Thursday, 7 August 2008

Hawkmoth caterpillar, ice cream making and the messy house

We've had a house full of people today, mostly children, and consequently the house shows all the signs of child exploration and discovery (gulp!). Still it's always nice when we have a bunch of kids and they all get on together and do lots of experiments. Today it seemed to be the turn for setting light to cardboard in the garden! We had a family visiting today who are contemplating home education. Thankfully I don't think we've put them off the idea as it's their second visit lol. I guess they'll see for themselves that having a tidy house is definitely incompatible with home education!

Do you think we have a reputation for being a slightly crazy family? Two days ago a neighbour knocked on the door and brought us a huge weird-looking caterpillar. She found it on her decking, put it in a jar, and then didn't know what to do with it. So she thought of us! We are obviously the home of all things odd and bizarre.

It's a lovely caterpillar, a type of hawkmoth, but unfortunately we couldn't identify exactly which type it was. We put in some apple leaves and some other tree leaves, but it didn't eat anything. Sadly a bit too late I discovered that it might need some soil for pupating in and I think now it has stopped moving altogether. Not sure if it's dying or if it is pupating. I've put it on some compost in its tank and I guess we'll see. If it starts to smell, then I'll know that it's not pupating!

Haven't got a picture of it, but it looks really similar to the poplar hawk moth on this webpage:

(if this link doesn't work, try 'poplar hawk moth caterpillar' in the search box of

Did I tell you that we made ice cream the other day? Not in an ice cream maker, but in a plastic bag using ice and salt (and in our case, some chocolate milkshake powder). We found the idea on . I think it's only members who have access to the instruction video for this particular experiment, so here are the instructions taken directly from the website:

<To try it, you will need:
- milk- sugar- vanilla extract- one quart plastic bags (the "zip to close" kind works best)- a one gallon plastic bag- ice- salt- a small dish
Start with the quart sized bag. Pour in one cup of milk, one tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Close the bag and shake it a bit to mix the ingredients. Open the bag and pour a little of the mixture into a small bowl. Reseal the bag.
Put the bowl of mixture into the freezer. We will let it sit undisturbed as it freezes. Put the sealed bag with the rest of the mixture into a larger plastic bag. Add enough ice to fill the larger bag about half full and then sprinkle about half a cup of salt onto the ice. Seal the large bag. Shake the bag for about 3 minutes. If you hands get cold, you can wrap the bag in a towel, or you can get a friend and play "cold potato" by tossing it back and forth. Of course, if you do that you will have to share the ice cream. Keep going until you can see that the ice cream mixture is frozen.
After it is well frozen, open the large bag and pour out the ice and saltwater. Open the small bag and use a spoon to taste your results. Yum! You now have some homemade ice cream. As you eat it, pay close attention to its texture.
By this time, the mixture in the bowl should be frozen. Try to eat this with the spoon. Not as easy is it? And the texture is much different.
What is the difference? The biggest difference is that the mixture in the freezer sat still as it froze. When the mixture is undisturbed, the ice crystals grow quite large, making the ice cream very hard and icy. By constantly disturbing the ice crystals, you wind up with lots of small crystals instead of a few larger ones. This makes the texture of the ice cream much smoother and more pleasant.
If you are a dedicated scientist, you could also test to see whether adding chocolate syrup to the mixture changes the way that it freezes. Of course, you should also test it with fresh strawberries, diced peaches, blueberry jam, .............>>

It worked quite well, though it took a while for the mixture to freeze and was really really cold while we were doing it. We had to keep passing the bag to each other because it got so cold! I'm not sure it had the same texture as ice cream, it was a bit weird really, and could have done with some sugar, but it kind of worked and we were all chuffed with the result. More experimenting needed I think. I don't think dh was that impressed, 'oh yeah, using ice and salt, I knew about that'. Sigh! Next time I'll get him to do the experiments with the kids!

ds1 has recently been asking to do some more structured things ('structuredish, but not TOO structured, kinda hands on'). I had to do a double-take when he said this. Perhaps we've kind of drifted a little recently and need to structure our days more. He's interested in doing some history stuff, but doesn't seem to know what. I'm not sure he wants to continue where we left off in 'Story of the World' (a history 'curriculum' with an accompanying book of associated activities), so I might just pick a couple of interesting chapters in it and expand those into more of a 'project'. It needs some thinking about. Autonomous education doesn't preclude structured activities, if this is what the child wishes to do and if it isn't something imposed from an external source. So at the moment I'm not sure where this new revelation will take us. Watch this space...

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Yes we have that label for our house too!! Although its currently at lot less wierd than usual...tadpoles gone, no chicks at present, nothing odd in jars and no skulls or bones lurking on the window sill!!
I'm trying to work out a more structured approach for my 7 (soon to be 8) year old. Its easy in theory but much harder in practice, I find. Good luck...