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Category Archives: Educational Activities

10 cool kid facts for a Full Moon night.

Did you know that the full moon is the only moon that comes up at sunset and goes down at sunrise? That’s precisely what makes it so perfect for night hiking. What could possibly spice a hiking up like walking in the dark of night with no need for a headlamp and your shadow trailing behind you.

Here are a few other kid friendly facts I’ve learned about full moons.

1. Is the moon really perfectly round? The full moon may appear round, but is actually shaped like an egg with the pointed end facing earth.

2. Why is the moon bigger as it’s coming up over the horizon? Well, it’s not. Scientists have long battled to explain the “moon illusion”. The phenomenon is understood to be caused by human perception rather than the magnifying effect of the earth’s atmosphere.

3. How often do we see a full moon? The full moon occurs every 29.5 days – the duration of one complete lunar cycle.

4. What’s the ‘Flower Moon’ all about? The full moon has many names. The Algonquian people had a different name for each full moon, depending on the month. Each name is linked to the season and nature. My favorite is September’s Harvest Moon, but did you know the Strawberry Moon is the name for the full moon in June? This is because strawberries are ready for picking. Here’s a list of moon names and meanings.

5. How long does it take to travel to the moon? The moon is about 238,855 miles from earth. Traveling by car that would take 130 days. If you took a rocket it would take 13 hours. And should you choose to travel at the speed of light, you could get there in a meer 1.52 seconds.

6. How fast does the moon actually move? The moon travels around the earth at an average speed of 2,288 miles per hour. Sure doesn’t look that fast! Why do you think that is…? I have a few theories.

7. Why is the moon so bright? It’s actually not, well, not really. The moon is not a light source, it doesn’t make its own light, it reflects light from the sun. We can see the moon because light from the sun bounces off it back to the earth. If the sun wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be able to see the moon.

8. Why does the moon change shapes, then sometimes disappears entirely? The moon appears to change shape but what we are actually seeing is the moon lit up by the light from the sun in different ways on different days. Check out this graphic from red-roko (to the right). It shows this perfectly.

9. Where does the phrase “once in a Blue Moon” come from? The second full moon occurring within a calendar month is called a Blue Moon. The latest was seen on 31st May 2007. And just to put this phrase into context, his phenomenon occurs once every three years on average. 

10. Why does the moon follow me? If you’re driving down your street at night, it may look like the moon is chasing you, zooming behind the treetops to keep up with you. The moon isn’t actually following you, though. It’s just an optical illusion. The moon appears to follow you because it’s so far away. As you walk or drive along, things much closer to you, like trees and houses, appear to move between you and the moon making it look like it’s the moon that’s actually moving.

Discovering the inner artist: tricks for bringing out the creative child.

This weekend my husband and I headed to the local art museum.  There was a gallery featuring artwork by the local high school students.  Incredible.  Even the pieces missing symmetry or the ‘perfect’ level of shading impressed me.  The effort.  The thoughtfulness.  The unique perspective of each student manifested as creative license in each piece.  

I thought of my own daughter and wondered how in the world I would ever be able to encourage the artist in her, considering my lack of formal artistic training.  It’s one thing to teach your kid how to glue construction paper and glitter and popsicle sticks together, but it is another beast altogether to teach a child to recreate, on paper, with a pencil, the world around them.  

Naturally, I turned to my mother for guidance.  How do you teach a kid to draw when the whole idea intimidates you?  I grew up watching her draw–for fun, to earn some extra money, and with us.  She somehow managed to be encouraging even while she carefully corrected us.  She taught us to forgive ourselves when our drawings didn’t look like we thought they should.  She taught us to try again, because trying again was fun.  I remember drawing with her so clearly, but I don’t remember her technique–how did she teach us to embrace the challenge of recreating something on paper?

She agreed to write up her thoughts on the subject to share with you all…

It is a common misconception that children need to be taught to draw.  But really!  They don’t need someone to show them how to make a mark.  They love to make marks—on walls and floors and brothers and bellies.  I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have a pencil in hand, but it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I learned how to “draw” in spite of countless hours and a small fortune invested in lessons.  Soon after, I started teaching at my daughter’s elementary school as a volunteer.  What I discovered is this:  Teaching children to draw means first teaching them to see and teaching them to see means giving them permission to ignore the symbolic world of our educational system.  There’s nothing wrong with symbols: this post would mean nothing to you if you had not mastered symbology (i.e. letters) in school.  But when it comes to drawing, I find that spaces, lines, texture, hue, saturation and color are much more interesting than symbols. (more…)

What tape is stickiest? Helping young kids in the science fair.

Just after Ari started back to school this last January, his teacher handed out a piece of paper outlining this year’s school wide science fair project.  I’ve talked before about what a wonderful and lasting effect the science fair had on my own life so I was excited to finally have the chance to share that joy with my own school-aged kid.

Olivia talked a few weeks ago about helping a fifth grader with his science project.  Just to help any mom’s who may still be grappling with their own fears of science, here’s another story–how Ari and I put together his project.

The real problem we (I) had was coming up with a question worth answering.  When I originally broached the subject, my ever-so-typical boy threw out the idea of farts, and testing what foods made him the fartiest.  I’ll be honest–I thought it was a pretty cool project, but I wasn’t so sure his teachers would feel as I did.  So we decided to do that one at home, and think of something else to take to school.

It took three weeks to come up with a new idea; I kept waiting for that spur-of-the-moment question; I kept listening for Ari to muse over some aspect of his daily life.  Finally, as Ari was helping me wrap a birthday gift for Joe, that special moment happened.  We were trying to wrap a box with a brown paper bag, and discovered that the tape we were using was horrible at holding it together.  I think it took us about 18 pieces. At some point Ari said “I wonder if we have any stickier tape we could use.” (more…)

da Vinci schma Vinci: Ice art for the creatively challenged.

It is finally warming up here.  I should be elated, but I find that warmth has turned the snow to mud.  Except for right by the front door–our main entry way is always shaded, and continues to be a slippery death trap.  The house feels cramped and boring after this cold winter.  Even the dog seems lethargic.

I have been in need of color and something creative to do, so this morning I tried ice art.  I saw something similar to this online a few weeks ago somewhere–I can’t for the life of me find the page again, but a quick search pulled up dozens of other moms and teachers who’ve done the same thing.  And I found this cool video of salt melting ice in slow motion.  Some recommend using liquid water colors which can enhance the melting, but I used just plain old food coloring.

(more…)

Helping kids with the science fair: One woman’s story

My next door neighbor is my best friend in town.  We meet up several times a week for popsicles, hot chocolate, or chit chat about what’s been going on in our lives.  His name is Elias and he’s 11.

Did I mention I don’t get out much?

It doesn’t matter, he’s as entertaining as any adult, and full of jokes and wild ideas.  You should hear his plans for the shed in his back yard… it involves a two-story swimming pool, a fire pit, and tiles made out of natural sandstone.  He’s a whiz at doing math in his head (but not questions about time).  He loves electronics, making up stories, and mapping out routes in his head.  Elias has Asperger’s Syndrome.

I won’t even pretend to know what this means from Elias’ point of view, or what it’s like to be his mother.  He and I have a different sort of relationship… but I do know this: he struggles in school and gets picked on a lot.  So much so that he now hates school.  I don’t have to pretend that this makes me sad. (more…)

Fun natural facts about your Christmas tree

We’ve never had a real Christmas tree, as in a tree that was once living. I grew up in a house where my Mom hated to “watch something die in the living room.”

But this year we thought we’d give it a try; the whole getting a permit and chopping down your own tree bit. I broke the news to Ari today thinking he would be thrilled. Our conversation went something like this:

Ari: (disgusted tone) Mom! We can’t just go walking out into the forest and get a tree!! It would take like 30 hundred people to carry it back!

Me: Well, I was thinking we could just get a small tree…

Ari: We have a tree, it’s the tree we always use! It’s in the basement, we just need to put it together.

Me: Ya, but don’t you want to get a different tree this year?

Ari: (still disgusted) Why can’t you just be happy with what you already have?

While he does have a very good point, I still want to cut down my own Christmas tree. And I finally convinced Ari that while I am grateful for the 10 year old pathetic looking fake tree in the basement, it was still a good idea to try cutting our own, just once, to see if we’d like it.

So, while we are out in the woods focused on finding the perfect coniferous tree I thought I’d take advantage of the occasion and make a list of interesting factoids to throw in casual conversation with my children.

Here is what I came up with: (more…)

The mantis in my yard

Thanks to my observant son, I saw the coolest thing the other day.

I was outside pulling weeds while the kids were riding their bikes up and down the block. All of the sudden they stopped at the house next door and started yelling,   “Mom! Mom!  Come look at this praying mantis!  It’s going to have a baby!”  I love that my children want to share these things with me.

Do you know about these critters?  Praying mantises are about as close to charismatic megafauna as an insect can come.  They’re big enough that you can actually see their personalities.  If you move your fingers in front of them, they’ll turn their little heads, watching its every twitch.  Olivia had a friend as a kid who had one as a pet.  She’d stick it on her head like a little cap and walk around with it.  All the neighbor kids thought she was the coolest girl around.  Mantises are like chameleons, they camouflage themselves and hide, waiting for an unsuspecting fly to pass by.  They reach out with those wicked-fast pincers (they can’t hurt you with them) and nab up the fly and gobble it down.  Look on youtube… there are videos of these guys eating fish, mice, and trying for hummingbirds.  Incredible!

But I digress.

Dropping my handful of weeds, I jogged over to see a tan colored mantis with a rather fat abdomen staggering (literally) across the sidewalk. She didn’t look so good and I thought for sure she had been struck by a bike . Thinking she might die at any moment we relocated her to a bush by our front door to live out what little time she had left.

I saw her the next day still on the bush. She was still alive, and still looking terrible.

The next day I noticed her on a rock close by, and look what she was doing!

The kids were right! She was getting ready to have a baby… or rather, getting ready to lay an egg case full of potentially a few hundred babies. Check out this video of a mantis laying an egg case in fast motion.

But I was right too. After she laid her egg case she crawled down from the rock, sorta passed out underneath it, and died. Nature can be so sad. (more…)

The Perseids are coming!

The Perseids always fall around my mom’s birthday, and growing up I remember many a birthday party that involved clambering into the car and getting away from city lights.  The challenge was to see more than Dad.

We’d make dutch oven Gingerbread with Peaches and serve it with ice cream, kept cool under a brick of dry ice.  This weekend, my husband and I will be throwing a mattress out on the back lawn and sleeping under the stars (if the monsoons stay away, that is–cross your fingers!).  Join in the fun!

The stars are aligning for a perfect weekend star party:  The moon will be tiny and coming up late in the evening, the weather is warm, and it’s a weekend!  Time to throw out some blankets and stare at the night sky.

And the best part?  It’s free.

The universe is conspiring to create some fireworks (a.k.a. The Perseid Meteor Shower), and the best time to see them will be Saturday night (the peak is apparently Sunday at noon, but, that won’t work for obvious reasons).  There should be 50-100 meteors per hour (don’t be disappointed if you don’t quite see that many).  The meteors are tiny fragments of thousand-year-old debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle Comet.

Check here for more info on the meteors and other things astronomical.

Watching meteors is a great family event that develops focus in little ones.  Want to share the night sky with your kids?  Here are a few pointers on getting set up: (more…)

Taking a lesson from Olympic athletes: how to lose gracefully when you’re eight

The Olympics are here! I love the Olympics—I like seeing people be the very best at something. It makes me feel good—happy to be a human. Each time they come around I decide that these are my favorite—last winter I decided winter Olympics were the best of all… now I’m thinking it’s summer.

When I was little my mom and a neighbor threw an Olympics for us. We had gymnastics, choreographed swimming, and running events. We were told about the Olympics a week in advance so we had time to ‘train’ and prepare our astonishing feats of physical prowess. The neighbor’s daughter and I prepared a perfectly choreographed swim routine, competing against the other ‘team’ of my sister and her sister. Our two moms watched our final performances and rated us on a scale of one to ten. Then they handed out medals, made from canning lids wrapped in tinfoil, and with a hole punched through for the ribbon. I still have them.

I also remember not winning. The disappointment and sense of something being wrong with the world when my little sister beat me at gymnastics (note my silver medal). I remember crying and pouting… and I remember my fellow eight-year old Olympians doing the same thing when they lost. Losing is hard when you’re small—heck it’s still hard for me. But it is an important skill to learn. (more…)

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    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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