Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Xanthan gum slime - home made mucus from kitchen cupboard ingredients

 I discovered a new idea for making slime a couple of weeks ago.  I got a book by ethnobotanist James Wong for my birthday, and in it there was a recipe for making a hair mask using xanthan gum as a thickener.  This stuff was seriously slippery and gloopy and seeded the idea that it would make a brilliant home made ectoplasm/mucus type slime.  You may not have come across xanthan gum before unless you do a lot of wheat free baking, but it crops up in lots of foods and cosmetics as a thickener or stabiliser (E415 on food labels).  It's made by fermenting sugar such as glucose is a polysaccharide (a long chain of sugar molecules) considered safe for consumption by most sources, so is an ideal ingredient for home science - it won't matter if the kids eat a little and I found it didn't irritate our skin the way PVA and borax slime does.

Xanthan gum has a brilliant ability to increase the viscosity of liquids, with a little going a long way.  It also makes a good slime to use alongside cornflour slime to demonstrate the difference between shear thickening and shear thinning liquids.  Xanthan gum slime physically acts in the opposite way to corn starch slime, demonstrating shear thinning compared with corn starch slime's shear thickening.  In other words, stir xanthan gum slime and it gets runnier, thickening when you quit stirring it, whereas cornstarch slime is a non-Newtonian liquid, thickening as you stir it and going runny again when you stop.

We used about 2 level dessert spoons of xanthan gum (bought from the gluten free section of our local supermarket) mixed with about 400ml water, plus green food colouring and lemon essence.  I'm not completely sure about proportions because part of the fun was letting the kids add a little bit of this and a little bit of that to see what happened, but it's easy to add a little more water or powder to get the consistency you want.  We got a lumpy wallpaper paste consistency from what the boys produced (note don't ever use actual wallpaper paste for kids play as it's full of antifungal chemicals and other nasties).

 When the kids were happy with the consistency we played with it in a variety of ways, spooning it, pouring it and squishing it.  We even tested it as a glue by smearing a little on paper and sticking it to an old envelope (it works really well, pending longevity test).

 I encouraged the boys to make predictions about how viscous the slime was and whether adding more water would make it runnier or thicker and make the slime pour down a tube faster or slower.  I asked them to think about how we could experiment with the slime.
 Ollie wanted to know if the slime would sink or float, and if it would dissolve if we put it in water.

Toby was less keen on slimy hands than Ollie and was content poking it around with a spoon, while Ollie got up to his elbows in gunge.

With colds season upon us, this slime makes a good model for explaining about mucus.  Let it dry into a lump and that's a nice disgusting hard bogey, left wet sticky and slimey and it's the thick mucus from near the end of a cold or when you're a bit dehydrated, or add more water and you have a runny mucus like at the start of a cold.  You could even make a clear runny mucus and then add more gum and particles of something to represent bacteria or pollen (I used spirulina powder previously) to make a thick germy mucus.  Spirulina was also quite stinky so made a really unpleasant slime if you're really going for the gross factor.

Notes: I expected this to be a messy activity requiring a change of clothes, hence why the boys are still in their pjs at 9 in the morning - easy enough to chuck slimy things into the washing machine.  In the end though they stayed remarkable clean.

The slime is very slimy so I wouldn't do this near carpets, but from hard surfaces it washes off with soap and water with no problem.

This slime is made from food grade ingredients so it won't matter if a little is ingested, but I wouldn't recommend eating spoonfuls of the stuff either as it is an effective laxative..

Probably best to dispose of via compost heap or household waste bin, but if you do put it down the sink follow it with plenty of hot soapy water as it literally dries like glue, albeit a water soluble one.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Hastings Adventure Playground

 Today we were excited to be invited to a birthday party at the Hastings Adventure Playground.  It's somewhere that we've been hoping to visit for some time as we have heard fantastic things about it and it is completely in line with the things we feel make for a great childhood.  Run by an organisation called In2Play, the playground takes the cotton wool off childhood and provides adventurous play in an environment which is well designed to be safe enough for peace of mind, but with enough elements of risk to let kids develop their own awareness.  There's things to climb on, muddy banks to slide down, a rope swing, a really high slide and a zip line amongst other things.

 One of the big hits at the party was the mud kitchen which was surrounded by eager young kids beavering away making mud pies and sludge soup.  Our friends had the playground for a private party, but it is also open weekdays after school for 8 to 13 year olds registered with the playground to come and go as they wish under the watch of In2Play staff, as well as being used for organised play sessions during the day.  There's a youth session once a week on Tuesdays for 11+ kids and a Saturday morning session open to unsupervised over 8s and families with kids of all ages.

We're familiar by now with how beneficial unstructured exploration play in the outdoors is for all children, but it's brilliant to find a facility like this available for play free of charge (except booked parties) right in the heart of busy housing estates with easy access to and around the site, including a family/disabled friendly toilet and board walks.  Good waterproofs are handy, but not essential as the site was a little muddy in places, but certainly not a swamp with well laid woodchip pathways as well as the board walks.  Our waterproofs were from Lidls by the way, so good doesn't have to mean expensive if you keep your eyes peeled for a bargain.

I'm seriously grateful to our friends for inviting us along and introducing us to this brilliant place, I'm sure it won't be the last time we visit it.  I'm constantly amazed by what's on our doorstep in our area and hope that with a little digging everyone might unearth treasures like this where they live.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Our week in pictures

 I'm not a prolific blogger.  I love to write, but I'm also pretty much constantly on the go doing something so carving out time to actually write about it is an infrequent event.  I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of the kinds of things we've been up to in the past week as an insight into how it works for us doing the home ed thing (including the constant query of 'but what about socialisation').

The egg parachute experiment, from a lovely gift courtesy of my sister in law, was a high point of the week.  We tested the drop rate and breakage of eggs with and without a parachute.  I put the eggs in a plastic cup with clingfilm over the top so the one that did break was contained and swiftly used up to make a cake.  The boys all had a brilliant time designing and constructing their plastic, straws and elastic cord eggstravaganza (sorry).

We went to see the brilliant story teller at Tales for Tots at the Delaware Pavilion in Bexhill, then round the fab display of artwork from ladybird books of the 60s and 70s (which as an 80s kid I remember well) and then to the library for a new stack of books.

This week we played with magnets.  I tipped the iron filings from my old magnets kit (a cheap supermarket science kit I've had for years) into a sandwich bag and taped the edges shut so the boys could play with them without getting filings stuck all over their magnets.  The boys were fascinated trying out different magnets on the filings and making them swirl around.  Ollie decided to tape the bag flat to a table mat to try to make a magnetic drawing board. Toby's favourite was when I put ring magnets on to a chopstick - one way up they stuck as he expected, but the other they bounced up and down, levitating beautifully.

We had a lovely afternoon just mucking about in the back yard enjoying a relatively warm day, decorating the shed with chalk, drawing roads and car parks on the patio in chalk to push card around, drumming with sticks and making up songs, and finally a funny game they came up with to try to catch an eagle using sticks and garden ties.  Eagles are not a thing I've seen in Hastings before, but they gave it a good go, even trying to use Toby as bait.

We had a fun morning in the park with our friends who had brought along spotter sheets of seasonal things to find, enjoying a good run around and looking out for the things on the sheets including squirrels, birds and even deer poo.  Then we spent the afternoon at children's yoga with some more friends, stretching and dancing and laughing.

We spent a morning at the sign and shine Makaton group for children with speech delay that we help with, played with old friends and made some new ones.  Then we had gymnastics lessons in the afternoon where the boys also get to play with their friends.

This week the kids discovered they had grown the biggest mushroom ever because we had forgotten to check our mushroom box growing in a cupboard.

We went to a one off maths fun session this week and met some other lovely home educating families.  The session was taught by a private school teacher who had home educated her own kids and she really knew how to engage with the kids.  Ollie was one of the youngest, but seemed to grasp everything straight away and begged to go back so hopefully these sessions might become more regular.  I was glad it was in a hall because it meant I could send Ollie to run around it every so often to burn off his jitteriness so he could sit back and concentrate again for a time without bouncing off his chair.

 Matt took the day off to spend time with Toby scootering along the seafront while Ollie and I did the maths, so I made the most of the extra pair of hands afterwards by getting my hair cut (at an actual salon, as opposed to just getting Matt to trim off the bits my hairbrush got stuck in).

We played loads as usual, and painted, drew, did workbooks for phonics, maths and science.  We went to a friend's birthday tea one morning, and then Matt took the boys to a swim disco while I sat by the pool and worked on my next University assignment.  They met some friends there who have ended up being home educated too.

 At home the boys got experimental with paints.  The shower curtain and bath are still blue from trying to wash the paint back off again.  We've cooked together, played instruments, done housework together and made the house messy again several times.  Toby is majorly into space at the moment, so we've been reading a lot about it.  Matt found great footage of astronauts showing around inside the ISS, then Matt used an app to track the ISS going over our house and the boys stood out in the garden to watch it - this caused a huge amount of excitement.  Other topics covered as they came up this week included why people speak different languages, where in the country and the world our friends come from, what's religion all about and why do people believe different things, crash tests of airbags, why isn't it that all ladies have long hair and all men have short hair, why are people's skins different colours, why don't ladies have the same bits as men, why do some seeds grow two leaves and others just one (seriously, I'm having to explain dicotyledons and monocotyledons to a five year old), why are some words rude and not others, what nutrients are in different foods ...... (my brain usually starts to ache pretty early on in the day - science I can cope with, but the whole of the reasons and details of world religions at 7.30am is hard going).

Today we had a lovely pancakes morning followed by a super fun science session organized by the Hastings Pier Charity where we learned about gross body stuff, including making fake poo and blood.  This afternoon Matt and the boys planted up potato growing sacks and built a mini grow house on the patio to house our seedlings for the allotment.  Each and every day we have read together both during the day and at bedtime, plus some time watching Cbeebies and a heap of other games and activities that the kids entertained themselves with while we did washing up.

So I guess a pretty typical week for folk with small kids, we balance running from one fun thing to the next with scheduling in time to be home and just potter about and play imaginatively.  It's all good - it just doesn't leave a lot of time to write about it :)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Don't eat your slime - but do make some

 There are many things we love in this house - science, getting mucky, having fun - but 'freebie' is also firmly on that list.  This week we have been playing with a lovely freebie, a free download of the fantastic book 'Don't Eat Your Slime' by Marc Wileman.  This book is a lot of fun, and a great starting point for anyone who wants to incorporate science play into their repertoire of activities.

Each simple activity comes with easy to follow instructions and a child-friendly explanation of the some of the science principles involved.  Making slime is the first activity in the book, and as it is one we haven't done in a long time it was a good place to start.

Corn flour slime is a lovely example of a non-Newtonian fluid.  If you leave it alone it will trickle gelatinously from your fingers, but when you apply shear or tensile stresses to it (i.e. move it around) it starts to behave more like a solid than a liquid.  This has the pleasing effect that you can grab it out of a bowl, then let it ooze gently away.

There are other ways to make slime - including using PVA glue mixed with borax - but we keep coming back to the cornflour because it is non toxic, doesn't irritate the skin and won't matter if the kids eat some.  I made our slime up as shown in the book, and also added some mint essence for added sensory fun.

The book gives a basic recipe for each activity but also gives suggestions for how to play around with the materials used to make your own discoveries, for example in 'Make your own flute', after showing how to make a reed from a drinking straw and explaining the principles involved, there is an 'experiment like a real scientist' section with ideas for finding out what happens to the sound if you use shorter or longer straws, fatter or thinner ones, or even just blow harder.

Science is all about experimentation and observation, but school science lessons can be so prescriptive with regards to 'add A to B and observe C' due to time constraints that what we call experiments actually aren't - they are no more experimental than following a cake recipe.  'Experiment' can mean trying to replicate someone else's results, but in it's purest form an experiment is just trying things out - literally experimenting with things.  This book is a great way to remind ourselves that yes we can follow the instructions, but we are prompted to also experiment with each experiment.

The shortage of scientists in our country today is largely because we somehow manage to teach kids that science is hard and boring, so we need resources like this to introduce kids at an early age to what they instinctively know as tiny children - science is really fun.  So if you're looking for a way to entertain your kids, or even fancy having a go at the classic 'mints in soda' reaction yourself, click on the link here to go to the page for a free download.  If you like what you see you could even ask Marc to send one of his trained mad scientists from his company Sublime Science along to entertain the kids for you.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Sand writing games

 If you want a child to learn to write, it may come as a surprise that sticking a pencil in their hand may not be the best way of going about it.

Writing in wet sand stimulates more regions of the brain due to its multisensory nature and as such the letters that a child forms with their finger in the sand tend to be more memorable than the marks they make on paper.

The more physically active and multisensory you can make an experience the more it will be memorable, so using our whole bodies during learning the alphabet and counting is a big part of what we do.

I noticed how playing hopscotch had an immediate effect on Toby's ability to count in a correctly ordered sequence, so today I made up an alphabet game.  I wrote the alphabet a line at a time as in the song, then we held hands and shouted the line while jumping on the letters.  At the end of a line we ran down to the bottom and right around back up to the start of the next line and continued until we had done the whole alphabet.  After about three complete alphabets we were puffed out, so it's also good for making up the hour a day minimum physical activity that is recommended for kids.

 Ollie then decided to draw the big lobster we had seen in the aquarium that morning, and when he finished his picture I suggested he write 'lobster' next to his picture.  He needed a little help working out how to spell it, but each time we write on the beach I notice an improvement in his memory for the letters he sometimes muddles such as 'b' and 'd'.  Lobster was a handy choice as it is a nice phonetic word with no tricky sounds so he was pleased to be able work out most of it for himself.
 Toby has started shouting out 'look. there a T like in my name!' every time he sees a T written down, and occasionally writes a pretty convincing version of 'Toby' on his pictures, so I wasn't surprised when he started to write his name on the beach.  I was amazed though at how clear it was.

I haven't pushed either of the boys with holding a pen correctly - just each time they start to write or draw I will adjust their hold once and then leave them to how ever they want to hold it after that.  With Ollie he was holding a pen in a correct grip at around 2, but Toby at 3 is still preferring a fist grip and regularly switches which hand he uses, so I was interested to see he favoured his right hand during sand drawing.

As a break between numeracy and literacy games I drew start and finish lines in the sand and we ran races up and down the beach in different ways - running, hopping, jumping, running backwards.  The boys also did plenty of digging, stone throwing, making sand angels and watching the gulls fly overhead.  One of the benefits of learning outside is that pure open ended play and learning games can run seamlessly into one another.

We did counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing using a 'picnic' made of pebbles.  Our final game before we left was a numbered scavenger hunt for pebbles.  I wrote numbers in the sand and we ran up and down collecting pebbles and adding them in the correct amounts next to the numbers.  Ollie did his numbers by himself and I helped Toby.

All of these games can be done in a back yard with a sand pit, or in mud, or flour or shaving foam.  The scavenger game can be played with numbers chalked on a patio and any item to collect that is in season, such as leaves or daisies.  How you do it is limited only by your imagination, and if that runs out the kids are bound to have brilliant suggestions and are more likely to play games they have helped to devise too.