t h e m a y f i l e s is foremost a family blog, chronicling everyday life. Life including natural, healthy eating (with recipes thrown in at random), home educating (with ideas popping up sporadically), an attempt to homestead on .2 acres (with very meager yields), raising 3 of 4 children with a rare genetic disorder, and lots of highly personal family triumphs and failures. You may also find an eclectic array of musings on politics, exercise, sewing, emergency preparedness, backyard chickens, and religion. This blog isn't a campaign to glorify anyone or anything. Just simply a record.


Science Fair

Successful Science Fair Projects for Elementary and Middle School Students 

Whether your children are in public schools or home educated, no child can or should escape Science Fair.  Science Fair can spark passion and excitement for Science and research in young children.  However, the parents must approach the project properly, directing their child to a successful, rewarding, educational experience.

As a former Biology teacher and Science Fair organizer I found, most crucial to a positive experience is choosing the right project.  Most critical to the learning experience is the critical analysis.  In a critical analysis you can help your child see the weaknesses in his/her project, unexpected results, experimental design mistakes, and ideas to make the project better in the future.   It is the Scientific Method at its best.

What made me think about all this Science Fair stuff?

Ellery participated in a Mad Scientist Week,  put on as a homeschool workshop.  The workshop included a teacher and about 12 children ages 8-13.  She had a wonderful time.  Activities included bottle rockets, a frog dissection, lots of fun chemistry solutions, and catapults.  Resulting from some communication issues, I found out Thursday afternoon there was a Science Fair on Saturday.  Whoa.

To understand my emotions, you have to realize Science Fair was my "baby" when I taught school.  I put my heart and soul into it for at least 4 months of every school year.  I demanded excellence.  Project ideas were turned in months before the deadline.  Weeks later research, weeks later hard data, weeks later I would teach them to make computerized spreadsheets and graphs... the progression continued until a final project emerged.

Ellery with her Science Fair Project

I always prefer typed posters, but at this age it really hinders children's participation.  As soon as they are comfortable typing, everything should be typed.  Until then, I will cringe at the handwritten posters!

 Putting together a Science Fair project in two days?  Certainly I realized this would be a major
scale-down.  But Ellery was passionate about doing a project, even though it was optional.  Of course, I would support her.

Choosing an Appropriate Elementary/Middle School Age Science Fair Project

As teacher, I soon realized the most difficult part of Science Fair for students was choosing a project. I pled with them to choose something they were interested in and passionate about, relating to a hobby, talent, or collection.  At an elementary and middle school level, I think very social projects are of high interest to children.  Anything that requires them to survey or test their friends, neighbors and family is usually a hit.  It is a great way to make Science fun.

(Note:  As students get older and become more competitive, the project's demand more variable control and standardization.  Using human subjects becomes much more difficult, it also requires a lot of red tape, but can be done.)

I recommend avoiding model projects like the "volcano."  Students will not experience the scientific method in nearly the same amount of depth.  Rarely is the model a true model.  Usually they just "appear" to be a model.  Be creative.  Think about what your child and family love and go with it.

Keys to a successful Elementary School Age Science Fair Project: 

 Interest, Involvement, Analysis

For Ellery's project she choose to investigate the relationship between arm circumference and the number of pushups an individual could complete.  It was right up her gymnastics alley, and she dove in with fervor.  She ended up testing 25 people.  She taught correct form and asked several informational questions.  She then made graphs and I helped her analyzed her data and experimental design.  After examining the data it was clear to her she had not controlled enough variables to have any valid results.  Her Dad (100 pushups: the most by 66) and her little sister (30 pushups: the third highest and she had the smallest arm.  Gymnastics seems to be doing something.) were amazing outliers! A wonderful lesson.

Callista is so competitive.  She was horrified when our 11 year old neighbor tied her record.
His pushups weren't nearly as legitimate.  She begged for a second chance, but Ellery was a stickler.
No second chances.  I think Callista had at least 10 more in her.
The most important things I looked for as a teacher in a Science Fair Project were:

1.  Does the student understand the weaknesses in their design and data?
2.  Can the student recognize errors and account for outliers (data that are completely out of the normal range)?
3.  Does the student know how to create a better project next time?

Helping your child to really understand and answer these questions, should kickstart the learning experience, and you probably will come up with a great piggyback idea for your next project.  Now you've done the hardest part and can really delve into the research and create a superior project in the future.

To sum things up:

  • Choose a project centered around a passion.
  • Consider projects involving lots of participation from family and friends.
  • Spend time on a great critical analysis, use it as a springboard for further exploration and learning.

Any questions?  I'd be happy to help. I'm not an expert, but I do love it.  In fact I had a hard time not ordering a skin caliper on Amazon for Ellery's next project, which will have to include BMI and body fat!


A Place for Bribery

I admit.  Bribery has a place in my methodology.  Nothing spells incentive and excitement like a little bottle of glittery, glow-in-the-dark nail polish!

I'm amazed how fun the children think it is to earn a new pair of socks.  The socks are a necessary expenditure in the first place, why not make them serve a sneaky purpose?  This is my most genius stroke in a while.  My children probably get too much in the first place, so I better make them work a bit harder for everything they do receive.   Actually my inspiration for this concept was the book The Five Love Languages of Children.  My SIL gave me the book a couple years ago.  It was worthwhile read.  I loved the idea of making things like a new toothbrush special to children, who thrive on gifts.  I never would have thought of wrapping a toothbrush.

Usually I attach prizes to very measurable tasks.  Currently Callista is working on completing math fact sheets of 25 problems in one minute.  For the nail polish she has to master her "doubles plus one's."  Ellery is working for 100 problems in under 2 minutes, with an end goal of beating me in 63 seconds.

I usually tie their tasks to one another (both have to pass off a goal to earn a single nail polish), to promote team unity, rather than compare and compete.  But some rewards remain individual, especially if I feel like one of the children has worked especially hard.

What you won't find me rewarding or bribing with is food.  Probably this strategy will lose novelty if used too often, like most things, but it is fun to incorporate with spelling, math and gymnastics.


A Learning Treasure

Meet the Dictionary Stand.

Our newest family member.  

Several years ago Brent's Grandma gave us this amazing 1910 Edition of Webster's Dictionary.  It is a dream come true for my book loving heart.   Instilling a love of language and books in my family tops my parenting and educational priorities.

Staged.  But cute nonetheless!
Notice the screwdriver in Emmett's hand.  Huh?

When Brent first brought this treasure home from his Grandma's, I instinctively knew I wanted it on a dictionary stand.  They say an open dictionary, on a stand, can be one of the most effective and influential learning centers in the home.  Somehow there is no comparison if the book is closed on a shelf.

Alas, bookstands are expensive so I delayed.  Thanks to several amazon gift cards, this black beauty arrived today.  At long last the dictionary is open for use.  My children aren't tall enough but a little stool quickly remedies the situation.


Visions of Emmett Idaho (sort of)

Each morning drive to the gym brings Emmett and I past this lovely chemical plant.  (Gyms always seem to located in the industrial section of town.)  This storage tower immediately elicits from Emmett the following:  "Mom it is Emmett, Idaho!"  Which inevitably draws a chuckle from me.

On our road trip to Oregon, we passed through a town called Emmett, Idaho.  It was monumental for Emmett.  Apparently the distinguishing features in his mind were the abundant grain towers.  Chemical tower.  Grain tower.  It's all the same, right?  Hmmm.


Love at First Sight

Notice the inevitable "road-rash" on the face, resulting from the first days of walking.

Sometimes we have unintentional toy rotations in our house.  I put away great toys, which the kids don't seem to be playing with, until another time.  (I try to give away the majority of unused toys as often as I can, when the kids aren't looking, but the timeless toys I keep.)  Dolls have lost priority in the battle against Barbie, so all our darling little dolls went dormant.  I spent the weekend organizing closets (it feels so wonderful when it is done).  Berkeley was wandering around the girls room and happened to toddle into the storage closet.

Berkeley meets dolly.               oh how I wish I had caught those delighted giggles on camera...

Berkeley and dolly become inseparable.

Dolly gets all the kisses and snuggles.

No one teaches little girls these things.  It is simultaneously amazing and adorable.


Something to be Grateful For...

...this is Berkeley's prominent double chin in our self-portrait, not mine.

They keep telling me she is only the 5th percentile...not real sure about that one!


Stealing Moments

I steal moments with my babies whenever I can.  One opportunity is Friday afternoons while the girls are away at art class.  No one was taking a nap, so we braved the 40 degrees and drizzle and crossed the street to the park.
Our other favorite private time is while the girls are at gym.  This one is a little trickier, because I have to simultaneously make dinner for a portion of it.  Emmett begs all day to play "Father and Sons."  The "fathers" are his four wheelers and the "sons" the hot wheels.  He is always the "Father" and I am the "sons."  We begin by going over "the plant" (aka "the plan" which is a daily routine with the children and me).  Then the day proceeds with the Father and Sons.  Not sure why no Mother's are involved, but that is just how it is.  

Emmett and I also have our grammar parties.  Proper pronoun placement is elusive for rocket boy.  A typical sentence includes his most cherished pronoun "them" multiple times.  "Them are getting them shoes on."  

Two weeks ago we decided to put tubes in Berkeley's ears.  What a miracle it has been for this little girl.  Her speech exploded and she's walking.  I have mixed emotions.  I was taking such pride in her primate gait, and then in 3 days she completely abandoned it and started walking exclusively.  In fact, her balance is uncanny, compared to before tubes.  My baby is now an official toddler.

A final note on babies growing up.  The day after my sweet little RocketBoy post, with Emmy's nukie in his mouth, we somehow lost his pacifier.  I didn't lose it on purpose, but we went with it.  Emmett is now nukie-free.  He claims it is because he is a big boy.

A very real part of this mother wants to find that nukie and keep The Honey crawling around on the ground.


The Acorn

The Acorn by Francis William Bourdillon
An acorn swung
On an oak-tree bough;
So long it had hung,
It would fain fall now
To the kindly earth,
That its germ within
Might burst into birth,
And its life begin.
And the autumn came
With its burning hand,
And each leaf grew a flame,
And each bough a brand.
And a worm came up
And began to eat
Through the hard, dry cup
To the acorn sweet.
And the acorn thought,
“I shall soon see now
The life I have sought,
When I fall from the bough;
For the worm gnaws through
Each tendon slight,
That about me grew,
And bound me tight.”
And with dying day
Came the zephyr’s sound;
And the acorn lay
Next morn on the ground;
But its germ was gone
By the worm’s sharp teeth;
And the ground it had won
Was its grave in death. 

I love this poem, perfect to memorize this time of year.  

What I love:  the alliteration, the exquisite imagery, the meaningful symbolism, and the engaging content for even the little ones.  


Special Delivery

No snafu's this year.  Registered on time.  I'm going for it!


Josephina's Authentic Mexican Salsa

The trick to this salsa is blackening on a cast iron skillet.  Make sure not to stir too much.
You want dark black patches on the veggies.  

The first almost 4 years of our marriage we lived in a charming, basement apartment (albeit creeping with cockroaches, the entire neighborhood was) of the most wonderful family from Mexico.  We learned a lot living with them, and one of the biggest take-aways was Josephina taught me how to make her delicious salsa.

Brent and I would beg her to make us salsa, as much as was possibly tactful.  Finally, I asked for the recipe.  I made several batches.  No comparison.  They all fell flat.

I decided I needed a live tutoring session.  After several careful observations, my salsa improved dramatically.  I discovered Josephina and I were from the same mold.  We don't like recipes and rarely stick to one.

I watched her like a hawk, and this salsa is the best semblance.  I may have posted this before, but it is worth reposting.

Josephina's Authentic Mexican Salsa

1 can tomatoes or 5-10 fresh roma's
1  onion, yellow or red
¼-1/2  c cilantro
1 t cumen
1 t coriander (opt)
1 t salt
Juice of 1 lime
½-1 jalenpeno
Turn heat onto high and blacken tomatoes, onion and jalepeno on a cast iron skillet.  Combine the rest of ingredients into blender or food processor.  Process.  Add tomatoes and onions and process gently until desired consistency is reached.  


Almond Milk Smoothies

Brent and I recently watched the documentary "Forks Over Knives."  It is based primarily on The China Study. The premise is: what you eat keeps you from having to "go under the knife."  We both felt inspired to recommit to a more vegan lifestyle, back to 95% instead of probably 85%.  Dairy is our only hang up, and has been creeping its way into the children's diets especially.

My neighbor brought me a great vegan chocolate smoothie a while back, it was a hit.  We've altered and expanded with excellent results.  The best thing about these is how easy they are.  Enjoy these dairy and gluten free smoothies recipes:

You can make your own almond or coconut milk, or find a high quality organic brand without a bunch of additives. Costco sells almond milk by the case.

A week ago, I received a coupon in the mail for a Jamba Juice Pumpkin Smoothie.  
It looked delicious and I knew I had to create version for our family.   
Next up pumpkin ice cream!  Tis the season. 

Pumpkin Smash

Almond Milk
1/4-1/2 c Grade B Organic Maple Syrup
3/4 cup of pumpkin puree (unsweetened, not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 t vanilla
1 t pumpkin pie spice (or just mix cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little cloves)

Fill blender half full of ice. Cover with almond milk. 
Add maple, pumpkin, vanilla and spice. Blend and serve.  Makes about 5 servings.

Chocolate Malt

Almond Milk
1/4 - 1/2 cup Cocoa powder
1/4 - 1/2 cup Natural sweetener (Grade B OrganicMaple Syrup, agave or are good choices)
1-2 Bananas (fresh or reconstituted freeze dried)
A tablespoon or two of barley malt syrup to give it a "malty" flavor (optional)

Fill blender half full of ice. Cover with almond milk. 
Add banana, cocoa, natural sweetener and malt if desired. Blend and serve.
Use your leftovers to make delicious popsicle treats for later.

Favorite Fruit

Frozen fruit. Pick your favorite! (strawberries, peaches, blueberries, bananas)
6 ice cubes
1/4 - 1/2 cup natural sweetener
Almond Milk

Fill blender with frozen berries. Cover with almond milk. Add sweetener and ice. Blend.