Cloud in a jar science experiment

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I’m always on the lookout for interesting, educational stuff I can do with my kids, preferably something that doesn’t involve a lot of mess. This cloud in a jar experiment is easy peasy and pretty cool!

You will need:

A jar

A balloon

Very hot water

A match

A flashlight

Cut off the narrow part of the balloon and make sure it can fit over the mouth of the jar.

Pour about 1/2 an inch of hot water into the jar. Light the match and, tilting the jar, capture some of the smoke. Discard the match and quickly cover the jar by stretching the balloon over the top.

Put pressure on the balloon with your fingers (make sure to secure it in place so it doesn’t slip off). Release. Do it several times to watch the cloud form and condense!

For a more impressive display, dim the lights and shine through the jar with a flashlight to see the swirling mist inside.

Explanation: putting pressure on the balloon increases pressure inside the jar, which in turn increases heat. Releasing the pressure makes the vapor from the hot water cool down and condense on the smoke particles – that’s how real clouds form, by condensing over particles floating in the air.

When you are done playing, take the balloon off and watch your cloud gently float upward out of the jar.

Activities for kids: structure vs. freeform

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In today’s post, I would like to elaborate a bit on Lisa’s question:

I was wondering how you structure indoor activities. I don’t know if I should expect my children to do quiet or individual activities for longer periods of time, they are 10, 8 and 5 (one girl and two boys). I find they want to be with me or doing things with me all day which I love but I would like them to find settled indoor activities they can do alone. I appreciate any thoughts you may have! 

Like you, I love to sit and do all sorts of interesting and creative stuff with my kids. I can easily lose myself in watercolors, a game of monopoly, a puzzle, or a good book. But how much is enough, and how do I strike the balance between a helicopter mama and the lazy parent who can’t be bothered by anything?

I homeschool and work from home, so the boundaries of work, school and play tend to become kind of blurred. It’s easy to assume that if you’re at home, you must be at leisure, but if I let people (including my own kids) get away with it, I would never be able to get anything done. Therefore, I try to foster independence and individual activities from an early age.

My older girls love to read, draw and paint, which they can do for hours on end. Sticker collections, slime, and modeling clay are popular with the 4-year-old too. Often the older girls will read to or entertain their little brother. Israel also loves construction toys such as Lego or blocks. The kids also do spontaneous dress-up plays together, which is adorable.

I don’t really structure indoor activities beyond making all the equipment – books, art supplies, board games, etc – readily available and keeping them in good order. I just sit back and let things happen. I have taught my children that, although I might be home all day, I’m not always available to play (well, the baby does still have some learning to do on this!). I do not, however, disappear on them – whatever I’m doing, whether it’s in the kitchen or on my laptop, my kids can see me and talk to me if necessary. Hope this helps!

Children and chores

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“One day another mom told me that the only reason I have time to teach my children how to do chores is because we homeschool. She explained why her children were not required to help around the house. ‘With soccer, the tutor and dance after school each day, I couldn’t possibly ask them to do chores.’ 
 

I explained that I am completely certain that with our genes, our children will likely not be professional soccer players or dancers. They will need to wear clothes and eat, though, so it seems appropriate to train them to do laundry and cook.”
 

– Rose Godfrey, The Pig in the Pantry.

I fully believe in pursuing one’s dreams and developing one’s talents, but not at the cost of shedding all responsibility for the basics without which a family can’t function. An individual, no matter how talented, will not likely grow into a pleasant, hardworking adult if he is never asked to lift a finger around the house or be a productive part of family life. Entitlement isn’t a good attitude.

Now, chores and the running of a home are the primary responsibility of the parents, and no more than is appropriate should be heaped on the shoulders of a child. A child can do much, but the childhood years, and even the adult years lived at home, are supposed to be a time of training, not endless drudgery.

Having said that, the inclusion of children in basic chores – and in the whole process of life – is not only important in the way of teaching how to run a household, but can be a tremendous learning opportunity in many other ways. Every day, I see more and more how kindergartens and early grades of elementary school must artificially create that learning environment which is so naturally and readily present at home. Reading, counting, measuring, matching, dividing, shaping and so much more are all a part, if one doesn’t rush and presents things in the right way, of laundry, cooking, dishes, and other such basic chores (“good, now give me three eggs. No, that is two. I want another one”). Of course it’s easier to just grab those eggs myself, but there’s an opportunity to learn!

It is important that a child has time and space to develop his inclinations. I believe it is one of the most important things, and the most easily accomplished ones too, in learning at home vs. regular schooling. But it shouldn’t be an all-exhausting effort. I don’t think any of us is “too important” to participate in the daily mill of  life. For children, it is especially important. Children need a lot of seemingly empty time, time to just be; a very rigorous schedule of school and extracurricular activities leaves no chance for that. So what is the result? Talents may be pursued, and later paraded and made much of, but at what price?

Irritable, tired, restless, cranky children; children with enormous learning difficulties; listless, idle, or on the other hand, unnaturally ambitious, test-results-obsessed children; much of this, I feel, finds its roots in the abolition of calm, orderly, nourishing (physically and mentally) home life. Working alongside each other – not in an artificially created environment, but really doing those simple chores that can be shared by a 3-year-old and a 33-year-old, such as watering the plants or sweeping the porch – can be a time of bonding, shared conversation, and an opportunity for a child to feel like an important member of the family, contributing in real ways. It makes them so proud, and really isn’t that difficult to achieve. And of course, lending a hand means that time is freed up to do something fun, like reading a story or taking a walk together.

So what do we need? Primarily time. A life that is always lived in a hurry is no fit environment for little children; for any of us, as a matter of fact. We just weren’t created to live at a crazy pace. It stresses us out and makes us sick. To be healthy and happy, we must slow down and make time for all that counts – nurturing real relationships, building real homes, cooking real food, living real life that is happening all around us.

It was not the Real World

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I was one of those kids who love to learn (I still do), but hate school. I loved my friends, I loved some of my teachers, but I hated school as an institution. I was a bookworm so I’ve always read my schoolbooks from cover to cover before the school year even began, and I was generally meek and eager to please, so my grades were good. But whenever there was a teachers’ strike, I would have this awesome feeling in my chest, like the swelling of a golden balloon. A couple of times I found an opening in the fence and ran off, just wandered in the streets and parks until it was time to go home, and all the while I was terrified of having the police on my tail. :o)

Of course, it didn’t help that I was the scapegoat/punching bag of school bullies, and/or those who wanted to be on good terms with them. I was ridiculed, I was ostracized, I was picked on, I was reduced to tears, I had monstrous cockroaches shoved under my nose… I still shudder when I remember that. And when I do, I wonder – are those the kind of experiences that are supposed to prepare kids for the “real world”? Because somehow, at least in my case, that Real World was left behind in Junior High, (thankfully) never to be encountered again.

I believe there is just something about a large number of children being cooped up together for many hours in a day that brings out the worst in them. You can take 30 children, 27 of which are basically good, and 3 of whom have bullying tendencies which would never be brought out without a sidekick. But together with his two friends, the bully forms a gang; then they find several more kids who are desperate for approval and the feeling of importance, to be their cronies. That’s 1\3 of the class already. Another 10 tag along, and the rest is divided between scapegoats and children who are either immune to peer pressure, or just by a stroke of luck find themselves left out. Together, the gang of bullies may commit acts of cruelty none of the individual children would do on their own.

Teachers may try to stop it, or at least keep it at bay, at least when direct bullying is involved. No one, however, can stop children from quietly making fun of someone’s glasses or clothes or the way someone speaks, and no one can make a singled-out child feel any more accepted. Overall this is something children grow out of (but many carry the pain that was inflicted well into adulthood). Although I’ve had my disagreements with people in university, at work, etc, somehow I never found dead cockroaches in my desk again. In “real life”, you won’t often find yourself spending all day long with 30 other people who were all born in the same year as you, either. You meet people of all ages, which gives a multi-dimensional perspective and discourages unhealthy competition.

Then there is the element of simply being cooped up for too many hours, every day. But then, if you have 30 children in a classroom it only makes sense you’ll need 30 minutes of enforced discipline to have 15 minutes to explain something, answer questions, and give homework. No wonder so many children, especially boys, are on Ritalin.

You may say I am biased because of my own school experience. Many children are popular and happy at school, have many friends, and thrive in a classroom setting. Sounds good, right? They pay a different price, however, for fitting so well into the system.

But that would be a story for another day.

The Great Curriculum

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If there is one recommendation I feel qualified to give regarding teaching young children (especially – but also older children, and adults, too), it would be spending as much time as possible, weather permitting, out of doors.

No matter where you live, there is always something to do, learn and observe outside – tending to your own garden and animals, foraging, taking notes on the various plants, insects, birds and animals in your area, etc.

The outdoors are particularly suited to little ones, in not having the limitations we almost unconsciously enforce at home. There young children can shout and laugh loudly, run without fear of bumping into furniture, jump, climb, and in general let out their energy without bothering anyone.

Too many children suffer from severe shortage of unscheduled and free outdoor time – and by ‘outdoor’, I mean not so much neat and orderly playgrounds without a stray blade of grass to be seen anywhere, but wild-ish old parks with ancient trees, open fields, orchards and groves, the sea shore or the river side – whatever humble bit of nature you have in your area.

What about learning? It comes organically when children come back to you from a romp with a collection of leaves and questions; when they squat to observe an anthill for a whole hour together; when they measure the depth of a puddle with a stick, or take notice of the change of weather and seasons.

Here are some more ideas for nature-based activities:

– Drawings or playdough sculptures of interesting objects;

– Collections of leaves, stones, pinecones, seashells, etc, and crafts based on those;

– For slightly older children: nature diaries and photographs that can be made into beautiful collages;

And the best part of it is, you’ll likely have as much fun as your kids!

In the photo: Israel, 3 yrs, is trying to coax a tortoise to peek out of its shell.

Pippi Longstocking

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Pippi Longstocking is one of the most inspiring literary characters I know. She is always positive, fearless, endlessly creative, knows no boundaries and doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”. And something else: she never, ever wants to grow up.

While obviously an adult, with adult cares and burdens, I often find myself wanting to be a teeny bit like Pippi, and wishing my children to be a little like her, with her boundless optimism and disdain of rules. This proves even truer as our family grows and I need to apply more and more creativity to get through a day in one piece. As of now, we are expecting our fourth baby, apparently a girl, around the end of March, and I know our lives are going to be even more of a happy mess than they are today.

‘All the children sat looking at Pippi, who lay flat on the floor, drawing to her heart’s content. ‘But, Pippi,’ said the teacher impatiently, ‘why in the world aren’t you drawing on your paper?’

‘I filled that long ago. There isn’t room enough for my whole horse on that little snip of paper.’

September 1st

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September the 1st, the date so many parents are longingly looking forward to, is upon us. And though homeschooling obviously isn’t the way for every family (though I believe it can be the way for many more families than those practicing it today), I do find it a little sad that not more parents can enjoy the summer vacation with their kids.

Undoubtedly, there is a very practical reason for the collective sigh of relief that is going to sound once the school buses come to take the children away. In most households in Israel, not only do both parents work, but both parents work an increasingly high number of hours (how family friendly this practice is, and whether there are alternatives, is probably a topic for a whole different post). There is a real, big discrepancy between the days children are out of school and the days parents can take off work. Thus begins a merry-go-round of summer camps, summer schools, babysitters, driving the children off to grandparents, and in many cases, leaving them home alone way too long and too early. Every year, parents campaign for the shortening of summer vacation, stating that the education system is out of tune with real life. I’m mainly saddened by the tone of these discussions, which make children appear to have become a liability.

I’m convinced it’s more than that, however. Many parents, even if they can take time off work, just aren’t comfortable with the idea of spending time with their children at home for any length of time. Thus the typical summer crowding of malls, amusement parks and waterparks, zoos, and any place that usually serves to amuse children. Without a home-based routine, summer becomes a time of chaos, and parents understandably feel they want order restored.

We used to have a simple year-round routine when the girls were little(r), but last year we found a small family-based study group in the area, and when it broke up for the summer, while we didn’t experience the school withdrawal symptoms common in most families, I did have to deal with some attitude problems. For example, whenever I tried to teach something, I would hear whining and remarks such as, “this isn’t what summer is for!” To which I would respond, “Oh, right, I forgot – your brains have gone on vacation and stopped working.” A few days were mostly enough to fix this.

I often hear, “don’t your kids drive you up the wall?” and the answer is, of course they do. Kids whine, fight, test their boundaries, and sometimes I do feel like I need out, or I will explode. It’s important to remember, however, that taking a break, while it can be refreshing, does not solve problems. I have had instances when children fought over something silly (“over dead air space”, as a friend of mine aptly puts it), were taken by their dad to the library or the park for distraction, and resumed the same argument the moment they got home!! Now, clearly the solution isn’t to always keep children away from home, or siblings away from each other (preferably on leashes and in cages). Problems need to be addressed and attitudes worked on. And believe me, I have had my moments of utter despondency. I have clutched my hair and yelled myself hoarse, and I know this can be so very hard. I’m just saying that you’ll have to deal with the same problems whether you home educate or not, although admittedly every little issue is magnified when it has been raining for days on end and you’re all cooped up at home day and night.

In Israel, summer vacation is shortly followed by the string of Jewish holidays that leave many parents at a loss again. What I suggest for every family, homeschooling or not, is the cultivation of quiet contentment among children (and parents) that will enable you to stay home together as a family, and entertain yourselves inexpensively by things like reading, crafts, walks, and picnics in parks. I know some families that flat out refuse to put themselves in the heavy traffic flow on the middle days of Sukkot, for example, and they save a whole lot of time, money and frustration. If you do take trips, you needn’t go far – exploring your own area can be more interesting than you think.