Sunday, February 18, 2007

February Book Review

Dusty loves projects. Particularly those of her own design made with all her assorted art supplies and other found objects. She’ll make Valentine’s out of season with construction paper, scissors, stickers and bugleweed flowers. She’ll make caterpillars from fuzzy balls, feathers and double-sided tape. Dusty also loves nature and has an inquisitive mind: What’s the sun made of? Could you ever fly there? What makes snow? If it’s too cold, can you just buy a new thermometer? Why does water turn into ice? What happens if you mix all the colors together? Once they’re mixed, can you un-mix them?

Recently, I found a couple nature and science project books to capture her enthusiasm. Not only are they full of things to do, and present new concepts to her, they give us excuses to do things together, as if we need the excuse. There are probably hundreds of books like these around, filled with similar projects, but the ones mentioned below are the two we’ve been working from lately.

Interestingly, both books are listed as appropriate for ages 9 through 12 but Dusty, a kindergartener, has thoroughly enjoyed both. She has probably spent less time actually reading the text than looking at the pictures and figuring out if we have all the ingredients necessary to perform the experiments. Do we have straws? Check. Paper cups? Check. Baking soda? Check. Then let’s begin!

The Kids’ Science Book – Creative Experience for Hands-On Fun by Nancy White (Williamson Publishing, 1995) was a great introduction to science experimentation and the scientific method. Its large format and page design allows for easy-to-follow and understand projects. The book is divided by basic science concepts: light and shadow, air, water, plants, etc. There are sidebars for further study aimed at older kids (or young precocious ones) such as making predictions and drawing conclusions, facts about each concept under investigation and information about the particular scientific specialty, and history lessons (inventors and discoverers) with titles like “Tools & Techniques,” “In Focus,” and “Science Talk”.

The illustrations are simple black and white drawings that don’t distract from the text and or clutter up what could have been, in the wrong hands, a messy collection of too much information. The prose is direct and to the point. It’s neither above the head of its audience nor does it talk down to them. A sample of subjects covered include the refraction of light and making rainbows, shadow puppets, water pressure experiments, and making marbleized paper (oil and water).

The thing I like best about this book, especially considering the suggested age range, is that the experiments themselves can be understood and enjoyed by any elementary school-aged child. There is enough here to launch anyone’s interest in a particular area of scientific study without going overboard. Older children dying to know more about a concept can read the sidebars (and move on to other books on the subject).

Dusty and I did one that involved freezing water. We poured an equal amount of water into two paper cups. In one, we added a teaspoon of salt to one cup and put them in the freezer. I asked her to guess which one she thought would freeze first. We then checked back at intervals (we did not proceed very scientifically; we didn’t check back at specific times) and noted what we observed: the plain water froze quicker. In fact, even after a couple days, the cup with salt water never froze at all. We talked about why salt and salt-containing chemicals are used to melt ice and snow from sidewalks and roads. We didn’t get into too much more detail but it was there if we’d needed it. This book is one you can come back to over and over for years and learn something new every time.

We also made a volcano. We made salt dough for the outside of the plastic bottle and then added water, dish liquid, red food coloring, baking soda and vinegar. While the “explosion” wasn’t quite as climactic as we’d hoped (we’re going to have to play around with the ratios of baking soda and vinegar given in the recipe), we still had fun. We left the dough volcano outside because Dusty always likes to “see what happens” when things are left to benign neglect.

The second book, Nature Crafts for Kids - 50 Fantastic Things to Make with Mother Nature by Gwen Diehn and Terry Krautwurst (Altamont Press, Inc., 1992) was just as fun but very different in look and feel.

The book’s sections are divided by season. Each section includes a number of projects which are specific to what’s found in nature (flowers, critters, snow, etc) during a particular season as well as groupings of the same basic concepts (rain/water, sun/heat, wind) that exist during each one.

The layout is clear and colorful, with step-by-step instructions, illustrated with photographs that show certain critical steps along the way. The “ingredients” for each project are clearly listed at the top of the page. The projects include birdbaths, pinch pots with clay, wild flower candles, wreaths, and bird food. They run from the simple and easy to accomplish (bark rubbings) to the more elaborate that require a bit more planning (sand painting and sun dials) with ingredients not necessarily found in the average household.

Dusty and I haven’t done much with this book yet (it’s winter and things of most interest to her involve spring and summer activities) but we’ve enjoyed looking at it and planning future activities. It might be a book I eventually buy so we’ve got the leisure of time to do as many as we want. I have a feeling some, like making sun prints, will be done over and over.

1 comment:

harriet said...

I know this is belated, but great review. It's belated because I kept meaning to look up a book like this that my mom gave AJ that we like. It's called "365 Nature Crafts and Activities" and is published by BackPack Books.