Outdoor Science Lab for Kids

Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Liz Lee Heinecke
Quarry Books (Quarto Knows)

Just right for the summer break especially, but for any time you can get outside, is this resource book of 52 ‘family-friendly’ experiments you can do with children in the garden or yard, the playground and the park.

The dozen units (each with 3-5 ‘labs’) are wide ranging and include exciting-sounding activities such as making ‘driveway frescoes’ on cornstarch (cornflour in the UK) and water using food colourings and tiny paint brushes or toothpicks to create the designs; that’s in the Picnic Table Chemistry unit. There’s a list of materials needed, ideas for extending the activity and an explanation of the science involved, as there is for each of the other ‘labs’.

I’m sure children will relish the prospect of engaging in some ‘Garden Hose Science’, trying such fun things as the ‘siphon roller coaster’ that starts with a water balloon fight.

Author and mother Liz Lee Heinecke covers ecology, earth science, botany, physics and zoology in her inspiring book. One hopes that doing some of the activities will show children that real hands-on science is fun and well worth spending their time on, just like those in the photographs included for each of the projects. (As she hails from the US, some of the names the author used will be unfamiliar to UK readers, for instance in the ‘Invertebrate Inspection’ unit,‘ pill bugs’ and ‘sow bugs’ are what we commonly call ‘woodlice’, though I think only the former can curl themselves up into a ball).

Art Workshop for Children / Play Make Create

Ideal for the long summer break as well as for Foundation Stage / KS1 staff during term time are these two terrific titles from Quarry Books that encourage and develop creativity in children:

Art Workshop for Children
Barbara Rucci and Betsy McKenna

Process, not product is what matters most in this bumper book of creative art projects for young children written by an author who runs art workshops for youngsters.

Nobody who has taught or worked in other capacities with foundation stage learners and those even younger could possibly disagree with the closing paragraph in Barbara Rucci’s introduction: “Let’s raise creative thinkers who explore their world, express their dreams, embrace differences, and never lose touch with their inner artist.’

Her premise is that art should be open-ended and child-led, ‘open-ended creativity … empowers our children to mess about, take risks and discover that they have good, original ideas.’
The first chapter is about setting up an art space after which come a series of workshops that are set out following a similar basic structure: Gather your materials – a bullet point list of what’s needed; a paragraph on how to Prepare your space;
then comes The process – again with bullet points; Observations; and finally Variations for next time – additional ideas for repeating the experience with some different materials or adding a degree of complexity for those with more experience.

Each of the 25 workshops has photographs of materials and children using them; and interspersed between workshops there are essays by Reggio Emilia-inspired educator, Betsy McKenna that will help those working with young children to reflect on what they are doing and saying if they want them to develop as confident, creative, problem-solving learners.

The materials required don’t need a great outlay – most projects can be done with paints, crayons, paper and card, plus the basic tools you’d find in a nursery setting and nothing is difficult to get hold of – maybe just a little effort as in the collaborative Branch Painting

that I particularly liked on account of its social nature.

What a boon for parents/carers of young children this will prove during long holidays especially.

The same is true of

Play – Make – Create
Meri Cherry

Subtitled ‘A Process-Art Handbook’ this one is based on a similar philosophical approach and has 40 ‘invitations’ to be creative and have fun in so doing.

The opening chapter sets the scene for good practice discussing the way to talk with children and how to store and present materials and then come the sequence of creative ‘Art Invitations’.

Whether it’s taking up an Invitation to Explore, such as experimenting with cotton swab oil painting; making and discovering the joys of ‘oobleck’ (cornstarch and water)

– it’s brilliant fun and one of the ten ‘Sensory-Based’ activities; or introducing the delights of the hammer as a creative tool used in the process of making a ‘Crazy Contraption’

included in the ‘On-going process-art activities Big Projects’ chapter, each project will surely spark the imagination. There are also collaborative activities that can be done with friends or family members.

Throughout the emphasis is on encouraging children to experiment and discover the potential of the materials, to make their own choices, employ critical thinking and problem solving to what they’re doing, thus helping to build self-confidence in their own creative potential; and of course, to enjoy what they’re doing.

Strongly recommended for parents, carers, teachers (the author has 20+ years of teaching experience) and anyone else who wants to provide enriching process art for children. (There’s a fair bit of science learning potential in there too though it’s never spelt out.) What are you waiting for? …

DIY Circus Lab for kids

DIY Circus Lab for kids
Jackie Leigh Davis
Quarry Books

Did you know that this year is the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK; I certainly didn’t although I live in an area of Gloucestershire that regularly hosts the wonderful Giffords Circus.

This book is written by mime artist, educator, teacher and founding member of the American Youth Circus Organisation, Jackie Leigh Davis, who provides an absolute wealth of circus skills for children; and she makes it clear in her preface that circus sees all colours, all kinds of bodies: it’s inclusive, it’s for everyone. I like that.

Readers are given an overview of the various circus skills: Acrobatics, acrobalance and pyramids, Aerial arts, (for safety reasons, this are not covered in the book), Balance arts, Clowning, Gyroscopic juggling and Toss juggling.

This is followed by a ‘What’s in this book?’ spread that begins with the words, ‘This book empowers you to take your first steps in circus.’ I like that too. Herein are included some wise words on safety, a crucial element, and it also includes a ‘Proceed at your own risk’ disclaimer.

Next come the individual units wherein as well as instructions for learning the skills, Poi for instance,

readers are invited to make their own circus props such as hoops, juggling sticks and balls, poi, stilts and clown hats and nose; T-shirts even.

The instructions are always easy to follow and there are photos to help.

While the particular skill under discussion might at a beginners level, the author also includes fascinating historical references,

the positive impact of each skill learned and, where appropriate links to on-line tutorials.

The section entitled Partner Acrobatics and Human pyramids took me to Udaipur, Rajasthan where on Janmasthami, I regularly see some terrifying-looking human pyramids at a cross roads near a famous temple. I was recently interested to read that this year, a high court in Mumbai has banned those under 18 years old participating in this ‘Dahi Handi’ festival as well as banning pyramids above 20 feet high.

Back to the book, the pyramids taught herein are of an altogether safer type and include vital words on warming up and, crucially, safety, as well as the concise instructions for several pyramid styles. (There’s a whole language of pyramids: I didn’t know that!)

Putting on a show is addressed too and in the final pages are information on additional resources, recommendations for further study and more.

Intended to engender and foster a child’s enthusiasm for circus arts, but in addition think how important skills of balance and co-ordination are for adults as we grow older.

I can even envisage some of the activities being tried with an old folks group.

All in all, this is an excellent book, comprehensive and done superbly: it’s well worth investing in for families, schools and other groups that have an interest in exploring and fostering the circus arts and their potential.

Brain Lab for Kids

Brain Lab for Kids
Quarry Books
Eric H Chudler

In this unusual book research neuroscientist Eric Chudler presents over 50 activities designed to help children to learn about different parts of the brain and to understand how they work.

It’s built around different units, the first being ‘The Neuron’. Herein are instructions for modelling neurons from materials such as clay, flavoured gelatin (vegetarians might want to give this one a miss), string, pipe cleaners, or rope.

Accompanying the clear, concise instructions, which include estimated time and materials required for each, are relevant brain facts and an explanation of what is going on. There is also a ‘Thinking Deeper’ follow up.

The second unit “The Brain’ uses similar everyday materials such as modelling clay, papier-mâché, salt dough and looks at the brain’s physical structure.

Unit 3 looks at testing reflexes and thereafter come units on the senses: taste, smell,

vision, touch and hearing each of which has at least three projects.

Sleep and body rhythms comes next and finally, there’s a section on memory – both short-term and long-term.

Thought provoking, engaging and fun, almost all activities would work well in the classroom – though not perhaps detecting REM sleep!

All in all this is a great resource for home or school and will interest children across a wide age range.