"Mama, why does water put fire out?" - Mothering Forums

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Old 02-15-2012, 05:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So easy, right?  Well, except for "cooling it off" which I knew was not inaccurate but far from complete.  I'm finding it harder on further thought.  

 

So, what can I tell my 5yo?  Where do you like to go on the internet to ask those questions?  She asked me last month, "Mama, how come you can't catch up with a rainbow?"  I know the answer in my head, but for the life of me couldn't find the words.


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Old 02-15-2012, 05:41 PM
 
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefighting#Use_of_water

I googled "why does water put fire out," and this was the third link.

I use google all the time trying to answer my 5 year old's questions. I'm continually amazed by the number of questions a 5 year old can ask that I don't know the answers to. orngtongue.gif

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Old 02-15-2012, 05:45 PM
 
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Old 02-15-2012, 06:00 PM
 
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Well, there's always good ol' wikipedia. For all everyone turns their noses up at how likely it is to be inaccurate, I've found it pretty useful for getting my head around a concept or putting words to a concept. In the list of languages, there's also "Simple English" which can give you inspiration for explanations that won't make a small child's eyes glaze over. (Or in the case of the fire and rainbow articles, anyone who's not a science major, heh.)

 

Anyway, fire needs oxygen. Putting water on it should cut off the oxygen supply. Smothering the fire in other ways also works. The wikipedia article on Fire has the technical terms of it. It also says that fire needs to have heat+oxygen+fuel in the right combination to produce a continual chain reaction to keep the fire going.... If the water cuts off the heat, that breaks the "chain." But certain fires are too hot so the water will just turn to water vapor before it can have any effect.

 

I never realized you can't approach a rainbow! I mean, you can approach those little mini-rainbows caused by waterfalls, and yard sprinklers, and stuff; I didn't know rain-based rainbows were that different....

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Old 02-15-2012, 06:38 PM
 
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Oh, yeah, here's some search engine tips in case you don't know them: 

http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=134479&topic=1221265&ctx=topic

http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=136861&topic=1221265&ctx=topic

 

It occurred to me because I was looking for the howstuffworks.com page about fire, because it if you just type in fire, it gives you crap about how fire sprinklers work, whether iPods catch your pants of fire, fire engines, fire extinguishers, etc. To actually get the fire page on the first screen of results, you have to type fire -sprinklers -ipod -extinguisher -safety -engine in the howstuffworks.com search box. Here's the page by the way:

http://www.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/fire.htm

 

Don't hesitate to use google to search a particular site if that site's own search engine stinks (it's what I had to do to find C# info on the official Microsoft page, since Microsoft likes using Bing).

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Old 02-16-2012, 06:43 PM
 
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The main thing water does is suffocate the fire.  Fire needs air, fuel, and heat.  Water blocks the air, and as it evaporates, cools the fuel down.

 

I actually studied fire in grad school.  It's interesting.  Typically what happens is that the heat causes the fuel (the wood or whatever) to breakdown and give off gases, some of which are combustible (you can see this in a campfire-- as logs heat up, there will often be stuff bubbling out of the cut ends.)  Then the combustible gases burn, giving off more heat, and continuing the reaction.  Stuff that doesn't burn completely leaves a char which can slow the reaction because it insulates the deeper parts of the fuel from the heat of the fire.  

 

But I wouldn't tell any of that to a 5 year old, I'd stick to saying that it drowns the fire and cools it down. :)

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Old 02-16-2012, 08:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by onatightrope View Post

 

 

But I wouldn't tell any of that to a 5 year old, I'd stick to saying that it drowns the fire and cools it down. :)

That's the trick, isn't it?  I just don't know this well enough to translate it into words, or even be sure that I can simplify the information and still be accurate.  Other times I just need to relearn this stuff (or learn it for the first time.)

 

I'm learning my way around the internet now, and "fire" and "rainbows" are on the library list for further research.  I will certainly try some of the searches offered here.

 

We checked out a children's encyclopedia the girls like.  Is there a good science series or encyclopedia that covers a lot of basic science?  One that is more unschooling friendly-- the kind that encourages kids to sit and pore over the pages over and over as well as for looking up specific information?
 

 


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Old 02-16-2012, 08:49 PM
 
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And you can of course show your child that fire needs oxygen if s/he can understand that air is made of things, one of these is oxygen, and then show a candle that ceases to burn when you cut off the air supply.

 

SweetSilver, you also asked about bringing up these concepts in an "unschool-friendly way"   I guess that means not telling something like air contains oxygen, that it is not "nothing,"  but rather letting the question / discovery arise on its own, much as it did when it was first discovered.

 

I am not sure how to do this.  It is beautiful when it happens but our heads are just so full of facts. It is so hard not to tell them, but I have come to appreciate the value of slowing down, not in the way one might refrain from spelling a word or adding a number so that the child does it herself but to leave the space for discovery.

 

Now the question about fire - it arose.  Now would it be "more unschooly" to

- say fire needs oxygen, air has oxygen, water keeps air / oxygen away ergo, fire is out

- demonstrate by covering candle with glass

- show wood burning in the way onatightrope described and work in that explanation as well

- find books / websites to explain

- not answer and maybe keep making fires and putting them out and let child observe and think further on this.

 

If you go for the last option, child may not stay with the experiment long enough to find the answer.  Is that okay with you?  With child?

 

But now I recall questions that I did not readily know how to answer.  For example when my four-year old asked me when the earth started turning, I was a bit stumped.  In retrospect, I am glad I was stumped, otherwise I might have just said something like 4.5 billion years and then maybe went on to talk about what a billion was and thought it was a great moment of spontaneous learning.  Instead I slowly repeated the question and stayed with it for a little while but did not really answer it - maybe somewhere in there I said, "for a very long time."   A year later when we were at the Museum of Natural History dd saw some video about the collisions of heavenly bodies and exclaimed, "so that is how the earth started turning, and those collisions are still going on!"

 

Not an "independent discovery" since she saw it explained on a video, but what impressed me was that the question had stayed with her and she connected this information to it quite readily (and with gusto!).  And I can't even tell you how glad I was that I did not give a date in the past  ... even then I had some inkling that the relevant part was the turning and not the age of the earth - because when she finally got her answer, she delighted in the ongoing nature of the process responsible for the turning.

 

But she has made some independent discoveries too, just through her own observations, and in those moments I am so grateful that she was not taught such and such concept, pre-empting her discovery.

 

Recently on the EC board I posted an article about early learning and got some interesting comments on it - I am going to take the last part and start a new thread here, and hope to hear from the philosophes :-)

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Old 02-16-2012, 09:17 PM
 
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I love the question! I also have  a five year old and he has lots of questions. Currently, "Why is the sky so high?" 

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Old 02-17-2012, 08:18 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I love the question! I also have  a five year old and he has lots of questions. Currently, "Why is the sky so high?" 


Oh, boy, does my 5yo have doozies of questions, and I *love* them, even if I have to say "That's a really good question!  I don't know the answer to that one, we'll have to look it up."  One of the best was "How did the world start?"  

 


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Old 02-17-2012, 07:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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aravinda, you bring up a good point that is regularly in my head-- *how* to respond to their interest.  As a kid, I hated when my mother didn't just give me the answer, like to a simple spelling question or some such.  So, I dislike artificiality.  But I also dislike spoiling that moment of wonder with a superficial answer.  At their ages, I'd rather encourage open minded exploration; naming something can seem like the golden apple of knowledge to adults but I don't think it's necessarily true.  (Did I just mix my metaphors?  So sorry!)  I will often hesitate before I answer and that gives them enough time to work out an answer.  Of course, sometimes I need to ask my own questions to find out the context of what they want to know.  When dd2 asks "How did the world start?" it is important to know what she means by "the world" before I start launching into Big Bang theory and the formation of galaxies and planets!  If the question is about a plant or animal, it is easy to just watch and not say anything if that seems to be right at the moment.

 

So, even if I knew the right answer, what would be some different ways I can respond to the question about rainbows, for example?  If I really wanted to build a fire, I could light a candle or a fire in the stove.  On a sunny day we could make rainbows with the sprinklers, and prisms can help show the idea of refracting light.  But what about that rainbow in the sky or other ephemeral phenomena?  I could just answer, if I know it.  I could ask "what do you think/know?"  Of course, I can raid the library catalog.  

 

What are some other general approaches?

 


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Old 02-28-2012, 03:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Spent a little time with howstuffworks, and that looks like a fun site.  I'd like to find a site that you can ask an actual scientist, and here is why:

 

Today G was playing in the bath with the 32oz yogurt tubs (again! See previous thread.)  She turned them upside down, sunk it in the water (trapping some air) and pulled up.  "Mama, why it it harder for me to pull it up out of the water?"

 

Now, I don't always answer, even if I know the answer.  I mean, I might say "Wow that's interesting" and leave it there.  I don't think 5yo's necessarily need *you* to proffer an explanation, they could merely be expressing their curiosity in words.  So, just fine, even sometimes preferable to *leave it there*.  In this case, I just couldn't put together what I know in a way that would make sense to a 5yo, or even be sure I was telling her the correct thing.  In this instance I said "That's pretty cool I don't know how to describe it" and left her to play around with it.

 

Now, how do I search for that?  She doesn't necessarily need to know about what I might find or what terms I can use though that might be helpful, she wants to know *why it makes it harder* to pull it up.  And I am stumped, honestly, even about how to word this particular search question to bring up the right results.  Luckily she is of that age where she isn't disappointed that I don't have the answer.

 

Anyhow, the rainbows and the fire made it onto our "library list" (and some cool books are on the shelf as a result) and now I have a cool website to refer to.  I like that the entries are short and sweet, unlike Wikipedia.

 

In the end, I am just loving these 2 kids.  They make unschooling so damn easy!  Today they were playing with 12 cans of refried beans I just bought from a case and forming them into letters and yesterday they played *all day* with their Usbourne Spanish and German books (First 1000 Words in...), incorporating the words into some kind of store game I can't even begin to describe.  *All day.*


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Old 02-28-2012, 04:23 PM
 
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Spent a little time with howstuffworks, and that looks like a fun site.  I'd like to find a site that you can ask an actual scientist, and here is why:

 

Today G was playing in the bath with the 32oz yogurt tubs (again! See previous thread.)  She turned them upside down, sunk it in the water (trapping some air) and pulled up.  "Mama, why it it harder for me to pull it up out of the water?"

 

Now, I don't always answer, even if I know the answer.  I mean, I might say "Wow that's interesting" and leave it there.  I don't think 5yo's necessarily need *you* to proffer an explanation, they could merely be expressing their curiosity in words.  So, just fine, even sometimes preferable to *leave it there*.  In this case, I just couldn't put together what I know in a way that would make sense to a 5yo, or even be sure I was telling her the correct thing.  In this instance I said "That's pretty cool I don't know how to describe it" and left her to play around with it.

 

Now, how do I search for that?  She doesn't necessarily need to know about what I might find or what terms I can use though that might be helpful, she wants to know *why it makes it harder* to pull it up.  And I am stumped, honestly, even about how to word this particular search question to bring up the right results.  Luckily she is of that age where she isn't disappointed that I don't have the answer.

 

Anyhow, the rainbows and the fire made it onto our "library list" (and some cool books are on the shelf as a result) and now I have a cool website to refer to.  I like that the entries are short and sweet, unlike Wikipedia.

 

In the end, I am just loving these 2 kids.  They make unschooling so damn easy!  Today they were playing with 12 cans of refried beans I just bought from a case and forming them into letters and yesterday they played *all day* with their Usbourne Spanish and German books (First 1000 Words in...), incorporating the words into some kind of store game I can't even begin to describe.  *All day.*

 

I believe that the reason the container is harder to lift up is that it is full of water, and the water can't fall out because air can't get in to replace it.  Does that make sense?  
 

 

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Old 02-28-2012, 08:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I believe that the reason the container is harder to lift up is that it is full of water, and the water can't fall out because air can't get in to replace it.  Does that make sense?  
 

 

Yes, that is the process that occurred to me.  But what she is asking about is this last little extra *tug* that you need just before the air can come under the submerged rim and allow the water to fall out.   A bigger tug for a bigger container, to be sure, but still an extra tug.  I know my husband pulls water up tubes and inverted goldfish bowls to make little places for the goldfish to swim up to.  It gets really hard to pull that last bit air out of the tube because of the increasing heaviness of the water (he uses a small tube to suck it out like a straw.)  But still, removing them there is still that last tug just before the seal breaks.


 

 


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Old 02-29-2012, 08:25 PM
 
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Ugh. Trying to remember my physics/fluid mechanics here, but I think it is because of surface tension. There is force binding the water molecules together across the surface.  You need a certain amount of force on one side or the other to curve the surface of the water enough to break the tension.  Again, IIRC, you need more force to pull up or push down an object with a larger surface area because it widens the radius of the curvature. Try a cookie sheet versus a cup or bowl that holds the same volume.  Or, you know, google surface tension, and see what you find, I guess.

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Old 03-01-2012, 08:34 AM - Thread Starter
 
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That makes total sense.  It does sound like a good place to start, and maybe I'll find just the kind of site I am looking for-- the kind that take a 5yo's questions and translates it into ScienceSpeak 1.0!

 

Now if she only remembered she is only *5* and is *supposed* to curious about simple machines, not surface tension and fluid dynamics, at least not beyond sink vs. float.  Well, now I have the rumblings of ideas for things she could play with in the bath or sink to explore the concept on her own.

 

 


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Old 03-13-2012, 08:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So.... searching more for the physics of vacuums on the idea that the tub in the water thing (with the last, hard pull) being akin to the extra force it takes to open the fridge door or pry off a suction cup.  My sister gave me some good leads.  Hopefully I can find an awesome website from all this!

 

I finally worked out how to explain the rainbow thing to my daughter, and to Cyllya's curiosity about why you can approach a rainbow in the sprinkler but not in the sky.  I had to go back to what I did know: that rainbows occur from the combination of where the water and you are in relation to the sun.  Your head is always in the center (OK--missing the proper name for that point!).  The water spray from a sprinkler or a waterfall is much smaller than the rain falling from the sky.  Your head is still in the "center", but the size of the rainbow (because of the size of the spray) is smaller and close enough to touch sometimes.

 

I told my daughter this in the car and she said "Why are you telling me this?"  In a shut-up-mama-you're-interrupting-my-book kind of voice.  

 

Ingrate. orngtongue.gif


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