Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mammoth in Ice Excavation

Today is Day Two of our Excavation Activities for Kids! We are sharing one of our absolute favorite activities - a mammoth in ice excavation! We found this Ice Mammoth Building Kit from National Geographic at a yard sale last May and since then we have played with it literally almost every day. While we don't always set up the whole activity, the mammoth is well loved by Bean and she plays with it all the time.

To set it up, we fit the mammoth inside the mold. This time we left out the organs. I filled up the mold and put it in the freezer for a couple hours. When it was finished, I left it on the counter for 10 minutes to melt around the edges so it would slide out easily.

I filled the canister with hot water (not hot enough to burn, just hot enough to melt the ice). I also put a towel over the table to catch any spills.

Sometimes the bones float in the water, which is why it is partially exposed.

I carefully tipped the mold over the examination tray and pressed the back so that the mammoth slide out.

Ta-da! Mammoth!

I love the detail on the mold, so the ice looks just like the fur of a mammoth. :)

I filled a glass pan with snow and put the excavation tray in the middle. We have never added the snow before, but the kids loved it! And why not use it, we have a ton outside!

They were so eager to begin! Munchkin loves the chisel knife.

Bean was all about the syringe. She was so careful too! :)

She discovered that if she pressed the syringe against the ice and then squeezed hot water onto it, the tip would go straight in!

When they were nearly done, they scooped the mammoth out of the tray and let him float in the pool of melted snow and ice.

All done! This mammoth has held up numerous times being frozen and excavated and somehow is still in perfect condition.

Can you believe I got this barely used kit at a yard sale for only $1?! Amazing! And the kit says ages 6+, but my 3 and 5 year old were able to use it with no issues.

In the event that you don't own a kit like this, you could use any bone figures you have and just pack them into a tray of snow or freeze them. You can use a Safari Ltd Woolly Mammoth or any other type of mammoth or Ice Age animal figure and a medicine syringe or eyedroppers. This activity is great for little ones because while they are learning, they are also working on developing fine motor skills. One thing we also add, but did not have a picture of, was a thermometer! We used it to check the temperature of the water throughout the activity. The kids loved reading the numbers and letting me know that the temperature of the water was getting colder and colder by the minute. They observed that the warm water only stayed warm for a short period of time before it pooled into the already ice cold water. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dinosaur Bones Excavation

Today is Day One of Excavation Activities for Kids! We'll also be sharing activities featuring our favorite Ice Age mammal and some real fossils and gemstones!

We keep our excavation activities fairly simple because my kids are still preschoolers. I explain the activity while we are setting it up, talk about the different tools and what they are used for, and once they begin, I open up a book and read to them. The books are themed and relate to the activity, so in this case, it was about excavating dinosaur bones. I also ask them questions or answer their questions and encourage discussions about the subject. 

We used a handful of our dinosaur fossil skeletons and placed them in a container. We usually use our sensory bin, but now that the kids are older and are more careful with loose parts, they now prefer shallower containers, like glass baking pans. I placed the baking pan on a large bamboo tray with sides, so sand (or in this case, cornmeal) will be contained if it does happen to spill over.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

We usually leave our bag of play sand outside, so because it is under 4+ feet of snow, we decided to use cornmeal. Cornmeal is an easy replacement for sand in sensory bins and it's reusable (just keep it clean, dry, and store it in an airtight container). I simply poured the container of cornmeal over the dinosaur bones, which created little mounds that made it look like hills.

We kept it simple and used medium to large fine-bristle paint brushes.

Gently stroke aside the cornmeal/sand and reveal the buried bones!

In case you're interested, check out these educational products on dinosaurs from Usborne Books and More!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Game of the Month: eeBoo's Pre-school Lotto Game

Welcome back to our Game of the Month series! We absolutely love board games and play them often. Our kids share our love of games and this series is meant to share with our readers our favorite games. Our hope is to help you find awesome board games for your children. We will go over who makes the game, how the game is played, and our favorite features of the game. We also include any hiccups we may have had along the way, as far as rules go and young children being able to follow them. If that's the case, we will share the modifications or rule changes we have made for the game so that younger children can play with their older siblings.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

This month we are featuring eeBoo's Preschool Lotto Game! eeBoo makes some of our favorite games and we picked this one up for Christmas. We own a handful of other games made by eeBoo and they are always at the top of our list when we are choosing a new game to add to our collection. eeBoo is a boutique manufacturer of well-made educational toys and games. They are 100% original and feature beautiful illustrations and unique art! eeBoo's products are wonderful for promoting literacy, story telling, drawing, imaginative play and basic math skills. Many of their products have won Oppenheim Best Toy Awards, including the Lotto Game!

eeBoo's Lotto Game is great for children ages 3 and up. A 2 year old who is familiar with matching activities may be ready for this game. We have a stack of other matching games, but they are only tile games. We love that this game comes with a cards for the tiles, which is ideal for younger children to practice their matching and recognition skills. This way they aren't trying to match two random tiles in a pile. It's a wonderful beginner game and there are many ways to play!

The game can be played by 2-6 children, but honestly you can use it for solo games too. The game comes with 6 different picture cards and tiles to match each card. Each card has a set of 6 pictures on it (themes include: fruits and vegetables, toys, vehicles, farm animals, jungle animals, and pets). The cards and tiles are color coded for easy sorting (this will also help younger children recognize the groups). 

How to Play

1 - Select a Lotto Card. Players can choose at random or pick one they prefer. 

2 - Tiles are placed face down and in reach of all the players. Use the tiles that match the cards being used. For added difficulty, use extra tiles from the unused cards. 

3 - The youngest player goes first and selects a tile.

4 - If the tile you chose matches your card, you may place it on your card, otherwise place it back face-down in the spot you picked it up from. If you are playing with younger children and their first tile does not match, they can choose a second tile. Show each unmatched tile to the other players before returning it face down to the table.

5 - The player on your left goes next. They choose a tile and either match it to their card or show it to the other players and returns it. 

6 - Play the game until one child fills up their entire card. They can then call out, "Lotto!" (My kids usually just say, "I'm done!" or "I win!")


- Early learning concepts that promote family interaction and fun.
- Visual discrimination to match tiles to Lotto cards. 
- Critical categorization skills - evaluate whether their chosen tile matches the theme of their Lotto card. 
- Keeping track of the tiles replaced - remembering the location helps build their memory skills.
- Social skills - taking turns, experiencing winning and losing in a supportive environment. 

eeBoo's suggestions on adding more elements to the Lotto Game:

- At the end of the game, ask the player's to name a few other things that could have matched the theme of their card. Example: fruits and vegetables - broccoli, banana, apple. 
-  Ask the players to explain why they are returning a tile to the pile. Example: it does not match the theme, the color does not match, the animal does not belong with this group, etc.
- Tell a short story after the game using all the tiles on one card as objects or characters in a story. 

These are wonderful way to promote social and literacy skills in a fun, gaming environment!

In particular, we love how durable the tiles are. They are made out of thick cardboard and I don't have to worry about a toddler picking them up (unless it's to put them in their mouth - I wouldn't suggest allowing that). The tiles and cards are bright, glossy and sturdy. They are easy to pick up and the box is pretty compact. I love that the box isn't huge and there's only a small amount of extra space inside (great for people who already own a ton of games and need to fit them on the shelf somehow). The box is also sturdy and opens slowly, so if a child is carrying the box, it's very unlikely that the button will fall out and scatter the pieces everywhere. Overall, it's a wonderfully designed game and we really enjoy it. 

Here are a few ways we have used this game:

Pattern Making - Each row is treated as a pattern to match. The tiles are mixed up and placed face-up in reach. The child has to make the pattern below the card. 

Theme/Color Matching - Skip the cards and just play with the tiles. Each child can choose a color and practice matching the other tiles in their group. (Munchkin will often use all of the tiles and line up each color in rows. He will then name each tile and then count them, either by row or all of them.)

Solo Game - Played just like the regular game, except with only one player. Mix up the tiles and place them below the card face-down. Flip one tile up at a time and match them to the correct picture. You can make it harder and try to match them in order, meaning you'll have to remember where some tiles are.

When two players play, let them choose their cards (unless you're working on a particular theme). Flip over the matching tiles and mix them up. You can make it more difficult by adding in tiles from the other cards. 

My children prefer when the tiles are lined up. It's ok if some of the tiles aren't facing the right way. Younger children may end up turning them around a few times to find the correct way  to match their tiles.

See, those peas don't match either card. So now they know not to choose that tile!

This is a great game for toddlers and preschoolers! Kindergarteners may find it too easy, which is why I sometimes try to make it more difficult for Bean. Older children will likely prefer a tiles only game.

eeBoo has a bunch of lovely memory games to choose from, such as Life on Earth Memory GamePre-School Animal Memory GameeeBoo Number Memory GamePreschool Nature Memory Game, and I Never Forget a Face Memory Game, just to name a few!

I encourage you to check out eeBoo's shop and I hope you find unique games for your children!  Happy Gaming!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hydroponics at Home

Welcome to the A-Z Kids STEM Activities Series! Today I will be sharing a lesson on Hydroponics!

We first started learning about hydroponics last spring when my aunt gave us a cutting of a Dracaena house plant. She told us to leave it in a pot of water until it grew roots. This literally took months. As of now, the roots are only a few inches long. Over the summer we experimented with adding soil and discovered that it grew better with just water. That's when we decided to look into growing methods that omit soil.

We started by checking out Instructables and found that they did in fact have some suggestions for growing using the hydroponics method at home. Hydroponics is basically growing plants without the use of dirt or soil and replacing it with a nutrient rich water. If you like DIY projects and growing your own herbs and vegetables, but have a limited space (live in an apartment, have a small yard, etc.) this is a great method to try out!

If you'd like to learn more about hydroponics on a smaller level, I'd definitely suggest the AquaFarm from Back to the Roots. It's a fish tank that allows you to also grow six plants right above the tank. You could have a mini herb garden in your kitchen! The AquaFarm is a great example of a small scale aquaponics system, which is a food production process that combines aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics. The fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water. This closed-loop ecosystem is also a great way to learn about symbiotic relationships in an environment!

Wikipedia image of a hydroponics system.

Wikipedia image of an aquaponics system.

To start your own hydroponics growing system, you'll need to choose your plant (it will be harder to start from seed), a bucket and/or Net Cup, a medium (could be sand, Clay, Rockwool Cubes, or nothing at all), and a nutrient rich water source (like FloraGro Fertilizer). You can easily find these materials at Home Depot, local gardening stores or even online (Amazon has some decent deals). It will cost about $30 to buy all the basic materials to start a small hydroponics system. Hydroponically grown foods are said to taste better and are more nutritious. You can also control what goes into growing them and you'll pollute less, which is good for the environment!

The method we use is the static solution culture. We plan to expand on our project in the spring and create a garden outside using plastic tubs to grow herbs and vegetables. Currently we have green onions, celery and our Dracaena plant growing on our windowsill. We do not use a nutrient fertilizer, but we will once we set up the garden outside. The green onions and celery simply regrow every time they are cut (right above the bulb or 1-2 inches above the roots). We always buy organic vegetables that we plan to regrow in our windowsill. We replace the water at least once a week and clean the roots to make sure there is no algae growth or root rot. Too much water can actually damage the roots, so I always leave a small amount of the roots above the water to aerate them. Many people who use the hydroponics method at home use a bubbler system that aerates the water for them. We use a hand pump with a tube to add air to the water once or twice a day. The kids love helping! We only do this for the Dracaena plant.

Why do we learn about hydroponics at home? We are homeschoolers and enjoy learning about science in real life situations. Life science is especially fascinating to Bean and she likes reading books about plants and how they grow (her favorites are Science With Plants and How Flowers Grow). Hydroponics is relatively low maintenance (depending on the type of system you put together and how many plants you decide to grow) and is an easy way for children to learn about growing their own plants and food. We also feel that it is important to teach them how to care for plants at a young age so they will grow up knowing how to grow their own food.

We do not have many sunny windowsills in our house, so we reserve those for the vegetables and herbs. Our Dracaena does well in low sunlight. Bean wanted to be able to see the roots grow, so we chose a clear container. Unfortunately, our Dracaena is quite a heavy plant, so we had to use this sturdy glass litre mug.

We keep track of growth by measuring the roots, stems and leaves about once a week. If we are especially busy (like in December), we will skip the weekly checks and see what the end of the month shows. We track the growth using a calendar, noting the days that we change the water (we measure it when it is out of the water on a clean surface), along with the weather for the day. This helps us compare the growth, such as slower growth on cold weeks, and more growth on warmer, sunny weeks. This spring we will finally transition the Dracaena to a large planter. In the meantime we will continue to learn about hydroponics and try other techniques to see what system works best for us!

Be sure to visit Little Bins for Little Hands to find more posts in the A-Z Kids STEM Activities Series!

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