# Water defying gravity

What happens when you take a mason jar full of water and turn it upside down?

When I asked my kids this question, my two year old replied with “Cup. Empty. Oh no!”  Five year old stated the obvious  “If the lid is not on, water will spill out. Gravity.” I think “duh” was implied.

“What if I told you I could turn the jar upside down without spilling a drop?” I said and braced for displays of shock and amazement. “You just have to take it to space or on the airplane that goes like this” (makes parabolas in the air in the air.) Not the response I expected.

“We are not leaving our kitchen for this experiment!”

“Oh…then there is no way you can keep the water inside the jar. It will spill and go EVERYWHERE!!!!” he shouted.

Challenge accepted.

Materials needed for the experiment:

Jar with a round opening

Pitcher of water

Piece of fabric large enough to cover the mouth of the jar (I used cheese cloth)

Sink

1. Cover the jar with fabric.

2. Pour water in the jar.

3.  Keeping the mouth of the jar covered with your hand, use your other hand to turn the glass upside down.

4. Remove your hand. Ta da! Water appers to be defying gravity!

Science behind the experiment

Water leaked through cheesecloth holes when we poured it in, it’s only logical that the same will happen when we turn the jar upside down, right?

Cheesecloth stretched tightly over the mouth of the jar helped water molecules form surface tension. Water molecules bonded together to form a thin layer that kept the water in.

There are many ways to observe water tension in action. These are my favorites.

1. Drops of water form a dome when they’re carefully placed on top of the coin.
2. Belly flops! The burning sensation comes from water molecules forming a thin membrane that is harder to break with larger contact surface.
3. Water striders utilize water tension to glide on the surface.
4. Bubbles! Tension will always make the surface area of the bubble as smallest as it can.

# GAMES as an educational tool

November is here!!!! Yay! Two little Batmen hyped up on sugar, with Halloween hangover are going to LOVE strict schedule, worksheets and memorization drills!

Brb, dying laughing at my own joke. They most definitely would NOT love that.

I expect today to be a complete chaos full of sensory overload, sugar and dyes aftermath: two silly boys and the dog bouncing of the walls, exhibiting all of their Dabrovsky’s overexcitabilities simultaneously. Day like this is perfect to start My Little Poppies’ Gameschool Mini-challenge. 31 days, 31 prompts, pictures, 31 ways to add more sneaky learning to our days.

We are eclectic and heavily influenced by unschooling. I often describe our homeschooling style as falling down the rabbit holes (read more about it here.) Games have always been a part of our day.  These are some of the reasons we enjoy gameschooling.

1. Learning becomes more engaging experience. We get to travel through time and space, meet great inventors and create silly worlds, become engineers, scientists, artists or magicians.
2. I’m quick to point out that my 5 year old does not handle losing well, but let’s face it: losing sucks, regardless of the player’s age. Friendly (-ish) game night is perfect to practice teamwork and good sportsmanship for kids of all ages.
3. Kids enjoy challenge and find internal motivation to reach the goal. I recently noticed that when I try to encourage the boys by saying “Come on, this is easy!” they bristle up and refuse the work. However, when they sit down to play a videogame, I hear excited and proud shouts “That was hard, but I DID IT!!!” To my surprise, this tactic worked even for least preferred tasks (handwriting practice.)
4. We put emphasis on problem solving in our house.  I don’t want to be a referee, judge and jury 24/7, so we encourage kids to work out problems and solve conflicts on their own.  Games are one of the resources that teaches them problem solving strategies.
5. While playing games, kids can improve their fluency, especially math and reading games.

While games are great, we encountered a few difficulties along the way:

• It can be hard to accurately assess the progress.
• Sometimes goals of games do not align with learning goals. ABC Mouse was a giant flop in this house! All kids cared about was collecting the tickets. They just randomly clicked on the screen, guessing answers.
• Family game night with kids  can be…challenging. Different personalities, ages and abilities don’t always mix well.

These tips and strategies emerged when Peculiar Kid #2 was born. They continue to change and evolve as family dynamic change.

1. House rules rule!
2. Whenever a new game appears at our house, kids ask me if the can “free play” it for a while:  familiarize themselves with the pieces, make guesses on what the rules may be, create elaborate backstories (I jot them down in the journal, Brave Writer style. Win/win!) This approach reduces anxiety and uncertainty that often affects perfectionistic, emotionally intense 2e kids.
3. “These rules are so clear and make so much sense. After reading them, I’m 100% confident I can play this game on the first try,” said no one ever. Watch play throughs!  Dice Tower and Table Top were game changers (pun intended) for our family.
4. I like to pair games with books, tea parties or subjects we currently study. Ancient Egypt with Pyramix, Nikola Tesla’s life and work with Circuit Maze, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang read aloud with Snakes and Ladders.
5. Create your own games!
6. Playing board games (or attempting any schoolwork) with toddlers around is hard! Families with older children can play after the littles go to bed. Letting our 2 year old in on the fun works best for our family.  While we play, he makes dice towers,  “keeps the score,” sorts cards or eats all the snacks.
7. Let some games be just for fun, with no learning agenda! As a homeschooling mom, I tend to turn everything into a learning opportunity. Real life example that may or may not have happened last week. “Oh, the tire pressure sensor is on! You know why? Let’s have a mini unit right here on the spot! Temperature dropped 30°F overnight, leading to decrease in tire pressure by about 3 psi (1 psi for every 10° drop. Insert long winded math discussion here,) that change triggered the sensor. Honey, are you awake?” What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, don’t turn everything you do into school project. Have some fun!!!

What are your tips to add more sneaky fun learning into your days? How do you keep family game night FUN for all participants? What challenges do you have and how donyou overcome them? What are your favorite games? Why am I asking so many questions?

# Water beads: fun experiments, unexpected results

Days like today is the reason I don’t plan more than 1 week ahead in our homeschool.

I prepared a really fun inertia unit. Water beads (“They’re called hydrophilic polymers, Mom,” my 4 year old scientist corrected me) were meant to keep the kids busy while  I set up the experiments and gathered my thoughts.  Guess what we did all day? Hint: not inertia experiments.

1. We hydrated/dehydrated the polymers

2. “What will happen if we freeze the beads?” We wondered.

Hypothesis 1: as beads freeze, water will expand and shred the polymers.

Hypothesis 2: nothing. Nothing will happen, polymer beads will keep their shape.

The results surprised us! While both hypotheses were right, some beads reacted in unexpected way. They…jumped out of their ice suits and returned to their original size, leaving a bead of ice behind!

3. A handful of beads + 1 balloon = great stress ball! It helped us with the school work for the rest of the day.

4. Shaving cream and hydrophilic polymer mix created a fun sensory bin. The entire family enjoyed it!

5. I tried to show my kids a magic trick. Apparently there is no such things as magic, only illusion and science, so I was forced to reveal my secrets:

No, I did not make the beads disappear, clear polymer beads have the same index of refraction (1.333) as water, so the light treats water and the clear polymer as the same substance. Not magic. Bummer.

7. Well, when we froze water beads, they did something weird…any guesses what we did next?

I vividly remember my mom asking me if I knew how to tell whether the frying pan is hot enough too cook. “You touch it?” I guessed. Dude, no. Don’t.  You add a drop of water to a hot frying pan. The droplet will seemingly dance over the surface (the side that comes to a contract with hot pan vaporizes so quickly that they float around on a cushion of vapor.) Without knowing it, she introduced me to Leidenfrost effect.

How does it relate to the superabsorbent polymers and the video below?

This week we pan fried hydrophilic polymer beads. Turn up the sound!!!!

Mommy, WHY ARE THEY SCREAMING?

Because the released vapor interacts with the squishy sphere to create the bouncing and the high pitch sound.

The spheres act like engines, harvesting surface energy. All of the engine’s part are included in 1 squishy sphere!

Whoa!

Soft engine concept can be used in robotics.

More information: Scott R. Waitukaitus, Antal Zuiderwijk, Anton Souslov, Corentin Coulais, Martin van Hecke, Coupling the Leidenfrost Effect and Elastic Deformations to Power Sustained Bouncing, Nature Physics <——I need dis book. Now!

Inertia can wait  another day. Or two. Today we will play with superabsorbent polymers and make messes!

# Teaching backwards: why we don’t focus on the basics.

While researching different curriculum options for our homeschool, I was deliberating between two alternatives: stick with the basics or follow our interests .

“Back to basics!” “Everything is built on the basics!” These cliche messages were repeated often enough throughout my life, they became thoroughly ingrained in my mind.  In traditional education reading, writing and arithmetic are considered the basics. They are the bare minimum needed to function in today’s society. This is where we decided to start.

January, 5th 2017 @ 8:00 am. Sharp pencils, unmarked workbooks, shiny new maps; sensory box, pompoms and measuring spoons for the toddler. I got this!

January, 5th 2017 @8:05 am. Kindergartner is working hard tracing letters; toddler is happily digging in the sensory box; mommy is drinking still warm coffee while simultaneously patting herself on the back. I got this.

January, 5th 2017 @8:12 am. Bright morning light shining through the window bounces off the reflector’s surface  (why is it even on the table?) and captures 110% of my 4 year old’s attention.  It leads to the discussion of light properties, electromagnetism and time travel (Einstein’s theory of relativity, not wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey…stuff.) Toddler is happily emptying the contents if his sensory box onto the floor. I don’t got this.

And just like that,  12 minutes into our homeschooling journey,  we had to change our entire approach to home education .

It has been nine months since we shifted the main focus from basics to interest led learning. When asked about out homeschooling style, I often compare it to falling down the rabbit hole: we find a fascinating subject and explore it, we often go off in a tangent and take unexpected turns. Why not, who doesn’t like plot twists?

Math

What was  included in box curriculum

Math-U-See

Math is universal! It is beautiful.  It is fun.  It grows from common sense. Everybody loves math! Right?

Right?

What do you mean “No?!?!?” Don’t break my heart! But why?

In traditional education, the teacher introduces numbers to the students.  He then shows them how to add, subtract, multiply, divide. Each new concept is followed by dozens of repetitive problems and a test.  Drills. Memorization. Confusion. Boredom.

What we do instead

Beast Academy 2A

Life of Fred

Khan academy

Games

Basic principles of math are simple. Some calculations may be tedious, but math makes sense.

Preschoolers easily grasp ideas behind fractions,  number lines, geometry and algebra elements. I see 3, 4 and 5 year olds exploring difficult concepts and taking on the challenges. Silly kids, they weren’t told yet that they hate math!

Kids love the challenge of games. Why not use this attribute and incorporate games into learning? Instead of using endless worksheets and tests, give them problems to solve.

According to Piaget’s theory, “children acquire mathematical knowledge…by constructing them from the inside, in interaction with the environment,” in other words, given the chance to explore and experiment, they will use their knowledge to  invent new ways to find solutions, explore patterns and make connections.  Let’s make math fun!

Writing

What was included in the box curriculum

Spelling You See

What we do instead

Dictations, copy work, reversed dictations, poetry, word games, narration, using writing in every day lives.

Most children’s fingers aren’t developed enough to hold a pencil and write until the age of five, but most parents would agree that kids have PLENTY to say before. I tried to make a video of my son telling me a story; about twenty minutes into the most imaginative tale, my phone’s battery died. He kept talking for another 20 minutes. Shocker!

Young minds are capable of creating amazing worlds, but lack of transcription skills can lead to frustration,  and that in turn can lead to a writer’s block.

Brave Writer program incorporates copy work, dictations, reading aloud, storytelling, art appreciation, nature study, poetry tea time, word play, music exploration, movie review and discussions, recitation and narration. It is perfect for a reluctant writer. I’ve been told by my five year old that he doesn’t need to learn how to write: we could just use voice-to-text technology or hire a scribe to do the writing. Clever, kid! You want a scribe? You got it!

I love writing down his stories, and he gets reassurance that what he has to say is valuable and worth being written down. Sometimes I have to resist the temptation to correct the grammar and truly LISTEN to the content. Talking is brave, being interrupted and corrected all the time is discouraging. Even as an adult, when somebody unkindly points out my mistakes, I shut down and stop talking. Most of us are tactful enough with the adult, to either ignore the mistakes or point them out kindly, in private. Why does that tact disappear with our children?

Foreign language

What was included in the box curriculum

Elementary curriculum box did not have an option to add foreign language.

In his book How Children Learn, John Holt describes what would happen if we tried to teach children to speak. “First, some committee of experts would analyze speech and break it into a number of separate “speech skills.” We would probably say that, since speech is made up of sounds, a child must be taught to make all the sounds of his language before he can be taught to speak the language itself…Perhaps, in order not to “confuse” the child…we would not let the child hear much ordinary speech, but would only expose him to the sounds we were trying to teach.”

I spent 10 years learning French in a classroom setting from amazing teachers: grammar worksheets, memorizing vocabulary words and dialogues, drills. I was so excited when a foreign exchange student from France visited our college class. Two hours with that student in class was eye opening: while we could understand each other,  a lot was lost in translation.  The conversation didn’t flow.  In that moment I realized how far I was from speaking French fluently. What was missing?

What we try to do instead
In contrast, I learned English backwards simply by being in a language rich environment. Surrounded by books, radio, TV with subtitles, newspapers, magazines, and native speakers. I was forced to figure out how to communicate with the world around me.

In our homeschool we use songs, stories and read aloud in foreign language. We discuss similarities and differences between our native language and the one we are studying.

Free play

It’s our favorite subject! It’s THE most important subject! Learning that happens during unstructured unscripted free play is invaluable. I love watching my kids’ spontaneous improvisations: odds and ends from my husband’s wood shop, random treasures they find in their toy boxes and kitchen cabinets becomes see-saws, ramps, balance beams, bridges, catapults, slides. In less than an hour they explore math, physics, engineering, team building, physical education, effective communication, decision making, risk taking, self-regulation and so much more.

Preschoolers in our co-op also enjoy engineering challenges and loose parts play.  With a handful of open ended prompts, they learn vital skills. Cooperative games and messy sensory play let them explore the world through experiences using  their senses such as, taste, touch, smell, sight and sound whilst having fun. Their creativity is mind blowing and we learn so much from them!

It is very easy to underestimate the intellectual capacity of children, but they have the ability to learn complicated concepts even if they’re still struggling with the basics. In the words of the famous Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” Students (that includes grown ups too!) in the School For Peculiar Children will continue with interest led learning and continue to enjoy our crazy and fun adventure.

*Yes, I’m watching Magic School Bus Rides Again as I work on this post. I mean the kids, the kids are watching it!*

# ​STEAM from trash! DIY Hovercraft.

Most of the experiments performed at the School For Peculiar Children are either free or very low cost. We try to use recyclable materials, odds and ends from my husband’s wood shop, clever tricks and substitutions. We are incorporating things most of us already have in our homes.   This air cushion vehicle (ACV) demonstration is no exception. Let’s  explore the science behind ACV, also known as a hovercraft.

Hovercraft glides over the flat surface on a cushion of air.  Because of the thin layer of air between the surface and the hovercraft, it doesn’t matter whether it is over (flat) solid ground or water: it is amphibious.

^This will never be not funny (double negative, I know. It’s here for comedic effect.) Pat Venditte is ambidextrous, not amphibious.  Hovercraft is amphibious: suited for both land and water.

For this experiment you will need:

– CD or a paper plate

– pop-up bottle top

– baloon

– glue

We used a mystery CD (paper or plastic plate can be used instead), sports drink pop-up top,  hot glue (epoxy or super glue work just as good) and a baloon bought for a birthday 3 years ago.

Step 1. Glue the pop-up bottle top to the CD (if you’re using a paper plate, cut a 1″ diameter hole in the middle of the plate.)

Step 2. Make sure that the pop-up top is in closed position. Blow up a balloon and place it over the closed pop-up top.

Step 3. Open the pop-up valve. The air from the balloon will rush down throught the hole in the CD and create a cushion of air.

Play around with the size of the balloon (will it go faster or slower if we increase the size of the baloon?), surfaces (wood floor? Carpet? Countertop? Does it make difference?)

Our entire family enjoyed this demonstration and I’m contemplating building a bigger hovercraft. Should we do it?

# School day

Our days rarely go as planned, but we try to follow a blueprint. Sort of.

Every day routine includes read alouds, board games, more books, 1 topic we’re obsessed with at the moment (that usually spirals into deep rabbit holes,) at least 1 writing activity and taking care of the house.

Once a week we try to do one community service or hospitality project, one or two field trips and one outdoor excursion.

Popular morning baskets aren’t a good fit in our family: we only have a few hours before overexcitabilities kick in and attention span is gone. Instead, we read a few books or magazines during breakfast.

1. Today  Breakfast and Books (modeled after My Little Poppies’ Coffee and Books) turned into Books in Bed. We snuggled up together in little guy’s room and read whatever kids wanted.

2. September is the most popular birth month in America, and it’s definitely true for our family. Big kid made birthday cards for everyone, he practiced handwriting, spelling, vocabulary ,  tracing and drawing.

3. When your kid is as literal as Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy,) math is fun.

Caffeine didn’t kick in yet, and this is the best my scrambled brain could come up with on the spot. “Yuri has 2 red books. His friend has 4 blue books. How many books do the boys have?”

The answer:

We are juggling Math-U-See, Life of Fred and Khan academy math and anxiously checking the mailbox for brand new Beast Academy 2A. Squeeee!

4. After years of refusing to learn Russian, my kids are finally warming up to it. First lesson  went better than expected!

We counted letters in Russian and English alphabets, found letters that look and sound the same, read Репка (The Turnip) and learned a new song, Мишка Косолапый (Clumsy Bear.)

5. “I’m so tired, I need to relax a little with Rush Hour!”  And Jenga, and Shape by Shape, and…a screwdriver?

Schoolwork is done! And now it js our favorite time, laundry time! Cleaning time! Cooking time!
I would love to hear what your typical homeschooling day looks like!

# Gluten free dye free playdough recipe for 50 students? Challenge accepted

Co-op science class studied structure of the Earth. Kids  started by creating an inner core from playdough, then they added outer core, mantle and crust.  All we need for the activity is playdough, 4-5  different colors. Sounds easy enough, right?

Plot twist: playdough should be gluten free and dye free.

After trying several recipes, I finally found one that’s super easy and makes right texture playdough.

2 cups of rice flour

1 cup salt

4 tbsp cream of tartar

1.5 cup if boiling water

2 tbsp coconut oil

*natural food dyes – optional.

Mix all the dry ingredients,  add natural food dyes, then boiling water.  Mix thoroughly. If playdough is still crumble, add more water 1-2 tbsp at a time.

*Extra step. Add too much water (2+cups instead of 1.5 that recipe calls for) and to go to the store to buy more rice flour*