Kids and Science: Experimenting with Ice, Salt and Colour

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You may have heard mention around here that it’s been an intense winter… and we’re still in it.  Last week we got into the spirit of ice and did a melting experiment at home inspired by this from Jean at the Artful Parent.  You probably have everything you need in your home:  ice chunks (made from bowls and mugs of various sizes), salt, and food colouring or watercolour paints.  You’ll also need a tray with a lip to contain the melted ice – baking trays worked well for us.  It’s nice to have droppers to add the dyes/paints, although you could also just slowly pour some of the liquid from a teaspoon.

It’s an easy and fun project that beautifully demonstrates the melting action of salt when it comes into contact with ice.  When sprinkled on, the salt crystals will bore holes and crevices into the ice upon contact.  Adding food dyes (which we used) or watercolour paints to the salted ice illuminates these miniature pathways with colour.  The results were striking.

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I think I can fairly say this is the most successful crafting project I’ve done with all three boys (7, 5 and 2) so far.  All three were completely engaged and, praise be!, my littlest could participate fully.  They love ice, just touching it, they enjoyed applying the salt, squeezing the drops of food dye from their little containers (each drop makes a dramatic difference), and using our own droppers to play around with the coloured water that pooled around the ice on the trays.

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They stayed at it for a good, long while.  Toward the end, I was hanging around the kitchen island watching them work and waiting for them to finish); they needed no assistance or input from me.  It was a bit messy, and their sleeves were wet (my two year old’s shirt was pretty wet too), but it was easy to clean up.  It was well worth it, and really quite pretty.

And Canadian winter that we’re in, this ice project will probably reflect the weather outdoors for a few weeks yet…

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“Simple Living” Isn’t Always Simple, But Worth It

145A holiday designed to honour everyone who matters in your life with individualized gifts and attentions is probably not going to be simple.  Not whether you buy presents at the mall, online, your local artisanal shop, or homemake everything.  Celebrating the many people, if you be so lucky, who make your life worthwhile can be many things – a challenge, and opportunity, necessary even – but simple it isn’t.  The couple of families I’ve seen who have successfully done this – say, by sitting around a fire and enjoying hot cocoa to its fullest with no need for more – are virtual ones (and I don’t mind telling you I’d like to get a peak into their non-online lives).

I try to practice “simple living” as it’s called, and I’m here to tell you that while it may be simple, it’s not necessarily easy or less work.  Around the holidays, for example, I almost always incorporate some homemade gifts into the stash, and I work quite hard to involve my young boys in this process.  This year one project of what my son has called the “elf factory” was making jars of peppermint hot cocoa.  They’re lovely, I think, and the boys worked hard measuring out the cocoa, crushing the candy canes, and layering the jars with chocolate chips and marshmallows.   They also spent a lot of time trying to write out the recipe instructions on the gift tags (made from their watercolour artwork), signing them, and punching holes in the little cards.

It might be a simple activity to describe, but it’s particularly easy to execute.  It’s not so simple buying all the ingredients and the jars in bulk and setting up a big enough work station.  It’s not simple to save the watercolour art through the year and retrieve it at Christmas, or to guide the writing of two boys at different stages.  It is positively, unremittingly not simple to engage a two year old while his older brothers get to do cool stuff that he can’t quite do.   And clean-up?  Not simple.

There may be people out there for whom this kind of activity is a cinch, regardless of how many kitchen items a toddler can throw around.  I’m not one of them.  I do it because I love it, because it makes the holidays feel a bit more heartfelt to me, because I want to keep the consumerism at bay, because it’s so important to me to make things with my boys, and because I hope the recipients of our gifts can somehow feel the care that went into making them.  (I’d also do anything to avoid going to a mall at this time of year.)  But it would be much, much easier for me to click a mouse a few times and buy presents in lieu of the ones we’re making, and as I can afford this, I am actually choosing to complicate my holidays by making presents with my children.

Simplifying, or slowing down, or mindful living, doesn’t necessarily mean doing less, it means doing less of what you don’t want so you can make more space for what you do want.  Sometimes what we want is messy and spills onto the floor.  I make gifts with my boys not because it’s simpler, but because I’ve decided it’s worth it, even if the dining table is covered with mason jars and there’s nowhere to eat for two weeks.  If at some point it gets too much, we won’t do it again when the next year rolls around.

But I hope we do.

Family Chess Night: The Gift of Experience

For Father’s Day this year, the kids and I gave Ted a Family Chess Night.

Little G plays a pawn game.

Little G plays a pawn game.

The two oldest had been selected for their school teams for the end-of-year chess tournaments, and with their successes we thought it would be fun to bring the competition home.  It took us until November to get the night booked, but it was well worth the wait.

You can tell they are related because they all hold their faces when they play.

You can tell they are related because they all hold their faces when they play.

We asked the kids’ wonderful chess coach from The Chess Institute of Canada to come and do a family night of chess fun for us all.  (And by “us” I mean “them” not “me”; I don’t play chess.  Yet?  This was designed to be a Dad and his boys kind of thing.)  I knew that it would be fun because I saw how my kids engaged with Yakos during chess club and during tournaments.  You could not hope to meet a more enthusiastic and supportive coach, and having presented him with the idea for a family night of chess, I was sure that he could plan activities that would work for the four chess players who live here.  He told us he was excited to have been asked, and he put together 90 minutes of games, puzzles, riddles, and a 3-on-1 match.  I observed, took photos, and reveled in seeing the boys compete with their dad for the family tournament points.

Yakos plays three against one.

Yakos plays three against one.

I love gifts that are experiences, and this was one of those experiences that made me grin from ear to ear all night.  Everyone had fun, everyone learned something new about chess, and we spent the evening together in a place that was not a hockey rink.  Good times!

Dessert!

Dessert!

Turnip Pickles – Seriously, They’re Good!

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I don’t know much about lacto-fermentation or probiotics generally, except that they’re supposed to be good for you.  What I did know is that I had some little turnip things (not exactly sure what they were) that had been sitting in my crisper for months, hanging over from our winter CSA.  I can see why we grow these humble guys though – after much neglect, they were still as firm as when I got them.

Inspired by this post, I thought to try my hand at lacto-fermented turnips.  The recipe is for radishes, but I reasoned that turnips are a similar vegetable and substituted them.  You just need salt, water, and the veggies – no boiling, no canning – it really is so easy.

Some pickle recipes ask you to cut the veggies evenly using a mandoline, but I ignored these directions, and asked my favourite 5 year old slicer to do his best with the turnips.  He peeled and sliced away, working steadily and with concentration, until they were all done.  The pieces were not uniform, but I am here to declare that they were perfect all the same.

We dipped into the first jar after 48 hours (we let the other sit for 72 hours – unlike pickles canned in vinegar, lacto-fermented foods are alive, and will change with time).  I don’t know what to say except that they were completely delicious.  Like we ate the entire jar and then wanted some more delicious.  I learned later that the salty brine is healthy enough to drink, which is a good thing, because I kept taking slugs of it on the sly.  The universe is on your side when something so yummy is good for you!

The kids totally loved it, too.  Both jars were good, but I liked the crispness of the first jar a little better.  Or you could leave it for a couple of weeks and see, but I don’t see how we could ever wait that long.

There are some tired old turnips still in my fridge, and I may just try lacto-fermenting them too.  They represent a challenge to any culinary endeavour, but if there’s anything that can rescue them now, lacto-fermenting them into pickles must be it.

Love in an Envelope: Letter Writing for Kids

040Before I write this post, I have to tell you that I am biased about it, because there are few things I like more than getting a handwritten letter in the mail.  I’m sure this pleasure if a rarity for most people these days, and I count myself very lucky that I can remember the last time I received such a gift, which was about two years ago.

In this age of ten-second tweets and texts, the slow intention of a physical note can be a real gem, and I was plain excited when my six year old finished drawing a picture and then asked to mail it to his cousin.  I tried not to drop what I was doing to pull out an envelope.

My son is still working on his handwriting, and addressing the envelope – right down to making the letters small enough to fit – was work for him.   But he kept at it and finished the task.  I was delighted when he looked up, and asked to do more.

In the end, he drew four pictures and messages specifically for his cousins and a friend.  He addressed four envelopes, stamped them, and was the one who dropped them in the post box.

A few days later, I got two emails from my siblings, both saying how they and their kids were touched by the letters.  My sister-in-law said my brother brought the letters out at then end of a tiring and busy day, and it brought smiles to everyone.  We got a lunch invitation out of it from my sister.  Both families said the envelopes were kept, as that’s where so much of the effort of a burgeoning writer was found.

From this, I’ve determined that letter writing (or even mostly envelope writing, as the case was with us) is a wonderful way for children not just to practice their writing skills, but also to warm the hearts of the people around them.  Maybe the slowness of making those painstakingly printed letters somehow slows something down in the reader.  Whatever it is, something about it seems to feel good.  

My son’s birthday is around the corner, and topping the gift list from me is a homemade letter writing kit.  It will be a simple affair – a box with a lid, envelopes of different sizes, notepaper, writing utensils, and stamps – but the box will be infused with the special wish that lots of letters and love will flow out of it.

 

Knitting With A Boy

011My oldest is knitting!!

It started a few months ago, when his grade 1 class learned how to fingerknit.  And he has been fingerknitting little belts and strings in the car, at home, and even during a (long-ish) musical concert.  He’ll ask if he can knit, then go to the little wooden shelf where I keep my modest stash of yarn, and fingerknit away.  It’s marvelous.

He also asked me several months ago if he could do some knitting with two needles, and we tried.  It was a bit too tricky, and we shelved the project for another day.  And I confess that although he has asked me a few times since then to try knitting again, I’ve resisted, thinking it was still a bit too early to learn.

But I put it squarely on the table again, when I picked up the needles again myself a little while ago.  Also, my son’s class is moving to knitting with needles soon too.  This, and seeing me work, prompted him to ask again if he could learn to knit, and thank goodness I said yes.

Somehow, something seems to have shifted, and he is ready for it.  He works hard at his knitting, because it is a challenge for such young hands.  It’s not easy, but we are encouraged by all the little steps that show improvement, and I am amazed at how often he asks to knit.  (Like when I am buckling all three kids into the car, for example.)

When we were working on a first little project, the metal needles kept slipping.  I wondered aloud if we should try some bamboo needles, which might be less slippery.  My oldest was very excited about that, and we quickly determined to go to our local yarn shop to buy him some bamboo needles just the right size for him, and a skein of his own yarn.

My son was so keen on going that he helped develop a plan:  we could go while one of his younger brothers was in afternoon kindergarten and the other could be taken in the stroller and nap there.  Also, he said, we could knit there.

And I realized that every word he spoke was true.  My son has gone with me several times to the yarn shop, and seen the knitters who gather at its centre to knit together.  Never have I sat there to knit; I have always been with a child, and also felt a bit shy to join in, as the knitters were experienced and knew each other.

But now I was fortified by an eager companion.  We would go!

And we did, both of us doing something new, learning together.

And it was so nice.

The Benefits of Being a City Kid

027One of the benefits of being a city kid is that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that you may one day play in the big leagues.  Well, on the big league’s turf, anyway, which is what happened for my middlest son this weekend.  His house league team sold the most tickets to a Toronto Marlies Game, and their reward was to play their house league game on professional ice at the Ricoh Coliseum.  With his dad on the coaching bench, his mother in the front row, and his brothers watching and cheering his every play, our star player had one of his best games ever.  See that Goal #2?  That was his, along with three assists to help his team to a 5-3 win.  A beauty of a game that not only made me a proud mother but a proud city-dweller, too.

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Friday Fun: Caine’s Arcade

Have you seen this yet? Nine year old Caine Monroy spent last summer built a fully-functioning cardboard arcade inside his father’s autobody shop in Los Angeles, California. In October of last year, a whole bunch of new friends showed up to play:

Go Caine! Kudos to filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, too. “I felt proud”, indeed.

Souper Douper!

Photo by cogdogblog on Flickr. Used under a creative commons licence.

Name a food that is (a) easy to prepare (b) healthy and (c) inexpensive to make?

My husband reminded us of one last week.

Soup.

But not any old soup. Homemade chicken rice soup. From scratch.

I know! It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Soup is soup. It has sustained people for generations. Yet, how many of us regularly make our own chicken broth? There was a time when I made chicken soup all the time, but I fell out of the habit of it, given that there are so many easy (read: canned) alternatives that can be ready in slightly less time than it takes to press a couple of buttons on a microwave. So why make your own? You just have to eat one bowl of freshly made soup, and the reasons become obvious. Homemade chicken soup is one of those foods that is easy and cheap to make, and infinitely better from scratch than anything that comes out of a can. It’s just nicer. And it’s better for you, too. As someone who avoids gluten, I know what’s exactly in my soup when it’s made at home. And it makes me happy. We should all eat what makes us happy.

Peter’s become the designated chicken rice soup maker around our place. Here’s how he does it:

At the grocery store I decided to buy the pack of 4 chicken breasts on the bone (around $11 vs $20+ for boneless). Boning the meat isn’t hard; however not being an expert I didn’t fret getting every last bit off the bones. However, I’d paid for the things so I didn’t want to throw them out. So I made soup. To the bones-with-meat I added 1 finely chopped onion, 2 biggish carrots, 2 stalks celery (with leaves even!), peppercorns, 1 large bay leaf, some thyme and 2 whole cloves of garlic plus water to cover, and simmered for 2 hours. After a night in the fridge, I skimmed the fat, took the meat off the bones, and added a cup or so of rice (and cooked for 20 min) and salt to taste. Awesome and simple. Boning the meat-5 min; chopping onions, carrots and celery-5 min; picking meat from bones and skimming-5 min; everything else-5 min. We had enough for 6 good sized bowls that blew away any store-bought soup, plus 4 good sized breasts that we cooked up the first night.

Four chicken breasts. Two meals, and one of them is soup. Of course, chicken soup freezes really well, but only if you have leftovers to freeze in the first place!

Caecillius est in horto. Mater non est compos mentis.

What does it say about your child when he, having grown weary of the old-school teaching style of his Mandarin teacher (Mandarin being a required subject at his school as part of the TDSB’s integrated International Languages program), decides to try to convince his parents to write to the school excusing him from further Mandarin lessons, such a concession by the school to be made possible on promise that his mother will home-school him in her free time in another language of his request? And he continues this campaign for a couple of days straight?

And what if his language of choice is Latin?

Despite his pleas, and much to his chagrin, eldest child has not been excused from ongoing attendance in Mandarin class. He is now, however, the possessor of the first four chapters of  Latin for Children, which he shall start working through over the March Break.

All of this is to say: be careful what you wish for, especially when – surprise! – your mother studied Latin in high school.  You never know when a request like this might bite you in the nates.