Monday, February 28, 2011

Animal of the Week - Dinosaurs

Image from

This is our Dino Week! Dinosaurs were one of my childhood obsessions! I had so much fun with dinosaurs it wasn't until I was in graduate school that I finally had the thought to become a paleontologist - or someone who studies dinosaurs.

Apatosaurus was my favorite tho we called it Brontosaurus then. Apatosaurus was one of the largest animals ever to live on our planet and they were plant eaters. Measuring almost 90 feet long it dwarfs most other dinosaurs. It's main defenses were its size and tail - it could wipe its tail around and knock other dinosaurs around.

When I was little, Apatosauruses were always shown belly deep in water or in swamps. As more fossil evidence has surfaced, palaeontologists now think they were really land dwellers.

I love how this shows science and scientists ability to change as more evidence is found. If you want to learn more about Apatosaurus, check out this site for young kids.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fun Friday Fact

Polar bear fur isn't white. Honest! Polar bear fur is made up of clear hollow tubes that help to insulate the bears and keep them warm. Their skin is black and it is a combination of their fur, skin and a thick layer of blubber or fat under the skin that all work to keep the bears toasty in the cold arctic home.

Now before anyone starts correcting their teachers (and getting ME in trouble) and saying that polar bears aren't white, they -look- white because the clear fur reflects the light from the snow and ice of the area. They look yellowish sometimes from the oils in the foods they eat.

Check out more facts about polar bear here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Experiments with Ice

Today we are going to do some experiments with ice at the Millbury Public Library at 1pm. We are going to be doing lots of predicting, observing and data collecting and having fun while we are at it. Just to get you warmed up (or should I say chilled out...) for the program, here are some other simple experiments to try at home.

Juice Pops – have kids mix frozen juice concentrate with warm water. Mix it until it is no longer frozen. Pour in to cups, add a popsicle stick, and pop into the freezer. Check on them every 15 minutes or so and describe what you see.

When it is completely frozen, peel off the paper cup and look at the ice crystals. What do they look like? How do they taste?

If you liked this, try freezing other edible things like grapes and bananas. Try some frozen and at room temperature.

Watercolor Snow - Grab your water color paints and go out to the snow. You can use melted snow for the water or wet the paint before going out. As you paint on the snow, the water will meld the colors and wick the paint away. After a few minutes, you will have a new canvas. You can also do with food colored water in a spray bottle or regular water bottle.

Ice Balloons - Fill balloons with water and freeze. Only fill them so the balloon is about six inches in diameter. Suspend with a close pin from a shelf in the freezer so the balloon will freeze round. Remove the latex and you have an ice ball. Put the round ice balls in a bath tub or wash tub and see how they move around. You can have races with ice balls.

Snow Flakes - Put a black piece of paper in the freezer. Next time it snows, take the black paper out and catch snow flakes. You can use a magnifying glass to observe them closely.

Fun winter books:

The Mitten by Jan Brett – discuss how different animals live in the winter, use ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.), and repeating patterns. Check out her website here for more mitten activities and pictures of the animals that you can use to make patterns or reenact the story.

Thanks to the Friends of the Millbury Public Library for their continued support of Messy Fingers!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: Hands-On Grossology

Given that this week's theme seems to be grossology, I thought a gross book review would be in order.

Hands-On Grossology by Silvia Branzei is a terrific book aimed at 6-8 year old kids and will appeal to older kids as well. The science is great and presented beautifully - or should I say grossly. Each experiment starts with observations, hypotheses and data collection. Parents beware, some of these experiments are truly gross such as Pet Slime Molds and making fake poop, but each one of them helps kids understand a key scientific concept such as making careful observations and creating models for how things work.

What I love about this book: it is HANDS-ON (which may not appeal to all parents) and it gets kids excited about science. Measuring your own personal grossness and measuring the disgusting bits of the world around us, may not appeal to every adult, you'd be hard pressed to find many second graders who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to make a Burp-o-Matic or test toilet paper.

I give it 4.5 out of 5.

Image from

Explore Ice!

Tomorrow we will be leading a special Messy Fingers program for preschool through third grade at the Millbury Public Library at 1pm.

Call to preregister (508) 865-1181.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Every now and then the universe just seems to send you a signal and right now the universe is telling me....


We made slime today at our local science museum, the Ecotarium. That along with a handful of other slime moments, it seems like time to share Slime with you all.

To make your own slime, you will need:
Glue (clear is fun but any white glue is perfect)
Borax (the 20 Mule Team kind)
Two cups
Popsicle stick

Mix one teaspoon of borax in one cup of water and set aside. Mix the glue and water in equal amounts - about a quarter cup of each one. Mix this well. (This is the point where I add a few drops of glow in the dark paint because I am just that kind of girl!)

Slowly add some of the borax into the glue/water mixture and stir slowly. This will start sticking to the Popsicle stick. Pull it out and ta-da you have slime. Squish it in, roll it, bounce it - store it in plastic bag or air tight container and it will last for months.

This is a chemistry moment and an example of polymerization. Putting the molecules of the glue into a three dimensional structure.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Animal of the Week

The Black-capped Chickadee was one of the common birds at our bird feeder this weekend when we were counting for the Great Backyard Bird Count. They not only are one of my very favorite birds, but they are the state bird of my home state, Massachusetts.

One of the reasons I love chickadees so much is the richness of their behavior and sheer awesomeness of their physiology. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I heard the males start mating season. Yep, male chickadees started to sing the familiar "pee wee" song that melts the hearts of female chickadees everywhere.

Like most birds, only the male sings. Both males and females call and the "chick a dee dee dee" is their call. Once the have eggs the male and female will whisper the call to each other.

Chickadees often hang out in flocks with other birds like Tufted Titmouses and Downy Woodpeckers. Mixed flocks like this will descend on a food source like a bird feeder and eat you out of house and home about the same time every day. Chickadees prefer suet, peanut butter and sunflower seeds. They need very high energy foods to keep them warm in the winter.

We do have other kinds of chickadees in the US including Boreal and Carolina Chickadees. To see pictures click on their names.

What's your favorite bird from your Backyard Bird Count?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fun Fact

Turtles breath through their butts in the winter.

No, really, I'm not kidding.

Some reptiles bury themselves in the mud and go into a torpor - where they are dormant - others like turtles are active in winter. Turtles are not as active in the winter because the temperature is lower, but they do feed and swim around.

Reptiles breath air just like we mammals do. But in the winter with ice covering the surface of most fresh water, s0 they cannot come to the surface. Turtles have sacs in their cloacas (the science word for reptile butt) with lots of blood vessels so they can take the oxygen directly into their blood from the water.

If you don't believe me, check this more detailed explanation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Citizen Science

This winter we have seen some birds in our yard that we've never seen before - well never in our own yard before. How do we know this? We keep lists!

We've had a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Carolina Wren visit the feeders. The wren we've heard before but never seen.

This weekend is the Great American Backyard Bird Count. This is a fun way to actually do some science and collect data that will be used by scientists to learn about the habits of our local birds.

My friend, and fellow science lover, MamaJoules has a nice post about the GBYBC here.

To get your official rules and checklists, go here.

We are going to participate - what about you? If you can't participate, you can post your observations below.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Air is invisible yet has properties we can see, touch and observe at very early ages. Even the youngest of children respond to the wind or will try to blow out candles. Air is all around us and is always pushing on your body. Your body pushes back equally so we don't feel the air pressure directly.

Wind has such clear effects on our environment. We can see it blow leaves, move trees, and move water. We can experience made-made wind by standing in front of a fan or make our own with our breath. Try some of these fun and easy games with air,

Straw races. Try blowing a cotton ball with your breath. Just blow on it. It will go pretty far. Now try blowing with a straw. The cotton ball can sail across the room. The straw helps to concentrate the force of our blowing. Try the same thing with other toys such as small balls or cars.

Launching: Make your favorite paper air plane. Try throwing it with your right hand and mark where it lands. Try with your left hand. Which launched better? Now try outside. Does wind affect your plane? Now challenge a friend. Try both of you adding a paper clip or a special fold in similar places. How does that affect your flights?

Parachutes: Take a piece of fabric that is about 12 inches square. Cut four 10 inch pieces of heavy thread or light string and tie to each corner of the fabric. Tie a weight to the four strings such as a washer, bolt, or small toy. Now drop it by standing on a chair or from the top of the stairs. What happens to the fabric? Can you fold the parachute in different ways that affect its float down? Does a change in the weight change the float down for the parachute? What if you made it out of different fabric?

Music: Some musical instruments use air to make music. What instruments do you have or could make that use air? Kazoos, harmonicas, recorders, flutes, trumpets and whistles all use air. Try making a jug instrument my blowing across a glass bottle or jug. Does the amount of liquid in the bottle matter to the sound?

Bath Time: Add a cup to bath time. Turn a cup upside down and slowly push it down in to the water being careful not to tip it sideways. A bubble or two might leak out but the idea is that water and air don’t occupy the same space. Water will push air out of the way if it can. What happens when you reach the bottom? Is the cup full of water or air? What happens when you let go? Try again with cups of different sizes and shapes.


Air is all around you by Franklin Branley

Kite in the Park by Lucy Cousins (of Maisy fame)

Up, Up & Away!:The Science Of Flight. By Barbara Taylor.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feb Schedule

1. This Tuesday 10:30 - Millbury Public Library

We are going to play with AIR. We will make simple gliders, have cotton ball races and fling things off the balcony (always one of MY personal favorites!). You are welcome to call the library on Monday 508 865 1181 to reserve as spot or just show up on Tuesday.

2. Feb 24 (Note this is a THURSDAY) at 1pm

ICE - this is a program for preschoolers and their school aged siblings. There is a limit on the space of 20 kids and we will be going in and out so bring slings for the babies and wear boots!