Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chalk Games on The Patio - Dots and Boxes

One of the fun things about summer is taking normal, everyday, indoor games and activities - outside.

So, for instance, after we realized our chalk lines would not stop ants on our dilapidated, back patio, we set up a game of dots and boxes, instead.

I've posted about the game before (a super-sized indoor version), but just in case you're unfamiliar with the rules, they are simple.

Just draw out a quick grid of dots with as many rows or columns as you like (the larger the grid, the longer the game).

Then take turns drawing lines.  Each player draws one line (vertical or horizontal)  between two of the adjoining dots.

If you happen to draw a line that closes in a box, you mark the box with your initial, and take another turn.  The winner is the player with the most boxes marked with their initial when all the squares are closed.

Dots and boxes is usually played as a boredom buster on scraps of paper inside (in a waiting room, or when the sermon runs a little long)...

...but moves outside into the fresh air with ease.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Science - Will Ants Cross a Line of Chalk?

I was on Pinterest the other day, searching out some fabulous thing or other, when I happened across a photo of ants running a chalk maze.  Clicking through to the original article from the Examiner (you might notice one eyebrow raising if you could see me, and if I could actually raise just one eyebrow), I was informed that ants will not, or don't care to cross lines of chalk, and so if a chalk maze is drawn around them, they will move through the maze rather than crossing the lines of chalk.

C (age 10) informed me that wouldn't work.  Apparently, back in her younger days, she used to draw circles around ants with her chalk, to try to trap them (they were playing a lot of Zoo Empire back then).  According to C, her ants would act trapped and confused for a few minutes, but then they would cross the chalk, out of the circle, and continue on their way.

We proceeded outside to find the first ant we could (it happened to be on our very dilapidated back patio - which isn't really good for chalk, but good enough for our purposes).  Just as C thought, when confronted with a line of chalk, the ant did at first act upset and confused - it even started out walking our quickly drawn maze.

 But, after a few seconds it tired of the game, grew used to the chalk, and walked right across the lines.

So, it would appear, that while ants might be momentarily disturbed by a line of chalk (or just about anything) placed in their path, and it might slow them down - in the end, it won't stop them.  Ants will, most certainly, cross a line of chalk.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Crochet Glow in the Dark Frisbee and Wristbands

I came across some glow in the dark yarn (non-affiliate link) when I searching out something fun to send in a surprise package to the girls at camp.  The yarn wasn't what I was looking for for a camp care package, but I thought it might be fun to have on hand for when the girls return with their buddy K in tow for a summer visit.

Like most specialty yarns, it's sort of expensive for the small amount, 120 yards or about 50 grams, of thin, cotton-type yarn that you get, but I figure we can unravel and reuse it in various projects, as needed.

For a first test project, I tried out a quick crochet frisbee pattern I found on (I love free patterns).  The pattern suggested crocheting with two strands of yarn.  Even so, I wasn't sure the yarn would be sturdy enough for a frisbee.

It worked out great though, and after several test throws (throwing and snapping pictures at the same time)...

...I was satisfied the frisbee would fly...

...sort of like a floppy pancake...

...but still well enough to make it across a room.

Then, I moved on to wristbands - first with a crochet pattern from, here, and then switching over to a garter stitch (knitting every row, all knits and no pearls) on a pair of #2 knitting needles.  The garter stitch is stretchier, and easier to get on and off than the crochet.

Of course, the purpose of the wristbands is so we can see where we're throwing our glowing frisbee to, when the lights go out.

I have a few more wristbands to make, but the boys and I gave our night frisbee a test run in the basement, before bed last night - and it was a blast.

Monday, July 20, 2015

More Beetles (and their larvae) In the Backyard

European Ground Beetle - Wikipedia

No, the freaky bug at the top of this post is not an escapee from Ceti Alpha V...

...but just the larva (think caterpillar) of a harmless, and helpful, European immigrant - Carabus nemoralis or the common, European Ground Beetle.

Like other beetles from the the Carabidae (or ground beetle) family, they don't fly.  But, they do eat insects from your yard. 

This guy is from our backyard.

We've spotted several larvae around the house, too (the latest was in our utility room).  I don't have any pictures to show you though (thus the Wikipedia shot at the top). I was too busy smashing them (before I knew what they were) to stop and take any pictures, because I have seen Wrath of Khan, after all.

Now that we know what they are though, we'll be implementing a capture and release program for any others we find in the house.  With more than 40,000 ground beetles worldwide, 2,000 residing in the US (and even more in Europe), you're bound to run into one or two, this summer, too.

If you're interested in knowing more about them, you might want to check out:

BioKIDs Critter Catalogue,
the Ground Beetle page from (a lot of very good information, here),
or watch the short videos from the ground beetle page of BBC Nature Wildlife site.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

McMinion Math

Update:  Below is the contents of the email I received back from McDonald's.  At this point I'm assuming the puzzle is a misprint.  Even so, if you happen to see 96 triangles, I'd love to know the solution.
Thank you for contacting McDonald's and sharing your comments with us. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to address your concerns.

I'm sorry you were disappointed recently with the puzzle on our Minion themed Happy Meal box . At every McDonald's we strive to deliver 100-percent Total Customer Satisfaction. However, it appears as though we've failed to deliver these standards to you. I apologize that I do not have a solution to the puzzle to share with you.

Because you are a valued customer, I have shared your comments with our Quality Assurance team. They work closely with our suppliers to ensure that all of our products meet our quality standards. Your complete satisfaction is one of our top priorities.

Again, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We hope to have the opportunity of serving you again

Well, I have to admit to being  Mc-stumped.  I ordered the tweens, McDonald's Happy Meals for lunch - sort of as a joke, since they outgrew Happy Meals some time ago.  (Okay, maybe it was because I wanted to hear what the Minion toys actually had to say).

Original Post:
Anyway, the puzzle at the top of this page was printed on the side of the box.  The kids took a couple of seconds counting triangles, and then turned back to their burgers and fries, content to trust the Minion (Phil? or Tom?) that the "pyramid" was made up of 96 triangles.

I wanted proof.  So, I copied the triangle, made up of 16 small triangles, 96 times to make a worksheet... color in, so it would be easy to see that we weren't getting any duplicate triangles in our count.  I figured I'd work on it alone, find the solution, and then challenge the tweens to take an real stab at it.  The only problem was that I didn't find 96 triangles, I only found 27.

Of course, the Minion said there were 96 triangles in the "pyramid" not the "big triangle".  So, I tried again working with the shape as a four sided pyramid (or tetrahedron)...

...which would flatten out as in the picture below.  However, 27 triangles on each side, times 4 sides, equals 108 - not 96.

And, I briefly considered a five sided, square bottomed, pyramid, but that would take figuring the area of the square bottom divided by the area of the smallest triangles, and not only did that come out uneven, and greater than 96 (something like 101 triangles), it seemed a little convoluted for the target age of children normally ordering Happy Meals.

My children are content to believe it is probably supposed to be more of a "how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop" sort of question - one meant to be enjoyed, and fudged, rather than solved.  Just to be sure, I emailed McDonald's and ask for a solution.

While I'm waiting, what do you think?  Is the pyramid made of 96 triangles, or not?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Get Kids Moving - Bubbles and (Inflatable) Battle Swords

I found an unopened package of safe, inflatable, Banzai Battle Swords while unpacking (left over gift-package loot from a couple of summers ago).  Combined with a couple of bottles of bubbles...

 ...they made for an excellent evening work-out.  The children (and I) took turn blowing bubbles...

...and wielding swords...

 ...trying to keep even one bubble from escaping.

It was an impossible task, of course, but as they got better with their aim, we upped the difficulty... adding blindfolds.

 Use the force, young Jedi.

Use the force.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What to Do With All That Child Made Artwork.

 Every so often, another mother will ask what I do with all the pictures and crafts my children have made.

I actually keep an large, old shoe box, up on a closet shelf, where it is easy to get to, but still out of the way... I can easily slip pictures into it, when I take them down from the fridge, or clear the table.  I take a quick second, and mark the back of each picture with the child's name and the date, or the season and year - if I can't remember the exact date the picture was drawn.

When the box is full, I go through it, and remove duplicate type drawings, so I have a nice sampling of each child's work, from each stage of development to keep.

After all, I loved those preschool drawn pancake people as much as any mom...

...but I don't really need every single one to remember, or to show the children later.

As to the bigger crafts, I might snap a quick photo of them for the box - then, I heartlessly dismantle them, recouping whatever pieces (googly eyes, feathers, craft sticks) that can be reused.  Unless the craft is also a toy, and then I leave it to be played with until it is either destroyed, forgotten, or outgrown.  At which point it can usually go into to the trash without causing its maker too much trauma.

How about you?  Any great suggestions for storing all that artwork?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fruity Ladybug Bites

The girls (ages 9 and 10) helped me put together a quick, and healthy, ladybug snack in honor of the ladybug larva we found in the kitchen sink, released outside, and then spent the next hour trying to identify.

We finally decided it was likely either the larva a seven-spotted ladybug or a convergent ladybug, both of which we've seen in our yard recently.  There is a shocking lack of resources for ladybug larvae identification.  However there's a wealth of ideas for making ladybug themed treats.

We usually opt for cookies, to celebrate the spotting of the first ladybug of spring, like the convergent ladybug cookies pictured above.  In the stress and confusion of moving, we missed that tradition this year.  And now, well into summer, it seemed time for something lighter.

We started by scooping out a small ball of watermelon, with a rounded teaspoon measure...

...placed on a plate...

...with half a blueberry for a head...

...and topped with pieces of fresh Oregon blackberries...

...picked by my very own mother, and handed off to the Man of the House, when he dropped the older girls off there for camp.

You could stick a toothpick through the watermelon and blueberries to hold them together, and make small slits in the watermelon to place the blackberries into.  I'm not a big fan of toothpicks in food for children, so we just ate ours as is... pieces.

Monday, July 13, 2015

7 Simple Steps to Successful Summer Science Exploration with Your Children

Summertime and science are such a natural pairing.  The weather is fine, children have extra time on their hands, and there's a entire world worth of discovery going on just outside the backdoor.

Don't worry if you're scientifically inept, or not a natural teacher, you don't have to pack the children off to an expensive summer science-theme camp (not that those aren't great, too) to squeeze in summer learning.  All you really have to do is follow the seven steps below.

1. Send your children outside.

There are plenty of scientific discoveries to be made inside too, but save those for rainy days, or the winter months.

Parental common sense applies.  Younger children should be supervised and older children should know not to eat unfamiliar plants, or try to handle unfamiliar bugs, or animals - think Kratt brothers' warning here.

2. Wait and see what they spot.

Whether it's a cool cloud formation...

...a rainbow in the sprinkler...

...or an unknown insect...

...children are naturally curious about the world around them.  You can feed this curiosity right from the start by pointing out special "wonders" to your toddlers, or simply being interested, and listening when older children run back in to tell you what they've found.

3. Take a quick picture of said discovery.

Weather changes in an instant, and birds and bugs are quick to fly (or skitter) away.  A couple of pictures (the clearer the better) can capture details that will help when it comes to identifying the discovery.  Plus, seeing that you're interested enough to stop everything and snap a picture of their find, is another way to let children know you think their observations are interesting and important.

4. Look it up online.

Books are great, but you really can't beat the Internet when it comes to information at your  fingertips. It's not always perfect, and you won't always find what you're looking for on a first try, but you'd be amazed what you can hunt down if you just keep at it.

As children get old enough to handle Internet access safely, teach them how to search out information, too.

Start with wide, general searches - such as "round, green spider in our garden".  

View images (with caution if little eyes are watching, too) to hone in on similar things. 

Then, from there you can move to more specific searches, such as "comb-footed spiders of North America"...

...or "candy stripe spiders in Montana".

5. Don't be afraid to of the Latin.

The official scientific names for animals and plants can be intimidating.  But, you don't have to read Latin to type the Latin name of an insect into a search engine.  Using the scientific name will lead you to more scholarly sites, where the information is often more specific, and usually more accurate.  Once you've searched out what your child has found specifically, you can go back to the common name, and search for a "kid page" for simpler information to pass on to your children.

6. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

You won't always get it right.  That's okay.  Your children are going to learn something from the process, anyway. 

If you realize you were wrong later, correct your mistake though.  Children will be more likely to give research a try themselves, if they see it's okay to try and fail, try and fail.

7. Follow it up.

Once you've identified the bird, or tracked down the reason for the phenomenon your child has brought to your attention, follow-up with a trip to the library.  Track down a few books about it, or an interesting video - Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, or even the local video store is a great place to start.

Then, with books and videos in hand, consider working on a craft or themed-snack together, to really bring it all home. 

Ladybug Larva Cookies
That's optional, of course, but fun all the same.  And really, that's what summer science should be all about.