Sunday, January 25, 2015

X is for Xylophagous Fungi-Growing our own Mushrooms

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       There are so few words that begin with X that most children only know about X-rays and xylophones.  Xayden is especially interested in the letter X so it was fun to teach him a new X word.   Xylophagous (pronounced zy-lof-u-gus) fungi are mushrooms that derive their nutrients from wood and xylophagous insects also gain nutrients from wood.  I explained that termites eat wood and asked if we would like to have those on our house (and why or why not).  The Sugar Snaps figured out that termites could eat the house and having them on the house would not be a good idea.  Then, they worried that the xylophagious mushrooms might eat our house and I put that fear to rest by explaining that they were confined to the logs we were going to grow them on.

We ordered a shiitake mushroom kit similar to this one and an oyster mushroom kit similar to this one.  Our kits came with logs full of shiitake and oyster mushroom spawn.  We placed each log in a foil pan and pierced the four enclosed skewers into the log on the top of each side.  We sprayed the logs with water and then covered them with the enclosed clear plastic 'tents' which had two vent holes in the corners for air circulation. 

 Side view of shiitake log

      This is a diagram I made as a learning tool using one of the shiitake mushrooms we harvested.

They were fascinated by the way the fresh mushrooms felt.

     Each morning it became part of our routine to mist our mushroom logs with water.  We enjoyed seeing the mushrooms begin to rise out of the log.  At first, the process seemed to happen slowly, and then they burst forth overnight as large, ready to harvest mushrooms.  We gave it one more day and they got even bigger!  It was fun to see our children so invested in the process of growing the mushrooms.  I would recommend this project to parents and teachers.  I was as excited as they were to see a log transform into a garden full of mushrooms. The cost of shiitake and oyster mushrooms at the store is high enough to make this project worth the investment.  The freshness and quality of the mushrooms is something you are unlikely to find at the store. 

 The oyster mushrooms took on an alien quality when they emerged from the log.

    We talked about the different parts of the mushroom and the way mushrooms reproduce by releasing spores.  We weighed our shiitake mushrooms by first weighing the bowl and then weighing the mushrooms inside of the bowl and subtracting the bowl weight.  I discussed the math as decimals are beyond their math level.  Our first harvest of the shiitake mushrooms yeilded more than one pound!

     The shiitake mushrooms were ready to harvest first followed by the oyster mushrooms a few days later.  I sauteed the shiitake mushrooms in a little olive oil with garlic and salt and served them over couscous. There was a 100% approval rating with the adults and a 50% approval rating with the kids.  The shiitake mushrooms have a different texture which takes a little getting used to for children (or anyone unfamiliar with the texture).  I needed 1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms to make a  broccoli, egg, cheese and mushroom casserole from Perfect Pantry and it only took one medium oyster mushroom to make 1/2 a cup!  This healthy brunch recipe was a big hit with the Sugar Snaps.  It was really fun to have an indoor mushroom table top garden that they could take care of and then reap the benefits of enjoying them in meals.

     Have you tried growing your own mushrooms? Have you done other projects related to the letter X?  I love to see pictures. Please feel free to share yours on the Capri + 3 Facebook page.  We were inspired to do a learning activity using the letter X by participating in the A-Z STEM Series hosted by Little Bins for Little Hands.  Check out the rest of the activities by clicking through the link.  If you are looking for more X activities, check out this great post from Artsy Momma on X-ray and skeleton crafts.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Learning Shapes in the Dark with Glow Sticks

     The Sugar Snaps know their basic shapes and can typically identify them. They still have some trouble with pentagons and hexagons and may not be able to say without looking how many sides shapes have.  I buy a lot of glow sticks from the dollar store and department store to use as 'treats' to hang from their ceiling at night when they are making 'good choices.'  The party packs of glow sticks come with lots of connectors so I make fun shapes that they imagine to be planets and stars that they gaze up at while snug in their beds.  After I close the door, I hear them talking excitedly about Saturn and Jupiter, sometimes arguing as to which one is which.

     I have seen posts where people use glow sticks to make the alphabet letters which the Sugar Snaps automatically did when I turned out the lights.  I encouraged them to work as a group to make shapes. We counted the sides and I sometimes used pneumonic tools to help them remember, such as the pentagon looks like a house and the diamond looks like a kite.  I told them to make a three sided shape and a four sided shape.  After the basics, they needed hints and direction.  I made the circle and oval as those shapes required connectors which would have been too hard for them to make in the dark. You can see in the photo that the connecters also cause a break in the shapes.  Have you used glow sticks?  What have you done with them?

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