A big week in science

Miss 5 has always had a very strong interest in science. She comes from a family of like minded people. There are numerous nurses, a scientist, a geologist, a doctor, a couple of engineers and a high school science teacher in our extended family. Added to this Husband is an engineer and a lifetime ago I started a degree in forensic pathology, so I guess the foundations for Miss 5s interest were always there. Husband and I have always encouraged her to test things, pull things apart to see how they work, experiment and think for herself, rather than give her the answers.

(On a side note, I think it’s amusing that when she was 3 and we did this, we were encouraging and nurturing parents, but now that she’s 5, and “should be in school”, the same people think that we’re “not qualified”). 😉

Miss 5 thoroughly enjoys hands on experiments, and loves nothing more than to “do science” with her sister. And the more theatrical, the better. Because, she’s 5 😀
So we try to incorporate some kind of science based lesson at least once a week. This may be gardening in the veggie patch, where they maintain, fertilise, weed, prune and harvest the plants. It may be finding and catching or observing creatures in the backyard. So far there has been Charlotte the Orb Weaver, two frogs, bees, a spider wasp, cabbage moths (they kept a caterpillar inside a container and watched it build it’s chrysalis and then turn into a moth), and our resident bob tail lizard. They have made crystals and also have a microscope that is often pulled out – and hopefully in the next 12 months we can think about buying Miss 5 her first chemistry set. Miss 5 has a few apps on the iPad that are science based lessons, one in particular My Incredible Body has been a huge hit, and there is usually some way to include something scientific in most of her units of study, if we aren’t already doing it in everyday life.
Keeping in mind that she is 5 and her sister is 3, so we’re not talking quantum physics here, but rather a real world focus on their bodies, the world they live in, how it works, how it grows, and why, as well as giving them the foundations for a life of critical thinking. I want my daughters to be able to think and form an opinion based on facts, and to have the confidence and the ability to question everything.

Sometimes, however, we like to “do science” just for the sake of doing it. Not to tie it in with a lesson, not to underline something that she’s been talking about or thinking about. But for no other reason, than it’s fun. And their smiles and giggles and gasps are just awesome to watch 🙂 So that’s exactly what we did this week.
I get a non-related, weekly delivery that happens to include a small bag of dry ice. So this week, we had some fun with it 😀

With the girls’ help, I set up a couple of dishes, one with warm water and blue food colouring, the other with milk and pink food colouring. We talked about solids, liquids and gasses, and Miss 5 learned that the fog or “smoke” they could see was water vapour mixed with carbon dioxide. She already knows about carbon dioxide, as she knows this is what we breathe out and what trees breathe in. With our previous experiments, Miss 5 is familiar with the terms like observation, hypothesis and conclusion. She initially observed that the ice in the warm water was bubbling and smoking more than the ice in the milk, which was basically doing nothing. Her hypothesis was that the dry ice worked better when it was in warm or hot liquid. She tested this by boiling the kettle and adding hot water to the cold milk. Which set the dry ice off, bubbling and smoking like crazy. I introduced her to a new term viscosity and we talked about whether the viscosity of a liquid might change the way the dry ice reacted. Miss 5 went running to the pantry to find something thicker than milk. She came back with a bottle of olive oil, and then observed that the olive oil didn’t cause the ice to smoke, but it did start to emulsify (or in Miss 5s words “it looks like it’s starting to freeze the oil and make it go hard!)

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Once this avenue of playing with the dry ice had lost it’s shine, we packed away the dishes, and I showed the girls how to make a Dry Ice Bubble Machine! We used a large plastic tumbler, a length of rubber hose, a small funnel, a plastic bag and a bowl of “bubble mixture” – which was just some dish soap mixed with warm water. We poked a small hole through the plastic bag and fed the hose through it, sealing it with sticky tape. We then attached the funnel to one end of the hose, which became the “bubble end”. I added some dry ice and hot water into the tumbler and quickly put that inside the plastic bag, making sure the end of the hose was in the glass, but not in the water. The gas flowed down the hose and out of the funnel, which, when dipped into the bubble mixture, blew smoke filled bubbles. Miss 5 spent a good 10 minutes coming up with theories about these bubbles. From “I think that you could hold them in your hand, without them popping” to ” I think once you popped them, there would be a big cloud of smoke inside”. Some of her theories were wrong, and some were spot on. She had a ball playing with the bubble machine and consequently we burnt through the entire stock of dry ice doing it 😀

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With our dry ice gone, and a little bit of milk left over, I decided to do one last experiment with them. It is one that I have done with Miss 5 before, when she was either 3 or 4, so I figured she wouldn’t quite remember it and would enjoy doing it again. Miss 3 had never seen it before, so she enjoyed it immensely. In a dish I poured some milk, the girls then added half a dozen drops of every colour food colouring they could find in our pantry. They then took turns adding squirts of dish soap. The dish soap reduces the surface tension of the milk and the effect is the swirling and churning of the colours. It looks like tie-dyed milk! Miss 3 claimed it looked like “a beautiful blue sea” 🙂

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All in all, it was a fabulous morning. Miss 5 learned some new words and had a ball doing her science class. Miss 3, who still has a limited attention span, sat at the table and watched or participated when she felt like it, and when she didn’t, she floated off into the next room and did her own thing. We are lucky enough to have some actively supportive friends and family, one of which is a science teacher here in Perth. She is wonderful enough to email me examples of “kitchen science” experiments to try with Miss 5. We have a few saved up now, and Miss 5 is very much looking forward to next time 🙂

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The Solar System and the “S” word

Miss 5 has been involving herself in all things space, this week. She has made a model of the Solar System, which is now hanging from the ceiling in our back room. She has read books, drawn pictures, labeled diagrams, and sung songs. Miss 3 has learned by osmosis and can now also tell me the names of all the planets 🙂 If you follow our facebook page you can find a video of Miss 5 talking about the solar system, and some of the facts she has learned.
We took a drive out to The Gravity Discovey Centre a couple of days ago. We went on a small tour of the centre and then spent some time playing with the interactive exhibits, and going on the solar system walk (as well as indulging in a chocolate ice cream cone 😉 ). And while our day didn’t pan out exactly as we had hoped, we are, all of us, keen to go back another day, and next time take Husband too. The space theme seems to be sticking around for now. There are daily questions from Miss 5, that send us to you tube or google for answers. As a unit of study, there are endless avenues to pursue, and Miss 5s curiosity is the perfect motivation.

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There is one thing that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I wanted to share it. It’s a probably going to turn into a little bit of a philosophical rambling, but I’ll try to keep it at least coherent 🙂 It’s about socialisation. The “S” word is such a big part of homeschooling. It’s the first thing that we worry about when we are entertaining the idea of homeschooling, and we don’t know any better. It’s the first stone people throw, when they don’t agree with our choice to homeschool, and it is the first concern that our loved ones have, when they are trying to support our choice, but don’t quite understand it. There is a phrase that I have heard or read, almost daily, since we have started schooling Miss 5 at home, and that is “forced association, is NOT socialisation” and the meaning behind that is basically, putting 25-30 children into a room together and expecting them to “socialise” with nothing more in common than their date of manufacture, is not necessarily conducive to teaching children how to interact meaningfully with others. I’m still sitting on the fence as far as that goes, after all I did make many life long friends at school. But I have made just as many, if not more, meaningful connections outside of school. And it’s that, that I have been pondering the last few weeks, and it’s that, that I want to explain to the friends and family (hi Dad x) who read this blog. I want Miss 5 to learn how to interact with people in a meaningful way. I want her to be able to connect with people and forge friendships based on trust, and respect and compassion, and common interests. I want these things for her, and at first I was worried that being away from hundreds of children in a school would hinder that, but I have come to the realisation that it has no impact at all.

There is a large number of people, Husband included, who say that school was a place of torture. Full of bullies and mercurial social rules that, if broken, would result in being painfully ostracised. In fact, most people that I speak to are quick to say that they either don’t see anyone that they went to school with, or they only see a few people that they went to school with. I have made some amazing friends over the last few years, and apart from one, the most awesome connections were NOT made in school, or with people I knew from school.

So if we are all capable of forging relationships outside of a classroom setting, why is it so many people insist that this is the only way to learn how to interact with other humans? I’m about to get a little sappy, but here is the reason I’m not worried anymore;
When I think of the people who have touched me the most over the last few years I am floored by how lucky I am to have the friendships in my life that I have. I picture my dearest friend, my go-to-girl when I am sad or scared or lonely or celebrating. The amazing woman who has been in my life for more than half of it, who I can call my family as well as my friend, and who is very much my hero. I think of the funny lady that I met only once, but have been “friends” with for 5 years now, on Facebook. I have enjoyed watching her children grow, and I look forward to reading her posts and love the fact that she always makes me laugh, and I know that one day we will share a bottle of wine and giggle about our friendship as internet stalkers 😀 I think about the amazing group of women who came to my rescue when I lost my baby. They came with food and flowers and prayers, and held me when I cried, and I can never repay them for the kindness they have shown me. I think of the time when Miss 1 was born, almost 8 weeks early, and I found myself in hospital, with her in NICU, on the eve of Miss 3s second birthday. I remember the wonderful woman who knew how guilty I felt at not having a present or a cake for my little one, and how she baked a cake and bought a gift and left it on our doorstep for Husband to find, so that there was something for our little Miss to open in the morning. There is my lovely friend in Canada, who I have not seen in person for more than 15 years, who put together a box of Canadian treasures and posted it for Miss 5 and Miss 3 to explore. And most recently there is my new friend, who is also embarking on this little adventure with her son. She is smart and friendly and recognises the need for humans to be surrounded by like minded people, and in doing so has given myself and some other equally as smart, warm and new-to-homeschooling families, the opportunity to create a community and a support network for each other. I think of these amazing people and how my interactions with them are watched closely by my daughters and I know that the “S” word is really no big deal. Daily, my girls are surrounded by people who demonstrate kindness, compassion, intelligence, strength, tolerance, love, helpfulness and caring, and what better way to learn than that?
Miss 5 has a best friend. She is a gorgeous little girl with a huge heart. They do musical theatre together and see each other at least once a week. Miss 5 also has a special friendship with the daughters of a long time friend of Husbands. Again they don’t see each other every day, but they do see each other regularly. She has a particular soft spot for the 3 year old son of a friend of mine, who let’s her paint his nails, and is always super excited when she finds out she will be seeing him. And now she is making some real friends within our little homeschooling community, children who she asks after and enjoys playing with, and shares common interests with. I’m watching her forge friendships of her own, that are as meaningful to her as mine are to me, and I’m no longer worried.

I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that results in 1000 friends on Facebook. I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that has rules designed to segregate, and humiliate. I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that teaches shallow behaviour, bullying and spitefulness. I’m interested in offering Miss 5 the type of socialising that will set her up for a lifetime of support, caring, mutual respect and friendship, and she would not be in a better position to witness more meaningful interactions in a school.

And we are very, very lucky people 🙂

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A little history lesson

Many years ago I was an English Lit major at Uni. I’ve always had a love of reading and a love of words, and a love of how stories are told, in whatever form this takes. I’ve always tried to encourage this in my girls, and so far I’ve been well rewarded. The two eldest both have voracious appetites for books and stories, and hopefully Miss 1 will follow in their foot steps. Our formal lessons focus on practicing reading, sight words, practicing writing letters as well as drawing patterns to help towards pencil grip and letter formation. But the girls learning, the important stuff – the good stuff 🙂 – includes me reading out loud to them (and we do this A LOT). We also sing and use the story stones that we made (the stones have pictures on them, and we take turns pulling a stone out of a bag and incorporating whatever is pictured into our story) which is great for strengthening the imagination and emphasising oral skills with traditional storytelling.
I have been thinking, lately, that I would like to introduce poetry to the girls and I decided to start with the Australian classic, Waltzing Matilda. This is a poem written by Banjo Paterson that was later put to music. There is not an Australian anywhere in the world who can’t belt out a chorus of Waltzing Matilda with pride. It has always been one of my very favourites and, embarrassingly, never fails to make me a little teary!
Introducing Waltzing Matilda to both Miss 5 and Miss 3 has opened up discussions and opportunities for learning that I didn’t expect, and it has been a great week of talking about, not only the words of the song and their meaning, but things like the tone and tempo of the music that it’s set to – Miss 5 and I both agree that the song should be sung slowly and meaningfully rather than like a happy hoedown 😀 – as well as more philosophical topics like did the swagman do the wrong thing by stealing the sheep, and does it make him a bad person (when the story is put into historical context)? It has been a fabulous introduction to Australian history, as we have talked about the discovery of Australia. The colonisation of Australia and how tough life would have been. We have talked about convicts, free men, the economy and the role of women in the colonial period. And, if I’m being honest, listening to my babies sing Waltzing Matilda has been a daily delight for me 😀

To support our talks and singing, I showed the girls how to make Damper Bread. Miss 5 and Miss 3 made a damper roll each, while we talked about the need to have a filling bread that was both inexpensive and easy to make on the road. We used the recipe below, and while damper is traditionally made over an open fire, they did a fine job using the oven.

1 and 1/2 cups self raising flour
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
A good pinch of salt
Combine flour and salt. Add butter and rub between fingers until it resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and on knead into a dough. Cook in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius, for 30 minutes or until golden.

As a great stroke of luck, a festival was held in the WA town of Toodyay, celebrating the escapades and antics of a bushranger who plied his trade in the local area, moondyne Joe. Hearing that this festival was taking place, we made the hour long trip, west, to Toodyay. Miss 5 and Miss 3 were treated to a taste of all things colonial. There were street performers reciting bush poetry, singers with their guitars, a pipe band, a man playing the didgeridoo (an indigenous musical instrument), and some dancers. There were also reenactments of Moondyne Joe’s arrest, trial and subsequent escape, with audience participation, which just tickled Miss 5 :D. Miss 5 spent quite a while in the “colonial village” that was set up. She particularly enjoyed the blacksmiths workshop where she watched the Smithy making a handle for the billy can, and the general store where she was able to see old fashioned irons, milk jugs and a Coolgardie safe. She had a ball measuring out potatoes on the scales too.
Miss 5 has really enjoyed learning Waltzing Matilda and all that has come with it, and I think we’ve opened a door that will enable us to introduce more history and more poetry to her learning.
We are about to start a new chapter book, and Miss 5 is determined that the next subject that we will learn about is space. She has already committed the planets to memory and can tell me a little fact about each one, which is just astounding to me. She is like a little sponge. I have also registered her for Reading Eggs and Maths Seeds, as they seem to be ideal for her as a supplement to her formal work. Combined with sports class, musical theatre, swimming lessons and a couple of homeschool co-op classes we’re looking at getting involved in, we’ve got a busy few weeks coming up 😀

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