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Sunday, March 11, 2012


It can be a lot of fun to help keep the earth healthy. One way you can help is by taking a second look at everything you think is trash. Maybe instead of sending it off to a landfill, your trash can become art, a toy, or something to help your local wildlife. Here are some ideas to get you started. You'll definitely discover that recycling and using up things instead of throwing them out can be FUN!

From What Happens Next: 2 by Sandra Markle (Longstreet Press, 1996).
Turn Old Newspapers into A Birdhouse

Just follow these steps and birds will soon be moving in. First, blow up a balloon and tie the neck. In a plastic bowl (or a milk jug with the top half cut off) mix a half cup white glue with a half cup of water.

Use scissors to cut strips of newspaper about 2 inches wide. Start with about 50 strips.

Check with an adult to see where it's okay for you to work because the next step is going to be messy. And definitely wear old clothes. Then, one-by-one dip strips of newspaper into the glue, wipe off any excess by squeezing between your fingers, and press the strip smoothly onto the balloon. You'll need to cover all of the balloon, including the neck so you may need to take time out to wash up and cut more paper strips. Let the balloon dry completely. Then repeat. Do this until you've built up four layers covering the balloon.

Now, find out what small birds commonly live in birdhouses in your area. Check on-line or in bird books to find out what diameter hole you'll need to have in your birdhouse for your local guests to move in. Have your adult partner use a utility knife to cut a door that's just the right diameter about 3 to 4 inches above the bottom. That will pop the balloon. So remove the balloon pieces from the inside. Then have your adult partner do one more thing.

Working outdoors, have your adult partner spray a coating of water-based enamel inside the house. (This paint is available at home supply stores). This will help make the house waterproof. Dr. Mimi Shepherd, an avian veterinarian, reports water-based enamel is safe for birds once it's been allowed to dry for several days).

Also have your partner use pointed scissors to drill three drainage holes in the round bottom of the birdhouse. And they'll need to attach a toggle bolt to the pointed end and twist on a wire loop to hang the birdhouse.

Finally, back indoors you can use a paintbrush and acrylic paint to decorate the outside of the birdhouse. Top that with a coat of varnish to make the house waterproof.

From Exploring Winter by Sandra Markle (Atheneum, 1984)
Make A Bottle Diner For Birds

Invite the birds to your house for dinner. To make this bird feeder, you'll need a two liter soft drink bottle with a screw on cap, ball point pen, scissors, string, three wire garbage bag ties (or pipe cleaners), and an aluminum pie plate.

Cut off the bottom of the bottle. Set it on the middle of the pie pan and draw around it.

Cut four large scallops along the cut off edge of the bottle. This will allow a flow of bird seed.

Poke holes in the pan on two opposite sides of the circle you drew.

Poke holes in two opposite sides of the bottle.

Attach the bottle to the pan with the ties. Twist the third tie to each of the other two ties on the bottom of the pan. This will securely anchor the bottle to the pan.

Cut off a piece of string 18 to 36 inches long. Poke two holes in the neck of the bottle. Loop the string through the holes and tie the ends in a knot. That will form a loop you can use to hang the bird feeder.
Pour seed into the bottle through the bottle mouth until the feeder is about half full. Put the cap on the bottle.

Once your bottle bird feeder is ready, ask an adult to hang it in a tree or somewhere you can easily watch from a window. You'll also need your adult partner to help you add seed to the bottle feeder as needed. Once you begin to feed the birds, they will depend on you to keep the food coming. If the weather gets cold and snowy in the winter where you live, your bird feeder may be the best diner in the area.

As you watch your bird feeder, see if you can discover the answers to these questions:

  • What time of day do the birds most often come to eat?
  • Do the birds come more or less often if the weather is stormy?
  • Do the birds usually feed one at a time or in groups?
  • Which birds chase others away? (You may need to search on-line or in bird books to identify the birds that come to your feeder.)

From What Happens Next: 2 by Sandra Markle (Longstreet Press, 1996).

Shoot Water Blasters
You can turn empty plastic bottles with screw-on caps, such as water or soft drink bottles, into a kind of squirt gun--a water blaster.

First, take the cap off the bottle. Have an adult partner help you put a hole in the center of this cap. Using an oven mitt, they'll need to hold the tip of a slim steel nail (a fourpenny nail) in a candle flame for about ten seconds. Then, working over a stack of old magazines, they'll need to immediately press the hot nail tip straight down on the center of the inside of the cap. That will make a small hole in the cap.

Then you can fill the bottle with water and screw on the cap to create your Water Blaster. Take your Water Blaster outdoors and squeeze to fire. Refill as needed. Build up your blasting skills by aiming at plastic cups set on something that is about waist high.

  • How far away can you be and still strike your target?
  • Does the amount of water in the Water Blaster make a difference to its blast power?

From The Kids' Earth Handbook by Sandra Markle (Atheneum, 1991)
Play A Game of Jug Ball

This game will turn empty milk jugs into a great game. Collect six milk jugs and rinse them out. Use scissors to cut the body of the jug, transforming it into a scoop (like the one in the picture). Next create a ball. Use an old dishwashing sponge. Dampen it so it's bendable. Bend it in half and anchor this shape with several recycled rubber bands.

Now, to play jug ball, stand in a circle. Stand close together. Then take three steps back. Toss the sponge ball from player to player. Start by going around the cirlce. Then have the player doing the tossing call the name of the player who must catch the ball. Any player who fails to catch the ball collects one letter of the word "Oops." When all four letters are collected by the same person, he or she must drop out of the game. The winner is the person remaining when everyone else has spelled "Oops."

Just remember, for the earth's sake,
conserve, recycle, and use it up!

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Spring isn't far away and with that comes BASEBALL.  So here's a bunch of activities to get you ready to throw out the first ball of the season.

Do Cold Balls Bounce Less?

In 1965, the Detroit Tigers accused the Chicago White Sox of refrigerating the balls used by their pitchers.  Should a team care if their batters are pitched ice-cold balls?  You can find out.

Slip at least three baseballs  (five is even better) into a plastic grocery sack to keep things clean and chill them in a refrigerator for an hour.  While you're waiting think about how chilling changes other things, like pancake syrup or butter.  Then conduct this test to find out the cold facts.

Work outdoors on a paved area or indoors on a smooth, hard surface (after checking with an adult). Have someone hold a measuring stick straight up with the starting end of the scale on the floor.  Drop the balls one at a time from the top of the stick.  Be sure someone is watching closely to check exactly how high each ball bounces.  Write down each ball's bounce height. Divide by the number of balls tested to find the average bounce height.

Next, spend five minutes warming up the balls using anyway you can think of to do the job safely, such as holding the balls in warm hands or even setting them on a hot water bottle.

Then repeat the bounce test with the warmed balls.

Were the warm balls better bouncers?  They should be.  

How far a baseball travels when a batter strikes it depends on two things: the amount of energy transferred to the ball by the bat and how quickly the elastic material making up the ball snaps back, pushing away from the bat.  When a bat strikes a ball, it compresses the baseball to about one half of its original diameter. Wow! Think about that the next time you watch a batter connect with a ball.

For all those inquiring minds who'd like to know how this historic event effected the game, here's the rest of the story.  Before this event, Major League home teams used to supply game balls to the umpire one at a time throughout the game. So the home team's pitchers could be given chilled balls. Worse, according to the White Sox, the Tigers baked the balls given to their team's pitchers. That meant the Tigers were slugging hot balls.  To end the squabble, today, Major League rules require the home team to supply all the baseballs to be used during the game two hours before game time.

The Balls Have Changed--But Not Much
In the past 100 years, baseballs have only changed in one way. In 1974, cowhide replaced horsehide as the baseball's covering.  Otherwise a baseball is exactly the same, today, as it always was.

There's a cork core inside a rubber ball surrounded by nearly a quarter mile of woolen yarn, a winding of cotton/polyester yarn and a leather jacket sealed with 108 stitches (not one more or one less).

The finished ball must weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces (141 and 148 grams) and be between 9 and 9.25 inches (22 and 24 centimeters) around.
This CT-scan lets you peek inside a real baseball to see its parts.
Don't you love the unique way technology lets us look at things?

Find The Sweet Spot

You'll need a wooden bat and a hammer (either a real hammer or a wooden mallet) for this activity.  Your job is to find the one special spot on the baseball called the sweet spot.  It has that name because striking a baseball with exactly that spot on the bat will make it travel farther than striking it at any other point.  That happens because striking the ball at the sweet spot causes the least amount of vibration within the wooden bat.  And that means the greatest amount of energy will be transferred to the ball.  So where is the sweet spot?

Have a partner grab the end of the bat's handle and let the bat hang straight down. Use the hammer to tap the bat gently near its fat free end.  Then repeat tapping the bat gently at points closer and closer to the handle.  Usually striking the bat at the sweet spot will produce a slightly different sound.  The person holding the bat should also feel less vibrations when the bat is struck at the sweet spot.

To be precise, measure about six inches (15 centimeters) up from the fat end of the bat.  That's where the sweet spot is usually located.

When a Major League player strikes the ball at that
spot, it's not uncommon for the ball to leave the bat
traveling 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour.

In the past, Major League ballplayers tried to make balls travel farther by swinging heavy bats.  Home run hitting king Babe Ruth regularly used a 42 ounce (1,190-gram) bat. Sometimes, he even used one that weighed 52 ounces (1,474 grams).

Today, though, players have decided they can knock balls farther by swinging faster. So they are opting to use lighter bats--ones weighing 32 or even 28 ounces (907 or 793 grams).

Play the Original Game

This is a photograph of a game of rounders being played in 1913.

Before there was baseball, people in England played a game called rounders.  Follow these directions, to play a game of rounders. Then decide how it's similar to today's game of baseball. And how it's different.

To play rounders, first vote on how many players to have on a team--any number will do.  It's not even necessary for the two competing teams to have the same number of players.

Next, vote on whether to have three or five bases.  Once outdoors, space out the bases in a circle. They can be as close together or as far apart as you choose. The pitcher will stand in the center of this circle. The batter from the opposite team will stand at one of the bases. The other players on the pitcher's team will be in the field to try and catch the batted ball and tag the batter before he circles the bases.

Now, play ball.  Each player gets only one chance at bat.  The winning team is the one with the most players to have rounded all the bases.  By the way, in the original game, runners weren't tagged out. They had to actually be struck with a ball tossed at them.

You might be interested in knowing that in the very early days of baseball, players were given four strikes before they struck out.

Check out these websites for even more baseball fun.

The Baseball Hall of Fame   Great information about the Hall of Fame players, trivia about baseball, and Frequently Asked Questions about the game.

Black Baseball League  A place to explore the period of baseball's history when black players had their own league.

Atlanta Braves  A site to find tips from pros, interviews with players and much more. I shared this team's site because I lived in Atlanta for many years and still cheer for the team.  However, you can find information about your own favorite team at

Thursday, March 1, 2012


It was an exciting moment as the names of all the schools that sent entries went into my favorite sun hat to be well-mixed.  Then the winners were drawn out, one-by-one.  

I’m delighted to list the following schools as the 2012 Markle’s Book Explorers.  As you’ll see, it’s, delightfully a group representing lots of different parts of the United States.  I’m definitely looking forward to connecting with each school’s representative to send books, schedule my virtual visits, and more.

         The 2012 Markle's Book Explorers

  • Beacon Cove Intermediate School, Jupiter, Florida
  • Conway Elementary School, Fredericksburg, Virgina
  • Dunlap Elementary, Battle Creek, Michigan
  • North Elementary School, Noblesville, Indiana
  • Oakdale Elementary, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Marshall W. Errickson School, Freehold, New Jersey
  • Maplewood Heights Elementary, Renton, Washington
  • The Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Summit Elementary School, Smithfield, Utah
  • Woodrow Wilson Elementary, Denton, Texas
So Book Explorers get ready to launch. It's time to start exploring with me.  But never fear.
There will be lots of fun activities for everyone. Just put this site on your favorite's list and keep checking back!