Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

lime-caterpillar-butterfly

Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

lime-leaves-butterfly-caterpillar

Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

lime-butterfly-chrysalis

The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Life Science in a Jar: Mealworms

J came home one day and asked for a disposable tupperware for school. His Science teacher wanted each child to bring home a mealworm to rear over the March school holidays.

I didn’t know anything about mealworms so whilst he was in school, I did a little bit of research and found out that they are quite easy to rear – all they need for food and bedding is dry oatmeal. They get enough water from their food, so it isn’t necessary to provide a water bowl, which acts more like a death trap for unsuspecting mealworms.

Of course, when J brought the mealworms home, both the mealworms were lying in a small puddle of water. It had been a hot day and J thought they might need a drink – all living things need water to survive, right?

WRONG.

Neither of the mealworms appeared to be moving, so I told J that he might have accidentally drowned both of them. Poor J was crestfallen.

“Poor innocent mealworms,” he moaned, peering at the motionless creatures, “They were so active before and now they’re just lying on their backs! They look so stiff.”

Just then, A Becky C happened to phone up for a chat. Well, I remembered all of a sudden that she used to rear mealworms in an old pencil case! Ah ha! Help has arrived!

“DEBS!!!! I have something important to tell you!” she chirped in my ear.

“NONONONO WAIT WAIT LISTEN LISTEN THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!” I shrieked back. “I THINK THE MEALWORMS HAVE DROWNED!”

A Becky C laughed at me, then said “Okay calm down. If they aren’t swimming around in water, they might still be okay. Just dry them off with a tissue. Mealworms are very stupid. Sometimes they get so stressed that they think that they’re dead, but they aren’t. The only way to tell that they are actually dead is if they start to curl up and decompose. Then you’ll know that they’re dead.”

So J dried the mealworms off with a tissue and sure enough, after a few minutes, one of the mealworms started to twitch it’s legs ever so slightly. Then it seemed to wake up and start crawling around again. The other mealworm just lay quietly but every so often it would twitch and shudder, as if remembering it’s watery ordeal.

I transferred the mealworms into a dry container with a nice layer of dried oatmeal, and both the mealworms immediately buried themselves in the meal.

mealworm-pupae-beetle-life-cycle

Three stages of the mealworm’s lifecycle

By the next day, one of the mealworms was fully revived and was running laps around the perimeter of the container. The other worm was very lethargic. It moved so little that we were convinced that it was dead.

Turns out, the blessed creature was busy pupating – it eventually shed its skin and turned into greyish-white pupa. A week or so later, the pupa split open and a white beetle crawled out, which turned brown, then black.

J and Little E took turns feeding the mealworm and darkling beetle. Occasionally, if they were eating a piece of fruit, they’d drop a small piece in as a treat to the beetles.

mealworm-beetle-science-lifecycle-kids

Keeping an eye on things

Of course, Thumper was most fascinated by the little creatures and would check on them many times an hour. I had to teach him to stop picking up the container and shaking it around, which would send both the mealworm and darkling beetle into spasms. Eventually, he learned to grip the edge of the table instead and just bring his head down to the table surface to peek at the insects. I’m so glad that he’s learned how to respect small creatures!

Both of J’s mealworms have completed their life cycles and are now darkling beetles, and J is hoping that they will start breeding soon. (Also, Little E is complaining that she doesn’t have a pet. So let’s see what we can do about that.)

Science in the kitchen: Eggs and Vinegar

So, J asked if he could perform an experiment at home that he read about in one of his Horrible Science books. I had a look at it and realised that we had all the ingredients in our kitchen and nothing seemed explosive or particularly messy…so why not?

Warning: Science! Also puns. Lots of EGG-ceptional puns. You’re going to crack up. Seriously. Omelettin’ this happen, yo. 

J’s Question: What happens when you soak eggs in vinegar?

What we used to answer J’s Question:

  1. One hard boiled egg
  2. One raw egg
  3. Vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar probably works best)
  4. Glass jars of roughly the same shape and size.

What we did to answer J’s Question:

1. Label the jars and place the respective eggs inside.

egg-vinegar-experiment

2. Cover each egg with an equal amount of vinegar and watch the science happen.

  • J’s Observation #1: Bubbles appeared on the surface of the eggs
  • EGG-CITING SCIENCE! The acetic acid in the vinegar reacted with the calcium carbonate of the eggshell, releasing carbon dioxide gas as bubbles!

experiment-science-egg-vinegar

3. Leave the eggs in the vinegar for three days. Check on the eggs and see if there is more science happening

  • J’s Observation #2:There is a yucky white scum floating on the surface of the vinegar
  • EGG-CELLENT SCIENCE! Calcium acetate is a the other byproduct of the chemical reaction between the vinegar and the eggshell, and is a white solid at room temperature.

4. Remove the eggs from the jars and rinse away the vinegar (and any residual eggshell) under running water. Remember to EGGS-ercise caution whilst doing this.egg-vinegar-experiment-science-membrane-diffusion

5. Place the eggs on a plate and allow them to dry. Compare the two eggs.

  • J’s Observation #3: Both eggs have a smooth and waxy surface. The raw egg is much bigger than the boiled egg (Debs G: It is EGG-ceptionally large) after it has been soaked in vinegar
  • EGG-STREME SCIENCE! The eggshell completely dissolved in the vinegar. Underneath the eggshell is the egg membrane. Some of the water from the vinegar has moved across the membranes to the inside of the raw egg, but the contents of the egg did not leak out. This is because the egg membrane is semi-permeable and allowed only certain sized molecules through. The egg membrane is stretchy, so the egg swelled as the water moved inside it. Water moved inside the egg because the contents of the egg contained less water than the vinegar outside the egg. The process where a solvent (such as water) moves from a lower concentration solution (such as vinegar) to a higher concentration solution (such as egg white) is called osmosis.

science-egg-vinegar-boiled-raw

 

6. Drop both eggs from increasing heights and see what happens.

  • J’s Observation #4: I can see the yolk wobbling about inside the raw egg but not in the boiled egg. When I dropped them, both eggs bounced but when I dropped them from very high up, the raw egg burst like a water balloon (Debs G: It was EGGsplosive). The raw egg is liquid, but the boiled egg is solid.
  • EGG-TRAORDINARY SCIENCE! Eggs are full of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids. When the egg is boiled, the heat messes up the amino acid bonds that hold the proteins together and give them a particular shape and form. The egg protein changes in form and appearance, becoming hard and solid. When proteins change from their original form into a new form, this is called denaturation.

So, don’t be a chicken. Get cracking and hatch a plan to make Science happen in your own kitchen!

These are the yolks, kid. These are the yolks.

 

June Holiday Excursions 2015: Discover the lost world of dinosaurs at Plaza Singapura

Last Friday, we were very fortunate to be invited to the media preview of Dinosaurize Me! 2015, a collaboration between Plaza Singapura and the Science Centre Singapore, and it was SO much fun.

Dinosaurize Me! 2015 at Plaza Singapura

Dinosaurize Me! 2015, part of Plaza Singapura’s ‘Science in the Mall’ programme

It was incredible to see the Argentinosaurus (the largest sauropod fossil ever discovered) in all its glory, set up in the main atrium of Plaza Singapura and stretching right up to the 3rd level of the shopping centre!

We remember wandering about the feet of  the Argentinosaurus from its inaugural appearance at the Science Centre Singapore’s Titans of the Past exhibition last year, so it was a real treat to be able view this colossal skeleton from all angles just by going up and down the various levels of the shopping centre. It really puts the dinosaur’s enormous size into perspective!

Budding young palaeontologists will really enjoy digging for casts of dinosaur bones in the sandpit which is open to the public from 11am-8pm daily. I was really impressed to see that the dinosaur bones could also be put together to make a full skeleton!

J and Little E also took part in the various workshops at the Dino Fun Zone which will be also running daily until the 14th of June. For a nominal fee of $5, children can take part in these educational, hands-on activities and discover more about dinosaurs! J was intrigued by the Geological Timeline workshop whilst Little E got her hands very messy at the Fossil Casting workshop, making fossil casts using rubber moulds.

(By the way, if you’re interested in the Fossil Casting workshop, do be aware that it takes about an hour for the casts to dry out enough to be removed from the moulds – a good excuse to do a little bit of Great Singapore Sale shopping!)

Educational workshops ($5 each)

Educational workshops at the Dino Fun Zone – Fossil Making and Geological Timeline Workshops

My favourite workshop for kids was the Stop Motion workshop. During this half hour session, J and Little E coloured and cut out various dinosaurs and used a stop-motion mobile app to create their own little short video!

Stop Motion workshop ($5) at Dinosaurize Me!

J and Little E at the Stop Motion workshop

For this particular workshop, you need to have a smartphone or a tablet (with a camera) on hand. Being slightly technophobic, I don’t own either, but the very kind Science Centre rep who was running the workshop helped us out by using her iPhone (thanks, Cynthia!).

Here is J’s little video about a T-rex chasing some herbivores (everyone runs away when the volcano suddenly erupts).

Little E’s video is much more cuddly – it’s about how a Daddy triceratops chases away a T-Rex who is menacing his family (the Daddy triceratops even bites the T-rex in the ankle!)

There are also live science shows taking place during the weekends at 1.30pm, 4.30pm and 7.30pm. During the show, kids will get to find out more about how scientists deduce the behaviour of dinosaurs from observing their fossilised remains. Unfortunately, due to having to feed little Thumper, we missed the science show preview – so I guess we will have to return to Plaza Singapura this weekend and try to catch it then!

Dinosaurize Me! 2015 will be on at Plaza Singapura Shopping Centre daily from 11am – 8pm, until the 14th of June. Entry to the Exhibition and the weekend live Science shows are free. The daily workshops at the Dino Fun Zone run at half an hour slots and are priced at $5 per entry.

31 of the best (FREE) online learning resources for preschoolers

Over here in Singapore, there is tremendous pressure on children to excel academically, and many of Little E and J’s preschool classmates are enrolled in various expensive enrichment classes.

Although I am trying my best to avoid hot-housing my children, both J and Little E have a innate love of learning and I like to find ways to nurture and encourage them in their educational journey. Now with the June school holidays on the horizon, I find myself actively looking for meaningful home activities to keep them gainfully occupied during the day!

Here is a list of 30 of my favourite (free!) online learning resources that I find myself returning to again and again!

Phonics and Early Reading

With most schools returning to phonics to help children to learn how to read, these are some brilliant websites which will help you to reinforce what your preschooler is learning!

  1. Reading Bear – there are some very lovely videos to help capture your kid’s interest
  2. Progressive Phonics – this has some great e-books and worksheets too
  3. Starfall Phonics – the animations may be rather crude, but the songs are pretty catchy!
  4. Phonics4free – this is a series of videos and guides for empowering parents to teach phonics
  5. ABC Fast Phonics – A very simple no-frills guide to the basics which is good for parents who want to help their kids at home

Mandarin

Bilingualism is very important in Singapore with Mandarin chinese offered as a second language in most preschools. We speak very little Mandarin at home, so I have to find creative ways to expose my children to the nuances in both the spoken and written word. These websites have really helped me to keep my kids interested and engaged!

  1. Chineasy – This is a beautiful website which focusses on the pictorial nature of the chinese written script and helps kids (and adults) to remember chinese characters using gorgeous illustrations and beautifully animated teaching videos.
  2. CCTV Learn Chinese – This is an extensive library of videos aimed at teaching conversational chinese and touches on aspects of chinese culture and daily living as well.
  3. Fun Fun Elmo – Sesame Street has most recently developed a preschool mandarin programme featuring the ever-popular Elmo in a series of 10 minute vignettes! This first season is available on Youtube – and hopefully Sesame Street will release their subsequent episodes online too.
  4. Semanda  – These are some free printable flashcards which cover some basic concepts (such as colours, fruits, animals, vehicles etc) as well as some multiple choice style quizzes
  5. Hanlexon Chinese – This is a useful website for printing out writing practice worksheets. You can alter the worksheet to show the stroke order or allow tracing of the characters

Math

  1. Khan Academy – This site is brilliant for kids who already know how to count. J loves this because he can unlock achievement badges and trophies when he has achieved mastery of a new concept!
  2. Math Worksheet Wizard – Here is a simple worksheet generator to help reinforce simple counting, addition as well as subtraction.
  3. ScootPad – This has a basic free system for individuals as well as a subscription service for classrooms. The basic free system has both Math as well as Reading practice pages (but the Math pages are prettier), as well as some really fun math games!
  4. Math Game Time – this is self explanatory, but helps kids to reinforce their rote counting and number recognition skills
  5. Soft Schools – Here you can find some great free printable worksheets and online games to help grow little mathletes.

Art

These art sites are more for parents who are looking for simple, foolproof art projects for preschoolers as well as lesson plans to introduce kids to art history!

  1. Mrs Brown’s Art Class
  2. Teach Kids Art
  3. Art Projects for Kids
  4. KinderArt
  5. Museum of Modern Art NY

Science

These are a collection of brilliant websites that include some very impressive science demonstration videos as well as projects and simple experiments that you can set up at home!

  1. Science For Preschoolers
  2. Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop
  3. The Kid Should See This
  4. BrainPOP
  5. SESL Writing Wizard

Other Useful Resources

There are plenty of awesome sites out there that will inspire your kids to learn more about the world around them! Here are our current favourites that include everything from World History to Astrophysics :

  1. Typing Club
  2. Learning with Fun
  3. Crash Course World History
  4. NASA Kids Club
  5. The Good Stuff
  6. Smarter Every Day

Singing the body electric (with Bodytec Singapore)

So, now that both J and Little E are in school, I have around some time in the morning to run errands and do the chores, which leaves me with about an hour to Do My Own Thing, which in RAWKmum terms is the equivalent of striking gold.

I normally use this golden hour to catch up on correspondence, write, read a book and basically do anything that I want, alone and entirely uninterrupted.

The Barn Owl has been trying his best to encourage me to get back into exercising more regularly, which is something that I have wanted to do since Little E was born, but here we are, three years on, and this exercising malarky hasn’t materialised yet. Additionally, despite being a RAWKmum, I have not been able to lose the last of my post-pregnancy…um…bounce. And it is beginning to bother me.

However, here’s what usually happens whenever I attempt to start exercising:

Day 1: Walk down to the local gym. Wander around examining all the various implements of torture. Feel intimidated. Watch other people sweating it out on the treadmill. Wow, that looks intense. Decide to have a go on the exercise bike for 20 minutes. Actually cycle for 5 minutes before getting bored. Okay fine, I’ll do another 5 minutes of cycling. Bored now. Leave.

Day 2: Walk down to the local gym. Consider the implements of torture. Nope, still too intimidated. Watch other people sweating it out on the treadmill. I don’t think they’ve gotten off the treadmill since yesterday. Decide to have a go on the exercise bike for 15 minutes next to Lady Spandex who appears to be training for the Tour de France. Feel like a loser after 10 minutes. Leave.

Day 3: Walk down to the local gym. Feel tired just watching other people sweating it out on the treadmill. Leave.

This is why when I won 12 sessions with Bodytec Singapore at a recent giveaway by Honeycombers Singapore, I was really really excited! Thank you, Honeycombers!

Last week, I headed down for a trial session at Bodytec’s brand spanking new fitness studio at Turf City.

rehabilitation-physiotherapy-occupational-therapy-exercise

Bodytec in the early morning light

Bodytec Studios specialises in fitness training using Electro-Muscular Stimulation (EMS). This is a fitness technique that is already widely used across Europe and in the USA and works on the basis that muscle fibres in the body react by contracting when stimulated by an electrical current, whether the stimuli is from an external source such as an electrode, or from internal bioelectric impulses travelling along the central nervous system.

I know that EMS-training is often used (in other countries) in conjunction with occupational therapy and physiotherapy for patients undergoing rehabilitation as it is both impact-free and joint friendly. In fact, one of my good friends in the UK was loaned a home EMS-machine by her physiotherapist during her post-partum recovery period, to help to passively tone up her abdominal muscles whilst she watched TV for 20 minutes every day!

When I got to Bodytec Studios, I met Stanley, the manager and personal trainer, who gave me a set of comfortable training clothes – a basic black tee and tights – to wear. Shoes are optional, so I decided to go barefoot. I was then helped into the full Bodytec training suit, which had been dampened with water (which is why disposable undergarments are also provided).

All wired up

All wired up and ready to go

I was really glad that there is a maximum capacity of two people training in the studio at any one time, so there was no one around to laugh at me being lame and uncoordinated. Except Stanley, and he was extremely non-judgemental and patient.

Stanley turned on the EMS-machine (I shut my eyes at this point, waiting to be zapped with a bolt of lightning), and to be perfectly honest, it actually was all very pleasant, very much like sitting in a massage chair. Then came the exercise – 20 minutes of simple movements like squats and bicep curls, nothing particularly strenuous, with Stanley on hand to correct posture and provide support. I can see why this is a great workout for people with joint problems and injuries and the elderly.

At the end of it, I felt tired all over, just as if I’d been doing aerobics for 20 minutes, but without the shortness of breath that comes with exertion. After a good hot shower, a quick rub down with some fluffy white towels, and a cool drink of water, I felt completely refreshed and energised!

What a great start to the day!

I enjoyed it so much that I’ve decided to go ahead with the full 12 sessions that Bodytec Singapore offered me – and I’ll be keeping you posted as to how things go!

If you would like to give EMS fitness training at BodyTec a go, you can sign yourself up for a free trial session at the new Turf City fitness centre anytime from now until the 22nd May 2014 – and you can even bring a friend along and enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee in the studio afterwards!

Bodytec Studios (click here to go to the website)
200 Turf Club Road
#01-34C The Grandstand
Singapore 287994
Tel: 6466 0638