Front Porch Favorites:
The Gold Standard For Child/Youth Resources

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Front Porch Favorites: Resources for Parents 
Front Porch Book: How to Help Children- Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Fairy Tale on the Porch
Chapter 2 - Unmet Needs
Chapter 3 - The Answer
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Note: Blue links connect to places you can buy the resource

The goals of Front Porch science are:
 1. To get kids to love science. This is done with experiments and by following THEIR interests, adults answering THEIR questions and helping them explore the environment they live in.
2. To finish their science homework and science fair projects for school.

Science Projects and  Experiments

City Animals
DNA/ Fingerprinting
Human Body

  • A recent college biology text book.  Why? Because children ask more complicated questions than most college kids ask about science. You have to be ready to say, "I don't know, let's find out together". Most kids' science books are weak and provide unsatisfying answers to brilliant young minds. Even kids who are low level readers may have a high level of scientific thinking. Never underestimate them.  Don't use a book that is too old because science changes so quickly.
  • Ultimate Visual Dictionary of Science Don't get the kids version of this book. Again, kids need real, in depth explanations. This book is not for them to read. It is for you to show them the picture, read it aloud, and explain it. See if they can explain it back to know if they really understood. 
  •  What would we do without this website? Why is the sky blue?  All the answers are here. Its like having a scientist with a ginormous brain at your fingertips. Real scientists answer people's questions in their spare time. A priceless resource.  
  • Explaining what the universe is: This little movie from Florida State University takes the viewer on a ride from quarks, to atoms, to molecules, to trees, to the sky and outward toward the  planets, stars etc. A great way to explain a whole lot in 5 minutes. Be ready to answer questions and explain the whole universe! Don't worry, even if you can't explain it, you have cultivated curiosity, the foundation of science. 
  • Visionlearning website for high schoolers. Great animations of chemistry, biology, earth science, general science etc. 
Science Fair Experiments
  • The Garden Dig:  Before we would plant the garden in a vacant city lot, adults would bury a themed set of objects. The kids would rope off the area with string and Popsicle sticks in a grid, get a gridded piece of paper, divide up into a team of who were diggers, recorders etc. and then dig up the objects, draw on the grid where they think they found it, and finally think about how the objects are related to each other to tell a story from the past. (a burial, a house etc). To see a real dig, visit this website.
  • Mummy Rummy  game middle school and up. This is a hard game for some kids to get. It is a card game where kids have to match three pieces of ancient objects to make a whole, but there are three puzzle pieces on each card so they have to figure out a lot. This is a hate or love game for kids.
  • Telescope -  In the city we can't really see anything but the moon. Its an expensive  piece of equipment. We have an old globe of the moon and the kids match the  seas on the globe with the ones on the real moon. Glimpsing the moon close up is awe inspiring to every kid. If you can, do it.
  • Visit your local observatory. This is a hard trip to plan because its all about a sky with no clouds, but its a trip every kid should make at least once.
  • Astronomy on the Beach  This is an event local to Metro Detroit, but maybe they know where other events like this GEM is. In September, there are kids' activities and about 30 telescopes set up aimed at different sky objects. There is also a playground and food at the beautiful Kensington Metro Park. Great for kids and for parents.  Its free with park admission, cheaper than buying your own telescope, and their giant telescopes let you see more than a telescope most people would buy for kids.
  • Astronomy at home  Simple and good online activities. 
  • Sky At A Glance. Find out online what is in the sky tonight.
  • Photos from the Hubble. Keep kids up on the latest finds in the universe with these fabulous photos.
  • Cells alive has great pictures explaining about cells and everything they do.
  • Skyscrapers!: Super Structures to Design & Build  book by Carol Johman. Build skyscrapers from materials at home to understand how they are built. Make a great crane.
  • Machines (Make It Work!) book by Wendy Baker and Andrew Haslam. Excellent projects. Time consuming. More for the middle schooler.
  • Make Your Own Clock kit  is for middle school and up - it is harder than it looks. Kids have to know how to read an exploded view to be able to put it together.
  • LEGO Ultimate Building Set 1st grade and up. Classic. Don't get the sets that make something particular. Just get the pieces. This will encourage their creativity, even though they will not thank you at first.
  • Motors. 3rd grade and up. We've had mixed results with these. Some kids don't build anything and just want to put the motor on anything, and some kids have been brilliant. Its a toss up. And the motors are not remote - they are attached, so its like walking a dog. Lego makes some and K'nex does too. 
  • Knex Value Tub 400 pieces  2nd grade and up. Never as popular as Lego. Its a good idea to sit down and show them how all the pieces fit together.
  • The Way Things Work Game middle school and up. This game is your basic - pull a card and answer a question. It has a few gizmos with it, but overall the kids weren't fond of it. However, they were more fond of this than a science worksheet.

  • Periodic Table/Candy Molecules:  Jelly beans and toothpicks are great tools to teach kids about how to read molecular formulas.  Make each color jellybean a particular atom. They will easily learn the difference between 2 molecules of something and 2 atoms of  something because there is significantly more candy in doubling a molecule than doubling an atom.  So get out those chemical formulas, the periodic table and the candy and get to building.  This site has some simple formulas to use. Or you can just make up stuff - you are just going for the concept here,  really, you are using jelly beans - the kids won't care what they are making, its just to understand atoms vs. molecules and how to read the formulas.  Let them eat them when they are done. 
  • Acids/Bases
    • The classic volcano:  vinegar, baking soda and food coloring in a cup at the top of the snow/pile of dirt that makes the volcano. Be sure they don't think that is how volcanoes really work - that its an exchange of ions that makes the reaction. (Keep a book on volcanoes nearby and plan for another day to make a model of the earth's layers with cake layers.)  It can also be done with pop or lemon juice as the acid.   Also, PH Paper Testing Strips add to the experiment because they will change color and tell kids what number it is on pH scale.  This website will explain what is going on on a molecular level to high schoolers or the adults who are are making the volcano with younger kids. 
    • Scientific Explorer Rocket Car Kit the reaction of acid and base powers this rocket car. You need to have a long smooth strip of sidewalk/asphalt to get the most out of this one.
  • Creative Cosmetics it is difficult to get the kids to focus on the science when there is lip gloss involved, so read the booklet ahead of time and pick which part you think your kids will listen to and want to know.  An excellent kit.
  • Sophisticated Science Perfume Science   it is difficult to get the kids to focus on the science when there is perfume involved, so read the booklet ahead of time and pick which part you think your kids will listen to and want to know.  An excellent kit.
  • Basic Chemistry Explanation website explaining  atoms, neutrons, protons, electrons and finding how many of each are in each atom.  
  • Basic Chemistry Explanations - Atom Basics  website with all the basic info on chemistry written very simply. 
  • Periodic table of elements  website where you can click on any element and it gives lots of information about each one like # of protons, neutrons, etc. 
  • Periodic Table This one is great for printing. 
  • Build an atom online game. Great way for kids to learn about atoms. 
City Animals
  • The science of candy and lots of delicious things on the Exploratorium website.
  • Edible and Inedible experiments from
  • Making Ice Cream in a bag or can. Here is a quick explanation of why it works.
  • Kids can isolate DNA at home. Its quite easy. We used the "DNA I Can Do  That" kit but can't find it again for sale. This one is similar and we have bought this brand of other kits and loved them.   Genetics and DNA kit
  • Fingerprint Kit 5th grade and up. This shows kids how to take fingerprints and observe them. A great kit. Turn it into a game by having them figure out whose fingerprint is on something.
  • Scientific Explorer's Mystery Detective CSI for Kids Science Kit4th grade and up. This game is GREAT. It includes science experiments to do to find out who did it. Kids learn about DNA matching, fingerprints, and acids/bases.
  • How to Talk to Your Dog This book is the first glimpse at animal behavior for kids. It teaches kids about  reading a dog's tail and face to understand them. 
  • Humane Society Community Service:  At our local humane society, kids can't volunteer with the dogs, but they can make them little scarves to look more attractive to potential owners, bake them biscuits, and make them toys. Kids love this, along with a trip to visit the shelter. The local shelter has even brought a dog out for the kids to pet and learn about dog safety. 
  • Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North Amer ica  You find the flower by looking at the color index and then finding the picture of it.
  • Green Fun : Plants as Play book by Marianne Haug Gjersvik. A great book full of traditional things kids do with plants like the grass whistle, snap dragon puppets, and daisy chains. Well illustrated. A must read for people who work outdoors with children. Its short.
  • Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children book by Carol Petrash. Lots of projects you can find better illustrated somewhere else, but can be a supplement to Green Plants as Play because it shows leaf crowns, nature people, wind wands-an easy alternative to kites, dish gardens, flower necklaces, making butter, bark boats, a cloth house using the clothesline and some sheets.
  • The sensitive plant (mimosa). Kids love this plant because when you touch it, it moves. Here is a movie where you can watch it move, but it is better to buy one.  Beware of its little thorns. 
  • Build a model airplane wing from the Reader's Digest How Math Works ,  blow it with a hair dryer and kids will understand lift in how airplanes fly because they will see it in this great experiment. 
  • Young Eagles  this is a national program where they take children for free airplane rides. In Detroit at City Airport, it is especially good because there are often Tuskegee Airmen there for the kids to meet.
  • Wild Wings : Planes, Rockets, and Spacecraft to Build and Fly! This book  is the next step after the basic airplane kids fold in school. You just need paper, scissors, ruler, and paper clips. Around Detroit, Book Beat bookstore has a great collection of paper folding books with more complicated airplane books.
  • The best, easiest kite ever is in the Usborne Rainy Day Book by Alastair Smith page 86. It takes about 15 minutes to make, leaves room for loads of creativity (we use streamers for tails and we never paint - this makes it too heavy to fly - always use markers), and ALWAYS goes up.
  • General Helpful Hints 
    • Gardening is the BEST way to teach science. Here is the skinny on  gardening with children (Ages 4 to 13. It is a rare few kids who want to garden as teens.)
    • Gardening with children follows a very different set of rules than gardening with most adults. The goal of a children’s garden is not to have high production or tidy rows, but rather a love of the natural world and knowledge of the origin of the food we eat. For children, gardening should be play.
    • To plan the garden, ask the children what they want to plant, what types of fruits and vegetables they like, and what flowers they think are pretty. Go through a colorful seed catalog with them for ideas. From this list, choose the items that can really grow in your climate (Kids in the North will almost always list oranges and lemons etc. Take the kids to a conservatory and then you can explain why they cannot grow here and you can also explain about the importance of buying local). If you are unsure what will grow in your area, consult your local extension office.
    • Once you have the list, it is best to buy seedlings for many of the fruits/vegetables. Here is a list of recommended plants to grow from seed/bulb: Watermelon, beans, sunflowers, marigolds, tulips, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, peas, carrots. Most other fruits/vegetables are easier to buy seedlings and plant with the kids. For the first time children’s gardener, using less seeds and more seedlings is more rewarding for the children. As the years go by and you are more comfortable gardening, you can use more and more seeds.
    • Choose a spot for the garden. Most vegetable plants need full sun. A raised bed (four sides of wood with soil/compost inside) is best for the city. If you know for a fact that your soil has never been contaminated, then you can dig in the ground. But otherwise a raised bed is better.
    • Once you buy the plants, teach the children how to correctly put them in the ground. Use a ruler for correct seed depth. Foster independence and reading skills by reading the seed package or seedling’s tag to know how deep to plant, spacing and sun exposure.
    • Most kids prefer fruit to vegetables, so just go with it. It might mean all they want is a strawberry patch. That is just fine.
    • When you choose the fruits and vegetables, get the ones that come in the "normal" color. Many adults have the mistaken idea that children like to EAT yellow tomatoes and red green peppers. While they may be interested to take a look at these oddities,  only adventurous children will eat them. The battle to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables is hard enough as it is – don’t make it more difficult for yourself.
    • When you choose herbs or things that smell, don’t assume children will like new smells. Again, most children like the familiar. Mint is the only common herb that almost all children like. Go to someone else's herb garden and let them smell theirs  to see which ones the child/children you work with like. For example: many articles about children's gardens suggest the pizza garden. This includes oregano. Don't set yourself up: most kids hate the smell of oregano and if you tell them that its in pizza, they begin to reevaluate their love of one of the easiest and cheapest foods parents/caregivers can provide.
Human Body
  •  Skeletons in the Closet Game for middle school and up. Kids spin a spinner and answer questions about the bones in the body then they get little plastic bones until someone completes their skeleton first. Not the most fun game (kids never pick this for free time), but the least painful way to learn the bones of the body. They really do learn them after playing it a couple times.
  • McMinn's Clinical Atlas of Human Anatomy with DVD  So they say they want to be a doctor? See if they (middle school and up) can handle looking at this book of the real preserved human body. If they can't you may want to suggest another profession. 
  • Human Torso Model This is a very durable model of human insides that is challenging (in a good way) to put together. 
  • Dissecting Anything - Lots of kids love to look inside animals. Even a fish from the grocery store can be something to explore. Of course this is only with adult assistance, but get some gloves and let kids hold onto that little fish brain. They are curious.  There are also preserved dead animals which fascinate them. Be sure to have a disposable picture (guts seem to get everywhere when we do this) explaining what each part looks like and what it does. This is best as a copy from a college biology textbook.
  • Grossology- This book is a dream come true for kids interested in boogers, farting and everything that kids are told to not talk about. It gives the scientific explanation of these physical phenomenon.
  • This site is for high school kids and older. It shows parts of the body from different views and explains what each part does.
  • Raising Butterflies:  Monarchs are one of the few butterflies kids can touch and not disable. The group Monarchwatch will send you tags to put on their wings and your butterflies are tracked. They will also send you eggs you can grow.  Few things are as rewarding as this project.
  • Keeping Bugs: Save those pickle jars,  let the kids use a hammer and nail to put holes in the lid and keep it near the front door at all times. Remember to teach the kids that catch and release is the best policy. 
  • Dead Bugs: Dead bugs are incredible finds. Put them in glass jars. Kids love, love, love to look at them. 
  • Bingo Bug game for 3rd grade and up. Maximum learning happens when the caller reads the back of the card explaining about the bugs and what the kids know about the bugs. 
  • Insects, a Guide to Familiar American Insects (225 Species in Full Color, a Golden Nature Guide)
  • Butterflies and Moths: A Guide to the More Common American Species (Golden Guides)
  • It's Disgusting and We Ate It! True Food Facts from Around the World and Throughout History by James Solheim.  A book about how different cultures eat different animals and insects. A fascinating book more about cultural difference, but a good companion book for bug study. A good extra is  Scorpion Amber Candy this website with bug recipes: Insect recipes from Iowa State. Yup. Includes "chocolate chirpie cookies".
  • Rolypolyology  by Michael Elsohn Ross. Everything you want to know about rolypolys and experiments to do with them.
  • Dragonflies (Bugs) book by Janet Halfmann. A very pretty book answering most questions kids would have about dragonflies. This whole series is great. 
  • Brilliant Bees book by Linda Glaser This book will answer most questions kids have about bees. 
  • Images of bugs up close.  This link goes to the search page where you can find a close ups of things like butterfly wings, fleas etc.  
  • Cyberbee - online information all about bees.
  • Cicada Hunt (Katydids) - These are the bugs that leave a big crusty shell on trees and make that loud evening noise in summer (around Detroit). This webpage answers all the questions kids have about them. 
  • An online guide to most bugs from Iowa State Extension
  • Every kid should have some magnets to experiment with. Here are some good ones:
  • The Real Magnet Book by Mae Freeman. A simple, great book about magnets. Great to put with a child's first magnets as a gift. Use magnets to make a bottle-cork boat move, magnet fishing. 
  • Rocks - collect them. 
  • Gemstones Playing Cards 5th grade and up. This takes some prep work, but we take these to the local natural history museum, break up into teams and treasure hunt for the gems on the cards. A riot and the kids read every display card this way. Sneaky!
  • Local geology - visit your local natural history museum to learn about the geology of your area. Ask around and find out what used to be where your house is now. Kids are interested to know that there may have been mastodons in their backyard or a canal where the basement is. 
*this page is dedicated to Jean's many favorite science teachers who inspired a love of science so strong  that it has been passed down to hundreds of children: Mrs.Ospalski, Gerald Hairston, Dr. Hezy Shoshani, Dr. Marsha Richmond, and Dr. Gangwere.
The Front Porch P.O. Box 24744 Detroit, Michigan 48224 USA
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