Happy Valentine's Day


All of us here at Sandbox to Socrates would like to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

For some fun Valentine’s Day activities for your family, visit our Holiday Pinterest board.

And how about a Valentine’s Day science experiment?

Biomes of the World by Cheryl


We spent a great deal of time outside this summer. We hiked in the Rockies, we swam in Lake Erie, and we explored the desert. My kids asked lots of great questions: What is that animal? What is that plant? Why does that plant grow here? I answered what I could and then I decided to change directions on our science plans for the year.

I purchased a beautiful Chemistry book with lots of experiments, but that is on hold while we study the biomes of the world as well as the plants and animals that live in each one. The whole idea of building my own course was overwhelming, but I think I have a good grasp on how I want the year to proceed and how I can find all the materials I need.


First – I needed to know how many biomes there are in the world so I could decide how long we could study each one. This proved more difficult than you might think. There does not seem to be a consensus on how many biomes there are. Each book or website I studied had a slightly different list. The basic list I am going with is Deciduous Forest, Rain Forest, Grassland, Taiga, Desert, Tundra, Marine, Freshwater, and Ice. This works well for two reasons:

1) There are nine and I have nine months of school, and

2) They are the biomes as listed on the World Biomes Bulletin Board Set I purchased from Amazon.


I also picked up Many Biomes, One Earth It has a nice overview of the biomes (it breaks them down differently than the map, but has a concise description of each biome). The rest of our books will come from the library. Our local library has a great selection of books on habitats and animals that live in them. So far we have picked up poetry books, activity books, story books, and general information books.

We live in Oklahoma, so it made sense to start with where we live. Our first unit will be on the grasslands of the world – the prairies of America to the Savannas of Africa!

Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Kel's Roach Ranch, Part I, by Kel


This is the story of how I became the owner of Kel’s Roach Ranch.

Ask any mother what she’d do for her child and she would most likely answer, “What wouldn’t I do?”  Most moms will quickly tell you they’d give up anything and everything for their child’s happiness.  They wouldn’t hesitate to lay down their life for their child, but ask them if they would willingly and eagerly let roaches into their home, and you’d probably get a response like, “No WAY, no HOW!”

I knew as a homeschooling mother I’d have to be willing to take on tasks a traditional public or private school mom wouldn’t face, and I was OK with it.  I knew I’d give up some time for my own hobbies, and I was OK with that.  I knew at some point I may have to teach higher level Math, English, and Science, and I was OK with that.  I knew I’d be the one supervising the dissections of frogs and the like, and I was OK with that.  Had you asked me if I’d be the mom who would order a colony of twenty-five roaches and try to breed them, I would have said “What? Why would I ever do that?!”

I will let you know I’m the animal-loving mom, who never batted an eye when the kids wanted rats or mice or other unusual pets.  I encouraged my daughter to save up for the one thing she’s wanted for years: a reptile, more specifically, a dragon.  This past May she’d finally saved enough money and purchased the little guy. He was barely four inches long and tipped the scales at a whopping seven grams.  You may know that reptiles eat things like mealworms and crickets.  Well those crickets were never a favorite of our little buddy, Spock, so we started researching for alternate sources of food.  We found Phoenix worms, which are really just Black Soldier Fly larvae, and he readily ate those for a few months, but then he stopped eating as much and was losing weight.  We started researching again and found out that a great source of food was something called a Dubia Roach.

Dubia Roaches are a tropical species but can live in a typical house at room temperature. They require very little in the way of care: give them a good quality dry roach chow and keep their water crystal hydrated, and you’re good to go.  So we decided to order some.  Spock loved them.  He started eating and growing again.

The next time I needed to buy, a favorite retailer was holding a Facebook auction.  I could get a breeding colony, twenty-five female and ten male roaches complete with the food, water crystals, and food dish if my bid was the highest.  So I placed a bid and wouldn’t you know it, I won!  This was awesome! If I could get the roaches to breed, then I wouldn’t have to keep paying for someone else to send me 1000+ roaches a month to the tune of $45-$65 per order.  I was so excited, and my group of homeschooling friends had mixed reactions. Some thought I was the coolest mom ever and some thought I had completely lost my mind.

My colony arrived a week later.  I got them all set up in a Rubbermaid bin, with a hole cut in the top and covered with screen for ventilation and a heat source placed underneath.  I had actually only gotten a couple of adult females and one adult male; the rest were what are known as “sub-adult.”  That was OK, because that meant that they weren’t old and close to the end of their lives.  I was so happy when they arrived I posted a big thread in my Facebook group for homeschool moms, telling all about how I set them up.  Later that weekend, I moved them to a better bin and had my husband take a video of me holding the different roaches so I could explain if I was holding an adult or sub-adult and let the viewers know if each was a male or female.  I had promised some of those ladies I would do this so they could show it to their kids.  Many couldn’t believe I was willingly holding a roach and letting it crawl all over me! During the conversation about the video my colony was dubbed Kel’s Roach Ranch, and I have to admit, I liked the sound of it.

Read Part 2: The Babies Are Here!

How I Taught 7th grade Chemistry


by Jane-Emily

Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)

Lego chemistry: I found legochemthis to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.


I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry.  Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.