Jul 03

How Do Plants Make Food

by Hannah Holt »


Last summer we regrew green onions and celery from stubs.It worked so well that the celery is now as tall as my two-year-old:


We wanted to see if we could do the same thing with lettuce. We put a Romain lettuce stub in a small bowl of water and waited…

Lettuce growth

It’s day 14 and we have some respectable looking lettuce leaves. Cool. Huh?

Along with this project we read The Magic School Bus Gets Planted. After reading the book, my five-year-old asked, “How do plants make food out of water and air?” Or…

How Question

I could have given him a one word answer (photosynthesis!). But he asked a thoughtful question and I thought it deserved an equally thoughtful answer.

First we talked about what is water made of?

Atoms: atoms are tiny, tiny building blocks. They are like the mini-legos of life. Atoms are so small you cannot see them with your eyes or even a magnifying glass. You need a special looking machine (an electron microscope) to see the biggest atoms. Some atoms like to hangout with other atoms:


And others prefer to keep to themselves:


When a group of atoms hang out together, it is called a molecule.

Water is made of molecules. Water molecules look like this:

water molecule

Air is also made of molecules. It is made of lots of different molecules, but the molecule that plants use is called carbon dioxide. It is a carbon atom with two oxygen atoms:

carbon dioxide molecule

Now let’s talk about food, like sugar. Yup, that’s right… some plants use sugar for energy. But they don’t eat it. They make it. Here is what one type of sugar looks like:

sucrose molecule

Let’s check if we have all the right building blocks. To make sugar we need carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Can we get all of those atoms from water and air?

YES! From water we get hydrogen and oxygen, and from air we get more oxygen and carbon. Here is how plants use air and water to make food:


The “big dance” that rearranges the atoms is called PHOTOSYNTHESIS. Photosynthesis means light (photo) and making-stuff (synthesis). Plants take water and air and use light to turn atoms into food. If you have the right building blocks and the right conditions, you can make almost anything.

Note: My seven-year-old liked this discussion, but it was a bit too much for my five-year-old. If this is too much detail for your tykes, here is the two sentence explanation:

Q: How do plants make food out of air and water?

A: Under the right conditions air and water can be turned into sugar (and other foods). The process of turning air and water into food for plants is called photosynthesis.

Extension activity: Playdoh Molecules

playdoh molecules

What you’ll need

  • Different colors of playdoh
  • Cut up straws

Form the playdoh into balls and connect them using bending straws bits. See if you can make all the different molecules in this posts.

Jun 20

DIY Magnetic Whiteboard

by Hannah Holt »


music whiteboard

Last week I was giving my older children their piano lesson, and I thought, “I need a dedicated music whiteboard.”

So we all took a trip to the local music store, and I found what I was looking for. Unfortunately they wanted $56 dollars for the musical whiteboard. $56! That just seemed like a ridiculous number to me.

I didn’t buy it. Instead I stopped by a thrift shop on the way home and picked up a cookie sheet to make my own white board. My total cost of materials was around $6.

What you’ll need:

  • a thrift store cookie sheet
  • white contact paper
  • clear cellophane
  • school glue
  • a foam brush
  • a plastic card (like a credit card)

First I cut the contact paper down to the size of my cookie sheet. This was fairly easy as most contact paper has guidelines on the back. Then I placed my contact paper on the cookie sheet and smoothed out any bubbles with the plastic card. (You can also get rid of bubbles by popping the center with a needle).

DIY whiteboard instructions

After I had the contact paper in place, I drew a musical staff with a permanent pen. If you want a regular board, skip this step.

While I let my marker dry, I cut my cellophane to size. I used the left over plastic from the contact paper to match sizes. Then I painted the top of the contact paper with a thin layer of the school glue.

The cellophane went over the top of the glue (again smoothing out any bubbles with the plastic card).

I let the board dry overnight, and it was ready to use by morning.

music whiteboard2


Jun 12

DIY Father’s Day Shirt

by Hannah Holt »


Need a last minute Father’s Day gift? Try turning your child’s drawing into a t-shirt for Dad. Here’s how:

Fathers Day Shirt

What you’ll need:

  • a colored t-shirt (we found ours at a thrift shop)
  • a piece of cardboard
  • a washable marker (we used Crayola fine point)
  • a Clorox bleach pen

I put the cardboard between the layers of t-shirt and had my son draw a portrait of my husband on the shirt with a washable marker.

After he was finished, I took the bleach pen and copied over his drawing. I let it set for a few minutes. Then I washed out the bleach (quickly!) in cold water. Finally I ran the T-shirt through a washing machine cycle.

Father day Shirt instructions

The entire process (minus the wash cycle) took all of fifteen minutes. I think my husband will like his new personalized t-shirt. It’s way cooler than a tie.


Jun 08

Cupcake Trains (and Atom Packing)

by Hannah Holt »


***First off, I have two giveaways on my Facebook Page this week. I’ll be doing the drawings later today, so be sure to enter soon.***

Now, here’s how to make a train out of cupcakes:

Train cupcakes

I mixed a little extra powdered sugar into my butter cream frosting to stiffen it up. But even so, some of the frosting dripped between the cupcakes. I could have packed the cupcakes more tightly, but then I wouldn’t have had the train shape I wanted, which got me thinking…

What can cupcakes teach us about organic chemistry?

Well, quite a lot, but I was thinking about atom packing. In the above, I packed my cakes together more or less like this:

loose packing

You can see the gaps between the cupcakes are fairly large, but I get nice straight lines and a rectangular shape. I could have packed them much closer together like this:

tight packing

Here you see the gaps are smaller. I probably wouldn’t get any frosting drips between these cakes, but it has the wrong shape. This might be perfect for something like a flower or clown face.

So what does this have to do with chemistry? Well, let’s consider two items with the same chemical make up: diamond and graphite.

diamond and graphite

How can two items, both made completely of carbon, have such different properties? The secret is in the packing.

Graphite has a lot more gaps (or frosting drips) in it’s structure. Its layers are bonded together loosely, so it will flake and rub off.

Diamond, on the other hand, is made entirely of strong bonds. So while graphite is good for sketching, diamond would be better suited for etching. Different “packings” will result in materials with different uses, just like my cupcake arrangements.

This isn’t a perfect analogy because I’m comparing a two-dimensional model (cupcake packing) to a three-dimensional one (crystalline structure). But the principle is the same, and I thought this might be a fun example for young children. Older kids could do something cooler, like hot-gluing ping-pong balls together:

{Image from the Purdue University Chemistry department website.}

Science is everywhere. :)



Jun 03

Father’s Day Fingerprint Art

by Hannah Holt »


Dad’s big day is coming up. Here are a few simple cards that little fingers can put together.

For the scientific dad, use paint and fingertips to create an atom:

science dad

For the gaming dad:

controller dad

For the musical dad:

Dad Day music card2

For the sporty dad:



Note: To set up these cards I printed the text from a Word Doc. Then I sketched out the fill areas with a ball point pen. Finally, I used finger paint to add color to the cards.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men out there making a positive difference in the life of children!

A powerful man