Life in New Zealand has changed rapidly. Our borders are closed, domestic travel restricted, our schools and shops closed, and we are asked to remain at home in order to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Cars are now to be used only for essential travel (the doctor, pharmacy, or supermarket) and people may only leave their house to walk nearby. Social distancing is everything.
Our big field trip for today was walking to the top of the driveway and drawing pictures that the kids in the houses nearby can see from their windows. Creating chalk, with a few simple ingredients from the supermarket, has been both art and science. It’s also a way to share a little love and kindness with the community around us.
Why not bring a little colour to yours?
How to make home made chalk
Waxed paper / baking paper
Sellotape or rubber bands
Note: Alternative ingredients include plaster of paris + tempera paint, or a 1:2 ratio of very finely crushed eggshell + flour.
Prepare your moulds. Toilet paper rolls are a good size; I find a bread knife does a good job of sawing longer cardboard inner tubes into parts.
Cover the bottom of your cardboard tubes with waxed paper and tape / elastic band into place. You then want to roll more waxed paper and slot it inside (you may need to trim to size).
Pour cornstarch into a bowl and then add food colouring of your choice. Slowly add water and mix well. You want to add just enough water to create a very thick [viscous] mixture.
Pour or spoon the mix into your moulds.
Pop into a hot water cupboard (or somewhere warm to dry). You want as much of the water to evaporate as possible to dry before use (about 24-48 hrs).
You can then removed from the moulds and let the kids have fun!
If you add too much water then it will have difficulty drying (and remaining contained within the moulds). Never fear! Treat it as a chemistry and physics lesson all-in-one for the kids. You have just created a non-Newtonian fluid 🙂 You can take your ooblek outside for messy play fun with the kids. Pour it into your hands and watch how it becomes a solid if you clench your fist but magically liquefies if you release the pressure!
Today’s word is brought to you by Miss 5 and the colour pink!
Learning to read and spell with phonics
Classrooms around the world take all kinds of different approaches to learning to read, write, and spell. In New Zealand, research studies (McNeill & Kirk, 2014) found that most teachers did not teach their students phonemes, how to spell phonologically, sound-letter relationships, or spelling patterns. Understanding how to decode language is especially important for children with special learning needs, such as dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, as they require an explicit understanding of these topics (exposure to print media and general literacy is not enough to create an implicit understanding or ‘osmosis’ effect).
It is important to teach a phonological awareness of each alphabet sound (what ‘sound’ does the letter make). A good place to start can be putting a light coating of shaving foam in a flat tray and tracing the upper case letter with your finger while making the accompanying sound. After modelling, encourage the student to make 3-5 attempts. Speculate together what words might start with that sound. Tip: If dyslexia is indicated or they are struggling to distinguish letters, focus on capital letters as these are easier to differentiate visually.
When moving onto words, a good place to start is with short vowel ‘a’ as several phonics words families can be taught together. It’s common to start with CVC words [consonant-vowel-consonant].
When teaching an explicit awareness of phonemic awareness, ‘SAT’ is composed of: 3 letters, 1 syllable, and 3 phonemes. Within the -at phonically decodable word family are multiple words that have the same onset-rime.
Syllable: A unit of sequential speech sounds containing a vowel and any consonants preceding or following that vowel. (Henry, 2010. p.314)
Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound that conveys a distinction in meaning. (Henry, 2010, p.312).
Onset-rime: The onset is the initial consonant or consonants within a syllable. The rime is the vowel and any consonant that follows, within the syllable. (Nicholson & Dymock, 2015.p.87)
High frequency words
Activities to try
Make or buy laminated upper case letter mats. Ask the student to help you make each of the letters needed to make one of the CVC words above. While making the letter, explain that there is a sound that matches the letter and model making it,
When the word is complete, show how to sound out the letters to make the word.
Using toys, containers, or pictures drawn on paper, create a ‘treasure chest’ for real words and a ‘rubbish bin’ for fake words.
Use 3D letters to make one of the words above; let’s use CAT as an example. Demonstrate how to sound out the letters. Ask the student if they think it is a real word or fake word. Write CAT on a strip of paper and place it in the treasure chest.
Ask the student to remove the first sound [C] and swap it for a different one. Let’s say they add ‘L’. Ask the student if they think LAT is a real word or fake word. Write LAT on a strip of paper and place it in the rubbish bin.
Explicitly discuss how the end sound (-at) is staying the same and ask if they can think of any words that rhyme with CAT. Demonstrate with another word such as HAT.
For some learners, it can be difficult to focus on ‘flat’ worksheets and working with kinaesthetic 3D letters can be more helpful. If the entire alphabet is placed in front of them and they are asked to spell RAT this may be visually overwhelming. Try scaffolding the activity:
Level 1: Have the word (and a picture) on a card in front of you. Model spelling the word with the 3D letters and sounding out each letter. Point out that you are matching the letters with the order on the card.
Level 2: Place on the letters that are needed in front of you. Explain to the student that you were trying to write [MAT] but the letters got muddled. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.
Level 3: Place five letters in front of you. Advise the student that you feel they know the word [MAT] so you have a game that is a little harder. Explain that three of the letters are needed to spell the word and two of the letters are tricks. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.
You might find that they identify the correct letters but place them in the wrong order. Praise them for finding the right letters and help place them in the correct order. Teach them that there is a pattern that they can learn for this phonic word family. Show them how the -at words they have been learning all have -at at the end and only change the beginning letter.
Create your own sliding phonics strips. These are a great visual activity for showing how changing a phoneme can alter the word.
Show students how to chunk words into their individual phonemes by using phoneme boxes. Explicitly discuss the difference between the number of letters that a word has and the number of sounds that a word has.
Students are likely to begin with CVC words where there are three letters and three sounds. The English language is full of all kinds of oddities (with its blend of Anglo-Saxon, Romance languages, and Greek roots). They will go on to encounter words like M|OO|N which has 4 letters / 3 phonemes; or CL|O|CK which has 5 letters / 3 phonemes.
It can be helpful to pick up a visual phoneme chart that shows all 44 sounds of spoken English and gives examples of their use.
Upcycling tin cans is a great way to get kids involved in Christmas gift giving (and it’s cheap!). They can be filled with craft projects, candy canes, coins, colouring pencils or pens, or seeds for the spring!
Whether you’re homeschooling, or just enjoy learning with the kids, it’s easy to integrate S.T.E.A.M. into this project. Skip to the end for ideas!
420g tin can (15oz), empty, washed, and dried.
Measuring tape (dressmakers)
PVA glue (white glue)
Prepare your tin can. Tip: Choose one where your can opener left smooth edges! Remove the old label (warm water can help).
Select your scrapbooking paper.
Use a flexible dressmakers tape to measure the circumference and height of your can (or a piece of string which you can lie against a ruler).
Once you have your measurements, mark out a rectangle on your paper. I like to add several centimetres (an inch) to the length and height of what I’m going to cut out as this allows a margin of error and means you can do a pretty fold at the top.
Wrap the paper around the tin can and make sure the pattern will align correctly with how you plan to orient the tin. When you’re ready do a vertical line of PVA glue (the residue of the old glue will give you an idea of how wide you want to spread your glue). Wrap the paper around and smooth it down. Add more glue where the end of the paper meets and overlaps the start of the paper.
If you’ve allowed an overlap at the top, cut a vertical slit (to the metal edging) at the four compass points. Apply glue to the inside of the paper and then fold down smoothly into the can.
Once the glue is dry, you can fill it with all kinds of things!
Learning through play
3D Shapes: Cylinders can both stack and roll. Compare this with other 3D shapes like a sphere (ball) or a cube (dice).
Measurement: Curved surfaces can be more challenging to measure – we can use a flexible piece of string to wrap around the cylinder and then lie it flat against a ruler or piece of paper. The curved face of the cylinder will transform into a rectangle when it’s drawn.
Fine Motor Skills
School skills are being practised with cutting and gluing. A fun way to practice fine motor skills is to fill the finished can with pom-poms and then fish them out with mini-tongs.
As well as choosing pretty scrapbooking paper, you could use a hot glue gun to add ribbons, lace, colourful buttons, and all kinds of things to your creation! Googly eyes and a marker pen make an easy face and then stand pipe cleaners / chenille sticks in the tin as hair.
Pigments are molecules that contain colour and the ones in red cabbage juice ( anthocyanin ) are pretty special. By adding a base or acid, we can both change their shape and their colour! The pigments are easy to collect and the basis for two easy home experiments: Colour Changing Magic Potions and Making Litmus Paper.
First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.
You don’t need expensive chemistry kits containing dangerous chemicals to have fun doing science at home. This simple (and colourful) experiment will help you make you own litmus paper so that you can test acids and bases using simple household ingredients. You can also test these by making a colour changing magic potion!
First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.
You will need your red cabbage juice (cooled and strained) and some paper towels. I folded mine twice to make thick squares.
Quickly dip / submerge the paper towels into the red cabbage juice. Don’t hold them under for too long as you want them to collect the colour pigments but not get so soggy that they fall apart. It’s a little like candle dipping – you may need to do a couple of dips to get a good colour.
Place the purple paper towels on a clean tray (that won’t stain) and put them somewhere warm (like the hot water cupboard) to dry until the next day.
You now have litmus paper! Cut them into strips for easy dipping.
Directions – Part 2
Using glasses or small bowls prepare the solutions that you want to test. Your litmus paper will stay purple in ph neutral solutions, turn red-pink in acidic solutions, and turn blue in basic solutions.
Bases: soapy water, baking soda, baking powder.
Acids: vinegar, lemon juice.
Don’t worry if your experiment doesn’t go perfectly (ours didn’t!); simply use it as a talking point to discuss why things didn’t turn out as expected. In our case, the detergent and baking powder didn’t dissolve properly which meant that out litmus paper stayed purple (recognising the ph neutral water). For more ideas on common acids and bases: click here.
These delicious crunchy cookies are also a great opportunity to discuss science in the kitchen! STEM discussion points follow after the recipe 🙂
1/2 brown sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
1 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.
Start the oven preheating to 180’C / 350’F.
Have a grown up mix the butter, sugar, maple syrup, and milk in a pot. Heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is almost boiling – you’ll be able to see the surface tension change as it begins to think about bubbling. Make sure that you stir constantly so that it doesn’t stick or burn.
Remove from heat and allow the caramel to cool to lukewarm.
Sift the flour and baking soda into the pot and mix into the caramel.
Stir well and it will turn into a caramel coloured cookie dough.
Roll the cookie dough into balls and flatten on a baking tray (either greased or lined with baking paper).
Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden brown.
Science in the Kitchen (STEM)
Gravity & Weight: When you’re using kitchen scales to measure out the butter, take a few moments to talk about why things have weight and why we weigh them. That butter would weigh about 20g on the Moon and about 315g on Jupiter.
Solids, Liquids, Gas: It’s a good idea to have a grown up do the stirring with the caramel mixture as it gets very hot; keep young helpers interested by helping them to safely view the way the ingredients change. Ask them if the butter and sugar going into the pot are liquids or solids (the latter); then show them what happens when heat is applied (becomes liquid); as the mixture cools and is combined with the flour it’s state changes again (solid).
Gassy Bubbles: Ask young helpers what’s different about the ingredients in this recipe. The answer is that it uses baking soda rather than baking soda. The baking soda causes small carbon dioxide gas bubbles in the cookie mix causing it to rise when it goes into the hot oven. Tip: Get the cookies in the oven quickly as the longer the mix is left at room temperature, the less the cookies will rise.
Sweet Surprise: A great way to see baking soda in action is to make a candy version of these cookies. Have a go at making Hokey Pokey!
The often invisible cognitive load of food allergy families involves both time and heartache.
It’s needing to educate staff at childcare or schooling facilities that although lunchbox items may look similar to what other kids eat that varied allergies and intolerances haven’t magically gone away.
There are hours spent at home and with medical support staff planning nutritional intake (and addressing deficits). Special allergy free brands are researched and sought (often involving a substantially higher cost and extra driving time to that one special location that stocks a particular item but nothing else on your allergy list – meaning multiple item specific trips). Hours can be spent researching not just allergy free recipes but in needing to substitute ingredient (x), is there a risk of cross-reactivity from ingredient (y), in which case do you start all over again looking at a different ingredient or consider ingredient (z) as a back up?
Then there’s the extra time spent milling special flours from scratch because it’s too expensive to buy them pre-milled when you’re juggling multiple allergies/intolerances. There’s the time spent cooking and pureeing fruits and vegetables (not to mention washing up afterwards) so that you can make your own customized smoothie pops or home baking that incorporates ‘safe’ foods and ‘safe’ textures. There is the time spent agonizing over whether to make one allergy free meal for everyone or to make multiple meals each night. There is needing to pack food every time you leave the house because you can’t buy anything safe and easy to eat when out.
There is the heart ache of seeing your child sad because their friends have foods that they can’t have; of needing to take a packed lunchbox every time there’s a shared food event at their education facility or church or playdate or birthday party etc… There is the anxiety over trusting food that someone else has made (especially when you find yourself having to quite literally pull that awesome looking food item out of your child’s hands because someone has rushed over in the realization that they gave you the wrong information). For those with anaphylaxis, there is the ongoing anxiety around epi-pens, emergency hospital visits, and the daily concern of how easy it would be for a fatal accident to occur.
There is the emotional distress of wanting your child to find joy in food and knowing that instead there may be an invisible ribbon of anxiety. There is the heart ache every time you have to deny your child something because it will simply make them sick. There’s also the challenge of trying to explain to them why the doctor’s want them to have a tiny little bit of something but only every now and then (i.e. once every four days) and why it’s not ok for them to have more or to eat it when they’re not specifically being given it by mummy or daddy (or whomever their primary carer is).
There is the extra anxiety and tears and restricted eating because someone said something thoughtless in front of them about their food and now they are scared to eat.
There is wanting to wrap them up in your arms; to have them know just how much they are loved and that you would put in these invisible hours for them a thousand times over to ease their way just a little bit.
Miss 4 and I have been reading a series of picture books, the latest of which is “The Wolf who visited the land of Fairy Tales.” The wolf goes on a quest to collect a recipe and ingredients to make apple cake. The book has a recipe at the back which inspired me to invent our own version; it has more protein and added micro-nutrients than a traditional recipe. This is a light thin apple cake that reminds me a little of Tarte Tatin.
If you have young children, this is great for school lunches. Alternatively, read the book during the school holidays (or anything that features baking, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ would work just as well) and then tie in the real world application with the story. Add in some dress-ups for acting out the story and that’s your morning filled!
1/2 cup Nuttelex (or dairy-free spread, or butter)
1/2 cup sugar
3 fresh eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour, sifted
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 Tbsp ground linseed
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
1/4 cup rice milk (or alternative)
3 large apples, peeled and diced into small pieces.
Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease the sides and bottom of a round cake tin.
Cream the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and mix.
Gently fold in the baking powder, flour, wheat germ, ground linseed, and ground cinnamon.
Gently stir in the apple pieces and fresh ginger.
Stir in a little rice milk until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 mins.
You can change the flavour profile in a variety of ways:
Add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice.
Switch fresh ginger for ground ginger for a milder ginger flavour.
Increase the cinnamon to 1 tsp and add 1/4 tsp all spice + pinch nutmeg.
If your child is adverse to the apple being in chunks, consider experimenting with stewed apple or apple sauce. Keep an eye on your dry/wet ratios as this will have an impact.
Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).
Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible. Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!
2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
6 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)
50-70g chilled butter
1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
1 cup water
Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.
Preheat oven to 200’C.
Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
Allow to cool on a rack.
Star scones and Butterfly scones
Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.
Blueberry and cream cheese scones
Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones
Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).
Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.
Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.
Maple Syrup and Walnuts
Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.
Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.