We have been doing a lot of gardening and getting ready for spring.  This year we thought it would be fun to grow mushrooms!  We ordered a mushroom growing kit from a farmer and have begun this process.


We showed the children the kit and talked about how mushrooms grow from spores.  They are really not a plant but have their own category as a fungi.  They actually obtain their nutrition by metabolizing non-living organic matter.


These mushrooms came to us in compost.  We all took a turn smelling it and these were some of the comments:  It smells like: woods, moss and bark, chocolate, woodchips, bees and bark.  Some children just thought it was stinky.


We put the dirt in a bucket.



One of the children brought three cups of water.


We then added water and mixed.



The squeeze test is done to make sure it is moist enough.  For us it wasn’t so we added a bit more water.


We then put this mix on top of the compost and mushroom spores.




After this process was complete and everyone had a turn putting the dirt on top, some children wanted to make a sign.


The moveable alphabet was used to write the words and then someone wrote them on paper.



Lastly, some of the children went with a teacher to a dark, furnace room to place the mushrooms for optimal growing.   They need it to be dark and about 75 degrees.


Inspired by the study of mushrooms, some of the children engaged in other activities.  One was making a paper mushroom.






These types of activities require the child to use different types of tools such as a pencil or marker, glue, hole puncher.  All of these help to increase fine motor skills and connect the brain with the hand.


Another fun activity was painting with mushrooms!  The child picks up a mushroom that is on the end of a plastic fork, dips in paint and creates their own picture.


Lastly, some of the children like to create their own nomenclature book.


We hope to have real mushrooms in a few weeks and will update the blog then!



The uses of plants

Spring is in the air!  With that we are planting, watering, growing and looking at the roots of plants.  We thought about exploring some of the varied uses of plants by dyeing yarn with onion skins.


The children spent some time crunching up onion skins into a large pot.


We added water to the pot which allows the color of the onion skins to come out.



After a while we drained the water out so we could use it as the dye.  We used white wool yarn and soaked it overnight.


The natural onion skin dye turned the white yarn into the orange yarn as seen below.




(Penguin matching)

We love to study penguins each year.  It usually happens when it is cold outside!  This year the children liked to measure themselves and compare how tall they were to the various penguins.  The children were also able to make a different kind of penguin during the week.


We discovered that the rockhopper penguin is only about 20″ tall.


Slightly taller are the macaroni penguins at 28″.  We love the yellow crest on top of their heads!


The Gentoo penguin is the third largest at 20-35″ and some live in Antarctica.


The chinstrap penguins who make circular nests of rocks, are about 27″ tall.


The last penguin we made was the emperor penguin.  We were really surprised to find out that none of our children are taller than an emperor penguin at 48″.


We sang a song and played a game about penguins.  Here you see the children carrying “penguin eggs” on their feet.


One child brought in her penguin mobile from home.  She liked showing us which one was her favorite.


One clever parent made penguin olives as part of a lunch treat!


Visit From the Critter Guy


This year we had a great visit from our friend Paul the “Critter Guy.”  In a typical Montessori school, children learn about the five types of vertebrates.  This is a fun way to see some examples of these creatures.  Paul usually brings a nice variety.

Representing the amphibians- the Tree Frog!


“Where did the frog go?”



One of the reptiles- the blue tongued Skink!



Another fun reptile!  We had some brave children!



Paul also let us see an example of the snake spine.


We love our mammals!  The chinchilla!




And the ferret.


Paul usually brings the doves but he brought a new friend from the cockatiel.




This one loved to sit on our heads!!


So fun!  Thank you to Paul!!





Recently we studied an annual favorite- volcanoes!  The children enjoy having a chance to have hands-on interaction with the small volcano model.  Some of the afternoon children make their own models to take home.

Volcano Eruption

Click above to see the “eruption” in class.


Some children chose to make a book about the parts of a volcano.


The children watched a small group lesson on how to erupt the small volcano on their own.


After learning how to do it, they could explore on their own.

First step is to add the baking soda.


The second step is to add the vinegar.


Watch the eruption!


Some older children chose to learn more about the ring of fire.  It is always fun to see how the ring of fire spreads over several continents.


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The children have been learning about what a circuit is and have had many hands-on experiences with them.  Here the child makes this ball light up when he connects the circuit to the two conductors.  There is a little video clip next to the photo.  Click to see what happens.

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This child made a circuit and a small light bulb lit up.  The child is able to see the battery and how it connects.  There is a short video next to this as well.


The afternooners were able to do an experiment with Squishy Circuits.  Allison had heard about this on the Science Friday program on NPR.  It was developed by a university professor and her students.  We sent away for the kit so we could conduct the experiment.

We made two types of play dough, one made with salt and a good conductor and another made with sugar and a poor conductor.  We inserted wires that were connected to a battery and tried to light up a small LED bulb by making a circuit wit the more conductive dough.  It only worked when the dough was separated.  We then used the less conductive dough and got similar results but the LED bulb was not as bright.  When we sandwiched the conductive dough with the less conductive dough, we could light up the bulb.  Here are our more successful creations:





We began to study reptiles last week and had a visit from a student’s pet.  His name is Boris the Tortoise.  He has scales, he (or she rather) lays eggs and had a backbone.


Boris walked around the classroom a bit then went in a large tank.  The children were able to observe him throughout the morning.  Big thanks to Peter’s family for letting us meet and observe Boris!


Some of the children made another reptile with glue and corn kernels they had tweezed earlier.  Here they use tacky glue and put kernels in the shape of a snake.


Some children also wanted to make a “parts of” book.  Here a child is making a Parts of a Reptile book.

Study of Vertebrates – Fish and Amphibians

We began our study of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) a few weeks ago.  Dr. Diane came in to show us just what a vertebral column is and how that makes us a vertebrate.

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Last week we studied the characteristics of fish.  We also painted a fish and made fish prints.  We have a real fish in the classroom for the children to care for and observe.

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Paint the fish.                                   Pat the paper down.                      Peel back.


This past week we studied amphibians.

Click above to hear our amphibian song.

We also studied the characteristics of a frog and made frog prints.





Heat energy experiment

The afternoon children did several experiments where we observed heat energy. We observed what happened when a short birthday cake candle was snuffed with a small glass.


We also observed the same birthday candle burn until the wax was all gone. While carefully observing we talked about what made the candle burn and stop burning.


The kids enjoyed examining the cooled (we put it in the freezer) remains of the completely burned candle in the tinfoil which held it.

We took advantage of the sunny warm afternoon and  observed two thermometers first inside the classroom and outside. We then placed them in a black mug and a white mug. We also felt the sides of the mugs and observed that the black mug felt much warmer than the white mug.


We rubbed our hands together and talked about friction and heat production.


A Hand Washing Science Experiment

At Ann Arbor Children’s House, we have many parents with interesting jobs!  One set of parents work in a laboratory at the University of Michigan.  In the beginning of each year, we spend time teaching the new children how to wash their hands and then reminding everyone else about hand washing.  When one of the parents who work in this lab suggested we try this experiment, we were thrilled.  This was done with our Kindergartners and afternoon children.  We did this experiment for several reasons.  First, we wanted the children to learn about a “control” in an experiment.  One of the Petri dishes did not have any handprints on it.  The children were also able to use real scientific equipment such as Petri dishes and agar.  They learned that experiments can take time as the bacteria and fungus present were baked in an oven for 24 hours.  We needed to wait for the results.  One of the most important reasons we wanted to do this experiment was that the children were able to see just what hand washing does as germs are invisible to our eyes.

Agar plates were used for a hand-washing experiment. Agar is used because it contains all the nutrients for the bacteria to grow such as salts, yeast and amino acids.  The children thought the agar felt “gooey.”


The children first touched one side of their plate with unwashed hands. Then, after washing their hands well with foaming soap, they touched the other side of the plate.



All plates were marked with U for unwashed, W for washed and the child’s name.


Two of our scientists went to the lab to help.  Because bacteria grows well in warm conditions and takes 12-24 hours for a colony to appear, the plates were then placed in a 37C (body temperature) incubator overnight.


Plates were removed from incubator and sealed with parafilm for safe observation.


Bacteria appeared as small white clumps and fungus appeared as a wispy, white growth.



What did we find out?  Hand washing dramatically reduces the amount of bacteria and fungus on our hands.  Hand washing is an important part of our day.  Children wash their hands before baking, having a snack or engaging in food prep work.  They wash their hands after using the bathroom or putting their fingers up their noses (or in their mouths). The next time we sing our hand washing song, we feel these children will have a deeper understanding of what we are singing about!

We may complete a follow-up experiment using different types of soaps and hand sanitizers to compare efficacy.


After seeing the results, the children wanted to make a “Thank You” card!