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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Russia for Kids

The most effective way of introducing children to cultural diversity is through books.  But not just any books.  Quality books with rich story, beautiful illustrations, and accurate message.  I used this as my guide in putting this list together.  I did include two nonfiction books (the first two on my list) that provide a general introduction to Russia.  The next seven are captivating stories that will delight you and your children.  I hope you enjoy it.
  1. R is for Russia by Vladimir Kabakov.  Each letter of the alphabet introduces reader to something Russian starting with that letter.  For example, C is for Chess, a game that is popular in Russia.  D is for Dacha, Russian country house.   
  2. Russia ABCs: a book about the people and places of Russia by Ann Berge.  Another ABC book that teaches facts about Russia.  For example, B is for Ballet, which is big in Russia.  L is for Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world.  
  3. The Littlest Matryoshka by Corinne Demas Bliss.  This is a sweet little story about American girl who always wanted Matryoshka, but it was too expensive for her parents until one day when it goes on sale because the littlest Matryoshka is missing from the set.  In a providential way the littlest Matryshka finds its way back to the girl.  This happy ending never fails to bring smiles to my kids' faces. 
  4. The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline Ogburn.  This is a beautifully illustrated book that reverses the traditional Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.  In this story Katya, a peasant girl uses her magic nesting doll to set things right and to release Prince from an evil spell. 
  5. The Sea King's daughter: a Russian legend by Aaron Shephard. This is a classic, very old (at least medieval times old), fascinating and very deep story about a legendary musician Sadko.  One night Sadko's music reach the ears of the Sea King and the Sea King's daughter... if you read the title you can already see where the story is going. I don't want to give too much away.  It's a beautiful story.  Read it, if you like a good fairy tale.  Illustrations are like paintings of old masters. 
  6. The Princess of Borscht by Leda Shubert.  It's a good introduction to Russian cooking.  Ruthie's grandma is in the hospital and to make her feel better Ruthie sets out to cook Borscht, a nutritious beetroot soup, on her own for the first time.  You can read this book and then cook the soup together (Recipe here).  It's always fun to eat something made together.   
  7. Annushka's Voyage by Edith Tarbescu.  Two Russian girls travel with their mother from a small village in Russia to start a new life in New York.  I really like the pen-and-ink, acrylic, and colored pencil illustrations. 
  8. The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco.  From scraps of fabric of little girls' dresses and old aprons immigrant great-grandma sets out to make a quilt "to help us always remember home."  The story is sad, funny and heart-warming.  I highly recommend reading all of Patricia Polacco's books. 
  9. At the wish of a fish by J. Patrick Lewis.  A lazy Russian simpleton catches a magic fish.  What would he do with this gift?  This traditional story is full of fantastic rhyme, metaphorical language, and colorful expressions.  If you read just one book from this list make it this one.  I can not think of better introduction to the world of Russia folk tales. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How plants Drink - Tinted Flowers and Celery

Have you ever wondered how trees get their water?  It's amazing really. I was just reading a book about Appalachian Trail by my favorite writer Bill Bryson and learned that some large trees lift several hundred gallons of water a day from its roots to its leaves without noise or fuss, "imagine the din and commotion, the clutter of machinery, that would be needed for a fire department to raise a similar volume of water."  Nature is fascinating!

For little kids (and their curious parents) nothing demonstrates the concept of how plants drink better than tinting white flowers.  Or celery!  We first got idea for this experiment from reading Green Thumbs by Laurie Carlson, but we since have seen the same experiment in many early science books.  We like it so much we do it every year.

I started by explaining to my kids that roots suck up water from the ground and it travels up the stem of the plant into the leaves and flowers.  When we cut flowers they no longer have roots but the stem can still suck the water in and move it up.  

Do you want to try this experiment with us? 

Here is what you will need
Celery and white flowers
Food coloring
Glasses/jars with water

What to do
  1. Place a celery stalk and/or white flowers in glasses/jars 
  2. Fill with water and add a few drops of food coloring to each glass 
  3. Give celery/flowers enough time to drink up the water (overnight works for us)

What happened
Plants drunk the water.  As plants moved water up, leaves and flowers became colorful.

Kids can record their observations in a Science Journal and draw a tinted celery/flower to go with it.

Some additional questions to ask kids:
1.  What else could you use as a coloring agent?
2.  Does it make a difference if you add more or less of food coloring?
3.  What gets tinted faster flowers with shorter stems or longer?

Our next project is learning about colors through gardening.  We are planning to design a garden using color wheel.  If only spring will ever come to Chicago!

Have you ever tinted flowers?  Do you like experimenting with with kids? 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ooey-Gooey Fun

If you are looking for a quick, fun activity with relatively little clean up then try our Ooey-Gooey art.  My kids love to play with stuff they can moosh and squash with their bare hands, but if your kids are squeamish about having to touch stuff that is sticky, then you can put the mixture in a sealed bag.  Bagged mixture can be squeezed and mushed with no mess.  Just remember to tape the seal (I don't always and then you end up with more clean up than you were looking forward to).

What you need
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup (250 mL) cornstarch
1 liter (4 cups) cold water
food coloring
three bowls
heavy duty sealable bag, if using

What to do
  1. Mix sugar, cornstarch and cold water in a pot.  
  2. Heat on medium until it begins to thicken (~10 minutes), stirring constantly. 
    This is your thickened mixture
  3. Divide the mixture equally into 3 containers, then add food coloring (1 color per container). Red, green and yellow is what my kids picked. 
  4. Play with bare hands or add each color to a heavy duty sealable bag, seal the bag and tape it closed. Let them knead the bag, mixing the colors. 

  5. My kids like to finger paint with this ooey-gooey mixture. 
I give them a bowl of warm water for cleaning fingers when they get too sticky.

Ooey-Gooey Song
Our favorite ooey-gooey song comes from one of the Mailbox books and it is sung to the tune of "Bingo"
There was some [ice cream]
On my plate,
And it was ooey-gooey.
It stuck to my face. [point to cheeks]
It stuck to my hands! [point to palms of hands]
It stuck every place! [point to other body parts]
It was so ooey-gooey.
{Continue with the following: honey, syrup, chocolate, frosting} 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kid Minds Yoga - Lion's Pose

Yoga is a big part of my kids life.  They first started doing yoga two years ago when baby #3 was born.   They lost some amount of my attention and I wanted to give them something special to compensate. So, every day during baby's afternoon nap we would do yoga together.  I would teach them a pose or two, and sneak in some very necessary stretches for myself.  Two years later we are still doing it together regularly.

Yoga is not only for monks sitting on top of mountains in lotus poses.  Yoga can be child-friendly and fun.  Kids are curious and hungry for new information, introduce them to yoga and it will pay off.  Every time they do it, they will strengthen their mind, body and spirit. The result might not be apparent right away, but one day you'll realize that your kid is a calm kind: present, peaceful and happy.   

Most parents think that yoga is complicated and requires some unidentified set of special skills/equipment/instructions.  So, what we thought we would do is help you and your kids get started.  Each pose only takes a couple of minutes to do and once they get into it you can lengthen the section by adding more poses.  Today my 4-year old will demonstrate Lion Pose. 

Garfield Observatory - by Guest Writer Nina Wieda

My very talented friend Nina, researcher and college professor with Ph.D. in Russian Language is doing a post for us today. Show some love by checking out her two books at the end of this post.

In the summer, Chicago is paradise. If you are not biking by the lake, or taking in Mozart over a picnic at a Millennium Park concert, or browsing art stalls and gobbling down juicy cevapcici at a street festival, then you must be engaged in another of a thousand exciting activities that summertime Chicago offers every day.
In the winter, your pickings are slimmer. Museums and theaters are still here, but what if your eyes hurt from the amount of gray and dirty-white tossed at your eyes every time you go outside? When I catch myself wishing for an underground tunnel that would get me everywhere in the city, when my reluctance to go outside in the dirty snow outweighs my thirst for culture and human company – that’s when I know it’s time for a good dose of Garfield Conservatory.
Garfield Conservatory is an oasis. It’s hot and humid; the colors are rich, and the scents – intoxicating. You walk winding paths among giant tropical plants, pause by ponds and notice colorful fish swimming out of charming grottoes. Peek through the leaves – have you seen this fruit in the exotic section of your grocery store? Look up – yes, this is where chocolate comes from. Does this smell familiar? It’s because this is cinnamon. After a few minutes, you forget that you did not take an 8-hour flight, so this can’t possibly be Hawaii.
As a snowstorm rages outside, you can enjoy a picnic by an azure-blue fountain – a gift from Morocco. On the walls, you see pictures of ladies in floor-long dresses and gentlemen dressed like Charlie Chaplin: the conservatory’s original staff from 1880s. The Garfield Conservatory is an institution. The present structure, built in 1908, is one of the largest conservatories in the United Stated.
Some of my favorite memories of my daughter as a toddler include her playing in the conservatory’s wonderful children’s garden: digging in a special dirt box for exciting plastic creatures; going down the indoor slide among the tropical greenery; doing her first ever volunteering assignments by walking around and spraying plants with water. She still has her Garfield Conservatory favorites: the sensitive plant that shrinks when touched; banana bunches (“I want to eat them so much!”), elegant glass umbrellas decorating one of the ponds. I, too, have my favorite Garfield experience: looking at an unassuming-looking fish in a pond and realizing, with horror, that it has legs. The mysterious creatures turned out to be axolotl, a type of salamander endemic to a single lake in Mexico. Who knew?
They say that the Conservatory is surrounded by a beautiful garden with a lily pond and, even, a labyrinth. I cannot attest to those, though. I only go to the Garfield Conservatory in the winter.

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Avenue, 60624

Books by Nina Wieda
Russian for Dummies, Nina Wieda, Andrew Kaufman, Serafima Gettys

The Who, the What and The When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History, Jenny Volvoski (with Nina Wieda)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creating Beautiful Spaces - Fairy Garden

Happy Earth Day!  We just finished English, Math and Science for the day and to honor the Mother Earth and everything it provides us we will spend the rest of the morning picking up the garbage on the streets and will start the seeds for our vegetable garden in the afternoon.  I always talk with kids about the importance of not littering and recycling, about not wasting water and reducing fuel emissions by walking more, but today offers an even greater reminder to appreciate nature.   Some great books to read today Clifford's Spring Clean up, The Earth and I and Just a Dream (by the author of Jumanji!  The best children's environmental book).

Yesterday was quite chilly.  Hello snow pants, winter coats and hats, kind of chilly!  But we spent about two hours wandering outside and picking up nature things for our fairy garden.  Our concept of fairy garden is perhaps different from other people.  I have heard of those amazing, elaborately designed fairy gardens that belong on the pages of Beautiful Homes and Gardens.  What we do is find lots of nature things, arrange it along with some tiny furniture in a box, play some imaginative games for an hour or so and then they CRASH it... to pieces.  And the next day they start all over again.  One of my most favorite things in life is to watch my kids running around hunting for just the right stone, stick or flower for their fairy garden.  So much happiness, raw enthusiasm, and energy! And spring is such an exciting time.  Look at the beautiful flowers we found on our yard and so fragrant too!

Creating beautiful spaces is not only fun but educational.  It develops methodical thinking, aesthetics, creativity and spatial learning.  Manipulating spaces and shapes develops the same areas of the brain that are involved in mathematical thinking.  Designs and patterns are basis of all logical thinking.

So to begin we went on a very long walk and looked for sticks, stones, flowers, grass, moss, bark, pine cones, seeds.... I facilitated some discussion by asking, Let's think about the kind of place fairies will find attractive.  Kids were in agreement that most of all fairies like grass, flowers, and cozy spaces filled with animal friends.  After we got our pile of goodies, it was on to step 2 - Homemade sand.  Homemade sand makes for easier clean up than real thing when they use it inside the house.  I wish kids could play fairy garden outside but by early afternoon the wind was so crazy that it was flipping our heavy, metal chairs in the backyard over and around.
For homemade sand mix 5 cups flour with 1 cup vegetable oil.  My kids love to mix it with their bare hands and it makes for a great sensory experience.  It's very pleasant to the touch: soft, cool and fluffy.  I myself can't get enough of touching it. Oh, and if you wondering why sand is needed in the first place, I should mention that it makes excellent base for sticking flowers and branches in and generally for keeping things from falling over.

  Our set up is a plastic box on an extra large cookie tray.  But spills are unavoidable...

And now the construction begins.  Instead of giving each child their own box, I like them to be working on creating the same space.  It's good to learn how to work with others.  Almost any worthwhile cause in life involves working with others.

There is something enchanting about the scale of fairy trinkets, don't you think?  I suspect my kids might actually be just as happy making fairy tables and benches out of nature things.  I'm the guilty party here for the simple reason that I can't resist the cuteness.  Some of my favorite pieces:

Our favorite books to read with this project
The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker
How to Find Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker
The Fairy Houses Trilogy by Tracy Kane

Kids always get excited about birthdays.  Today we are going to make Earth a happy birthday cake and blow some candles!  How are you celebrating the Earth Day? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stiff by Mary Roach - Book Review

Why do people care so much about what happens to their bodies after death?  Is it a fear of losing control?  I decided to read Stiff by Mary Roach to get more comfortable with the idea of dying and to help me decide, if I want to be buried, cremated, or donated to science after my death.  The book covers such topics as human decomposition, what happens during cremation, using corpses in car crash tests, medical use of corpses, and much more.  It was shocking, repulsing, and fascinating. The book crept me out in some places (sewing anus shut for open casket viewing) and made me laugh hard enough to wake up my toddler in another room (visit to China).  It was morbid but very informative.  Mary Roach did a good job taking such touchy subject and keeping it respectful (and did I say funny).  Author makes a good point that since you are not around to carry out your death wishes, the people who bury you should be making all the major decisions based on their financial situation, time constraints, and life load.  The goal should be to cause the least amount of trouble to those who are left behind.  All in all, if you decide to read a book about cadavers than it is better to be something by Mary Roach, at least her sense of humor lightens up the nausea.   I would definitely read other books by her.  And hey after reading this book, you'll be the most sought after person at a party because who else would be able to fascinate the crowd with true stories of head transplants and comical history of body snatching.

Ice cream in a bag

We had to do it!  No child should be allowed to get through childhood without making ice cream in a bag.  We got an extra motivation for the project because we were reviewing the states of matter.  (We use this Scientific curriculum for our Science lessons).  First, we took ice (solid) turned it into water by melting it (liquid).  Then it was time to take liquids (milk) and turn it to solids (ice cream).  This little experiment is amazing because while it looks like the kids are just having fun making ice cream, they are actually learning chemical reactions, changing states of matter, and properties of salt and ice.

You need all this and ice to make your homemade ice cream

(from Change It: solids, liquids, gases and you by Adrienne Mason)
1 cup whole milk (or/and half and half, and/or heavy whipping cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 small sealable plastic bag (pint size works great)
1 large sealable plastic bag (gallon size)
ice cubes (at least 12 for one portion)
2 Tablespoons salt

What to do
  1. Put the milk, vanilla and sugar into the small plastic bag.  Seal the bag well
  2. Place the ice cubes in the large plastic bag.  Sprinkle the salt on the ice.
  3. Place the small bag in the large bag.  Seal the large bag well.
  4. Put on some music and shake the bag for 10 minutes. 

  5. Your ice cream is ready!  
Questions to ask
How do ingredients change during the process?  Why do you think we added salt?  How does the state of milk change over time?  How do ice cubes changes over time?  Why roads are salted in a winter? (salt melts the ice)  Your kids might not answer your questions because they are too busy eating!

What is happening
Ice cools the milk and the liquid mixture changes into a solid.  We add salt to melt ice.  The salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes.  To freeze the ice cream the temperature needs to be lower than 32F.  When you add salt the temperature lowers.  Water normally freezes at 32F, 10% salt solution freezes at 20F, 20% salt solution freezes at 2F.  Melted ice doesn't look as cold as frozen ice, but it's deceptive!  Remember that salt lowers the freezing temperature!  It means that our salt melted ice is actually colder than frozen plain ice.  And this is how the milk freezes!  The other component of this chemical reaction is heat.  The ice needs the heat from our milk/cream mixture and from hands to melt.  As you shake the bag the ice melts in the bigger bag and the ice cream forms in a smaller bag. 

Try the same experiment with milk and then with heavy whipped cream or half-and-half.  Do you see a difference?   
Try different kind of salt.  Rock salt with larger crystals results in smoother ice-cream! (the larger the crystals of salt, the longer it takes to melt.  The molecules in the milk slow down as they get more frozen.  With crystal salt they slow down at a slower rate and result in more even, smoother final product)

Additional information
It might be a good time to mention that nobody knows for sure when ice cream was invented, but it was a long time ago.  Alexander the Great, King Solomon and Emperor Nero were all known to enjoy snow and ice flavored with honey.  At some point probably around 3,000 BC flavored snow and ice evolved into sherbet and Chinese are credited with that invention.  According to food historians sherbet evolved into the ice cream we know today somewhere in 16th century in Europe.  One of the sources we enjoyed reading is Food Time Line

Necessity is the mother of invention!  The ice cream cones were invented just over a hundred years ago when an ice cream vendor run out of plates to serve ice-cream and had to improvise by rolling up some waffles to hold ice cream. 

Jobs to discuss today
Food Chemist
Food Historian

Related Post:
Lemonade in a Bag
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