Quite unintentionally, a sudden interest in the various chemical elements that make up our world found us knee-deep in books and supplementary materials embarking with gusto to learn as much as we can about the Periodic Table of Elements.
Well, not exactly sudden as the spark was ignited with TMBG's Here Comes Science CD+DVD.
The obsessive phase started when we bought Theodore Gray's Photographic Elements deck of cards after browsing The Periodic Table website and checking out The Elements book from the library.
The younger child got into it with the intense passion that characterizes his style of learning, completely immersing himself day-in and day-out on a single topic that catches his fancy at the moment. The older child likes juggling multiple areas of interest without being consumed by any one of them at a given time.
The deluxe set of cards in elegant 5-inch square format with stunning pictures got laid out on the floor patiently and enthusiastically. First we concentrated on the standard IUPAC arrangement, learning the names, atomic number, and chemical symbol, before attempting the other suggested layouts.
We played several games once all the cards were laid out on the floor:
calling out one card at a time with its atomic number;
calling out by its atomic symbol;
and as we got more familiar with the properties, calling out by some characteristic and a combination of clues
and picking up the correct card off the floor and making a separate pile.
From something as simple as 'an element found in bananas', 'element used in atomic clocks', 'radioactive element(s) discovered by Marie Curie', the clues we gave each other started getting progressively involved. Like, find 'a Lanthanide named after Ytterby, Sweden, with the highest atomic number'. (There are 4 elements named after Ytterby quarry in Sweden where they were first found.)
The cards also have many of the properties listed on the back of each element. So we started learning about solid/liquid/gas states and density and melting point, man-made vs. naturally occurring, radioactive and toxic/poisonous ones... peeling the layers and delving deeper as long as it interests the learner.
The most-enjoyed game was, "I'm thinking of an element..." along the lines of 20-Questions - only not 20, but just up to 5 questions/clues allowed.
Og: I am thinking of an element. Guess what it is!
Me: Is it a metal?
Me: Does it have more than 50 protons?
Og: No. it has more than 20 but less than 30.
Me: Is its atomic number greater than 25?
Me: Is it Chromium?
Og: No. It is used in making white paints.
Me: It must be Titanium!
(Zinc 30 is also used in making white paints.)
Of course, some can be guessed more easily than others, but, it helped reinforce some facts we picked up reading books.
Speaking of which... It's Elementary! by Robert Winston is the most-enjoyed, much-read book at home by the children. In the edition we have, Oggie found a major typo! On page 84 showing Group I elements, Francium is listed as atomic number 67, whereas it should be 87.
The Elements by Theodore Gray was captivating to the kids for its pictures, the text of course is aimed for an older audience, so the adults in the family enjoyed it more than the kids.
The Periodic Table, Elements With Style (Basher/Dingle) had fun facts but did not engage the kids as much at this time, possibly because we were already hooked on the Photographic Elements cards with gorgeous pictures. We'll be revisiting it and a few others by Adrian Dingle that seem like fun.
The book I enjoy reading, as much for its content as its ease of presentation is Nature's Building Blocks - an A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley. At any given time, it is fun to turn to a random page and read: Think pink, think Erbium - at least when it comes to art glasses and goggles for glass-blowers... Erbium can be mildly toxic by ingestion...
Of course, Tom Lehrer's song, plus a few youtube videos at random came in handy.
One of the games/activities that the 7-yr old likes to play is the Elementary Words! using the Periodic Table Code as we call it. The idea is from Theodore Gray's cards. Spell the word using the chemical symbols.
Sir Nicholas = Sulphur Iridium Nitrogen Iodine Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen Lanthanum Sulphur = 16-77-7-53-6-1-8-57-16
I have a running list of words that we think up in our spare time - some are easy, they reinforce learning of certain elements based on their atomic symbol; some can be decoded in more than one way.
Phone = Phosphorus Hydrogen Oxygen Neon = Phosphorus Holmium Neon
And, of course, Harry Potter books 1 and 2 being somewhat of a recent study, the 7-yo liked to make up names like Bilius and Colin, tried very hard for Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Albus, McGonagall...
The best of all was Og's amazing teacher making up a Periodic Table "work" so children can work on it at school if they choose to! I am blown away by her creativity and dedication.
Since Book-making is a favorite activity at home, a couple of books got made, with the older child working according to her ideas and the younger one collaborating with me, dictating extempore while I put on my Scribe hat and jot it down fast.
The books are works in progress - as we think of something to share in the book, we add a new page.
The five weeks of feverish frenzy has given way to a gently placid pace of study, possibly gradually tapering off to nil, making way for us to explore a new area when ready.