The Best Telescopes for Little Scientists

img_2215The stars are one of our first scientific curiosities as children. I think we can all remember the first time that we really looked up at the night sky and realized that there was an entire universe out there, not just ourselves or our families or our planet.

We all look up at the same beautiful, twinkling, infinite universe, but many with no idea of the magic it holds.

A good telescope is the gateway to unlock all of that magic and wonder (even in a tutu, as you see my daughter pictured here in our makeshift concrete block observatory!).

It’s nothing short of inspiring and is probably the easiest way to get kids excited about science and technology.

Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my resources free and is much appreciated, so please consider using the link if you decide to purchase something from one of my posts!

How to Choose the Right Telescope

Not all telescopes are created equal. Many telescopes that are marketed to children are, quite frankly, pretty useless for the price. Here’s how to pick the best telescope for your family.

How Telescopes Work

Telescopes allow us to take a closer look at objects that are far away. They do this in two ways, by collecting more light and magnifying the image. A telescope can be as simple as two lenses, or much, much more complicated.

Aperture

Aperture (or sometimes called objective) is the diameter of the lens or mirror that’s used to collect light (or photons).

Remember that when you’re looking at celestial objects, you’re really looking at light, and that’s why aperture is so important. A bigger lens or mirror means a sharper and brighter image. The further away they are, the fainter their light is. It doesn’t matter how much you magnify a dark image – it’ll still be a dark image. Bring on the light!

If you live in a suburban or urban area, you’ll want a larger aperture (more light) to help cut through some of the light noise from your surroundings. If you live in a rural area, you can make do with a smaller aperture. However, you should aim for at least 70mm and remember that when it comes to aperture, more is always more, no matter where you are.

Magnification

The lens at the eyepiece is responsible for making the image look larger (magnified). A good eyepiece can magnify images, no matter how much aperture (light) your telescope collects. However, like I said before, a dark image magnified is still a dark image… and not much fun to look at. That’s why magnification isn’t as important as aperture.

Despite many marketing tricks claiming things like “500x magnification”, that’s unrealistic without incredibly high (and expensive) aperture and not really necessary. Magnification of just 50x will reveal all kinds of wonders from our solar system.

Types of Telescopes

A refractor is the “classic” telescope, much like the one Galileo used when he peered into the night sky. It uses a lens to collect light (aperture) and has an eyepiece (magnification). This design is rugged and good on the go, but does present a mirror image of the sky.

A reflector telescope uses a mirror to collect light (aperture) and was invented by Newton. Unlike a refractor, reflector telescopes present you with an image as it appears in the sky. This can be useful for little scientists trying to follow a star map, but they do require some occasional maintenance.

Then, there are compound telescopes that use components of both refractors and reflectors in their design. These designs are powerful, but not necessary for little astronomers!

Longevity vs. Budget

There are hundreds and hundreds of telescopes to choose from and hundreds and hundreds of good options. It really comes down to what you want to spend now, how much ease of use you want, and how long you want to keep the same telescope for.

Personally, I opted for a budget-friendly and easy-to-use telescope for my girls. I’m excited about the possibilities of their next telescope, but I wanted them to find their current telescope accessible and fun. Also, if their scientific interests carry them to other places than the night sky, I won’t be left heart broken at the expense!

The Science Mom’s Telescope Picks

The Science Kids’ Telescope

My kids have the Celestron Firstscope telescope, a Netwonian reflector telescope.

We love this telescope for many reasons and I’d highly suggest it for anyone starting to dive into the world of stargazing.

  • The Firstscope has a 76mm primary mirror, which collects enough light for us to make out awesome detail in the night sky, from the moon’s craters to Saturn’s rings.
  • It comes with 20mm and 4mm eyepieces, which gives us two ways to observe the night sky.
  • We have up to 75x magnification power.
  • The telescope has a tabletop style base that rotates, making it stable and easy to use with two little ones.
  • The optical tube is decorated with the names of famous scientists and astronomers. I love the symbolism as my girls stand on the shoulders thousands of brilliant minds before them as they gaze up into the sky.
  • It’s light enough to be easily transported around with us. Ruby can even carry it by herself.
  • Celestron has a free app (with in-app purchases) called SkyPortal that you can download to compliment your stargazing.

Other Beginner Telescopes

Orion Funscope

The Orion Funscope is similar in style to our Firstscope.

With 4.5 inch aperture and 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, you’ll be able to view objects with 50x magnification.

It also comes complete with a MoonMap and digital software download that allows you to view simulations of the night sky, great for little astronomers to learn their way around space.

Celestron Kids 50TT

The Celestron Kids 50TT is a basic refractor telescope that’s good for starting astronomers. It’s easy to set up and get to stargazing. With a 50mm aperture and 12.5mm eyepiece, it has 30x magnification.

This telescope is super lightweight, including its tabletop tripod, and comes with a carrying case to observe on the go.

Orion GoScope III 70mm

The Orion GoScope III 70mm is great for little astronomers on the move. It comes with a backpack to carry it around in!

With 70mm aperture and 20mm and 9mm eyepieces, this telescope has 44x magnification. It rests on an aluminum tripod. It also comes with a MoonMap and viewfinder to help locate objects before viewing through the telescope.

Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST

The Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST is the ideal telescope for serious junior astronomers. This telescope is the priciest on my list, with good reason.

With a 130mm primary mirror, its aperture is almost double our Firstscope. It also comes with 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, allowing for 26-65x magnification. The SpaceProbe also comes with a finderscope to help find objects quickly. The aluminum tripod is lightweight and has an accessory tray to keep your other eyepiece close.

Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker

The Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker is another great option for more serious stargazers.

It has a 127mm aperture and 20mm and 4mm eyepieces, allowing for up to 250x magnification. It also comes with a 3x Barlow lens that triples the magnification of both eyepieces. This telescope rests on a tripod that also has an accessory tray to keep eyepieces and the Barlow lens easily accessible.

In addition to Celestron’s SkyPortal app, it also comes with “The Sky” software to help locate thousands of items in the night sky!

 

Do you have a telescope at home? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the LIGO Livingston Observatory

While watching a documentary on gravity, we discovered that LIGO was in our backyard (well, an hour away, but practically in our backyard)! I have no idea how we overlooked this for the last couple of years, but we headed out that very week to check it out!

About LIGO

LIGO stands for “laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory” and is funded by the US National Science Foundation and run by MIT and Caltech. Put somewhat simply, LIGO is home to a bunch of incredible cutting edge technology that’s working to detect gravitational waves from violent phenomena around our universe.

LIGO_Events_TimelineThis project was inspired by Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves (ripples in time-space resulting from things like black holes colliding). Funding was secured in 1979, but site construction didn’t begin until the mid-90s. In 2008, construction began on Advanced LIGO. LIGO began its first observing run in September 2015 and by September 14th, it had observed its first gravitational wave. It has since detected one other confirmed gravitational wave and others will likely be confirmed through intense data review.

The interferometers are pretty mind-boggling as a layperson, visiting the observatories. They are comprised of two 4-kilometer long vacuum chambers, built in an L-shape. These “legs” are long enough that Earth’s curved surface had a role in the design. An infrared laser is at the heart of the measurements and is shot through a series of mirrors down each one of these legs. LIGO can measure motion that’s about 1/10,000th of an atomic nucleus!

LIGO consists of four locations, two interferometers (one here in Livingston and one in Washington state) and two research centers (at MIT and Caltech). You can read a much more sophisticated and in depth version of LIGO’s history on their website here.

 

About LIGO’s Livingston Observatory

LIGO Livingston Science Saturdays

Because of the delicate nature of LIGO’s measurements, their facility only has limited times where it’s open to the public.

The best way to experience the Livingston Observatory is on “Science Saturdays”. These take place on the third Saturday of the month from 1:00 – 5:00 pm. On Science Saturday, visitors can explore the Science Education Center, lobby activities, and even take a tour of the control room. Each event has its own unique theme, so you can visit multiple times and have new experiences every month!

LIGO Livingston Science Education Center

img_3524LIGO’s Science Education Center is an incredible opportunity to get hands-on with all kinds of physical science. It’s truly a place for everyone.

There are activities geared for all ages and levels of scientific interest, with more than 50 interactive exhibits. We had so much fun exploring suspension, strobe lights, bright black, resonance, shadows, infrared rays, and more.

 

Our Favorite Parts of the LIGO Livingston Observatory

img_3635My favorite part was definitely the tour of the control room. Getting an inside look at such an incredible place and having the opportunity to ask questions to one of the working scientists was an unforgettable experience.

The girls loved the lobby activities and interacting with STEM students from close-by universities, but especially loved the soap bubble painting in the mini science museum area!

I loved that the entire family learned, explored, and had fun together. There were exhibits and information presented at levels for all of us. We can’t wait to go back!

 

Planning Your Visit to LIGO Livingston

Location

LIGO Livingston Observatory is located at 19100 LIGO Lane, Livingston, LA 70754. It’s an easy trip off of I-12, despite its somewhat rural location, and very well marked.

Hours, Parking, & Admission Cost

As noted above, LIGO is not open to the public regularly. If you plan to visit, make sure to check for Science Saturday dates on their website or contact them directly about scheduling a field trip or public tour.

After arriving through the main gate, follow the road to the right and look for parking signs. There is ample parking directly outside of the Science Education Center!

Visiting LIGO Livingston is FREE. That’s right, it’s totally free to experience all of the awe and wonder of LIGO!

 

 

Visiting LIGO Livingston with Toddlers and Young Children

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My girls really enjoyed all of the hands-on science. It’s definitely an engaging place for all ages, including toddlers! Some of the exhibits will require direction and assistance from adults, so be prepared to get engaged with your kids!

The tour is definitely geared towards an older audience, so make a judgment call about your kids’ attention spans and behavior. My girls hung in there for the first half of the tour, but by the end, they were ready to go play and didn’t care that mom was nerding out!

 

Have you ever visited LIGO? Have an idea for another Science Mom field trip? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

121 Ways to Teach Yourself About Science

If you’re like me, you might have hated science in school. Or just didn’t understand the value. Or didn’t retain a single thing. Maybe all of the above.

My freshman honors biology class was like torture, sitting in a lab that we never touched. My college anatomy class was hours of note taking that never got applied to anything but test taking. Conversely, my physical science class was so basic that I hardly ever went.

When I look back at my science education, the word boring comes to mind in big neon lights. But now, STEM is evolving. It’s engaging and humorous and really, really exciting. The truth is that STEM has always been this way, but we were just more disconnected from it. Now, we have more information at our fingertips. I mean, Elon Musk just launched a Tesla Roadster into space and we get to see pictures!

If you find yourself wishing that you’d paid more attention in science class, especially as your kids learn, there are tons of resources out there. Here’s my ultimate list of resources to teach yourself about science!

Some of the links included in my posts are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my site free and is much appreciated!

Books

Biology

Chemistry

Mathematics

Physics and the Cosmos

Religion & the Afterlife

Technology & Engineering

Women in Science

Miscellaneous Reads


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Streaming Series and Documentaries

I have limited time and brainpower these days (see: two toddlers), so I do a lot of science consumption by video. Here are some of my favorites on popular streaming services!

Netflix

Bill Nye Saves the World – Bill Nye the Science Guy for grownups
Brain Games – entertaining series exploring the tricks our brains can play on us
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – an incredible series about our universe
Dinotasia –
CGI storytelling of prehistoric creatures
Edge of the Universe – latest cosmic discoveries
Einstein’s Biggest Blunder – scientists explore Einstein’s theory of relativity
The Farthest Voyager in Space –
all about NASA’s 1977 launch of space probes
Great Human Odyssey –
scientists map humans’ journey from Africa
Horizon: Secrets of the Solar System – 
advances in astronomy
The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson – Neil talks technology and wonders of the Universe
Into the Inferno – amazing footage of volcanoes
Life – explore the variety of life on Earth
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – the history of the internet
The Mars Generation – teenagers at Space Camp
Mega Builders – engineering of awe-inspiring structures
Nature’s Greatest Events – how seasonal changes affect wildlife
Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey –
this series gets bonus points for female hosts
Planet Earth –
 travel the Earth from your couch (Note: all of the BBC Earth documentaries are worth a watch, like The Blue Planet, Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet, etc)
Race of Life – how wild animals continue to survive
The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms –
how they work and where we can find them
The Story of Maths – the history of math, from ancient Egypt to today
Tesla: Master of Lightning – awesome biodoc about Nikola Tesla
White Rabbit Project – from the producers of “MythBusters”, history’s greatest hits

Hulu

Destination Wild – travel around the world to see wildlife in their natural habitats
Hello World – a global look at the inventors and scientists of the future
How It’s Made – how everyday objects are engineered and manufactured
Mojo’s The Circuit – latest tech and gadget news
MythBusters – 
the classic show that busts urban legends and myths
NASA 360 – a look at NASA developed technology that’s changed our lives
NASA X – new innovations by NASA scientists
Secrets of Your Mind – an inside look at case studies about the human brain
StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson – all things space with Neil

Amazon Prime

The Amazing World of Gravity – all about the physics of gravity
Bacterial World: Microbes that Rule Our World – all about bacteria
Birth of the Earth – the story of our planet
Clouds Are Not Spheres – a look at fractal geometry
Edison: The Father of Invention – a biodoc about the inventor
Einstein and the Theory of Relativity – learn about the theory and the scientists still conducting experiments about it
Everything and Nothing: the Science of Empty Space – 
a unique look at empty space
The Fabric of the Cosmos – a look at what makes up the Cosmos
The Fantastical World of Hormones – a look at the chemicals that control our bodies
Hawking – a biopic about Stephen Hawking and his incredible contributions
Henry Ford –
a biopic about Henry Ford and his innovations
How the Grand Canyon Was Made – new evidence of how the Grand Canyon was carved
Life on Us: A Microscopic Safari –
 a microscopic look at the creatures that live on our bodies
Mapping the Future: The Wonder of Algorithms – how algorithms can predict our lives
The Mystery of Dark Matter – explore what we know about dark matter
Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World – a look a the father of our modern technological age
Order and Disorder: The Forces that Drive the Universe – a look at the laws of the Universe
The Poisoner’s Handbook – a screen adaption in the spirit of the book
Ring of Fire – explore the geological wonders of the Pacific
Sahara: Altering the Course of History – a look at the great Saharan Desert and the life that used to live there
Sight: The Story of Vision – how our eyes and brains help us see
Sonic Magic: The Wonder of Science and Sound – how sound has shaped our history
Virus Empire: From Sars to Ebola – how viruses have evolved and affect our world

Other Ways to Learn

There is a ton of information out there on the internet. Not all of it is good information, but there are piles of awesome YouTube videos, blogs (like mine, right?), and websites just waiting to answer your most burning science questions. If you’re ever wondering about something, look it up! Add terms like “101” or “introduction” to the subject matter and see what you can find.

One of my favorite ways to learn is to visit local museums and science centers. Some communities have more resources than others, but most of us find ourselves within driving distance of something! Also, check out your local museums, community centers, libraries’ adult programming departments, and universities for opportunities. You never know who might be coming to speak!

And as always, you can send me a message with a topic you’d like to see covered!

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Did I miss any awesome resources? Leave a comment or send me a message to update the list!

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Infinity Science Center

We are fortunate enough to live within road trip distance of one of NASA’s 14 visitor centers. Not sure if you are? Visit http://www.visitnasa.com to find out!

 

About the Infinity Science Center

17155167_10155264791099610_460796396391183316_nThe Infinity Science Center is truly a paradise for a nerdy family like mine. They regularly offer special events for kids and adults that you can read more about below. There’s so much to see and do – it’s truly an all day trip!

There are so many ways to explore, from the bus tour to the electric trams, the butterfly gardens and the simulators, the exhibits and galleries. It’s not just space, despite being at Stennis Space Center, which is a great reminder for little minds that everything is connected. I also love that the “Earth Gallery” is downstairs, while the “Space Gallery” is upstairs, creating a real “heavens and earth” feel to the layout.

Outside of the Science Center

 

Before you even step inside, you’ll find all kinds of amazing things on display, like a NOMAD buoy, Navy boats, and F-1 and H-1 rocket engines. But truly, nothing can compare to the Saturn V S-1C Booster! It’s an incredible and humbling experience to stand next to this behemoth!

Science Express Gallery

Learn everything you could ever possibly want to know about hundreds of carnivorous plants! Little minds can also practice their engineering skills with the Big Blue Blocks (one of my girls’ favorites).

21077271_10155863005154610_832487682150120831_nThe Earth Gallery

Here, you’ll find all kinds of incredible earth science exhibits, including the Hurricane Prediction Lab and information about Hurricane Katrina, as well as a Hurricane Simulator (an extra $3). The “Swamps to Space” exhibit is a really fascinating walk through Stennis’s start in Mississippi and the Apollo Program.

This is also where you’ll find the Omega Flight Simulator, available for an extra $5. This simulator is a really fun ride, with six degrees of motion and six different ride options.

The Space Gallery

This is where my girls’ (and my!) imaginations run wild, pretending to be astronauts in the space shuttle flight deck, Orion space capsule, and Destiny module from the International Space Station. It still blows my toddler’s mind that they strap themselves down to sleep!

There are also a ton of cool artifacts to explore, like moon rocks, space suits, and shuttle parts! You can also discover more about the SLS program, which could take humans to Mars!

21032511_10155863004934610_4735538120697903415_nStennis Space Center Bus Tour

The bus tour is free with admission! You do have to sign up though – be sure to stop by the front to reserve your spot 20-30 minutes before the tour departs. Tours run from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Adults will need to present a Photo ID or passport to take the tour and children must be accompanied by an adult. Be aware that they may restrict you from taking any large bags or backpacks with you and any personal items are subject to search, because of the nature of the tour!

You’ll spend 40 minutes inside restricted areas that can only be accessed by the public through this tour. It’s jam packed with information and awe-inspiring views of the country’s biggest rocket engine test facility (14,000 acres of it!) and the homes of several government agencies (including the world’s largest concentration of oceanographers) and private companies like Rolls Royce.

Other Things to Explore

Seen from I-10, the 1400 foot Biome Boardwalk will take you through four different habitats, right there outside of the Science Center! Signs along the boardwalk are full of information about the plants and animals all around you. Don’t miss the Butterfly Gardens too, for another chance to catch some of the plants and animals that call Pearlington home.

The Possum Walk Trail is a 6 mile, 45 minute tram tour along part of Heritage Trail. You’ll learn about the history of Possum Walk, Logtown, and the plants and animals in the area. The tram tour runs from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm and is an additional $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children. You can also take the trail by foot, from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Note that the trail is closed October-February.

Infinity Science Center always has other fun learning opportunities and exhibits, that sometimes change daily. We’ve drawn, built, and touched all kinds of things!

Our Favorite Parts of the Infinity Science Center

For my family, the big hits were the Omega Flight Simulator, the Orion space capsule, and the reading area (what can I say, the kids love books!). The bus tour through Stennis is the real showstopper though – sure to delight space needs young and old!

 

Planning Your Visit to the Infinity Science Center

Location

Infinity Science Center is just over the Mississippi/Louisiana border in Pearlington, MS. Take Exit 2 off I-10 and follow the signs! The address is 1 Discovery Circle, Pearlington, MS 39572.

Hours, Parking, & Admission Cost

Infinity Science Center is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. They have a fantastically large and free parking lot, making parking extremely easy.

Admission costs are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors or military, $8 for children 4-13, and free for children 3 and under.

Special Pricing and Events

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If you’ll be visiting in a large group (of 20 or more guests), the price is reduced to only $7 per person!

Wednesdays are “Senior Wednesdays”, where senior admission is discounted to $6 (half price!). Seniors also get discounts at the gift shop, cafe, and Possum Walk.

Infinity also offers “Home School Mondays” on the third Monday of September, October, November, January, February, and March from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. Admission is discounted to $7. Each month features a new STEM topic and hands-on learning opportunities for home schooled students. They’re geared for kids 6-12 years old, but anyone is welcome!

If you’re a parent or grandparent of toddlers (3 and under), this pricing structure is awesome! I love that for $6-7, my girls can have a fun day out, exploring science with me or a grandparent. That wouldn’t even buy tickets to a movie!

Some Saturdays also feature special classes for “Science Saturdays”. You can read more about them here!

Eating at the Infinity Science Center

The CaFe is open from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, serving up food like burgers, poboys, sandwiches, hot dogs, and salads. There’s also a vending machine serving Dippin’ Dots, one of my girls’ favorite treats! You can also pack a lunch and enjoy the view outside!

Souvenirs

Infinity’s Gift Shop is open the same hours as the Science Center. It’s packed full of fun space and science souvenirs, from experiment kits to plush toys to coffee mugs to apparel. My girls love their plush space shuttle and NASA teddy bear, while I love my astronaut keychain and NASA coffee mug! We also love to pick up astronaut ice cream – it makes a fun themed snack or gift for friends.

Visiting the Infinity Science Center with Toddlers

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Occasionally, I have friends ask about exactly what we do when we visit somewhere like Infinity or another museum with little ones. It can be intimidating to consider a trip when so many things seem like they may go over their heads or not really be accessible.

My answer is simple. Acceptance! Accept that it may be some mild form of chaos, that you may not get to do or see everything, or that their attention spans may not hold out for the entirety of a gallery. Just let them explore and follow their imaginations! Even if they’re just running in circles, they’re still running in circles around science, right?

Where are your favorite places to visit? Are you close to a NASA visitor center? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

5 Science Gifts for Tiny Toddler Scientists

Birthday party season is upon us! For some reason, a large cluster of the Science Kids’ friends were born in the spring/summer. I feel like we spend most of our weekends during this time attending birthday parties of the kids we love!

And what else would the Science Mom give, but science? (Dinosaurs, actually. We are kind of known for always including something dinosaur-related. But that’s still science, right?) I keep these bookmarked on Amazon Prime, so they’re ready to be ordered, tossed in a gift bag (along with a book and possibly a dinosaur or two), and head out to a friend on their special day!

So, without further ado, here’s my list of my five favorite, fun science gifts to give our tiny scientist friends!

Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my resources free and is much appreciated, so please consider using the link if you decide to purchase something from one of my posts!

1. GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope

At under $20, this little “microscope” is a fun way to introduce science equipment to little scientists.

It features 2.5-8x magnification, which is more like a magnifying glass and obviously significantly less than a standard microscope. However, that’s why I like this microscope for toddlers. At these lower magnifications with a larger field of view, little brains can begin to understand how microscopes work and what they’re looking at.

It also features an LED light, and non-skid feet to keep it in place. Its chunky design is also great for little hands to still be able to manipulate it independently.

On a personal note, I gave my daughter and her best friend both this microscope for Christmas two years ago. I’ve been surprised by how durable it is, in part thanks to its plastic lenses. My kids are not delicate and it’s surviving just beautifully! They’ve both been having fun looking at leaves, dead bugs, their hands, and random household items.

2. Primary Science Binoculars

For around $13, this is a really adorable pair of binoculars for little bird watchers and nosy toddlers.

I love the chunky design here too. Combined with the rubber eye pieces, plastic lenses, and textured grips, it is really designed for little hands to hold and use independently. I also like that the neck strap is a breakaway design.

The binoculars have a 6x magnification, which is, again, just the perfect amount for them to begin to understand the concept of using binoculars and also what they are actually looking at.

My daughter has taken her pair all over the place, from road trips to the park to local music events.

3. Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set

Coming in under $20, this lab set is probably my favorite thing to gift little scientists. The pieces in this set are “iconic” science, right?

This 12-piece set includes everything they need to start exploring the lab world, including a beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, and test tubes! It also comes with activity cards to inspire both them and the adults helping them.

Again, the chunky design of these tools makes them ideal for little scientists to work semi-independently and feel like they’re in control of their own experiments. While they’re plastic and kid-friendly in every way, they’re still functional and we routinely use them in our experiments at home!

If you’re looking for something more, there’s also a 45-piece deluxe lab set that expands to include more lab equipment and a ViewScope. Learning Resources also makes a kid-sized lab coat that’s at the top of my daughter’s wish list!

My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

I mean, who isn’t excited when they see the title of this science kit? Mind blowing! And for only $15!

It’s packed with fun goodies to conduct a variety of science experiments and introduce STEM principles, including things like test tubes and a pipette, as well as chemicals like red cabbage powder, citric acid, and baking soda. There are some household items you’ll need to supplement the kit, so check the list before you plan to get started.

This kit definitely requires some adult supervision and assistance, but you definitely don’t need to be a scientist to help. Adults will have as much fun as their little scientists with activities like a sunset in a tube, a color-changing volcano, and jiggly crystals.

5. Boley Big Bucket of Dinosaurs

At around $15, this 40-piece dinosaur set provides lots of fun play for budding little paleontologists.

This set combines realistic-looking (not cartoony, like so many sets) dinosaurs and landscape pieces that encourage a lot of imaginary play, but can also open the door for lots of educational questions and talk about dinosaurs.

We’ve had this set in our house for over two years now and the figures have held up really well to almost daily play. I also like that it comes with a storage bucket, so they’re not all over the place. That being said, we did convert our train table into a dinosaur landscape for a while, thanks in part to some of the landscape pieces that come in this bucket. It was a lot of fun to see my daughter’s imagination at work as we constructed it!

Do you have a go-to science gift that didn’t make my list? Leave me a comment!

Making It Rain {Learning About the Water Cycle}

IMG_0127Another day, another project as we experiment our way through the summer! We hope you’re joining us – or at least getting tempted to.

You can, of course, follow our experiments here, but also on the Science Mom Facebook page! You can also find other fun experiments on the Science Mom Pinterest boards or scrolling through this summer series here on the blog!

FullSizeRender 2Today, I decided to use Mother Nature for inspiration. After all, the radar was looking like this. Bah! The forecast kept getting pushed back further and further, but we skipped our trip to the splash pad anyway. Who needs a splash pad when you’re getting wet in your own kitchen and backyard, right?

I decided on not one, not two, but three projects today, as a splash pad apology to my toddler. I’m still not sure she forgave me for missing out on the fun with her best friend, Jax, but we had fun anyway!

 

Making It Rain, Part One

Materials:

  • A shallow dish (or any kind of pan, tray, bowl, or water-holding vessel)
  • Cotton balls
  • Water

Procedure:

  1. IMG_0310Fill your water-holding vessel with water. An inch or so should do it.
  2. Take a cotton ball “cloud” to explore. Note that the cotton ball is fluffy and doesn’t weigh much. It’s also very dry.
  3. Slowly, dip the cotton ball “cloud” into the water, allowing the water to slowly soak the cotton ball. Now your cloud is filled with rain-to-be. Note that it feels heavy and may have even changed shapes.
  4. Lift the cotton ball out of the water. The cotton ball is so saturated that water droplets will begin to fall back into the water-holding vessel. The more saturated, the faster the rain drops fall.
  5. Explain that this is [roughly] how the water cycle works. Not sure how the water cycle works exactly? No worries. Read on!

 

Making It Rain, Part Two

Materials:

  • Clear cup or jar (plastic or glass is fine)
  • Shaving cream
  • Water
  • Food coloring

Procedure:

  1. IMG_0315Fill your cup with water, leaving a small space at the top for your shaving cream.
  2. On top of the water, squirt shaving cream to create a nice, fluffy “cloud”.
  3. Carefully add drops of food coloring to the top of your shaving cream cloud.
  4. As the cloud gets heavier with the added food coloring, it will slowly begin to “rain” food coloring down into the cup. (Make sure you’re adding the food coloring slowly. Once it makes its way through the shaving cream, it will spread through the water quickly. If you’ve added too much, the water will rapidly change color and the experiment gets decidedly boring instantly!)

 

Making It Rain, Part Three

Materials:

  • Large glass jar (or bowl or measuring cup)
  • Paper plate or bowl large enough to cover the opening of the glass container
  • Water
  • Ice cubes

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Procedure:

  1. Heat water, either in the microwave or bring to a boil on the stovetop. (I recommend that a parent take care of this step and warn little hands that the glass jar will be hot hot hot!
  2. Transfer the water to your glass jar.
  3. Quickly, top the jar with a paper plate. Cover the plate with a pile of ice cubes.
  4. Watch as a mini water cycle emerges inside your glass jar!

 

The Science:

Rain is just one small part of the water cycle, the really awesome loop that Earth’s water has been traveling through from the ground to the sky and round and round again for billions of years. Water is never really “still”, even when it’s not actively going through the water cycle. Most of Earth’s water is stored in our oceans (roughly 96.5% of it, or 321,000,000 cubic miles) and we know the ocean is never still!

Water-Cycle-Art2A_mediumTo explain the water cycle to kids, it’s easiest to break it down into four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.

Let’s start with evaporation. That’s when the sun heats up collected water, which turns it into water vapor (a gas that we usually can’t see). This is how water begins its journey from the ground back up into the atmosphere. There are a couple of other ways that water can leave the ground. One of those ways is sublimation, which is when solid water (ice or snow) is heated and turns directly into water vapor. This is the process you see when dry ice turns into a big cloud of water vapor, or directly from a solid into a gas, without making a pitstop and becoming a liquid. (To be clear, this is not like when ice melts and turns into water and then eventually would evaporate into water vapor!) Another way that water evaporates is through transpiration, which is basically plant sweat! Water travels from the soil, through the plant roots, and transpires (sweats) through the plants’ leaves to become water vapor and head up into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that about 10% of the water in Earth’s atmosphere is from plant transpiration.

The next stop for all of that water vapor is condensation. As water vapor moves higher and higher into the atmosphere, it finds colder air. That colder air turns the water vapor back into a liquid. Those cooling water molecules find tiny particles in the air (like dust, smoke, or dirt) to cling to and form cloud droplets (very, very tiny drops of condensed water), which collect and grow to form clouds (this part of the process can be called coalescence). You see condensation all the time. When you pour a cold drink into a glass, you may see condensation form on the outside. That’s warm water vapor from the air around your glass being cooled by your drink and turning into water droplets. Your glass is kind of your own personal cloud!

As the cloud grows and gets heavier, we prepare for precipitation. The condensed water falls back to the ground in the form of rain, hail, snow, or sleet. This is no small task, as it takes millions of those little cloud droplets to collide and form a single rain drop. Once a rain drop is formed, it then has to have enough velocity to make it out of the cloud and fall as precipitation! In a really heavy rainstorm, the drops are falling at a speed of 24 feet per second – that’s a little over 16 miles per hour. There are some parts of the world where hardly any rain at all falls (less than 0.1 inches per year) and some where tons and tons of rain falls (900 inches per year). There’s a place in Chile where no rain (none!) fell for 14 years! 14! Rain is a pretty incredible thing when you stop and think about it all, right?

After the rain falls, the next stage is collection. That’s where the water settles here on Earth. Like I said before, about 96.5% of Earth’s water is stored in the oceans. The rest of that water (3.5%) is what we have in the atmosphere, lakes, ice caps and glaciers, rivers, streams, puddles, and everywhere else in the world! That really gives you an idea of the huge volume of water in the ocean.

And just like that, we are looping our way back through the water cycle. There are tons of other fun experiments and projects to learn more about it… and we will definitely revisit all of this again soon! For now, it’s time to check our rain gauge one last time and call it a [rainy] night!

I’ll leave you with one last thought. The water that you’re taking a bath in tonight could be the very same water that a dinosaur bathed in too. RAWR!

 

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