A Place To Grow

Today we enjoyed a very special science demo day to celebrate British Science Week at A Place to Grow. 

A Place to Grow is set on the slopes of the Cotswold escarpment overlooking the historic market town of Stroud. It provides a space where children can develop learning to depend upon their personality, their ability and their choices. Learning is seen as meaningful and relevant, where children are inspired by desire for knowledge and personal interests.

I must say, Jenson's enthusiasm astounded me. We arrived at 11am and got stuck straight into a small demonstration about how to make toothpaste! By all accounts, you just need some coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, neem, charcoal and stevia sweetener. Heat it all up and then take it back down to room temperature and hey presto: toothpaste! 

I tried some and it certainly puts Colgate to shame! Jenson wasn't so sure about trying it and Wren certainly wasn't going to. Did I use it on their teeth at bedtime tonight? No I didn't, mainly because I couldn't get a toothbrush in either of their mouths due to excessive screaming brought on by over tiredness. I shall try again in the morning. 

This is the hut where all of the inside activities took place. The whole site is basically just a field but they've made a good job of maximising what space there is available and my children certainly enjoyed freedom to roam.

Once we had found our bearings and chatted to a few of the organisers, we found out that they were making paper aeroplanes on board a bus! Yes you did read that correctly. On their site they have the most fantastic red, double decker bus. I wish our garden was big enough to house something like this because I desperately want one now! 

Together, Jenson and one of the organisers constructed a lovely little aeroplane that he was then able to launch off the end of the bus!

Back inside the hut the science workshops were about to start. We scurried over just in time to catch the start of the first one where Cressida from Fun Science, (www.fun-science.org.uk) was introducing the children to the wonderful world of chemical reactions.

Apparently a chemical reaction can be defined as something that produces unexpected results. So adding red food colouring to water and turning the water red is not a chemical reaction, whereas if you added red paint to washing up liquid and it turned green then a chemical reaction would have taken place. I've never been a clever clogs so was as fascinated as the kids to learn about all this science stuff. 

It was a brilliant workshop that had Jenson and Wren totally captivated. Cressida's enthusiasm was wonderful to watch and it really rubbed off on all of the children there. I tried my best to keep up with everything she was saying, even making notes that I could write up in this blog, but as ever, the children are a constant distraction so my notes read a little jumbled!

I'll try and talk myself through it all. Cressida showed the children examples of different chemical reactions that included liquid, heat and colour changes.

One experiment in particular was fairly easy for me to follow. It involved glue, paint and borax solution. Cressida started by giving everyone a plastic cup which she then filled with a little glue. Next, she asked the children to think about which paint colours they might want to add to their cup: red, yellow or blue. This led nicely onto a conversation about mixing colours and so the children in actual fact had seven different colours to choose from. Jenson wanted orange and correctly identified which two colours he would need for that whilst Wren chose green. Here he is raising his hand to inform Cressida that he wants some yellow paint.

A little borax solution is added to Wren's cup.

Jenson started to mix the solution up and was fascinated by the results. It's safe to say this was probably the most enjoyable activity Jenson and Wren did. I helped them to seal their gooey slime in an air tight bag so we could take it home with us. Once home they spent the entire afternoon stretching it over everything: the car, the sofa, Jenson's hair, (I had to cut the slime cut out) and even the reception area at the Chiropractor, where Jenson thought it brilliant that he could stretch the gooey slime the entire length of the waiting room, much to everyone's amusement. My Chiropractor made the best remark telling Jenson that his slime looked like snot, (Jenson had acquired Wren's green goo) and so this prompted much hanging of slime from his nose as I hurridly paid and made a quick exit.

The next workshop was about explosions: Jenson stuck around for this. I must say, I was learning lots. The main ingredient you need to create an explosion is pressure. Cressida demonstrated this by filling a small container with liquid, which bubbled happily without much bang. The next time she did it she put a lid on it. We all waited with anticipation, then...BANG!! The container exploded into the air and whizzed past Jenson's head by a whisker!

The main focus of this session was group work. Cressida split all the children into groups of six, (Jenson's group only had five but it worked in our favour...read on.) Each child once designated with a number then had a job to do. It began with child number 1 who had to fill their cup with a little vinegar, which child number 2 then tipped into a clear plastic bag. Child number 3 then filled another clear plastic bag with bicarbonate of soda. Child number 4 had the tricky job of mixing the contents of both bags together. Being a tricky task it obviously fell to Wren, the youngest and least competent of the lot, so Cressida stepped in to help.  Child number 5, Jenson, had to add a cup of water.

Had there been child number 6 they would have gone outside to perform the explosion. As it was, this task fell to Jenson. The children were asked to tip the bags upside down. Slowly the bag began to inflate and with nowhere for the pressure to go: BOOM!! The bag exploded in Jenson's hands! 

We all went back inside for one more explosive and very heated demonstration! Jenson was enthralled by the flames!

The next workshop was about electricity, By this point Jenson and Wren's attention levels were starting to wane rapidly but we managed to see out a few experiments before we had to leave the room. 

Cressida began with a volunteer who helped her with a demonstration. Using a small charged ball, (I don't know how else to describe it) she asked the children to pick various objects which they thought might conduct electricity. First choice was a plastic cup, which didn't produce a circuit and therefore was an insulator. Next a pair of metal scissors. These did create a circuit and so therefore conducted electricity. Finally, a wooden chess piece. Again, this proved itself to be an insulator.

The next activity was a wonderful group exercise that involved the whole room forming a large circle and joining hands to create an unbroken circuit. Jenson stood there arms crossed looking most unimpressed at the physical activity of having to hold a stranger's hand but the two lads next to him just grabbed his little fingers and eventually he loosened up. Cressida would ask one of the children to let go of another's hand to demonstrate how the circuit became broken.

Finally, the children had just enough energy left to queue up and touch Cressida's magic electricity ball! 

After a fairly intense few hours of science workshops we all went back outside for some fresh air and a good play. Wren enjoyed driving the big red bus but then got told off by another child for sitting in the drivers seat, which apparently is not allowed. Oops! 

They found a piece of blue rope lying around and it sparked a rock climbing session. Brilliant, imaginative role play that was a great trust exercise.

Finally, the day was rounded off with a demonstration from Snow Business, a fake snow company who, after a quick chat about fake snow and how its made, fired great snow flurries off the back of the bus!

The whole day was a real success. Jenson was engaged throughout and showed real purpose in his actions, decisions and intentions. He played well but without any silly misbehaviour. He was happy, calm and keen to stick his hand up and take part in things. I was so proud of him. He's come on such a long way since leaving school. He's more confident, more able and more willing. It was definitely the right decision. I know things don't always go smoothly but when I hear my friends tell me how hard it's getting at school, how bored their children are and how they're not enjoying it, I know I've done the right thing by him. Childhood is there to be lived and I'm going to make damn sure Jenson lives his to the full.