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.
We spent the second half of Week 3 of Summer Camp with Mom, exploring weather and its wise use for humans. Included were some brief YouTube videos including the origin of wind and weather systems and a gorgeous time-lapse movie of the life cycle of a sunflower. The kids did not struggle to discuss what the “Green” movement was about, and what it meant to be “Eco Friendly,” and on the tips of their tongues were ways to use nature to power the human world, or ways to reduce waste.
After exploring the origin of wind and weather in one of our movies and through a brief discussion, we made kites (and for those who had made them during Week 2, we added tails and refined their designs). After lunch, we headed to Shoreline Park’s Kite Flying Field to take them to air. I described in Week 2 how wonderful this was. The Fearless Flyer pre-cut Tyvek kits are definitely worth their $4 cost, for reducing anxiety during kite construction, and virtually guaranteeing successful flight later. We had fun coloring, assembling, and even doing some run-testing in the backyard before doing some very successful flying in Mountain View alongside a couple of other kite fliers.
Back at home, we applied the concept of wind to art. Another favorite from my childhood was discovering in art that you can design with no intention or vision, looking to a creation after it has been initiated, to decide what it will be, later. At staff training a couple of weeks later, my principal used the same approach, to encourage us as teachers to help kids just begin, to take risks, and move away from the high expectations that often come with them to the classroom, from themselves, parents, cultural or societal beliefs, and more. In a fun little book called “The Dot,” by Peter H. Reynolds, it is conveyed that the hardest thing to do is begin and commit to work. And sometimes it’s best to simply let go and let others decide what impact and meaning might be. If that is far too abstract, imagine how kids took my description of Blow Painting. I told them that they need not do more than pick a color, then make a big, water-rich dot of watercolor on their paper. Step two was to simply blow, and see what developed. My kids who had been with me for Week 2 of Summer Camp with Mom, furrowed their brows, wondering how they could paint trucks with this new technique. My response: “No – decide what you are painting after you have seen what shapes emerge.” They were confused. “Can’t we just paint like normal?” Confusion turned to amazement as I demonstrated. I made a big, wet spot of brown on a paper, picked up a straw, and blew air onto the spot. The paint whipped away from its origin, some parts smoothly, some parts erratically. “Oh! It looks like a tree!” “It looks like a firework.” “It looks like a hand.” “I think it’s a road.” “Is that water?” They eagerly tried it themselves. I decided I had made a tree, then grabbed a fine brush to draw cherry blossoms on it. Holly added leaves. Just as kite flying had been, the kids were transfixed with the process, and while some left blow painting to do some more conventional watercolor painting (Holly retrieving her “Frozen” watercolor book), I think I was successful at introducing them to the notion of making a first mark to start, even when you have no long-term plan. That’s a tough thing to do.
We finished the day by starting some tie-dye shirts. I found some decade-old club t-shirts, cleaning up from school the other day, and saw this as an opportunity to meet some personal goals: to tie-dye (which I have never done on a shirt before) and cut t-shirts (because all were too large for the kids, anyhow). Tie-dying proved to be pretty labor intensive and messy, so if you copy this lesson plan, be sure to have some extra adult help. Lessons learned: (a) Cover the kids with aprons or use old shirts, to keep them clean. Despite warnings, 4- and 8-year-olds are not terribly mindful about rogue dye. (b) It takes a lot of dye to get all of those nooks and crannies, but the kids are eager to have their turn. Have an extra adult or two manage each color of dye. (c) Label each child’s shirt tag with a permanent marker before you start – it was hard to tell whose creation was whose, the day later (shirts have to rest for at least 12 hours before rinsing, with conventional no-boil kits you can buy). (d) Plan for about 15 minutes of thorough rinsing per shirt. I spent about 2 hours working on all of our shirts, the next morning. (e) Plan to hang your shirts to dry over a lawn or something you don’t mind dying with rogue dye that didn’t rinse out, due to your impatience. It can take all day for the shirts to dry.
The next day, we hung the shirts to dry, and the kids stood, awestruck, learning that despite the amount of dye craziness the day before, there were still white regions on their shirts. We negotiated whose shirt was what, and I showed some images of cut shirts, to see if folks wanted to cut their shirts. Cutting t-shirts is a pretty fashionable thing. Strips can be cut to add shape and volume to a shirt, or simply take fabric away, turning a tee into a dress or tanktop. All of the shirts we had were adult sizes, so as soon as the shirts were dry, I trimmed and sewed them to be smaller, aiming to remove the emblem from the GEMS Club from which they had originated. Holly has a cute tank top dress, now, and I have a fringed “hippie” tank top, as my husband calls it. Ryan and Max have simple-looking boys shirts, and I’ve reserved the cut strips of tie-dyed fabric to make something fun like pot holders. Samuel and Shira weren’t able to join us for the shirt cutting day, so they have the full –size shirts they made.
After customizing our shirts, we headed out to Kimm’s Art Gallery in Sunnyvale. Kimm’s is a local business, right on the busy El Camino Real just a few steps from the city center. Despite its bustling location, it’s calm and has some down-home, creative vibes. I had contacted Kimm’s a few weeks before our visit, and Mr. Kimm told me that everyone is welcome always – no worries about our 4-to-8 year olds. When we visited, there were locals tapping away on their computers or sketching in journals, sipping on coffee or eating scones from their café, in true Silicon Valley style. I went over the rules for our visit in the parking lot in front of one of Kimm’s colorful, larger-than-life murals outside their buildings. I’d made up a scavenger hunt for the kids of color and emotions, and they had diligently added color to my black-and-white printout, prior to our visit. In the parking lot, they succeeded in seeing almost everything on their lists. Once inside, there was so much more than the few remaining colors and emotions they had not yet seen. Ryan was impressed to see a portrait of a nude person. Max was taken aback by a portrait of a sad, but wise-looking old lady. Holly was thrilled to see so many flowers to smell (but thankfully not touch – she was following directions), then butterflies, immortalized in oil on canvas. The boys marveled at some amazing bubble and tessellation paintings that appeared to be smoothly and precisely printed on metal sheets. I was enchanted by some cartoony commentaries on local politics including those about education and parenting. “Hey look, Mom, there’s nothing here on this wall.” Max found space for more art, but where was it? “Well, you know, these are all local people showing their work.” Max: “Oh, maybe I could put some art on these walls.” Ryan: “Or maybe all of it was sold. Look at this one. $4000 for a painting of a waterfall.” Max: “Wow!” Quickly the discussion turned to how much money some of the paintings cost, and which each person liked the most. The kids looked at the art now not only for color, style, topic, and emotions evoked, but as a source of income and business. It was a neat lesson.
We escaped to Las Palmas Park for a picnic and some climbing play just as the “don’t touch anything” rule became forgotten by Holly, and stomachs started rumbling. Las Palmas has a new pair of playgrounds and central structures, so if you haven’t visited this central city park in Sunnyvale for a while, it’s worth a visit.
Our final day of weather applications had us building solar cookers. I have long been impressed with simple designs that can harness nature’s power and serve human needs. The concepts behind solar cooking are really simple, so I listed them on a dry erase board: (a) Reflect light and focus it on the cooking surface. Keep it shiny! (b) See if you can trap heat. Black stays hot. Think about where in your world heat gets trapped. That’s really about it, but when I asked the kids if they wanted to cheat and see some designs, they concurred, and I showed them the first 20 results of a Google Image Search for “Solar Cooker.” Max and Ryan teamed up, and Holly and I teamed up. Max and Ryan wanted to make a huge sort-of pinhole camera-meets solar cooker, lining a box with foil and closing the lid to limit how much light came in. Max explained that the light would come in and not be able to exit. He was meeting both criteria. Ryan pushed him to allow in more light, so the hole got bigger. They added a layer of coconut oil to the foil on the inside to make it extra shiny. Holly and I lined a large bowl with foil, then added a black base (a construction paper “plate”) and covered that with an upside down clear pie dish. We removed our lid temporarily and brushed olive oil onto the foil, to make it extra shiny. Holly and my design also met the two requirements. We placed a few pre-cooked hot dogs, poked with temperature probes, in each cooker, then put them in a sunny spot. We took data about the temperature of each cooker when we started, then collected more data every hour or so.
We also took quite a bit of time to research the temperature and wind speed in Sunnyvale over a day. Weather.com gave us predictions of both for every hour, and we made tables in each of our journals. I then taught them to plot each point over time, using two different labels for the y-axis of our graphs compared to time (x). The 8-year-olds showed me that they knew how to plot histograms, but drawing points without lines leading up to them was a new idea. This was their first time drawing scatterplots. I was impressed to see how proud they were to plot these changes over time in a new way. Their graphs were rough, but they could easily draw conclusions and make predictions from them, the whole point of the graphing exercise. Weather.com, oddly enough, omitted data for 3 PM, which was an awesome teachable moment. We had connected the dots on our scatterplots, so I asked the kids if they could predict how warm it was going to be and how gusty, at 3 PM. Throughout the day, from thereon, they were eager for 3 PM to arrive, so they could see if they were right.
We left our cookers to cook, and headed to the Palo Alto Junior Nature Museum. This free museum has extensive hands-on displays for kids on “green” energy, including solar, hydro-, and wind power. When kids are through trying out the displays, there are plenty of bugs to look at (both preserved and live samples), a very active bee hive to peer through plexiglass at, and then a pretty full zoo of a wide range of animals. It’s a small, family-friendly place to visit, and is well known in the area, so it was bustling when we visited. We donated a handful of dollar bills upon entering, and the older kids quickly dashed off to find a tennis ball to test one of their many kinetic sculptures. Outside, we quickly found our favorite animals, then picked new favorites, as we explored more and more small displays. The slow and massive tortoise made an appearance, the cougar happily sauntered to the back for lunch, and we marveled at the birds darting around their interesting enclosure with cubbies for kids. Holly excitedly pointed out every creature she saw, which was happily just about every creature that was there.
After lunch at home, we set out to do some crafts having to do with “green” in one way or another. We made pinwheels powered by wind, an elegant craft with just paper, a pin, and a straw. We strung beads to make UV-sensitive keychains (beads change color in the sunlight, the kids were amazed to see), and finally to play with clay. There is something truly enrapturing about clay. Rolling it and shaping it turned out to be Ryan’s favorite thing that day. I invited the kids to pick any small leaves or flowers they found in our gardens, to press into the clay, and make an ornament or coaster. As before, they were a little incredulous about what this meant, but after seeing me demonstrate, Holly eagerly grabbed the scissors to trim away at the lavender bush, and the boys each picked rosemary and wild violet. Max even grabbed an extra handful of clay and shaped it into a model airplane.
We left our goodies to dry over a long weekend, and finished the day with a fictional story of a lot of invention and creation (including fire) by watching “The Croods.” I finished the clay crafts by coating them with Mod Podge the next week.
- Debbie (Founder, Stroller Hikes)