Bay Beauty

image (16)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 6: Bay Beauty

Week 2 of Summer Camp with Mom centered on the topic of the Bay Area.  We started the week by drawing out a huge poster on butcher paper with what we expected to see at the Baylands in Palo Alto, our field trip for the day.  We headed out, parking near the duck pond, a historic salt water swimming pool that had once been used by bathing beauties from Palo Alto, and is now a sanctuary for geese, ducks, coots, egrets, herons, pelicans, and more.  We made quick work hiking all around the pond and to the observatory at the Baylands (sadly, closed on Monday), then settled down to paint with some watercolors. 

I have seen artists at Palo Alto Baylands many times, and today was no exception.  But today, the artists included three young kids, drawing rally trucks, forest landscapes, rainbows, and fireworks.  I was the only one drawing the local landscape, but it was a treat to see that these kids are never lacking for creativity.  Some had never painted with watercolors before, so it was fun to offer them this new experience.  Everyone enjoyed blending colors and trying to draw things they could imagine or see.

We headed home and added to our poster what we had seen that we had not drawn before – a lot more birds, flies, and bugs.  I brought home a small sample of muddy water from one of the estuary regions of Palo Alto Baylands, so we enjoyed watching a water boatman bug zip to and fro, and watching little protists shake about and squiggle, amongst nematode worms.  As before, when we had looked at yeast for making bread, there were no creepy-crawly responses, and the kids were impressed and amazed at what they could see through a microscope lens.

image (15)After a taco lunch, the kids relaxed.  I cued up movies summarizing the natural beauty and diversity of the Bay Estuary (there is an exemplary, award-winning series titled “Discover the Bay” on YouTube), then we delved into Native American history of the region.  There was some nice review about the flora and fauna of the area, including some ocean foods like we had discussed or tasted the week before.  We watched as a Native American built a canoe out of reeds, and checked out the homes and dress of natives in the area centuries before.  While the natives lived in thatch and mud structures, we opted to build something a bit less messy – Tepees out of tyvek and balsa dowels.  The opportunity for design and experimentation with construction was just what the kids needed – something that initially took 15 minutes to complete lasted for 90 minutes, as the kids made their structures stronger, more complex, and prettier.  Holly even grabbed some blankets and cuddled beneath hers for a catnap.photo (5)

The day ended well with some bike riding around the block.

-          Debbie (Founder), Max (8), and Holly (4)

Social Share Toolbar

Lemonade, Get Your Lemonade!

photo (56)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

 Summer Camp with Mom 5: Food Businesses

In this day and age, I think it’s very important for kids to not lose sight of where their food is from, what it takes to make it, and where money associated with the food industry really goes.  Politics and complex economics aside, I’ll settle this year to expose my kids to simple cooking that they could otherwise pay at least tenfold for, quality ingredients enjoyed without much cooking at all, and good personal interactions around food.  For our final day of Summer Camp with Mom’s week about food, we opted to have a lemonade and cookie stand near our house. 

When our first Summer Camp with Mom guest, Pranav, arrived at our house, he could not wait to get started.  The oven was warm and baking cookies at 9:30 AM, hours before the 1:30 PM opening of our one-hour stand.  In the air, eagerness melded with the smell of chocolate and peanut butter.

Once everyone attending camp on this day had arrived, we brainstormed all of the parts of our stand, sketching pictures in our journals.  Then we split up jobs and got busy.  Some were finding supplies.  Others finished the cookies.  Everyone designed posters.  We all headed to the park to run and play, between hanging signs on every lamppost we could find, until we had run out.

After relaxation time, the kids eagerly assembled our stand, complete with table cloth and beach umbrella, at the end of our block.  The kids were tireless in their efforts to flag down drivers, market to pedestrians, and even knock on a few neighbors’ doors.  In our hour of sales, we sold out of lemonade (16 lemons worth) and nearly sold out of the 6 dozen cookies we had made.  We’d raised some $34.50 at the stand – all donated to Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm that we had visited the day before.

I was amazed that everyone still had energy after being out in the sun, selling their wares.  We finished the day by making some homemade ice cream.  We rolled our ice cream ball (a concentric set of balls, with cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla at the middle, and salt and ice in the outer sphere), and had fun playing a take-your-turn word-association game.  We topped our fresh soft serv with marshmallows, honey, and chocolate.  It was a prize well deserved after such hard work!

- Debbie (founder), Max(8), Holly (4), and Andrew

Social Share Toolbar

Creek Cruising

photo (6)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 7: Creek Cruising

Our adventures exploring the Bay expanded to water travel, today.  With a goal of building boats, I wanted the kids to understand that they had a lot of supplies they could choose from, and all they needed was a material with the right density.  I handed each kid a small bowl and told them to find anything they wanted to test for floating, as long as it fit in the bowl and could go in water.

The kids scampered off eagerly, returning with fruit, wood, stones, coasters, plastic… you name it.  I taught each child how to use a triple beam balance to determine mass, then water displacement for volume, and we recorded our observations, including if the items floated or not, for 13 items in our journals.  Then out came a calculator, and we computed density.  The kids were diligent about recording most items in their journals, and I stuck huge Post-Its on our windows, so they could keep track of it all.  It worked like a charm – only the highest density items sunk; the kids quickly made those observations, then could explain fairly well what density was and why being low density meant floating.  It was fantastic science, all hands-on!DensityMath

I let the kids do some free play as I cleaned up, and reminisced about how such conclusions were not so easily made when I taught 9th grade in Eugene about 20 years ago.  Of course, that was to a class size of about 30, not a small group of three!  Still, I don’t expect my kids to be able to explain density precisely in a week, but it’s very likely they will remember our process of “discovering” it.

After a quick snack, we began thinking about boat design.  We started with a 1-minute YouTube movie about hull design, then the kids sketched out their plans in their journals.  They then made patterns on paper, which we traced onto foam poster board.  We punched in bamboo skewers for masts, added paper sails, and drew and colored to further customize our watercraft.  The kids tested their boats in the bathtub, then adjusted position of sails, added flags, or taped on more foam to provide counterweight.  I made a pontoon boat with two empty water bottles for pontoons, because the YouTube video had described pontoon boats as being the most stable.RyansBoat

After lunch and relaxation time, we headed to Stevens Creek to test our boats.  With the slow trickle of the creek, Ryan’s narrow sailboat won each race hands down, compared to Max’s wider sailboat, Holly’s heavy sailboat (that tended to capsize), or my fat and tall pontoon (that was, indeed, stable).  Still, we had a blast getting wet, climbing around rocks, and watching honeybees come and go, using the creek to take a cool water break.

After getting home, we enjoyed some popcorn and cold water, and watched “A Deeper Shade of Blue,” a documentary on the history of surfing, with plenty of footage including Californian surfers and beaches.

- Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

Social Share Toolbar

Bold Tastes

image (12)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we posted about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 4: Bold Tastes

We started this day talking about what makes flavors stronger.  Little Holly got hung up on the strongest flavor she knows (and her dad loves): hot sauce.  Between her reminding us that hot sauce is strong, Pranav, Jack, James, and Max helped create a short list of ways to intensify flavor, including drying or boiling to remove water.

Our first hands-on activity did exactly the opposite: we used dry tea leaves and added intense flavor to water.  Each child picked their own mason jar, labeled it, and added a tea of choice, before filling it with water and putting it in the sun to brew.  Sun Tea would be ours to enjoy at lunch.

photo (55)We collected up snacks like dried fruit and nuts, and headed out to Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm in Cupertino.  Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm is a small nonprofit farm run by volunteers, and includes chickens, plenty of organic fruits and vegetables, an orchard, hops,  and brewing of soda and beer.  We toured around, amazed at the diversity of crops considering the small space and youth of the farm, as well as enjoying seeing tons of pollinators and lizards.  Yes, we did see several hummingbirds doing their part to pollinate, as well!  We finished the tour by planting a few dozen bean seeds.  I was touched by the dedication and strength of the family that continues to work the land that was initially planted here in the ‘70s, but only recently became a larger operation.

Once home, we enjoyed tacos and tried our sun tea.  The sun tea received huge thumbs-down from all of the little tasters.  I watched a few of them sip, smirk, then announce, “Oh, this is what bitter tastes like,” then repeat, but no one finished a single glass of tea, choosing to pass the bitter stuff along to the plants in the garden.  On the other hand, I quite enjoyed mine, and ended up drinking the remains for the next two days.

image (13)After relaxation time, we donned our aprons once again, making guacamole and lemonade.  We had spoken in the morning about how salt was very salty and lemons were very sour – two fantastic, strong tastes.  I was very impressed with Jack and James’ abilities to squeeze lemons, and everyone excelled at picking lemons from our tree.  Unlike the experience with the Sun Tea, everyone wanted to taste, then retaste the lemonade, and it was deemed an excellent product to sell at our lemonade stand the next day, though we ran out of this first batch during that discussion.  Avocados were squashed, along with more squirt of lemon and a shake of chile powder, and we had an exemplary guacamole to have alongside salsa for our afternoon snack.

Here is our recipe for Lemonade:

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons) – can also use fresh lime or orange juice

4 cups water

2/3 cup sugar

Stir together the liquids and sugar, or shake in a large jar with a lid.  Add ice cubes and serve

 

Here is our recipe for Guacamole:

2 ripe Haas Avocados, halved, with the pit carefully removed, and the fruit scooped out with a spoon

1 small diced tomato and 2 Tablespoons minced onion OR ¼ cup salsa

Juice from half of a squeezed lemon (plus more, to taste)

Dash of chili powder (plus more, to taste)

Dash of salt (plus more, to taste)

Mash the avocado with a potato or avocado masher, then stir in the remaining ingredients.  Taste and add more lemon juice, chili powder, or salt, to taste.

 

photo (4)I have long heard that colder things taste sweeter, and paired with a desire to have my kids work with the scientific method, decided we should test this out, at Summer Camp with Mom.  We got out several sweet things – grapes, blueberries, honey, and lemonade – and put identical things in the freezer, so we could taste them side by side in our experiment.  We wrote in our journals our prediction we were testing: “Frozen honey will taste sweeter than warm honey.”  After 10 minutes of freezing, eager mouths tested our samples, and the results were unanimous.  Indeed, sweet becomes sweeter when cold!  (Had this been a much older group, we would have discussed bias and double-blinds in studies like this.)

We finished the day, riding bikes and scooters, then writing thank you notes to Hollyhill Hummingbird Farms for our tour.  We watched the first half of the award-winning Babe, a farm film about the life of a farm pig, to finish out our day.

- Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

Social Share Toolbar

Munching on Microbes

image (9)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 3: Cooking with Microbes

I was really impressed about how my kids accepted and knew about cooking with microbes.  They knew that many breads grew lofty thanks to yeast, and cheeses got their stink and bite thanks to different bacteria and fungus.  Our start-of-the-day brainstorming about microbes in food went very smoothly.

photo (3)Our first hands-on activity was building some microbes.  We talked about how microbes are made of one cell, and many have hairs (cilia or flagella) to help them feel and move.  The kids had fun making pom-pom microbe magnets, with one or more googly eyes and pipe cleaner or yarn hairs.  I was impressed that each of them wanted to make a lot; I think finding parallels to Despicable Me’s minions (simple and small, often also with one eye) helped build a lot of interest.

We then mixed up some dough.  Every good cook tastes what they cook, so the kids had a taste of yeast and flour, and we recorded our experiences (all five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound) as we ventured into bread baking.  The kids knew how to keep a science observation table, from the day before when we tasted different salts and honey, so this was easy to do.

After a little free play, we came back to the dough to notice that the yeast had proofed – it was bubbling out some stinky CO2, and the batter still tasted bitter.  I took a drop of dough and added it to a slide so we could view it under a microscope.  I was impressed that no one was grossed out by looking at Baker’s Yeast under a microscope – maybe making fuzzy little pop pom microbes had helped with this.  Perhaps using a piece of science equipment – the microscope – added enough wow factor that they remained enamored in the process. 

A bit more flour and free play later, and the dough was put aside, but not without another tasting and journal recording.  It now met the kids’ approval as something more sweet and subtle.

 Here is our recipe for Pretzel/Pizza Dough:

1 package Baker’s Yeast

½ cup warm water

1 cup warm water

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg (can replace with flaxseed meal in water)

4 cups flour (can use up to 1/3 whole wheat flour)

Proof the yeast in ½ cup of warm water.  Once it is dissolved and bubbling (proving it is still active), add the other cup of warm water, sugar, salt, and egg.  Beat in flour 1 cup at a time until the dough is less sticky.  You can allow the dough to rest overnight in the fridge or on the counter for one to several hours, to double in size, or use it sooner for a flatter bread (like pizza).  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Cut off hunks of dough and shape into pretzels or alphabet letters.  Shake on salt, sesame seeds, or other things as desired (press them in so they set).  Let dough rest for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (425 degrees).  If using a topping that burns easily (like basil), then parbake (bake partially, like for 10 minutes), then baste with a milk or egg wash, and sprinkle on toppings before baking just a few minutes more.  Pretzels will bake in a total of 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees.  If making pizza, parbake the dough that has been shaped into pizzas, for 10 minutes, then top with toppings and complete baking in order to bring the toppings to golden brown.  Avoid too many toppings or water-rich toppings that will make the pizza soggy; cook these ahead and tap with paper towels to keep the water content low, before putting on the pizzas.  For a crispier crust, cook the pizzas directly on the baking rack in the oven.

image (10)I had reached out to Whole Foods a couple of weeks before, hoping we could get a little tour of behind-the-scenes unpacking of shipped foods, cleaning of fish, and so on.  Unfortunately, Whole Foods could not show us their back rooms, for safety and health reasons, but they were more than generous about providing a tour of the store floor where customers could be, followed by a hands-on cooking experience.  We walked around with two tour guides and lots of tasting cups.  We stopped near the lychees to ask about an unlabeled fuzzy fruit, and like ninjas, produce managers emerged then disappeared to do some instantly urgent research, following up on our query about a relative to the lychee that had just been delivered to the store.  We tasted fruit, ground then tasted our own nut butter, picked out and tasted some sweet yogurt pretzels, and tasted vegan muffins. 

image (11)In the culinary center, we arrived to find stations set up, as if we were real chefs with sous chefs doing all of the measuring, cutting, and preheating before our arrival.  What excellent attention!  The kids made pizzas, then fruit skewers, and enjoyed complementary apple juice.  Treated like kings, and full of tasty food, we headed for home and some well deserved bike and scooter riding.

Before our tour, we had planned to make pizza and shishkabobs for lunch.  After some riding, the kids had found some room in their bellies, so we skipped the pizza, and made veggie and fruit shishkabobs.  Some delighted in patterns of color in their skewer threading, others just enjoyed tasting ingredients.  Most could not wait to have their skewers grilled, and ate it all, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, and paneer, raw. 

KabobMakingHomeAfter relaxation time, we finished our dough, first tasting it (and adding to our journals), shaping it to go into the oven, then tasting the final baked product (for our final journal entry).  We rolled the dough into pretzel and breadstick shapes, then topped ¾ of the sticks with the salts we had tasted the day before.  Comparing the flavors across the life of the dough, the dough had gone from bitter to sweet, and in the finished form, the salt added a nice contrast.

I had planned to make mozzarella cheese with the kids after relaxation time, but reading the number of steps, most separated by an amount of time or specific temperature change, I decided to do it myself while the kids rested.  I ended up with a mozzarella with the right taste, but a far firmer texture than desired, as I had squeezed out too much whey.  The kids tasted it, and all of them approved, politely.  They then voraciously ripped into their breadsticks and pretzels, with hummus from the day before.

After a little free play, we finished the day with thank you cards written to Whole Foods for their very generous tour and cooking session.

-          Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

Social Share Toolbar