Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Other Way to Make Balloons Float

"Hey Mom, Look!"  Have I mentioned that is my favorite phrase?  Well, at least when it means "Look what I noticed," not "Watch me break my leg."

These balloons were filled with plain old air, not helium.  However, they were floating up, and then falling down again in a kind of circular pattern.  It was really quite mesmerizing.  When I asked my children why this was happening, they quickly identified that the air particles from the vent were hitting the balloon and making it move.  This is great, because understanding that air is made of molecules that can have this impact is one way to prove that gas can have mass, and therefore really is matter.  Most people today readily believe this, but it is not actually all that intuitive, and has been highly debated in other times.

T-Rex was able to give me a clear explanation of the major forces.  Gravity pulls the balloons down, the air molecules push them up.  When the force of the air molecules is greater than gravity, the balloon moves up.  When the force of the air molecules is smaller than the force of gravity, the balloons move down.

In terms of energy, there is a transfer of kinetic (moving) energy from the air molecules to the balloon. As the balloon moves up it trades its kinetic energy for potential energy due to gravity.  When it falls toward earth again it trades the potential energy for kinetic energy once again.  

Next time you notice a moving object, stop and ask.  Why is it moving? It can be a pretty interesting question.

The purpose of this Science Along the Way series is to help me, my children, and my readers stop and notice the amazing physical world in which we live every day.  Thanks for reading!

This post "The Other Way to Make Balloons Float, by Christy McGuire, first appeared on WisdomKnowledgeJoy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

At Home Pre-School Boot Camp: Week 4

Welcome to Week 4 of At Home Pre-school Boot Camp!  If you missed the beginning of the series, you may want to start from Week 1.  

You' will notice that these posts are not being published on an exact regular schedule.  As I  am publishing these posts, I am enjoying the last days of freedom before putting my kids in formal education.  These posts are bringing back happy memories as we enjoy the end of summer.  I hope that they will be material for some other mom making her own memories.

Things to do just once this week

If you have been following this series from the beginning, your child has been attending a structured activity that is going to help him have success in society for a few weeks.  This week, add in a social event.  This could mean hanging out at the library after reading time to play.  It could at happen while he is at day care.  It could be a planned trip to the play ground, or an old fashioned play date.

On one of your at home days, block out some time to cook together.  Cooking can provide an opportunity to read a recipe, calculate the needed ingredients, observe science in action, experience a piece of a new culture.  It is a great life skill.   As you are getting started concentrate on letting your child do the work, and making it fun.  Do simple, familiar recipes and allow quadruple the time you would normally need.

If you have more time, ask your child to choose an art activity that you have done before.

Daily habits

First of all, keep up the reading and play times you have already established!  If you are not connecting with your child in a meaningful way, all your other attempts at teaching him will fall flat.  

Start looking for areas where you could allow your child to be more self sufficient.  Could she dress herself, find her own toys, or even fix her own lunch?

Enriching your home environment

Look for some ways that you could make your home more kid friendly.   Think about adding stools and moving the items they use daily to their level.  Here are some ideas to get you started.

Looking ahead

Our next big activity is Play-Doh .  Feel free to just pick some up from the store, or have some baking soda and cornstarch on hand.  Grab a box for the play dough and feel free to toss in some plastic knives, cookie cutters, and anything else that would be fun to use with play dough.

Friend to Follow

Aubrey  from Montessori Mischief has inspired me to give my children freedom in their learning and independence in their daily lives.  Montessori is a great educational philosophy, and I love how Aubrey applies it to the home environment. She also makes herself available for questions!

If you have a question about Montessori education, submit it to her tutorials page. Also, be sure to Check out her Montessori 101 Series! 

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Click here for more information.   Thanks for your support!  The post, At Home Pre-School Boot Camp: Week 4 , by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

Five Hacks for Promoting Your Child's Independence at Home

Children naturally want to grow up and do it themselves.  Here are five ways we encourage our children's independence in our home.  You will notice that I didn't pretty up for these photos.  This is how we live, and what independence really looks like at our home.

Kids Book Shelf.

We purchased these book shelves because the cubed sections make a smaller, more manageable space that children can use to put away books correctly.  I added a basket on top just for books that they can read themselves. By the way, the easy to read series that you see above are Phonics by the Book from This Reading Mama (Free!), Now I'm Reading! Level One Animal Pals (Affiliate) , and  Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers (Affiliate).

Kids Learning Shelf

We organized a few toys and several learning activities in containers on the shelf.  The children can remove these, play with them and return them independently.

Kids dish cupboard

The Kids Dish cupboard is one of the low cabinets. My children are responsible for putting away their own dishes from the dishwasher, and setting their own places at the table.  My daughter is usually more particular about stacking the dishes, but I think that allowing some messiness is part of the learning process.

Kids height hangers

My husband moved the hanging bars down, so that the children get to their own clothes and hang them up again when they are finished.  As a bonus, we have extra storage above.


Changing out a sink is not a quick easy project.  By adding a stool, we bring the children up to the level where they can use the sink efficiently.

Much of what you see here has been inspired by Aubrey at Montessori Mischief.  Check out her Video on organizing Winter Clothes.

Click here to return to the At Home Pre-school Boot Camp Week 4 summary.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Click here for more information.   Thanks for your support!  The post, Five Ideas Promoting Your Child's Independence at Home, by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

Four Secrets for planning Successful Playdates

"Let's get together!"  As a new mom in the area, I am always excited when another mom says those words, and even more excited when it happens.  Play dates are great opportunities for my children to learn social skills.  More importantly, play dates have allowed my children and I to form permanent friendships all over the country and the world.   Here are some play date secrets I have learned from moms around the country and around the world.

Communicate Clearly

We all approach the world with our own bias.  That is why it is critical to communicate clearly with the other mom(s) involved before and during the play date.  Be clear about when and where the play date is taking place, whether or not food will be involved, and what kind of play is expected.  Once the children are together, do not hesitate to ask the other mom if she is comfortable with the type of play that is going on.  If you are the parent who has a concern, speak up.  Be kind, and tell the other parent specifically what you would like to see change.

Make it about the kids

As an extrovert, I can get desperate for adult conversation.  However, if the play date is going to be a success, the other mom and I need to be thinking about the kids, and that may mean that we cannot enjoy as much as conversation as we would like. We may have to make it up on the phone or via text later.

Making the play date about the kids can also means keeping them in sight.   All kids will do things when they think the adults are not looking that they would never try in front of you. You can not help your child develop social skills if you do not know what happened.  

The great thing about making it about the kids is that you can ditch some of the adult conventions.  When we were living in a small town in the southwest play dates we lived pretty far away from our friends, and play dates that did not include a meal were almost impossible.  My friend graciously pulled out the night before's left overs, and it worked perfectly.

Know your limits

Whenever we host a play date, the bedrooms are off limits.  Before our guests come, I instruct my children to move all toys that they wish to share to the living area, and all toys they do not wish to share to their bedrooms.  Keeping guests out of the bedrooms helps keep the kids in sight.  If one of my children needs down time before our guests leave, they have a safe place to go.  Sorting the toys ahead of time helps my children focus on sharing, and be secure that their most special things are safe.

Playing with other children can be surprisingly exhausting.  If your kids are showing signs of being done before the end of the play date, do not be afraid to say, "I think we need to get home for some early naps."  Sometimes this means leaving toys on the floor.  While it is generally good manners to help clean up your mess, it is sometimes in every one's best interest to just get the extra kids out of the situation.  

Go the Extra mile 

Sometimes you can not follow all the best advice.  I just said that it is important to leave when the kids are done.  However, I was in a situation a few years ago where the taxi would not show up, and I was stuck at a friend's house after her kids and mine were well over each other.  My friend graciously made us comfortable, and made it clear that we were welcome time and time again.  

 One of my friends has some children who literally need to snack all the time.  I would be overwhelmed if I had to "be a good hostess" and keep up with their demands for food and drink for the hours they spend at my house. Her children show up with lunchboxes, and we always have a great time together.  These friends willingness to go the extra mile made our play dates a success, because they made the play date happen.  Play dates that happen and that you all want to repeat are always a success.

Have you found some secrets that make play dates successful?  I would love to read them!

Click here to return to the At Home Pre-school Boot Camp Week 4 summary.

If you found this post helpful, you might also like:

 How Parents of Pre-schoolers get the most from their Free Public Libraries

How to Plan a Road trip your Kids will Love: Tip 1

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Click here for more information.   Thanks for your support!  The post, Four Secrets for planning Successful Playdates, by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pivot Points and Spinning Spoons

Children are hard wired to do science.  T-Rex (5) and Pony Artist (4) demonstrated this the other day at breakfast.   I do not know who started it, but they took turns spinning this spoon.

They discovered that the spoon spins best when just one point touches the table.

  They tried placing the spoon with both ends touching the table. It did not spin well, and tended to flip over.  

It was a perfect experiment with just one variable: which way the spoon was facing. I pointed out to them what they had done, but they were more excited about the spinning spoon itself.

You see, they had just figured out an important physical principle.  Solid objects naturaly spin around a single point.  They might not put it into words just yet, but they definitely learned it. 

What have you and yours learned from play this week?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Get Started with the Alphabet!

This post is part of my at Home Pre-School Boot Camp.  For more information about the series, click here.

Assuming that you are working with the English alphabet, there are fifty-two characters that your child needs to know.  Twenty-six letters with upper and lower cases.  There really is no need to know exactly which ones she does and does not know, unless she knows them all.  The goal of this assessment is just to find three or so to target.  Once she has mastered those, look for a few more.

Quick side note.  Some of my friends who use the British system teach sounds ahead of letter names.  I did not choose this route, but if you want to use it,  just substitute the sound for the name in this exercise. Then you go back to names later.

Get Started!

Pull out your alphabet set.  Show one of the letters of your child's name to her.  Ask, "What letter is this?"  If she tells you, hand her the letter. If she can not tell you, tell her the name of the letter and put it aside.  Pick another letter from her name and repeat the process until you have three letters that she does not know. If you finish her name, continue with other letters.

Once you have three she did not know, choose one and show it to her again.  Wait quietly for at least fifteen seconds.  If she says it, give it to her with a word of praise.  If she does not say it, return it to your pile and say nothing.  Repeat with the other two.

Make a note of which letters you are going to target. Offer to read her a book of her choice or spend some time playing together.

 The post, Getting Started with the Alphabet, by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

At Home Pre-School Boot Camp: Week 3 Summary

Welcome to Week 3 of At Home Pre-school Boot Camp!  If you missed the beginning of the series, you may want to start from Week 1.  

Things to do just once this week

Make that formal group activity a priority.  It can be challenging, especially if you have multiple kids in tow, but it is important to your child's long term success!

After painting, this week's new art activity is a breeze.  Click here to learn about construction paper art. 

Pull your magnetic letters or alphabet book! Click here for a simple activity to get you started.

 Review options

 If your child is able to write his name, revisit the simple writing from week one, but on a different day.  If you have time, give painting another go.

Daily habits

Keep up the reading and play times you have already established!  Those two habits are crucial to the success of everything else.  

Enriching your home environment

Do you play music through out the day?  Music is good for your child mentally and emotionally.  Classical, jazz, folk, and your personal favorites should all have a place in your day.  Develop some play lists, buy an album of new music, or find a couple of go to stations on Pandora.  Plan to turn on the music while you do an art project or chores with your kids.

Looking ahead

Next week, it is time to cook!  Choose a recipe, and buy the ingredients. If you need a place to start, try my kid friendly recipe board on Pinterest.  If cooking with kids scares you, choose a recipe labeled "Mix and Measure" or "Simple Sensory".  I will have a post on the "Why and How of Cooking" next week.

Friends to Follow

Becky at This Reading Mama is a true professional.  She is also a mom who writes curriculum for her own kids and shares it.  My kids both love her various reading packs.  You will probably gravitate toward her awesome activities, but be sure to read her posts on language and reading development. I have relied heavily on her insight when working with my own children!

While you are exploring This Reading Mom, you will probably find  Anna, The Measured Mom.  Her reading packets are also popular at our house and have provided hours of appropriate leveled reading practice.  You will also find lots of great hints on working with mixed age levels on her site. Valuable advice for anyone multiple kids!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Click here for more information.   Thanks for your support!  The post, At Home Pre-School Boot Camp: Week 3 Summary, by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

Construction Paper Art

This post is part of my at Home Pre-School Boot Camp.  For more information about the series, click here.

Construction paper, glue, and maybe scissors.  Pre-school art can be that simple, and this project can be adjusted to match the fine motor level of each child in your home.  

Early Motor Skill Development

When my children were just starting to develop their fine motor skills I approached this project two ways.  One way was to just let them tear the paper, then glue it down.  The motions of tearing and gluing strengthen the fine motor muscles, and you might be surprised how much effort can go into creating a piece in this way.

Sometimes, it is more satisfying to actually make a picture though, especially if the card or picture is for someone else.  I would ask my child what he wanted to put in the picture, and quickly cut it out.  He would then glue it on the card.  Again, this strengthens muscles and improves coordination in those little hands.  Working together we made some fun things and wonderful memories.

Scissor Practice

Using scissors is an important skill in its own right, but it also strengthens the muscles needed for holding a pencil well.   Get a good pair of kids scissors that you would not mind using yourself.  Show your child how to hold them, then help him use them to cut the paper.  He may just want to cut, or you can let him glue the pieces together to make a special creation.

Writing Practice

Once he is comfortable holding a pencil, you can ask your child to draw or trace patterns on the paper, then cut them, and re-glue.  This allows your child to gain confidence in manipulating the pencil, without the added pressure of trying to form letters.  


There are so many great projects to do with construction paper!  We used it a year ago to make some finger puppets, and before that we made some self portraits.  In fact, T-Rex just saw these pictures and asked to do it again!

 We love Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn F.Kohl and Kim Solga, and their lesson on Henry Matisse calls for a technique similar to this.  If you keep the colored paper, scissors, and glue together in an easy to find box, you will be ready to go with any of these lessons or just to enjoy the afternoon together making some art!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Click here for more information.   Thanks for your support!  The post, Construction Paper Art, by Christy McGuire originally appeared on

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Amazing Whistling Eggs!

  Deviled eggs are great for potlucks, sliced eggs add protein to summer salads, and all that egg boiling provides an opportunity for some interesting observation.

Boiling eggs are noisy!  Shrill whistling sounds accompanied the cooking process in this photo, and you can see why.

  Those little bubbles were escaping from all the eggs.  The Pony Artist was very interested in the little bubbles.  I told her that I thought they were made of air that was expanding inside of the egg.  She was fascinated to learn that there can be air inside of an egg.  I explained that the shell allows air to pass through it, providing oxygen to the chick inside.  At this point, she became very concerned that we were preparing to eat baby chicks.  I assured her that this was not the case.  Eggs containing chicks do not make their way to grocery stores, and are not generally eaten --at least not in our culture.

While we were on the subject of cooking eggs, I explained that it is important to turn up the temperature on the water slowly when cooking eggs.  Causing the expansion to happen to quickly will break the shell.  I also demonstrated that phenomena this week, but did not photograph the ugly results.

 Finding all three states of matter, , gas, and a solid composing a single object is fascinating to me.

Has anything fascinating appeared in your kitchen recently?

The purpose of this Science Along the Way series is to help me, my kids, and my readers appreciate the wonder of the natural world in our every day experience. If you have an experience that you would like to share, please e-mail me at 

The Post "Amazing Whistling Eggs!" first appeared on

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bottle Rocket Experiments

This activity addresses Next Generation Science Standard
5-PS1-4.Conduct an investigation to determine whether the mixing of two or more substances results in new substances.

When I first started with the Recycle! Create! group, I thought that I was challenging myself to develop activities for my children.  However, it has become very obvious that my older children, T-Rex in particular, are beyond that.  They still need guidance and supervision , but they can do their own projects.

So, if you will indulge some Mommy bragging, I would like to show you their bottle project.

T-Rex wanted to use vinegar and baking soda to launch a bottle.  Pony artist wanted to try it too, so they each carefully measured baking soda and vinegar and recorded the amounts in their journals.

prompted them to mix their ingredients at the last minute and we set up our rockets out doors.

We were not thrilled with the results, so we went in and journaled.  It was time for me to take care of Little Diddle, so they did not get to try again that day. 

 Our basic problem was too much baking soda.  I pointed this out, so the next time they had time to work, T-Rex adjusted the amount.  It was perfect!  It reacted quickly and explosively!  All over me, so no pictures.

The next step will be to figure out a mechanism that allows us to get things set up before the explosion.  We have done some work on it, but no success yet.  I will let you know if we figure it out. If you have an idea, we would be interested to hear it.

Do you have your own ways to use bottles?  Join the Link up!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Camouflage in the House

  Can you see what the Pony Artist found?  The little grasshopper blended quite nicely with the goo.  (Old weatherstripping, I think.  There is always one more project, eh?)

When we disturbed him, he was much more visible against the dark wood.  We eventually convinced our little friend to head outside.

 I always thought camouflage was kind of happenstance, but it seems like the grasshopper knew where he needed to be.  If you know how he knew where to be, we would love to learn more. Please tell us!

The purpose of this series is to help me, my kids, and my readers appreciate the wonder of the natural world in our every day experience. If you have an experience that you would like to share, please e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Passing Down a Way of Life with a Simple Garden Journal--and a The Ultimate Nature Study Linkup!

This activity can be used to address the following Next Generation Science Standards 
K-ESS2-1.Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time
K-ESS2-2.Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.

We had one next door neighbor when I was a girl.  Miss Evie was already somewhere in her seventies when we moved into our new home in the late nineteen eighties.  I was exactly seven.  She lived in the same home where she had grown up, where she had lived as a young married woman, and cared for her husband and parents as each had left this world.  

I used to get her mail on warm summer afternoons in hopes of being invited into the immaculate 1950's era kitchen she cooled by a cunning system of opening windows in the morning then shutting both windows and curtains as the day wore on.  I would sit bare foot on the red company chair by the door, and we would discuss the health of our cats and the progress of our gardens.  She would tell me stories handed down from her relatives who had lived through the Civil War or of her own experience living through the Great Depression.  Our whole family loved her dearly, and I think that in some ways we filled a spot her own children and grandchildren would have held, if she had had any.  That might be one reason she gave it to my dad.  She might have given it to him because of his love for growing things.

It was an old fashioned notebook filled with careful notes in a squarish antique hand.  Miss Evie's father had kept careful notes about his little farm for years.  He recorded where, when, and what grew , and how he tended it.  For my dad, who was now tending plants in the same location, it was treasury of helpful information.

This spring was our in our new home.  I wanted my children to keep journals based on our yard and garden, but was struggling to get them started.  Then I realized, they were not the ones who needed to keep a journal.  I was.   I grabbed a notebook and started filling it with notes .  I measured some plants, counted blossoms, and wrote down some temperatures and rainfalls.  Soon my kids were eager to join me, and they ask if we can do our. "Garden journal".

Our little journal is not all that amazing, or even organized.  It is a start though.  I hope my kids are learning the importance of paying attention to the natural world around them.   Not just as a fun summer project, but as a way of life. The systematic careful attention to how and why things grow that Miss Evie's dad practiced is a tradition I want to pass on to them.

Today, I am joining some other bloggers in hosting a Nature Observation blog hop.
Take a moment to look at the great ideas from my co-hosts!  As you look through the posts, I hope you can find a few methods that allow you to bring the richness of natural observation into your experience, and that of your children. 

July 2 update.  Now that I've had a chance to look at everyone's post, I'm even a bit more excited.  Check these out!

Suzy Homeschooler This is a must read, especially for those of you who are facing extreme weather like we experienced in the Middle East and in Arizona.

Homeschool Antics A great tutorial on how to turn backyard observation into a full fledged  nature study.

Houseful of Chaos  A lovely reflective approach, with a couple of interesting twists.

Study-at-Home Mama If studying nature is a little overwhelming to you, this post has the practical ideas you need.

Inspiring NH Kids Is showing us a great demonstration of a weather phenomenon we often, face.  I will be coming back to this!

My Blessings Homeschool Ideas for creek exploration.  My kids are going to enjoy this one!

Kid World Citizen A great list of fun hands on ideas.

There's also a multi- topic link-up.   I am looking forward to reading ideas you have for observing nature!