Tag Archives: science books

Science: Light

Let there be light!

While I still think shadows was more fun, light was a fun topic to explore too.  It was a little less hands on, but there were a whole lot of good book resources to tackle it.  This is a double post today with Color, as we’re catching up with science finally!  Oh, and for anyone who might be interested, I compiled all my science posts into one handy tab up at the top of the blog titled “Science Without a Net” (as in, without a curriculum!).  It links to all the previous posts as well as lists in one handy spot our favorite video and book resources.

Book Cover

We had several basic books out about light, but as usual the Let’s Read and Find Out title Day Light, Night Light by Franklin Branley was the best.  My only complaint about it was that it said repeatedly that light=heat, which is only true to a point.  So to balance that, I was glad we happened upon the book Cold Light by Anita Sitarski, which was a long form picture book exploring concepts in fluorescence by looking at things like glow-in-the-dark stickers and various glowing animals.  The other thing that struck me was how many of the books we looked at expected the kids to be able to go see how hot a lightbulb gets within just a minute of being turned out.  Seeing as we changed out all the house bulbs to be CFL’s around the time Mushroom and BalletBoy were born and the other source of light they know best is probably the LED’s in their flashlights, the idea of the old fashioned incandescent bulb perfected by Edison is pretty foreign to them.  But the books were all at least a few years old.  So we took out the book The Lightbulb by Joseph Wallace to read as well.  This book told the story of why people wanted the lightbulb so badly (having just read Bill Bryson’s At Home, I was well brushed up on this myself!) and explained Edison’s journey to invent it as well as the future of the lightbulb (including LED’s and CFL’s) in some good detail.  Both this book and Cold Light were on the long side for a science book for Mushroom and BalletBoy, but just like they’ve learned to appreciate longer fiction books and history books, I think it’s good to push them a little with read aloud nonfiction titles like these, even if we didn’t quite read every word in either of them.

For videos, The Magic School Bus offers us “The Magic School Bus Gets a Bright Idea” which isn’t one of their best offerings but is perfectly fine.  Bill Nye gives us two options.  First, we have “Light” and then we also have “Light Optics.” I also stumbled upon the show DragonflyTV, which I had never seen before, but which is available free on PBS’s website.  This is a clip about light and color.

We watched a lot of videos about light bulbs.  Despite the fact that it was an ad where I skipped a bunch of the commercial parts, the kids really like this one by a company who makes CFL’s.  It shows the process by which a CFL bulb is created, which the kids found very cool.  Here’s another one, from the Discovery Channel about florescent bulbs.  Of course, you can also go with the more traditional option.  This is from How It’s Made about incandescent bulbs.

The kids did a bunch of very simple observations to go along with light:

  • They looked at each other’s pupils as they expanded and contracted depending on the amount of light.
  • They found things that reflected light and talked about the materials.
  • They found things that were transparent and opaque.
  • They found the darkest, completely dark back of the basement room to see what it’s like with extremely limited light.
  • They felt the heat of various light bulbs as they went from cold to warm.
  • They observed how light bends when it goes through things, such as by making a straw look “broken” in a glass of water.

I’ve been really appreciating how my friend, who took over science, gets the kids to slow down, ask more questions, and discover things like transparent and opaque for themselves.  It’s pretty cool.

Science: Me and My Shadow

Really, we had so much fun with shadows that I thought it deserved its very own science post.  It’s just one topic in the heading of “light” but it was one which turned out to have lots of fun applications.  We mixed most of this in with light, but I think shadows get to be the introduction to light because they’re such an easy way in.  So more on light next week, but first, Shadows!

There are two unexpected children’s books that we read which I simply adored.  The first was photographer Tana Hoban’s Shadows and Reflections.  I’ve long been an admirer of Hoban’s children’s books, which are mostly wordless collections of her photography along a theme (her book More, Fewer, Less is probably my very favorite preschool math picture book, which is really saying something).  This book is exactly what it sounds like, but the conversation it can inspire, about what reflects and what distorts, about where the light comes from, about the relative size of things, and so forth, is just great for this unit.  There is another book which is similar to this called Guess Whose Shadow by Stephen Swinburne, which also uses photos to show the interaction between objects and shadows.  The second book is a wordless fiction picture book called simply Shadow by Suzy Lee, who also created the amazing book Wave.  This whimsical book uses shadows to reflect a young girl’s imagination, changing them and eventually letting them interact with reality.  It’s not science at all, but it was such a perfect fiction go along that I had to mention it.

For other books, Let’s Read and Find Out has a nice, simple title called What Makes a Shadow, which actually has surprising depth for a level one book in this series.  But even better was the book Me and My Shadow by Arthur Dorros.  This book was very much like the Let’s Read and Find Out title but with a lot more detail.  It tied shadows into the broader topic of light much better, especially by highlighting how the earth is in a shadow every night and how when we watch the moon wax and wane, we’re watching a shadow.

Finally, there’s a Boston Children’s Museum Activity book about Shadows called Shadow Play.  I adore this series, but we didn’t end up doing much from this book this time around, but I had it out from the library and I was appreciating it so I thought it was worth the mention.

For activities, again this week, I give most of the credit to my awesome friend who took over science activities while I was swamped with other stuff.  Also, again, I have a lack of cool pictures in part because I was tending a tiny baby and in part because I’ve gone through two phones in the last month and lost most of the pictures I took as a result.  The first and last thing the kids did that afternoon was to measure their shadows outside by each standing on one rock then placing another rock at the tip of the shadow.  Later on, they went back up there and measured again.  They could see that their shadows had lengthened over the course of a couple of hours.  And while it may sound trivial to us, it was pretty exciting to them.

In fact, while all our science topics have carried over into daily life, where we can talk about things like energy transfer and wave motion, this topic carried over especially well.  The kids played with their shadows and noticed their shadows all week.  Later in the week, they roped their friends into a game of “shadow tag.”  They were also so fascinated by the shadows created by the theater lights when we set up the stage for The Tempest that I really recommend getting several bright lights in a room (such as those traditional desk spotlights) and playing with them to create multiple shadows.  That allowed us to talk about umbra and penumbra, the two different shadows that are created when a light shines on an object.

The other big science activity we did with shadows was to make shadow pictures using sunprint paper.  There are other brands, but I stole the image here from the brand we used, which was Sunprint.  The kids gathered items from outdoors and arranged them artfully on the blue paper then allowed the sun to make a shadow.  When you rinse the paper in water it will reverse the colors, which is fascinating to watch.

Finally, if it’s not obvious, the best way to explore shadows is with a shadow puppet show.  Take that desk light and shine it onto a sheet suspended in a doorway and let the kids cut out shapes to make shadows for shadow puppets.  Or just use their hands to make more traditional shadow puppets with the shapes of their fingers.  Mushroom and BalletBoy have been at that for the last couple of weeks with a new excitement, thinking about shadows.