Monday, June 29, 2009

Preschool Chemistry, or What Do You Really Know About Baking Soda and Vinegar?

Chemist at Work with Baking Soda and Vinegar You may have seen baking soda and vinegar in action in a volcano experiment in elementary school or even as an activity at the preschool level. You may even know how to make that volcano. But do you know what the chemical reaction is? Just what’s in those bubbles, anyway? I don’t presume to be a chemistry nerd but here’s what I know.

Baking soda and vinegar leave you with three things once they’re mixed: carbon dioxide (the bubbles), water, and sodium acetate*. I asked a chemist to find out, but you can just as easily find this information on the web. The friendly chemist assured me that sodium acetate tastes really awful and would be hard to consume in large enough quantities to be harmful. Besides, to make sure nothing amiss happens you should be watching kids who are working with chemicals! Vinegar stings in the eyes and on cuts, but isn’t harmful.

Adding dish soap to the vinegar makes the reaction last a little longer. The bubbles are smaller and seem to appear more slowly. This is a great comparison activity and can be useful for children who are intimidated by all the very active bubbling that takes place when large quantities are being used.A Preschooler's Volcano

I like to add watercolors to the vinegar so children can see color mixing going on. It doesn’t always mix as quickly as you think it would, particularly if you’re also using dish soap.

When you’re working with young children, be brave enough to use the real words for things. This gives them exposure to new descriptive language for the concepts and also give them “hooks” for learning the information in a different context later. Go ahead and say things like, “chemical reaction,” “sodium acetate,” “reactants,” and so forth. You might feel like a dork at first but you’ll warm up to it.

For the next few posts I’m going to explore what we can do with vinegar and baking soda with the early childhood bunch. It’s a favorite activity starting from toddlerhood and going until, well, adulthood for some of us. I’m sure some of you have creative ideas and I’ve love to hear about them. Feel free to leave links in the comments so other people can see what you’ve done, too.

In my own house, my son likes to make a HUGE pile of baking soda and inject vinegar into it using long droppers. We all end up with very soft hands from the salty scrub that ends up happening. It’s like grainy wet sand by the time we’re done with it!

*For the detail-oriented among you, the the water and carbon dioxide start out as carbonic acid but quickly decompose into the water and carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Learn About Weaving with Kids

61vK4S3VRGL._SL160_ My Monday post inspired me to dig out You Can Weave!: Projects for Young Weavers, which has been very helpful in working with my own children. I’m not a particularly crafty person (with the exception of knitting) so I need to be guided step by step with lots of instructions and pictures. This book does that. The first few projects are great for pre-K and Kindergarten. Some children with good spacial awareness and fine motor skills in the older threes crowd could probably do those projects as well.

What I like about weaving is that for the simpler projects the gratification is immediate. It’s also very easy to do your own thing and still create something of beauty. Even if the end result isn’t something a child can take home, the act of weaving, once the process is understood, can be very soothing for some children. If you’re teaching elementary school you can add math, history, and social studies to the mix while providing a tactile experience for the children who need it. Remember, wigglers behave and learn better when they are able to wiggle while they learn.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


Loops on Pegs

We have two large weaving looms at school.  Usually we do the warping for the kids with string or yarn and then provide them with all sorts of materials—yarn, ribbon, paper, stuff they find outside--with which to weave.  We also sometimes set out large plastic needles with ribbon if they want to “sew” their materials in.  Sometimes we let the kids warp the loom, but it’s really hard for them to get something all the way across AND lined up because of its size.

The loom itself is a large square someone put together with a matching set of nails on the top and bottom (or right and left, if you’re that kind of person).  I hate to think how hard it was to get the nails all lined up, but they are.  The loom is large enough that several children can work simultaneously in different areas of the loom.Warped Loom

This summer we pulled out the loops, which made the loom something like a big potholder maker.  The loops were made by tie-dyeing t-shirts and then cutting them horizontally, keeping the seams intact.  We have a huge bag of these at school that get reused for various things.

Since we had a day or so with nasty weather this year during camp and some of the kids preferred to stay dry we had several customers at the loom.

And what about the finished product?  Well, there never really is one.  To my knowledge, no one has ever removed a finished piece from the loom and kept it.  It’s all about the process with this one.  I suppose someone could keep it and it would be the size of a large baby blanket.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Food Allergy Basics

I am beginning an occasional series on food allergies for classroom teachers. I hope to eventually put the posts all together for a presentation at a conference next year, but I’m having trouble deciding what teachers need to know. As a parent of food allergic children, I know a lot more than teachers should be expected to remember or take care of. I need to find the right balance of information. I’d love to have specific feedback on these posts in order to make them accurate, understandable, and helpful. Other topics will include: How to Handle Food Allergy Emergencies, Preventing Food Allergy Emergencies, and Instructional Implications for Food-Allergic Students. Thanks for your input!

What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a protein in a food with which a person has already had at least one contact. Contact can occur through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact. All foods that humans normally eat contain some protein; therefore it is possible to be allergic to any food, including fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Reactions to chemicals in food may or may not involve the immune system. Some people prefer to call these reactions “poisoning” because the substance in question is entirely man-made so not really a food, but your response as an adult is likely to be the same regardless of the offending substance.

What are some common food allergies in children?
The “Big 8” allergens cause 90% of anaphylactic reactions. These allergens are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, soy, and shellfish. These foods may be highlighted on ingredient lists or in statements on food packaging but the only true requirement is that they appear in easily understood English in the ingredients list. If a separate bold statement does appear on a label then any of the big 8 that are present are required to be on it.

The “made in a factory that also processes…” types of statements on packages are voluntary. About 10% of the packages that contain such statements DO contain the noted allergen regardless of the warning’s wording. There is an exception to this statistic for special manufacturing processes, but it’s better not to serve a food that’s questionable than to make a guess if you don’t already know for certain.

What are some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
The allergic response can produce symptoms in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Symptoms may include one or more of the following: a tingling feeling in the mouth or throat (for example, “my mouth feels funny”), swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, low blood pressure, unconsciousness, and death.

Very young children often do not exhibit symptoms in the way we would expect. Be aware of odd behavior, particularly when accompanied by anxiety or severe worry. Children who cannot verbalize their health status may look extremely stressed for no apparent reason.

What is anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock)?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs suddenly and may cause death. It involves two or more systems in the body and may or may not include trouble breathing.

What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? What is a food sensitivity?
An allergy involves the immune system’s reaction to a protein. An intolerance involves an inability of the body to digest something, typically a sugar. While an intolerance is not life-threatening it can be just as painful as an allergy and can send some people to the hospital. A sensitivity is something that doesn’t fall neatly into the allergy or intolerance categories. Intolerances and sensitivities do not require emergency treatment but are to be taken seriously all the same because they can develop into an allergy with continued exposure to the offending item.

Where can I get more information on allergies?
A great place to start is the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, or FAAN. Also useful are the Food Allergy Initiative and Allergy Moms.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chime Wall

Chime Wall

Here is a picture of our fabulous, all-weather chime wall. This sucker is expensive but was purchased because of a grant we got. Our music teacher spent some quality personal time writing grant applications and so we are very, very lucky!

The kids love the chime wall. We had it inside our large motor room for awhile, but it was pretty loud in there. We also had to modify the mallets a bit so they couldn’t be inserted in the chimes, necessitating some roto-rooter action by our custodian (you’d think the company would have thought of that).

We put it outside at the start of alumni camp and there it will stay pretty much permanently. It’s so nice to hear. The kids like to experiment with wiggling the chimes in their pockets, like the boy in the photo. Some of them are convinced that they can get the chimes out.

In the past we've used various metal things attached to the fence for music, and I'm assuming we'll continue to do that. If I ever get a picture, I'll post it. Random metal items and then sticks to bang them with is always a good idea for outside. Kid-made music beats even the nicest thing played on the boom box.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mentos and Diet Coke

Mentos and Diet Coke Geyser

My husband thinks this is an urban myth, but it’s totally true.  You CAN make a geyser by dropping Mentos into a Diet Coke bottle.  This picture is from our alumni camp.  What you can’t appreciate are the chants of, “Men-tos!  Men-tos!” from the kids watching.

The activity is simple enough.  Put a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke on a stable surface so it won’t fall over when the geyser shoots.  Open it.  Then, as fast as you can, drop in as many mint Mentos (not the kind with the candy coating) as you can.  We found that 9 was about as many as we could do with our hands.  The reaction is so fast that the tenth piece of candy flies up with the geyser.

This is a great opportunity to try things with the kids.  Let them make suggestions and act on them if you can.  How many Mentos is optimal?  Will things other than Diet Coke work?  (Yes, they will, but you don’t get a really high geyser, so come prepared with sparkling water, regular Coke, and other things you think the kids might ask for.)  What about different kinds of Mentos?  (This doesn’t work, by the way.)  Why does this work, anyway?  And of course, you should let the kids taste the Diet Coke afterwards.  Is it any different in taste or amount of bubbles?  Why?

Our school owns one of those geyser tubes and we like to use it because it lets you drop the Mentos in nearly simultaneously with the little pin plus the nozzle makes the geyser shoot straight up.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it!  The supply room is being reorganized and some things just aren’t findable right now.  But as you can see, you don’t really need that tube.  It’s just for added fun.

Tasting Mentos-Laced Soft Drinks

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alumni Camp

I'm going to be mostly gone this week. We have camp in the morning and by afternoon (after cleaning the kids and washing their stuff, putting away lunches, helping kids put away the mess they were making when the other kid was being washed, etc.) I'm just plain done. But let me tell you a little bit about the camp we're doing this week because it's so fun.

At my nursery school we have summer camp for our students for three, four-day weeks in the mornings. So, M-Th mornings for three weeks. Last year we added a week of alumni camp. Any kid who's gone to the school in the past and who has just finished grades K-3 can sign up. We do all the regular nursery school stuff but at an older kid level entirely outdoors, weather permitting. We tell kids to come in their swimsuits and bring a change of clothes so they can get as messy as they want to get. It's a total blast.

Both my kids are in it this year, so I'm one of the teachers. Yesterday was our first day. I'm already exhausted. We didn't do all the things we planned because the kids were so busy getting reacquainted with each other and making new friends from different ages. There was much running, digging, building, splashing, and general mayhem. But all the good kind.

We keep joking that we need to do a camp like this for grown-ups. I'd go if I knew all my old friends would be there, wouldn't you?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Camp Planning

Hi, I haven't disappeared, I'm just busy! I'm sure you all get that way sometimes. This morning some of us met to finish planning and start prepping for summer camp for the next few weeks. I'm going doing alumni camp so my kids and I can all be together. I'll post more details as next week unfolds. It's way fun and I can't wait!

I'll be back soon, and then summer will start for us in earnest.