Learning with Lemons
By Diane Flynn Keith
The light, fresh scent of lemons is perfect on a summer day. Their bright, yellow color is uplifting too. Lemons provide the ingredient we need to make refreshing lemonade -- and they are wonderful tools for other hands-on learning activities that kids love. Here are some fun, lemony ideas to try with your little ones....
Lemony Social Studies!
If you live in an area where lemons grow (especially California and Arizona that produce 95% of the U.S. crop), try to find a tree and get permission (if needed) to pick some fresh lemons. Be sure to point out the shape of the tree, the color of the tree trunk, bark, blossoms, and branches. Notice the leaves -- what color are they, what shape? Check out these pictures of a lemon tree, lemon blossoms, and lemon fruit.
If you don't have lemons growing locally, then head to the farmer's market or grocery store to purchase some lemons. They are usually inexpensive at this time of year. Here's a directory of farmer's markets throughout the U.S.
Lemons are thought to be native to Southeast Asia -- the area next to India and China. (Be sure to point those countries out on a globe so your child can see where they are in relation to where you live.) Here's a map of Southeast Asia. Traders brought lemons to our part of the world long ago.
There are two major varieties of lemons -- Lisbon and Eureka -- that are quite similar. You may have heard of a Meyer lemon. It's actually a cross between a lemon and either an orange or a mandarin. A Meyer lemon (named after Fred Meyer who discovered it in the early 1900's) has thin skin and is less tart than the Lisbon and Eureka lemons. If you can find a Lisbon or Eureka Lemon and a Meyer Lemon you can compare them. Notice the skin, color, peel, fragrance, size, fruit pulp, seeds, taste, etc.
Lemony Math & Science
Here are some things you can do with your lemons...
- Hold your lemon and observe it. What color is it? What shape? Is it rough or smooth? Is it heavy or light? Is it soft or hard? Which end is the stem-end that was attached to the tree? Does your lemon have a stamp on it? What does the stamp say and what does that mean?
- Smell your lemon. Use your fingernail to nick the lemon rind and smell it again. Is the scent strong or mild? Do you like the way it smells? Why or why not?
- Measure your lemon. How long is it? Measure the circumference of your lemon. How big is it? Weigh your lemon. How much does it weigh?
- Do lemons float or sink? Fill the sink or a bucket with water and find out.
- How many seeds are inside of a lemon? Take a guess and write it down. Then, demonstrate how to cut a lemon in half. Before you start searching for seeds look at the two lemon halves. See the pattern? Notice the symmetrical, triangle-shaped segments. How many segments are there? Count them and find out! Do you see any seeds? Show your child how to use a lemon juicer to hand-squeeze the lemons. Strain the juice. (Reserve it for other projects described below). Use a spoon to remove the seeds from pulp and place them on a paper towel. Count the seeds. Was your guess correct? Do all lemons have the same number of seeds? For that matter, do all lemons have the same number of segments described above? Use another lemon and find out!
- Taste the lemon. Use words to describe the flavor such as tart, tangy, bitter, sweet, and sour. Does it make your mouth pucker? Think of ways to introduce your child to new, descriptive vocabulary words that describe this experience.
Make Invisible Pictures with Lemon Juice!
Constant Adult Supervision Required!
Kids love the idea of making invisible ink and drawing invisible pictures. It's so fun when the picture is magically revealed!
You'll need a cup of fresh lemon juice. Simply dab a Q-tip, small paintbrush, or toothpick into the cup of lemon juice and use it to draw whatever you want on a piece of plain white paper. Don't use too much lemon juice or it may spread and bleed into the paper making the picture hard to read. Let the drawing on the paper dry. To see the picture, simply hold the paper near a heat source such as a light bulb or a candle. You can also iron the paper to reveal the drawing. Even a blow dryer will work. As the paper warms up, the lemon juice picture will darken so you can see it. Parents, be careful not to overheat the paper -- it can ignite and burn! Here's a picture of what an invisible lemon ink drawing looks like.
How does it work? Lemon juice is acidic and the acid weakens the paper making it more sensitive to heat than the rest of the paper. As the paper is heated, the acidic parts of the paper burn or turn brown before the rest of the paper does. Of course, your young child may not fully understand this explanation. That's okay -- just customize it for their ability.
Lemony Language Arts!
Here are a couple of books about lemons that your child may enjoy...
- Doggone Lemonade Stand!
by Judy Bradbury
This book is about a boy who learns the sweet and sour sides to running his own lemonade stand while discovering that math is everywhere. The book includes simple math exercises connected with the story line and illustrations in the book. The book is geared for ages 4-8. As always, use parental discretion when it comes to age recommendations. Don't worry about trying to do the math exercises if your young child simply isn't ready for it. Instead, focus on the fun aspects of the story including starting your own lemonade stand business to earn and save money.
- Under the Lemon Moon
by Edith Hope Fine
This book for ages 4-8 is about a little girl, Rosalinda, who has a prized lemon tree that is not thriving. Worse, she discovers a man stealing all of the lemons from her tree to sell at a local market. She hears about an old woman who knows how to heal the tree and seeks her advice. "La Anciana" not only offers advice about how to cure the tree, her guidance leads Rosalinda to offer lemon seeds to the thief so he can grow his own lemon tree. Lots of attention is paid to Mexican folkloric details in this enchanting fairy tale.
Lemony Arts & Crafts
You'll find Lemon Coloring Pages at these links:
- L is for Lemon alphabet coloring page
- L is for Lemon alphabet page in color or black and white
- Simple outline of a lemon - print and color
Make Lemon Boats!
Constant Adult Supervision Required!
Cut a lemon in half. Scoop out the pulp, juice and seeds forming two empty lemon halves or cups -- these will be your boats. Fill a plastic kiddie-pool with water and float the lemon boats on the water. How many ice cubes, action figures, marbles or pebbles will your lemon boat hold before it sinks? Kids may enjoy experimenting with this for quite a while.
Lemon Roll -- Each player chooses a lemon as their "playing piece." Then, sit in a big circle, and the first player rolls their lemon into the center of the circle. The next player tries to hit the first player's lemon by rolling their lemon into it. If one player hits another player's lemon, the player whose lemon was hit, is out of the game. Each player in turn, can roll their lemon into the circle and try and hit another player's lemon to eliminate them from the game. The last player left in the game is the winner. To ease the frustration for little kids if their lemon is eliminated -- they receive a "good sport" prize such as a treat like a candy lemon drop.
There's nothing quite as fun as making lemonade from scratch. Your children can help squeeze the lemons although they may decide it's too hard work after the novelty wears off. You have to squeeze lots of lemons to make enough juice for lemonade. If they abandon the squeezing -- let them measure the rest of the ingredients and stir them together.
Here's A Recipe My Family Enjoyed...
Berry Honey Lemonade
- 4 Juicy Lemons*
- 1/2 cup of honey (or more to taste)
- 4 cups of water
- 1 cup of raspberries or sliced strawberries
Squeeze the lemons. Put the lemon juice in a pitcher, add the honey, and mix it until well combined. Add the water and berries. Taste for sweetness and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until cold. When cold, pour into glasses that have been frosted in the freezer and are half full of ice. Garnish with a lemon slice.
*To get lots of juice, press and roll a room-temperature lemon on the counter a few times before you cut and squeeze it.
Have A Lemonade Taste Test!
Purchase or make several different kinds of lemonade (fresh, powdered, concentrate, bottled, etc.) and have a taste test! Compare and contrast the color, clarity, flavor, sweetness, tartness, etc. Which kind/brand does your child like best?
Make a Lemonade Stand!
I have seen very young children operate lemonade stands under the continuous supervision of their moms, dads, and siblings. It doesn't have to be elaborate and kids learn a lot from serving customers, collecting cash, and learning to make change. If you have older children in the family, why not participate in the "Sunkist Take A Stand 2006" charity drive? Kids ages 7-12 can request a free lemonade stand kit from Sunkist as long as they promise to donate the proceeds from their stand to a worthy charity. Whether you request a free kit or not -- get some great tips for a successful lemonade stand.
Lemonade tastes great with my family's recipe for...
Very Lemon Poppyseed Muffins
You will need...
3 lemons, washed and patted dry (Use these to make 2 T. grated lemon peel and 1/2 cup lemon juice called for in recipe.)
- ¼ cup butter (½ stick), softened at room temperature
- ¼ cup applesauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg and 1 egg white
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup of lemon-flavored yogurt (plain yogurt will do)
- 2 Tablespoons grated lemon peel
- 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
- 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray muffin pan with non-stick baking spray. Finely grate the lemon peel from the 3 lemons so that you have about 2 Tablespoons grated lemon peel. Then squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice and set aside.
In a large bowl beat the butter, applesauce, and sugar with an electric mixer until well-combined. Beat in egg and egg white. Add lemon peel and poppy seeds. Stir baking soda into the yogurt (it will bubble a bit). Fold flour into lemon mixture one third at a time, alternating with the yogurt just until all ingredients are blended. Do not overmix or muffins will be tough. Scoop batter into muffin pan. Bake 15-20 minutes or until just lightly browned and springy to the touch.
While muffins bake, in a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons sugar until sugar is dissolved. When muffins are done, remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan. Then, quickly dip the top and bottom of each muffin into the lemon juice mixture. Set on rack (with plate under it to catch drippings, if any) until muffins are completely cool and ready to eat. Yum!
Have fun learning with lemons!