Tag Archives: earth science

Science Returns Soon…

As I split the science year with another mom, I admit I got really lax and didn’t post about what we’ve been up to, but I’m getting back on track very soon.  I have two posts queued up to finish, filled with books, videos and experiments.

Seymour Simon Volcanoes BookSeymour Simon Mountains Book

In the meantime, I wanted to recommend a series I discovered in the last few months which was extremely useful for our earth science year.  It’s the detailed picture books by Seymour Simon.  Most of these are slightly older, from the late 1980’s.  However, they are still in print, in paperback no less, making them easy to find and affordable.  The books cover many topics, including biology and astronomy, but we made use of the ones about topics in earth science such as EarthquakesOceans, Glaciers and Icebergs, and Mountains.

Each book contains mostly photos with occasional diagrams.  The layout is very simple, but the text is solid and explains the topic well.  Because these books are older, you’ll find that there are examples that feel out of date (a section on tsunamis that doesn’t mention the 2004 tsunami, for example).  However, this is the first series I’ve found that feels like it’s a step up from the well-loved Let’s Read and Find Out series without being overwhelming or frantically blurby.  The kids have found these compelling, many of the photos are beautiful, and it’s always nice to have a go-to book to start a topic off.  Now that we’ve gone through and outgrown many of the Let’s Read and Find Out books, I’m glad I found a replacement.


Salt and More

Sorry about the science delay.  I’ve just been busy.  I decided to give us an extra week looking at minerals and to focus especially on salt.  I wanted the kids to review the ideas we’d already covered about how elements combine to make minerals and minerals combine to make rocks.  I also wanted them to learn that salt is a mineral that we need and use every day.  I wanted them to see from the example of salt that different minerals have different properties that we can find useful in different ways.


For rocks and minerals, last week’s books were a good start, but we also found an older title, What is a Rock? by John Syrocki at the library.  This is a series from Benefic Press that also includes other titles we’ve checked out, such as What is Electricity?, but which I’ve not mentioned because most of them are outdated.  However, I really liked this one and the information was fine.  Like rocks themselves, the most basic information about rocks hasn’t changed too much in the last half a century.  We also took at look at Jump Into Science: Rocks and Minerals as well as the Let’s Read and Find Out title Let’s Go Rock Collecting.  Once we’ve finished with chemistry, we’re going to come back to rocks and minerals, so I didn’t feel too much pressure to get everything in this go around.

For the topic of salt, we had an amazing book, The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky.  This is a picture book version of a popular nonfiction title of the same name and author.  There have been a lot of good young adult editions of popular nonfiction books, but this one the first I had seen to be transmitted to picture book.  However, it worked so well!  The book is much more focused on the history of the topic, but it’s still a great read and when else would you do it but while studying minerals?  From Sea to Salt by Robin Lerner is intended for younger kids, but we didn’t even end up reading it because I liked the Kurlansky book so much.


I’m afraid we’ve been cheating on our free resources more and more since I got Discovery Streaming and BrainPop.  In addition to the videos we did last week about minerals, we did the BrainPop video about salt this week.  Also, we watched this nice ten minute video called Geologist’s Notebook from Discovery Streaming.  It was very schooly, but also very succinct.  For one more on rocks and minerals, try this short but nice one about the differences on Youtube.

For salt, there’s a great episode of How Stuff Works about salt.  You can find it on Discovery Streaming here.  Or you can watch this clip about salt mines from the episode.  Or this one from National Geographic embedded below:


For activities, we began by just thinking about salt.  I gave the kids a little pile and let them touch it.  BalletBoy immediately consumed his whole pile and asked for more.  The child has a total salt addiction that I had no idea was even there.  Next, we did some of the simplest experiments you can with salt.  We watched it soak up water and then we watched it melt ice.  Well, we didn’t exactly watch that part, we set it up, watched a short video, then observed, which is what they’re doing in the picture below.  We also all observed how dry our hands felt after touching the salt so much.

Next, we set up an experiment from Janice Van Cleave’s Earth Science for Every Kid where you mix a cup of water and three tablespoons of salt then allow the water to evaporate to form what are basically salt flats.  It can take up to three weeks, so we’re not done.  It’s currently just a bowl sitting on a shelf.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.  The connection I hoped to make was between the chemical formula and the shape we see after dissolving the water and evaporating the salt.

A much quicker version, which will yield different results because the crystals aren’t square like salt, can be done with Epsom salts.  They’re available pretty cheaply in the drug store, in case you, like me, don’t just keep them around.  For this experiment, mix a cup of water and three tablespoons of the salts.  However, you won’t need that much.  You just need a thin layer poured over a piece of black or dark construction paper inside a small, flat-bottomed container.  I used the lid from our Thinking Putty, but a jar lid would be fine.  By the next day, the water has evaporated and left the crystals.  Be sure to flip up the black paper because the crystals on ours were much cooler underneath than on top.  We talked about how this had a different chemical formula.

Finally, mostly because the kids begged and begged, we set up to make rock candy.  Obviously, this isn’t salt, it’s sugar!  We talked a little about crystals and their formation, but I didn’t dwell too much on this, honestly.  We followed the directions here and I’m hoping that there’s rock candy growing in those murky jars that the kids overused food coloring on.  I’m really hoping.

ETA:  I wrote this post a couple days ago and we’ve since checked the rock candy.  No crystal growth!  Drat!  We’ll have to try it again.


Well, this was a funny science week.  I had to host our Monday co-op and had my mom in town, all of which conspired to keep me from really getting focused on getting ready, so this will be a bit of a bare post.  We’ll probably revisit this topic a little (in fact, I know we will).  For now, all I wanted the kids to get out of it was two very basic ideas.  The earth is made of elements and we can see them in rocks.


There are so many books about rocks and minerals that I almost didn’t bother listing anything.  They’re all relatively good.  Some are geared toward beautiful photos and illustrations, along with a nice text, like the Smithsonian’s Rock and Gem.  Others are field guides, like the Peterson one you see above that we had.  There are a number of good independent reader books at all levels about rocks, the one above is a longer one, but there are a dozen others I saw.  The Basher book on this subject is fun, as always.  I especially liked that the Basher book clearly listen the chemical composition and hardness of each one for which it was appropriate.

One book we had which was more poetic than scientific, but which I found enjoyable to read aloud was the picture book If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian.  Each page is a little photo of a child and a rock.  The rocks are things like “crossing rocks” for crossing a stream or “hiding rocks” for rocks with bugs hiding beneath them.  It was a sweet book and a balance to all the classification stuff we used above.  Older kids probably wouldn’t enjoy it, but we did.


Well, I don’t have a lot to offer you right now.  All we watched was the BrainPop entry on mineral identification.  However, we’ll be hitting this topic again, so if you’re interested, I’ll have more stuff later.  I just need to get to the organization stage.


I considered doing some activities with salt and even sugar.  I even went out and bought Epsom Salts.  However, after a long stretch of unseasonably cold, rainy weather, the sun came out for science, so I felt it was a crime to stay inside and I headed out instead to the creek down the road.

We collected rocks, compared rocks, looked for interesting rocks and found all kinds of rocks.  Then, I broke out a mineral testing kit much like the one described here.  The kids loved testing the hardness of their things.  Rocks that scratched the knife were especially exciting and our penny was quite marred by the end.  However, the most exciting moment came when Mushroom found a rock he described as a “chalk rock.”  Could it be chalk?  The hardness was right.  It fit the description.  Then we saw chalk had calcite.  We dropped a little vinegar on it and waited for a reaction.  This was perfect as a follow up to our study of molecules.  The acid in the vinegar breaks the molecules down, which causes a fizz.  After an intense minute of watching, little bubbles began to form.  It was chalk!

In addition, we found rocks we are pretty sure were sandstone, granite and mica.  Actually, I am sure that was mica.  Talk about cleavage!

After testing, researching and comparing, we drew the rocks and recorded our observations in our journals.

Oh, and did I mention that it was just nice to be playing at the creek.  A brand new tree had been uprooted by the rain and was fun to walk across.