Up for a Challenge?

I was thinking the other day about all of the challenges our family used to take part in as homeschoolers.  There was the Unplug Your Kids challenge, which issued a different word or theme each week as inspiration (such as purple or bug).  There was the Think! challenge.  I know there were many more, and we took part in some of them regularly.

The idea was that there would be a new theme each week, and families would do some sort of activity in the spirit of that theme and then blog about it and report back with the link.  People were encouraged to see what other families had done and it was also a fun way to find other like-minded blogs to visit.

We came up with the purple cabbage pH experiment for the purple theme.


For the “fruit” theme, we made watermelon playdough.


For the “smooth” theme we did sensory handwriting in flour, lotion and other materials.


We did crayon shirt transfers for the “wax” theme.


And so on (check out all of the projects we did for Unplug Your Kids challenges here).

Of course, back then we homeschool bloggers were a different sort.  We blogged to share ideas and resources, record our days, and support each other.  It was informal and personal.  There weren’t always pictures and there certainly weren’t SEO words or Pinterest-worthy title pics.  It wasn’t for money or hits, it was just what we quietly did in some of our spare time to connect with each other, help other homeschoolers and log a part of our lives.  I’m not sure how many bloggers of that sort even exist any more, which is probably a big part of why challenges have mostly died off (on the other hand, I know there must be lots of you out there so please holler if you are!).

But in the spirit of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I thought maybe I could start a weekly challenge if anybody wants to take part.

Each Monday, I’ll issue a theme for the week.  If you want to take part, do some sort of project or activity with your kiddo(s) and blog about it over that week (I think Instagram posts and public Facebook posts could count, too, if you don’t have a blog).  Come back by the next Monday and leave a link to what you did, and check out what others did.

Anybody interested?  Leave a note if you’d like to take part and if there is any interest then I’ll start this month.  🙂

The Purple Cabbage pH Experiment

Okay, as promised, here are instructions for the purple cabbage pH experiment.  Purple also happens to be the theme this week at Unplug Your Kids, so it worked perfectly for us.

You have to do this with your kiddos.  Not only is it educational, but it’s just insanely fun.  🙂

1.  Chop about 2 cups of purple cabbage and cover with boiling water.  Put a lid on it and steep for about 10 minutes.

2.  Strain out the liquid and reserve.  It should be a deep blue-purple color, though it may be affected somewhat by your water.

3.  Put a little cabbage water in each compartment of a light colored ice cube tray or similar container with many sections.  For little kids, a muffin tin works well.

4.  Assemble a variety of substances (preferably white or clear) to test.  For younger kids, put just a few in some larger dishes.  Older kids can gather lots of test substances and use them directly from the containers.

5.  Give each child a small spoon and an eye dropper and explain about the pH (potential of Hydrogen) scale and how pH indicators change color to reflect the pH value of substances (more pink for acidic, more towards green or almost yellow for base, though blue was generally as alkaline as we got).  This site gives more background info (though they do a different experiment).

6.  Let the kids add various substances and see what happens!  Make sure you keep track of which substance was added to which compartment.

Check out this range of colors Victoria got from various substances!

(Substances used on top from left to right:  hot sauce, white wine, lemon juice, witch hazel, alcohol, fingernail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide.  On bottom:  control spot with nothing added, baking powder, alum, salt, club soda, apple cider vinegar, baking soda)

Some of the best reactions were from the alum, hydrogen peroxide, hot sauce (2 drops and it was hot pink!), wine, club soda… okay, there were an awful lot of good substances, and even those that didn’t change much taught us something!

Next time I’d like to compare rainwater (or melted snow) to tapwater to distilled water, plus see about detergent (which is supposed to be very alkaline).

But wait, there’s more!  Once you’ve changed the colors of the liquid in each, challenge the kids to change it back!  Ask them to think about what they can add to a hot pink to make it blue again, for instance.  In a few cases, you end up with a reaction (notably baking soda and vinegar ending up in one compartment).

Obviously, don’t put out substances that can react violently together (like bleach and amonia) but I wouldn’t recommend putting those out to begin with.  The harshest solution we dealt with was probably the fingernail polish remover, which only Victoria and Anna used.

When the little kids were doing it, I only put out very benign materials like baking soda, lemon juice, baking powder and vinegar. Even with just these they can change the colors back and forth and make reactions.  On the second day, I gave Alex a muffin tin, cabbage water, bowls of baking soda and vinegar and a spoon and eye dropper and he happily dribbled, stirred and mixed for an hour!


We discussed pH the whole time we played — how shampoo is supposed to be pH balanced so it doesn’t sting eyes, how some hydrangeas are pink in acidic soil and blue in alkaline, and so on.

We had so much fun we used up our big bowl of cabbage water and made another batch the next day.  🙂


Update: 3/3/17  This project is now featured (along with 51 others) in my new nature studies book:


A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies

(52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More)

It’s available in Kindle version or print version (which also includes nature journal pages, logs for bird sightings, garden/foraging records and more).  🙂  (affiliate link)



Unplugged Project: Making 3D Drawings!


This week’s theme at Unplug Your Kids was color and it fit perfectly in with an activity that the kids did.

Stores have been giving away 3D glasses to promote an upcoming movie and an ad that was supposed to play during the Superbowl yesterday.  We had several pairs and the kids anxiously waited for the big show.

It finally was time.  We all put on our glasses.  And… it was a 30 second commercial for a movie, followed by another commercial for a soft drink or something.  Not quite the thrill they were hoping for.

So Victoria made better use of the glasses and taught the others how to make 3D drawings to view with their glasses!

Daryl had taught her how to do this years ago and it’s very easy.  You draw simple images in red and blue (close to whatever colors your lenses are), making the lines very close to each other.  One color is invisible in one eye and the other in the other eye, and your eyes blend the images to create a wobbly sort of 3D effect where the image seems to float on the page.  I believe the red will appear closer, while the blue part seems farther away.  It’s not quite up to Hollywood levels, but it’s pretty neat.

If you don’t have any 3D glasses and would like some for your kiddos, check at local stores.  They often carry them for promotions at places like Walmart.  Last month we found them at the gas station and grocery store.  We have a few extras and I’d be happy to pop them in the mail if you send a SASE (leave a comment with a link to your email and I’ll give you our mailing address).  You can also find cheap ones for less than a dollar online, plus shipping.


I was going to give you a bunch of links about how it all works but I can’t find any good pages online.  They’re all veeeeeery long and complicated and I’m very tired!  We have a book where we found our explanation, called Extreme 3D: Your Body by Silver Dolphin books.  It even comes with a free pair of the glasses.  😉



Unplugged Project: Square

This week’s Unplug Your Kids theme was square.  I used this project from Art Projects for Kids as an inspiration and then printed out some graph paper with 1/2″ large squares here.

I gave each child a piece of graph paper and told them to draw a basic shape on it, fairly large.  I said they could trace one of their hands (as they did on APFK) or do another basic shape.  Then I told them to use the squares in any way they liked to color in the picture.  I told them that the example one used 2 colors of colored pencils and colored in a diagonal half of each square, but that they could do anything they liked.

Jack and Victoria traced their hands to start and Annalee drew a flower.  They all went in their own directions with what they did next, which is how I think it ought to be!  I loved the creativity in each one’s final result!

I love the little robot guy on top!  🙂

Annalee went in a sort of fabulous quilt direction.  And yes, this was the day of the magic marker freckles!

This took Victoria forever!  I love how colorful it is.

Next week’s theme is balance.

Unplugged Project: Donating for Dollars


This week’s unplugged theme was junk, trash, donate and it was perfect timing.

We are a family of packrats, some of us more than others.  We have too much stuff and I have been trying to purge for quite some time.  I’ve been making progress, but it’s tricky when you have 4 little kids (and one big hubby) who are prone to saying things like But I love my broken hand claw thingee! and (I’m not making this up) You can’t toss my empty Molly Hatchet record cover from college.  It’s a memory!

Sigh.  Good thing they’re all so fabulous in other ways.  😉


I seized upon this challenge and the upcoming holidays and told the kids that I would give them one dollar for each shopping bag they filled with stuff they donated.

It had to be their own stuff, and we had to clear it before the stuff left the house.  I didn’t want any expensive family heirlooms ending up at the thrift store, just in case we had any expensive family heirlooms hiding under the bed or something.

I gave them another, bigger bag and told them it was for joint possessions.  They could donate things that belonged to all of them as long as they all agreed, and they’d each get a dollar if they filled the bag.

Lastly, I told them I’d give them a dollar for each shopping bag filled with trash.  I don’t want them donating things that nobody would really want like ripped up old art projects or broken toys.

Anna and Jack did an excellent job.  Anna is very good at purging, so much so that she hurt Victoria’s feelings by wanting to toss an illustrated letter Victoria wrote her to cheer her up when she was 5.  🙂  I rescued it for a keepsake.

Victoria organized.  Bless her heart, she’s trying.  It’ll take a while before she makes a fortune for any thrift store, but she did nearly fill a bag with trash and that’s progress.

I told the kids that this project goes all week, so they have 5 more days to fill the back of the van with donations.  Here’s hoping they’re rich by Saturday! 

Kitchen: The Learning Tower

Last time we were in Nebraska, Tiffany gave us her Learning Tower.  I’ve always liked the looks of those things but they are PRICEY so I just figured a kitchen chair would have to do!  Now thanks to Tiffany’s huge generosity, we have a really cool new toy/tool/giant piece of furniture that corresponded perfectly with this week’s Unplug Your Kids theme… kitchen.

So we decided to use it lots of ways!

First we used it so Alex could play with water/bubbles in the sink.  He loves that he can climb in it himself and can reach to “help” Daddy with dishes whenever he wants to now!

Next I lowered the platform for Jack and he helped me make Strawberry Rhubarb Banana Bread with it.

Every single kid loves climbing in this thing, and Alex loves is so much that he shrieks when anybody else goes near it.

The most fun of all was last night when we rigged up a dowel and two dish towels to make it into a puppet theater though.

Everybody wanted a turn being the puppet master, and the kids also just loved having a curtain up there to climb through.

Believe it or not, these are happy faces.  LOL  Full disclosure, baby!  This is what it’s usually like in my kitchen.   🙂

But I’m still ending with a sweet one.

Next week’s theme is still unnamed.  It was almost sort, junk, trash or donate but it turns out that was a joke.  Drat.  I could so have used that theme!  🙂

Accidentally Unplugged? Flag

Since we were in Nebraska last week we didn’t get a chance to do a flag project for Unplug Your Kids.  I told the kids last night that they could make up a family flag to take part in the theme, but it was a last minute thing.  Then Daryl said we might be interested in something Polly sent from Scotland while we were gone….

What lovely timing she has!  🙂  Here is the St. Andrew’s flag.  We’re still deciding where to hang it to properly honor it.  Jack keeps trying to hide under it, wrap himself in it and use it as a superhero cape.

It is so neat having such a link with Scotland through Polly and her packages!  She also sent us more shortbread, which we all have been fighting over.  Yum!

Thin: Cooking & Eating Fun

This week’s theme for Unplug Your Kids was thin and I thought it sounded perfect for food.  I’ve been teaching the girls how to cook full meals lately and so we worked it in with that.

First, though, Daddy helped us out by bringing home some Lefse.  This traditional, thin Norwegian flatbread is sort of like a tortilla made out of potato, flour and milk.  Our grocery stores carry it this time of year and Daryl grew up with it so he brought some home for a treat.

The way his family serves it (and many of the others I’ve read online) is to simply spread it with butter and then sprinkle sugar on top, then roll it up.

I think it’s a bit like a soft butter & sugar tortilla (shrug) but the girls sure liked it.

The next night we moved on to cooking school.

The main course:  a simple monterey jack & spinach quiche.

Victoria made the pie crust from a recipe I found at allrecipes.com.  I meant to do a traditional rolling type but I forgot about the chilling time and wanted to get supper done ASAP so I found a quickie crust that you could mix up right in the pie pan and pop in the oven in about 2 minutes.  I thought it sounded like a fun experiment.

The basic ingredients: flour, salt, milk, oil.  We used organic whole wheat pastry flour, olive oil and sea salt, mainly because pie crusts are so unhealthy and I thought the quiche could handle the flavors.  And I’m like that.  😉

(Note: whole wheat pastry flour is lovely and light so it won’t make your family get really snippy about having such a health freak in the kitchen.  Don’t use regular whole wheat flour in pie crust or I cannot be responsible for the lack of love and admiration you may receive!)

It was super easy to mix together and then press flat (or thin, if you will!).

Okay, that picture didn’t look thin so much as goopy, but it shows how easy it was!

The funniest part was when I instructed Victoria to poke holes all over the crust while I ran upstairs to check something.  She wanted to know why I burst out laughing when I came back.

Here’s round two of poking holes, this time with a fork!  Also in the picture, my fashionable camera strap.  Ahem.

We baked it for 15 minutes and it came out golden and lovely.  Next up, Anna for the filling!

The filling was simple– eggs, milk, grated cheese, a bit of salt and pepper, and a thin (aha! see, there it is again!) layer of spinach on the bottom.

We popped that in the oven for a bit, lowered the temp and cooked it a bit more, and pulled out our tasty quiche.

We accompanied it with corn (okay, that’s not really thin at all) and eggrolls from the Laotian market (thin again!).

Jack wasn’t so sure about it but he ate a respectable amount.  Anna liked it all right and Victoria had seconds.  Here’s Anna with the final dish.

It was a tasty theme!  Suggested future theme:  chocolate.  🙂

Unplugged Project: DIY Shirt Transfers


This week’s theme at Unplug Your Kids was wax.  I decided to try this cool crayon transfer craft that I found.

Here’s what we did.

I gave each child a sheet of sandpaper (turns out fine grit works best but we had coarse) and had them each draw a picture nice and heavy with good quality crayons.

We cut out the designs and positioned them over light colored, cotton shirts.  I put paper inside the shirt to keep the crayon from bleeding through and ironed on cotton setting for a couple of minutes, giving bursts of steam to further heat it up.

We let it cool a minute and then gently peeled off the sandpaper.  Then I put a piece of waxed paper down and ironed over that to further set the design.  Again, we waited a minute for it to cool and then we lifted it off.

The finished designs are not as bright or clear as the originals on the sandpaper but they are really neat.  It does help to really color the design fully and make it nice and thick.

Be sure to climb trees while waiting your turn to do your shirt.  😉

Last step:  frolic.

Smooth, Part 2!


The other night after we were done using the coffee and flour from our smooth handwriting project, I dumped them together to let the kids see what it was like to write in that.  The consistency was almost like moon sand according to the kids, so Victoria asked if she could add water.  I said sure and she ended up with something that bore a remarkable resemblance to melted chocolate.  It even smelled like chocolate!

She happily played with the stuff for quite a while, though Jack and Anna were freaked out by it and wanted no part in it.  🙂  Alex was already asleep or I would have let him play with some in the empty bathtub or somewhere else where I could sort of contain the mess factor.  He likes to fling and smack his craft concoctions!

If you have sensory kids, this is a cool concoction to try.

Note: Victoria’s hands are not really the size of dinner plates.  🙂