B is for Big Bang | Children’s Books and Other Media About the Big Bang and Universe

Here is a complete list of books, movies, TV shows, and other media to accompany the B is for Big Bang thematic unit for the Science ABCs!

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!

Books

These books are all Science Mom tested and Science Kid approved! They aren’t just random recommendations, but all live on our bookshelves at home.

Click the book picture to be taken straight to Amazon’s details about the book!

Picture Books About the Big Bang

Other Picture Books for This Unit

Online Videos

About the Big Bang

About the Universe and Solar System

About Atoms

About Numbers

Online Kids’ Games About Space

NASA Space Place

NASA Kids Club

NatGeo Kids – Space Janitor

Discovery Kids Space Games

Magic School Bus Space Games

Have a resource you’d like to see included? Leave a comment or contact us!

B is for Big Bang | Projects for Little Hands

We had so much fun working on the B is for Big Bang unit! Here are some of the fun projects referenced in the thematic unit for you to try at home!

Also, totally by coincidence, I realized the B alliteration continues with these activities – bottle, balloon, bin, and bread (sorry, atom)!

Please note that some of the links included in my unit plans 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!


Universe in a Bottle

Preparing For This Activity

What You’ll Need:

  • A water bottle or other clear container that can be sealed
  • Water
  • Glitter glue
  • Loose glitter
  • Goo Gone (to remove any sticky residue on your container, optional)
  • Any other metallic objects you may want to add (optional)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Mixing bowl and funnel (optional)

Before You Start:

Gather your materials and make sure you have everything ready to go. Remove any labels and remove residue with Goo Gone before you get going!

Making Your Universe

This is a really simple construction project. Simply fill the bottle with hot water and dissolve glitter glue to make a sparkly solution. Add loose glitter, food coloring, or other materials as you see fit, to make your universe work for you!  You can also opt to tear apart some cotton balls to make “gaseous clouds” in your universe.

I have found that it’s easier to mix the ingredients (except the cotton balls, if you opt to use them) outside of the bottle. However, a glittery gluey spill is not fun, so if you mix in a bowl, plan to use a funnel to get the mixture inside the bottle.

Activities With Your Universe

First and foremost, this is just fun to play with. You can let your little scientist just explore it and call this activity done.

Or you can go one step further and use it as a Big Bang demonstration. Let all of the glitter and contents settle to the bottom to represent singularity. Then begin to shake it vigorously, representing the time immediately following the Big Bang when the universe was expanding and full of energy. Then, let it rest. The objects/glitter will slow down, representing more of the current universe.


Big Bang Balloon Lab

Preparing For This Activity

What You’ll Need:

  • A balloon
  • A marker
  • A piece of string

Before You Start:

The set up for this activity is quick and easy. Simply inflate your balloon slightly. Use a marker to make a few dots or swirls around the balloon. Then, let the air out. You’re ready to begin!

Demonstrating the Big Bang

Explain that the balloon represents the universe. Before you begin blowing it up, the balloon represents singularity. All of the “stuff” is still there on the balloon, the balloon is the same mass, but it doesn’t take up as much space.

Then, slowly start to inflate the balloon. Ask your little scientists what they notice. The balloon itself still has the same mass and nothing has been added, but it’s starting to look very different.

Inflate it slightly more. Again, same mass, but it’s now getting bigger. The dots or swirls that represent the galaxies are further apart. They might even look like a slightly different shape. At this point, you might want to use a piece of string to measure the distance of the “galaxies” with your little scientist, so they can see the size increasing concretely.

Continue inflating the balloon as much as you want to make the point and continue the fun!

 


Universe Sensory Bin

Making Your Sensory Bin

I’m going to be honest, there are a million ways to make these sensory bins. If you head to Pinterest and search for sensory bins, you’ll find lots and lots of options. So, instead of telling you how to make the exact same bin that we made, I’m going to give you some suggestions to mix and match for your own perfect sensory bin.

As you browse my suggestions, keep your own little scientist’s exploration methods in mind, especially if they like to explore with their mouths. Some of these materials can be choking hazards, so always use your parental discretion and supervise this activity!

Open Space

You’ll want something dark as your base for wide open space. Black beans, coffee beans, coffee grounds, or black aquarium gravel can all be good options for this. You could even mix multiple ingredients together.

Stars & Planets

You can use glitter, small and large beads, small star confetti, marbles, small balls, cut-out clip-art, or even cut up yellow paper to represent these celestial bodies!

 Galaxies

If you want to mimic some galaxies and floating clouds of dust/gas, you could dip some shredded cotton ball bits into paint/glitter and add them to the sensory bin for even more textures!

Rockets & Satellites

There are a bunch of different options here, with the most basic being printing out pictures from the internet. For a bit more extended play, you could also consider a play set like this 15-piece Mission to Mars Space Shuttle Play Set or even a building set like this Lego City Space Starter Set that will provide a whole second activity to build!

Extension Activities

If you’re looking for some extra letter practice, check out this activity with glow stars and letters!


Cosmic Inflation Bread Project

Preparing For This Activity

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 6 cups of flour
  • 1/3 cups of white sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons of salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons of yeast
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/2-1 cup of raisins or chocolate chips
  • Alternatively, buy a prepackaged bread mix!
  • 2 bread pans
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • Plastic wrap
  • Butter (to grease resting bowl and bread pans)

Before You Start:

I highly recommend organizing your ingredients before inviting your preschooler into the kitchen. When it comes to a potentially messy project like this, I find it helpful to get myself situated first.

Then, make sure everyone does a thorough hand washing. You will all be getting very touchy feely with this edible project! Let’s not turn this into a different kind of science experiment, right?

Making Your Bread

If you’re making your bread from a prepackaged mix, just skim the directions for when we make connections between the bread and universe! Make sure to add your raisins or chocolate chips into the mixture still!

Now, to make your dough from scratch. Mix your 2 cups of warm water and 1/3 cup of white sugar together in a bowl. (Note: this entire thing will be easier with a stand mixer, but it’s totally achievable with a little extra muscle and either a hand mixer or your hands!) Sprinkle your 1.5 tablespoons of yeast over the top and let it dissolve into the mixture for about 10 minutes (this is a great time to watch a video or read a book from this post!). Add your 1.5 teaspoons of salt, 1/4 cup of oil, and 3 cups of flour and mix it together well (this is a good step for little hands to take the lead!). Once it’s mixed well, add the other 3 cups of flour and chocolate chips or raisins.

Now, it’s time for some aggression to get it all combined. You’ll know it’s done when your dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. If you have a dough hook for your stand mixer, this would be the time to use it. Once it’s well mixed, flour your countertop (that’s clean!) and knead your dough. This is another great time for the kids to get involved. This is a good time to start drawing comparisons to the dough and “singularity” before the Big Bang. While they’re kneading, grease a bowl for your dough to rest in.

When the dough is finished, place it in your greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Ask them to make a hypothesis (guess) about what’s going to happen to the dough while it rests. Will it change size or shape? Bigger, smaller, the same? Will the chocolate chips/raisins still be in the same place, further apart, or closer together? Then, let the dough rest for an hour, checking on it every 10-15 minutes. As you check in on your dough, ask them to evaluate their hypothesis. Is the dough doing what they expected? What is happening to the add-ins? You can also begin to explain that this is kind of like what happened during cosmic inflation. There was a tremendous amount of heat and movement that caused singularity expand exponentially outward. All of the different “ingredients” mixed together to form matter and took different forms throughout the process.

When your dough has rested for an hour, remove the cover and punch down the dough, before moving it back to your floured counter. Cut your dough in half and roll out into rectangles. Roll those dough rectangles up into greased bread pans and let them rest again until they’ve doubled in size (less than an hour this time!). You can explain that the universe continues to expand, just like the dough, and that the objects in the universe continue to move apart (represented by the add-ins). (Note: You could also break your dough into two separate bowls before letting it rest the first time and do an extended experiment, perhaps leaving one to rest somewhere cool and one somewhere warm, or anything else you can dream up!)

As your dough nears doubling in size, preheat your oven to 350F. Make sure your preschooler knows that the oven is hot and use precautions to keep everyone safe! Bake your bread for 25-30 minutes, until you can tap and it sounds hollow. Let it cool before letting little hands touch it! You could continue to draw comparisons, by explaining how the bread is baking and changing forms with heat, or how the bread itself has spread out, creating holes inside the bread, like dark matter in the universe, or even how the universe and bread were both hot, but then cooled off into something we humans can enjoy!


DIY Atoms of the Early Universe

Preparing For This Activity

What You’ll Need:

  • Three paper plates (or circles cut out of paper)
  • Marker
  • Glue
  • Pom poms

Before You Start:

If you plan to do the accompanying math activity, you can have your little scientist do some of the pom pom sorting for you, but you’ll still need to presort out 18 pom poms, in different colored sets of 6. I suggest using red, yellow, and blue to keep the colors different enough for the sorting and imagery to be really effective and clear!

Making Your Atoms

You get to the be universe! It’s time to make atoms! This activity will yield three “atoms”, for the first three elements of the universe – hydrogen, lithium, and helium. Of course, you can make any atoms you want too!

You can choose to do this activity two ways – completing each atom individually or working on them all together. Whichever way makes the most sense for your learner.

Hydrogen Atom

Have your little scientist draw one large circle around the outside of the plate to represent the electron’s orbit.

Then, glue one proton (red pom pom) in the center of the paper plate (the nucleus). Glue one electron (blue pom pom) to the orbital path. And you have a hydrogen atom!

Helium Atom

Repeat the same steps, but this time, your little scientist will glue two protons (red pom poms) and two neutrons (yellow pom poms) in the center to form the nucleus, and two electrons (blue pom poms) to the orbital path. You have helium!

Lithium Atom

Repeat the same steps, but this time, your little scientist will draw two circles around the outside of the plate to represent the electrons’ orbit. Then, they’ll glue three protons (red pom poms) and four neutrons (yellow pom poms) in the nucleus and three electrons (blue pom poms) to the orbital path. You have lithium!

 


Have any other fun activities to suggest? Questions? Leave me a comment!

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

img_3535

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!

 

5 Ways to Raise Scientifically Literate Kids {and 5 Reasons Why You Should}

There are a million ways to parent, all of them valid in their own way. But the most important obligation of today’s parents is to raise scientifically literate kids. Let’s explore what I mean.

About STEM and Scientific Literacy

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s an integrated approach to learning, that views these subjects as interconnected, rather than separate disciplines for separate times and uses. The truth is that in the real world, these four subjects overlap in big ways. It only makes sense that they’re taught that way too.

Scientific literacy, simplified, is the ability to apply science to your daily life. But more eloquently, “Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. (OECD 2003:132–33)”.

It’s not “literacy” in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a mindset. The ability to think critically, evaluate data, and apply information.

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” – President Obama

Why Parents Should Focus on Scientific Literacy at Home

 

Many schools struggle to provide an adequate STEM education.

As parents, it’s easy to brush off science and say, “They learn that stuff in school”. The truth is that they may not be. Our public school systems are struggling to provide adequate STEM coursework. Only 73% of fourth graders have teachers who report having the resources they need to adequately teach mathematics. 61% of eighth graders have teachers who report having what they need to adequately teach science. Most elementary classroom science education is happening in less than three hours per week. Only 20% of U.S. high school seniors are grade-level proficient in science.

They’re also struggling to provide educators who hold STEM degrees or even have received professional development in science. Science isn’t part of school performance ratings, so it makes sense that they’d skimp here. Anecdotally, I was shocked by how many of my elementary school colleagues didn’t view science as “important” and would openly admit to frequently skipping it for weeks or even entire semesters.

It’s also easy to discount the importance of technology and computer science education, because Millenials and subsequent generations were virtually born with smart devices in their hands. However, U.S. Millenials ranked last in computer skills against 19 other countries. They know how to use social media, but they may not know how to build a website or troubleshoot problems.

STEM careers are the future.

STEM careers are growing almost three times faster than any other field. 80% of the fastest growing careers require a STEM background.

Yet, there’s a shortage of STEM degree holding professionals. There’s an estimated 3 million STEM jobs unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, while only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in pursuing STEM degrees. 60% of this century’s jobs require skills that are only held by 20% of the current workforce.

47% of STEM-related Bachelor degree holders earn more than non-STEM PhD counterparts. STEM degree holders are also less likely to face joblessness, even with lower degrees than their non-STEM counterparts. Most STEM careers don’t require a 4-year degree and yet pay 10% higher than non-STEM careers with similar degree requirements.

STEM needs more diversity.

Only 17% of recent female college graduates had earned a STEM degree and the amount of women working in STEM-related fields has plateaued. Less than 25% of computer science degrees are held by women.

This divergence starts in early elementary school and carries on through high school, with more male high school graduates reporting that math was a favorite subject, despite girls taking tougher STEM related coursework.

More than 80% of the STEM workforce is white or Asian and male. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you look at other races’ access to science and mathematics education. 42% of Native American and 32% of black students don’t have calculus in their high schools. 34% of Native American and 23% of black students don’t have physics in their high schools.

These numbers become even more staggering when you look at the overall poverty rates of schools. Only 26% of the highest poverty schools have computer science courses. Only 43% have physics classes. When you recall that STEM jobs require lesser (or no) degrees for more money than their non-STEM counterparts, it seems like common sense that we should especially encouraging these students to get engaged in STEM.

Scientific literacy skills extend beyond science.

Many STEM skills are actually just good “life skills”. Things like critical thinking, problem solving, evaluating evidence, and good citizenship are all useful outside of a classroom or laboratory. And despite what I muttered under my breath in high school algebra, I actually do find myself using equations and solving for x in every day life.

STEM-focused learning encourages a deeper understanding of subjects. Let’s use a culinary example. If you watch a cooking show, you might pick up some useful tidbits, but you probably couldn’t recreate the recipe from memory. If you were hands-on in the kitchen with the chef, you would probably have a much stronger chance or recreating the recipe again, but also of understanding the cooking methods.

Hands-on STEM is just like that. It unlocks new skill sets, instead of just memorized information. Those skills are now theirs to use and apply to any subject or situation they want.

Kids want to learn.

More importantly than any of this, kids want to learn – and they want to learn about science! 81% of teenagers think science is interesting, but only 37% like their science coursework. Personally, I think there’s probably a pretty strong correlation between the lack of hands-on learning opportunities and enjoyment of the coursework. Kids crave new information, but they want it delivered in a meaningful way.

Even with the uphill struggle in the classroom, 50% of male and 43% of female high school seniors report that math is their favorite subject. 48% of male and 34% of female high school seniors report that science is their favorite subject. While those numbers aren’t as staggering as I’d like, that’s still a lot of kids with a passion for STEM education!

Science-Minded Parenting

Are you convinced about the importance of scientific literacy? I hope so. Here are my suggestions for bringing STEM to life at home.

Read. Read. Read. (And Watch. Watch. Watch.)

There are limitless benefits of reading and literacy in general. We’ve all heard the cliche about reading opening doors to new worlds, but more importantly, reading opens doors to understanding our own world. Science opens doors to understanding our own world.

Encourage your kids to read to themselves. Read to your kids. Not because you have to, but because it’s exciting. Instill the wonder and amazement of reading in them from a young age. Don’t wait until it’s a big cloud of required reading and test stress and vocabulary words. Teach them to love not only the experience of reading a book, but to also love the power that reading can unlock. What other skill can unlock unlimited knowledge?

Read nonfiction. Read about space, dinosaurs, animals, history, human beings, volcanoes, weather, read it all. Read about famous scientists, explorers, astronauts, archaeologists, chemists, doctors. But also read fiction and not just science fiction. Engage their imaginations in worlds outside of their own. Books foster creativity and creativity gives way to exploration and experimentation and then it all comes back to… science.

Turn on shows and movies that engage their brains in those same concepts too. Watch them together and talk about them. Ask them questions and answer their questions. Expose them to documentaries and famous scientists on television.

Create an environment of science.

21032590_10155863005514610_89048780117438341_nScience is literally everywhere. Point it out. Make it a habit to look for the science in the daily minutiae. When it starts to rain, explain the water cycle. When they’re picking up rocks, talk about geology. When they’re playing with dinosaurs, tell them their names and explain that the plastic could actually be made of dinosaurs. When they’re dancing, explain the kinetic energy that’s propelling them.

Gift them a microscope, telescope, binoculars, chemistry set, or even building blocks for the next holiday or birthday.  Hang a model solar system in their room, or even a map of the world or the stars. Even passive exposure like robot bedsheets or animal play sets can unlock their curiosity.

Consider building a scientist’s kit, full of common household materials, so they’re ready to experiment at a moment’s notice. Or buy pre-made science kits, like robot sets, circuits, or even candy making. Include them in your gardening and yard work, car or house maintenance, and computer work.

Use real words with them. Expand their vocabularies. Help them with their homework, science and otherwise. Less than 50% of parents sit down to help their kids with homework 3 or more times per week. Use this time to connect with them and figure out what they’re learning, so you can reinforce it at home.

Talk to them about the big stuff too. Don’t assume that a concept is too heavy or too abstract for them to grasp. My children’s comprehension levels take my breath away on a daily basis. Make sure yours are too.

Encourage questions (and research).

All the toddler moms are currently saying to themselves, “I’ve got this covered”. But seriously, questioning is the core of science. Every great scientific discovery and innovation started with a question. And not even necessarily a “good” question. A lot of science is built on what seemed to be preposterous ideas.

Model questions for them. Ask them leading questions, open ended questions, silly questions, easy questions. Just ask and let them construct responses with their own brain power. Ask them to describe or compare objects. Ask them to summarize something. Ask them anything.

And let them ask questions too. Model the Scientific Method for them. Teach them how to find answers to their questions, outside of a Google search. If they’re curious why something works a certain way, don’t just tell them. Help them construct a hypothesis and look for data to confirm or disprove it. Pull out videos or books or set up an experiment to turn their question’s answer into meaningful knowledge and learning.

Expand the horizon.

17155212_10155264798154610_2548876235770520097_nThere’s this gigantic world, expansive universe, and limitless knowledge out there. Engage them in that. Show them that they’re citizens not only of their house or town or country, but citizens of the world, of the universe.

Take them to museums and science centers. Go to the zoo or aquarium. Make road trip stops at educational destinations. Sign them up for activities that will foster curiosity. Expose them to as much as you can. My family lives in Louisiana, a state that’s at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education, opportunity, and pretty much everything else. Even still, we’ve found two children’s museums, two science centers, state parks, nature centers, NASA, LIGO, planetariums, a marine biology center, zoo, aquarium, insectarium, science camps and clubs, and more, all within a couple of hours of home. Don’t be fooled into thinking your city or state doesn’t have science to offer. Go look!

More than that, let them experience all kinds of new things. Again, science is everywhere, whether you’re looking for it or not. Art, history, cooking, sports, roller coasters, race cars. Expose them to the world and the science hiding in every corner.

Let them experiment.

Experiments don’t have to happen in a lab. They can happen in the kitchen, backyard, or at the dining room table. Take a step back and let them explore things. Build a tower, mix a solution, take something apart, or even bake cookies. Like Dr. Tyson said in the video above, any life experience can be an experiment and opportunity to learn.

Play in the backyard. Go explore your neighborhood pond or community green space. Look up at the stars. Dig through your pantry. They all hold unlimited potential for scientific inquiry. And most importantly, let them use their imaginations. Imagining is experimenting.

How do you encourage scientific literacy in your home? Leave a comment below!

 

A is for Astronomy | Children’s Books and Other Media About Space

Here is a complete list of books, movies, TV shows, and other media to accompany the A is for Astronomy thematic unit for the Science ABCs!

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!

Books

These books are all Science Mom tested and Science Kid approved! They aren’t just random recommendations, but all live on our bookshelves at home.

Picture Books About Space

Picture Books About Astronauts

Fiction Picture Books About Space

Online Videos

About Astronomy in General

Songs About the Planets

About Astronauts


Movies and TV Shows

Movies With a Space Theme

  

Educational Movies About Space

    

TV Shows With a Space Theme

  

Space Themed Shows Streaming on Netflix

Fishtronaut, Sid the Science Kid, Space Racers

Educational Shows About Space

   

Educational Shows Streaming on Netflix

Bill Nye the Science Guy, Cosmos, The Magic School Bus

 

Online Kids’ Games About Space

NASA Space Place

NASA Kids Club

NatGeo Kids – Space Janitor

Discovery Kids Space Games

Magic School Bus Space Games

 

Have a resource you’d like to see included? Leave a comment or contact us!

A is for Astronomy | Projects for Little Hands

For this unit, I decided to do three special astronomy based projects: moon sand, a cardboard space shuttle, and constellations.

Moon Sand {A Super Easy Recipe}

Making Moon Sand

rubymoonsand

Mix 4 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of baby (or vegetable) oil.

Voila! You’re done.

Really. It’s that easy. This is such a simple task that little hands can definitely help at every step of the way!

If you’re feeling fancy, try adding food coloring, glitter, small pebbles, extracts for scent… the possibilities are limitless! Adding a little black food coloring and glitter would give it a moon-like feeling.

Learning with Moon Sand

21078371_10155865611074610_2873125006600968542_nWe used our alphabet cutters to make the letter A (and others), molded the letter A out of sand, and traced A into the sand using fingers and other kitchen tools. We also used food coloring pens (Betty Crocker Easy Writers) to write on the sand!

Then, I let Ruby’s imagination run wild. She built all kinds of things and explored what she could and couldn’t do with the moon sand’s limitations.

Leave a comment and tell us what you did with it!

Storage

Unlike kinetic sand, this moon sand WILL dry out, so make sure to store it in an airtight container if you want to reuse it.

I keep a small stash of inexpensive plastic containers just for projects, so my nice stuff doesn’t disappear from my kitchen. You can find containers at the Dollar Tree or even wash out plastic food containers. I don’t recommend the latter for actual food storage (as they’re not meant to truly be reused), but for this kind of stuff, it’s great!

Cardboard Space Shuttle {A Creative Project}

Building the Space Shuttle

What You’ll Need:

  • A large cardboard box
  • Durable scissors
  • Paint and paintbrushes
  • Markers
  • Any other crafting supplies or household objects that you may desire (tin foil and random cap lids would be good ones!)

21231714_10155892348504610_5317496593823877564_nI tend to keep a stockpile of big Amazon boxes for projects just like this. We had the perfect large box, with room for both girls and low enough sides to allow them to get in and out unassisted.

We started by tucking in the shorter box flaps and cutting the longer box flaps to resemble wings. Then, Ruby painted the entire exterior white. We added a few details with paint and markers to make it more space shuttle like too.

If you want to take it one step further, you can also use another piece of cardboard (or the inside of the box) to make a “control panel”, with buttons, screens, and levers using markers, paint, and random household objects.

Learning About Space Shuttles

This is where it’s best to let a preschooler be a preschooler. Just let their imaginations lead the way as you blast off into space!

We also enjoyed watching some of NASA’s launch videos on YouTube!

Pipe Cleaner Constellations {Motor Skills Craft}

Making the Constellations

26733565_10156295039209610_3703965642611106383_nWhat You’ll Need:

  • Black pipe cleaners
  • Yellow pony beads
  • Pictures of the constellations
  • Dark construction paper (optional, for your background)

We started by discussing constellations. We have some awesome space books and have spent a lot of time at the Infinity Science Center, so the concept was familiar to Ruby. Still, it was fun to specifically talk about them and see her excitement about spotting them with her telescope later. We watched the video embedded below too. The characters are really adorable and gave a good primer!

Then, it was time to build our constellations. I pulled up a constellation map from Google Images and let her pick her favorite. She chose Gemini.

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The yellow pony beads represent the stars, while the pipe cleaners are the imaginary lines that astronomers use to connect constellations together. This is where the black paper background can come in handy, so the black pipe cleaners “disappear” into the blackness of “space”.

Ruby needed a little bit of help twisting the pony beads into place, but this was mostly a hands-off project for me! I really enjoyed watching her replicate the Gemini constellation and making some constellations of her own invention too!

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

17155212_10155264798154610_2548876235770520097_n

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

21032590_10155863005514610_89048780117438341_n

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!