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Home Education Magazine

March-April 1998 - Columns

Good Stuff- Rebecca Rupp

Rain, Snow, And Sun: Weather For Kids

The weather in Vermont lately has been spectacularly disastrous. We've had torrential rains, glacial ice sheets, wind, thunderstorms, floods, and week-long power outages. Four counties have been officially deemed emergency zones. This meteorological excitement has affected all of us - small talk about the weather isn't as small as it used to be - and the boys have picked right up on the current trend. Ethan, our middle kid, - the weather freak - was beside himself at missing two days' worth of dramatic data. ("Mom! Where's my rain gauge?")

Weather is a wonderful home-study project. For one thing, it's always right there outside the windows, doing something. When Ethan first conceived his passion for all things meteorological, we began keeping a monthly temperature chart on the refrigerator - the boys graphed daily fluctuations - and we rigged an amateur weather station on the back porch, complete with rain gauge, thermometer, and wind vane. We visited a local (professional) weather station. We built an anemometer. Ethan also meshed meteorology with an interest in photography, taking roll after roll of film of cloud pictures, all duly developed, labeled, categorized by cloud type, and arranged in an enormous photograph album.

For younger weather-watchers, a good starting point for weather investigations might be Franklyn M. Branley's "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out" Science Series (HarperTrophy), a series of short non-fiction picture-books for 4- to 9-year-olds. These are cute, colorful, and clearly written. Weather-related titles include Snow Is Falling, Hurricane Watch, Tornado Alert, Sunshine Makes the Seasons, and Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll - which, in case you didn't guess, is a simple introduction to the science of thunderstorms. For the same age group, Seymour Simon's "Earth Science" Series (Morrow Junior Books) takes a somewhat different approach: a simple scientific text is accompanied by terrific full-page color photographs, including some truly impressive shots of lightning bolts. Simon's weather titles include Storms, Weather, and Lightning. Tomie de Paola's The Cloud Book (Holiday House, 1975) is a charmingly illustrated introduction to clouds: kids learn about all the basic cloud types, including cirrocumulus clouds (that look like sheep) and cirrostratus clouds (that look like bed sheets), and read a very short and foolish cloud story.

Ms Frizzle's class on board the Magic School Bus has also tackled weather topics. In this funny and informative series, a zany third-grade teacher takes her kids on fantastic field trips, each a mix of magic, adventure, silliness, and science. In The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks (Scholastic, 1986), the class ends up participating in the water cycle, shrinking to raindrop size and falling from the clouds to enter the town water system; in The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane (Scholastic, 1996), the class visits a weather station; then their bus turns into a hot-air balloon that transports them into the center of a hurricane. Each book includes a lot of weather facts and general information, presented in the form of short hand-printed school reports posted on each page.

For upper elementary to middle-school-aged kids, Bruce McMillan's The Weather Sky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) covers all the basics of weather, among them moving air masses, highs and lows, fronts, and cloud formations; and then provides an overview of changing weather patterns through the seasons. Each page of the book features a gorgeous color photograph of the sky, a corresponding weather map, and a chart showing cloud heights. Bruce Cosgrove's Weather (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991) is a volume in the popular Eyewitness Series, lushly illustrated with color photographs. Each double-page spread covers a different meteorological topic, among them "The birth of a cloud," "Fronts and lows," "Thunder and lightning," and "Wind."

Franklyn Branley's It's Raining Cats and Dogs: All Kinds of Weather and Why We Have It (Houghton Mifflin, 1987) is a definitely catchy overview of weather for readers aged 9 and up, covering all the basics, as well as such weather oddities as pink snow, ball lightning, and dust devils. Branley also includes instructions for a number of weather-related activities, including how to make rain in a coffee pot. Similar in tone is Spencer Christian's Can It Really Rain Frogs?: The World's Strangest Weather Events (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), a 128-page collection of fun facts, general weather information, maps, photographs, and diagrams. Readers learn about rains of frogs, singing caves, and auroras, plus the basics of weather instruments and their functions, weather forecasting, and weather lore.

Older readers may enjoy How Weather Works by Rob De Millo (Ziff-Davis Press, 1994), a detailed explanation of the science of weather illustrated with superb color diagrams. The book is divided into seven major sections: "A Blanket of Air," "The Source of Power," "Mild Weather: Earth and Its Seasons," "The Atmosphere of Our Neighbors," and "Human Activity and the Atmosphere."

For hands-on activities for young meteorologists, see Jennifer Storey Gillis's Puddle Jumpers (Storey Communications, 1996), simple weather-related projects for early elementary-aged students; or Valerie Wyatt's Weatherwatch (Addison-Wesley, 1990), a collection of projects, quizzes, puzzles, and information for kids aged 8-12. Readers make a pair of Inuit sunglasses, produce a cloud in a bottle, build a barometer, and measure the size of raindrops. Storm-lovers can also make a tornado in a pair of soda bottles with the "Tornado Tube:" this is a cheap little plastic device that, when screwed into place between a pair of 2-liter soda bottles, causes water to spiral from the top bottle to the bottom in a fascinating replica of a tornado vortex. The tubes cost about $2.00 apiece; they're available from most science supply stores and catalogs, including the Delta Education Hands-On Science Catalog, P.O. Box 3000, Nashua, NH 03061-3000; (800) 442-5444; and the Edmund Scientific Company, 101 East Gloucester Pike, Barrington, NJ 08007-1380; (609) 547-8880.

For junior weather observers, Running Press publishes The Weather Tracker's Kit, which includes a plastic weather station and accompanying illustrated handbook. The station includes a wind speed and direction indicator, a thermometer, and a rain gauge; it can be mounted to a back-porch railing, wall, fence, or window frame. The Kit costs $18.95 and is available from bookstores or from Running Press, (800) 345-5359. Weather instruments, in varying degrees of sophistication, are available from most science supply catalogs. Delta Education (see above), for example, carries an array of inexpensive weather resources, including student thermometers, hand-held wind meters, plastic rain gauges, and sling psychrometers/humidity detectors. For the truly dedicated, Forestry Suppliers (P.O. Box 8397, Jackson, MS 39284-8397; (800) 647-5368); Weather Affects (440 Middlesex Road, Tyngsboro, MA 01879; (800) 317-3666); and Wind and Weather (The Albion Street Water Tower, P.O. Box 2320, Mendocino, CA 95460; (800) 922-9463) all carry professional weather instruments in a range of prices. Or you can build your own: David E. Newton's invaluable book Making and Using Scientific Equipment (Franklin Watts, 1993) includes directions for building your own thermometer, barometer, anemometer, hair hygrometer, and rain gauge. The projects look appropriate for kids aged 12 and up (with parental help). All include background information on the featured instrument and suggestions for related scientific activities.

For links between weather and literature, see Phyllis K. Perry's Rainy, Windy, Snowy, Sunny Days: Linking Fiction to Nonfiction (Teachers Ideas Press, 1996), a listing of weather-related fiction and non-fiction books for kids in grades K-5, with associated discussion starters, research projects, and activities. To accompany James Stevenson's Brr! (Greenwillow, 1991), for example, in which Maryann and Louis's Grandpa tells the story of a snow so enormous that the whole town was buried and even sneezes froze, kids make their own tall-tale books, research world snow records, and estimate how long it takes an ice cube to melt. Perry's The World's Regions and Weather: Linking Fiction to Non Fiction (Teacher Ideas Press, 1996) includes a long list of books for kids in grades 5-9, with related research projects. Both books are available from Libraries Unlimited, P.O. Box 6633, Englewood, CO 80155-6633; (800) 237-6124.

For younger readers, not-to-be-missed fiction links to weather include Judi Barrett's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Aladdin Books, 1982), the wonderful tale of the land of Chewandswallow where meals falls from the sky: breakfast brings clouds of scrambled eggs and showers of orange juice, and dinner, blizzards of mashed potatoes. In a sequel, Pickles to Pittsburgh: The Sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Atheneum, 1997), young Kate and Henry fly to Chewandswallow, landing on a bacon-strip runway next to a forest of broccoli trees, and find that the town has founded the Falling Food Company to collect and package their meteorological food for hungry people all over the world. In James Stevenson's We Hate Rain (Greenwillow, 1988), Maryann and Louis's wonderful Grandpa tells the story of a monumental rain when he was a little boy, in which the whole town filled with water, fish swam through the parlor, and the family had to move to the rooftop. Even worse than rain is the stuff that fell from the sky in Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew and the Oobleck (Random House, 1949) in which King Derwent shortsightedly demands that his wizards invent a new form of weather. He gets a dreadful green glop called oobleck.

Young artists may like Colleen Carroll's How Artists See the Weather: Sun, Wind, Snow, Rain (Abbeville Press, 1996), a 48-page collection of full-color reproductions of paintings from a range of historical periods, each illustrating different aspects of weather. For musicians, try Nick Walter's Weather Dude: A Musical Guide to the Atmosphere, a collection of ten weather-related songs for elementary-aged kids, with an accompanying book. The book/cassette set costs $14.95 from Small Gate Media, P.O. Box 9536, Seattle, WA 98109-0535. Young historians may be interested in David Ludlum's The Weather Factor (Houghton Mifflin, 1984), an overview of the role of weather in American history, from the early days of the colonies through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the beginnings of aviation. An interesting take on history for teenagers.

For weather on-line, weather lesson plans can be found at "The Weather Unit" (http://faldo.atmos.uiuc/WEATHER/weather.html), which includes complete study units for kids in grades 2-4; "Weather Here and There" ( /Edu/RSE/RSEred/weatherHome.html), a multidisciplinary weather unit for kids in grades 4-6; and "K-12 Weather Curriculum" (, a collection of lesson plans, activities, and resources for kids of all ages.

For those in the chilly north, there's also a source for snowflakes on-line: see for complete instructions for making paper snowflakes, under the direction of George the Gnome.

Astronomy for All Ages

Astronomy for All Ages: Discovering the Universe through Activities for Children and Adults (Philip Harrington and Edward Pascuzzi; Globe Pequot Press, 1994) is a 210-page collection of activities, background information, and reproducible patterns and study sheets on all aspects of astronomy. The book is divided into six major sections: "The Naked Eye Sky," "The Moon," "The Sun," "The Solar System," "Deep Space," and "Telescopes and Photography." For each activity, there's an age level recommendation, a statement of lesson objectives, a materials list, scientific and historical background information, and detailed instructions. Sample activities include learning to read a star map, measuring star brightness, using an astrolabe, making a sundial, observing the phases of Venus, observing double stars, and building a reflecting telescope and spectroscope. There's also an "Astronomical Scavenger Hunt" activity in which kids are challenged to find everyday objects and categories of objects whose names include astronomical terms. Suggested answers, which appear in an appendix, include everything from Milky Way candy bars to Comet cleanser to Texas, the Lonestar State.

Post It Home

A British geography board game, in which globe-trotting kids move their playing pieces across a map of the world, attempting to send postcards home from six different cities: Cape Town, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Tokyo. As they move from place to place, they must answer general-knowledge "Journey Questions" or geography-related "Postbox Questions." (Example: "What is the name of the longest river in the world?") Once players have reached a target city and correctly answered a Postbox Question, they get to mail a postcard home. The postcards are real cards: kids address them, write or draw a message, stamp the cards with a cancellation rubber stamp, and drop them into a bright-red British-style postbox, assembled from folded cardboard.

Clever and fun, for players aged 7 to 12.

$37.00 from toy and game stores; available by mail order from the Old Game Store, Route 11/30, Manchester Center, VT 05255; (802) 362-2756.

Careers for Kids

Careers for Kids is a series of conversation-starting card decks, designed to encourage kids to discuss and learn about the many career possibilities in different fields. Titles in the series to date include Art, Music, Technology, and Sports. (In the works: Medicine, Science, Construction, and Media.) Each card in a deck covers one career. In the field of music, for example, career possibilities include Music Veejay, Music Teacher, Piano Tuner, Songwriter, and Conductor; art cards include Comic Strip Cartoonist, Art Historian, Photographer, Cartographer, and Cake Decorator. Technology careers include everything from Microchip Engineer and Virtual Reality Programmer to Air Traffic Controller; sample sports careers include Team Manager, Sportswriter, and School Coach. Each card includes descriptive information about the featured career, an interesting fact about the job in practice, a discussion question, and an activity suggestion. The Satellite Engineer card (Technology) for example, lists a few facts and figures about satellites, asks kids to discuss what type of data they would like to record and transmit from a satellite, and suggests a research project based on the first communication satellites.

Each Careers for Kids card deck costs $5.95 from TableTalk, P.O. Box 31703, St. Louis, MO 63131; (800) 997-5676;

On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids

A great collection of dramatic activities for kids aged 7 to 12 by Lisa Bany-Winters (Chicago Review Press, 1997). Readers make puppets, build stage sets, invent costumes, experiment with stage make-up, and perform monologues, scenes, and short plays. The book includes several complete ready-to-use scripts for young actors, among them "Rip Van Winkle," "Rapunzel," and "The Cat Who Walked by Himself." All are simple enough to stage in the family living room. Complete instructions for all activities are included.

Hands On Genetics

Packaged by the Carolina Biological Supply Company in conjunction with the Discovery Channel, this is a fascinating science kit for kids aged 12 and up. The kit contains all the materials for a six-week experiment on inheritance patterns in Drosophila melanogaster, better known as the fruit fly. Young scientists raise and mate cultures of winged (normal) and wingless (apterous) fruit flies, and study the offspring of the first and second generations to trace the inheritance of the wingless gene. The wingless gene is recessive; thus all the first-generation hybrid flies should be winged. Since they all carry one copy of the wingless gene, however, flies of the second generation should be a mix of winged and wingless in a ratio of 3:1.

Kids learn about the care and feeding of fruit flies, the fruit fly life cycle, and a great deal of classical Mendelian genetics.

The kit includes culture vials and stoppers, culture medium, an anesthetizer, a magnifying glass, detailed instruction manuals, and a mail-in postcard for starter fruit fly cultures.

About $35.00 from Carolina Biological Supply Company, 2700 York Road, Burlington, NC 27215; (800) 334- 5551; or The Nature Company, P.O. Box 188, Florence, KY 41022; (800) 227-1114.

Who's At Home?

A board game about animal habitats for kids aged 8 and up. Kids hop animal-shaped playing pieces around a colorful playing path, passing through eight different animal habitats, "Critter City," "Polar Snowland," "Big Sky Prairie," "Endless Desert," "Wild Wild Woods," "Dripping Wetlands," "Yak Yak Mountain," and "Teeming Rainforest." At each habitat, they attempt to win Animal Medallions by answering "Who's At Home?" questions. Examples: "What animal is the largest hunter on the African savanna?" "Why won't a polar bear ever meet, greet, or eat a penguin in the wild?" "What are earths, setts, and warrens?" Answers, with a line or two of explanation, are listed after each question.

Winner is the first to collect all eight Animal Medallions and answer one final question from the "Who's At Home?" square in the center of the board.

The game is fun; and the question cards are substantive and interesting. (Want to know what giant tortoises eat or how the nine-banded armadillo manages to swim?) A winner.

About $25.00 from Aristoplay, Ltd., P.O. Box 7529, Ann Arbor, MI 48107; (800) 634-7738.

Free Stuff for Science Buffs

Who could resist such a title? This 302-page book by Barry Young (Coriolis Group, 1996) is crammed with interesting information and freebies for young scientists. Most of the free stuff is on-line; the author provides addresses and descriptions of sites on the Internet, World Wide Web, CompuServe, and America Online.

The book is divided into five major sections: "Astronomy," "Atoms," "Weather," "The Earth," and "A Few More Mysteries Explained" (which lists resources on time travel, airplanes, and space flight). Not all of these get equal treatment; over a third of the book is devoted to astronomy. Still there's a lot to be found: readers discover, for example, where to find on-line instructions for building a kite, a cloud chamber, or an atom bomb, how to view images from the sea floor or the Hubble Telescope, and who to contact to find out if your name has been assigned to a hurricane. And much more. The book also includes an informative background text, plus fascinating facts - "Science Bites" - in boxes.

From bookstores or contact The Coriolis Group, 7339 E. Acoma Drive, Suite 7, Scottsdale, AZ 85260; (602) 483-0192;

1998 Rebecca Rupp

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