broken), but since we've been reading Bang! The Universe Verse Book 1 on our journey through evolution, which starts with the Big Bang and the formation of matter, yadda yadda, I thought now was as good a time as any.

So we hit up the library for some books on the matter and read them. Of the books available there, States of Matter, by Suzanne Slade, was the most helpful. To connect the activities with the things we've already been reading about we took it down to energy, then to atoms, then to molecules and matter.

Then I put our books of experiments in Calvin's hands.

Demonstrating matter: marbles in a boxtop—tightly packed is a solid, lightly packed is a liquid, loosely packed is a gas. He played with that for a while, and explored items in the house with reference to their matter.

Changing states of matter: Of course. Ice from the freezer, melt it in the pot, bring it to a boil and watch it steam, allow the steam to condense on something and, if so desired, re-freeze it.

Molecules on the move: two identical glasses filled with the same amount of water. Heat one in the microwave. Add one drop of food coloring to each cup and watch the color move through the water.

Air is matter, too: sweep an air tight bag through the air and quickly close it tightly, then notice that the bag is full of...air.

Displacement of matter: fill a glass and mark the water level. Add an object and note that the water level is now higher.

Air is matter, too, two: fill a bowl with water. Find a glass smaller than the bowl and stuff a sheet of paper in the bottom so that it won't fall out. Push the glass, top down, into the bowl of water, keeping the glass completely upright. Remove, still keeping the glass straight upright, and note that the paper is dry.

The last demonstration, from the book Chemistry for Every Kid, by Janice VanCleave (a great book, by the way), was Calvin's favorite, but really he had a great time with all of these. And I liked the time together; science was my mainstay in college.


Ice experiments

The scientific side of our Antarctic exploration?

First I have to admit that I got the idea for these two extremely basic experiments from the book 365 Simple Science Experiments. Embarking on a journey through Antarctica I just did a quick search through the index and found a handful of experiments pertaining to ice, two of which seemed fun. Lucky for the authors I'm passing judgement on over the whole book based on these two experiments. Doing any hands-on experiment is fun, but as far as I can tell the premise behind each of these experiments is based on faulty logic.

Glacier Melt (p.151)

• We gathered small pebbles and sand from our garden in plastic cups, then filled the cups the rest of the way with water, jiggling the cups to make sure all the air was released.
• Set cups in freezer until completely frozen
• Meanwhile, create a shallow incline by propping a board up on a small object. Drive a nail into the board in the middle at the top.
• Remove cups from freezer and use a knife (or application of warm hands for a short time) to loosen and remove the "glacier" from the cup without damaging it.
• Place "glacier" on inclined board. To keep it from sliding down the board use a rubberband to attach it to the nail.
• Observe melt and runoff.

From the book: "Glaciers are large masses of ice that move down mountainsides and valleys cutting gouges out of the rock and soil. Deposits from glacier movements can be found in such places as the arctic, Antarctica, Finland, and Greenland. These giant masses of ice would not move at all if it weren't for the great pressures they also exert....As glaciers move, they break off and pick up tons of rock and soil and deposit it someplace else...Like the real thing, our miniature-glacier experiment shows how and why those rock and sand deposits are so unusual and often unevenly placed." (p.151)

Which is all fine and good, and some moraines are left behind by glacial melt waters, but I find it misleading to imply that a stationary mini-glacier is the same as a moving glacier that not only expells moraine in melt-water, but also leaves it along the side as it slowly moves on, or gouges it into the ground, or drops it as glacial ice breaks off into the water.

Tip of the Iceberg (p.278)

• we filled a cup with ice and cold water, and marked the level of the water on the side of the glass
• when the ice had melted we observed the water level to see if it had changed.

From the book: "When the ice cubes melt, the water does not overflow. The ice cubes simply displaced the water in the glass, or the amount of ice that melted was exactly equal to the mass of the ice cubes below the water. Like the ice cubes in teh glass, the main part of an iceberg is under water. If all teh icebergs were to melt, as did the ice cubes in our experiment, the sea level would remain the same." (p.278)

This is fundamentally true, but is completely useless as a means of teaching about environmental change and the hazards of a warming planet, and as stated in the above manner could be misconstrued. Sure if all the icebergs melt the water level will remain the same, but Antarctica holds 90% of the world's ice and 70% of the world's fresh water (source). If that melts, you can bet your bottom dollar that the sea level is going to rise.

Homemade Iceberg (our own concoction)

• Fill a plastic cup with cold water, add a few drops of food coloring, and set in freezer until frozen solid
• Fill a bowl with warm water (preferably a clear bowl)
• Add "iceberg" and observe

We had two objects here. First we wanted to observe the currents in the water, which the food coloring allowed us to do. Second, we wanted to observe the melting of the ice—how it does not stay in one place, how it crakcs, and how it does not necessarily melt evenly but instead takes on a shape that becomes more and more obvious as it melts further.

We used red dye, so unfortunately our berg looks a little like frozen meat of some kind. We had fun anyhow.


Exploding a volcano with The Magic Schoolbus (review)

I won't make this another review of another science kit, but since I was disappointed with the Young Scientist Club kit I should mention The Magic Schoolbus Erupting Volcanoes Kit left me happier (which is funny because I'm not big on those books). I also got this one on Zulily for a steal, but I think I paid $14, which is a much smaller discount than for the other kits, but the price difference was reflected in the quality. The kit included a poster and an instruction booklet, which was written to the "young scientist" (unlike the instructions in the Young Scientist Club kit which were to the parent). The information was good as it was laid out on the poster and explained in the booklet, but the booklet was also basically a quiz with the busy work of correctly placing answer stickers, and that we could have done without. It also came with a volcano shield, something that the Young Scientist Club volcano kit does not include, and which, if we'd had time, we would have happily created ourselves, but this was a fun shortcut to get us directly to exploding and erupting. It also came with eye protection (fun!) and in general the equipment felt of a better quality (albeit still of plastic, of course). And I guess that turned into a short review.

We actually did this a couple of days ago, just a day after the acids and bases. Calvin started with paint. I'd already told him that the exploding of his own volcano had more to do with art and chemistry than volcanoes, so he set right to the decorating part. The kit included water paint for this step, but it just didn't stick so I broke out the poster paints instead. since it was warped from being in the box we held it splayed into shape using a rock (which also got painted and is in our garden now :o)

The mere existence of the eye protection, and possibly the use of the word "explode", set Calvin a bit on edge. He suited right up, and on pouring the vinegar into the baking soda solution he jumped right back to watch from a safe distance. We ran several trials before deciding on the right combination of ingredients. I love that we weren't given a "recipe" but were urged to find our own by trial and error.

The kit came with red food dye for the ultimate lava look, but after the first one, when we ended up with red fingers and a slightly red driveway, we ran the trials without it. That made the final explosion more dramatic. Well, that and the fact that we did this all outside and just as we were finishing the thunderheads were rolling in and the sky was rumbling in the distance. Time to head inside.


Young Scientist Series: Acids and Bases (review) 

A couple of weeks ago Zulily had a sale on Young Scientist kits. Ca-ching! They were more than 50% off so I ordered several, but never having seen even one in real life before I wasn't sure what to expect. The kit I thought we'd open first was about volcanoes, but I mentioned to Calvin that the volcano kit would be art and chemical reactions more than about volcanoes and that we would learn more about the reaction in another kit. I asked him if he'd rather learn about the reaction before or after exploding his own volcano. He said before, and so that's what we did yesterday using The Young Scientist Series Set 4, Kit 12.

First I'll say we had a really good time. Calvin read the directions himself, and since there were a number of things needed that were not included in the kit he made a list and we ran to the store just down the street to collect them. We also made our own data table before getting started. Calvin recorded all the results in the table himself. The experiments included tasting several different substances, most of them acids (lemonade, lemon, vinegar, and cola), one base (baking soda), and one neutral (water), then testing them with blue and red litmus papers, pH paper, and red cabbage water. Some final steps included cleaning dirty pennies in cola (I can't believe people drink that stuff regularly), coating a nail in coper particles, and neutralizing an acid (the good old vinegar and baking soda trick). Calvin loved the whole process. In fact, the first thing he asked me this morning was if we could do another experiment.

My feelings about the kit, however, are mixed. It was nice to pull out a box and have the things we needed for the project, except that for this one we also had to make a store trip). And the instructions are concise, but they are written for an adult to read to a child, which I find irksome—if this is a kids kit the contents should be directed at "young scientist" not his mom. And then there's the quality. If I had paid the full $27 price tag I would have been hugely disappointed. Frankly, I would have felt that way if I'd paid the $22 Amazon sale price, but since I paid $12 on Zulily I'm only mildly annoyed. The equipment included is really cheap plastic and small in size, which might make sense for the use it will be getting, but not for that price. And of course the experiments are all throw-backs to any elementary school experience, which is also fine, but since they're pretty common sense I wonder at my sanity for having bought something I could have made myself. The cabbage water, for one, is a fun and easy no-instructions needed save the internet kind of experiment.

Acids are sour!

Litmus paper fun. cabbage test.

So for $12 I'm not upset that I bought the kit, but I am hoping that the remaining kits are more fulfilling.