Harness the Heat: Make Your Own Solar Oven!

16 08 2012

How do solar ovens work? Well, as you can tell from your day-to-day observations, the sun not only provides light, but also works as a heat source.  That’s why it’s warmer during the day, when the sun is out, than it is at night, when the moon is up.  With a solar oven, you use reflectors (aluminum foil) to reflect the sun’s light into a closed container and the heat is trapped inside.  With this heat, you can cook some really great snacks!

If you do make a solar oven, remember that the oven can get very hot (just like ovens in kitchens), so you should be very careful when using the oven. Heat-resistant cloths or hand covers are great ways to protect yourself from the heat.

To make your own solar oven, you will need the following materials:

– a pizza box

– aluminum foil

– plastic wrap

– tape

– pen or pencil

– scissors

– ruler

First take your pizza box and draw a square around the lid of the pizza box about two inches from the edges.  Cut along only three edges: the front and sides of the pizza box.  Do not cut the fourth side that runs along the back of the pizza box.


Fold along the uncut line so that you form a flap.  After folding the flap back, wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil and tape it down.  Make sure that the shiny side is facing out and that there are no wrinkles in the foil.


Next, open up the pizza box and cover the insides with foil.  Make sure to cover the bottom and the sides of the pizza box.  Have the shiny side of the foil face up and overlap the pieces to cover any gaps. Tape into place.


While the pizza box is open, we’re going to cover the hole made by the foil-covered flap with plastic wrap.  Before cutting a piece of plastic wrap, you can tape down one side and then unroll the plastic wrap across the hole.  Make sure the plastic wrap is the right size and that it is taped down tightly so that no air can get out.

After these steps, you’ve completed your solar oven!


Click for more to see how to make some yummy food with your new solar oven!

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Woodcrafting 101 Workshop!

9 08 2012

Last weekend at our Museum we had our Woodcrafting 101 Workshop where kids of all ages made their very own woven latices! The process consisted of four easy steps and young boys and girls were able to learn about tools and their functions while they built and decorated their own latice.

An example of a woven latice that Matt made!

Here are the four steps the kids went through in order to make this neat craft!

1. First, the children started out with two 16 inch pieces of wood and measured and marked 1 inch holes for the drilling process later on. Then the children cut the two pieces of wood in half with a dovetail saw and ended up with four 8 inch pieces of wood!

Learning how to mark and measure.

Learning how to use the dovetail saw to cut the pieces of wood in half!

2. Second, the children brought their four pieces of cut wood to be drilled. We showed them how to use a drill and used a larger sized bit for the holes on the ends and a smaller sized bit for all of the other holes. We made sure to wear goggles at all times to protect our eyes!

After cutting the wood, the next step was to drill the holes!

Showing the kids how to use a drill safely.

Making sure to always wear goggles and hold the drill downward at a straight angle.

3. Next the kids took their newly drilled pieces of wood over to the nuts and bolts station where they assembled the frame to their latice! We showed them how to put the frame together using nuts and bolts and how to tighten it with a wrench.

The third step is to assemble the frame!

The kids learned how to use nuts and bolts to put the pieces of wood together.

Learning how to use a wrench to tighten the nuts and bolts.

4. The last and final step was to weave different colored yarn and string through the holes that they drilled earlier with a plastic needle.

The last step is to decorate the latice by weaving different colored string through the holes!

The children got to pick what colors and kinds of string they wanted to use for their latice!

The kids learned how to use a plastic needle to weave the string through the holes of the frame.

Who knew that working with tools could be so fun?! The children were able to learn how to use simple materials and tools to make an awesome craft that they got to take home! Kids and parents had a great time learning how to build a woven latice!

Everyone had a great time at our woodcraft workshop!

Extreme Planet: Compasses, Scavenger Hunts, and Shelter-Building!

17 07 2012

Last week at the Museum, our full day camp for 7- to 10-year-olds explored the ideas of “Extreme Planet!”

For the first day of camp, we talked about the different things that would classify as “Extreme Planet.”  Not only did we talk about the Earth, but we also talked about the Earth’s extremes: hurricanes, tornadoes, and extreme situations!

After talking about all of the extreme possibilities on Earth, we went on a scavenger hunt to find all of the essential, basic elements that we could use to build a shelter to protect us from inclement (or really bad) weather.

During our scavenger hunt, we followed clues that told us which directions to go in to find our next shelter-building material.  For this part of the hunt, we used a compass! Does everyone know how compasses work?

One of our campers holds the compass during our scavenger hunt!

A compass is essentially a magnet, which reacts to the magnetic field of Earth.  This means that across all of Earth there are magnetic waves that the magnet of a compass reacts to.  The magnet, also called the needle, of the compass has one end marked to show which direction is North.  The reason that the needle always points North is because the North Pole has the opposite charge of the needle in the compass.  You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Opposites attract!!

Thus, the North Pole has a magnetic force that is opposite to the charge of the magnet in a compass, which draws the North tip of the needle towards the direction of the North Pole.

After finding all of our materials with the help of the compass, we came back to the Museum and built our best forts!

If you want to try to build a shelter to protect against harsh wind, rain, heat, or other extreme situations, just have a scavenger hunt of your own and collect all of these things:

– 1 card stock or thick piece of paper
– 1 plastic bag
– some tape
– 1 pair of scissors
– some string
– 5-10 skewers/sticks
– anything else you think would make a good shelter

Using any or all of these materials, try to build your own miniature shelter that can protect against extreme weather!  Share your photos if you’d like!

Here is what some of our campers came up with during camp!

Team Green went for a basic tent structure with their sticks and then later covered their shelter with the plastic bag to protect from the elements!

Team Blue built a shelter by curling their paper into a cone and covering it with the plastic bag to protect against rain and wind!

Team Red built a cube shape with their sticks and piece of paper before covering it all with their plastic bag to provide shelter from all of Earth’s extremes!

Recycled Robot Contest

24 04 2012

Every spring, the Austin Children’s Museum hosts a fundraising gala called Imaginarium. This year’s event will celebrate all things tinkering, and in that spirit, we’re decorating the tables with Recycled Robot Centerpieces. We’re asking for submissions of child-created robots and even having a Recycled Robot Contest. Would you like to enter? Here are some guidelines:

  • The robot must be friendly
  • The robot cannot be more than 12 inches tall and 12 inches wide
  • The robot must be made of objects you already have. Please do not go out and purchase anything.
  • The robot needs a name and job. Please wire this on an index card, along with your first name and age.
  • The robot should be stationary – no movable parts, please.

A panel of judges will evaluate the robots on creativity, use of recycled materials, and whether it met the guidelines. Robots will not be returned to their makers.

The winner of the Recycled Robot Contest will win a free Blowout Bash Birthday at the Austin Children’s Museum. A winner will be announced on May 18th.

Want to participate? Download this pdf entry form: robotcontest. Then, make a robot and deliver it to the Museum by Friday, May 4th at 5pm.

We used recycled material we found around the Museum to make a Catbot and this robot collage:

Cardboard Creations: Caine’s Arcade

10 04 2012

Here at the Austin Children’s Museum, we strive to equip and inspire the next generation of creative problem solvers. Every now and again, we come across something that inspires us and reminds us how impactful hands-on creative exploration can be. Today, we discovered this video, about a 9 year-old boy in East Los Angeles who made an arcade out of cardboard.

Lean more about Caine at his website, www.cainesarcade.com, where supporters can also contribute to his scholarship fund.

We are so inspired by Caine’s creations that we’re already planning to host some cardboard arcade making activities at the Museum.

Can you build a game out of recycled materials? What design solutions can you come up with (we love Caine’s hook-and-yarn claw machine!)?

Step-By-Step Kite making!

10 02 2012

With the weather changing day by day, why not create a kite to play with on those windy days? Kites are simple to make, of low cost and can be decorated in any way that you like! Here we will give you a step-by-step guide on how to create a basic kite, but first:

How does a kite fly?

When you pull the kite using the string/yarn, a force known as resistance is applied from the wind to the kite causing it to lift, this is called drag.

What you will need:

–  2 sheets of Paper

– 3 Straws

– Yarn/String

– Scissors, Tape, Pencil.

Be sure to have permission from an adult, or an adult helping you before you start to make your kite.


First: Tape the two sheets of paper together to form a larger working areas for your kie (as shown in the picture, left)

Then draw a diamond shape using a

pencil and a ruler to make sure it is straight. Then cut the diamond out carefully or ask an adult. (Keep the cut off pieces to use later)



Second: Using the straws, tape them to the diamond, as shown in the image, to form a cross shape.




Third: Once the straws are secured into place, take your yarn/ribbon and tie it, or get someone to help you tie it in a knot around the straw at the bottom on the diamond. Cut the end of the yarn so that your kite has a tail of whatever length you would like.

(The tail on the kite in the image was approx. 2 yards)






Fourth: Using the pieces you cut off from the diamond at the beginning, draw a bow shape, or any shape you like. Repeat this 6 times so that you are left with 6 bows. These can then be attached to the tail of the kite to add decoration.




Remember that all of the paper  on these kites can be colored and decorated however you would like!

Your Kite is Finished! Enjoy!

Ready, Set, Roll! Is Back: Build Your Own Roller Coaster at Home

30 01 2012

Have you ever watched skiers going down their track, or gone so fast down a slide that you never thought that you would stop?

With the welcome return of the Ready, Set, Roll exhibit, we thought that we should investigate how you could create your own working track from materials that can be found in your own home.

What you will need:

-Tubing for example: Toilet paper roll, wrapping paper tubes, insulation tubes

-A variety of balls (sizes and weights)




-Books (used to raise height)

We had fun experimenting with different tubes to see how crazy our roller coaster could get! Check it out:

First we built a simple ramp (like a ski jump). The aim of this track is to allow the ball to pick up as much speed (acceleration) while it is traveling down the ramp and finally to land in one of the cups at the bottom.

From this we then tried the same ramp with different balls of different sizes and weights. Would the different sizes/ weights of the balls make a difference?

The image below shows a more advanced track, this time including a loop in the middle. In order to make it around the loop, your ball needs to gain enough velocity. What can you do to make sure your ball builds enough speed to conquer the Loop d’Loop?

To add an obstacle to your track, try adding a jump to see if your ball can make it across the gap.

For our jump, we used paper cups to hold up the track. Do you think you could make a wider gap for your roller coaster?

Finally, you can add a spiral cone to catch the ball in at the end of your track! It is very easy to make–Just draw a circle on a piece of paper, then either cut out a circle or have an adult do it for you. Next, you tape both of the sides together and add your finishing touch to the track!

You can make your roller coaster as long, loopy, or extreme as you want! See how adventurous you can get.

Once you’ve created your own coaster, you can try out ours at the Museum!