Category Archives: Education

deCordova Revisited

 

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We hope you all got some outdoor time on the second beautiful weekend in a row!

One of the places we visited (in addition to the Stone Zoo and the new storybook walk out of Greenwood Park at the Middlesex Fells) was deCordova Sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA.  Angelika’s done a post on it before but it has been five years so we figured a quick update wouldn’t be out of line.

Nice to meet you, otter man!  Teach me about art, please!

Nice to meet you! Teach me about art, please!

It was founded in 1950 and is known for its sprawling lawns with large scale sculptures and art installations, as well as a museum with a wider variety of media.  Admittedly, we’ve only taken quick peeks inside the museum because we had so much fun playing outside and need to pay it the attention it deserves someday.  The main indoor exhibit at the moment is on Walden, which is not too far away, although the museum itself is on Flint Pond.

But as Angelika said, the outdoor portion is perfect for small kids.  They can run and play and picnic and the huge and sometimes colorful sculptures are right up their alley.  Dogs are allowed in the outdoor portion as well.

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We made it *right* when the grass was turning green. I swear it was brown in our yard the day before and brightened up that morning. A good day for a picnic!

Another perk to bringing kids is they are free under 12!  Adults are $14 each, but there are all kinds of discounts. We used a combination of library passes and teacher discounts (thanks, Bree!) and there are many more including AAA or Zipcar or biking, to free admission the first Wednesday of the month, and more. Of course it is a worthy institution that I’m happy paying full price to support, and there are membership options as well.

Sneak peaks of some of the new and different things, with more in the works:

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Climbers

My cunning plan is to have a science-y project ready each day for when the kids get out of school. We have been watching way too much television recently. Today I just looked through a couple of the 1001-fun-things-to-do-with-science type books we have.We talked a bit about how friction helped the shapes to climb up the string. I’ll post the video on Facebook.

Found this in The Usborne Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do:
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I used a cereal box as a thin cardboard and free-handed a couple of shapes: a honey bee and a lady bug. First reaction from Jen was: “That’s nice, Mama”. I didn’t know 5 year olds could sound THAT sarcastic – sheesh.

Alex had some fun finishing the bee.

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And this is what the backside looks like – two 1 inch lengths of straws taped on to run the yarn through, and a coin taped on to give it extra weight.

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Artist-in-Residence

slime?!Pinterest has been the bane of my existence. At first, I was sooo excited at all the inspiration, the creativity, and the awesome ideas of what I could do with my preschool children. Then I tried some ideas. And failed. Quite a lot.
Follow Angelika’s board Ideas for Children on Pinterest.

By training I’m a scientist (Ph.D. in Biology), and with each unsatisfactory attempt at making finger paints that cracked, or colored sand that stayed brown, I got frustrated that the proportions of the ingredients were not great, and that I didn’t know what the variables were that would make each recipe a success.

Sausages

Sausages

So my children and I started testing and experimenting. I am compiling all the recipes I have tested and optimized into a handy, boxed collection: Recipes for Disaster. My plan is to produce this as an actual physical product by fall 2014.

Meanwhile, Last year we stayed at the very kid-friendly, arty Searsport Shores Ocean Campground for a week.  Read my blog post of our trip here.  This year, we will be back showing fellow campers some of the trick and lessons we have learned.

During my week as Artist-in-Residence at Searsport Shores Ocean Campground (July 6 to July 12), I will have a different theme each day. I will show you how to make colored sand, pasta, rice, and sugar, several different kinds of paints, doughs, clays, slimes, and BUBBLES. We will measure and cook and mix all these recipes from scratch and I will have several suggestions on what to create from our concoctions – making marbled paper, making your own bouncy ball, a colorful salt mandala…

My sessions will be perfect for all ages – we have been trying  these recipes since my children were toddlers. At the same time, using some of these basic materials is only restricted by your creativity. I will be taking pictures to add to my blog Playground Hunt, so please join us in making some of our Recipes for Disaster art.

Wolf Hollow–Ipswich, MA

“What do you think is in this bucket?” asked Z Soffron, Assistant Director of Wolf Hollow, as he emerged through the pack with a large orange pail.  “Raw meat?”

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He dumped it on the ground and we saw large red dripping chunks, which the wolves excitedly started lapping at.  Nope, it was homemade apple and watermelon “popsicles” (just fruit pieces frozen in water, an appropriate summer snack for your canines, as well).

While verbally reminding us that they are wild keystone predators, by serving what is basically a healthy version of the snowcones featured at the festival’s entrance, they made these creatures  instantly relatable as well.

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And that seems to be the point of Wolf Hollow’s Free Family Fun Fest.  Wolf Hollow is a non-profit wolf education center, and an affordable day trip any season ($7.50 adults, $5.00 children and seniors).  But once a year they open their gates for free so newcomers can check out what there is to learn, and old fans and new friends can enjoy the celebratory atmosphere.

It was very crowded–not overly so or in a bad way–but one could see how taking in these fascinating animals in their multi-acre sanctuary like atmosphere would take on a whole different tone on a quieter day, and I’m sure many first-time visitors (like us!) are now eager to have that experience as well.

But the Family Fun Festival is a good way to do it once a  year, too.  The usual hour long presentation was cut in half.  While it was well done and made me curious about what else there is to learn, the shorter time is great for the younger children.  As were the games and activities, including a coloring contest, puppet making, tye-dying, Pin the Nose on the Wolf, and more.  There were food and drink vendors, and if you saw the post I made on the Facebook feed, the free Ipswich Ale Brewery samples for the adults did not disappoint!  I recommend the summer ale!

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The rest of the year they have hour presentations on weekend days (going down to Sundays only during the thick of winter) at 1:30pm.  They are occasionally cancelled due to bad weather or special events so it is good to call first.  Groups of 20 or larger, like school field trips or camp groups, can schedule presentations by appointment on weekdays.

Wolf Hollow supports its wolves and their habitat through their modest admission fees, gift shop sales, private donations, special fundraisers, and their Adopt a Wolf program so if you go and enjoy it, support them!

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When I ask a small child what their favorite animal is, I find I often get one of several answers: dinosaurs (a lot to learn but sadly extinct), unicorns (imaginary, but many great creative myths) or wolves.  With the latter, you’re in luck.  Two local non-profits aim to feature them and educate us about them.  There are the Mexican Grey Wolves at Stone Zoo and the the British Colombian Timber Wolves at Wolf Hollow.  We’ve got easy access to these popular but occasionally misunderstood animals, so take advantage of it!

 

Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk

“Hey, mommy!  We’re bringing you to the swamp today!”

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Some mothers might hear those words Mother’s Day morning and wonder if the kids were exacting revenge for having been subjected to that celery-parsnip soup last week:  “You want green sludge! We’ll show you green sludge!” At the very least they might wonder if they are allowing one too many screenings of The Princess Bride.

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother's Day--but liked it!

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother’s Day–but liked it!

But no, my kids know they have a nature geek mommy and that I’d be genuinely pleased and excited to hear those words as part of their Mother’s Day plans for me.

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We’d been wanting to check out the Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk for a while, so we met up there with some friends, who had originally recommended it: Daryl, Emmaline and Gideon.  Sadly their mom Meghan had to miss it due to her obligations as an emergency services pediatrician.  I figured she could rescue the kids who were already sick, while we’d work on her kids’ base immunity by smearing them around in some dirt.

The swampwalk is a loop off the Danvers Rail Trail, and a great place to see some of our local wetland plants and animals.  If you do decide to tour it as part of your bike trip, you’ve got to park the bike at the entrance to the boardwalk section, but they’ve got bike racks set up there.  It’s also accessible by foot, just a short ways in from a parking area.  It’s dog-friendly (on leash, of course), so we brought Moxie and our friends’ dog Scout.

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At about a mile and a quarter, it is a relatively short doable walk for kids, and our 2-year-olds walked the whole thing without struggle. That said, much of it is an elevated boardwalk, so gauge whether you think your little one will be careful when it comes to staying on it when you are deciding between babywearing and toddling.  Because the water is shallow and we’re not in alligator country, risks are probably more  unintended mucky mudbath related than immediate danger related, but you might want to read up on some safety practices first anyway.

Okay, okay, so they did get rests and shoulder rides near the end…

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There are several beaver lodges along the walk, and the 4-year-olds thought they spotted one bobbing along but it was too far away to get a definitive sighting.

We saw probably about a dozen common brown water snakes, both on land and swimming, so if you’ve got ophidiophobia, you might want to sit this one out.  I love snakes, but would not want to go on a goose-ridden hike, so I understand.  They greatly interested the kids, and thankfully did not interest the dogs one bit.  They get quite large and thick; we saw ones at least three feet, and they can get to nearly twice that.  They are non-venemous and avoid you when crossing paths, but are quick to bite when handled, so be cautious that way.

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Check out the big guy in front of that large tuft. Sometimes we look for letter shapes in nature. It’s easy to spot Ys, but Ss can be a bit tougher. This friend helped us with that! Thanks!

It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we were a bit surprised we didn’t see any turtles out basking.  The pre-schoolers are both little chatterboxes, which is sometimes not conducive to spotting wildlife, but is thankfully very conducive to engaging them deeply and educationally on wildlife when we do see it, so it evens out.  But apparently turtles don’t have great hearing, especially when it comes to high pitched noises like 4-year-old voices, so it was probably just co-incidence.  We also didn’t see (or feel) excessive bugs, surprisingly, but we put on our repellant and sunscreen ahead of time just to be safe.

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We DID see a wide variety of birds, and you bird watchers among us will lament that we are not great at identifying them.  I’ll have to be sure to bring along my trusty Audubon Guide to New England next time.

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We were excited to get another great local outdoor destination off our bucket lists. Any requests for a future write-up?

 

 

Drink your Trees – making maple syrup

I won a maple syrup making kit at a charity auction. AND GOT VERY EXCITED. I had never made maple syrup before, so I was super glad the kit came with these three books (pics link to amazon.com).

The kit I got came with a metal spile, a hook, and an aluminum bucket and lid – like this kit on amazon.com :Maple Sugaring / Syrup Tapping Starter Kit with Metal Buckets. The only other thing you need is a drill to make a hole in the tree. 7/16th drill bits are a bit hard to find, but that’s what the old fashioned metal spiles need.


(Aside: there are lots of different spiles, taps, lines, and collection vessels available on Amazon.com. For two spiles we used sand buckets, for one a plastic drinking jug – just need something to catch the sap)

I used my cordless power drill to drill into the bark. You’re supposed to do it between a big root and the first big branch, because that’s where the sap will flow the strongest. I kinda just drilled in where it was convenient to stand. The hole is supposed to be 1-2 inches and angled slightly upwards. I think I got that more or less.

I cleaned to drill dust out of the hole and was pretty much amazed that sap started leaking out immediately. I guess I got there just at the right time. Stuck the hook over the spile and hammered the whole thing into the hole. Attached the bucket and lid, and then waited.

The sap flowed at different rates over the next few days. A couple of days it filled the whole 2 gallon bucket, on others 1/4 or 1/2 a gallon. The sap flow is super dependent on the air temperature. For the sap to flow well, it needs freezing temperatures at night, and about 40 deg F during the day. There seems to be some wiggle room. I just checked the bucket a couple of times a day (mostly because I was curious about what was going on).

Turning Sap into Syrup

So maple sap only has a slight sweet taste (that’s me drinking it straight from the pot). It looks and tastes like water otherwise. If you collect it in the morning and some of the sap has frozen, that is the BEST! The ice is mostly water, the sweet part gets concentrated in the part that hasn’t frozen.

Then I filtered all the sap through a cheese cloth into a giant pot and boiled it. A lot. It’s a huge reduction and quite steamy.  I’m trying to work out how to do it in the crockpot, so I don’t have the gas stove going so much.

The books say to reduce the sap until it looks like syrup – light brown-ish, slightly sticky. And if you want to get precise, you can use a thermometer and hygrometer. I have a candy thermometer so I used that to heat the syrup to about 215degF. I also took some of it higher to make maple candy – mixed success there, though all was delicious (just some was too soft, and some too hard).

I then poured the boiling hot syrup into clean mason jars and sealed them up. They seem sterile and nothing has grown in the first batch, which has been at room temperature for over a week.

Things I learned: sap is yummy, and there is a lot of it. Maple syrup is much yummier but more precious that platinum. You just need a way to make a hole in a tree and a way to catch the copious amounts of sap.

And here are some photos of me making maple syrup:

MIT Museum

The MIT Museum is another one of the endless superb museums in the Boston area. We went to a free day at the end of February – there is free admission on the last Sunday of each month until June 2014. Otherwise admission in $10 per adult, $5 for kids, free for under 5 years old.

The museum is on Mass Ave, near MIT, and even though the area is busy, I have always found on-street parking nearby. Bring quarters.

The exhibits are not hugely made for younger kids and there are not too many things for the under-5-year-olds to poke. There are lots of buttons to push, but a lot of those move some delicate wire contraptions.

Oddly, my children found the extensive hologram collection totally uninteresting. I hope it’s just that they don’t understand the cool-ness of it, rather than that children are now so jaded by technology and touch screens that that is no longer fascinating for hours on end. Or maybe the hologram thing was only ever me? 😉

The biggest fun was had by my 4 and 6 year old with a conveyor belt machine that took pictures of small items and projected them onto the conveyor after they were removed. It think that was worth about an hour, and the source of all the high pitched squeals that day.

Downstairs is another large area, that had a bunch of robots and high tech stuff that mostly was beyond even my 6 year old, so I’ll have to come back sometime by myself for a closer look.

Be warned – the MIT museum has a really cool shop with really cool gadgets and toys. And it cannot be avoided.

Einstein’s Workshop in Burlington

Still somewhat catching up on all the awesome places we’ve been to recently: Einstein’s Workshop in Burlington. http://www.einsteinsworkshop.com. This is a space for older kids – definitely for over three year olds up to adults. They have all the construction toys you have ever heard of and then some. There is a laser cutter and 3D printing (which I’m personally drooling over). They do classes in everything and birthday parties.

Einstein’s Workshop is an amazing space for kids to explore the creative side of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Our goal is to expose young children to fun and engaging STEM activities so that they remain interested and engaged in STEM subjects as they progress from elementary school through high school. In addition, we are working particularly hard to inspire both girls and boys by creating classes for electronic fabric art and through a lasercut dollhouse/model home construction and decoration class. We currently offer science project classes, programming classes (Lego NXT, Scratch, etc), engineering classes such as 2D and 3D CAD design, electronics and circuit project classes, 3D printer and laser cutter project classes, math classes, and more. We offer classes to kids from kindergarten through high school and beyond, including training for FLL and JrFLL coaches. Einstein’s Workshop also features a drop-in creative/maker space for kids, where kids can build with various construction toys such as Legos, K’Nex, Anchor Blocks, Kapla Blocks, and where qualified kids can access our CAD lab, electronics workstations, Arduino projects, 3D printers, and 80-watt laser cutter.

You can get discount tickets for Einstein’s Workshop at https://www.livingsocial.com/deals/1026599?rui=4566718 (that’s a referral link if you are in the mood to give something back to the blog 😉 Many libraries also have free passes

Discovery Museums

There is so much to do around Boston that even after 5 years of trying to visit all the museums and playgrounds and beaches and forests and … there is still more to discover. We finally made it to the Discovery Museums in Acton. And LOVED it.

The Discovery Museums is comprised of two buildings on our 4-plus acre campus.   At the Children’s Discovery Museum, younger children (toddlers through early grades) learn while they play.  At the Science Discovery Museum, children and adults of all ages explore scientific concepts and hands-on creativity.

The Discovery Museums offers exciting programs for all ages.  Check our Calendar for upcoming programs and events!

We spent all day. First in the Children’s part in a smaller house – this opened early and we had a thoroughly awesome time in the various rooms. Everything is put together really carefully and with love.

After a quick lunch on a bench, we went up the hill to the Science museum and spent the entire afternoon there. So much to do for every age. Truly superb. And the best bit is that a lot of public libraries have bought into their discount admission passes. We got 50% off admission, so it is definitely worth checking out.

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Groundhog Day is underappreciated!

We think Groundhog Day can tend to be a bit forgotten and neglected as far as holidays go.  And it involves the types of things we at Playground Hunt are very into:  the outdoors, animals, seasons, weather, and more…

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Here are some ideas on ways to acknowledge it this year:

This is the official website for the holiday.  It has links to a great Weather Discovery Center, information on history, tourism, lesson plans, and more.

Here is a Punxsutawney based souvenir shop where you can pick up everything from mugs and hats to slippers and golf balls.  And, er, bags of chocolate posing as groundhog poop!

There are actually dozens of great Groundhog Day books out there for kids. Ask your local librarian!  But one of our favorites is The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old, which is just a nice overview of the holiday and the animal in a kid-friendly format.  Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day by Abby Levine is another favorite, in which she bucks convention and saves the day.

Take some time to learn about groundhogs themselves (also known as woodchucks) and include some other North American wildlife in your studies while you’re at it.  The National Weather Service website has a special section for kids, to learn more about weather and the seasons.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can invite some friends over for some celebrations!

–If your kids are old enough, play the Groundhog Day movie.  Once will probably do.  But then you can play this really awesome song called I Hog the Ground by Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips and Stephen Burns from Blues Clues.

–Make Porcupine Balls (yes, I know they are called porcupine balls but they kind of look like curled up groundhogs) or make Dirt Worm Cups or just serve any hearty mid-winter comfort food.  Decorate cookies and give half a winter theme and half a spring theme and guests can choose their favorite and make bets on what the groundhog will predict.

If it is sunny, go outside and play shadow tag.  If not, stay inside and play “Pin the Shadow on the Groundhog”.

We have lots of fun in the snow–but let’s face it–by the end of winter, many people are missing spring.  If you are all starting to get a bit tired of it all, make a pinata representing winter (like a snowman shaped one, for example, but be creative) and beat the stuffing (well, candy) out if it to release your frustrations and get some treats!

Bridget as a baby, dreaming of spring.

Bridget as a baby, dreaming of spring.

We used to host an adult version but admittedly never adapted it for kids, but we’re not ruling that out!  While it did break up the cabin fever, we remembered there are other party excuses this month to break up the tedium as well–Mardi Gras, Superbowl, Chinese New Year…so while we are always sure to do well acknowledging Groundhog Day, we might pick yet another “forgotten” holiday to throw a bash around.   April Fool’s?  Daylight Savings Time? May Day? Flag Day? The solstices?  What would you pick?  Let’s hear your ideas!