Experiential Science: Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics (Earth, Part 1)

My kids all decided that they wanted to learn about volcanoes.  For whatever reason, this choice did not inspire me–perhaps because it left me thinking, “How on earth am I going to take six weeks to talk about volcanoes?!”  But the more I thought about it, the more interesting stuff there was that connected to the topic of volcanoes.  In fact, as I began writing about this unit study, I discovered that we hit so many topics and used so many resources that this post was becoming impossibly long, so I am breaking this into several smaller posts for sanity.  Stay tuned for more as I get it written!

I started by making a list of topics I wanted to hit, as well as the order I thought most logical, and then I went hunting for resources.  I hit the jackpot when I stumbled on the American Red Cross Masters of Disaster materials.  For our purposes, I settled on the Level Two earthquake-themed materials, but the site was so cool that I linked you to the main page (apparently hosted by PBS, despite the differing address listed on the materials) so you could admire all of the topic options.

Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics


This was the only aspect of our study I actually remembered to photograph.  It was also delicious.

Using the Masters of Disaster downloadable packet (link in above paragraph), we started by studying the makeup of the earth, reading about its layers and graphing the depth of each.  The packet suggested an Earth’s Layers cake, but I couldn’t settle for their simple setup; I had to go all-out with a DIY Earth’s Layers Cake that I crafted. Continue reading

Hands-On History: Knights and Castles

We just finished an awesome six weeks of studying some really cool topics that my kids wanted to learn more about.  Today I thought I’d share the fun we had studying knights and castles.

Books were a big part of our study, though I tried to include as much hands-on as I possibly could.  (I’ll include a description of how we used the different books below for your perusal, along with a quick-reference list of all our resources at the end.  Our read-aloud stories–featuring King Arthur and Robin Hood–are listed and described at the very bottom of the post, below the reference list.)

Overview of the Middle Ages

We started by getting a bit of context, learning about the Middle Ages in general. In this, I included a timeline check so we could see what historical period we were discussing and some pondering of maps (we have a very cool Kingfisher Atlas of World History) so we understood where in the world this was taking place.


Pookie’s castle was simplest, but he insisted on including a well–with a bucket and bits of shiny paper for water–and a trapdoor to a dungeon, where he kept shoving Lego enemies.

I happened to pick up a book called Knights & Castles: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience the Middle Ages (Hart & Mantell) that was a perfect starting point.  In this book, we read about the feudal system and the Dark Ages and the influence of the church, and we read about what life was like for a typical peasant or nobleman.  The kids had fun drawing their own Medieval map, an idea they thought of before the book even suggested it.  They included landmarks and roads we see often and invented possible dangers to be found in places we haven’t gone.  The kids were also excited to note that “Button You Must Wander”–a game they learned in choir, where children sitting in a circle pass a button while singing, and the child in the middle opens his/her eyes at the end of the song and guesses who has the button (this lady sings it, in case you want to try!)–is very similar to the “Hunt the Slipper” game included in the book.

We rounded out our introduction to the Middle Ages with two quick, fun reads–Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle (Cole) and Adventures in the Middle Ages (Bailey).  These were curl-up-on-the-couch type books that provided review for some of the highlights we’d read about thus far.



Goober made sure to include a walled dry moat, and that sticker on the tower is a sparkly oval with a cross cutout, meant to represent a chapel window.

Since we already had a basic introduction to castles, we dove right into this topic by reading David Macaulay’s Castle.  This was another good snuggle-up-and-read choice, since the detailed pictures gave the kids something to look at as I read the story of how the castle was built.  Using DK’s Eyewitness: Castle and National Geographic Kids’ Everything Castles, we pondered the structure and contents of castles.  Each kid planned their castle structure, and Peatie was assigned to try to make his an appropriate scale.  (He ended up copying Castle‘s dimensions for much of it, though he couldn’t quite execute the details like he wanted.)

Castle building took us a lot of time.  I had been saving cardboard boxes and other assorted supplies for several weeks beforehand in anticipation, but it still took a while for everyone to choose their supplies, decide how to arrange everything, decorate it all as desired, and add appropriate details.  Thankfully the kids were so excited by this process that they gladly worked on it a little at a time for nearly two weeks.  (We initially spent an hour or two getting the structure started, and then we continued by doing a little each day thereafter.)  Highlights for the kids were making working portcullises and drawbridges and adding details like garderobes and wells.



While I had high hopes for these castles as works of art, I had to remember that my kids are still 7-and-under and let my expectations go.  Still, Peatie made sure to include a garderobe (I opend the box on top so you can see the hole, which connects to a tube that emptied into a cesspit out back), and that funnel-on-a-cup that you see was intended to be a rainwater capture system and cistern.

Once our castles were well underway, we moved on to learning about knights.  We read through a National Geographic book entitled How To Be a Medieval Knight and enjoyed the pictures of real people photographed in various roles in Laura Durman’s Knights book.  Eyewitness: Knight was a good book for filling in details on topics of interest.

As we learned about knights, we sprinkled in some fun projects.  First, we made our own helmets and swords from paper, basing the helmet designs on actual photographs of helmets (though we were limited by the range of our hole punch!).

The helmets are formed from a paper tube fitted around the child’s head (using staples or tape to secure it at the right size) plus a paper headband-type strip across the top to keep it from slipping down to the child’s shoulders.  While the child is wearing their tube-helmet, mark any place you will want to cut (their eyes, and possibly their nose, mouth, or ears).  Remove the helmet and make the appropriate cuts.

The swords were made from two pieces of legal-sized paper and a strip of cardboard.  Fold both pieces of paper to approximately 1.5-2″ wide, maintaining the length of the page.  Tuck in the ends of one folded paper to form the points of the sword and secure with tape or a staple.  Slide the strip of cardboard inside this piece to stiffen it; this will be your blade and hilt.  Use your second folded paper to form the crossguard (the piece that protects the hand and separates the blade from the hilt), securing it to the stiffened blade/hilt.  Decorate as desired.

Another project we enjoyed was the making of our own coats of arms.  After reading about heraldry and coats of arms, we used this website as a reference and the kids pondered what colors and designs they wanted.  The coats of arms were featured on our cardboard shields (made with one cereal-box-sized piece of cardboard with a loop of cardboard attached to the back for a handle) and also drawn onto a paper tabard to accompany our paper helmet and sword.  The tabard was formed simply enough from two large pieces of paper taped together, trimmed to form angles at the bottom, and cut with a scoop to fit over the head. (We happened to score an unwanted box of old tractor-feed printer paper from a local school!)


The knights display their armor.

As we studied this material, the kids grew increasingly determined to have a “learning party” to share their new knowledge with Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa.  We’d done one before with success, so I agreed.  We worked hard to prepare, and the learning party was probably the highlight of the experience for the kids.

Our party featured three elements: castle tours, in which each child showed the castle they had created and pointed out any interesting features; castle reports, in which my older two children read short reports they had written about what they had learned; and the tournament.


Our tournament included jousting.

Of these three elements, you can probably guess that my kids’ favorite part was the tournament.  They dressed in gray and black to mimic armor, donned their helmets and tabards, and showed off some knightly skills.  We started with sword fighting and an archery demonstration, held our own joust using Hop! balls (with horse heads attached!) and paper lances (two pieces of legal-sized paper overlapped and rolled), and finished with a carousel to show our horsemanship.  (Who knew the term originated from the church-approved, non-violent, late-era, mostly-for-show form of the tournament!?)

Renaissance Faire


The awesome (free!) Ren Faire had a lot of things to see and do.

As an unexpected grand finale to our unit, I found out about a free Renaissance Faire hosted nearby by the Society for Creative Anachronism the weekend we would be wrapping up our studies.  Needless to say, I jumped at that opportunity–and I’m so glad I did.  Though it was a small affair, the kids were able to see plenty of period costumes; try on gauntlets, chainmail, and a 400-year-old helmet; witness (and try) some Medieval dancing; watch some sword fighting by folks with various types of weapons and armor; see a blacksmith demonstrate how to make an iron chain; card and spin wool to make their own small piece of yarn…  It was an awesome capstone experience!


  • Kingfisher Atlas of World History
  • Knights & Castles: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience the Middle Ages (Hart & Mantell: This was the book I used to introduce the time period and beliefs.  While many of their ideas were ones I’d already put on my to-do list (like making our own castles, coats of arms, and armor), there were a number of games and crafts I hadn’t considered.  This book was also great for including details that kids would find interesting–stuff like the origin of the Christmas tree, Charlemagne’s contribution to reading/writing, and the silly demands of Medieval nobles.
  • Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle (Cole): If your kids like the Magic School Bus series, they’ll probably enjoy this book, in which Ms. Frizzle and Arnold accidentally discover a path back through time and help save a castle.  It’s probably better for young kids than the title below because it’s shorter and less detailed.
  • Adventures in the Middle Ages (Bailey): We’ve read others by this author and found them all to be fun reads.  The Binkerton kids travel back in time to the Middle Ages, where they bumble along from one mishap to the next, reading their time-travel guidebook to learn more about the time period and find their way back home.  The adventures are silly and the pictures fun, but the stories do have some good historical information tucked in them–an all-around win!
  • David Macaulay’s Castle: This book is awesome.  Using a single lord as an example, Macaulay weaves a story that tells not only how castles were built, but why and how.  His detailed pictures kept my kids entranced–especially my boys, who love the how-things-work type of details–while his story was engaging enough to convey the intended information without boring my kids.
  • Eyewitness: Castle (DK): The format of this one is probably better for mid- to upper-elementary students, since the font tends to be small and the pages are jam-packed with tiny tidbits of information and small images to go with them.  We used this book primarily to find out more detailed information about particular aspects of castles about which we were interested.
  • Everything Castles (National Geographic Kids): This book is appealing for a wider range of ages than the one above, since it features at least one large, main image and brief article per page, making it less cluttered and using a bit larger font for the main text.
  • How To Be a Medieval Knight (MacDonald): My kids found this to be a pretty engaging book.  It’s addressed directly to the reader, and it gives instructions on how to become a knight.  This author wrote several other similarly laid-back books on the topic, but this was the only one we could find in our library.
  • Knights (Durman): This book contains pictures of real people photographed in various medieval roles, including a step-by-step series of images of a knight being armed by a squire.  It’s perhaps a little dry, but it’s informative and has interesting images.  Durman, too, has several books in this series, but this was the only one in our library.
  • Eyewitness: Knight (DK): Another book with lots of detailed information about knights, provided in bite-sized snippets scattered across the pages.  Again, this series is probably more appealing to older readers due to the font size and the busyness of the pages (but maybe that’s just my perception, since I find them too busy and my kids don’t love them).
  • Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess (Platt): We ran out of time for this one, but I browsed a good portion of it.  Set up as the diary of a young boy serving as a page in his uncle’s home, each reasonably short entry shares details of his life–the living conditions, activities, parties, jobs, etc.  The end of the book has brief articles on various topics of interest as well as an index/glossary.  This could easily be read by a child who is capable of 100-page chapter books, especially since the text is 1.5 spaced (not too crowded) and nearly every spread contains at least one small black-and-white drawing.
  • Magic Tree House Research Guide #2: Knights and Castles (Osborne): This was another book we just didn’t get to, though I almost wonder if it would have been better suited than the multiple-book-approach I used.  I didn’t notice until most of the way through our studies, but this book was divided in precisely the way I segmented our studies–the setting, the castles, and the knights.  Again, this could easily be read alone by a kid who can handle chapter books; it’s probably aimed younger than the book above.

Additional Read-Alouds

I selected some read-aloud stories to go along with our study, too.  Since my kids hadn’t heard the stories of King Arthur or Robin Hood, I thought those would be great places to start.  I had read that King Arthur tales retold by Margaret Hodges were good for early elementary, so I picked up both Merlin and the Making of the King and Of Swords and Sorcerers.  While the former had more pictures, I found the latter to be the more engaging and complete-feeling set of stories.  We also read Robin Hood as retold by David Calcutt, which the kids and I really loved.  It had some lovely illustrations, and the stories were well-crafted.  One thing to be aware of is that these tales come from violent times and often center on conflict.  Hodges has a bit more gruesome descriptions and more frequent deaths–as well as a few romantic encounters that I censored while reading–but Calcutt’s tale also includes quite a bit of sword fighting and several deaths.  A year ago these would not have been readable with my kids, but at this point the violence just led to discussion.

Family Movie Night for Wimps

For years, already, I’ve seen friends’ cute Movie Night pics posted on Facebook–kids lined up in their sleeping bags with bowls of popcorn, eager for Mom to hit “play”.  Captions noted the movie du jour; at each, I imagined my kids’ response and winced.

You see, I am somewhat of…well, ‘Love would call me a movie wimp.  Let’s put it this way: when I went to see one of the Harry Potter movies in college with my roommate, she had to pry me off her arm in the middle of the movie because she had lost all feeling in that limb.

I’ve always been this way.  As a kid, my Grandpa had to take me out of the theater during Bambi because I just couldn’t take it.  I never did find out what happened in The Wizard of Oz because I couldn’t get past that terrifying tornado.

It didn’t have to be a movie, even.  I remember hiding under the cedar chest when my mom was reading Little House on the Prairie aloud to me and the Indians came when Pa wasn’t home.  Even when I read books on my own, I’d often stuff a bookmark in and flee the room for a few minutes during an intense part, returning a few minutes later to read another paragraph or two before dashing away from my book for another break.

So we’ve established that I’m a little odd.  Well, apparently my kids have inherited this craziness–the older two, in particular–but each in their own way.

My oldest, Peatie, has always been easily upset by any bad behavior, whether real or imagined.  ‘Love had to ease him into the old Donald Duck cartoon shorts because he was distressed by the rivalry between Donald and those lovable chipmunks, Chip and Dale.

Goobie Girl, by contrast, isn’t distressed by bad behavior or even especially by danger–it’s the relational things that get her.  In one episode of the Backyardigans, the characters are planning a surprise party–but for most of the episode all you know is that there’s a message that one of the kids isn’t allowed to know about.  She was so upset by the apparent social exclusion in that episode that she insisted that we turn it off; we didn’t see the happy ending until nearly two years later.

Between the two of them (and me!), we’ve had a doozy of a time figuring out what movies they could handle, so for a long time we simply didn’t watch movies; we stuck to Backyardigans videos passed down from cousins or Magic School Bus episodes checked out from the library–and even those seemed a stretch at times.  But this year we decided to give Movie Night a go, and the kids were so excited that it inspired us to try a few repeats.  Here are the movies we’ve tried and any trouble we faced, for those who might find it helpful.

  • Cinderella – This one seemed like an easy start, since it was a story we had already read.  Sure, the stepsisters and stepmother are mean, but when you know to expect it, it’s not so awful.  The kids were charmed by the mice and enchanted by the fairy godmother, and it was a win for all.
  • Sleeping Beauty – ‘Love absolutely adored this movie as a kid because of the prince fighting the dragon at the end.  Peatie and I found Maleficent to be utterly terrifying, but we managed to survive.
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie – This seemed like a no-brainer, since we own two DVDs of short episodes that the kids love.  Unfortunately, the plot line with the farmer’s amnesia–in which he doesn’t recognize Shaun and shoos him away–was super upsetting to Goober, who burst into tears during the movie and then awoke three times that night with nightmares.  Didn’t see that one coming…
  • The Sword in the Stone – This was another favorite of ‘Love’s from childhood.  Though Peatie was distressed by the treatment of Wart at the beginning of the movie, Merlin’s magic saved the day, and the kids enjoyed it overall.
  • Mary Poppins – This one is super long, so we divided it into a couple showings over the course of a weekend.  There were some short sections that caused distress (the kids getting chased for not wanting to deposit their coins, for one), but the kids LOVED the musical numbers.  In fact, this inspired some choreographed performances at our house for the next week or two, and they asked to repeatedly re-watch favorite songs (“Chim-Chimney” being at the top of that list).  I have to say that I don’t love the plot of this one, but the songs are certainly fun, and it’s a classic.
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – The plot of this one is certainly crazy, but I vaguely remembered it from childhood and thought it would be worth a try.  Once again, the magic and the songs saved the day. Peatie was distressed by the baron chasing them and by the Kid-Catcher (who is, in all honesty, terrifying); the hilarious defeat of the bad guys–mostly by a group of kids–redeemed it in the end, though this one was not as beloved as Mary Poppins.
  • Wall-E – We weren’t sure if this one would give Goober nightmares or not, but our first choice from the library was so badly scratched that we popped this one in.  Thankfully, having robots and a cockroach as main characters with a futuristic setting and a happy ending must have made any emotional distress abstract enough that it worked out for her (though she did hop on my lap a few times when Eve was being taken away).  And while Peatie was disturbed by the conflict with the Co-Pilot, that one resolved soon enough that it wasn’t too intense.  Phew.

Earth’s Layers Cake: The Low-Tech, DIY Version

cakeMy kids wanted to study volcanoes.  I was totally uninspired by volcanoes, but I thought I’d run with it, perhaps expanding the study to include plate tectonics and the rock cycle so we’d have a bit more to talk about.  While I was searching for inspiration, I ran across the idea of having a cake to show Earth’s layers.  “Great!” thought I.  “Sign me up and show me how!”  (I’m a sucker for anything edible–particularly if it’s sweet!)  Unfortunately, everyone doing this project seemed to have round bakeware–cake pop molds of varying sizes, round-bottomed oven-safe mixing bowls.  Not I.  And, since I am disinclined to shell out that kind of money for the props to make one cool snack, I thought I’d look for my own way.

My creation doesn’t have perfectly-nested spheres (in fact, the outer core seems to spike into the mantle in a couple of places!), but it definitely has the layers, and–most important of all–it got the point across and thrilled my kids.  In case you want to try it, here’s what I did:

Supplies: White or yellow cake mix/recipe, chocolate frosting, white frosting, food coloring, multiple bowls for separating/mixing colors, two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans, large spoons, two cookie cutters (round is ideal–I didn’t have round), cake decorating set

1. I used a generic white cake mix (yellow would be fine, too–I use the yolks, so mine isn’t truly white).  After mixing the ingredients, I separated the mix into three bowls: a small one that I colored yellow, a medium one that I colored orange, and a large one that I colored reddish.  Make sure the mix is pretty colorful, since the color will be less concentrated once the cake poofs up during baking.  (Too much food coloring tastes bitter, though, so don’t go overboard.)


2. First, I placed a cookie cutter in the center of each pan.  The first one I filled with a dollop of yellow (inner core).  I spooned pink (mantle) around the edges of that pan and filled the space between with orange (outer core).  In the second pan, I filled the cookie cutter with orange (outer core–to cover the inner core from the first pan) and poured pink (mantle) all around it, reserving a small amount of the pink for the next step.



3. Then I removed the cookie cutters, covered the dollop of outer core in the second pan with a layer of mantle, and popped both pans in the oven.  (The first pan–with all three layers–had less batter, but both seemed to cook fine.)


4. When the cake was out of the oven and cool, I used a small amount of runny white frosting (I warmed mine to make it thinner) to glue the layers together.  The three-colored layer went on the bottom, capped by the layer that’s mostly mantle.  Make sure the little bit of outer core is on the bottom of the top layer–you wouldn’t want to have your mantle and outer core reversed!  Next, I used a very thin layer of chocolate frosting to represent the lithosphere.


5. This gray represented the solid rock of the crust.  I wanted to make it clear that even the oceans have crust beneath them.  Yes, I know the crust is included in the lithosphere, but the Red Cross/PBS material (more on that later) we’re using talks of them separately, so I just followed their lead.  I used really runny frosting so I could make a very thin layer.  (After all, this is already the second frosting layer, and I still had more to go!)  The generic brand frosting I use wins for runniness!  My gray, FYI, is made from a red/green mixture.  If I remember right, it was two red drops and three green.


6. Time to add the thicker continental crust parts and fill the oceans!  This time I thickened the frosting slightly with about a cup of confectioner’s sugar to the tub.  I wanted it just stiff enough to hold some texture, but still soft enough to spread in a thin layer.  Since we’re also studying the Middle Ages right now, I decided to do a rough map of Europe.  (Very rough.)  I rarely use the frosting tips as intended; I used the star tip loosely for a textured water look, but for the land I just did a rough outline with a tip and then spread the green around with my knife.)


The finished product!  Of course, you can’t really tell how many layers of frosting went into this (except when eating it!), but if the kids watch or help, they’ll get every detail of the process.  And the finished result was enough to spark their glee, so I’d consider this one a win!


the most wonderful time of the year?

I know the song talks about Christmas, but sometimes I feel like the end of summer is the most wonderful time of the year.

Summer is lovely and all–the pools are open, there’s the excitement of a vacation, and the days stretch open and free.  But after vacation is over, that “open and free” really starts to stretch.  No one plans anything, because they’re all busy managing their own vacation plans or are trying to avoid any and all public spaces because they are currently overrun with kids who aren’t in school because it’s summer.  You didn’t join any summer-long activities because of that pesky two weeks you’d miss while you were visiting relatives on vacation.  You (or at least I) can only afford to sign up for one week-long summer activity per kid lest you go broke.  So by the time August rolls around, everyone is getting pretty sick of everyone else in the house and is starting to look forward to going places and doing things again.

In a few months I may be lamenting the dreadful hamster wheel of Fall–always running to get everything done and get everywhere we need to be–but at the moment, the dawn of a new school year is looking glorious.  In the spirit of new school years, I was busy pondering our homeschool space, and that had me thinking about all the many changes it has undergone.  (After all, it’s been eight months since my last major furniture/location switch, and that may be the longest I’ve ever gone before changing things up!)  At any rate, since I love seeing people’s homeschool spaces, I thought I’d post some pictures of our workspace through the years on a page of their own.  Enjoy!


Kids’ emotional development, like their growth, is generally so gradual that you don’t notice it happening.  It takes a comment from friends you haven’t seen for a while–“Whoa!  Peatie sure has shot up, hasn’t he!”–to surprise you into realizing that the change has, indeed, been occurring under your very nose.

This month’s vacation created that needed perspective.  We took a 20-hour drive back to ‘Love’s family cottage, which we’ve visited every summer Pookie has been alive.  Every summer, the story has been the same: he’s perfectly okay if we’re at the cottage and he might have a few moments of happiness when we’re enjoying the beach out front, but he’s an utter beast on any day-trips, completely stressed and cranky and clingy and begging to leave.  It doesn’t matter if we’re visiting the petting farm or the ice cream stand or the lighthouse, he’s equally miserable for all of them.  It’s hard for the rest of us to enjoy excursions with his anxiety level so high.

CottageAnd then there was this year.  When we arrived at the cottage, it was nearly bedtime, and he flipped out over a stain on the ceiling.  I thought, “Here we go again…”  But that was pretty much the end of his freak-outs.  He relished each day at the beach.  He ASKED to climb the lighthouse again this year and bravely strolled around once we reached the top, even smiling for a picture, this child of mine who HATES being photographed.  He had a blast at the petting farm, admiring the animals and bouncing like crazy on the jumping pillow and even going down an enormous tube slide all on his own.  He placed an ice cream order–and then ate the ice cream.

Looking back at the pictures, I think, “Who IS this kid?”  And then I hear him falling apart over the way the peanut butter looks on his toast and I am recalled to reality–but with a flavor of hope.

Sometimes when you have your nose to the grindstone and you’re around your kids day in and day out, it’s hard to see their progress.  You begin to wonder if they’ll ever outgrow their quirks or difficult phases, if they’ll ever gain self-control and turn into mature, empathetic human beings.  It’s so nice to have reassuring moments like these when the progress is apparent and you can convince yourself that this, too, shall pass.

experiential science: the chemistry of cooking

For whatever reason, for the past six months my kids have been utterly intrigued by baking.  Not only do they want to help bake, but they want to create their own recipes, as well.  Of course, their recipes always generate wet, gloppy, unappetizing messes.  So when I asked what they’d like to learn about, I was not especially surprised to hear “how to make a recipe” as a top choice.

While we could have merely gone the direction of baking lots of things and memorizing the types and proportions of ingredients, I thought I’d take a more scientific angle and come at the topic from the perspective of chemistry.  Because it’s alliterative, I liked calling this study The Chemistry of Cooking.

chemistryWe began at the very beginning, which has always been a notoriously good place to start.  In chemistry, the rational beginning place was the Periodic Table.  From Ellen McHenry’s The Elements, we learned about the elements, how they were discovered, how they are arranged on the Table, and what different element types are like.  Thrown in with this were some fun activities to help us learn the abbreviations for common elements, among other topics.

While we were learning about the Periodic Table, we thought it would be fun to memorize it.  This YouTube video from AsapSCIENCE helped us learn all of the elements in order–with the added benefit of including informational tidbits about the uses of many more common elements.  (We can sing the whole thing except a section at the very end–from Berkelium to Copernicium is so fast we haven’t yet managed to keep up without mumbling!)

If you want do dig deeper into studying the Periodic Table and the elements, consider The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, which provides a more in-depth history of the development of the Periodic Table related in a conversational tone.  In addition–especially for kids old enough to understand the humor–Basher Science The Complete Periodic Table personifies each element to make it more memorable.  I put both of these aside until later, deciding that my kids would get more out of them in a few years.

chemistry2With a little bit of basic chemical understanding under our belts, we were ready to delve into the world of cooking.  For this portion of our endeavor, we used Edible Science: Experiments You Can Eat from National Geographic Kids, the American Chemical Society’s free Get Cooking with Chemistry PDF online, and  the downloadable manual for the Thames and Kosmos Candy Chemistry kit.  (We used our own supplies and thus didn’t need to buy the kit, but if you don’t have candy-making supplies, the kit may be handy.)  The kids loved making ricotta cheese, fizzy orange juice, ice cream, and various candies, among other things.  And with a newfound understanding of chemistry, much of what was happening made sense to them.

For older kids, Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Science of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field or What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke were recommended to me (the second one several times).  I looked them over but decided to hold those until we come back for a second round of chemistry in some future year.

Now that we’ve wrapped up our chemistry unit, we need to figure out what we’re going to study next!