14

Our Home Science Lab

A couple of months ago, I started thinking hard about setting up a mini science lab at home. I knew that it must be at the corridor if I wanted to allow the boys the freedom of playing scientist whenever they felt like doing so, instead of waiting for me to set up or waiting for me to be free to ‘catch’ the mess. Because I also knew that it would be pretty impossible for me to agree to spontaneous requests when I was usually rushing around like a headless chicken -.-”

So, I bought a foldable table. It’s supposed to be a picnic table, so it can withstand some outdoor abuse, like the monthly block wash or other liquid spillages. Initially, my idea was to leave all the ‘chemicals’ out at the corridor, but I did not want the boys to start playing with them without permission if they were out at the corridor playing with sand or mud or water.

Finally, I decided to prepare everything and keep them all in a tray, so that I would be ready whenever the boys asked to ‘be scientist’.

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(But actually, it’s not really ‘whenever’. Kor Kor has two slots a day for such activities, i.e. when he’s not busy with lessons or chores and I am free to assist/prepare/clean up.)

Most of our ‘chemicals’ are from the kitchen. Took me a while to think of a variety of ingredients! The essentials are definitely baking soda and vinegar. Other ingredients seldom give much visible reactions other than the physical ones like dissolving or changing colours. And so many flours all look the same.. all white and powdery.. quite boring.. So, what’s in our DIY Chemistry Kit?

  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • cornflour
  • rock salt
  • pepper
  • turmeric
  • effervescent vitamin
  • alcohol
  • dishwashing detergent
  • tap water
  • tap water with various food colouring

 

  • test tubes (glass for Kor Kor, from Artfriend. Plastic for Didi, from Learning Store)
  • test tube racks
  • straws (as stirrers)
  • disposable droppers (but I reuse unless it’s too dirty)
  • glass droppers
  • glass beakers
  • various plastic & glass containers (some storebought, some recycled)

I also bought a microscope recently. But I find that it takes intentional effort to prepare minuscule amount of tiny stuff to look at through the microscope. Furthermore the view isn’t exactly exciting 😛 Thus, for preschoolers, I recommend using magnifying glasses instead, which the child can grab anytime to look at anything that catches his fancy.

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I know that the younger ones will want to do whatever Kor Kor is doing, so it took me some braincracking thinking to free up the time slots. Very limited if Kor Kor can only do it during the younger ones’ naps. So, ta-ta! Meimei gets her own science kit! Just mixing of colours for now, and she’s happy!

The reason why the lab must be outside!

The reason why the lab must be outside!

0

Learning About Electricity

Sometimes, our topics/themes are not really child-led.. Rather, they happen because… urmm.. I bought a set of books and well, we gotta read all the books in the set eventually, right? So, I had these three books on electricity lying around…

My plan was just to read all three books to the boys, no matter if they didn’t really understand or not interested or whatever. I just wanted to read once so that I could put the books neatly on their bookshelves.(OCD Task-oriented Good housekeeping, right?)

(I go through each new book with the boys at least once, so that if/when they pull out the book to read on their own, they have at least some inkling what the book’s about. Even if they can’t read all the words yet, they have at least the pictures and what they remember from my reading to try to figure things out. For science books, especially those not at their reading level, I think it will be quite difficult for them to ‘read’ from scratch. Frankly speaking, I am amazed at the things they manage to ‘figure out’ just from pictures. But err, sometimes wrongly, haha.)

Anyway, reading is never ‘just read’ la. I do try to explain the chim stuff and of course, they have tons of questions. 一万个为什么!The problem is, I could see the 100% perplexed look on Kor Kor’s face… you mean electricity comes out from the wall??? (Didi is lucky to be still young enough to accept all things as magic.)

Good thing that the books have clear pictures of how electricity is produced at the power stations and travels to our homes, through the walls and to the appliances. I really, really absolutely LOVE the look on Kor Kor’s face when he GOT IT! Priceless!

Since the boys are keen, it’s a good chance to explore more with them. Very luckily, we have one old waffle maker in the storeroom! (Not purely by luck, I kept it because I was waiting for such a day, hee hee.)

And… finally, it’s time to break out our Snap Circuits! It’s very easy and safe to do, and a good way to kickstart circuit-building.

The boys love it!

 

0

We Love KidsSTOP! (Part Two)

Finally we made it to faraway Science Centre again! This time we managed to cover five exhibits.

Critters

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Hmm, nothing much here – tree frog, gerbil, freshwater fish, hermit crab, chicks, incubator. There is also a short complimentary presentation at 4.30pm daily where the staff introduce the animals and the kids get to touch the chicks.

Kiddie Theatre

Alas, I don’t know how to introduce this section. Firstly, I am not familiar at all with filming equipment etc. Secondly, my kids aren’t exactly enthusiastic performers. So this section did not really catch our fancy.

Math & Tinkering

Rather disappointed with this section too. Some sensory play with green beans and a few containers… Some magnetic shapes… Two toy cars and tracks…

OK, probably I was too excited and expectations were too high. Furthermore I only found out today that the Innovation Lab and Kitchen Lab are only open to school groups. That leaves 20 exhibits for us then.

Flight & Space

Magnetic blocks with the planets’ names for the kids to match with the planets, and rubber bands to form constellations.

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Pedal or turn the handle to power the fans.

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Airport scene with flaps for the kids to open.

Pilots in action! (Actually just a few buttons to press the make the dashboard change colour :P)

The Flying Machine Factory! Our favorite stop for the day. The materials provided are very basic – balls, strips of fabric, pieces of foam, all with velcro to attach them together. Place them into the wind tunnel through a hole at the bottom, and watch them fly! The more successful machines (or the very light individual pieces) will fly right up to the top of the tunnel and drop out after they clear the top. Flying action, falling action, of course the kids were thrilled!

Built Environment – Blocks

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Nice blocks.. But from my observations of the boys and other kids, they prefer to use the long blocks as weapons. 金箍棒!

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Like this. No kidding.

Virtual Pond

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Virtual fish… step, step, step…

That leaves nine more exhibits to go!

Sadly, I noticed some ‘deterioration’ in the exhibits even though KidsSTOP is only two months old…

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Most of the tools are… gone… So are the excavators.. The crane wasn’t in use either – ‘upgrading in progress’. (See their previous glory in my earlier post.) Hopefully they will be replaced soon!

4

Our DIY Solar System

Ta-ta! Nice? I feel so proud of myself, hee hee. To tell the truth, this DIY isn’t cheap. And I hate to do any sort of DIY-craft. Because I am really handicapped in this area. But I couldn’t find any solar system model which met all my requirements: 1) the planets have to rotate around the sun; 2) the planets must be able to spin; 3) the planets must be big enough. Seriously, I was willing to pay good money for a satisfactory model, exactly because I knew that I would end up having to spend big bucks on DIY anyway due to my lack of talent. DIY talent means being able to use whatever available or easily available materials to create something nice. I fail! Still, to commemorate my great achievement, I must blog about it!

Materials

Clothes stand from IKEA

Stryofoam balls, the bigger ones are from Artfriend and the smaller ones from Daiso

Stryofoam ring (for Saturn’s ring!) from Artfriend

Acryllic paint (to paint the planets)

Aluminium wire from Artfriend

Wooden dowel rods from Artfriend (yes, Artfriend is my good friend!)

Saw (no kidding)

Twine from Daiso

Scotch tape, masking tape, cloth tape, from various stationery shops

Method

The easy part was to paint the styrofoam balls, which I outsourced to the two boys. They referred to National Geographic’s First Big Book Of Space while painting.

Then the difficult part… how to attach the balls to the stand??? I had thought thick wire (2mm) would do the trick..

… which worked fine for the first four planets… But there was no way it could hold up Jupiter! Bought 3mm wire to try but it didn’t work either. I even tried to do ‘suspension’.. haha… Consulted my inhouse engineer, and he said the only way was to hang them from rods (like lanterns). And so, I had my first encounter with a saw! Cut the dowel rods to the required lengths, and then tied and taped them to the stand at various angles so that the planets would not collide in their rotation. After many nights of sitting and staring at the stand and balls, and a couple more nights of hard labor, it’s finally done!

I didn’t involve the kids much in this, other than to paint the planets, because of self-awareness that I lacked the aptitude to do this DIY with ease and would not have the patience to put up with their ‘help’. What I could do was to leave the half-completed model out so that they saw my failures every morning. I told them I tried out a method but it didn’t work, so I would have to think about it and try again.

Now, we are enjoying our model, which provides a lot of hands-on learning cos the boys can easily move the planets around. More to come on our learning of the solar system soon! Meanwhile, do check out this other local homeschooling mum who is also doing outer space now. She is my blog of choice in the Singapore Blog Awards’ Best Family Blog category! Do vote for her too if you like her blog! (No, I don’t really know her except as a fellow blogger. My choice is purely from a reader’s perspective.)

2

We Love KidsSTOP! (Part One)

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Since KidsSTOP opened in June 2014, we have been there twice. The first time was a couple of weeks after it opened, during the school holidays, and it was too crowded for me to take photos properly or even think about whether it was good… I was busy keeping track of the kids! As promised on my Facebook page, here is the review! : )

According to KidsSTOP official website, there are 22 exhibits (play areas / themes, in my understanding) in total. And though we have been there twice and spent about five hours, we have only seen two exhibits in passing, touch-and-go for another seven, and really spent time at five exhibits. Thus I shall only include here the areas where we spent a significant amount of time.

That said, the other exhibits which are not included here, do look quite interesting too. – Flight & Space, Human Body! And the eight which we have not laid eyes on, I am excited just by their names! Tinkering, The Innovation Lab, Kitchen Lab, anyone??

KidsSTOP is really a dream come true for me – it provides opportunies for my kids to try things which are way too large-scale for me to even try to emulate at home (and gosh, I do try very hard to do many uncommon things at home!). Bonus points as it is under the Singapore Science Centre, which means that education and promoting the young scientific minds are duly considered in the setup of the edutainment centre.

In my opinion, rather than trying to cover all the exhibits in one visit (limit of three hours on weekdays, and four hours on weekends & public holidays), it is more useful to allow the child to spend as much time as he likes (or needs!) at each station, so that his learning is optimized. (If you have been following my blog, you probably know that ‘learning’ in my definition is often not what we adults can see/test. Trust me, there is definitely learning going on in that brain – ‘hear’ the gears moving?)

Built Environment – Crane

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We spent a good amount of time here! There is only one ‘crane’ here though. (See the exhibit name? It’s singular crane ok! The three kids were jostling to play with it.. I can only imagine the queue when it’s crowded..) In the photo Kor Kor is controlling a crawl above by pressing the buttons on the panel and moving a joystick. The crawl then goes down and picks up the balls, and the crane operator moves it up and out. Then it’s the climax! Open the crawl and release the balls into one of the big tubs (like the pink one on the right of the photo).

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In addition to the crane, there are other things to captivate the kids. The activity in these two photos really requires teamwork! While Meimei collects balls and puts them into the machine, Didi operates the crank. Kor Kor arranges the various parts on the wall (with attached magnets) to ‘catch’ the balls. Many movable parts, I like!

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Also in the same area, movable gears with attached magnets. The kids were not really interested. Not yet, anyway.

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Ride-on excavators! I had high hopes for these when I saw them in photos before our visit to KidsSTOP. Unfortunately, I think they are under-utilized. There is nothing around for the kids to scoop! And there is a television screen in that small space, which means Kor Kor was staring at the screen most of the time *gloomy* Would be great if there is a ‘real’ construction site to play with the excavators.. at least some sand please?

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All three kids liked this station. Meimei was especially interested in the hammar and nails! Bang bang BANG! A great excuse for creating a din >.< It looks like the boys are interested in simple machines and maybe carpentry too. Hmmmm. Time to rack my brains to ride on their interests.

Dino Pit

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Sadly, I think this is under-utilised too. The main problem? The fossils are not movable! And since there is a constant stream of kids playing here, the fossils are exposed all the time. What fun is there for a palentologist when he doesn’t even need to dig to see the fossils??

Brushes are provided for the kids to brush the sand off their hands and feet when they are leaving the pit. But… the same brushes are used for the hands and the feet!! EEKS!

Supermarket

Look at the variety and quantity of goods! Complete with weighing scales and cash registers! And when you scan the items, you hear the familiar ‘beep, beep’ too! But it’s just a sound effect – the ‘scanning’ is not connected to the cash register and the price is not reflected on the cash register. The cash register is like an electronic calculator – the child can key in numbers and add them up. It does not open and there is no play money. But still, it’s already a very good supermarket!

Cafe

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A very well-equipped kitchen! And it’s right next to The Supermarket, so you can bring your purchases home to cook right away. How convenient! And look at that fried rice, it seems so real! I think Meimei really wanted to gobble it up.

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And that’s all the exhibits we managed to cover during our second visit. And we also caught the complimentary puppet performance. It’s funny and worth the time I think.

Honestly, admission fees aren’t cheap. But it’s comparable to indoor playgrounds, and definitely cheaper than enrichment programes…. and more fun too! KidsSTOP, we will defnitely be back soon!

2

Elephant Toothpaste!

Been seeing this on kids’ activities blogs but I had no idea what hydrogen peroxide was or where to get it. Then one day, I happened to notice an innocent bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the pharmacy! (I was buying rubbing alcohol for another experiment.) But that bottle was only 3%, and elephant toothpaste requires a minimum of 6% according to Preschool Powol Packets (please click on this link for the method). I started to keep a lookout whenever I passed by any pharmacy, and finally I got lucky during a family outing to Johor Bahru! OK, anyway, this long intro is just to warn you that it might not be that easy to find 6% hydrogen peroxide in Singapore. If you do, please let me know!

What's needed: hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing liquid, food colouring, instant yeast, measuring spoons, empty bottles, warm water

What’s needed: hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing liquid, food colouring, instant yeast, measuring spoons, empty bottles, warm water

 

Love his amazement : )

Love his amazement : )

 

Actually it took some waiting for the 'toothpaste' to reach the top of the bottle. Didi decided to pour out the solution and start playing now!

Actually it takes some waiting for the ‘toothpaste’ to reach the top of the bottle. Didi decides to pour out the solution and start playing now!

 

Mummy says it's toothpaste.. so of course must SQUEEZE!

Mummy says it’s toothpaste.. so of course must SQUEEZE!

 

Time to mix and experiment

Time to mix and experiment

 

Lovely colours

Lovely colours

Preschool Powol Packets explains the chemical reaction, and the product is just water, oxygen and soap so it’s safe for kids to play with. I gave Meimei her own bottle of ‘toothpaste’ too, but she was not very interested. Can you spot her in the photos above? Hee hee :p

1

Learning About Dissolving

OK, disclaimer first – ‘dissolving’ is a loose category as I am using it here, because while I was looking up ideas on learning about dissolving, I came across so many other fun things to do! Well, one good thing about homeschooling is that we can do whatever is more fun first, weeeee….! Hohoho!

Experiment One

We did a simple experiment. It was a good chance to have a nice proper ‘scientific’ setup, for the boys to feel like they were proper scientists. The FEEL is very important, you know.

P.S. I try to let Kor Kor use glass as often as possible, but it’s nonbreakable materials for Didi for now, unless I can do one-to-one with him.

Each boy was given 6 cups of water and 6 types of solutes.
Each boy was given 6 cups of water and 6 types of solutes – milo, macaroni, flour, brown sugar, salt, sprinkles

 

All 6 are food items, so I got the boys to smell and try to identify
All 6 are food items, so I got the boys to smell and try to identify

 

Kor Kor went all silent and serious
Kor Kor went all silent and serious

 

Meimei woke up and insisted on joining in. Urmm, she only got water but she was also very serious ok
Meimei woke up and insisted on joining in. Urmm, she only got water but she was also very serious ok

 

My little scientists at work
My little scientists at work

Experiment Two

Next, a simple variation – the same solvent at different temperatures. I gave him three glasses of water – one at room temperature, one with an added ice cube, and one with hot water. We used flour as the solute.

Eager

Eager

Experiment Three

Tried dissolving our friendly solute, flour, in different solvents – honey, cooking oil, and water.

Experiment Four

Next, we learnt about density. We tried to do a density column as seen at Steve Spangler Science. Warning: It’s not easy to do such a beautiful one as what they did! I knew that the densities of the liquids I would be using were likely to be slightly different from theirs, so I did a trial run before I set it up for the kids… and all I got was a big headache and a big mess. My food colouring seemed to stain all the liquids, so I gave up on that. Ended up only giving the boys five different liquids. It was enough to impress the boys anyway! I was worried that they wouldn’t get what was the big deal, since they didn’t have a concept of density in the first place (i.e. isn’t it normal for liquids not to mix??), but hey! They went WOW and Kor Kor got sort of a silly grin haha. I guess young children do get a sense of physical rules as they explore their world… which means, the more they get to explore, the more they learn, right? : )

Watching mummy do first.
Watching mummy do first – honey, maple syrup, dishwashing soap, cooking oil, disinfectant alcohol

 

Then I gave them the liquids and let them loose

 

Didi + cooking oil = a heart attack

 

Experimenting with different combinations & sequences

Science Sparks: A slight variation, with solids

Half cup oil, half cup water, lego brick, coin

 

Clearer results in a taller glass

 

Having fun trying to push the ping pong ball down, while I took deep breaths

 

Testing the ping pong ball in different solvents

 

Sponge, pompom, grape, bead, pebble, sprinkles, m&m

 

Sidetrack: We tried to dissolve the shell of an egg with vinegar. But there didn’t seem to be much difference even after a week. Maybe I used the wrong type of vinegar. Might try again in future.

Day One

Day One

Day Eight