By: Jennifer Acosta
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I used to babysit a wonderful boy named Chris. He had this incredible enthusiasm for Halloween and decorated the house with fascinating, spooky creations. Since Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, Chris and I connected around the celebration of all things scary. Because of his consuming passion for this holiday, it was quite easy to slip a little learning into the daily conversations of witches, ghosts and monsters.
If your child has a similar affinity for the creepier side of life, you can explore some fun science facts together. If your child is more tentative about scary things, you can share facts with them to ease their mind. Factual information can make things seem less intense, so they can experience the fun side of spooky. For older kids, you can use folklore, history and science together to investigate the similarities and differences in beliefs from long ago and today.
Consider the following examples of topics to investigate:
- What witch's brew would be complete without the addition of dry ice? This is a great way to study sublimation, or the direct change from a solid to a liquid. Try www.dryiceinfo.com for great information and ideas on how to use this dramatic material.
- Scientists study what people were like long ago by examining real mummies. They can hypothesize about their culture, what they ate, and their health by using special microscopes, X-rays, CAT scans and DNA analysis.
- Bats are mammals that fly. Rarely seen Latin American vampire bats do drink blood from other, mostly herd animals, but cannot change into vampires. Austin is home to one of the world's largest freestanding colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats. You can witness them emerge nightly through early November. Go to www.batcon.org/congress for more information.
- Owls have no teeth and swallow their food whole. After the food is digested, the extra fur and bones are regurgitated in a pellet. A fun, and a bit gross, science lesson: you can actually order owl pellets from sites such as www.owlbrandkits.com to dissect and observe what owls hunt and eat.
Finally, here is a quick experiment for which Chris would not have minded donating a little extra candy. Happy haunting!
Candy Chromatography (adapted from Name of Book)
You'll need: artificially colored candy (especially M&Ms and Skittles), white coffee filters cut into strips, cotton swabs, plastic cups and water
1. Use wet cotton swab to remove color from candy.
2. Use swab to make a dot of color on bottom 1/3 of coffee filter strip.
3. Place 1/4" water in bottom of cup and hang bottom of coffee filter strip in water.
4. Watch as colors separate and record results.
5. You can also try mixing different colors in the water in the cup and watch them separate on the filter.
Why this works: Food dyes are made by combining different colors. Some colors have more affinity to water and so will travel further along the filter paper than others. Scientists use this principle to separate mixtures.
Jennifer Acosta, who holds a BS in anthropology, biology and chemistry, teaches a preschool science class at the Brushy Creek Recreation Center. She lives in Austin with her husband and two children.