What: Drawing around our shadows to see the way the sun moves – and how silly it looks when our shadows stretch or shrink!
How: You need a space long enough to do the shadows, that gets some direct sun. Our driveway is our preferred spot. Also, chalk. Then, it’s just a matter of when you do it. This week’s drawing was in honour of the winter solstice, done not long after dawn, so the shadows are at their longest for the year. On other occasions we’ve repeated the activity at noon or in the afternoon, so that you can see how the shadows point the same direction at a given time (they’re parallel) but point the other way later, or how they are much shorter at noon than they are early or late.
Extras: There’s so much to play with here, in the themes of astronomy, seasons, time and change. Winter and summer shadows are quite different in direction and size. If you do this activity every couple of months the kids may remember what it was like the last time (mine didn’t!) – or take photos to assist the comparison. You could stand on one spot and repeat the outline every hour or two to overlay a series of shadows for that day (older kids could talk more specifically about angles or measure lengths). There’s plenty to talk about how the sun moves, how it’s lower in the sky or higher with the seasons, how dawn is late in winter but very early in summer (if you’re getting up to do a dawn drawing!). My preference is to not talk much about it, but to try and do the exercise often enough that the kids themselves realise that something is changing and start the conversation themselves. Though more often they’ve gotten distracted by the presence of chalk and begun colouring in their own pictures and adding details – and that’s just fine too. At some point I will probably use this activity as a foundation exercise before we play with sundials – both the normal fixed kind and the kind where you use yourself as the gnomon. I’d love to build one of these in the garden with stepping stones! And of course there’s the survival skill of using the movement of shadows to find north, which is easier understood if you’ve spent time thinking about the idea that your shadow isn’t fixed or constant.
What: a (well-sealed) bottle that shakes up and separates out
How: You need a leftover plastic soft drink or sports drink type bottle, around the 600ml size-ish makes for good handling, with a lid that can be glued shut. (This isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary… oh, who am I kidding. Glue or tape that f@!#!@ker down good and tight once you’re done.) Fill about a quarter of the bottle with oil, add a capful of food colouring, a guinea pig’s fart’s worth of loose glitter (I don’t know how much that is exactly, but I’m told quite sincerely it’s correct), and then top up with water leaving a small airspace at the top.
This was a baby toy I made for Kid 1 after seeing something similar at an open playgroup-in-the-park in Darwin. The idea is that they can shake it up, roll it around, try and crawl towards it or grab it, fiddle with the textures on the bottle (if your bottle has textures), all depending on age. And, of course, they can watch what happens as the oil and water mix and then separate out again. I found that the glitter tends to stay in the oil, and the colouring stays in the water. I suspect it might be possible to get oil-based colourings that would colour the oil as well so you’d have two quite different colours. I just used craft glitter, but if you were concerned about it being swallowed then edible glitter’s available at cake stores and should work fine for this too. I’ve never bothered trying to explain the oil and water thing to the kids, to me this is just a foundational activity, the sort of thing the kids add to their memory banks of “how the world works” that later on they can pull out and say “Oh, is *that* what that was about”. Such as when a grandparent says knowingly “Like oil and water, dearie” and the kids are all “Like what now?”.
Extras: Really, there’s not a lot more to this, it’s pretty much what it says on the box (but maybe with less syllables than I like to use). There is one modification I’ve seen that could be useful though – using the bottle as a timer. Go to your room, and you can come back out when the bottle’s cleared again. Gives them something to watch, and a known amount of time to spend calming down or getting themselves together or just getting over it (whatever “it” is). My bottle only takes a minute or so to clear, but I think there are recipes online using glitter glue that separate out a little more slowly so you can tweak the timing.
What: Decorating the room with “real” rainbows, made with CDs.
How: We chose a few spots by windows that get direct sunlight, and put old CDs there. The rainbows form throughout the day, moving, shrinking, appearing and disappearing with the sunbeams.
As an activity this takes no time at all, unless you do it as a discovery project (see Extras). The beauty of it is in what it does to a room that you’re spending a lot of time in. Our CDs are in our north-facing front lounge room, which is the warmest and brightest place for most of the day during winter. The rainbows brighten it even more. For us it’s purely a decorative thing, all of us love colour and find the rainbows peaceful.
Extras: And, of course, there’s heaps of things you can talk about. We went through an accidental-discovery moment, which you could set up in advance to happen if you wanted to. First we discovered one of these rainbows that had formed by accident, and had to find what was making it. That took some conversation and exploring. Then we had to get some more old CDs to try making more. When that worked, we put them in windows – but the rainbows moved! And later when we looked again one of them had disappeared! The idea that things change over time, even if we’re not watching them or even when we are, is a basic scientific idea that kids spend a bit of time learning and reinforcement never hurts. Especially the bit about how you don’t have to be afraid of change because everything *does* change.
My kids aren’t old enough for me to bother with explaining the difference between diffraction (which is how CDs make colour) and refraction (which is how rainbows make colour). It’s enough to talk about how white light is made of all the colours and if you separate them out, that’s when you see the rainbow. Kid 6 worked out for themselves that this was a bit like when they looked through Mummy’s prism. Kid 5 also happily talked about times and places they’d found rainbows. We got to talk about the colours we could see, and whether they were distinct bands or blended into each other, and how many colours we thought there were. That’s always a good conversation, because kids get drilled early on the idea that there’s seven colours in a rainbow, and there totally isn’t. ROYGBIV is just the way it was written down some three hundred years ago by an early scientist, when we named common colours differently to the way we do now (cyan, anyone?). And it’s a handy acronym for remembering the order of colours, if you want to talk about how rainbows always have their colours in the same order, but beyond that its usefulness drops off quickly. (Yes, I have opinions on colour.) Add that to how kids get all kinds of weird-coloured rainbows on their toys and clothes, especially girl clothes, and they can come up with some fascinating and funny observations. Though I still don’t have a good answer to “Why isn’t there any pink in it?”. (I tried saying that it’s just that pink is “light red”, but that didn’t wash.)
Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.
Nature observation skills
Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
About: A slow, very peaceful story that poetically describes the slow change from end of day to beginning of night, sometimes with words and sometimes just with pictures. The illustrations are magical, with house, forest, stream, ocean and sky blending and shifting. This was often one of our bedtime books, beloved by Kids 2-5. It’s got a few flaws in the science, but if you consider it poetry and metaphor you’re fine.
Describes the change from day to night
Metaphor for the settling and going to sleep process
Peaceful and poetic
Encourages stillness, listening, looking, just being present.