Our Month of Science, AKA Get Thee a Microscope!

looking through microscope

Since we unschool, we don’t follow any curriculum. Instead, we let our interests lead the way. Some months, we end up with a big emphasis on history or art or music. It just so happens that December ended up being a big Science month. We got really excited about looking at small things! Our microscope got a lot of use, and I thought I’d share some of the things we discovered together.

I want to pause to say I highly, highly recommend buying a microscope for your family, no matter whether you home school or use public school! Or heck, even if you don’t have any kids! If you just enjoy being in awe of the natural world, a microscope is a gift. They’re not that expensive, and ours has encouraged hours of joyful discovery and learning. I think it’s a great tool for all kids 5 and up, and the adults enjoy it, too! I have been known to spend hours looking at things through the microscope all by myself, gasping to my family about what I see.

We have the My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope, which we bought from Amazon for about $70. (For some reason they’re way more expensive on the Canadian site right now). It’s very easy to use, it’s quite sturdy, and we’ve seen some spectacular things! You can turn on the light either from above or below, depending on what you’re looking at, meaning you can examine opaque specimens (like stones) and get a good look at their surface. You can get prepared slides to go with the microscope, but honestly we’ve preferred looking at specimens we find ourselves.

Growing Microbes

Anyway, our Month of Science started when I got inspired to grow some microbes after seeing some cool experiments in The Curious Kid’s Science Book. I asked Lydia if she was interested, and she was; so I ordered a Petri Dish and Nutrient Agar Kit to make it easy (here in Canada).

After preparing the petri dishes, Lydia and I had fun going around collecting samples from different places around the home (including everyone’s hands). We sealed up our petri dishes and let them sit around for a few days. Every day we observed them, to see what started growing. It got pretty gross!

petri dishes

growing bacteria

science experiment for kids

science growing microbesNasty, right? We talked about how microbes multiply and form colonies, and why it’s important to wash our hands.

It was a little tricky to look at them through the microscope through the petri dishes, but we got a few good looks!

microscope mold

microscope microbe colonies

P.S. This book on microbes is great for kids! The explanations are simple and elegant, and the illustrations are lovely.

book

Snowflakes

snowflakes in a microscope

While the microscope was out, we got some of our first snowfalls of the season. I got the idea to look at snowflakes through the microscope.

It was more challenging than expected! I discovered that if any part of the instrument was room-temperature, the snowflakes would immediately melt. If you take the slides inside, they immediately melt. So everything needed to be chilled, and the viewing had to happen outside.

So I chilled the microscope and all the tools outside with a towel over it. Then I left out glass slides to catch snowflakes. But if you leave them out too long, the snow builds up too much and you can’t really see anything. It’s quite a delicate science! After a few minutes we could step out and see if we could see anything.

I was amazed at some of what we saw! And I was equally amazed to discover I could easily take photos of what I saw, simply by putting my camera lens up to the eyepiece. Here are a few shots:

snowflakes through a microscope

snowflakes

snowflakes

snowflakes science

snowflakes microscope

It was very hard to find snowflakes that weren’t severely damaged or in mangled clumps. But the intact ones we found were breathtaking.

And there you have it! Our Month of Science. I hope it inspires you to find something amazing in the world around you!

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What I’m Into: December 2017

Point Pelee National Park

museum jars

snowflakes in a microscopeI am not a fan of winter.

And after spending one Christmas in the hospital with my very sick newborn son, living in a different city from my three-year-old daughter, the Christmas season has never felt quite as magical as it once did. I can take it or leave it. I actually spent Christmas day inexplicably, murderously angry at the universe. Grief is weird.

But we had some good times this December. One of the highlights for me was taking Lydia to the Detroit Institute of Arts and seeing the Ancient Egypt exhibit after having studied Egypt in our homeschool. And looking at snowflakes through a microscope. There is still magic around me; it’s just hard to find sometimes.

I’m a little late posting this, but here are the books and movies I enjoyed this month.

Books

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This was an interesting experience: Woodson tells the story of her childhood, growing up as a black girl in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and 1970s, in verse. It’s autobiography and poetry in one. It’s also the story of a girl discovering her vocation as a writer. Lovely and powerful.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Another fantasy novel featuring an ass-kicking human heroine who falls in love with a dangerous, magical being. It was exciting and well-paced, but I never fell in love with any of the characters or completely bought the whole Faery world of Prythian.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This was a very moving, powerful, and challenging read. This book is written a letter from the author to his adolescent son, and we get to listen in as he advises him on how to grow up in America with a black body. He tells his own life story and explores his awakening to the issues of race in his country. His writing is incredibly eloquent and his reflections are thought-provoking.

Movies

The Holiday

(The first three are older movies that I’d never seen before that everyone else in the world has already seen and formed a strong opinion about. I rented them and watched with Felix in the middle of the night. I want to have opinions, too.)

The Holiday – The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law story is meh (DON’T SLEEP WITH STRANGERS, GUYS), but Kate Winslet and Jack Black are ADORABLE. I never would have expected Jack Black to be a believable love interest in a rom-com, but he is surprisingly winsome.

Love Actually – Okay, I know this may be divisive, but I found this movie to be utter crap. I mean, it is filled with amazing actors, and I was absorbed throughout the film; but as the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling like I had wasted my time. And then I read this review (Ahem – major language warning) and thought, EXACTLY. “Colin Firth falls in ‘love’ with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually‘s central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.” In a movie that’s supposedly all about love, we don’t see anyone actually get to know each other. Most couples don’t have a single actual conversation before “falling in love.” The only couple with an actual relationship gets a sad ending. Thumbs down, guys.

Little Women – I’ve been meaning to watch this film since 2014 when I first read the book. It was good. Um, surprisingly, that’s about all I have to say. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate these 20+year-old movies.)

Colossal – Okay. This movie is weird. It doesn’t fit neatly into any genre — it’s a mix of science fiction, horror, comedy, thriller, and romance. I had no idea what to expect from one minute to the next. But I was riveted, the acting is amazing, and it had a surprisingly satisfying ending. I’d say give it a try!

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My Top Ten Audiobooks of 2017

my favourite podcasts

Audiobooks changed my life this year.

Staying home full-time with young kids who never sleep is not very conducive to reading. And until this year, I’d never had a device on which to listen to audiobooks. So for the last several years, most of my reading happened in five-minute snatches while I was on the toilet. I read about a book a month that way. It was something.

Everything changed when Lydia dropped my old phone, and I finally had to replace it with a new one that had enough space for apps. I downloaded Overdrive and signed up for Audible, and my world opened up. My first audiobook felt like a miracle.

I hardly picked up a paper-and-ink book this year, but I did get to read a ton of audiobooks. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order.

Nonfiction/Memoirs


Born a Crime – Trevor Noah. This was probably my best read of 2017 in any genre. Those of you who have watched Trevor Noah on The Daily Show already know he’s smart, funny, eloquent, and charming, but it turns out, he’s got a hella fascinating life story, too. He grew up in South African during and immediately after Apartheid. To make things especially interesting, he was born to mixed parents at a time when it was illegal for races to mix (hence the title). He’s a terrific story-teller, and his childhood is filled with wild moments, from his mom throwing him out of a moving car to him accidentally burning down a White family’s house. His reflections of race and racism are illuminating and nuanced. I admire and respect him more than ever. He does a terrific job narrating his book, too — his voices and accents are on point. I dare you not to love him by the end of it.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson. This woman. She can make me laugh until I cry. This is The Bloggess’ second memoir (her first was hilarious, too). Her discussion of mental illness is both needed and weirdly hysterical. She is a strange, strange, wonderful human being. (Major language warning. I’ve never hard anyone use the word vagina as much as Lawson does.)

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. This memoir is Glennon’s second book and it is just phenomenal. It’s a brutally honest retelling of her life story, with a focus on her marriage’s sudden tragic implosion a few years ago, and the difficult path of healing. The book tenderly and bravely explores sex, love, marriage, God, family, and faith. I found her story of self-discovery gripping and inspiring.

Fiction


Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye. This book was complete delight. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I think you’ll get a kick out of this novel. It follows a young Victorian orphan girl who, like Jane Eyre, goes to an awful boarding school and later becomes a governess. She’s clever and brave and self-aware. And also? A murderer. With a heart of gold, of course. (She only kills horrible men.) From the start she’s aware of her similarities with the famous fictional heroine. I promise, it’s better than it sounds. It reads like an authentically 19th-century novel and all of the characters are stunningly three-dimensional.

A Man Called OveFrederik Backman. A completely heartwarming story from a Swedish blogger. Ove may be the most endearing grumpy old man you’ve ever met. You will fall in love with every single character. I cried both sad and happy tears. The writing is vibrant and lovely. (And the narrator is great.)

The Inspector Gamache Series – Louise Penny (Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; The Murder Stone; The Brutal Telling.) Read by Adam Sims. If you enjoy a good murder mystery, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series is perfection. (I’ve read the first five). Lovable characters, thrilling plots, deep exploration of human nature. I am amazed by the depth of Penny’s characters. (If listening to the audiobook, ONLY accept versions read by Adam Sims, who is spectacular. Ralph Cosham, by contrast, is just AWFUL. I returned my copy to Audible after hearing him read the first chapter.)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This novel won the 2017 Newbery Award. It is wonderful. It involves a poetry-reciting swamp monster, a tiny dragon who thinks he’s gigantic, and a kindly old witch who accidentally enmagics an abandoned baby girl by feeding her moonlight. As the girl grows up under the kind witch’s care, her magic becomes increasingly dangerous, and the witch has to make some difficult decisions. It’s a refreshingly original fairy tale with unusual protagonists, full of both whimsy and solemnity. I will happily pass it along to Lydia when she’s a bit older (maybe 10-ish). (Note: I didn’t really care for the narrator. I’d recommend reading the print version.)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, read by Dan Stevens. I love a good detective story, but this was my first romp with Hercule Poirot (Why?!). It was delightful! It plays with all the conventions of murder mysteries, and still managed to completely surprise me. Also, I have to highlight Dan Stevens’ (<–Yes, him!) amazing performance. He does all the accents flawlessly (there are both men and women from numerous countries in this book, and he nails all of them.) The story is thrilling and clever and just so much fun. I will definitely read more. (I did later read And Then There Were None, which was also terrific, but a little dark for my taste.)

Cinder; Scarlet; Cress; Winter (aka The Lunar Series) by Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler. Ignore the cheesy-looking covers of these books and have an open mind. This series was a ton of fun. If you enjoy young adult dystopian sci-fi, this series is for you! Each book is very loosely based on a fairy tale (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White), but set in the future (and some of it in outer space). Cinder is a cyborg and her only friend is an artificially-intelligent android, for example. Cress is a computer engineer and hacker working from a satellite orbiting the earth. Very addictive. Impressive world-building. And Rebecca Soler’s narrating is perfect.