HOW THE PHOTOS YOU SHARE ARE CHANGING YOUR CHILD

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Our identity is shaped by our memories, and our strongest memories are based on the stories we repeatedly tell (or are told!)

As someone recording, reporting and retelling your tots early memories you are actively shaping their sense of identity. Now that’s a big responsibility!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MUMMIFY AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN (APPLE)

Mummification is a great science and history lesson if you are willing to venture into the grim topic of death with your tots. Plus, it’s surprising less complicated than you might think:

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First pick an apple. We are lucky enough to have a very prolific crabapple tree, however if your apples are full sized you may wish to quarter the apple for a speedier result.

Once your apple is selected, carve a face in the skin (for ease we used toothpicks to carve ours).

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Grab the scales and measure some bicarbonate soda. (The exact amount you need will depend on how many apples you are covering, how large the apples are and how small the cups you are placing them are.) we used 140g of bicarbonate soda (as it was an easy number to multiply) and this covered 3 crabapples in coffee shot cups.

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Once you know how much bicarbonate soda you have, add twice as much cooking salt (the ratio of 1bicarb:2salt is a good one to work out with the kids – for our 140g of bicarbonate soda we added 280g of salt.)

Mix well. Then place your carved apple in the cup and cover in your powdery mixture.

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We also carved a second apple as a control for our experiment. This one will sit in another cup next to the covered apple (and will likely start to rot, while the salted apple dries out.)

Leave on the bench uncovered for about 10 days and then assess what has happened to each apple.

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You may wish to visit the real Egyptian mummy at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery while you wait for your apple to mummify. (While other little girls love the butterfly’s displayed in the central gallery, my girls stand next to them pointing at the casket in the dark and announce with pride that ‘there is a dead mummy in there!’ We have had a bit of explaining to do when other kids are with us…)

Here’s a brief history you may wish to share with your tots as you go through this process. (As always, if they have questions make a point of finding the more detailed information together, it is better to model the methods for finding out than to always know the answers!)

Back before the time of the pyramids it is believed that the Egyptians berried their dead in the hot desert sands and the bodies would dry out. At the time this was thought to be good because it was important to the Egyptians that the body remained intact… but there was a problem with wild animals eating the dead bodies (yuck!). It was decided to place the dead in cases so the animals couldn’t dig them up and eat them. This stopped the animals, but meant the body decayed in the box, rather than drying out. Because the Egyptians believed it was important to preserve the body after death they began to dry out the bodies – before burying them. Over time this developed into the sacred art of mummification. It was later that the Egyptians built huge pyramids to house the mummified bodies of their rulers.

A fun fact is that the Egyptians discarded the brain, during the mummification process, but kept the heart – thinking the heart was the organ responsible for thought, and like many religions today; only a pure heart would be allowed into the afterlife.

Now, as I have talked about before, (without my promoting) my kids think about far death more than I expect is average, and this is why I am happy to venture into this topic (to normalise something they already think about.) If you feel this kind of information is not beneficial for your young people, or that it will raise issues that they are not ready to process, then simply save it for another age. Otherwise, happy mummifying!

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: 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!

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!

BIG HISTORY CONCEPTS FOR LITTLE TOTS.

We’ve talked before about the importance of introducing a bit of ‘big history’ into early learning, and with everything from the dinosaurs to when mumma was born classed as ‘the olden days’ this project will help give a little perspective to our place in time.

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Our strategy for the year is to provide some understanding of big history concepts. We have created a time line on one wall and as we come across facts, figures, dates and details we add them to our timeline.

When we visited a cave (that began forming tens of millions of years ago) we added that to our timeline, giving the experience even more historical wonder than the simple beauty they saw. When we talked about how the waterwheel that was used to make flour in the ‘olden days’ we were able to add that to our time line and see that it is relatively recent in our history. When the kids asked when the first person was born (being a believer in evolution rather than creation) we added that to our timeline and could explain the idea of evolution far more simply when they could physically see the degree of time passing and the changes happening.

We have left some space for the future too, so they can imagine and dream about what might be in store in the near future. We hope to get to this after a few more history concepts are visited. (Over the coming months as we work through the letters we will look back at the first civilizations, dinosaurs, and so on). I am also excited to see a few more concepts overlapping (ie “this was happening at the same time the pyramids were being built” etc).

Now, if you plan to set up your own timeline you may wish to ‘cheat history’ a little as we did. Human history is so tiny in relation to many of the other big history concepts (such as the evolution of plants, Dinosaurs, mammals etc) that our entire human history is just a dot at the end of a 2m stretch of history (and that’s not even going back to the formation of planets etc!)

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To solve this problem of scale we ‘expanded’ our little dot of history into another timeline to allow for more detail in the human history. We used a coloured ribbon for each timeline (blue for the overall time line, with a dot of orange at the end. And orange for the human history.) This colour reference made it easer for the little historians to understand that the orange line represented that tiny little dot at the end of the blue line. We marked up our history over a 3m stretch of wall, simply using chalk directly on the wall to label the periods in time, and to add new concepts. When adding new ideas the little historians often create an image (painting, gluing, drawing etc) and we blue-tack that image to the wall at the relevant place on the timeline. This visual cue that they created is far easier for them to remember and explain to the other adults in their life than a simple text ‘entry’ on our timeline. By re-visiting the concepts as they explain their work they re-enforce their understanding of what they have learnt.

If you wish to create a similar timeline in your own learning space, we used this as a guide for our own timeline (you can calculate and measure this out to fit your space, but we were not so precise as the exact accuracy of the spacing is not so important – it’s a general concept that we are working towards at this stage so just sketching up an approximation is totally fine!)

World History:

  • 600 million years (before common time) – until the year 3,000(ish)
  • Separated at 100 million year intervals.

Human* History:

  • 10,000 years (before common time) – until the year 3,000.
  • Separated at 1000 year intervals

*Please note; the beginning of ‘human history’ that we expanded is determined at a point where there are some interesting things to add to the timeline (ie beginning of farming etc) rather than the beginning of Humans as a species. For practical scale reasons we found this to be more workable as it allowed a little more space between centuries once scaled to fit our space.

While my own little historians are not the ‘remember exact facts and figures’ type of learners, that is not our primary goal. Our aim with this timeline is to give the little historians a sense of their place in history. A sense of belonging in something much greater than themselves, an idea that things change gradually over time, and (as we enter further into human history) some understanding of how they can alter the future by their own actions.

A sense of belonging in time (as well as in space, community, culture etc) is vital for growing our young people into the adults we want in our world.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO: VISIT A WORKING WATER WHEEL AND MAKE ONE TO TAKE HOME.

We’d like to note that W is also for Whisky, and while taking children to a distillery is not usually seen as a positive parental moment – that’s exactly what we did and it was fantastic!

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Nant Distillery has one of the oldest functioning water wheels in Australia and is well worth the journey just for the sake of the kids – even if you don’t like Whisky yourself! (Nant is in Oatlands, about 1 hour road trip from Hobart). The entire mill (originally used to mill flour) has been fully restored as a working barley mill. The water wheel is made up of original parts and is easily seen from the outside (where the stream moves the wheel) and shop area (where you can see the cogs turning as result of the water moving the wheel). All this is free and visible even without a tour of the building. We were lucky enough to be spotted making our water wheels and the kids were given a full tour of the premises by the friendly staff before we sat down for hot chocolates… truly a wonderful day for the whole family!

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Now, while I whole heartedly recommend making a family day trip to Nant to check out the function of a real water wheel, here’s an activity that you can do in the bath if you don’t happen to make it to Oatlands today.

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First grab your supplies:

  • Moulding clay
  • Disposable spoons
  • A smooth stick

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Now to construction:

  • Form a ball of moulding clay around the middle of your stick (ensuring that it is fairly evenly weighted around the stick)
  • Insert the tops of the spoons (handles removed) into the moulding clay at even spaces (ensuring all are facing the same way when turned, as in the pictures – after a little trial and error this little engineer found that the 3 ‘paddles’ as shown here work better for us than the theory of many paddles.)

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Your water wheel is made! We first tested ours in some still water to see what would happen (nothing) then in some slow moving water (still nothing). We asked the kids what they think needed to happen to help move the wheel around. Faster water!

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When held in the faster water we were delighted to see it spin rapidly, turning the ‘shaft’ in our hands. (We loved the small waterfall flowing though the grounds for this, but a tap or watering can could provide the same result for your water wheel if you are doing this at home.)

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We talked about how that energy could be used. To make power was the favourite answer (after our talks about wind creating power).

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At this point we moved over to the real water wheel to see how the energy could be transferred to cogs to mill barley. (See the photo above for Anica’s reaction when it began to move by the power of the water in the stream!)

We were then also guided through the rest of the distillery to see how the barley is ground, and eventually made into whisky. The mechanisms are beautiful to admire, and our guide perfectly matched the informal nature required for a tour group as young as ours!

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A wonderful day out that was finished with a hot chocolate and gallivanting around the greens.

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Our trip home was the perfect time to chat about what we had seen, think about how much power water holds, what water is in different forms (ice, liquid, steam etc). We also touched a little on the gravity that makes water always run to the lowest point (gravity of planets being a recurring theme but a new and rather abstract concept for the kids when talked about previously in our space activities.) The car is always a nice place for questions, and after our activities the kids had plenty!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: BUILD A VOLCANO!

Volcanos in the Pacific – a tactile science experiment for kids of all ages.

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Wallis and Futuna are two small island groups in the South Pacific between Fiji and Samoa that were settled by French missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century. It is now classed as an “Overseas Territory” of France and there are 3 kings who assist in rule with a parliament of 20. While Wallis and Futuna are not necessarily a “country” in a technical term, they do have one very exciting element that can’t be missed in any child’s upbringing… Volcanos!
Futuna in particular is a volcanic island, and thus we can’t pass up the opportunity to bring out the baking soda and vinegar experiment that we all loved so much as children.

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Now, if you need a refresher on volcanoes (also linking up that big picture by making clear links to the work we’ve been doing around the sea and space) then check out this video (with or without your child, depending on how old they are and how much they watch).

The video will run you through how to create your volcano (instead of building one you may wish to do it at the beach with a sand volcano with bottle inside, though our little group enjoyed the measuring, mixing and making of the volcano just as much as the actual eruption.)

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When you conduct this experiment, you may wish to focus entirely on the power of volcano’s to form the land (such as the islands Wallis and Futuna) but if you have a budding chemist in your group, then you might want to take it further and conduct a series of volcanic experiments to asses the chemical reaction in their own right. Ie Bicarb and water (no visible reaction), Bicarb and vinegar (bubbles), Mentos and diet cola (explosive bubble reaction).

Ask kids to predict what they think will happen in each instance, hypothesise what the reason is for the different reactions and realise that there is nothing “wrong with being wrong” in science (A negative result tells you as much as a positive one!)

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Having read a little about chemicals with the 5yo, I was surprised that she later formulated a hypothesis about the volcano that was quite accurate; She thought that there was a chemical reaction that made a gas and that created the bubbles that she saw. While this is probably not going to be a fact that she remembers later, the process of linking known information and apply it to new situations and observations to form a new hypothesis is something we want to encourage at every point possible on the road to adulthood!

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We’ll later have a little road trip to look at more detail about where the heat for real Volcanoes comes from, but this little science experiment is a great place to get those little scientists thinking!