EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JEWELS WITH BUTTONS

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Here’s a little activity to make your children more attractive to the gods!

It is believed that in ancient Egypt both men and women of all classes wore as much jewelry as they could afford. This was to show their wealth and status, but also because they thought it would make them more attractive to the gods.

We’re not quite up for working with real gold in our family (as the upper classes wore) or even copper (as the Middle classes wore) and while we probably could try our hand at a little bead work (as the lower classes wore) we thought we’d shake up history and make some historically inaccurate collars from paper plates, buttons, sequins and glue.

If you are keen to read a very brief overview of Egyptian fashion before you start, I suggest this link.

Then grab your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Any items to be ‘gemstones and jewels’ (Ie buttons, sequins, stickers, glitter, macaroni etc)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • (Paints, pencils etc optional)

Cut a ‘neck sized’ off-center hole in your paper plate, with a cut across at the narrowest part. (This cut is the back of the collar, and will allow the collar to open and fit over the head). Test that it fits the young royals neck before you proceed. (This way they will better understand the finished result before they start decorating.)

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Sit the plate upside down on the work bench and cover in glue.

Decorate as you wish and allow to dry. Wear your creation with pride.

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Of course each child approached this differently; Evie was all about the pattern, Elka was totally into buttons etc. this variation is healthy, and also a good reason to leave any exact ‘how to’ demonstrations out of the picture to avoid mimicry.

You can expand your collection of jewels by creating an arm cuff (toilet tube is perfect) or even a cardboard headdress.

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With all these supplies on hand some of your tots might not be keen to make jewelry, and if they are inspired to create something else than that is even better- let them go forth and create! (Roman had many plans of what he could make, and in the end he chose to create an electronic button disk instead of an Egyptian collar – love the way this guy thinks!)

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PRINTABLE FOR A DIY EGG STORY!

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We were lucky enough to find a fresh chicken egg in our friends new chicken coup, but chickens aren’t the only ones who lay eggs.

First lets talk a little about the magic of finding an egg: Even as an adult, I am swept with joy if I find a little eggshell left behind by a wren. The whole prep class was mesmerised when a girl bought in a sharks egg that she had found. And, there is nothing quite like collecting chicken eggs. The other day we were introduced to our friends new pets: 3 stunning young chickens who (to our collective delight) had produced an egg! The girls took turns nursing the treasured egg all the way home, and tomorrow morning it will be used to make a small batch of our traditional celebration food: pancakes.

Birds eggs in themselves are a structural marvel. Calcium formed so perfectly that it is strong from the outside (particularly to vertical pressure) and weak from the inside (so that the small and weak new creature can break free with relative ease). Not only this, but all eggs contain everything the little creature needs to develop (regardless of what species – platypus, lizard, frog, shark or chicken!) they are amazing, and a marvel well worth sharing with your young ones.

This is a great free printable for you to create your own ‘Brown Bear’ inspired story. (And if your young literary nuts are anything like mine, you can probably recite ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ backwards, while sleeping – yes, that book it well worn!)

Each page is designed by Mrs Wills Kindergarten so your tot can depict their own creature that starts life as an egg. Obviously the template isn’t necessarily the exact shape of a frogs egg, or a turtle egg etc. but the joy of making a little book  with the freedom to decide what will be included (rather than proscribed by the egg shape) makes up for this in my opinion.

If you are up for a full afternoon of craft you may like to layer tissue paper to create your works (Eric Carl style) or alternatively simply hand over a biro and your little artist can complete the book at the kitchen table while dinner is on!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: CARVE YOUR NAME IN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS

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How could you look at Egypt without touching on the captivating subject of hieroglyphics!

While it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that hieroglyphics were the first alphabet, they certainly predate our alphabet and it is a great introduction to early literacy (early literacy from a historical sense, rather than a personal sense, great to add to your timeline!)

We (unintentionally) took a backwards approach to learning about early language: First we used the iPhone to find this great website that simplifies the complex system of writing to an easily palatable kid friendly format. We then noted on paper the children’s names (using the website as our guide.) Then we took our paper and transformed it into a more fun (and historically accurate) medium; the clay tablet.

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Notice this backwards approach to the evolution of the presentation of information? (iPhone, paper, clay tablet – sure we miss a few stages in between, but we’re just after the basics here!)

Once I finally realised that we had made this organic ‘de-evolution’ we put a bit more focus on this aspect. Imagining a world without touch screens and Google – let alone a world before paper and common writing – is a big concept for anyone. (Talking about how there wasn’t always an alphabet seemed almost treason to my kids!)

Here’s a super simplified history of writing that you can use to guide your conversation with your young writers (for more details, look up the answers together – it’s always good to model the finding of information.)

From a very general sense it is widely believed that improved farming techniques (and thus an increase in yield) allowed early communities to trade goods with one another, and as trade increased there was a need for improved notation of the transactions (so, in a sense, very early writing was basically accounting!) As trade increased so too did the written ‘vocabulary’ until eventually ‘writing’ was used for important things (outside of accounting!) like scriptures and such.

The lack of paper and pen in the final stage of this activity (when the kids transferred their name to clay tablets) was particularly good at drawing attention to how the written language evolved from pictorial representations (that are quite difficult to make as marks in clay with limited tools) to a simplified form that eventually evolved into an alphabetic system that we use today.

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Now, I’d love to tell you that we are looking at the industrial revolution (and thus how the printing press brought written language to the masses) shortly, but to be honest my planning hasn’t got quite that far ahead yet!

For now check out the website, write down your tots name together in hieroglyphics. If you’re up for a bit of clay action then simply role yourself a clay tablet and get mark making (sun dry your clay for the authentic Egyptian touch, or cook it in the oven if the current Tasmanian weather won’t allow the sun to reach your clay!)

Come on, you know you want to get those little fingers into some clay!

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E – IS FOR EGYPT, LEGO PYRAMIDS AND DEATH

While modern day Egypt is a great topic, this time we’re just taking our Big History concepts and looking specifically at Egypt at the time that the great pyramids were built.

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The physical pyramids themselves are a great engineering tale, it’s a big topic to add to your timeline, and the cultural significance is a brilliant introduction to the concept of death rituals. (Kids are so fascinated by the idea of kings, pyramids and mummification that the idea of a lost life seems interesting, rather than tragic.)

At this grim point I’d like to note that while death might not be on too many early childhood agendas, I approach this as the mother of a child who (in the process of simply removing spent sunflowers from the garden) realised that everyone she loves will one day die, and then proceeded to sob for hours as it sunk in – one grim reality at a time.

It started with a throw away comment that we were removing the sunflowers because they ‘weren’t alive or growing anymore’… And after a series of small logical conclusions eventually brought her to the realisation that she too would die… and so would her whole family…. and all her friends… This was not the intended outcome of our gardening session, but it hit her like a brick wall.

This was one of the most heart breaking things I have ever had to help my children grapple with, and it seems to have stayed with her. As a ‘reward’ after her 4yo needles she asked to visit a graveyard so she could see where the first settlers were berried (yes, we’d visited the invasion room at TMAG) and even a couple of years on (when she had to write a wish on a lantern to release) her wish was ‘not to die before my birthday!’ (Said with a casual smile as though it’s something every 5yo thinks about!)  … Now I swear that I do not direct her anywhere near the topic of her own mortality, or anyone’s for that matter, but it is evidently something that is important to her!

(Releasing the wish lantern to live to her next birthday.)

While I am absolutely positive that not all children take death so seriously, I feel it’s something we need to build a healthy acceptance of (in our family at least, and dare I say it – death is probably a healthy thing for most westerners to feel a little more comfortable about!)

So, let’s get building one of histories biggest monuments to death out of lego! Woo hoo!

(Check this link for a very brief refresher on pyramids so you can add some facts to your Lego game – we were also given the Egypt book from the ‘why is’ series by a dear friend, and that’s lots of fun if you have access to it at the library/Amazon etc)

Ok. The mission is simple. Get your lego and start building a pyramid. For older kids, let them at it and watch them work it out themselves. (For younger kids they may need some assistance to understand how to overlap bricks etc for strength.)

Unlike the Egyptians, you may wish to start at the top of your structure (with a square block) then build out from there with the more common rectangle blocks. As long as you step out each level, this is all you need to repeat until you reach your desired size.

You may wish to leave an entrance at the base (remember to set some soldiers near your entrance to watch out for tomb raiders – that’s what the Egyptians did to protect their pyramids!)

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As you build talk about how easy it is as you click on the uniformly shaped blocks. Ask your little engineers to think about what the life sized pyramids are built out of… how would they personally do it if they were alive in an Egyptian build? (Listen to their answer in full, then remind them of a few obstacles that might come up in their story – ie there were no trucks, the stones were all different shapes, they were a long way from the building site etc – and see how they solve the problem.)

You may also like to set your lego man in his tomb with all his worldly treasure (that he wants to take with him to the next life.) Perhaps spare bringing the slaves, pets etc (unless you really want to end up talking about death and sacrifice with your tot!) We chose a treasure chest and decorated his tomb.

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Next time you are at a rock beach (or any other place with good supply of rocks) challenge your little builders to make a pyramid out of natural materials. See how they interact with the stones after practicing on the lego (do they remember to overlap for strength etc?) and remember to join in as part of their team – it’s quite fun and a challenge at any age!

I hope to post shortly a little more about mummification (still deciding on the best approach for this one!) and we’ll get some tomb art underway shortly.

Enjoy building your mini monument to death (I mean; ‘fun lego pyramid’) and we’ll see you soon for some more grim adventures soon!

AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES (how are you programming your child?)

Programming is strong language to use when referring to a child, (and as the parent of 2 independent thinkers, I have no illusion that children are robots who will blindly do as you instruct!) but with the ever expanding research into how our brains develop, there is a good deal of ‘programming’ that we do of our children every day, weather we are thinking about it or not. From the moment they are born, what we say, what we do, and what we encourage is shaping our children’s physical brain, and thus determining (in many ways) the way our children respond in adult life.

Of course I fully support the notion that the brain is plastic into adulthood, so I’m not saying childhood experiences fully shape the mind and are irreversible (indeed quite the contrary!) but how our children develop is largely shaped by the experiences that we choose for them.

At 4 and 5 my children are somewhat late starters in the sea of classes. With classes in everything from engineering to dance, lego to piano, chess to soccer, languages to horses riding – the choice is immense, and most of their peers attend at least 2 formal classes each week. To date my own children have had no ongoing formal lessons.

My children have always attended Launch into Learning, or Rock and Rhyme, or Playgroup – and these things have been truly beneficial for my children as they developed. (I might touch on this in another upcoming post). However outside of these ‘parent and child’ preschool activities (most of which encourage free play) we have never partaken in the formal ‘out of school classes’.

This year however my children are ready. They are not too tired at the end of the day, they have plenty of time for free play (something that I believe is essential for childhood development) and they are looking to learn more; they are seeking a degree of formality.

That leaves me with the question of many parents: What should my own children be taught? With so much evidence that experience actively shapes the physical structure (and function) of these young developing minds, the decision has far more impact on their adult lives than just weather they can kick a ball or play a tune.

Of course a common solution is to let the child choose (though parents are often highly involved in selecting what choices their child is offered). Or to partly let the child choose (ie ‘you can choose what ever you like, but you must do swimming as its a matter of safety’.) Another is to go with what the child shows skills for (ie a natural climber might enrol in rock climbing or gymnastics) or in contrast what the child could improve on (ie enrolling a shy child in dance or drama to improve their ability to present.)

Ideally I would like to have my children experiences a range of activities that awaken a variety of different parts of their brain, and indeed to encourage the values I believe to to important. This seems ambitious (especially while keeping in mind that I don’t want to overload my children as I fully support the notion that a child needs free time to develop fully!)

Making concise choices about what to suggest to my own children presents a set of problems that every parent faces… What do we REALY want for our children?

In this presentation by Jennifer Senior she talks of how most parents would agree (regardless of beliefs or parenting style) that the primary thing they want for their children is ‘to be happy’. Senior suggests that the idea of ‘happiness’ is somewhat of an unreasonable expectation of any child (or parent for that matter!) – this may seem like a rather pessimistic statement, but in contrast I actually found it to be quite optimistic in tone and well supported by various studies – the presentation is well worth a watch, I can’t say it better than she does!

After having wished for happiness for so long I found this left me in a difficult position of needing to actively re-define my ambitions for my children as the values that I thought could be taught (indeed with the hope that these may in turn result in happiness as a byproduct of their endeavours, but not happiness as a primary goal.)

What do you value? What abilities or traits do you want to give to the next generation?

For me I would like for my children to have the confidence and self worth that comes from a sense of accomplishment. I would like them to extend their physical skills, as well as their analytical and creative thinking. I would like to encourage compassion for (and a genuine love and appreciation for) other people, animals and the environment they are a part of (man made and natural.)

In order to gain these skills they need to work as part of a team, understand their place in history, spend time with animals, in the environment… The list goes on.

There are many out of school activities that support these things, however the difficulty comes when you need to narrow down a selection to something your children will adore, and will also support the values you believe to be important… all while not overloading the child or sacrificing free play!

My own solution is to address some of the goals through less formal activities (ie camping can be largely child directed, and can address goals of environment and physicality as well as engaging a good deal of creative and analytical thinking – map reading, building, investigating etc).

For more formal lessons we have chosen to space these out over a month rather than have every lesson every week. (Ie music every second week, horse riding once a month and so on). This gives our kids more opportunity to experience a variety of activities without overloading each week to accommodate all the classes. This system gives my children the chance to experience a diverse range of skills (to see where their heart lies) and also ensures that their learning is still largely dictated by them (ie in the extended time between lessons it is their own initiative that drives their learning in each area.)

As my children grow I am sure they will self select the areas that they want to continue on a more regular basis, and the other aspects will fall away to a memory of something they once did. This is our solution to out of school activities. In a generations time we will see if it worked!

WORKSHEETS: LIMITING CREATIVITY OR PROVIDING A FRAMEWORK?

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There are lots of ways to learn your  letters, and different things will work for different children.

My oldest child knew all the shapes and the names of the letters long before she had a grasp of their use or sound. My youngest is the opposite and can sound out any word and tell you the letters, but can not recognise (or form) many letters. Each child benefits from different learning methods (and indeed enjoys different styles of learning.)

In our house, with learners on different ends of the letter learning spectrum, we are going for a bit of an immersion style of learning environment focusing on each letter (yes, learning about P means we had pumpkin soup for dinner, then pomegranate for desert!) and this is wonderful to encourage the recognition of sounds (something Anica is learning fast and seems to come very naturally to Elkas learning style).

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This is fun, but doesn’t teach the formation of the letters (in Anica’s case to improve her hand writing, and in Elkas case to recognise and form the letters). For this we have a series of worksheets (enjoyed most by Anica as it appeals to her learning style, but perhaps of the most obvious benefit to Elka as she links the sounds she knows with the formation of letters.)

Of course worksheets are not the only solution. We’ve talked before about ‘finding the o‘ or ‘sparkle writing‘, forming letters on the screen… and indeed we write letters on each other’s skin, in the sand, have them on the fridge, in the bath and so on… But for Elka in particular it seems that these worksheets have the most direct improvement on her ability to recognise letters.

Perhaps it is the repetition of the letters, or the novelty of the formal learning style, but I wanted to test what seems to be a very effective way for my children to supplement their learning: Half way through our work on P (before we had done the worksheet, but had done a number of other activities), I asked Elka a series of questions about the letters we’d been working on. The only letter that she knew but still couldn’t form was P (having already completed the other letters). Immediately after the worksheets (and then again a couple of days after) she could then form the letter P to complete her knowledge of the letter (adding to what sound it makes, what words it starts etc – i.e. this image below is Elka realising that ‘pen’ starts with ‘P’ and she was writing P’s with a Pen – hilarious!) While printable worksheets are not always appropriate, as a small dose for my family they are working very well.

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If you are new to the site and want to re-visit the post where I detail all the free printable that we are working from then head back to: Setting up for simple success.

CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY PARTY MUM (AND WHY WE CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE BIG).

When I first had my children I was among those who openly looked down on those talked about ‘party mums’, believing that the party was more about their own status as a mother rather than the child. I would joke about people who hired an entertainer and a pony for a first birthday etc!

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But as my children have grown I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that most people probably see me as one of ‘those party mums’ and to embrace the role without feeling shame. I have grown to love kids parties more than is normal.

Ridiculously, we start preparing for parties about a month in advance, my kids and I work on costumes, decorations, games, gifts, invites. It is a whole family affair and the sibling of the birthday girl is just as active in party-mania as their sister. We make most of it ourselves and our life just becomes a little world of whatever theme they have chosen. We’ve had Bugs, Dinosaurs, Monsters, Princesses, Fairies, Circus, Solar System, and Beatrice Potter Parties. This year Elka wanted Under the Sea, so we made jelly fish, and mermaids, and sea stars, and pirate ships, and transformed our lounge room into an ocean with shiny blue streamers and LOTS of sticky tape.

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We collected shells so our friends could make mobiles and necklaces, we gathered driftwood, we sewed (and glued) fish for print making kites. I honestly think that the preparations are probably enjoyed more than the actual party itself. But what is this doing to my children?

Sure, they are learning during the preparation process (I don’t mean about how to host a party, but about their chosen theme and a range of practical hands on maker skills). But what is it doing to their sense of celebration, and indeed their expectations of what birthdays are about?

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When I first had children and criticised those vain party mums for spoiling their children and making the party into an event rather than a celebration of the child’s birthday – I used to think that it was better for the child to have a quitter birthday that was more focused on them.

Now I see my children planning a party for their friends. Their birthday is, in many ways, about their friends more than it is about them. They think about what games their friends will like to play, they make things for their friends to take home. They actually think very little about what they will receive for their birthday, because they are so excited about the party we are throwing together. I have come to think that this is healthy for my children. I wish I could install the same philosophy about christmas (but this involves a larger cultural shift that I have less power over!)

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I might be growing children who are disappointed later in life that celebrations are not as overt as they were in their childhood, but instead I hope that they continue this playful giving nature around their own life celebrations. That they are able to share their future milestones with their friends, with out feeling self-conscious about celebrating their own life.

PADDOCK TO PLATE WITH KIDS.

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We are lucky enough to know a lovely couple who invited us to their small home farm for a day of fruit picking and pie making. If you don’t happen to know such a lovely couple with a farm, then there is apple and pear picking at Sorrel Fruit Farm (as we did earlier this year for strawberries) or another PYO farm will do just fine!

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We pilled in the car and headed 40min South. It has been a year since we last visited and but during our drive the girls recalled so much of our last visit (explaining it to us as though we hadn’t been there!) and looked forward to re-living each moment of it this year.
When we arrived we were greeted by smiles and fury friends who’s happy tail wags could brighten any day. My young ladies instantly wanted to start the harvest so we headed first for the blackberries, then the pears and apples, then the tomatoes.

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It is wonderful for the kids to see how much this productive garden progresses each year, and indeed how much food it yields. (With our own vegetable garden still being constructed, it is the perfect opportunity to see how much we can grow and eat ourselves – indeed it wasn’t that long ago in our big history that home grown was the norm!)
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With old varieties of apples, and tomatoes fresh of the vine the taste is so different to the supermarket varieties, and for every spare patch of soil the kids want to know what will be planted there next.
Next it was off to the kitchen to make some pies (and indeed, we even tried our hand at ice-cream making to accompany our pies, though we have not quite mastered this one yet!) Each made (and then ate!) their own special pie (and of course the adults had a good share too!)


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On our way home we stopped by to feed the fallen apples to the calves that the girls had chosen names for last year; Haha, Hoho and Alice are all growing into beautiful bovine. The girls asked after the calf they fed on their first visit (pictured below) and we explained that he had been sold on to make way for the new calves, and that the land could only sustain a certain number of cows healthily. Introducing farming practices in this gentle environment is the ideal way for children to grasp the early concepts needed to understand some of the larger environment issues that face our growing population who loves so much farm intensely so we can have steak for dinner every night!
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After a busy weekend, this was the perfect way for the entire family to re-set for the week ahead. Thank you Jane and David for your wonderful hospitality!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TURN A STORY INTO ART.

Peter Pan is a delightfully whimsical tale (and for those adults who want a little whimsy in their life “Finding Neverland” is a movie worth watching). My children somehow do not scare when they fall asleep listening to tales of pirates and man eating crocodiles, and I hope that the portrayal of female characters is not effecting their subconscious. For a bonus activity here is a little pirate adventure.

FullSizeRenderSimply read your favourite pirate story (or in our case we have an audio book of petter pan that the children love) and give them a large piece of paper with the instructions to create a pirate ship. Our pirate ship contained some dialogue from the story, and a second ship was needed in order to continue the narrative.

The activity did not take any adult preparation (other than setting up a story and getting the pens out) and yet was enjoyed immensely as a perfect quite time activity. Imaginations fired, little hands worked hard to craft their vision and at the end we had a beautifully imagined pirate vessel to hang on our wall as part of our ocean themed lounge room!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: OCEAN SCIENCE IN A BOTTLE.

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This is a brilliant little experiment (inspired by happy hooligans) is great to teach the layers of the ocean and also a little science regarding that good old oil vs water experiment! (Plus it’s really easy to make with household items, we put this one together on a whim before bed last night – too easy!)

If your young ones watch Octonauts then they might already have a bit more of an understanding (than most adults) of how the Ocean is made up of ‘layers’ or ‘zones’. (We’ve talked before about Screen time, and my own children do enjoy a bit of Octonauts thus have lots to say about the layers of the ocean!)

For a bit more detail (and a refresher for yourself) take a quick read through this short article that explains the layers as well as a few other great facts about the ocean that you might want to pull out this week!

You will need:

  • Cooking oil
  • Water coloured with blue dye
  • Clear bottle
  • (Safety goggles entirely optional, but after our explosive volcanic science 5yo Anica felt it would be necessary to wear them!)

Half fill your bottle with water, mix in colour, then fill the remaining with oil. Secure lid and mix.

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The oil and water will separate into a gradient and then into layers. While it is mixed is a great time to talk about the gradient of layers that exist in the ocean and how the different levels of light affects the creatures living there.

As the oil separates you will probably also want to talk about why that oil doesn’t mix with the water – for a short explanation of what is going on you can read this great article. The details of polarities of molecules is not something my young ones are ready for, but this can be simplified and the idea of density is something that is far easier to explain.

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It is also a great to mention that because oil and water don’t mix, sea creatures can use oily feathers or fur to stop the water getting to their skin. If you feel ready you could cover one of your little scientists hands in oil, leaving the other without oil. When both hands are submerged in the food coloured water one had will come out wet (and coloured) while the other will come out with the water (and colour) running off. This involves a little clean up, but is something that will really drive home the concept of animals using oil as a form of protection from water.

Note that these pictures do not do the movement of the oil on water justice, the wave like swirls as it was mixed were mesmerising, and if I didn’t have to get the kids to bed I’m sure they would have enjoyed watching it for hours!

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