Watching Caterpillars



This week is all about caterpillars. Not confident in my ability to find and catch a wild caterpillar, I went ahead and ordered a Painted Lady butterfly kit from Insect Lore. Five little caterpillars arrived on our doorstep last week and Silas has been taking his job as careful observer very seriously. Every day he checks on them to make sure they are eating and moving and to see how much they have grown. Yesterday, the last chrysalis was formed and so tomorrow we can safely transfer them into the butterfly habitat. And then we wait.

We are reading Ten Little Caterpillars by Martin and From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Heiligman. I especially like the latter title as it is a narration of the process we're going through - watching the metamorphosis play out in a cup - and a Painted Lady butterfly is the star, rather than a monarch, which seems to be the far more popular butterfly to write about.

Easter Tree





Of all the projects we've done to celebrate Easter this year, I have to say that making this little Easter Tree with Silas was by far my favorite. It unfolded slowly, over the course of a week or two. First we gathered the sticks during our morning nature walks. Then we sat together and wrapped them with embroidery floss. I have a bin of mixed colors that I inherited from my grandmother and it is a jumbled tangled knot-of-a-mess, which didn't at all prevent Silas from having a very fine time in selecting his colors and pulling them from the large ball of thread, one at a time. We'll hang our few decorated eggs from its branches this weekend as we celebrate the return of spring.

Tie-Dyed Easter Eggs




Last week, Silas and I cut up some thrifted silk ties and used them to dye Easter eggs. I saw this project on the interwebs a couple years ago and have been really wanting to try it ever since (I followed this tutorial). It was an easy enough process, but this was definitely a mama-project. It was a little too detail oriented and fussy to capture Silas' attention. I was hoping for a bit more of a dramatic result. You really, really have to get that fabric wrapped smoothly and tightly around the egg to get a good transfer. But, these weren't too bad for a first-timer, I thought!

Marbled Eggs




After our Easter Egg Dying Party, we put a half dozen of our eggs back into their dye baths, and popped them into the refrigerator over night to see how much the colors would deepen with a longer soak. Before putting them into the dye, though, we cracked the shells a bit so that the dye could permeate into the egg itself, giving the white a marbled effect. We only gave them a couple gentle taps and the effect we got was pretty subtle. With some serious whacks I think you might get some more dramatic results.

This week we are reading Rechenka's Eggs by Polacco and The Birds' Gift by Kimmel. I love both of these books and Silas asks to read them several times each in a sitting. The stories are similar, though, both being folk tales about people who in some way save a bird from mortal danger who then repays the favor with a gift of beautifully decorated eggs. Rechenka's Eggs is probably the most age-appropriate of the two for preschoolers, simply because it's a bit shorter and a more straightforward story.

I'm loving all that we're doing, but good heavens, I'll be glad when we don't have to eat any more eggs.

Coloring Easter Eggs, Naturally






This past Sunday, as cold rain drizzled out of the sky, some friends gathered with us at our home to color Easter eggs with our little ones. It was a truly fantastic morning of creativity, conversation, and play. And the kids had fun too.

I pre-made all the dye baths the night before and our process with the kids worked really well. I had six empty gallon jars into which we put our hard-boiled eggs. Then we poured the dye baths over them and let them sit for an hour while we played. When we fished them out, we found a rainbow.

From left to right in the bottom picture the dyes were onion skins, beets, red cabbage, red zinger tea, spinach, and turmeric. I just boiled each of the ingredients in around 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes, strained the liquid, let it cool, and then added 1 TBS. of white vinegar per cup of dye liquid. The quantities of the ingredients were: a quart jar packed with onion skins; one quart shredded beet; half a head of cabbage, shredded; 6 bags of tea; a large bunch of spinach; and 1/2 tsp. of turmeric - I would have used a tablespoon, but that was all that I had on hand.

Silas was pretty excited about seeing the transformation in the eggs, especially the more dramatic ones, like the orange. When we cracked some open the next day to eat, he marveled at the bowl of mixed color shells and said, "we should do a project with these! A project for Easter!" Be still my heart. 

Naked Eggs





Last week and this week are all about eggs. Every day of last week we read Chickens Aren't the Only Ones by Heller and A Nest Full of Eggs by Jenkins (a book we had out last year), usually right before or after doing an experiment or activity that involved eggs. One such endeavor was to make naked eggs, which are just eggs that have had their shells dissolved by vinegar and are held intact solely by the inner membrane.

This is a great preschool science activity because it's all about hands-on observation. It was so fascinating to ask Silas questions about our experiment and then to listen to his answers; what a window into the way he's learning to figure out the world.

First, we made some observations about our eggs. We noted that they are white and they are hard and that they crack when you drop them. Then we put them in glass cups, covered them with vinegar, and waited to see what happens. I asked Silas what he noticed. "Bubbles!"

On day two, we dumped out the vinegar, rinsed the eggs, and then covered them with fresh vinegar and left them to sit for another day. This time, he noticed a white foam had collected on the surface of the liquid. I asked him where he thought it might have come from. "Water" was his initial answer. "Did we put any water in the cup?" I asked. "No. Vinegar!" he answered, following up with, "I think the foam came from the glass." "Maybe," I said. At this point, it is not at all important that he have the "right" answer. What is important, is that he learn how to observe, to note change, and to have a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. I see myself as a guide who is helping him to figure things out for himself, not a provider of answers.

On day three, we again dumped out the vinegar and then rinsed the eggs under running water, carefully wiping off the last of the shell residue. We put them in a bowl and I got out two fresh eggs to compare. He noticed that the soaked eggs were soft and a different color. "They're missing their shells!" he said. "I wonder where they went?" I asked.

I wish that I had a picture of his face when he broke the membrane on the first egg and it "exploded!" And then he got to explode the second egg. The egg-y mess was definitely the highlight of the experience.


(Don't worry - we cooked up the exploded eggs and fed them to our dog, Nikita. They didn't go to waste!)

Learning with Beans





Our week about planting seeds was actually back in March. I've been waiting to share it because we've been waiting, ever so patiently waiting, for the seeds that we planted to sprout. It's not happenin'. Have I told you about my gardening brown thumb? Oh yes. I struggle to keep plants alive, let alone getting them to start from seed. It is most definitely not my strong suite. So, I'm just going to embrace it and move on to more fruitful endeavors.

We started the week by reading The Carrot Seed by Krauss and A Seed is Sleepy by Aston (only reading the narrative of this one and skipping all the little factoids). Then it was off to the grocery store to get some beans. My original intent was to let Silas choose his own assortment of beans from the bulk bins, but when I really looked at them, I realized that there were only a half dozen or so varieties represented. So, instead, we just scooped up some pre-mixed 32 bean soup mix.

The first thing that we did was to sort them. There were not, I'm sorry to say, 32 different beans present. We only counted 28, but some, I will admit, were hard to discern. Silas loved this, as he loves all things sorting-related. Of course, when he grew tired of it and was ready to move on, mama had to step in and finish the sorting, because you can't just leave a job like that half-finished, can you? They all must be sorted, right? (I don't have a problem, really I don't. Really.)

Then it was on to labeling. I try to keep our info-gathering as low tech as possible, so searching for pictures of the beans online was out. Luckily, I still had my Seed Saver catalog, which, of course, has beautiful photographs of every bean you can imagine. Together, Silas and I turned the pages, looking for matches. He delighted in asking me what the names were and his special job was sticking the label next to its respective beans.

We compared the cups of beans, finding which one had the most and which one had the least, counting along the way. We talked about the color and shape and size. We held them between our fingers and in our hands and talked about the way they felt.

Then, we picked out our favorite beans to sprout. Silas chose the Christmas lima beans, which I have to admit are pretty cool. I was a big fan of the Calypso with the Jacob's Cattle being a close second. So, we got out our trowels and planted them and Silas dutifully watered them every day. Well, we already know how that turned out.

Finally, we ate them! I have to say, this soup was fantastic. I never would have picked out or purchased this mix without the goal of using it for this exploration, but I'm so glad that I did. It's totally going into our regular meal rotation. Of course, I added ham, so that probably helped to up its delicious-factor. All-in-all it was a pretty good use of $3 worth of beans, wouldn't ya say?

Paint With The Wind







The open-ended art activity for our week of wind exploration was to "paint with the wind." I set out three cups with liquid watercolor paint, three pipettes, a straw and a sheet of watercolor paper on a tray for Silas to discover. Anything that involves "squeezies" is an immediate hit with him, so he was very excited to see them out.

While he watched, I demonstrated squeezing a small pool of paint on the paper and then used the straw to blow it across the surface. He picked it up quickly and went through several sheets of paper, eventually dumping the cups of paint on the last one (isn't this how these activities always end?).

I think that next time we paint with the wind, we'll try it outside with a larger sheet of paper so that he can really get that paint to move. He seemed to be a bit stifled by the small surface area with which he was working. Plus, outside we might get some artistic contribution by Aeolus himself.

Exploring the Wind: Chimes



"Wind" really does offer lots of opportunities for exploration. After kites and pinwheels, which helped us to make the wind visible, we decided to make some chimes to give her a voice. There are so many examples of beautiful wind chimes that you can make. I thought about using old jewelry, silverware, ceramic pots...but I wanted to keep it simple and use things that were of Silas' world, not mine.

We found this really fantastic stick on one of our morning nature walks. It was just perfect, so that's where we started. Next, I pulled out a set of lacing beads that I found at the thrift store awhile back. With the little fingers doing the lacing and the big fingers doing the tying, a wind chime was born. It's a subtle song that it sings, but it's added a much-needed pop of color to our still-brown trees and the quiet clanking of wooden bead upon bead has become the background noise of our front yard play.

Exploring the Wind: Pinwheels


One of the things on my "to-do" list for our week exploring the wind was to play with pinwheels. Our favorite book of the week, Gilberto and the Wind by Ets, is chock full of different ways that one little boy plays with his friend Wind. So, when I suggested to Silas one afternoon that we make pinwheels his response was, "just like Gilberto!"


This was also an opportunity for Silas to practice his scissor skills. This was the first time that he's ever used them, actually. I gave him a quick demonstration, pointed out some safety rules and provided him with long strips of paper to cut and he was completely occupied while I cut the paper for our pinwheels.


There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to make a pinwheel, so I'm sure you don't need one more from me (I mostly followed this one). The one step, though, that wasn't in all tutorials, but should have been, is the inclusion of a bead between the back of the paper and the pencil eraser. It helps dramatically with how well the pinwheel is able to turn.

For the paper, I used pages from our precious past year's Nikki McClure calendar. Silas chose which images we should use.


They are blank on the backside, which is perfect for a project like this. I broke out the crayons to decorate the blank side; a good opportunity to practice covering the page with solid color with the block crayons.


Then outside we went where the wind was strong and gusty. At age three, science activities should be all about experience and observation, in my opinion. Silas figured out on his own how to hold the pinwheel so that it would catch the wind and intuitively experimented with holding them out and up to get them to spin faster. 


I wish you could hear his exclamation of joy in this photo! "Whoa-ho-ho!"


When interest started to wane, I asked him what he thought might happen if he ran while holding his pinwheel.


We made five and when gathered together, they made a lovely bouquet for our dinner table during these early spring days when our flowers are still just little green shoots tentatively poking through the ground.


Silas is 3-years-old.