Thursday, December 7, 2017

Our Favorite Christmas Traditions: The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is one of my most special Christmas traditions, because it's something that just the kids and I do together. As with everything, as the kids have changed so has this tradition--what used to be a day spent at the museum with a baby and a toddler is now a day with a tween and teen, and if nothing else, tweendom definitely has the potential to butt into our fun.

But this year, we hit another sweet spot, and once again it was a magical Christmas tradition.

When the kids were small we splurged on a membership to the Children's Museum (every other year, alternated with a membership to the Indianapolis Zoo), but now that they're big, we go as volunteers, and so on this morning we spent two hours teaching kindergartners about the Mexican Christmas tradition of Las Posadas:


We had a couple of kids who weren't bored out of their minds to listen to us, but mostly we got to experience for the first time the misery of being the lame table, as kids drifted away from my enthusiastic raptures of "It's like a PARADE, Children!", and Syd temptingly shaking the tin maraca for them, in order to go spend all of their time playing the dreidel game two tables over. 

The worst, though, was when I would tell the children about the pinata and Will would hold it up, and the kids would be all, "OOH, a PINATA! Can we play it?!?", and I'd be all, "No, sigh, but you can hold it. No, not like a gun, Sweetie, okay, no stomping on the pinata, there's no candy in there, please don't rip it apart with your hands, okay that's enough with the pinata, who wants to touch the tin Nativity with one finger," etc. BO-RING!!!

Anyway, some kids, I hope, came away with an understanding of Las Posadas, but most of them probably wondered for about two seconds about how Mexico gets a Christmas parade but you can't play with the pinata, and then turned their minds to dreidels.

Oh, well. Can't win them all.

Afterwards, I appear to have packed the most hipster lunch possible for us--
Yes, those ARE salads in jars, with ranch dressing taken from the condiments dispenser in the cafe, and yes, even the of COURSE they're kettle chips are in a Mason jar, too. Because if I put them in a Ziplock, they'll get crushed before lunch! So instead I spent the afternoon with my backpack full of clinking Mason jars. Next time, I'll put my felted wool cozies on all of them first...
And then, Christmas miracle of all Christmas miracles, Will says that yes, fine, she'll go see Santa and yes, fine, I can take her picture, and I book the children to his side so fast that she doesn't have a chance to change her mind.

And so this, thank goodness, happens again, for the first time in three years:
  

It was just yesterday, and also four years ago, that they sat there just like this:


 There's no doubting Santa's real when you can see for yourself that he hasn't changed a bit!

Once again this year, magically, both kids did all the work to earn their elf ears:




And magically, they both consented to wear them!

Who knows how long this particular Christmas magic will last? Next year may well find both kids too cool for Santa, or we may find a new, more "grown-up" Christmas tradition. But I've had this year, and I have the experience to know to treasure it, and with these big kids, I'll be equally treasuring every one of the traditions we've still got coming. 

Because those traditions, when the kids are tiny you think they're forever, but to my sorrow, they are not.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

You Really Can Marble Paper with Shaving Cream!

I was verra much doubtful about the feasibility of actually marbling paper with shaving cream, despite all of the Pinterest pins that I'd seen about it--you know how Pinterest is, right?

But it was by far the easiest-looking method, AND we already had all of the supplies that we needed to do it (because don't YOU have spare cans of shaving cream in your homeschool closet, because you saw them on clearance one time and figured you could use them for something or other? You can!!!), so I decided to roll the dice and give it a try.

I used this tutorial for marbling paper with shaving cream from The Artful Parent, because I follow her blog and I've used a few of her tutes before--she's what you might call a Trusted Source!

We used these supplies:
  • school cafeteria trays, one for each kid (I bought them from our local university's Surplus Store, which is where half the stuff in our house comes from)
  • cheapest shaving cream you can find (The Artful Parent's tute calls specifically for shaving FOAM, but we used cans labeled "Shaving Cream" with no problems)
  • liquid watercolors--half my stash is Colorations, and the other half is the Dick Blick store brand. I wish there was a local place to restock, because I really need more orange, but I don't want to pay for shipping at either site!
  • paper. We used this cardstock from Paper Source (I received free samples for review purposes), because I was hoping the kids would produce some designs that they could use as covers or endpapers for the books that they'll be making for the Girl Scout Cadette Book Artist badge, so I wanted them to use high-quality paper.
For the step-by-step process, click over to that tutorial from The Artful Parent, but here are some photos of how it went for us. Please excuse the dim lighting--this was on the kids' work plans for the day, but we didn't get to it until very late afternoon:


The kids are meant to be spreading the shaving cream into one even layer, but in the process they rediscovered something that they seem to have forgotten since their preschool years--SHAVING CREAM IS FUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!

I am highly in favor of sensory activities even for big kids, primarily because it's so clear how those big kids, themselves, take to the opportunities to immerse themselves in sensory experience:

Even the kid whom you'd least suspect of such a thing... did this:



That's one way to make sure one washes one's face, I guess!



Even though it does require some assistance from one's sister...




Eventually, these two goofballs DID get down to business:











Here's some not really better light to show you how pretty their paper turned out:


I could have gotten a better shot of that where the color scheme wasn't so off--in particular, I don't know why the blue didn't come out at all--but I'm having a really busy week, so please use your imaginations. We don't own grey liquid watercolors, so imagine all of that as blue, and the red is really red, not magenta. The green looks weird, too, but the purple looks about right.

It was challenging to keep the paper flat while also allowing it to dry, so I'll likely show the kids how to go over it quickly with a warm iron before they use it in their paper products.

I also have plans to use more of this Paper Source paper to make marbled business cards, so stay tuned!

If you're in the mood, here are some other really amazing-looking marbled paper projects that I've got pinned:
  • marbled paper with alum. You can buy alum at the grocery store, so this would also be an easy method to try.
  • marbled paper with milk. This is an extension of an art/science activity that uses the milk, so useful in getting some more use out of your supplies, but I wouldn't try to keep the paper afterwards---unless you like things that smell like sour milk?
  • marbled paper with oil paints and methyl cellulose. This is the most professional method, which is why it requires supplies that I didn't want to buy. I'd be curious to see first-hand how the results differ from these other methods that use grocery store supplies.
  • marble paper with spray paint. I always keep a full rainbow of spray paint, as well as black and white and a clear coat, on hand as one of our permanent art supplies, so this is one project that we actually might do someday soon.
  • marbled rocks with nail polish. I'm wary of using up Syd's beloved nail polish, but if you want to marble something more permanent, like the rocks made in this tute, nail polish is a paint that would stick.

Although this shaving cream marbling worked out so well, right now I can't ever see myself trying another way! 

Unless it's messing around with spray paint, of course. There's always more space in my day for messing around with spray paint.

P.S. Check out this comic that Syd made of Peter the Great trying to cut his nobles' hair against their will. There's never a dull moment in AP European History!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Homeschool Science: How to Make a Molecular Model of Photosynthesis

The kids and I are using CK-12's 9th/10th grade Biology textbook as the spine for this year's biology curriculum--for Will, who is in the eighth grade but who is taking high school-level coursework, this will be recorded as Honors Biology on her transcript.

In addition to that textbook, we're using The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments as our lab manual, and of course we've got a plethora of other reading/viewing/listening resources and hands-on activities to enrich our study.

We're progressing through the book a LOT more slowly than I thought we would, but that's okay, as biology is in both of the kids' areas of interest, so we might as well be thorough and enjoy ourselves, and unlike AP European History, which Will and I are also enjoying, there's no deadline for finishing, so I'll be happy simply to have us finish by next September, when Will will begin 9th grade coursework.

All that is to explain why after almost two months of study we're only in chapter 4, lol! And we've taken nearly a month to get through chapter 4, as some of the labs that I wanted the kids to do called for special supplies that I had to order. But finally we've got our elodea cuttings, our bromothymol blue, our hydrochloric acid, our test tube stoppers, and our heat lamp bulb, and so so our study of photosynthesis and cellular respiration is finally almost complete.

This molecular modeling of the process of photosynthesis is a hands-on enrichment activity that I had the kids complete after reading the chapter, but before we did our first experiment on actual plants. Modeling the process helps your kid see that it really is just a math formula, not magic: carbon dioxide plus water plus light energy equals glucose and oxygen.

Oh, who am I kidding? Science IS just another name for magic!

Got some molecular modeling tools? You can make the magic happen yourself!

To model photosynthesis, you'll need your favorite molecular modeling kit, or a DIY version. We have Zometools, and last year I bought the Molecular Mania set when we were doing a brief chemistry study. I like the Zometools set because it includes color-coded buckyballs and molecule building cards, but since we have the larger set, too, when I needed more of a particular element all I had to do was lightly spray paint one of our regular white buckyballs and there you go! Paint a ball red and it still works with the regular kit, but now it also represents oxygen!

Here is the chemical formula of photosynthesis:

6CO+ 6H2O + sunlight ------> C6H12O+ 6O2


To model photosynthesis, then, each kid needs to build six carbon dioxide molecules and six water molecules:


In Zometools, carbon is black, oxygen is red, and hydrogen is white. I told the kids not to worry about single or double bonds, since I just wanted them to witness the conservation of matter throughout the process itself.

We used our imagination to add sunlight, and then the kids then had to figure out how to use what they already had to build glucose: C6H12O6:


This is Syd's version of glucose:

I didn't ask them to put it together the "right" way, because I didn't want them to have to research an answer. Just getting all of the correct elements collected into a glucose molecule was enough for me.

Nevertheless, look what Will came up with, all on her own!


Well, the dog may have been giving her tips...



But check out the symmetry of her glucose molecule!



It's really not that far off!

As you could see in the lower half of Will's photo above, when you've finished reassembling the water and carbon dioxide molecules into glucose, you'll have some oxygen atoms left over. This is the waste product, but oxygen doesn't like to be a single atom--it likes to have an oxygen buddy, so give all of your oxygen atoms an oxygen buddy:

And you'll have a perfectly even number!

It's ready to be exhaled, so that humans can inhale it and exhale carbon dioxide, which is what plants inhale so that they can exhale 02, so that humans can inhale it.

P.S. If you don't want to buy a molecular modeling kit, that's cool. I've actually collected links for some nice-looking DIY molecular modeling sets, so here they are:

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Ballerina in Her Classroom

As you will likely have guessed if you've known me for at least a year, we are deep into Nutcracker season, with the curtain rising in just nine days for my little Mother Ginger boy.

Every year, I tell you that the experience is overwhelming, and then the next year Syd is offered an even more demanding role, and the experience becomes that much more overwhelming. Soldiers rehearsed twice a week, but Mother Ginger's children rehearse every single flipping day--sometimes twice a day! I am a chauffeur, and a babysitter of young ones on their breaks, and I have a bad cold to show for it. Syd, of course, thrives, loving every minute of it, her only wish to dance even more (and perhaps to be a Mother Ginger girl instead of a boy, but we mustn't dwell on casting decisions past, for there madness lies).

The Mother Ginger scene, though, is my second favorite in all of the Nutcracker (nothing can beat the battle!). I also think it's interesting how every choreographer creates a different version of the dance to the exact same music.

Here, for instance, is Balanchine's version:



This epic performance is a hip hop version!



Along with rehearsals, of course the pre-college ballet program's dancers are expected to keep up with their regular dance classes, and for a treat Syd's teacher (who, despite being only a sophomore in the university, I think, is the absolute best ballet teacher that my child has ever had. The children all adore her, and Syd has never improved so quickly as under her tutelage) the other day invited us parents into the typically no-parents-allowed studio space to watch our children's class.

I am about to show you too many photos of that class, but don't worry--I have a hundred more that I'm not sharing!













I don't know where the kid gets her grace and poise from, but it is not from me or her father. Her sister, too, runs into every doorway that she passes. How wonderful, then, to have found a program where she can develop her natural talent into a deeper skill, one that challenges her and helps her develop perseverance and dedication.

Nevertheless, I am DEEPLY looking forward to the post-Nutcracker winter break!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Holiday Store-Bought Gift Guide: The Tween and Young Teen

I'm making most of our Christmas gifts this year, so this holiday gift guide for tweens and young teens isn't so much of a must-buy list for me this year. I have some things on here that I hope to buy the kids, but everything else is something that we already own and use and love:

These are the BEST colored pencils, I swear. They ain't cheap, but they are worth the price. My kids prefer to use them for everything. We have a family set, the kids each have a small set of 12, and for her birthday this year, I gave Will, who enjoys adult coloring books, this very set, with the instructions that she did not have to share her pencils with ANYONE. I may have to buy Syd her own set for Christmas.


I LOVE  this LEGO set! I love that it inspires more exploration of female scientists, and I think it has that nerdy-cool chic that a lot of teens (my teen, at least!) go for.

Best Friends Necklace for You and Your Dog

Is your kid's best friend her dog? MY kid's is, and she would be so happy, I think, to wear this necklace that matched a collar tag for Luna.

Colorku Logic Game
My kids don't love Sudoku, I think because the numbers make them worried that I'm tricking them into doing math, but at the same time they adore logic puzzles. They'd enjoy working the puzzles, but I know they'd also enjoy just making patterns with the colored marbles.

DIY Cat Sculpture

Don't tell Syd, but I already bought this for her. I bought it, like, months ago, and it's sitting in the top of my closet, along with an American Girl doll outfit, a homemade candle, already wrapped, for Will, and a bag of gourmet coffee, already wrapped, from me to myself. Syd is obsessed with her grey tabby cat, and she is going to freak out over this sculpture!

Slackline
This is the slackline set that I bought our family a few months ago, and we all really like it. It's definitely got a learning curve to it, but it's fun for the kids to see the adults struggle to learn along with them, and that perseverance while learning something is such a good example for them!

 Hatching Dragon Candle

This candle is ridiculously cute, and even better for kids who are super into dragons--like my kid!

Drone with a Video Camera
This was technically a present for both kids last Christmas, but Will, in particular, was totally wowed. It's not as hard to operate as you'd think, especially if you're mindful of the wind and you don't fly it too high until you're really, really comfortable with operating it.

Gummy Bear Night Light

Because even big kids need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom! I'd suggest buying or scavenging an AC adaptor so that you can plug this night light in, although it would also be cute sitting on a kid's nightstand, easy to squeeze when she wakes up and needs a light.

Prime Climb
Although any kid old enough to know how to multiply can play this game, it's especially great for older kids and teens, because the way that it delves into numbers is algebraic, and encourages a deep understanding, while still being fun!

Personalized Pocket Knife
I carry a pocket knife wherever I go, and it's come in handy countless times, so you'll be unsurprised to hear that I think that everyone, even kids, should have their own pocket knife. I bought Will this exact one (with HER name on it, not Steve's...) for Christmas last year, and she absolutely loves it. And yes, it's come in handy countless times!

Stacking Cats Game
My teen won't get out most puzzles or games, but she WILL play endlessly with these desktop-type puzzles. She's also so inside her head all the time that these fine motor challenges are still great for her. My tween, who's still into most puzzles and games, would be hooked on this simply by the fact that it's cats.

Toaster/Egg Cooker
I fully admit that I am eagerly waiting for our family toaster to die so that I can buy this, but my kids also make their own breakfasts most mornings, as I bet do a lot of middle and high school kids. Wouldn't this be an easy way for a kid to make herself a filling, healthy breakfast in just a few minutes?

LEGO Mindstorms
These are crazy spendy, but there are adults who happily spend their free time programming and playing with these babies, so if you've got a techy kid, it's certainly not a hobby that she need outgrow.


We have an indoor aerial silks rig that the kids are in and on and around constantly, but for those of you with normal ceilings, something like this, mounted from a joist, would make a kid so happy--especially if you were able to put it in her bedroom so she didn't have to share it with you!

Gummy Candy Maker
Yes, it is kind of annoying to have a bunch of little electric novelty cookers in our cabinets (at last count, we have a combo mini cupcake/doughnut/cake pop cooker, a second mini cupcake cooker that Syd won't give up even though the thing I just mentioned also cooks mini cupcakes, a waffle maker that puts a princess on each waffle, and a cotton candy maker. The two play-and-freeze ice cream makers live elsewhere), but the kids love them and use them and get a lot of pleasure out of them, so there you go. Also, they use them to make FOOD, which I then don't have to make or buy.

Lootcrate

I'm deeply invested in several fandoms, so I know what it's like to be super into something and want to read/know/have all the things having to do with it. If your kiddo is super into something, you can often find a Lootcrate just about that, or if your kiddo is super into everything, they have subscriptions that have a different theme every time. I like the idea of a subscription as a gift that keeps on giving, but I also like the idea of sneakily ordering just one kit in advance, and then wrapping it up for your kiddo for the holidays.

Weird Perfume
Most perfumes are so cliche--pick a flower, make it cloying, and off you go. This company, in contrast, has really awesome scents--crayon, giant sequoia, paperback, etc.

Do you have anything that you've bought a tween or teen that has been a huge win? I'd LOVE to hear about it, so let me know in the Comments below!

P.S. I've got another holiday gift guide just of BOOKS for tweens and teens in the making, and another list that I'm working on just of handmade gifts for tweens and teens. Stay tuned!

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