It is never to early to start exploring science with children. Babies can learn about motion and gravity by rolling and dropping balls, toddlers can test out what sinks and what floats, and participate in nature walks, and preschoolers can try basic chemistry experiments, make leaf rubbings, explore with magnets and magnifying glasses and more. I am always on the look out for interesting new ways to include science in our day to day fun.
One of the reasons we enjoy "The Cat in the Hat" on Kids' CBC is that the show does just that. Each show begins with one of the children, either Nick or Sally, posing a question about the natural world. The Cat in the Hat then appears, and the characters head off on an adventure to find the answer. From travelling north to visit reindeer and learn about what they eat and how they find food in the winter, to making friends with a spider and learning about it's web, kids learn to explore, question, and examine the world around them.
Have you ever taken a walk with your kids in the fall and found yourself waiting while they collected pinecones on the ground? This is a great time to take a trip of your own virtual trip on the Thinga-ma-jigger to learn about the amazing method that pinetrees have developed to protect their seeds during harsh weather conditions.
Here's what you need to do to conduct your own pinecone science experiment:
1. Head out on a walk, and collect a variety of pinecones. Bring them home, and observe each one. What does it look like? Is it closed up tight, or are the scales open and spread out? If you have a chance, look at the pinecones under a magnifying glass to get a closer look.
Our pinecones had open scales:
2. If your pinecones have open scales, gently pull a few off (an adult's job). Notice how each scale has a lighter petal shaped impression in it. This is where part of the pinecone's seed used to be:
3. After you have finished examining them, soak your pinecones in a bowl of water:
4. Check back about 15 minutes later, and you'll notice that the pinecones appear to be closing up. Leave them a little longer, and the difference will be even more dramatic. Here is what our pinecones looked like when we took them out of the water about an hour later:
6. Leave your pinecones to dry overnight, and you will notice they open up again (if you do not have time to wait, you can try speeding up the process by drying them our with a hairdryer set on cool):
What's Going On?
Pinetrees often grow in areas that get really wet, and those conditions are not ideal for the seeds to develop. To protect the seeds from drowning in the wet ground before they have a chance to grow, the pinecone closes its scales up tight, keeping the seeds safe inside. When the weather is sunny and the soil begins to dry, the pinecone opens its scales to release the seeds at a time when they have the best chance to grow. Nature is amazing, and you do not even need to take a trip on a thinga-ma-jigger to find out about it. Science lessons are right outside your door.