Egg Carton Crafts: Crabs

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We have made a lot of fun sea creatures with coffee filters (jellyfish, sea horses, and sea turtles); so now it’s time to move on to a new medium.  Our family of six eats a lot of eggs, giving us an egg carton or two every week to be creative with.  A few months ago, we studied crabs, and I thought how perfect an egg carton section would be for the carapace of a crab.

These snappy little crustaceans were a blast to learn about.  We borrowed multiple books from the library (our favorites being Crabs by Mary Jo Rhodes, The Magic School Bus Gets Crabby by Kristin Earhart, and A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle).  We examined hermit crabs at the pet store and found discarded crab legs at the beach. We watched a video about the amazing sandbubbler crab at National Geographic and learned about tiny crabs that help keep coral reefs clean at National Geographic for Kids.  In our research, we discovered that it is cruel to keep a hermit crab as a pet.  We learned about horseshoe crabs (not really crabs), spider crabs, and king crabs, but we decided that our favorite was the robber crab (also known as the coconut crab). Check out this video about this crab that likes to steal silverware and sneakers!

Now, let’s get on to making some cute little egg carton crabs.

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Here’s what you need to complete this project: two wooden spring clothespins, an egg carton section, paint, paintbrush, two flexible drinking straws, two pipe cleaners, two googly eyes, scissors, and glue (you can use school glue but I opted to use a hot glue gun for speed and security for the clothespin pincers.)

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First, you will paint your carapace (the egg carton section) and pincers (clothespins).  Some of my kids used lots of colors and lots of paint, and others were much more sparing. Allow to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

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Cut each pipe cleaner into four equal sections so that you have eight legs total. Cut the tops off each flexible drinking straw underneath the bendy part.

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Start gluing your crab together.  I began with the pincers, asking the child how they wanted the pincers positioned on the body and then gluing them on.  I held them tight to the carapace for a few minutes while the glue set up.  Then I glued on the legs underneath the carapace, bending them out and then giving them a little bend in the middle for the “knee.” Finally, I glued the straws to the top of the carapace as eye stalks and added the googly eyes on top of those.

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These adorable crusty creatures make great decorations but can be useful as well.  Gabi’s crab sits on my kitchen windowsill and holds recipe cards with its pincers.  David gave his to his therapist, and she uses it at her desk to hold memos and photos.

And, if you are feeling pretty technical and want to be super accurate with your egg carton crab, go ahead and give him two more pipe cleaner legs.  Crabs are decapods, meaning they have ten limbs. We did eight because artistic license and all that. (and maybe I forgot that little fact when we were creating this craft?) Just maybe.

Coffee Filter Crafts: Sea Turtles

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Last week, I woke up to a dreadful discovery: my Keurig machine was not working. After several desperate attempts to fix it, it became clear that a new machine must be purchased. Stat.   And so we carted away the old machine and said hello to a shiny, red, and most importantly, operable model to fuel my daily caffeine needs.  I briefly considered getting a regular coffee maker, but ultimately opted for the convenience and ease of a Keurig.  Therefore, my giant pack of coffee filters is still ready for crafting projects.

In keeping with our ocean animals unit study, we decided to make sea turtles next.  (You can find instructions to make coffee filter jellyfish here and coffee filter sea horses here.)  Sea turtles were a favorite to study around here – we probably spent over two weeks examining the lives and habits of these cute sea creatures.  We borrowed lots of sea turtle books from the library – my favorite was Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe.  It tells a real-life story of a mom and her daughter helping sea turtle babies get to the ocean safely with beautiful drawings and photographs of sea turtles and other ocean life.  There are fun and thought-provoking activities included at the end of the book.  Of course, we also love the drawings and easy-to-understand text of Gail Gibbons’ books, and her Sea Turtles is no exception.  For our online resources, I found this link to a free sea turtles unit study and used some of its printables, like the Sea Turtle Anatomy Matchbook.  The kids enjoyed tracking sea turtles on SEATURTLE.ORG.  Sea World’s website also had a lot of information on sea turtles for the kids to practice looking up.  Netflix and Hulu and YouTube are all great resources for sea turtle videos – this one was my kids’ favorite: 

All right, let’s make some super cute sea turtles!

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Here’s what you will need: lima beans, washable markers, styrofoam bowls, chalk pastels, craft glue, paper, and of course, coffee filters.

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First, flip the bowl upside down and glue lima beans all over the top and around the rim of the bowl.  Let dry completely before going to the next step.

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Next, get out those markers and color all over those lima beans!  (Painting them would work too, but we needed a break from painting around here.)

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Now, take two coffee filters and fold each of them in half. Color them with your chalk pastels however you like.  To keep the chalk dust from rubbing off your sea turtle project, spray the filters with a fine mist of aerosol hairspray.

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Then, cut each of your folded coffee filters in half and glue them to the underside of the turtle’s body (the bowl) as shown.  Cut out a triangle shape and a turtle head shape from your paper and glue on in the appropriate spots.

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Use the markers to decorate the turtle head and tail.  Your colorful sea turtle can sit (swim, I mean!) nicely on a shelf, or you can use thumb tacks to hang it on the wall.

Did you know that leatherback sea turtles can weigh up to 2,000 pounds?  That’s like half my minivan!  Thankfully these coffee filter sea turtles are a lot lighter (and a lot cuter than the leatherback, in my opinion!)

 

 

Crystal Science: How to Make Your Own Magic Crystal Coral Reef

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A few months ago, the kids and I played around with making our own crystal snowflakes. (how to and amazing results here)  It really had nothing to do with anything we were studying but hey, it was winter and we weren’t getting any snow so we needed to make our own. Or something like that.

Anyway, we loved growing the alum crystals.  I spent some time on Pinterest looking for other ways to grow crystals.  Currently, I have pinned to my Science board to try these sparkly crystal geode eggs (good Easter project, anyone?) and these overnight crystal gardens.  While I was perusing the many ideas on the internet, and pondering many sciency things, I remembered the magic crystal trees that I had purchased as a kid and then grown at home.  Does anyone else remember these?  Apparently, there are still versions of those scientific little wonders for sale.  When I saw the familiar puffy crystal branches, it immediately made me think of coral.  What if we could grow our own magic crystal coral reef?  That would fit in perfectly with our ocean unit study.

If you search “how to make your own magic crystal tree,” you’ll find dozens of websites with clear instructions.  It seemed like it would be fairly easy to adapt it to a piece of coral instead of a pine tree.  And so we attempted to make our own crystal coral reefs with fantastic results.  Get these supplies if you want to try it for yourself:  one or two pieces of cardboard, table salt, ammonia, Mrs. Stewart’s bluing, scissors, pencil, water, food coloring, and a glass dish.

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First, you will need to draw and cut out your coral shapes from the cardboard.  (Note about the cardboard:  it cannot be coated, like cereal box cardboard, and should not be too thin, as it would fall over with the weight of the crystals.  I used the cardboard backs of some legal pads I had.  They worked perfectly.)  The kids looked up pictures of various types of coral online and chose two different ones to draw.  Draw it once on the cardboard, cut it out, and then trace it again on the cardboard to be cut out a second time.  You can see that we tried a short coral version and a tall one.  Don’t make it too tall!  Cut a slit from the bottom center of one of your cardboard pieces halfway up the design.  Cut another slit on the other piece of cardboard halfway down the design.

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Now you can put your pieces together to give your coral a 3D effect.  Simply slide the two slits together and spread the piece apart until they stand nicely, as in the photo above.

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Next, it is time to mix your solution.  (A word of warning: keep your work area well-ventilated as ammonia has a very potent odor!)  In your glass dish, mix the following:  3 TBS bluing (get it in the laundry section of your grocery store), 3 TBS water, 3 TBS salt, and 1 1/2 TBS ammonia.

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Then drip some food coloring over your cardboard coral structure and carefully place it into the solution in your glass dish.

Now comes the waiting part, but don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.  The next day, Mikey came racing into my room shouting that I needed to come and see the coral now.

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Sure enough, tiny delicate salt crystals had gathered on all the points of our cardboard coral reefs.  It is near impossible to avoid with over-excited children, but please do your best to not touch or bump the crystals in any way.  They are extremely fragile.

Two days later, the tiny salt crystals spread out over the cardboard a little more.

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The kids were delighted to find blue, green and yellow tinged crystals sprouting up everywhere.  For some unknown reason, the crystals were unaffected by the red food dye.  In a few more days, the shorter coral structure was almost completely covered in crystals while the taller structure experienced crystal growth about three-quarters of the way up.

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At this point, the finely detailed, sharply pointed crystals of the first two days softened into a more pillowy design.  Doesn’t it look a lot like coral?  Check out the similarities:

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(White Coral, fine art photograph by Mary Deal, from fineartamerica.com)

The crystals do not last more than a few days before they start falling and shattering into little piles of powder.  However, seeing a simple piece of cardboard burst into hundreds of beautiful little crystals is pretty amazing.  And of course, being a good, responsible homeschooling mom, you are going to want to know the science behind it all, right?

We already talked about crystals and how they form in this post.  In this experiment, crystallization does take place, but only after some other scientific processes occur first.  The first process that has to happen is capillary action.  That’s really just a couple of fancy words to describe how liquid sometimes defies gravity and goes up instead of down.  In plants, water can travel up thin tubes called capillaries to give the entire plant the necessary hydration for survival and growth.  You can see this happen when you stick a stalk of celery into a glass of colored water.  If the tubes are skinny enough, the surface tension of the water enables it to basically “climb” up the walls of the tubes.  Liquids will also climb the fibers of a piece of paper or cardboard.  This video is a great demonstration of this:

In our coral crystal growing experiment, the solution in the glass dish climbed up the fibers of the cardboard.  That’s when the next scientific process took place – evaporation.  Evaporation is the process of liquid molecules escaping and becoming gas molecules instead.  We put ammonia in the solution because it evaporates much faster than water.  The ammonia and the water molecules escaped the cardboard and became gas molecules.  The bluing and the salt were left on the cardboard to begin the next process – crystallization.  Because the solution was so saturated with the bluing molecules and the salt molecules, these molecules are able to combine and form crystals, much like we discovered in the previous post about crystals.  The bluing is a colloid, which is one substance that has another substance evenly dispersed throughout it.  Some good examples of colloids are mayonnaise, our blood, and hair gel.  (You can watch this little video by Martha Stewart on how to make your own colloid with starch and water that does some pretty cool things!)

Oh, and since this is part of our ocean study, it might be a good idea to study up on coral – what is it, where do you find it, and why is it important to the earth?  There are lots of resources online for this, but I’ll leave you with two.  First, here is a link to a free homeschool unit study on coral reefs.

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And, as always, here is a short but educational video on coral reefs:

Have fun learning about these magnificent structures of the deep as you make your own magic crystal coral reefs!

Coffee Filter Crafts: Jellyfish

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If your kids had fun making the coffee filter seahorse craft, they will certainly enjoy adding these jellyfish to their art aquarium.  They are made with the same technique of washable markers and water and have long tentacles that sway in the breeze.

The topic of jellyfish made an engaging subject in our ocean animals unit study.  As with the seahorses, we borrowed some books from the library to begin our quest for information on these magnificent creatures. (Jellyfish by Louis Spilsbury, Box Jellyfish: Killer Tentacles by Natalie Lunis, and Portuguese Man-of-War: Floating Misery by Natalie Lunis.)  We followed these books up with some videos on YouTube so that we could actually see jellyfish in action.

Here are ten things you may not have known about jellyfish before:

1.  A jellyfish does not have a brain.

2.  Jellyfish come in all sorts of colors: pink, blue, red, even multi-colored.

3.  A jellyfish’s body consists of a polyp, or float, on top and many tentacles dangling below.  The mouth is underneath the polyp.

4.  A jellyfish’s tentacles are filled with toxins used to hurt or paralyze their prey, which can be little fish, other jellyfish, crabs, and plankton.

5.  A group of jellyfish is called a bloom, a swarm, or a smack.

6.  Some jellyfish can glow in the dark.

7.  Jellyfish are a favorite snack of sea turtles.

8.  The Portuguese Man-of-War is not actually a jellyfish.  It is a group of organisms that live together and function together as a whole.

9.  Most jellyfish have a life-span of a few hours to a few months.

10.  Jellyfish range in size from very tiny (thumbnail size) to very large (whale size).

Now, let’s make some coffee filter jellyfish.

You will need: 2 coffee filters, washable markers, water, a paintbrush, a paper plate,  plastic grocery bags, a stapler, party streamers, and some tape

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First, lay your coffee filters one on top of another on the paper plate. Color dots and swirls and scribbles however you like (just like we did when we made the seahorse) on the top coffee filter with the washable markers.  Then, with the coffee filters still stacked up on top of each other, paint over the top filter with water until the colors are swirled to your satisfaction.

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When the coffee filters are dry, staple the outer edges together as shown, leaving a small opening on one side.  Insert the plastic grocery bags into the opening until the polyp is nice and full and then staple shut.

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Next, cut varying lengths of your party streamers and tape to the bottom of your coffee filter polyp.  (I found a couple of rolls of blue and yellow in the junk drawer, so blue and yellow it was for us!)  Use fishing line or thread to hang your jellyfish from the ceiling.

For a short while, we hung our jellyfish in the entrance of our dining room.  They added a beautiful pop of color and a touch of movement to the area, but they were too distracting when you had to walk underneath them.  We ended up moving our jellyfish to a safer location in a corner of the dining room instead.

Get creative!  Think another material besides party streamers would work for the tentacles?  Try it and see!  As with many other ocean animals, the different types of jellyfish vary widely in shape, size, colors, textures, and even the way they move.

And while you are creating your jellyfish masterpiece, you may want to try reading aloud Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High by John Fardell.  It’s a funny picture book for the kindergarten set but will be sure to entertain the older kids as well.

 

Super Cool Melting Ice Experiment

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Lately, we have been up to our ears in ocean animal books and projects and notebook pages.  Apparently, it is a science subject that is going to stick around for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get sidetracked every now and then.  Honestly, it’s one of the beauties of homeschooling.  Your child suddenly shows interest in something, you go with it, and the learning happens!  Not a bad formula in my book.

A while back, the kids and I participated in a “Brain Break” at one of our local churches.  It is hard to explain a “Brain Break” in just a few sentences, but basically the church uses it as an outreach to the schools in the area.  When there is no school because of a holiday or teacher in-service day, the church provides a full day of care for the students whose parents can’t afford to take off work for that day.  They feed the kids breakfast and lunch, do crafts, games, activities, science experiments, and more.  It is an amazing opportunity to serve others and to share God’s love with the kids.  I got to serve in a room where we taught the kids how to make their own snow globes before doing a fun melting ice experiment with them.  The experiment was a simple concept, but it held a definite wow factor for the kids.  My boys had a chance to try the experiment at “Brain Break” too, and they talked excitedly about it all the way home.  I decided we would replicate it at home.  I thought of a few modifications that would make it even more fun, and that night I secretly filled up four balloons with water and put them in the freezer.  The next day we popped those sparkling balls of ice out of their rubber casings and using salt and some food coloring, we conducted our science experiment and did a little art, too!

Want to get in on the fun?  You will need: a balloon, water, a large bowl, salt, and food coloring or liquid watercolors.  That’s it!

Fill your balloon with water, tie it off and put it in the freezer.  (Tip: put your water-filled balloon in a bowl in the freezer so that it does not get lopsided or ridged from your freezer shelves.) Let it freeze in there overnight in preparation for the experiment.  SCIENCE TIME:  How does the water change from a liquid into a solid when it is put into freezing temperatures?  You might already know that water is made up of molecules moving freely around, filling the space it occupies. Those molecules have three atoms each – two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.   When you put water into a place that is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the molecules stop moving so quickly.  The cold slows them down.  Eventually they slow down to an almost standstill.  The oxygen atoms establish an organized pattern like crystals (remember those?), but the hydrogen atoms are rebels and go wherever they please.  This is why water expands, or get bigger, as it freezes.  If you put a bottle of water in the freezer with the cap screwed on tightly, it could explode from the water expanding as it freezes.

The next morning, put your frozen water balloon in a large bowl. (I have several colorful plastic bowls from the dollar store that we use for various occasions, and they worked perfectly for this experiment.) Use a scissor blade or knife to slit open the balloon and remove the rubber from your ball of ice.

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Just doing this will produce some “This is so cool!” responses or whatever the kids are saying nowadays.  Before we went any further in our experiment, I challenged the kids to hypothesize why there were these beautiful, sea-anemone-like structures inside our balls of ice.  Gabi guessed that it was the flow of the water as I filled the balloons.  David thought that maybe the water started turning to ice at the bottom and then moved out to the sides as it froze.  SCIENCE TIME:  Those were great hypotheses, but here’s the real reason for those crystalline structures inside the ice.  It may have seemed that I filled my balloon completely with water, but as I tied it shut, there was some air trapped inside the balloon.  If you look carefully at the first photo (the red one), you can see that the structure is actually made of hundreds of tiny bubbles strung together.  Those bubbles are the air trying to escape while the water froze.

Now comes the fun part.  Ask your kids to list some ways to melt or get rid of ice.  The kids at “Brain Break” certainly had some interesting answers to that question!  Inevitably, especially if you live in an area where snow and ice abound, someone will mention salt because they have seen it sprinkled on sidewalks and spread on streets during freezing winter weather.  Salt is what is used in this particular experiment to melt ice. So scatter (don’t dump!) some salt over the top of the ball of ice. The next part is hard – waiting for a few minutes while the salt starts to do its thing.  It’s a good time to discuss – SCIENCE TIME:  How does salt melt ice?  Here’s a quick video to explain it:

Or, if you want the Cliffs notes version, salt lowers the melting point of water.  Its atoms of sodium and chlorine disrupt the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of the ice and cause it to slowly break apart.

You may not be able to see the melting of the ice initially.  That is where your food coloring comes in.  We used food coloring because that’s what I had on hand, but if you can get liquid watercolors, I would recommend that.  Unless you like having rainbow-stained hands, then, by all means, copy us and use the food colors.  Choose a color and carefully squeeze a few drops over the top of your ball of ice.

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The salt actually sinks into the ice as it pushes aside the water molecules.  When the color is added, it drips down into these little pockets left by the salt.  This is clearly the art part!  Wait a little while and then add a few drops of a different color.  Try adding a little more salt.  You will notice that after each time you add salt, the surface of your ball of ice will become more dimpled like a golf ball.  It would take salt alone a very long time to melt this ball of ice.  It works more on the surface, which is why it is used on icy roads and walkways.

Other factors are at work in melting the ice.  Consider the temperature of the room you are in.  Is the sun shining through the window and perhaps directly on the ice?  Have you touched the ice at all with the warmth of your hand?  Now leave your ice alone for a while.  We went out to the library and the park before returning to see how our balls of ice were faring.

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You can see that our ice now resembled alien brains, as Mikey pointed out.  The tiny pock marks left by the salt had widened into larger pits like the finger holds on a bowling ball.  The water trickled down the sides in a snaky fashion as it twisted and turned around all the salt holes.  We added more color, which pooled up in the salt holes and streamed down the squiggly paths left by the melting ice.  We again left it alone for a while and came back to see new designs and patterns etched into the ice.  Each time we checked the ice, we were given a new art piece to admire and enjoy.  The kids left out their ice all night, and in the morning they came out to see their bowls filled with dark, cold salt water.

It was such an enjoyable and educational experience that we want to do it again.  What if we use something else beside a balloon to contain the water?  What will happen if there are substances in the water before it freezes?  What will the melting process look like if we use a hair dryer instead of salt?  There are a great many more possibilities, and my little scientists are eager to explore this new world of solids and liquids with more experiments.

 

 

Coffee Filter Crafts: Seahorses

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This year in science, we have been studying ocean animals.  We have checked out library books on sharks, watched videos about octopuses, studied the starfish, and really have enjoyed investigating in depth the many creatures of our oceans.  The kids are making ocean animal notebooks to go along with our study, but I have also tried to incorporate arts and crafts into our unit study as often as I can.  Doing something creative with your hands helps solidify learning and makes it more fun, especially for the hands-on learners.

A while ago we examined the lives and characteristics of seahorses.  We borrowed some books from the library (Seahorses and Sea Dragons by Mary Jo Rhodes and Seahorses:Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior by Frank Indiviglio) and learned amazing things about these fascinating creatures.  We found that YouTube has some great educational videos on seahorses as well:

So what did we learn?  Here are ten facts about these little equine-looking sea creatures.

1.  Seahorses have the ability to change color and sometimes even their texture to blend into their surroundings, such as seaweed, various types of coral, and sea anemones.

2.  Seahorses are monogamous, mostly because they cannot swim very well, making it difficult enough to find one partner in life.

3.  Seahorses greet their partners every day with an elaborate dance and an intertwining of their tails before they venture off to find food.

4.  Seahorses have prehensile tails just like monkeys do, which means they can use them to grab onto coral or another seahorse.

5.  Seahorses have few enemies because they are too bony and too hard to eat, but often crabs are willing to try.

6.  Seahorses eat plankton, tiny fish, and small crustaceans by sucking them through their snouts like a vacuum cleaner. They have to eat constantly or they will die.

7.  Seahorses are the only animal species in which the male is the one that gives birth to their young.

8.  Seahorse swim upright.

9.  Seahorses are actually fish, as they breathe with gills, have some fins, and use a swim bladder to float.

10.  Seahorses can measure anywhere from less than an inch to more than fourteen inches long.

And now that we know a little about seahorses, let’s gather a few supplies to make a coffee filter seahorse.

You will need:  a coffee filter, washable markers in bright colors, a paintbrush, water, a paper plate, a googly eye, scissors, a glue stick, and a seahorse template such as this one

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First, flatten the coffee filter on top of the paper plate.  Have your child draw all over the coffee filter with the washable markers.  Big circles of color work the best.

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Next, give your child some water and a paint brush and let them thoroughly paint over the coffee filter.  It’s okay if they use too much water as it will dry. (eventually!)Lay the coffee filter and plate in a warm place to dry.  (I put ours on top of our dryer!)

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Once the filter is dry, show your child how to cut it up into small triangles and squares.  Then, instruct them to glue them to their seahorse page, overlapping them like the bony fins of a seahorse and covering the entire animal’s body.  More overlap will produce a prettier effect.

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Finally, glue on a googly eye and hang the completed art in a conspicuous spot for all to admire.

I think the results of this craft are very Eric Carle-like.  In fact, he has written a cute book called Mister Seahorse that features bright watercolor seahorses in the illustrations. That might be a fun read-aloud while the kids are doing this craft.

Crystal Science – Make Your Own Snowflake

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Back when we were in a flurry of activity (ha, do you see what I did there?) preparing for Hosanna’s Do You Wanna Build a Snowman party, the older kids became obsessed with snow and snowflakes and basically anything white and cold and fun.  We rarely get any real snow around here; so we settled for cutting out paper snowflakes, spraying fake snow in our windows, and building snowmen with homemade magic snow (link here to awesome recipe).  One day, when everyone was going stir crazy and I was desperately trying to think of a fun but educational activity to do, I remembered a crystal growing project I had done with my General Science class at home school co-op.  I figured that we could take out the typical string and use something else to make it into a snowflake.  The results ended up being quite sparkly, perfect for our snow obsession as well as a little lesson on crystals.  Here’s how to make crystal snowflakes and learn a little about crystals at the same time.

If you google “growing crystals,” most sites will give you a formula using borax.  Borax is great and is pretty sturdy; but alas, I did not have borax when we commenced this experiment.  I decided to use alum instead.  Alum makes beautiful crystals that are much more fragile and will not last a long time; however, they grow very quickly and you will see results within hours.  When you purchase your alum, make sure it has potassium in it or crystals will not grow.  I got mine in the spice section of the grocery store.  (In case your kids ask you what alum is, its official name is potassium alum, and it is used for pickling and other household activities.  It is also found in your can of baking powder, unless you buy the fancy expensive kind in the natural foods section labeled “without alum.”)

For this experiment, you will need:  alum, a white pipe cleaner, a drinking glass or mason jar, a pencil, another pipe cleaner (any color), fishing line or thread, scissors, and water  (You also need a small pan and access to a stove.)

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First, prepare your materials.  Cut the white pipe cleaner into three pieces of equal length and then twist them together in an asterisk shape. *  Tie a piece of fishing line or thread to one of the points on your “snowflake”.

Now, make your solution.  Put enough water to fill your glass or jar into a small pan and heat it to boiling on the stove.  When the water is boiling, remove the pan from the burner and wait for the boiling to stop.  As soon as the boiling stops, start adding alum to the water and stirring with a heat-resistant spoon.  Keep adding alum until it will no longer dissolve.  (This is evident when the water is cloudy and will not clear up.)  Allow the solution to sit in the pan for a few minutes until it is again clear and any extra alum has settled to the bottom of the pan.

Next, set up the experiment.  Carefully pour the solution into your glass or jar until it is high enough for your snowflake to fit.  We used a juice glass and filled ours about three-fourths.  If you can, try not to pour the alum that has settled in the bottom of the pan into your glass.  This is called decanting, or separating a mixture into liquids and sediment.  As you can see in the photo, we were not terribly successful in our decanting.  Then take your pipe cleaner snowflake and dangle it in the solution.  It is very important that the points of the snowflake do not touch the sides or the bottom of the glass.  When you have it at the right place, tie it to the pencil and reinforce it by wrapping it with the other pipe cleaner as shown in the picture.  DSC_0017

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Be sure to put your set-up in a safe place out of the way.  We set ours back on the kitchen counter where they couldn’t be disturbed for several hours.  (Also, we have a certain three-year-old around here who loves to stir things up and add things as she “cooks” so….)  As you can see, each child had his own snowflake to grow.  We have a color system in our house that makes life so much easier.  Gabi’s color is green, David’s is blue, Mikey’s is orange, and Hosanna’s is purple.  That means Gabi drinks out of the green cup, uses a green plate, has a green bin for her shoes, etc.  It makes it a breeze for me to know who left their cup in the living room again, and most importantly, there is no arguing.

Anyway, I digress.  Call it a free tip.  So let your experiment sit for several hours, checking on it from time to time by looking through the glass, NOT by touching it.  After several hours have passed, or the next day as I like to call it, carefully use your pencil to lift the snowflake out of the solution and lay it gently on a clean surface.  Remember that the alum crystals are very fragile and have a tendency to get knocked off easily.

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This is when you get to do the observation of the snowflake.  Have the kids touch it and feel the various shapes that make up the crystals.  Look at the crystals with a magnifying glass.  See if they can find a repeating shape or pattern in the snowflake.  Gently tap one point of the snowflake with a pencil to knock off some crystals and examine those crystals more closely.  What do they look like?  Are they symmetrical?  Then you can teach the kids some facts about crystals.

Facts about Crystals: Going Beyond the Fact that They are Super Sparkly and Very Fun to Look At

1.  What is a crystal?  It is a mineral that is made up of molecules that form a repeating pattern.  These molecules band together to form a shape that is then repeated over and over again.  Take out a crystal of sugar and look at it under a magnifying glass.  Do you see that it is shaped almost like a football?  Now look at a crystal of salt.  You should see that it is shaped like a cube.  What shape did you find in your snowflake?

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In this picture, you can see points that look like pyramids.  Alum crystals actually have an octahedron shape (two pyramids stacked on top of each other).  There were actually dozens of nearly-perfect octahedrons on our snowflake the second time we did the experiment, and they were all visible without a magnifying glass.  When studying crystals, you will find hexagons, tetragons, and other shapes as well.

2.  Where do crystals come from?  Crystals form in two different ways.  The first is by evaporation of water from a mixture.  This is what we did in our experiment.  As the water evaporated, the alum powder formed into tiny crystals.  The second way is by cooling of a liquid as it starts to harden.  Expensive crystals like diamonds are formed when magma hardens slowly over time.  Maybe you have seen rubies, emeralds, and amethysts.  These are all crystals that have formed in nature by evaporation or cooling.  Of course, snowflake are ice crystals that form when water cools very quickly in the atmosphere.

3.  Why do crystals have sharp edges and angles?  Crystals have symmetry.  Symmetry is just a big fancy word that means “the same all around.”  There are a few different kinds of symmetry that you can find in crystals.  The first is called rotational symmetry.  Basically it means that when you spin the crystal around, it is the same from all sides.  Think of a ferris wheel.  Every time you spin it, it looks exactly the same.  The second kind of symmetry is reflection symmetry.  In this case, one half of the crystal is a mirror image of the other.  Think of a butterfly and how the wings look like a reflection of each other.  The third kind of symmetry is inversion symmetry.  Imagine that you can put a straight line through the center of the crystal and then spin the crystal around that line as if it were an axis.  This is what you see in our experiment.  It is very similar to a toy top.

Want to know more?  Learn what the terms cleavage, isometric, and monoclinic mean, and find out what crystals are used for in the videos below.

And if you want to watch a snowflake form its crystals in time lapse, check out this link!  It is very mesmerizing and illustrates all the principles of crystals we have learned.