Friday, February 16, 2018

Make Your Own Mineral Identification Kit

    My 7 year old daughter has been studying geology the last few weeks. We've taken several hikes and nature walks to try to find and photograph neat geologic features. We've also collected a few samples of cool rocks and minerals to try to identify.  In this post I will explain how to put together your own mineral identification kit and how to use it to identify minerals you find on your adventures.

   First you will need to gather up the supplies you will need (most of it is stuff you can find around the house):
-A small notebook
-A pencil
-A coin
-An iron nail
-A piece of glass (an old pocket mirror or works well)
-A ceramic tile
-A small water tight bottle or container
-Some vinegar
-A magnet 
-A magnifying glass
-A dropper (optional) 
-Rock and mineral guide (optional) 
-A small container or bag to keep it all in

   Fill the small water tight bottle with vinegar, this will be used for the acid test. Then put all your supplies into your bag or container. Your mineral identifying kit is now ready to use. Now you just have to go out and find some minerals or rocks to identify.

Rock hunting

   Once you've collected some minerals and rocks, you can get started identifying them. There are four tests you can do with the supplies in your kit. The results of these tests plus some simple observations will help you identify the mineral or minerals present in your sample.

The Hardness Test

     For the hardness test you will need your sample(s), the ceramic tile, the mirror, the iron nail, the coin, and your fingernail. The idea behind this test is a material harder than another will scratch the softer material. Using materials with a known hardness can help you find out the hardness of yoir sample. 

Moh's Hardness Scale for mineral identification

   Start with your fingernail and see if you can scratch your sample. Your fingernail has a hardness of about 2.5-3. If you can scratch your sample with your fingernail, your sample is compsed of fairly soft minerals and has a hardness of less than 3. Record your results.

   If you cannot scratch your sample with your fingernail, move onto the iron nail. If you can scratch your sample with an iron nail but not your fingernail, it has a has a hardness of about 3-4. Record your results.

   If you cannot scratch your sample with an iron nail, move onto the glass. Since you can't scratch your sample with a mirror safely, see if your sample can scratch it. If your sample does not scratch the glass or mirror, it has a hardness of about 5. Record your results.

   If your sample can scratch the glass or mirror, move onto the ceramic tile. If your sample cannot scratch the ceramic tile it has a hardness of about 6-7. If it does scratch the tile, it has a hardness of 7 or higher. Record your results.

Identifying minerals: hardness test

The Streak Test

    To perform the streak test you need your sample (or samples) and the ceramic tile. This test is simple, you just run your sample over the ceramic tile to observe what color streak it leaves. Most minerals leave a white streak but some leave very distinct colors like yellow, green, or brown. Skip the streak test for minerals with a hardness higher than 7, as they will only scratch tile, not leave a true streak. Record your results in your notebook.

Identifying minerals: streak test

The Magnetic Test

   The magnetic test is easy. Just hold the magnet to your sample and observe whether or not there is any magnetic attraction. Record your results.

The Acid Test

   Some minerals, like calcite, react with acid. For this test, drop a few drops of vinegar onto your sample and carefully observe to see if there are any gas bubbles produced. Record your results.

Identifying minerals: acid test. Some minerals like calcite react with acid.

   Once you've finished performing your tests, your ready to move onto actually identifying your sample(s). Using your rock and mineral guide or an online data base like this one at Collector's Corner, you can now identify your sample using the results of the tests and some simple observations like color and whether or not your sample is metalic. If your sample is a rock instead of a pure mineral, it is composed of two or more minerals. You will need to start by identifying what minerals your rock is composed of and then look up common rocks composed of those minerals. Collector's Corner has a good rock databse here.

Enjoy your mineral and rock hunting!

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Monday, February 12, 2018

How Metamorphic Rock Is Formed: A Simple Hands On Demonstration


   My 7 year old has been studying different types of rocks recently and this week we've been learning about metamorphic rock. Metamorphic rocks start out as igneous rock (volcanic rock) or sedimentary rock (made from sediment) but are changed by exposure to extreme heat and pressure within the Earth. This process is called metamorphism and can change both the physical appearance and the chemical make up of the rock. In this post I'll share a simple but fun way to demonstrate how metamorphic rock is formed.

   For this demonstration you'll need a few colors of modeling clay, a sheet of waxed paper, and a few heavy books. Start by making small balls of clay in several colors. About 10-15 should be enough.

These are your "rocks". Arrange your clay rocks into a pile.

Next, cover your clay rock pile with the waxed paper, waxed side down. Then stack your heavy books on top. You can even apply extra pressure with your hand if necessary.  This is to simulate high pressure caused by tectonic activity.

Remove the books and peel the waxed paper.

The pressure has caused your clay rocks to change, just like real tectonic activity can change igneous and sedimentary rocks into new rocks. They no longer look the same on the outside or the inside.

Use a butter knife to cut your new clay rock in half to see that it has also changed on the inside.

If you enjoyed this post check out my post about our geology hike!

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Six Fun Activities for Teaching Sight Word Recognition and Spelling


   Sight words are words that you recognize by sight instead of sounding them out phonetically. Most of us do the vast majority of our reading by sight. When your reading a book you aren't sounding out words as you go, your reading by sight. You recognize the words because you've seen them many times before. The Dolche List is a list of the 315 most commonly used words in the English language. About 80% of the words in children's literature and 50% of the words in adult literature are compromised of these 315 words. Once a child has mastered these words, reading becomes much easier. In this post I'll share some of my favorite fun hands on sight word games and activities.


Flash card games:

   We have several flash card games we like to play. Some of our favorites are Sight Word Go Fish and Sight Word memory. Making sight word flash cards is simple. I just write the sight words we're working on on 3 x 5 cards or even just rectangle pieces of construction paper. I don't spend a lot of time or money on our flash cards since we only use a set for a few weeks before it's time to move onto new words.  Make two cards with each word so you can have matches for games like Go Fish and Memory.

   To play Sight word memory, you just shuffle your deck and lay them upside down in a grid. Then you take turns flipping over two cards each turn. If you get a match, you get to keep them. If you don't get a match, the cards get flipped back upside down. Once all the cards are matched and gone from the grid, the game is over. The player with the most matches wins.

Fun sight word activities

   Sight Word Go Fish is played just like regular Go Fish, you just use your sight word flash cards instead of a regular card deck. 

   Another fun one is Sight Word Bang! To play this game, put your flash cards upside down in an empty coffee can or similar container and add 2 or 3 cards that say "Bang!" on them. Mix the cards up and take turns drawing cards. If you can correctly read the card, you get to keep it, if not, it goes back in the can.  If you draw a Bang! card, all your cards go back in the can. The game ends after a pre allotted amount of time. Whoever has the most cards wins.

Watercolor resist:

   One of my daughter's very favorite sight word activities is Watercolor Resist Words. For this activity you'll need a white piece of paper, a white crayon, some watercolors and a paint brush. Secretly write a few sight words, or even a whole sight word sentence, on the paper with the white crayon.  Then have your child paint the paper with the watercolors (dark colors work best). The words will "magically" appear as the watercolors are applied over them, like a secret message. Have your child read the words to you as she/he finds them.

Sight word crayon resist.


Alternative writing mediums:

   A fun way to practice writing sight words is with alternative writing mediums like finger paint or one of our favorites is writing in flour or sand in a pie pan. Kids can use their fingers or an unsharpened pencil.

Fun sight word activities: flour writing

  If you want to get really messy, you can even write in the dirt or mud outside!


Sight word hopscotch:

      Sight word hopscotch is great for energetic kids! To play, you just draw a hopscotch court somewhere outside with chalk but instead of numbers, you put a sight word in each box. Then you take turns tossing a stone onto the court and hopscotching. When you come to the square the stone landed on, you have to hop over it shouting the word.

Sight word relays:

   This game isn't very fun with a single kid but is lots of fun for two or more kids. You'll need a decent amount of space for this one. Outside on the lawn is best. Write sight words on scraps of paper ( or use your flash cards!) and place them in a coffee can or similar container on a chair. Have the kids form a single file line about 100 meters from the chair. The child in front runs to the chair, draws a word, reads it, returns it to the can, and then runs back and tags the next kid in line for their turn. Repeat until every child has had a turn or two.

Yelling for spelling:

   This is probably my daughter's all time favorite spelling and sight word activity and it's super simple (but loud). Hold up a sight word flash card. The child shouts the word and then spells it out. For example: if you hold up the card that says "and" the child would shout "and" "a" "n" " d"! Once the child has mastered a set of words, play again without the flash cards so he or she has to spell from memory.

   There are so many ways to make recognizing and spelling sight words fun. Get messy, get loud, and have fun with it!

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Painted Rock Hunting: A Community Treasure Hunt


   One of mine and my daughter's new favorite hobbies is hunting for painted rocks and painting and hiding our own for others to find. This new community treasure hunt started in Washington state a few years ago and has quickly spread and grown in popularity. My daughter found our first rock a few months ago in a planter box outside our church. It had an angel painted on one side and a hashtag that lead us to a facebook group dedicated to painting and hunting for rocks in our area. Basically people just paint rocks and hide them around the community. Some people post pictures and hints to help you find their rocks. When you find one, you post a picture, and then either keep it or rehide it.

Rock painting/hunting a fun family activity.

   We were excited to get started painting our own rocks so I did a quick Google search to see what other people were using that wouldn't wash off in the rain. Acrylic paint with a sealant like Modge Podge seemed to be the most common method. We gathered up some nice smooth stones and got to work.  We paint a lot of different things on our rocks: flowers, hearts, butterflies, uplifting words and phrases. I've made a couple Minions and some Harry Potter themed rocks. I find I really enjoy painting rocks, it's a bit therapeutic.

Rock painting, a fun family activity

   Now we keep a small basket of finished rocks on a shelf near the front door and anytime we're headed out somewhere that might be good for hiding some, we grab a few. Popular places include parks, playgrounds, walking trails, and shopping plazas. 

   Since our first rock, we have found quite a few more too. We found a ladybug rock outside Dollar General. And just last week, we found two at the head of a trail we were hiking on at the park. I love seeing all the different rocks and ways people decorate them. We have some fantastic local artists!

Rock painting/hunting

   I really love this fun community activity. It's like an Easter egg hunt year round! It gets my kids out and excited for walks and hikes in the park. It's also given us a really fun hobby when we're stuck at home. If you want to join in the fun too, just do a quick facebook search for groups with your areas name followed by "Rocks". Most likely there are already active groups in your area (we've found 3 different groups around here). If you can't find an already established group, consider starting your own!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Pasture-Raised vs Free Range eggs: What's the Difference?


   My family consumes a lot of eggs, about 3 dozen a week between the 4 of us. Clean eating is really important to us, so I care a lot about the quality of eggs we're getting. I'm planning to get a small backyard children coop built this spring so we can raise a few hens ourselves, but until then, we're stuck getting most of our eggs from the supermarket (I do buy eggs from our neighbor when he has extra). There are so many different terms on egg cartons though, it can be a bit tricky to figure out which eggs are best. I've spent some time researching and here's what I found out:


Caged hens

(which produce pretty much any eggs that don't state they're free range, pasture raised, cage free, certified humane, or organic) are kept in tiny cages, some as small as 67 square inches! Most never see the light of day. Most are fed a soy or corn (probably GMO) diet.


Cage-Free hens

are given slightly more space since they are not confined to cages but most still never see the light of day. They spend they're entire egg laying lives confined to a crowded barn being fed corn or soy.



is an especially misleading term when it comes to hens. Free Range hens are not required to have more than 2 square foot a piece and while they must have access to the outdoors, many never actually see it. Many are kept in crowded barns with only a single access point or two to a small caged in outdoor space. They are typically fed a corn or soy based diet. Free-range  unfortunately does not mean hens who are free to roam and forage outdoors like one might think.



are the eggs you want to look for. While, as far as I can find, there are no current regulations,  this is the term being used by sustainable farmers to refer to hens that are given ample time and space (at least 108 square foot per bird) outside to forge for bugs like chickens are supposed to (they are fed some feed too).  If you really want to be sure your getting quality eggs from healthy humanely raised hens, look for pasture-raised eggs with the "Certified Humane"  seal. The seal means the eggs come from farms that have been inspected to meet very specific standards including the freedom to roam freely during the daytime.

   According to a study out of Pennsylvania State University, pasture-raised hens produce eggs that contain several times the amount of both vitamin D and E than conventionally farmed eggs. And twice the amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy chickens produce healthy eggs.

   Another term I've seen on egg cartons lately that drives me crazy is "Vegetarian Fed". Guys, this isn't a good thing. Chickens are omnivores, they're supposed to eat insects, worms, and grass. So please don't be fooled by this sales ploy.

   All in all, healthier happier chickens who are free to roam and forage for insects and worms produce healthier eggs. Look for the term "Pasture-Raised" and the "Certified Humane" seal when shopping for eggs.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Our Geology Hike


   My seven year old has been studying geology the last few weeks. We've watched videos about caves and rocks, built our own volcano, checked out all sorts of geology books from the library, visited a gem and mineral display,  but my favorite activity we've done so far was our geology hike earlier this week.

   We happen to live in an area near an active volcano so the area is littered with various types of volcanic rock and lava caps and we have a wonderful park with miles of hiking trails through the area's natural landscape. So we picked a trail and off we went on our adventure to find cool geologic features (and enjoy this rare gorgeous sunny January day).

   Almost right away we found an example of a type of rock we had just read about the previous day called a conglomerate rock. Conglomerate rock contains pebbles or small shells cemented together by much smaller particles of rock.

   We also found this really neat little ridge where you could see two very distinct layers of lava flows.

      The trail we were on runs between a bluff and a river. During the rainy part of the year water runs down the bluff to the river so we came along several small creeks running down the hillside. We also found a lava cap with huge dips carved out by erosion from water running over it.

      In addition to all the neat rocks and geologic features we found, we also saw and identified several species of birds (my seven year old loves bird watching), saw an awesome hollow tree, and found a couple fun man made features. 

   My daughter was especially excited about the Dobby rock. She's a huge Harry Potter fan and the rocks were from a fun rock hunting group we're a part of. 

   Being able to so easily take the learning out of the home/ classroom and out into the real world is one of my favorite things about homeschooling. It was such a great way for my daughter to get to see some of the geological features she's been learning about up close . And I'm so glad we got to spend all morning soaking up some sunshine instead of being stuck inside.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Another Fun Science Experiment: Which Essential Oils Kill Germs Best?


   I love science, it's was always my favorite subject in school. I even  majored in biology in college.  Luckily my daughter seems to have inherited my love of science. She loves learning about insects, dinosaurs, space, geology, and this year she asked to learn about germs. And so  we've spent the last few months growing bacteria on agar in petri dishes and testing all sorts of products.  One of our experiments tested the effectiveness of various natural household cleaning products. If you haven't already, you can read about it here. Since our essential oil spray scored the worst on our previous experiment, we were curious if essential oils would work better full strength and which ones kill germs best, so we designed an experiment to find out.

Our Experiment

   First we decided which essential oils to test. We went with tea tree, cypress, eucalyptus, clove, lemongrass, and sweet orange and then I had my daughter write a hypothesis. She hypothesized that essential oils would kill germs well full strength and that sweet orange would work best (mostly because it's her favorite oil I think lol).

   The petri dishes we use come pre filled with agar so there's no preparation, they come ready to use. You can order them yourself here. We labeled one dish as our control with a permanent marker and then labeled the rest of our dishes with the name of each oil we were testing (we were running low on petri dishes so we divided them in half with a permanent marker so we could test the maximum amount of oils, probably not the most scientific move I've ever made but it worked okay).

   Then my daughter's favorite part, smearing her dirty fingers all over the agar in all our petri dishes to introduce bacteria. Then we set the lid back on our control dish and set it aside (no oils would be going into this dish). Then we dropped two drops of each oil on it's labeled dish and replaced the petri dish lids.

   Next we set them inside our homemade incubator (just a large pot with a lid and warm water bottles for heat inside) and let them incubate for 3 days, changing out the warm water bottles several times a day. After three days these were our results:

Control petri dish: essential oil germ fighting experiment

Germ fighting essential oil experiment. Homeschool science.

Germ fighting essential oils: ckove and lemongrass

Our Results

   Clove and eucalyptus appeared to kill all the bacteria they touched. Lemongrass also seems to be a pretty good germ killer. Sweet orange didn't look like it killed anything, so probably not the best choice essential oil for cleaning. I'm surprised by the tea tree oil results. I had always heard that tea was supposed to be a pretty effective germ killer but it didn't appear to kill much bacteria in our experiment. I'm not sure if we messed something up or if tea tree essential oil just isn't as good a germ killer as I thought. I'd like to redo tea tree sometime when we get a chance.

   To finish up I had my daughter draw pictures of our results and record the number of bacterial colonies that grew in each section and write a conclusion. She was a little bummed that her favorite sweet orange oil turned out not to be an effective germ killer, but hey, it's still good for lots of other things.

Make Your Own Mineral Identification Kit

    My 7 year old daughter has been studying geology the last few weeks. We've taken several hikes and nature walks to try to...