This month's Intentional Play theme was 'science'. That's a broad path to tread so I broke it down into two different parts: dinosaurs and fossils on the one hand and experiments and empiricism on the other.
Small world - building a dinosaur small world was relatively easy. In our trusty bikeseat box, which we've been using to contain all our small worlds indoors, I added our existing collection of plastic dinosaurs, plastic and wooden plants from our various duplo/train sets, green shredded paper leftover from Easter (for nests) and a whole bunch of rocks and shells we've collected over the years. The small world was a great springboard to lots of science-related discussions, craft and sensory activities:
- Meat-eaters versus plant-eaters (and the old omnivores as well);
- Classifying rocks (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary - he loved looking for layers and striations; holding the crystals up to the light; sorting by colour; examining textures);
- Examining soil (looking for rocks and bugs and things that have become buried);
- Volcanoes (videos of eruptions; I was planning to make a vinegar and baking soda eruption but the flu stole our time);
- Paleontology (an episode of Sesame Street with paleontology as the 'word on the street' and Amy Ryan and Elmo pretending to be paleontologists came on this month - excellent timing, ABC4Kids).
Fossil craft - Dear Boy has only just started getting into playdough, so this was a great craft activity for him. These fossils are made using a basic salt dough recipe (1/2 cup plain flour; 1/2 cup of salt; enough water to make a smooth-ish dough), pressing objects into the dough and then baking them in a very low oven (approx 100 degrees celcius) for around three or four hours. We made our fossil shapes with shells, plastic dinosaurs (feet and faces) and... err... cars (he's obsessed). I added leftover black colouring to the dough to make it a grey-ish colour, but these could easily be painted after they've come out of the oven to help highlight the indents and shadows or to mimic different types of rock.
Dinosaur tar pit - our successes with messy play this month meant we could attempt even more gooey types of dinosaur activities. Doing some dinosaur research, I saw quite a few weird and wonderful sensory experience (dinosaurs in jelly?) and figured I could make something a bit more realistic or context-specific or at the very least less appealing to eat. Cue the cornflour tar pit. I'd almost run out of black colouring by this stage so the tar is less tarry than I would have liked but the impact was still there. I added around a cup of cornflour to a container then added small amounts of water that I'd shaken up in my black colouring pot to get every last drop of colour. Adding small amounts is key to this activity because you're after that awesome texture where it's both solid and liquid and truly tarry.... aaaaand cue the lesson on non-Newtonian fluids, although that's not a new one for Dear Boy who gets this one any time we make custard. These types of goo are completely weird and wonderful - you can pinch a glob of it as a solid and then watch it ooze through your fingers as it converts back to liquid.
Dinosaur stomping - this was my pick for a gross-motor activity this month, combining imaginative play and dress-ups with some bashing about inside and out and just a little bit of one-leg balancing. I put on Justine Clarke's 'Dinosaur Roar' quite a few times this month and Dear Boy stomps around the lounge room shouting at the top of his lungs: "one day I'd like to see a big Tyrannosaurus; the pterodactyls they would all join in the chorus!".
Dinosaur TV and DVDs - I picked up a copy of Play School's Dinosaur DVD a while ago and was amazed that I remembered most of lyrics to 'The Prehistoric Animal Brigade'. We also caught an episode or two of ABC4Kids' I'm a Dinosaur, which are short cartoons, each featuring a different type of dinosaur that describes itself and how it lived. I think Dear Boy is just about the right age for Land Before Time - he's okay with some scary scenes now and doesn't really emote with the death scenes like I do (waaah!).
Dinosaur Books - Tyson the Terrible - Fox and Fox; I Love Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs big, dinosaurs small, fast and slow we love them all! - Priddy Books; This Dinosaur Is So Big - Sharratt; Dinosaurs Galore - Andreae and Wojtowycz; Ten Terrible Dinosaurs - Stickland; Oh my oh my oh dinosaurs - Boynton; I Wonder Why... Triceratops Had Horns and other questions about dinosaurs - Kingfisher Press.
Experiments - To start off the experiments and empiricism portion of this month, I introduced Dear Boy to hypothesising, asking him before we did just about everything what he thought was going to happen. He got quite good at predicting or making educated guesses. Some of the 'experiments' we tried this with were:
- Sink or float (collecting a pile of objects to drop into the bath)
- Absorb or not (dropping water onto different surfaces like benchtops, glass, paper, tissues, carpet)
- How many trains Cranky the Crane will be able to hold with his magnet
- Which car/truck will reach the bottom of the slope fastest
- Colour mixing (adding drops of food colouring to glasses of water)
The possibilities are endless as it's possible to hypothesise with lots of play activities or just being out and about in the world.
Lessons - you could argue that there were quite a few lessons this month, but one I deliberately worked on was testing temperature. Since winter hit Melbourne, I've been making a conscious effort to keep him safe around our heaters - encouraging him to use his hands to test the temperature of the heaters and stove, keeping them at a distance and then moving closer to feel the change in temperature. He's been pretty sensible about it, not burning himself once. I've also encouraged him in the kitchen to look for signs that things are hot - the glow of an element, the flames of the gas burners, steam rising from saucepans or the kettle or his plate.
Outings - We've done the Dinosaur Walk at Melbourne Museum before, but they also have a great range of supplementary material online including: videos with paleontologists, kids activities, lesson plans and experiments, etc. This time we headed off to Scienceworks. They had a great Science Fiction/Science Future exhibition (OMG, they have a Star Trek-esque teleporter - geeked out a little) but the really genius for kids is upstairs in the Nitty Gritty Super City area.
It's a permanent exhibition where kids get super hands-on with every day ideas - a role-play cafe, machines that sort the recycling, construction, weather, pulleys, etc. It's designed with 3-8 year olds in mind but Dear Boy was still completely engaged (although struggled to reach a few buttons, or didn't have the strength to make some things move). The Lego model of Melbourne had him mesmerised for quite a while. We also caught their CFA live-fire demonstration, their fantastic collection of steam engines, and great 'train' playground, as well as various train/car/plane related exhibits that let you pump pistons or slides things around.
I think this has been one of my favourite themes so far, possibly because this one's been the most engaging for all of us, Lovely Husband included. Science is his thing (and he's got the T-shirts to prove it). It's been nice to adventure together and have him make suggestions for things to try. I think we might have even got him singing along with this:
Have you tried simple science experiments with your kids? Are they dinosaur fans?