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  • Solar Eclipse Inspired Games For Children

    Today we understand that a solar eclipse is a natural phenomenon, an occasional reminder of our place in the Universe. We understand that whether we continue about our day, stop and observe it quietly, or run around shrieking like a headless chicken, after a few minutes the Moon will pass on by, the Sun will shine fiercely onto our planet once more, and normality will be restored.

    But for ancient civilisations solar eclipses were impossible to explain, and were often met with a sense of terror.

    Use these games to explain how solar eclipses have been understood over thousands of years.

    Ancient China - Bang The Drums

    In ancient China it was believed demons were attempting to steal the Sun. The people would flock together during an eclipse and bang pots and pans as loudly as they can to scare away the demons.

    To recreate this in a game you will need a big yellow ball or balloon to be the Sun, and whatever noisy implements you can find (saucepans and wooden spoons should do the trick).

    Your children can be the demons to start with. Their job is to try to steal the Sun from wherever you’ve chosen to display it. If you catch them, you must bang as loud as you can, and they will abandon their efforts. This is a great game because provided you keep an eagle-eye out for little demons, you can get on with some chores while the little ones are plotting their plan of attack.

    You could just play for fun, set up a points system or even offer yummy rewards for successful total eclipses.

    If your children fancy a turn banging the pots, just switch roles.

    Vietnam - The Giant Frog

    In Vietnamese culture it was believed that the Sun disappeared as a result of a giant frog taking a bite out of it. Of course the Sun was too powerful for the frog and after burning his mouth the frog let the Sun go free.

    Turn the classic ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ into the Giant Frog game.

    Your children are giant frogs and you are guarding the Sun (use a pile of yellow clothes or a Sun made from segments of yellow card). The children call out ‘what’s the time’ and when you answer them they must jump forward like frogs, instead of taking strides. Every time a child successfully reaches you they can take a piece of the Sun and run back to base. But if the Sun gets angry, you must chase the Giant frogs away.

    For older children you can make the game more challenging by putting the Sun on top of the climbing frame or at the top of the slide.

    Vikings - The Chariot And The Wolves

    The Vikings believed the Sun was pulled around on the back of a chariot, perpetually chased by wolves. Every now and then a wolf would catch up and take a bite out of the Sun, causing the darkness, before the chariot sped away, taking the Sun to safety.

    You can recreate this story with a simple game of chase, each taking turns to be the wolf or the Sun.

  • Solar Eclipse Special: How To Watch AND Explain It...

    ...because you know all you'll hear is 'why? Whhhhhyyyyyy? But whhhhy Mummy whyyyyyyy?'

    On Friday 20th March, much of the country will be plunged into darkness as we experience the first solar eclipse in 16 years.

    Most areas will experience an 85-90% eclipse, but some lucky folk, right on the tip of the British Isles will see a full eclipse.

    Here are our top tips on watching the eclipse safely and explaining the science behind it.

    Watching Safely

    There are specially designed eclipse glasses available to buy online. Be sure you are buying from a reputable seller, and check there are no scratches or lens damage to the glasses before you use them. Make sure children fully understand that they should never look directly at the Sun, even when the majority of it is obscured by the moon.

    Even with the glasses on it is only advisable to look at the Sun for a few minutes before taking a break to rest your eyes.

    A safer way, especially for younger children, is to use a pinhole projector. This funnels the light through a small hole, then projects the image onto a piece of paper. Unlike the glasses which can only be used by one child at a time, you can have multiple children looking at the projector image at the same time. And they will have their backs to the Sun, making it much easier for you to supervise them and keep them safe.

    The Science Bit

    A solar eclipse is a wonderful opportunity for children and adults alike to come to fully experience their place in the Universe.

    A complete solar eclipse is possible because although the Moon 400 times smaller than the Sun, the Sun is 400 times further away from Earth than the Moon. So when the two are in perfect alignment, it appears as if the Moon and Sun are the same size.

    A scale model would take you a while to produce, but you can explain the principles using a few toys.

    Hold a tennis ball and a ping pong ball, one in each hand, and ask your children which is biggest. Now take have one child stand at one end of the garden holding the tennis ball out, and another children at the other end, looking as if from Earth. You stand in the middle holding the ping pong ball, slowly stepping closer and closer to the observer until the ping pong ball has completely blocked their view of the tennis ball.

    Another fun way to demonstrate the effect distance has on our perspective of size is to turn your children into giants. Now they know already that their thumbs are not as big as the cat, dog or Mum’s head. But send them to the top of the climbing frame and ask them to imagine squishing animal or human passers by with just their thumbs and see what happens. They should start giggling when they realize their hands look giant when compared to people on the ground a few metres away.

    For more science, fun, games and outdoor ideas, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • New Water Play Ideas For Summer Half Term Holidays

    Playing with water is a great way to cool off during the half term holidays. Give your water play some direction with these fun, but educational water based activities.

    #1 The Leak Proof Bag The experiment involves filling a clear plastic food bag with water, then suspending it underneath your climbing frame or swing set. You then use very sharp pencils, or wooden barbecue food sticks to pierce the bag, from one side straight through the other side.

    Before you begin the experiment, explain to your children what you are going to do, and ask them to make a prediction about what will happen once the bag has been run through with the pencils. Most likely they will expect the bag to start leaking in water. In fact what actually happens is that so long as all the pencils remain in place, no water will leak out. This is because the polymers that the bag is made up of are flexible and hug around the pencil creating a watertight seal. When you are finished with the experiment, remove the pencils and the children can cool off under the homemade shower.

    #2 Filtering Water In this experiment you will take really dirty water, and filter it using materials you have at home, to turn it into clean water.

    Start by getting mucky making a bucket of clean water really dirty, mucky by adding bits of grass, plant matter, soil, and whatever else your children want to mix in.

    Then ask them one question: Can we get this water clean again?

    To clean the water, you will need to create a homemade filter. For this you need to take a clean flower pot with drainage holes in the bottom. Line the bottom with blotting paper, multiple layers of kitchen paper, or a very clean muslin style cloth. On top of this shovel in some sand, then top off with a layer of gravel at least an inch or two thick. The filter needs to be suspended above another pot to catch the water as it drips through. Pour the dirty water into the top, and after a few seconds of patience, clean (or at least cleaner) water will drip through. You can experiment with improving the cleanliness of the water by passing the mix through the filter a number of times.

    #3 Walking Water This is a really simple experiment that you can adapt to try out a number of different hypotheses.

    You will need some plastic cups, water, and good quality kitchen towel.

    The idea is that you put water in one cup, then an empty cup just a little below it, for example one rung down on a ladder or one step below, and connect the two with kitchen towel (which you may want to cut long ways). The water will travel from one cup to the other.

    There are a whole range of ideas you can try out: Race two sets alongside each other, one with hot water and one with cold (the hot water moves faster); try out different food colourings in the water to see if that changes how fast the water moves or what it looks like in the end cup; dissolve some salt in the water first and see what happens.

    For more fun outdoor play ideas, including water play activities, visit the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Play Ideas For Science and Engineering Week

    In celebration of National Science and Engineering Week, we've come up with this list of games and activities that combine scientific learning with outdoor play.

    1) Homemade Volcanoes When vinegar and bicarbonate of soda are combined the reaction generates carbon dioxide, creating frothing, fizzy, hissing fun. Children never get bored of watching this. Set up little pots of bicarbonate of soda and bottles of vinegar with equipment like medicine syringes, pipettes, or even volcano shaped cones, and allow the children to experiment with what delivers the best reaction.

    2) Cola Geyser This works best with mint flavoured mentoes and diet coke. When the carbon dioxide in the soda bubbles come into contact with the gelatin and gum arabic ingredients in the sweet, a reaction generating more gas occurs. Set up experiments with different flavoured sodas, diet and full sugar versions, and sparkling water to see what creates the most gas. You can also add rock salt which will make the explosion more impressive.

    3) Pendulum Play IF you have a climbing frame, monkey bars or swing set, use the frame to create a homemade pendulum. You will need to tie a cup to a piece of string, then tie the other end to the top of the frame. There are two ways to play with this. Firstly you can add stack empty boxes, almost like vertical skittles, and swing the pendulum to knock them down. You can experiment by adding weights, or altering the length of the string, and noting the affect this has on the path of the pendulum.

    A second way to explore the action of the pendulum is by adding paint to it. Poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, and fill with paint which has been thickened slightly with flour. Add large sheets of paper, you could use newspaper or unwanted wall paper. Swing the pendulum, and the paint will make a pattern on the paper corresponding with its journey. Again you can experiment with this by adding weight to the cup (squish some playdough onto the outside), or changing the length of the string.

    4) Colour Wheel For this experiment you will need full fat milk, some washing up liquid and some food colouring. Pour enough milk onto a plate to cover the bottom of it, then add a drop of each colour, spaced around the plate. Take a small piece of cotton wool and dip it into the washing up liquid, then touch it to the plate of milk and see what happens. As the soap declares all out war on the fats within the milk, the colours will swirl around the plate.

    5) Sound Bingo Make up bingo cards of some of the different sounds you might hear outside. For younger children you may need to use photographs, or cartoons instead of written words. Then go for a walk, or find a quiet spot for a picnic and listen out for the sounds on your cards.

    These are just a few ideas to get your started, and hopefully they will inspire you to create your own back garden science experiments.

    For more outdoor play ideas, check out the Wicken Toys blog.

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