Spacefaring Sam: The Sun

Today was cold, so we started by building a fire. We decided to have circle time near the fire in the interest of keeping warm. I had begun to get ready for circle time when I realized that my animals were hungry, so I delayed in order to give them feed and water.  I decided to use this opportunity to talk with the kids about the relationship between responsibility and control.  I explained that what I wanted to do was start circle time, but when I decided to do was feed my animals, because I have the responsibility of taking care of them.  We discussed what the consequences would be if I didn’t take care of the things I was responsible for.  We moved from this into a discussion about how, when they were babies, they had had no responsibility but also no control.  And that as they have grown, their ability to be responsible has increased, and so the control we’ve given them has increased.  And that this pattern would continue until they were grown up. 

We began our topic discussion.  I suspected that they already had a pretty thorough understanding of the sun, so Sam asked a pretty open-ended question.  What is this sun thing about?   They knew plenty.  Maya gave Sam a very detailed and enthusiastic explanation about just how hot the sun is. Then she began talking about the energy of the sun, and declared confidently that God had put his energy into the sun, and that the sun gave that energy to us and gives us life.

After discussing the sun, we moved out to a big open area, and I had the kids try modeling the sun, earth and moon with their bodies.  I told them that Cat would be the sun, and Maya would be the earth, walking in a circle around her.  Leo was the moon, circling around Maya while she circled around Cat.  This was a little tricky for them, so I decided to use a large circular tarp as a visual cue for Maya.  I had Cat stand in the middle of the tarp, and prompted Maya to walk a slow circle around the edge of the tarp while Leo ran his circles around Maya.  This time they got it.  Maya asked for a turn as the Sun, so we switched it up.  Maya pointed out that the earth isn’t the only planet, so Leslie and started circling as well, declaring which planets we were.  I told them that there are more planets, but we couldn’t represent all of them because we only have 5 people. Then we listed all the planets together, and talked briefly about the asteroid belt.  Then I asked them if the sun orbits around anything in the way that the earth orbits the sun. Cat declared that we’re orbiting around a black hole.  We had a brief discussion about the milky way, and other galaxies, and the immense size of the universe. 

Then we began our heat gun activity.   This was my first time using a heat gun and knew it required caution, so we had a serious talk about safety before we got started. I set up a hair dryer and the heat gun, and gathered a variety of food items that I thought would be interesting to melt / burn with the heat gun, along with some crayons.  We let the kids choose something to toast / cook with the heat gun one at a time. Leo chose Hershey’s kisses.  At the beginning, we did a side-by-side comparison versus the heat gun.  The heat gun warmed the chocolate a little bit, while the heat gun both melted the kiss and began to char the outside of it.  It was a bit anticlimactic, since it didn’t actually change shape – it just started darkening and mottling on the outside.  I was pretty sure the inside was thoroughly melted, however, so we poked it with a stick and let the molten chocolate spread. 

Next Maya chose marshmallows.  The heat gun toasted the marshmallow beautifully, and we decided to take a brief marshmallow break – the kids each got 3 marshmallows, and had their choice of whether the marshmallows were cooked over the fire or toasted with the heat gun. 

Next Cat chose popcorn.  We decided to heat the popcorn in a mason jar.  The heat gun popped the popcorn pretty quickly, and once they popped, they were light enough that they started flying around the jar in the flow of the heat gun. The kids giggled and laughed in delight, and spontaneously started singing a song about popcorn popping.  

We chose crayons next – at first we just set crayons on the tile and tried to melt them, but ran into a problem when the heat gun made them roll around too much.  So we used the ring from the mason jar to hold them in place.  We thought that perhaps we could melt them into a multicolored circular crayon, but as the crayon began to melt, it run underneath the ring and spread out.  At that point we were excited about the idea of using the heat gun to remold crayons, so I grabbed some silicone molds and broke up some crayon pieces.  The kids took turns filling the cavities of the molds with broken crayon, and the girls both took a turn holding the heat gun (very carefully), and melting the crayon down.  We decided that this was probably not the best method for reforming crayons, since the heat gun swirled the colors and mixed them too much, causing something of a muddy mess. And the first crayons we tried didn’t melt all the way, so there were still unmelted crayons in the bottom of the mold when we popped them out.  Still, it was an interesting experiment. 

Next we moved to the trampoline.  I gave the kids some stuffed animals, including Sam, and we played the song “Why Does the Sun Shine” by They Might Be Giants.  The kids jumped and danced, and tossed the stuffed animals back and forth.  It’s a catchy song that talks about how the sun is made of gas.   After that, we talked about how science is by nature an ever-evolving understanding of the world, and that while scientists used to think that the sun was gaseous, they have come to understand that it’s actually plasma, a whole other state of matter beyond the big 3.  Then we played “Why Does the Sun Really Shine” by the same artists, where they correct their previous song with updated information. 

At that point we went inside for table time.  I offered to help the kids put together a cardboard craft involving a cardboard moon orbiting a cardboard Earth, and they flat-out refused.  They decided to take a mental break and watch some TV instead.