Rock Candy Experiment

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We’ve been making rock candy, and in the true spirit of experimentation we made three batches (and hope that we finally got it right!). There are so many ways to get this confection started, and I’ll share a few thoughts and links for those of you who might want to give it a try. The thing about rock candy that appealed to me is that the ingredients are simple, and I already had them all on hand (Yipee!).

Rock Candy: Ingredient List

adapted from Rock Candy Recipes via The Exploratorium and Science Bob

  • 2+ cups sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • sauce pot
  • wooden spoon
  • clean, narrow jar/s or glass/es
  • wooden skewers
  • clothes pins
  • candy thermometer or digital thermometer that reaches 240 degrees F
  • wax paper
  • food coloring (optional)
  • vanilla extract or other flavoring (optional)

At least 3 hours ahead of time:

Snip the ends off your skewers so they’re not sharp. Dip the ends of the skewers into a simple syrup mixture (sugar + water, 2 sugar: 1 water, cooked until the sugar dissolves) and then roll the skewers in sugar. Set aside on wax paper until dry. This might not take long at all, but we gave it three hours. If you don’t have skewers, you could use the string method (see photo below). The skewer or string act as a “seed” that attracts the cooling sugar to adhere to it.

(String method: Dip your cotton string in the sugar solution, roll it in sugar, and allow it to completely dry. This could take 24+ hours.)

I don’t normally allow my daughter to cook boiling hot things at the stove (do you?), but she begged me to get involved and she did a great job! What are your thoughts on this? Any tips for kitchen safety that also allow for kids to fully participate?

  • Boil 1 cup water in a small saucepan
  • Slowly add 2 cups of sugar and mix with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves
  • Cook sugar solution until it’s 240 degrees F (also known as the soft ball stage in candy making). Some rocky candy recipes say to simply boil the solution until the sugar dissolves. I tried this and it didn’t work for me, but let me know if it works for you!
  • Remove from the heat

  • Add food coloring. Be generous.
  • Add flavor (we made one batch with pure vanilla extract and another with real lemon extract). We added about 1 tbsp. lemon, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

  • Dangle sugar-covered skewer into sugar solution so that it’s about 2/3 of the way down the jar.
  • Attach a clothespin to the top to keep it in place. We put 2-3 skewers in the jars. I wonder if this will be too crowded to work?

And now we wait. Somewhere between 3 and 7 days!! Already feeling impatient, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! Sugar will form on the surface, and I’ve read that you can scoop it out and enjoy it while waiting for the rock candy to form.

Well, the truth is that we couldn’t really wait :) Before washing the pot, we coated a few spoons with the hot candy. And as soon as they cooled, we were treated to homemade vanilla and lemon lollipops!

So, do you think you might join us?

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Resources

Candy Stages, from The Exploratorium

Rock Candy Crystal Kit, from Steve Spangler. In case you don’t want to mess around with the messiness of this project.

 

Flour Sifter

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We have a make-shift sensory tub that often makes its way into the middle of our kitchen where we conduct experiments, make “cakes and pies,” and mess around with the feel of stuff. Some of the things we’ve filled it with are dry beans, oobleck, jello, vinegar and baking soda, and rice.

I’m always on the lookout for neat-o objects that might challenge and delight my child, and when I saw this flour sifter in the market I had a feeling she’d love it. And she does. Loves it. I’ve used it maybe once (I guess I’m not picky about eating lumpy cake), so if we were to mark ownership based on usage, it’s definitely hers!

I set her up with a couple plastic containers full of flour, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a soup spoon, and a crank-style sifter. Once she got to work, she poured a few cups of flour into the sifter and started cranking away, making some great crusty ol’ noises.

She dumped out the flour dregs that didn’t spin through.

And then she had a pile of flour ready to mold into a tiny mountain. This process repeated a handful of times, just long enough for me to do some dishes and start dinner.

What other kitchen tools do you play with?

This post was shared with Art for Little Hands

Egg Dyeing Experiments

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News break :) If you like TinkerLab, please click on over here and give us your vote.

We won’t win anything, but the attention sure is nice!

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I’m excited to share my first inter-blog collaborative project. Are you ready?

Today I’m posting two Easter Egg projects in conjunction with Melissa of The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

After reading about last week’s Rolled Easter Egg Painting, Melissa suggested that we could have gotten extra mileage out of the project if we’d made it a two for one kind of thing. In case you missed it, N and I made paintings by rolling painted plastic Easter eggs all over pieces of paper. When the paintings were done I washed the eggs off, and Melissa’s idea is that we could have kept the eggs painted as decorative treasures. Of course! I loved this idea, so Melissa and I hatched a plan for today’s post: We would simultaneously experimented with Rolled Easter Egg Painting and we’d also share an idea for Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs. You can read my posts right here on TinkerLab, and Melissa’s are over here on her blog, The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

Dyed Egg Experiment #1: We made Rolled Wooden Eggs with wooden eggs, acrylic paint, and glitter. Click here for details.

Dyed Egg Experiment #2: We made Vegetable-dyed Easter Eggs from beets, cabbage, and onions, and used stickers, parsley, and rubber bands to add texture. Click here for more.

While Melissa and I worked with similar materials, our perspectives and those of our children are different, and we hope you’ll enjoy seeing how these experiments transpired in each of our homes.

If you’d like to join the collaboration and share your version of either egg-coloring process (or something entirely different!), you’re welcome to share a photo or link in the comments.

Making Chocolate Lollipops

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Welcome Spring and Hellooooo Rain. This past weekend it poured. All weekend long. So we stayed in and made the best of it by inventing all sorts of rainy day activities like playing with our new chocolate lollipop molds.

Recipe

  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of butterscotch chips. (N isn’t super fond of chocolate, and we hoped that the butterscotch would make the flavor more palatable for her.)
  • Assorted decorations (sprinkles, colored sugar, nuts, dried fruit, etc.)
  • Lollipop mold and sticks. These are very inexpensive, but in their absence, you could make free-form lollipops like these from She Is Dallas by simply dropping a dollop of chocolate right down on waxed paper and then adding a popsicle stick or straw while the chocolate is warm.

Before we began, we made guesses about what might happen to the chips if we heated them up. This was a fine little science lesson in how chocolate turns from a solid into a liquid at a high temperature. After semi-melting the chips in the microwave, we stirred the mixture until it blended smoothly and then dropped/poured it into the molds with a teaspoon. Since I’m working with a preschooler, I didn’t want to bother with tempering the chocolate. Sticks were added and it was ready for decorating!

I handed the whole thing over to N so she could work her two-year old magic on the lollipops.

N adores sprinkles of all sorts, and while I half-expected to witness a grand dumping of the candies, I was surprised by her restraint. Especially on the cooped up rainy day that it was.

The tray found its way into the fridge for what seemed like FOREVER, and then we popped them out.

Yummy!

Well, yummy until you’ve had too much of a good thing. Lucky for me, my child isn’t a huge fan of chocolate and just about gagged after the first big bite. Just so you know the true story here, I tried the lollipops myself, and they really were good.

And this is further reminder that with small children the process far outweighs the product!

The day that we made these, I asked my Facebook Friends what they were creating, and I am inspired by all of the creativity.  See for yourself!

  • A homemade pizza for my family!
  • Cookies!
  • happiness
  • I drew a big road, loads of turns and rotaries Also filled with homes, gas station, supermarket, the works. Taped it to the coffee table, it provided hours of entertainment on this rainy day.
  • playscapes, the beginnings of our spring nature table, and lemon risotto
  • it was a beautiful day, so we hit the zoo, and went walking in a neat part of town for hours! we made box lunches, and made smiles! seeing an old friend and her new baby seem to create good moods!
  • A new appreciation for art for Lili- went to the cantor center and she loved it!
  • My lil one made Holi cards with leaf and petal printing and decoupage. Holi, is a festival of colours, peace and brotherhood – here in India. :)
  • At playschool today it was pouring rain so we made some suncatcher rainbow collages and had story time whilst listening to the rain!

What did you create today?

This post was shared with Kids Get Crafty

The Butter Experiment

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Last week we made butter!

I have friends who made this fine food back in their grade school/scouting/summer camp days, but I haven’t had this pleasure until now. As such, this was much an experiment for me as it was for my child. And it was SO worth it. This project appealed to me because it hardly cost a thing, it was super easy to make, and I was rivited by the process of making my very own butter. And it appealed to my two-and-a-half year old because she could participate in the kitchen by doing many of her favorite things: pouring, mixing, and of course…eating!

Ingredients

  • Glass jar with tight-fitting lid. I used a clean spaghetti sauce jar
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • That’s it! Really, it’s that easy.


Directions

  • Pour cream into a jar. Fill it about 1/4 of the way to allow room for shaking.
  • Shake continuously until the cream divides into butter and “buttermilk”
  • Scoop out and pat butter into a bowl or molds.
  • Save the sweet butter milk for other recipes. Delish.

For this experiment, we made two batches: one in the glass jar and the other with a hand mixer. I hypothesized that the hand mixer concoction would whip up much quicker, so you can imagine my surprise when it never got past the thick cream phase. Given the nature of butter-making, maybe the blender would have worked better. If you’ve had success making butter with a mixer, please share your tips!

N helped with the hand mixer, gave the jar a few shakes for good measure, and then handed her duties off to me and her G-Ma.

There’s my adorable Mother-in-Law being a sport: baby-carrying in one hand and butter-shaking in the other. She’s clearly a pro. And a bonus…as you can see, my baby was enthralled by the process. It’s never too early to help a child develop critical thinking skills!

After about four minutes of shaking, the cream whipped up into a lovely spreadable consistency. Not quite butter, but still worth a taste. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that N is keeping herself busy cutting up coffee filters and snacking on raisins, while her grown-up friends labor away with butter shaking.

Mmmmmm.

About 10 minutes of shaking later I said out loud, “I don’t get it, is it supposed to look like REAL butter? Are we doing this right?” And within seconds the shaking became much easier and the butter was READY! We added a little bit of salt to taste, and then steamed up some corn to put it to the test. And it was amazing.

How it works

When you shake heavy cream, the drops of fat that are usually suspended in the liquid smack against each other and stick to each other.

When was the last time you made butter, and have you tried any variations on this experiment?

Happily shared with Tot Tuesday, We Play, Play Academy, and ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty

Scary Spaghetti

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If you haven’t already seen the newest addition to our site and you like a good challenge, check out the Experiments section. There are currently three posted experiments, which are assignment-like challenges that you can do with your kids. If you tinker with one of these, you have the option of adding a link back to your blog or uploading a photo to share with this growing community. In one of the experiments, which invites you to do something with PASTA, TinkerLab reader Pinkie from the Czech Republic added scary spaghetti.

And we tried it last week.I loved it because it was easy, I could use materials I had on hand, my daughter was completely in charge (with a little help from me since she ran out of steam and I had to man the stove), and it was interesting to see how the little spaghetti sculptures transformed into a twisty pasta snack.

We started with a few hot dogs (veggie, turkey, beef…take your pick) and a bit of spaghetti. N cut the hot dogs into bite-sized pieces, broke the spaghetti in half, and then started poking away.

Once the bowl was full, we cooked them. A little bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese later, and these were ready to eat. Not exactly gourmet, but they get two thumbs up from the two and a half year old.

Happy March to you!

What can we spin?

cutting the plates

My daughter was glued to the spin art table at a carnival that we went to a few months ago, so when I saw this easy spin art machine from Crayola I couldn’t resist purchasing it. My friend Jean at The Artful Parent recently set up a fun spin art project for her five year old using a salad spinner and thin white paper plates. This is the same set-up we had at that carnival, and it’s an amazing low-cost, upcycled option with great results. I bet you could find a salad spinner at the dollar store if you didn’t want to run yours through the ringer.

Here’s what we did:

We added paint…

and gave it a few spins.

Added more paint

And sat back to watch the magic happen.

Like marble painting, once N got going there was no stopping her. She made MANY of these beauties and I’m thinking of turning them into bunting for her birthday. Any ideas?

I wish I could remember how it came up, but we started musing on what would happen if we used ketchup instead of paint. I’m not an advocate of playing with food, but I am an advocate of experimentation, so we brought out the ketchup to see what would happen.

It was a slurry of a mess, that got even more sludgy after we added ranch dressing. Sorry I missed snapping that…it all happened pretty quickly. The next morning, N requested eggs and ketchup…

in the spinner. Of course.

This is a totally reasonable request, right?

So we cut some plates down to size.

Scrambled up some eggs.

Squeezed the ketchup on.

And spun it around until it was good and messy. As you can imagine, the eggs flew around the spinner in every direction. Because of their flatness, I bet pancakes and maple syrup would work beautifully. What do you think?

Aesthetics aside, it still tasted good.

Have you been experimenting in the kitchen? Please share!

This post is happily shared with

We Play: Childhood 101, ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty @ Red Ted Art

Fake Piped Frosting

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Grandma and Grandpa, also known in our house as G-Ma and TD, are here for a long visit and we decided to make some tangerine ginger curd-filled cupcakes to welcome them to town. Our grocery store carries this amazing curd, and it looked like the perfect thing to pipe into our vanilla cupcakes. They were SO addictive!

After we piped the filling into our cupcakes, N thought that piping was SO MUCH FUN that I decided to make a whole activity out of it. I knew she’d want to squeeze gallons of frosting all over everything, and couldn’t bear wasting the good stuff, so we concocted a fake frosting recipe that worked great. So great, in fact, that grandpa thought it was the real deal and almost ate a huge spoonful of it.

I pulled out all of my cake decorating tips so that N could choose the ones she wanted to work with.

I have some lovely cloth bags, but with little kids I’m all about keeping it simple and pulled out the disposable bags. If you don’t have piping bags and/or tips, you could fill Ziploc bags with frosting and then cut off the tip of a corner like this.

I thought that a think finger paint recipe would work well for our “frosting,” and tried one made from flour, water, a little bit of salt, and food coloring. Why salt? I’m not sure, but it shows up as an ingredient in just about every homemade paint recipe I’ve encountered. Does anyone have an answer to this?

I showed N how to hold the piping bag, and she was off! And man, do I know my kid — she squeezed every last bit of frosting out of those bags!

Why it worked

  • My daughter expressed an interest in learning more about piping frosting, so I followed her lead. As a result, she was wholly invested, wanted to be a part of each step in the process, learned new vocabulary words, and her skills with filling and squeezing the bags improved by the end of our session. In the school world, the design plan behind creating lessons that follow a child’s interests is called an emergent curriculum.
  • N LOVES squeezing things.
  • We made the frosting pink. Her choice. In the words of our blog friends Sherry and Donna, it was irresistible.

What we used to make it happen

  • Disposable piping bags
  • Cake decorating tips
  • “Frosting”: Flour, water, salt, food coloring
  • Surface to squeeze frosting onto

Recipe for fake frosting

This recipe is a work-in-progress as I’m not completely satisfied with how it turned out.It turned out a little lumpy, and a bit of extra water and vigorous stirring seemed to make it work better. Regina at Chalk In My Pockets devised a brilliant recipe using soap flakes that looks absolutely edible and creamy. Next time we’ll have to give that a go. If you come up with another recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Food coloring

Pour flour and salt in saucepan. Add cold water and beat with whisk until smooth. Add hot water and cook over a medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Color as desired.

Resources

How to Make Bathtub Puffy Paint (for piping) from Chalk in my Pocket

How to pipe icing tutorial from TLC

A non-piping frosting that I’m dying to try called “The Best Frosting I’ve Ever Had.” Mmmmm. From The Pioneer Woman.

How to decorate cookies with Royal Icing. From Sweetopia.

 

 

 

Making Wheatgrass Juice

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After growing a HUGE amount of wheatgrass a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Move it into our garden? Eat it? Share it with friends? Carissa, one of our readers, suggested folding some of this vitamin-packed juice into a toddler-friendly smoothie, so I did what any sane person would do and bought a wheatgrass juicer. I also want my children to understand the process of growing a plant from seeds to, ahem, eating said plant. But have you tried wheatgrass juice? I wasn’t even sure how much I could handle!

We harvested the grass by cutting it about 1″ above the soil line, and then we fed it into the little hand-cranked machine. My daughter has been a devoted and obsessed fan of cutting things with scissors, and welcomed the opportunity to cut the plants. She tired of it after five minutes (did I mention there was A LOT of grass?!), and then she wanted to man the machine. That was the fun job, after all. She got very good at telling me just how much grass to feed into it for the perfect spin, and admired the juice as it dripped into the collection bowl.

Despite my effort to mix the dark green juice into orange juice (she’s not a big fan of smoothies), it never made it into the toddler’s mouth. If she hadn’t been part of the juicing process, I may have been able to sneak it in, but she saw my not-so-sneaky plan coming from a mile away.

The plants produced three hefty shots of wheatgrass that her dad and I devoured. Not really, but we did get a huge vitamin hit that day! Yum. I learned that you can get two batches of wheatgrass out of a set of seeds, so we’ll harvest more in a couple days. And maybe after drinking wheatgrass becomes the norm around here, my daughter will join the revolution and enjoy a glass with us. Cheers.

How do your children participate in garden and/or kitchen activities?

Valentine Snack

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Since we started cutting hearts in our house last month, I’ve grown to love Valentine’s Day in ways I didn’t foresee. Actually, forget Valentine’s Day — holidays in general have taken on a whole new meaning with children in the house. Everything is amplified. The mailman’s delivery foretells the arrival of potential Valentines. Cookies have to be made. Sprinkles are added to everything edible. We’ve had flowers in the house for the past two weeks. It’s really lovely, actually. So, I volunteered to host a Valentine activity at my daughter’s preschool tomorrow in order to spread some Valentine cheer to her friends and teachers. Initially I thought we’d bring cookies to frost, but I’d probably lose favor with some of the other parents. And, after a long week, I don’t have the stamina to turn my kitchen into a cookie factory. When I landed on the idea of frosting heart-shaped bread with cream cheese and sprinkles, I started breathing easy. They look like a cookies without all the extra sugar, and they are so incredibly easy to make! Yay.

For my test run, I toasted some bread, cut out heart shapes with our large heart cookie cutter, applied some cream cheese, and tossed on Valentine sprinkles. Voila! My plan for tomorrow involves setting up a toaster and inviting the children to cut their own hearts from their toast. I’ll have tubs of spreadable cream cheese (and jam for the lactose-free kids) with butter knives for easy spreading. And lots of sprinkles, of course. My daughter adores cooking with me, and I imagine her friends will enjoy the processes of toasting, cutting, spreading, and sprinkling. What do you think?

I turned my test run into today’s lunch — I added some hummus and turkey to the sprinkles and cream cheese, and we had a sandwich. Weird combo, I know, but my daughter ate it up!

How are you celebrating today?

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!!

Bento Cutting

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My daughter is a curious child, and inevitably finds little treasures that I hide away for rainy days. And so it was with a cute little set of Bento cutting tools this week. But her timing was actually perfect, as It’s just about time to celebrate The Year of the Rabbit. Hopping after the tail of the Feisty Year of the Tiger, The Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be a calm year when we all get a chance to regroup, nest, spend time at home with family, and follow artistic pursuits (!!). Truly, I’m not making this stuff up!

My child loves cutting up play dough and cookie dough, so why not cheese and ham, too? There are some talented folks out there who create gorgeous and hilarious Bento lunches, but I doubt I’ll ever be one of them because my daughter has to be IN CHARGE of the cutting, and I’m merely a lowly sous chef who’s occasionally granted rights to poke cheese through the cutters with a toothpick.

We happen to live near a Daiso store (BEST store ever for people who like to scope out unique, cheap Japanese odds and ends), which is where I scored these fabulous tools. Little hands can use these cutters to easily cut thinly sliced cheese, while cutting meat requires a bit more elbow grease. As such, she beautified a lot more cheese than meat. If you don’t have Bento cutters, small cookie cutters work equally well.

In the end, it wasn’t about the presentation at all. While I was able to squirrel away a few pieces for our sandwiches, she piled all her little pieces into a bowl and then gobbled them all up. We had so much fun making these that I have a feeling you’ll be hearing more about creative lunch-making from us again. Especially since we’re supposed to be following our artistic pursuits this year!

Want more Bento?

Adventures in Bentomaking Blog

20 Easy Bento Lunch Boxes: Parenting.com

Just Bento Cookbook

Enormous List of Bento Resources from Cooking Cute

I’m so grateful to all of my readers for subscribing to my blog, leaving comments that keep me going, joining me on Facebook, experimenting with your children, and bringing your thoughtful ideas to the table. I happen to be one of the lucky ones who lives near the only Daiso store in the USA, and I want to lend a Bento hand to a loyal reader in need of food beautification! If you leave a comment letting me know how you would use this set by Friday, February 4 at 12 midnight PST you will be entered into a random drawing for the cute Bento tools. (Set includes Stainless rabbit mold for rice, Animal food punching tools, Stainless food storage container, Animal sandwich cutter, Green fruit box, Insulated lunch bag).

Wishing everyone an early happy Lunar New Year!

The winner is selected!! Thank you everyone for your participation. I received so much positive feedback on this giveaway that I’ll be sure to have one again soon. Stay tuned…

Vinegar and Baking Soda

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Have you tried the baking soda and vinegar experiment with your kids yet? 

Yesterday N skipped her nap and requested “gooey flour and water” for her quiet time activity.  Did you hear me sighing? I sort of had “read books” or “play with a puzzle” in mind, but I guess that would be too much to expect when we rarely sit down and work on puzzles during non-quiet times, right?

I had a million little things in the hopper, but it seemed like a reasonable request. So, there she was, inches deep in flour, salt, water, and white vinegar. With its clear color and acidic smell, the vinegar gave this sensory project an elevated feeling of alchemy. She liked the smell of it, then tasted it, and then tasted everything.

As I was sitting there watching this serious game of ingredient exploration unfold, I remembered the ol’ vinegar and baking soda trick! So I brought out the baking soda and asked innocently, “would you like to add some baking soda into your cups?” Of course she said “yes,” and her reaction to the merging of the vinegar and baking soda made missing a nap totally worthwhile.

First she add baking soda to all of the cups and then she poured vinegar on top of the baking soda. We played this game in both directions: adding vinegar to baking soda and vice versa.

After depleting my white vinegar reserves, she begged me for more. (Hey! This project is a winner!) Since I was also sort of curious about how the other vinegars would react to the baking soda, I reluctantly handed over my red wine and balsamic vinegars. They each bubbled, but had slightly different reactions.

Happy experimenting!

Happily shared with Childhood 101