Discover Colombia: How to make a maraca

In studying Colombia, we were fascinated to learn about traditional maracas made from natural materials. These beautiful instruments are often large hollowed-out gourds with a wooden handle and might contain pebbles, or in the Andes mountain, smaller maraca called gapachos use seeds from the gapacho plant. It’s interesting to see how they contrast with the brightly painted wooden maracas that we are familiar with.

We decided to have a go making our own maraca using a few simple materials from around the house. We did a few different engineering builds and this was what we found worked best for us.

Materials you will need

Making your maraca

Start with a balloon

You’ll want to start by snuggling the empty end of a balloon onto the narrow end of a funnel. Pour in some dry rice or beans (give it a little shake to help them go in). Remove the funnel and blow air into the balloon. Kids are fascinated to watch what appears to be a solid shape still expand as the air pushes the sides out.

Tip: Blow up the balloon to the size of a really big coffee mug; the kind you reach for when the kids have been up till super late and then are awake before dawn the next day. We’ve found that you get better stability of the handle if you don’t make the balloon too big.

Attach a handle

Once you’ve tied off the balloon, take two popsicle sticks and tape these together to make a handle. I found it easiest to stick the balloon upside down and stretch the knot vertical along the base of the popsicle sticks to begin taping it. You’ll then want to use long pieces of tape (like compass points) to attach the handle to the balloon; add some horizontal lines of tape as well for extra support. When you’ve finished, the handle should be capable of standing tall in the air (though probably not strong enough to flip the maraca and give it a shake).

Make paper mache paste

I like to use a large plastic tray and my fingers. You’ll want to mix together equal parts flour : water; I also add salt as a preservative. I like to make mine fresh each day so I use 1/2 cup of flour plus about 1/2 cup water to begin with. You want to stir well so that you have a thick paste (you may need to add a little more water).

The great thing about adding your own paste is that you can be creative! We like to add different colours of glitter to each layer.

Start adding layers

Rip your paper into strips. It’s a good idea to have a mix of medium and short strips (with some variety of width). A small balloon is not the easiest surface to work on for this first layer so kids may need some adult assistance.

Tip: Do you need to use newspaper when doing paper mache? The answer is no. It’s a nice form of recycling but really you just need a porous paper that isn’t glossy. You know what else is brilliant for paper mache? Piles of old paintings and drawings (when you reach the point that there are too many to adorn the walls); these make for a fun and super colourful way of doing the layers!

Aim to paste on one layer of paper at a time. Remember to run strips from the handle down to the balloon, around the base of the handle, and along / around the handle itself.

Tip: I like to lay my strips on the paste (in the tray) and then pull it up, run my fingers along both sides to remove excess paste, and then place it on.

After each layer, leave your balloon for 24-48 hours to dry; placing it in the Hot Water Cupboard can help the drying process. It’s important that it has this time to air to avoid creating a habitat for mould. Paper mache projects teach patience.

You’ll only need 4-5 layers for the project. The top layer will ultimately be what is decorated.

Decorating your maraca

Kids can have so much fun with this! Here are just a few ideas:

Tip: If using paint, make sure that you leave plenty of time to dry between layers. Poster paint can be great for foundation layers but the water content means it has a longer drying time. We did several layers of white poster paint and then used acrylics for the detailing.

Engaging special needs kids

This is a very sensory (and time consuming) activity and not all aspects will appeal to all kids. This is a great opportunity to brainstorm all the different roles that would be involved in bringing this to market in the real world. If your child would prefer an adult to do the goopy paper mache part, help your child play to their strengths and interests by finding a project role that interests them.

Do they like planning? Every project needs a project manager to identify steps, keep the team on task, and create a report.

Do they like numbers? Consider allocating a budget for materials (especially decorations). Consider what kinds of costs you might have for a larger run (i.e. 10 or 100 maraca); what price point would you set your maraca at? How might price impact sales and profits?

Do they like art and design? They might enjoy being the hands-on graphic designer and/or art director. This could involve getting creative with the paste as it is mixed and decorating the finished maraca once it is dry. They might want to draw inspiration from Colombia’s beautiful birds; the stunning natural wonder of Caño Cristales (the rainbow waterfall); or the brightly coloured town of Guatapé.

Do they like big ideas? Would they like to be marketing director? This means working alongside the graphic designer to consider what style of art and use of colour would be a good idea. What will make this maraca unique?

Do they like building and creating things? As engineer, they might want to test different strategies for connecting the balloon and popsicle sticks to create a single stable unit capable of being shaken vigorously.

KiwiCo Review: Atlas Crate for 6-11 Year Olds – Madagascar (Deluxe Box)

What is in the Madagascar crate?

You begin by opening your travel mail from Milo and Anya to find out about their latest travel adventures! Miss 6 enjoys seeing them posing for selfies in the photos of Madagascar.

There is a passport sticker to add to our Adventure Passport and various cards about Madagascar to add to it as well. These range from a country map and cultural information, to activity cards with things to do. You can learn a few Malagasy words, discover unique animal species, have a go at painting Masonjoany, and make Godrogodro (a caramel spice cake).

We read our deluxe box book, Thank You, Baobab Tree, learning about how important these incredible trees are in Madagascar and how many uses they have. The baobab trees form an important part of the ecosystem as well as providing food, rich in vitamin C, and medicine.

One creature fond of the baobab tree is the lemur. The craft for this box is creating your own baobab tree, a launcher, and three lemurs. I did appreciate their eye for detail as you are given instructions on creating a ring-tailed lemur, an indri lemur, and a sifaka lemur.

Tip: You may want to use sellotape to help secure the inside flaps of the tree’s scooped branches and craft glue to help form a stronger attachment with the lemur components.

Learn to play Fanorona

Fanorona is a game of strategy indigenous to Madgascar. It is a game played by children and rulers alike. I love that it’s a visual-spatial non-linguistic game (perfect for kids whose learning strengths are in these areas).

The rules of Fanorona are reasonably simple but gameplay shows there is plenty of room for strategy, logic, and thinking ahead. We have very much enjoyed playing this multiple times.

HOW DO I ORDER ATLAS CRATE?

This is not a paid review. I spent a lot of time searching the internet to find out more information about the Kiwi Crate and Atlas Crate boxes before deciding to try them and found the blog posts / photos that people shared were really useful!

If you would like to try Atlas Crate (or one of their other lines), you can receive 50% off your first box by clicking here.

What I like about the Atlas Crate kits is that they provide a colourful and imaginative way of exploring the world through hands-on activities. I like that they use a mix of STEM and art to explore different concepts and ideas. Their products are also very well made, with clear instructions, and kids feel a real sense of pride in what they accomplish with each box.

There’s no obligation to sign-up in an on-going capacity so it’s easy to tie them in with birthdays / Christmas; the boxes are quite compact so they also store easily in a cupboard for bringing them out on a rainy day. Other families will choose to sign up for a longer period (like a 3, 6, or 12 month cycle).

WHAT IS IN AN ATLAS CRATE?

Each Atlas Crate comes with a special airmail envelope from Anya the Cricket and Milo the Sandpiper revealing where they’ve been on their latest adventure. There is a special passport sticker for your child’s Atlas Adventure Book plus seven new pages to add about a new country (highlighting geography, customs, landmarks, history, and foods).

There are supplies for two activities (which might be a mix of art, STEM, and games) as well as suggestions for more DIY activities to try at home – from things to make, to things to bake!

If you choose the Deluxe option, then you will also receive a book that helps you explore that month’s destination. This upgrade is an additional USD$9.95 (approx. $15 NZD) and can impact shipping costs as well. Since we’re homeschooling, I decided that we’d try the Deluxe option for 6 months to see how useful we find it.

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

#3 Discover France

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

ExperisenseNZ

Exploring Maths through Art

Exploring Space through Art

Exploring the Human Body through Art

Exploring Spring: Flower Press and Life Cycles

Exploring Science through Experiments

Fun math games for kids – Sum Swamp

Learning Resources: Sum Swamp

Sum Swamp is a maths boardgame that practices addition and subtraction in a simple and colourful way. What I like about the game is that it is very appealing to visual-kinaesthetic learners. Children select one of the four colourful markers (frog, snail, dragonfly, or crocodile) and roll dice to create equations that determine how they move around the board. The full instructions are conveniently available to view online: here.

The game is aimed at ages 5+ and can be played by 2 – 4 players; younger children may prefer to play two characters in case one languishes far behind the rest. Children are learning to arrange sums so that the largest number goes to the left; to recognise plus (+) and minus (-) symbols; and to recognise odds and evens. The simplest addition sum in the game is 1 + 1 = ?; the most difficult addition sum in the game is 6 + 6 = ?.

Tips for scaffolding the game (decreasing difficulty)

  • You can make the game easier by using physical objects for children to count and re-group while they do the sums.
  • The game provides numeral dice; consider switching to dice with dots. This helps children by giving them something visual to count.
  • Provide a number line. There are various types that can be purchased or you could print one for free from Twinkl.

Tips for scaffolding the game (increasing difficulty)

  • Buy a write on / wipe off dice (or other blank dice) so that you can also use the game to practice multiplication and division.
  • Buy a set of beautiful gaming dice containing D4, D6, D8, D10, D10 percentile, D12, and D20 (check out colours like milkshake, undersea whispers, or supernova). This opens the game up to an older audience; for instance, you can do equations up to 20 (using D12 + D8) and up to 30 (using D20 + D10). You may need to come up with a few house rules as you move to bigger numbers; for instance: that you need to do two laps of the board to finish, or, that the maximum amount you can move forward/back in a turn is 10.

Fun math games for kids – Times Tables Heroes

Orchard Toys: Times Tables Heroes

Before we played Times Tables Heroes, we had already spent time looking at the concept of ‘grouping’ (multiplication) and ‘skip counting’. We ‘group’ our captured pieces when we play Fanorona and I show how we can count them by 1’s, or 2’s, etc; we collect pebbles on our nature walks and practice different ways to ‘group’ them to help us count them. Times Tables Heroes is a fun way of practising our times tables that Miss 6 genuinely enjoys (and much better than my memories of sitting in front of a chalk board while the entire class repeated after the teacher!).

The game comes with sturdy cardboard pieces and is easy to set-up. You choose from one of four superheroes (each of whom has unique super powers). Instead of rolling a dice, you spin two spinners. One spinner determines which multiplication table you will practice; beginner level practices 2, 5, 10 and advanced level practices 1 – 12. The next spinner determines how many ‘groups’ you will have; i.e. 12 groups of 2. Once you have announced the answer correctly, you move to the next vehicle on the board that matches the spinner.

I love that the game comes with a colourful multiplication slider. It’s easy to scaffold the game so that children begin by using the slider to find their answer and then, as they gain confidence, to check their answer. We also do a hand-clapping singing game to work our way through the times tables each time to reach the answer.

The twist for the game is that it also incorporates oral storytelling (a literacy bonus!). If you land on a vehicle with a shield then you pick up a dreadful disaster card and need to describe how you will use your superpowers to save the city. The game helpfully comes with a guide that explains the disasters but we prefer to make up our own, after all – would you rather defend the city from an asteroid, or from an attack by giant flaming meatballs from an alien’s intergalactic BBQ party?

Tip: What is wonderful for visual-spatial learners and kids whose learning needs mean they need lots of movement, is that they do not need to sit still for this game. Encourage them to get up and act out their story (or everyone’s story – though they may need to be encouraged to do silent mime on other people’s turn).

Tip: It’s easy for this game to tick off maths, oral storytelling, and drama in a single session. You could use it to further support literacy, by asking kids to later extend on one of their superhero stories by writing it down / typing it up. Alternatively, encourage them to dictate the story and focus on linear story telling, mind mapping what / when / why / who / where, and editing.

Tip: The Shield cards have numbers that provide bonus moves. We find the game quite short so we ignore this and our house rule is to treat these as victory points; this way everyone can have a go at defeating the robot at the end of the board and it doesn’t matter who gets there first.

Maths Bingo

You can also reverse the game board to create maths bingo boards (with extra boards available online).

KiwiCo Review: Kiwi Crate for 5-8 year olds – THE HUMAN BODY

WHAT IS IN THE AMAZING ANATOMY BOX?

This is a fabulous hands on box for learning about the human body! There is a giant wall poster that shows multiple systems including: skeletal, nervous, digestive, and muscular.

Make your own x-ray of a broken bone

We loved the ‘magic paper’ that allowed us to explore the skeletal system and make our own x-ray of a broken bone. We started with a clear sheet of plastic that we blu-tak’d to the poster and then carefully applied bones to create the hand and forearm (ulna and radius). We put the sheet of plastic on top of the ‘magic paper’ and placed it in bright sunlight; later (in a dark room), we removed the plastic and admired our x-ray of a break in the radius. Note: There are a range of bones that you can choose from and they can be removed easily so that you can try more projects.

Tip: You can also use the magic paper to create your own experiments! We used black paper to create a Stegosaurus silhouette and thus created our very own dinosaur magic trick!

Make your own stethoscope

Provided in the kit were the materials to make our own stethoscope – it really works for listening to a heartbeat! It also comes with a fun double-sided wipe-clean examination sheet so that kids can play doctor.

Make your own plush organs

The art project for the box means you can make your own super cute plush organs (brain, heart, and stomach). The felt comes with pre-pierced holes which makes threading easier for children.

Want more ideas for learning about the human body?

The Explore magazine in the kit gives some craft ideas that you can do at home. We’ve used various resources such as an ExperiSenseNZ Human Body learning kit, Factivity: Amazing Body Sticker Activity BookWrite & Wipe Wellbeing Book, and a poseable art mannequin for exploring movements and joints.

HOW DO I ORDER KIWI CRATE?

This is not a paid review. I spent a lot of time searching the internet to find out more information about the Kiwi Crate and Atlas Crate boxes before deciding to try them and found the blog posts / photos that people shared were really useful!

If you would like to try Kiwi Crate (or one of their other lines), you can receive 50% off your first box by clicking here.

What I like about the Kiwi Crate kits is that they use a combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics to explore a concept or idea. There’s no obligation to sign-up in an on-going capacity so it’s easy to tie them in with birthdays / Christmas; the boxes are quite compact so they also store easily in a cupboard for bringing them out on a rainy day. Mind you, this only works if you spot the package on the door-step first – children become quite adept at recognising the green Kiwi Crate box and screaming with delight at it’s arrival!

The boxes are sent randomly so there’s no way to know what will come in the future; however, you can log-in to your account at the start of each month to see what box has been selected. Your box history is kept which means that even if you cancel and then pick-up again the following year they can make sure that you aren’t sent repeats of boxes.

WHAT IS IN A KIWI CRATE?

The Kiwi Crate is aimed at ages 5-8 years. It comes with a copy of the Explore magazine which opens with a fun comic about Steve the Kiwi and his friends. [As a side note, these are made by an American company despite the use of our New Zealand native bird]. These comics are really approachable for younger kids and a great way of exploring the concepts being introduced in a relateable manner.

The Explore magazine provides a range of information on the topic, it might include some simple games or tricks to try at home, and provide ideas for additional crafts / activities using simple materials. It also has a sticker [unique to each box theme] to put on your Kiwi Crate chart.

The box also includes an instruction manual and the materials that you need to build the main craft. Generally, there are two activities to do – one that is more art related, and one that is more mechanical engineering. What makes the kits special, is how well crafted the engineering components are. They really are designed for the intended age group so that they can either build themselves or help assist an adult. There are handy visual images and checkpoints to make sure that things are aligned correctly. There is no super-bonding-fingers-together wood glue to use with these projects (which makes them great for highly sensory children); instead parts come with double sided tape finely engineered on so that you just need to remove the backing strip of paper.

INTERESTED IN MORE HOMESCHOOL BOX REVIEWS?

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

#3 Discover France

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

ExperisenseNZ

Exploring Maths through Art

Exploring Space through Art

Exploring the Human Body through Art

Exploring Spring: Flower Press and Life Cycles

Exploring Science through Experiments

How to make body paint with kids

It looks like we have an early start to summer with hot sunny days in the garden to appreciate our Spring flowers. Spending time outside has been a big part of our Discovering Spring unit as we explore life cycles (plants and insects), do gardening, make art with our flower press, and visit farms to see the baby animals that have been born.

It’s also a great time to explore making hand made body paint using a few simple ingredients. This is a messy play activity that is best done outdoors.

Materials (per colour)

  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (or rice flour)
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • A squirt of shaving foam
  • A few drops of food colouring
  • Spoon, bowl, paintbrush

Tip: We like using shaving foam in art; we also use it to make marbled paper. Used in this recipe, it creates a puffy consistency that can also be used for textured painting on paper. If you would like a smoother, more liquid consistency, use 1 Tbsp suntan lotion instead.

Directions

  1. In a small bowl (or cup), place the cornstarch, flour, water, and food colouring. Add a small squirt of shaving foam.
  2. Mix well until smoothly combined. Add a little rice bran oil or shaving foam if too thick.
  3. Use a paintbrush to draw designs. A hand mirror is useful for kids that would like to do their own. Try looking for inspiration outside to create flowers, leaves, and insects!

Discovering Spring – Flower Press and Life Cycles Box (ExperisenseNZ review)

I love the ExperisenseNZ Life Cycles box which I purchased for $27. I was inspired by our annual Spring unit on seasonal cycles, growing food and flowers in the garden, and observing garden mini-beasts. We were thrilled to watch the hard work we had done earlier in the year, creating new wildflower beds to support our favourite pollinators, burst into colourful bloom.

We wanted to preserve some of our flowers and were excited at the idea of buying a flower press to create seasonal art and gifts. A classic press seems to cost around $24 so I was thrilled to get the ExperisenseNZ kit which comes with a flower press and a number of additional activities.

What is the life cycle of a sunflower?

We love sunflowers with their stately and colourful beauty. It’s also fun being able to harvest their seeds; either to dry and sow again, or, to feed to the birds in Autumn.

The kit comes with a laminated life cycle wheel for discussing the sunflower’s life cycle stages. It also comes with a generous amount of sunflower seeds and some compostable pots to get you started.

Tip: Seedlings make great Christmas gifts!

What is a butterfly life cycle?

We made marbled paper and then followed the instructions in the kit to make a beautiful butterfly life cycle. Our wall poster shows the stages from egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon (or pupae), to butterfly.

Tip: Spring is a great time of year to consider growing Swan Plants to watch the Monarch Butterfly life cycle in action!

What is a ladybug life cycle?

What I like about the kit including both Butterfly and Lady Bug life cycles is that the two insects look quite different to each other in their stages. They also differ in what they eat! For instance, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar will eat a huge number of milkweed leaves; whereas, a Ladybug larve will voraciously eat aphids, tiny worms, and insect eggs.

We liked the rainbow foil print on this life cycle so much that we decided to laminate it and add it to our resource collection (rather than use it for a paper plate craft).

How to press flowers

We very much enjoyed using our flower press! We used our pressed flowers to make beautiful bookmarks.

Tip: Gather a variety of flowers on a sunny dry morning. Check flowers for dewdrops (moisture will impact the drying process). Avoid flowers that are very bulky i.e. cut the tips from lavender or choose rose petals rather than a whole rose. Remember that wild flowers, like oxalis, can be as beautiful dried as garden grown.

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

ExperisenseNZ

#1 Exploring Maths through Art

#2 Exploring Space through Art

#3 Exploring the Human Body through Art

#4 Exploring Science through Experiments

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

#3 Discover France

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

Christmas gifts: How to make pressed flower bookmarks

Pressed flowers are a wonderful way of making gifts from the heart. They are also a wonderfully creative way for children to make personalised Christmas, birthday, or thank you gifts for friends, families, and teachers.

Materials

  • Flower Press
  • Fresh flowers to press
  • Coloured card
  • Glue stick
  • Laminator and laminating pouch
  • Hole punch, ribbons, beads

Tip: For extra fun, think about making your own beautiful marbled paper for the bookmarks!

Directions

  1. Gather a variety of flowers on a sunny dry morning. Check flowers for dewdrops (moisture will impact the drying process). Avoid flowers that are very bulky i.e. cut the tips from lavender or choose rose petals rather than a whole rose. Remember that wild flowers, like oxalis, can be as beautiful dried as garden grown.
  2. Follow the instructions with your flower press to layer flowers between the drying sheets and screw the press tightly shut. I like to store mine in the hot water cupboard to help the drying process (which can up to two weeks).
  3. Gently take the layers of the flower press apart and carefully remove the dried flowers. I like to lay them on a flat wooden tray. We use gentle hands but you may want to use tweezers.
  4. Cut coloured carboard or cardstock to your desired size; we like to have a variety of colours to choose from.
  5. Enjoy the creative process of arranging the flowers!
  6. Once you have decided on your arrangement, you will need to fix the flowers in place. If you are going to use a laminator (as we did) then all you need is a glue stick – a gentle glue is all that’s needed as it’s simply to keep the flowers in place while the laminator pouch feeds through the laminator. Alternatively, use a strong fast-drying craft glue that will dry clear.
  7. We arranged several bookmarks in each laminating pouch and then fed each A4 pouch through the laminator. This helps to protect the delicate dried flowers (and preserve them from future moisture).
  8. We then cut the completed laminated sheets to size. We liked some of the bookmarks plain; with others, we cut holes with the holepunch, threaded through ribbons, and tied beads to the end.

Christmas Gifts: Growing Seedlings

‘Tis the season for thinking about Christmas gifts and parents often ask about personalised gifts for teachers and family. Why not tie in the ‘season for giving’ with talking about the seasons of nature! Different plants grow at different times of the year so there are fun options for kids to grow anywhere in the world.

Seeds are easy and cheap to grow; we’ve done everything from windowsill growing, to pots, to scatter sowing wildflowers in a specially prepared patch of ground. They’re a wonderful way to teach children about plant life cycles and the rhythms of nature. Kids love to watch seeds slowly germinate and sprout into seedlings; it’s also a very apt way to teach children about the value of patience and that some things simply cannot be rushed! If you’re growing a vegetable, it also provides them an opportunity to harvest, prepare, and eat something that they’ve grown themselves.

When choosing plants to grow with children, you may want to select those with larger seeds for easier handling. These include vegetables like pumpkin, sugar snap peas, watermelon, sweetcorn; and flowers like sunflowers, sweet pea flowers, and nasturtiums. There are also many wonderful plants with smaller seeds. You may want to include vegetables like lettuce, spinach, silverbeet, and tomatoes; flowers like alyssum, pansies, poppies, and borage.

If you’re growing as a gift, why not plant the seedling in a terracotta pot decorated with paint or permanent marker. If you’re growing in the garden, remember that you will need to attract pollinators to help plants like tomatoes bear fruit. How bees see colour differs to human so yellow, blue, and purple flowers will work best for helping bring bees to your garden. Many garden stores will also sell wildflower mixes that will bring both bees and butterflies to your garden – as well as creating a gorgeous array of colour!

EXPERISENSE NZ REVIEW: Exploring Science Homeschool Box

Lava lamp experiment

WHAT IS IN THE EXPERISENSE NZ SCIENCE EXPERIMENT HOMESCHOOL BOX?

This kit is all about having some scientific fun with experiments and adding in artistic flair. I love adding a kinaesthetic dimension to our learning! The box provides seven learning activities to do that are fully aligned with the NZ Curriculum and are highly adaptable to age, interest, and special needs.

The kit comes with a guide that outlines how to conduct each experiment and also provides information on the scientific principles being demonstrated. It’s a great way for kids to build on prior knowledge, as well as asking new questions!

The ExperiSense NZ Science Box sells for NZD$27 online; I’ve bought and reviewed a number of their boxes with this one being received free in exchange for an honest review.

How to make your own lava lamp

Have you ever looked at a lava lamp and wondered how they work? Well, this experiment will let you make your own temporary lava lamp! We loved it to so much that we did it twice.

Fundamentally, it comes down to the fact that oil and water do not mix. This is because they are different densities (and oil will actually rise up to float on top of water – which you can see happen in the experiment). As you slowly drop food dye into the oil, watch how the droplets retain their own separate form (“immiscible” was our cool new word of the day). Once water is added, the food dye will slowly dissolve into the water but differences in density mean the oil will rise to the surface.

The magic happens when carbon dioxide gas is created by introducing a fizzing tablet! The chemistry being demonstrated means that as the solid tablet dissolves, bubbles of water-and-gas raise to the surface. As the carbon dioxide gas dissipates, density changes causing the bubbles to sink. FYI – in a real lava lamp what you are watching is caused by thermodynamic changes (i.e. the application of heat).

In our first experiment, we used 1/4 tablet, red + yellow food dye, the oil provided, and the cup provided. In our second experiment, we used 3/4 tablet, a recycled glass jar, our own kitchen oil, the blue dye provided + some red dye.

Extra Activities

The lava lamp experiment looks at both density and states of matter. You may want to explore these further with simple experiments such as:

Why do things float or sink? A great way to start is in natural environments, such as a river or beach, by gathering up materials such as driftwood, shells, rocks, and mangrove pods to experiment with. At home, consider experiments with buoyancy such as why an orange will float (unless you peel it!).

How does water demonstrate states of matter? I love using water to demonstrate how something can so easily change forms between solid > liquid > gas. A fun experiment relating to buoyancy is to freeze water in a bag (food delivery boxes can be great sources of pre-formed ice) and create an iceberg diorama in a sink or bucket; have fun seeing what toys can balance on the iceberg before it melts!

Oil and Water Painting

We really enjoy making marbled paper using shaving foam; this was our first time using oil. We used a large plastic tray and simply recycled our lava lamps (with some extra colours dropped onto the surface of the oil). We chose to use our own paper and dye, in addition to the card stock provided, and made lots of beautiful art work.

Tip: Have layers of cardboard and paper towels beneath your art so that it can absorb the excess oil. We waited until the next day (once the dye was dry) before layering the artwork between layers of paper towels and popping in hot water cupboard to finish drying.

Magic Trick: Once the paintings are completely dry, the oil will have changed the appearance of the paper but any ‘virgin’ paper will still appear white. If you hold the art up to a bright light then not only can you see your beautiful colours clearly but any ‘white’ corners will disappear and smokey ‘shadows’ will appear in their place instead!

How to make a rainbow

The kit comes with a very small prism that you can use to split light. As light enters the prism, it bends, and the different wavelengths will create a spectrum of colours as they exit. For us, the light exited onto the opposite wall and we found creating some shadow helped us see it more clearly. We lined up the prism with the sun after catching a wonderful rainbow that was refracting through our fish tank!

The kit also comes with a second rainbow experiment where a bendable ‘mirror’ is placed in a glass of water to reflect and refract light. We found this one a bit tricky but we did achieve a little colour splitting. Miss 6 actually most enjoyed casting shapes of reflected light onto the shadowed ceiling!

Extra Activity

Want to combine rainbows AND learning about the density of different liquids? Check out this fun experiment to make a sugar rainbow!

How to experiment with static electricity

The kit comes with a balloon, templates, and craft paper to make your own ‘jumping bunnies’ or frogs; we also had fun designing our own creatures in a variety of sizes. Rubbing the balloon energetically on clothes creates a temporary static charge which allows your creations to ‘jump’ or ‘dance’.

Extra Activity

Want to see and feel another invisible force? Pop one end of a straw partially into a balloon and secure the neck with a tight rubber band. Blow down the straw and watch the balloon inflate (just like a lung!) and then feel the air exit again out the straw! Talk about how some natural forces we can’t see (like gravity, or air in motion) but we can observe their effects on the world around us.

How to make magic tea

Beautiful colour changing butterfly tea!

The kit comes with two experiments for exploring acids and bases. One is experimenting with litmus paper and the other is making butterfly pea flower tea. I find the tea has a light floral flavour and like to drink it with a little liquid honey. When you brew it, the tea comes out a stunning vibrant blue; the addition of a little freshly squeezed lemon juice (changing the pH level) magically makes it a purple-pink colour!

Tip: Wet litmus paper can leave a yellow mark on benchtops (easily removed with Chemco) so it’s a good idea to place the strips on a piece of white card.

Tip: Hot water will have a more dramatic effect (than cold) when added to a teaspoon of baking soda (alkaline) or a teaspoon of baking powder (acidic).

Extra activities

Explore natural colour changing properties further by using a red cabbage to make a magic colour changing potion! Collect your magic molecules, make a potion, and use the rest to make your own litmus paper!

After watching how baking powder dramatically foams up when a little hot water is added, try making these light and fluffy scones and imagine how the baking powder helps the dough to rise when combined with the heat of the oven.

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

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#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

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