# Around the House

How to Build a Solar Oven

How to Build A Solar Oven - TheEngineersKids

Inspired by an upcoming trip to Lake Mead last year, during which the forecast predicted temperatures around 115 degrees, the kids and I (well mostly me, but they immediately loved the idea) decided to build a solar oven. There are a number of instructions and tutorials online, so we pulled some ideas from each of those.

We started by finding two cardboard boxes that fit inside one another, with a few inches of gap in between. Then the kids glued black construction paper into the inside of the smaller box.

Solar Oven -  TheEngineersKids

Solar Oven  - TheEngineersKids

Next, we folded the flaps of the smaller box out and inserted the smaller box into the larger one, so the small box flaps were within the gap between the boxes.

The kids raided our paper shredder (but you could use crumpled up paper as well) and stuffed the gap with the paper shreds for insulation. We had part of a sheet of acrylic on hand from a previous project (my husband refurbished the Dance Dance Revolution pad that he had built from scratch in college), so I cut a piece of that for a lid.

Your lid should cover the boxes, but not block the flaps from the larger box from standing up, you need those to stand in a few minutes here.

Cutting acrylic is actually a little tricky. The best thing to do is score it with a box cutter (an exacto knife might work too, but be careful not to break the blade), and then bend it along the score line. It should break along the line easily, although it might not be an exactly clean break. Acryllic seems to be tempermental like that. (Oh, and you should wear safety goggle just in case.) Put a bit of duct tape along the edges of the lid, so they are not sharp.

Next, you line the inside of the large box flaps with aluminum foil. Finally, have fun painting the outside.

Painting  Solar Oven - TheEngineersKids Paint a Solar Oven - TheEngineersKids Colorful Solar Oven - TheEngineersKids

When we tried out the solar oven at the lake, I used some duct tape to fan out the flaps of the large box and hold them in that position. Then, I added some more aluminum foil to the gaps between the flaps, so that we could capture more of those rays of sunlight into our oven and raise its temperature.

We had great success at cooking hot dogs. The internal temperature reached over 165 degrees in about 10 or 15 minutes. The kids really wanted to try Easy Mac. Sadly, that attempt ended up with cups of cheesy mush.

Don't Cook Easy Mac in a Solar Oven - TheEngineersKids

Ummm, gross. If I was to do it again, I’d try heating just the water as hot as I could get it, and then add it to the noodles and cheese.

The scientist in me wishes I had tried the oven out when it was a more normal temperature outside. However, my husband threw it out a few months ago while cleaning the garage.

I’ve seen a couple DIY water desalinators floating around pinterest. Now I’m itching to try making one of those. Being so close to the ocean, I actually think it would be nice to know how to make safe drinking water, in case of an emergency.

Has anyone tried those out? Do you have any links to a good DIY desalinator tutorial?

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# Adventures

Orange County Fair Imaginology – Full S.T.E.A.M Ahead

OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Shhhh, a few weeks ago, I pulled Finn out of school a bit early on day to attend the Orange County Fair Imaginology. They made a fuss about it in the school office too. School administrators, sheesh.

Imaginology takes place at the Orange County fairgrounds, and involves activities and booths set up by schools, organizations and companies to teach kids about STEAM topics. The kids had so much fun, were asking some really intelligent questions, and were learning a lot.

I wanted to share some of the fun toys we got to play with, and some other fun things they had there.

LEGO robots at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got to play with some robots built with LEGO robotics parts. The robot shown above was a golfing robot and we got to control it to hit the ball into a hole.

LEGO robots, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Another robot could pick up a cup and set it down in another location.

Snap Circuits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids Build your own circuit with Snap Circuits at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finn spent some time building with Snap Circuits, which he has at home, but there more parts there. Snap Circuits are electrical components that snap onto a board and to each other to create fun little circuits. It comes with an instruction book with a whole bunch of projects. My favorite is one where you run a little motor in reverse. The motor powers a fan, so when it is in reverse the wind generated by the fan is blowing downward. If you give the fan a little touch upward it flies up into the air a few feet.

EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Meanwhile, Jules, Malena and Leto could not be pried away from this awesome kid microscope. It was called an EyeClops. You put the hand-held piece up to your specimen, and it will magnify it 200 times and display the image on any TV, using A/V jacks (RCA cable). I was searching online to see if they had one with a USB or something for a computer screen, but sadly I couldn’t find one. They do have some other fun stuff, though. Night vision goggles, anyone?

Image displayed on your TV from EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto was entranced by magnifying a cockroach. Jules and Malena liked seeing all the details of a piece of wood.

Little Bits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got see some displays of LittleBits, which after reading this review, I really want to try. They seem one step more advanced than snap circuits.

Imagination Playground blocks, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto got some little boy wiggles out with some Imagination Playground blocks. (Okay, the bigger kids really like these too.) An apartment we once lived in had these in a common play room. They were fabulous to play with during the winter when we couldn’t go outside.

There were some local entrepreneurs and their fun products too.

Fine motor skills development for kids on the autism spectrum, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
One guy built this toy (called Z Occupational Therapy ToolZ or ZOTTZ) for his autistic son to encourage him in his fine motor skills. When you use the scissors, mini clamp, button, or key a song would play (different one for each object). My kids played for a half an hour, and really I had to pry them away from it to go see more stuff.

Another guy sold kits that he put together himself from electronic components. On display was a robot car that would drive 20-or-so feet, make a U-turn and come back.

Keep them learning at mealtime with a Math Tablecloth, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

One local teacher created a tablecloth full of math problems. You could write on it with washable marker and it would wipe right off with water. My kids wanted to stay and solve all the math problems on the whole thing. I dragged them away, and later regretted not buying one.

Digging for fossils, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
Finally, we found a few other fun things to play with.

We dug fossil shark teeth out of a rock similar to GeoCentral fossil or Dr. Cool ocean fossil. The group that bought them actually made the little fossil-containing rocks themselves. I think they must have bought a bag of shark teeth (did you know you can buy a bag of shark teeth?) and plaster of paris, and used plastic cups as molds…or maybe cupcake pans. It’d probably pop out of the silicone ones link, right?

clay teapot - TheEngineersKids
We played with clay and made some cute figurines.

clay seal - TheEngineersKids

It was me that really made Malena’s seal. She sometimes prefers to manage the projects rather than do them herself, so she gave me step-by-step instructions. I used to get annoyed when she refused to do the work herself, but then I realized that she has the vision and is using the resourses available (not always me, she gets the other kids to work for her) to accomplish that vision. Although, I do think she does it because she is also a little scared to mess up.

clay elephant - TheEngineersKids

Jules made this elephant all by herself, and frankly I think it is a lot better than my seal. It has more personality.

Carrot music, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finally, there was this really fun circuit and display that you could play music on a computer by touching carrots. Each carrot completed a different circuit, so a different note would play. The electricity (of which there was obviously a very small amount) would travel through your body. You could even hold hands with a few kids and still complete the circuits. I don’t have any links for you on this one, so you’re on your own to google electronic carrot music and buy the parts yourself. Update: I tried this and learned all about people who make musical instruments out of carrots and other vegetables. People come up with the craziest ideas, I tell you.

Whew, that was a long post. Kudos to you if you made it through. It was a really fun day though, and so worth missing a few hours of school. We didn’t even get to see everything. Next year, anyone local to Orange County should check out the awesome OC Fair Imaginology. We will be there for sure!

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Letting Kids Make Financial Mistakes - TheEngineersKids
# Family Life

Letting Kids Make Financial Mistakes

Last week, I posted about our trip to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, during the trip we purchased three stuffed seals named Shiny, Arrt-Arrt, and Sealy from the gift shop. Up until this trip the kids had been amassing a large stash of birthday and Christmas money. I don’t really like shopping with the kids, so they have to really beg for me to take them to spend their money. Previous to said trip to see the seals, I made them list a few things they were thinking of buying, which did not include stuffed seals.

They all insisted on buying a stuffed seal, even after I reminded them of the cowgirls dress-up clothes and rollerblades they had on their shopping lists at home. And I try really hard not to dictate what they purchase with their money, so I said, “Hey, it’s your money,” and off we went with three over-priced seals. I should have known not to go to a gift shop…lesson learned.

A good conversation and lesson arose from the experience though. The kids seemed to be convinced that you should be able to return an item to a store at any time for a full refund. Otherwise, the store was stealing your money, because you no longer wanted the item, so you shouldn’t be obligated to pay for it. Sometimes it surprises me how they think the world works.

After a thousand “why” questions about how stores do in fact have to make a profit, buyers are giving up rights to return an item when they use it, and that stores will accept some returns if they can sell that item to a new customer, they began to understand shopping a bit more. I don’t think I persuaded them to believe in the philosophy of return policies, but I did convince them that no store was going to take back their dirty old toys five years down the road.

At least one child is already regretting her hasty seal purchase. I told her we would review her finances and come up with a plan for her to earn the money she needs to get her cowgirl dress-up clothes.

I love a lesson learned young. Better to regret buying a stuffed seal, than a fancy sports car or too-big house. For many years now, my husband has benefitted financially from a My Pal 2 he regretted buying in the 80s.

What financial lessons are you glad your kids learned while young? What did you buy as a kid that taught you a lesson?

Letter C Basket for Tot School - TheEngineersKids
# Preschool

Tot School Letter Basket – Letter C

Leto and I really enjoying our mornings free without the other three older kids around, but lately he’s been asking to watch movies way too much. As soon as his siblings walk out the door, it’s, “can I watch a show?”

I think he’s ready for some more learning, so I’m trying out a new system to introduce Leto to letters and letter sounds. The idea of doing a tot school letter basket came from the blog 1+1+1=1.

I just wanted something to guide Leto and I in learning about letters and to make it fun. I chose a canvas bin that I had lying around, and one evening I went through the toys looking for things that started with C. The next few mornings we sat at the kitchen table and played with things in our bin and talked about the sound C makes. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

We had cupcakes from our princess cupcake game, that we used for a tea party.

We used our Melissa & Doug See & Spell pieces to identify the letter C in a pile of letters and learn about a few words that begin with C.

Another day we had another tea party with our fabric, velcro cupcakes (from ikea) we borrowed from Jules (shhh, don’t tell her, she doesn’t like people touching her stuff).

We did counting with My First Numbers: Let’s Get Counting! (mentioned in this post).

Now, when he asks for a movie, I just pull out the letter bin and we start playing! He is just becoming aware of letters around him, and has been finding M’s everywhere. Hopefully, the letter C bin will add C’s to his repertoire.

# Preschool

My Favorite Books for Babies and Toddlers

My First Words, Let's Get Talking - TheEngineersKids

When my oldest was a baby, I was given My First Words – Let’s Get Talking, and it has become my favorite book for babies and young toddlers. It is an especially good baby shower gift.

I start off just sitting with my baby and pointing to the different objects and naming them. When they get a little older, they get how the game works, and then they start pointing and waiting for me to tell them the name. When they are about 18 months, I start saying “point to the shoes” or “where is the ball?” and they do the pointing. When they are 2 or 3 and can talk, I can just ask, “what is this?” Finally, when they are young preschoolers, I can ask them about the colors and numbers on the later pages.

Beside just the My First Words book, we also have copies of My First Farm and My First Numbers, which I like as well. Although, My First Words has more variety of objects, so it keeps their attention longer. I gave the books to the youngest two the other day, and they had fun by themselves just playing.

Baby Books, My First Words, Let's Get Talking - TheEngineersKids

What about you? Do you have any really good baby shower book suggestions?


# Homework Hacks, Kinder-3rd

Snacky Math Facts

Pin Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotosdotnet

Starting in first grade and carrying on into second, kids are expected to memorize math facts. It’s flash cards, flash cards, flash cards, people. You have to get these numbers into their little brains somehow, because they would look a little silly in college counting on their fingers.

I’ll spare you the lecture on how important rote memorization of math facts is, and skip on over to my kids’ favorite way to practice. It’s a little game I made up one day called “Snacky Math Facts.” The rules are simple:

  1. If you answer a flash card right, you get to scoop some cheerios into your bowl.
  2. Get as many right as you can in one minute.

I set a timer on my phone for one minute, and flash the cards on at them. Once the timer is up, they pass the snack bowl onto the next sibling, and they eat up their snack while waiting for their next turn. I change up which snacks we do, depending on how healthy I want to be and how close it is to dinnertime.

Some fun foods we’ve done as snack:

  • One per correct answer – pretzels, grapes, apple slices, marshmallows
  • One scoop per correct answer – cheerios, craisins, trail mix

Everyone loves this game. My kindergarteners beg to play it. My preschooler joins in with color flash cards. How about you? What do you to make flash cards exciting? (Because, really I could use a few of your ideas too.)

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.