6 Ridiculously Awesome Science Experiments to Do With Your Kids This Weekend

Here are six really fun experiments you can do with your kids, no matter their age.

I invited a few dads and their kids to my house for a Science-Saturday-with-Dad event. I’m a nerd, so I do these things because I love them. But I also really want my kids to learn science stuff. I want them to be curious about the world around them, to wonder and marvel at the planets and stars, and to ask questions about how things work.
As the kids gathered around me, my heart rate picked up.
I was sure I had done it right, but as we all stood there – nine kids and five dads – looking at the rocket sitting on the railing of my back deck, nothing appeared to be happening. And the worst part? It was all my idea.
We stood there, looking at the inert rocket. I started prepping myself for the “Sorry guys…” conversation. Then it happened. The plastic bottle fueled with copious amounts of baking soda and vinegar shot up 30 feet into the air to the utter delight of the children and dads. It was an awesome moment.
It was awesome because it was fun, but also because science created the fun. I’d like to help you do what I did, with a science lesson and all. Here are six really fun experiments you can do with your kids, no matter their age:
science beaker

 Experiment #1: Mixing baking soda with vinegar

1 | Pour ½ cup of vinegar into a bowl.

  • Let your child smell it.
  • Tell them that vinegar is an acid.
  • For older kids, ask: “What kind of acid is vinegar?” It’s acetic acid.

2 | Pour ½ cup of baking soda into separate bowl.

  • Tell them that baking soda is a base.
  • For older kids, ask: “Do you know its technical name?” Sodium bicarbonate.
  • Ask: “Guess what happens when we mix them together?”
  • For older kids: “It causes a reaction that creates carbon dioxide gas.” Ask: “What else has carbon dioxide in it?” The bubbles in carbonated drinks and fire extinguishers (liquid CO2).

3 | Let them mix the two by spooning baking soda into the vinegar bowl.

  • Point out the sound of the carbon dioxide gas being released.

science beaker

 Experiment #2: The science of mixing colors

1 | Pour two drops of yellow food coloring into a bowl of vinegar.

  • Ask: “What color will this turn when we add a drop of red food coloring?” Orange.

2 | Dump out orange vinegar and add fresh vinegar.

3 | Pour one drop of red food coloring.

  • Ask: “What color will this turn when we add blue?” Purple.

4 | Marvel at how you created an entirely new color. Point out that there is no orange or purple food coloring.

  • For older kids: Explain that light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow (ROY-G-BIV). Objects appear colored when they reflect some of the light waves within the rainbow and absorb others.

5 | Let them experiment with mixing baking soda and vinegar with the food coloring.

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As a transition to Experiment #3, ask: “What happens when water or vinegar gets really cold? What does it turn into?”


science beaker

Experiment #3: Frozen vinegar cubes

Transition answer: “It freezes!”

1 | Prep: Pour vinegar into an ice cube tray, and then put different food coloring drops into the cubes and freeze.

  • Ask: “When vinegar gets really cold, why does it get hard?”
  • For older kids: Explain that the tiny molecules that make up the vinegar slow down so much that they lock into a fixed position.

2 | Bring out vinegar ice cubes, and allow children to experiment with putting baking soda onto the colored ice cubes.

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As a transition to Experiment #4, ask: “What is the hottest thing you know?”


Experiment #4: The classic volcano

Transition answer: “How about lava?”

Ask: “Where does lava come from?” Volcanoes.

  • For older kids, ask: “If a bath is 98 degrees Fahrenheit, how hot do you think lava is?” 1,292 to 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit!

Pour three tablespoons of baking soda and several drops of red food coloring into a short water bottle, and place it on a plate or baking sheet.

  • Ask: “Does this look like a volcano? How about we build one!?”

Give kids Play-Doh, and let them build a volcano around the water bottle.

  • Ask: “Who remembers what gas is created when we mix baking soda and vinegar?”
  • When they respond with a resounding “Carbon dioxide!” explain, “When volcanoes erupt, they release lava and carbon dioxide.”

Pour two tablespoons of vinegar into the bottle, and watch it erupt!

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As a transition to Experiment #5, ask: “How do you blow up a balloon?”


Experiment #5: Mysterious balloon inflation

Transition answer: “With your mouth.”

1 | Ask: “Does anyone know how to blow up a balloon without using your mouth?”

2 | Put three tablespoons of baking soda into a balloon using a funnel.

3 | Pour three tablespoons of vinegar into a normal-sized plastic bottle.

4 | Put the opening of the balloon around the opening of the water bottle, but don’t let the baking soda within the balloon drop down into the bottle.

5 | Let your child dump the baking soda within the balloon down into the vinegar in the bottle, and watch as the balloon inflates.

6 | Ask: “Do you know what gas is filling up the balloon?” The budding scientists will then shout, “Carbon dioxide!”

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As a transition to Experiment #6, ask: “Do you know what a rocket is?”


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Experiment #6: The rocking rocket finale

Transition answer: Explain what a rocket is.

1 | Ask: “Do you think we can use the carbon dioxide gas released by the baking soda and vinegar reaction to make our own rocket?”

2 | Click the link above and watch the video about how to make the rocket. It’s actually much easier than you would think.

Supply list

A big bottle of white vinegar
Several cups of baking soda
Food coloring
An ice tray
Two normal-sized plastic water bottles
One short plastic water bottle
A few cans of Play-Doh that you can throw away later
One wine bottle cork
Three pencils
A pack of at least five balloons
Funnel

10 Must-Visit Museums for Kids in the United States

The best part about museums is that they’re fun for the whole family. Here’s a list of ten all around the US that everyone can enjoy.

Growing up, one of my favorite family outings was a weekend trip into Washington, D.C. to visit the museums of the Smithsonian Institution.

Whether I was checking out gemstones at the National Museum of Natural History, admiring Japanese paintings at the Sackler, or learning about space travel at the National Air and Space Museum, I always had a good time — and learned something, too.

The best part about museums — especially museums that aren’t explicitly kid-related — is that they can be fun for the whole family. Here’s a list of ten all around the United States that everyone can enjoy.

1 | Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (Washington, DC)

Air and Space Museum

The Air and Space Museum boasts the distinction of being the Smithsonian Institution’s most visited museum. After all, what could be more fun than a museum devoted to airplanes, spaceships and helicopters?

Get up close and personal with Charles Lindberg’s The Spirit of St. Louis, WWII fighter jets, the Mars Pathfinder and more. Check out what the astronauts of Apollo 11 brought with them to the moon.

Take a day trip to the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, which opened in 2003, and features two hangars full of planes, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. Like all Smithsonian museums, entrance to the National Air and Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center is free.

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2 | New York Transit Museum (Brooklyn, NY)

 

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The fun at the MTA’s New York Transit Museum starts at the entrance. It’s housed underground in an old Brooklyn Heights subway station!

Once you descend, it’s all subways (and busses, and trolleys) all the time. Try your hand at (pretend) driving a New York City bus! Learn about how New York’s first subways were constructed. Step into history by stepping on subway trains and trolleys from the MTA’s century-plus history.

The Transit Museum is perfect for train aficionados old and young, and the museum keeps a schedule on its website of programs just for children and families.

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3 | The Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY)

 

The National Museum of Play

Nothing could be more fun than a museum devoted to — you guessed it! — play.

The 150,000 square foot Strong museum has an incredibly varied selection of interactive exhibits, from a giant kaleidoscope in the “Field of Play” to the World Video Game Hall of Fame (featuring Zelda and World of Warcraft), the National Toy Hall of Fame (featuring Twister, the Nerf Super Soakers and baby dolls), to an interactive pinball exhibit, a fake Wegman’s grocery store and an indoor butterfly garden.

You could easily spend a day there getting lost in play.

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4 | The Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA)

 

The Exploratorium

Some science museums just tell you about science. At the Exploratorium (recently relocated from the Palace of Fine Arts to Pier 15), you can get your hands dirty.

Play with robots, step inside the tactile dome, and — if you’re feeling up to it — learn how to dissect a cow’s eye. There’s a reason The New York Times once called the Exploratorium “the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century.”

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5 | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC)

 

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

A museum of modern and contemporary art may not seem like a place the whole family can agree on, but The Hirshhorn isn’t just any museum. The art is fun, creative, and accessible to even children.

The museum’s donut-shaped concrete structure sticks out on the National Mall. Inside, the lowest floor features contemporary art. The upper floors feature art from the late 19th century through the 20th century. Particularly of note is the museum’s colorful collection of Alexander Calder mobiles and sculptures.

Afterwards, take a stroll in the sculpture garden adjacent to the Mall, which features sculptures by Jeff Koons, Rodin, Calder and more. Like the Air and Space Museum, it’s part of the Smithsonian, so entrance is free.

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6 | Center for Puppetry Arts (Atlanta, GA)

 

Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts

Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts is both a museum and a performing arts space. The museum features puppets from around the world, including Japanese bunraku puppets, old American marionettes, Indonesian shadow puppets and Jim Henson’s famous Muppets.

Every Thursday, the museum offers a puppet storytime. Check out a performance at the world class puppet theater, but call ahead for tickets.

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7 | Brooklyn Children’s Museum (Brooklyn, NY)

 

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The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is the first children’s museum in the United States.

One standout among the museum’s unique, interactive exhibits is World Brooklyn, a recreation of a multicultural Brooklyn street with shops that are based on real-life Brooklyn stores, including a Chinese stationery store (based on a real store in Sunset Park), a Caribbean travel agency (based on agencies in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights) and a Mexican bakery based on a real Sunset Park panaderia.

A new exhibit, Our City, is focused on introducing kids to urban planning. When you’re finished, grab a grilled cheese at Morris Sandwich Shop, the museum’s in-house cafe.

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8 | The Trash Museum (Hartford, CT)

 

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As bizarre as it may sound, Hartford’s Trash Museum is a great place for kids. Learn about the history of waste management, from early civilization through the present day. Do a scavenger hunt in the Temple of Trash, a recreation of an old-fashioned, pre-recycling dump (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell).

The highlight of the museum is a mezzanine overlooking a real live single-stream recycling center, where kids and parents can watch old bottles, cans and newspapers get a new lease on life.

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9 | Boston Children’s Museum (Boston, MA)

 

Boston Children's Museum

The Boston Children’s Museum offers a wide variety of hands-on experiences, including an exhibit on bubbles, an exhibit on Native communities in New England, an exhibit on Japan and an exhibit on Marc Brown’s beloved Arthur, which was adapted for television by WGBH, the local PBS station. Kids who want to move their bodies can hop on the museum’s unique three-story climbing sculpture.

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10 | American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY)

 

American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY)

The American Museum of Natural History is a classic, and a must-see for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Highlights include the famous sperm whale and giant squid installation (part of the MIlstein Hall of Ocean Life), the exhibit Dinosaurs Among Us, and the Hayden Planetarium, which is run by none other than Neil Degrasse Tyson.

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Students Perform Better When They See Nature Outside

New research shows that students perform better and recover from stress faster in a classroom with a view of green nature outside.

Students perform better on tests when they’re in a classroom with a view of nature outside.

This finding comes from new research by doctoral student Dongying Li and head of the University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture William C. Sullivan.

It’s the first study to establish a causal relationship between exposure to a green view and students’ performance.

“It’s a significant finding, that if you have a green view outside your window, you’ll do better on tests,” said Li.

Students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13 percent if they had a green view outside their classroom window, the study found.

The findings are being published in the April 2016 issue of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. The article is available for review online.

The authors hypothesized that views onto green landscapes help students recover from mental fatigue and stress. They conducted a randomized controlled experiment with 94 high school students at five high schools in three settings:

  •  a windowless classroom
  • a classroom with a view of built space
  • a classroom with a view of green space

To quote the study highlights:

  • Window views to green landscapes promote high school students’ attention restoration.
  • Window views to green landscapes speed high school students’ recover from stress.
  • Attention restoration and stress recovery are separate pathways.
  • Exposure to daylight alone did not improve student performance.

Additionally, there was no statistical difference in performance for students in the windowless room or the room with a view of built space.

Study co-author Dongying Li hypothesized that the positive showing was a result of Attention Restoration Theory.

“When someone focuses on a task, he or she must ward off other distractions, either those in the environment or the thoughts inside their head, all competing for attention. Doing so causes fatigue, and after a while, a person feels mentally drained.

When someone stops focusing, his or her attention is drawn involuntarily to certain things – a campfire, a waterfall, a baby, a puppy. Focusing on those things doesn’t require effort, and the theory suggests that doing so provides an opportunity for the brain to rest and restore its ability to focus attention again.” – Dongying Li in Science Daily

Students in the classroom with a green view didn’t just do better on attention tests; they also showed greater physiological recovery from stress vs. the students in rooms without a green view.

This appears to be more evidence for the common-sense notion that kids benefit from exposure to nature in hundreds of ways .

Sources:
“A green view through a classroom window can improve students’ performance.”  ScienceDaily, 22 January 2016.
“A Green View Through a Classroom Window Can Improve Students’ Performance, Study Finds” Newswise.com

 

Computer Tests Widen Writing Achievement Gap for Low-Income Kids

The Department of Education wants to move students to computerized tests, but low-income kids don’t get much practice typing on a computer.

The Department of Education wants to move students to computerized assessments. They’re faster, easier and cheaper to grade than hand-written tests.

However, as highlighted by (@jillbarshay) for Hechingerreport.org, a 2012 U.S. Department of Education study reveals a potentially major flaw with this plan: Low-income kids don’t get as much practice typing or writing on a computer as higher-income kids.

When it’s time to test their writing skills on a computer, the lower-income kids are slower and less able to write because they don’t know how to effectively type and edit with a computer keyboard vs higher-income kids who have better access to computers.

When tested with a pencil and paper, low-income students produced better writing using than they did with the computer.

Simply put, the “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment” found that “the use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap.”

As quoted on Hechingerreport.orgSteve Graham, a professor at Arizona State University said:

“Your familiarity with the tool makes a difference. They actually do better writing by hand if they’re less experienced [with computers]. And if they’re more experienced, then there may actually be an advantage toward writing on the computer.”

Solutions might include teaching kids how to type efficiently on a computer keyboard. This also includes teaching how to cut, paste, delete and edit in a digital document.

Source: Using computers widens the achievement gap in writing, a federal study finds  on Hechingerreport.org

The Internet: The Double-Edged Sword of Parenthood

The internet is one the most unnerving tools for mothers, because it can add anxiety instead of removing it.

 

The internet is one the most unnerving tools for mothers because it can add anxiety instead of removing it. I’m thinking of all the times a Google search has put me in a panic for things like accidentally eating soft cheese during pregnancy, or not getting the correct amount of some vitamin while breastfeeding.

The truth is, the internet is full of information about pregnancy and motherhood that’s conflicting and even (gasp!) just plain wrong.

The worst are forum-based websites for new and expecting moms, where people go back and forth for dozens of pages. If you don’t believe me, look up any herbal tea and whether it’s safe to have during pregnancy.

You’ll most definitely find your keyboard covered with tears if you read too many of these forums during pregnancy or early motherhood. No one needs that (and that’s not just because keyboards aren’t supposed to get wet).

My thought has always been that moms should go to their doctors or their loved ones before ending up on a forum, being made to feel like a horrible parent because they washed their kid’s hair with their own shampoo.

Since becoming a mom, however, I’ve found a reason to keep the wireless router plugged in.

One area of the internet is, in fact, an amazing tool for new and expecting mothers. It’s also the loveliest time-waster of them all: social media.

Social media is surprisingly rife with helpful tools for parents. In my experience, they’ve been mostly helpful (still not 100%, but better than the forums). There are Facebook groups for every aspect of parenthood. Since they’re so specialized, they have the upper-hand over vague discussion board websites.

I’m currently a member of the La Leche League Facebook group in my area (they have them all over), which offers tons of information about breastfeeding, eating in general, sleep schedules, babies’ mannerisms, and on and on.

I’m also a member of several mom-to-mom pages on Facebook, where moms constantly post all kinds of baby gear (toys, bouncers, swings, clothes, car seats, strollers, diapers, you name it), whether they’re for sale, for swap, or – get this – for free.

I’m sure this is exactly how Mom-to-mom sales work in real life too, but I love the Facebook groups because they’re 24/7, and you can post things you’re looking for and get direct responses any time you need them.

These kinds of groups defeat faceless forums in that they often host and encourage meetings in real life.

There are plenty of educational pages as well, about infant safety and what have you, but I have benefited most (and trusted most readily) those pages that were local and had other parents I knew in them as members. So search around for different local pages and see what you find. Most likely many of your Facebook parent friends are already members of some of these groups and would love to add you to them. It’s a great way to stay involved in your parenting community.

Instagram is another super parent-friendly part of social media.

There are hundreds of thousands of Instagram accounts that are basically just parents doing cool parenting things. Some are informative, some are silly, and some are just generally aesthetically pleasing, but they are definitely worth following if you have any interest.

I’m a sucker for any combination of chubby cheeks and extravagant vistas, so some of my favorite momstagrams include @heymamaco (a cool page for creative moms), @lovesakurabloom (some insanely artsy photos of moms and dads babywearing), and several different unique mom pages: @pracitisingsimplicity, @itsahuntlife, @megchittenden, and @kirstenrickert.

Of course, everything you learn on the internet needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

But once you have plenty of grains ready, you should definitely use this technology to your advantage. While I think new and expecting mothers should stay away from choosing the internet over their doctors, I give social media my highest recommendation for allowing moms to connect with one another and learn from each other in a very personal way.

And if social media really doesn’t move you, then at the very least you need to get on Macaroni Kid, because that website will definitely change your life. Good luck, millennial mammas and papas!

Back to School: A FREE Video Class for Better Family Routines

This free, quick-paced video course from parent educator Vicki Hoefle shows parents how to use back-to-school to implement new (and better) family routines.

The return to school after a busy summer is the perfect time to implement new (and better) family routines. This quick-paced course is designed to help parents do just that.

What’s included:

  • Ten short videos
  • Interactive quizzes
  • Downloadable reading material
  • 20% discount on any paid course

Classes are easy to take:

  • Watch classes on your own schedule
  • Watch classes in any modern browser, including on smartphones and tablets
  • Videos are short, typically between two – five minutes.

 

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More About This Course


“Back to School” is led by Vicki Hoefle, renowned parent educator and author of the top-rated books Duct Tape Parenting, a Less is More Approach and The Straight Talk on Parenting.

About this course, Vicki says:

“It’s nearly time for the school doors to open and welcome our kids back to another academic year.  Exciting as that may be, back to school can also conjure up feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and maybe even a little dread.  Wouldn’t it be great if this year, you were not only ready for the first day of school, but you were also ready for the next 180 days of school. It IS possible and that’s what this course is all about.

With a little thought, some planning and a flexible mindset, any parent can sit back and enjoy the school experience.  For me personally, taking the time to create and then execute a well-developed plan was the difference between a life with kids that might have included screaming, yelling, fighting, late mornings and misplaced homework OR one that was filled with joy, laughter, organization, connection, kids who were prepared and on-time departures.”

 

37 ingenious summer learning resources for your kids

Kids lose 22% of their academic skills over the summer. Help them avoid the dreaded summer slide with these top-rated apps, websites, books, clubs, and camps.

Teachers often joke about clearing out the cobwebs at the beginning of each school year. Some call summer learning loss the “summer slide “or “brain drain”, and research shows kids do indeed lose approximately 22% of their academic skills over the summer.

According to the Summer Learning Association, kids score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation. Most kids lose about two months of math computation skills over the summer, while kids who don’t participate in summer reading can lose up to two months of reading achievement.

Aside from loss of academic skills, many kids also experience summer weight gain from lack of physical activity. According to the American Journal of Public Health, most kids gain weight more rapidly over summer break. Kids gain body mass index (BMI) nearly twice as fast during the summer as during the school year.

The good news is there are tons of fun ways to keep kids engaged in learning and outdoor play during the summer. Here’s a comprehensive guide to a variety of learning opportunities and activities to personalize your child’s summer experience and keep their brains and bodies active all summer long.

SUMMER ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

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DIY Summer Camps, Ages 7-16

Kids earn skills badges by completing different camps, such as cooking, movie making, outdoor adventures, bookbinding, comic book making, lego building and more. Each DIY camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site.

Brain Chase Challenge, Ages 6-16

This five-week challenge begins June 22. Kids compete in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win $10,000. Completing an hour of academic work a day unlocks animated videos and clues. Brain Chase partners with some of the best academic resources on the web, such as Khan Academy, Rosetta Stone and credentialed writing instructors. It’s a fun way to keep math, reading, writing and foreign language skills up over the summer! You can learn more in this recent Parent Co. interview with Brain Chase.

Khan Academy, Ages 5-18

Khan Academy offers a range of subjects online for free. Kids learn at their own pace, and parents can track progress. Subjects include math, science, coding, history, art history, economics and more. Khan Academy partners with institutions, such as NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences and MIT to provide state of the art content. Kids learn through practice exercises and instructional videos. One advantage to using Khan Academy is it can be accessed all year long.

Virtual Tours, All Ages

Take a virtual tour of a museum without leaving your home! Enjoy a 360 degree view of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Go on a panoramic tour of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. Interact with the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Travel to locations all over the world through 360 degree interactive views.

Science House App, Ages 4-18

Science House is a free science app that includes over 80 science lessons and videos. These inexpensive experiments will inspire curiosity and inquiry in your kids.

Duolingo App, Ages 4 and up

Learn a foreign language for free! There are up to 11 languages to choose from with this app rated App of the Year by Apple in 2013. Great for parents too!

Code Academy, Ages 12 and up

Learn to code for free. This online program is for beginner coders or aspiring computer programmers. Covers HTML/CSS, jQuery, Javascript, Python, PHP, Ruby and APIs. Courses range from 3-13 hours. It’s a great way for both kids and parents to learn more about coding.

Today Box, Ages 4-10

Today Box is a non-commercialized site for kids, parents and educators that hosts highly-curated content safe for curious kids. Explore videos on animals, nature, art, music, active play, robots, space, STEM and more. Head to the grown-up blog for activities and reviews of books and apps. Pro Tip: Make the site a homescreen app on your phone or iPad for easy kid access.

Virtual College Tours, Ages 14-18

Do you have a teenager looking at colleges? Introduce them to virtual college tours, where they can check out campuses across the United States for free. Teens can view video tours, manipulate interactive maps and take mobile walking tours.

FOR TINKERERS AND MAKERS

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TinkerLab for Mini Makers and Inventors, Ages 2 and up

TinkerLab ranks as one of the top 25 creative mom blogs by Circle of Moms. Rachelle Doorley, an arts educator and parent., posts tinkering projects and ideas on TinkerLab. The site is easy to navigate as projects are listed visually and alphabetically by category. Participate in the tinkering sketchbook challenge, build a Rube Goldberg machine, fly a tea bag hot air balloon or get messy in the kitchen!

Make a Kid Tinkering Kit, Ages 6 and up

Put together the perfect tinkering kit for the summer, so your kids can build and tinker to their hearts content. The blog Katydid and Kid: Adventures in Making and Doing has an excellent guide to putting together a tinkering kit. Many of the items you probably already have around your home. This kit is designed by a mom, blogger, and former artist, museum educator and arts educator. Her site also includes lots of fun tinkering activities for kids.

Seedling Kits, Ages 3-12

Imagine, explore and create with playful and affordable activity kits from Seedling. Shop by price, age or theme. Make a superhero cape, invent your own insects, design a pirate ship, sew a dino(sew), and more! Great for a rainy day or summer travel!

Hatch Early Learning STEM Kits, Ages 2-5

This company sells STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Kits designed specifically for preschoolers. Kits help kids learn about gravity, volume, engineering, robotics and more at a developmental level appropriate for kids ages 2-4. Buy kits or get ideas for making your own.

Lakeshore Learning STEM Kits, Ages 5-14

Buy real-world challenge kits to stimulate your child’s STEM skills. This site allows parents to search by age, price and topic making it easier to see what’s available. Kits include water play, fairy-tale problem solving and engineering. These kits are perfect for a rainy summer day or outdoor play.

Makers Camp, Ages 13-18

This free online digital camp is for kids who love to hack, tinker, build and discover. Camp runs six-weeks from July 6 – August 14. This site uses Google Hangout and virtual field trips, so we suggest it’s more appropriate for middle school or high school. Campers also get instructions for making their own DIY projects at home. Last year’s camp included a hangout with the White House Executive Chef and a live assembly of a telescope at NASA.

Brit Kits, Ages 12-18

Brit + Co. sells DIY and design projects perfect for teenagers and parents. Design a cheeseboard, learn to letterpress or design your own leather lamp. Parents might like etching their own champagne flute or whiskey tumblers. Brit + Co. also offers great prices on online classes like calligraphy, sewing, jewelry making, sketching and more at just $19.99.

Carolina STEM and Inquiry Kits, Ages 12-18

These kits are perfect for keeping middle school and high school students engaged in building STEM skills over the summer. Parents and kids can search by topic or grade level on this site. Experiment with solar water heating, urine purification, balloon rockets, wind power, the circulatory system and more.

STEMfinity Summer Camps, Ages 6-18

STEMfinity makes kits for various STEM courses lasting about 12 hours. Kits include instructions, lessons, suggested schedules, as well as all the materials needed. Tinker with robotics, circuits, build your own roller coaster, develop your painting skills, explore the ocean, learn about farm to table and more. If you’re not looking for a summer-long course, there are STEM kits under $100 as well.

NATURE AND OUTDOOR LEARNING FUN

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This Book Was a Tree, Ages 2 and up

The best part about summer is spending time outdoors! Each chapter of science teacher Marcie Cuff’s book encourages kids and families to reconnect with nature. We love the simplicity of design and the detailed illustrations of this book, as well as the outdoor activities. Touch, collect, document, sketch, analyze, explore, and unravel the natural world. Make mud-pies, build forts, sketch maps, make natural bug repellants, create sundials and more. You can find a more detailed review of Cuff’s book here.

Nature Rocks: Let’s Go Explore, Ages 2 and up

This site by the Nature Conservancy features tons of activities that encourage kids and families to spend more time outdoors. Activities are divided up by age, location, weather and time in order to make it easy to navigate the site. Activities include making an outdoor xylophone, creating a fairy village garden, outdoor obstacle courses, growing vegetables, star gazing, bird watching and more.

National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs, Ages 5-13

Do you have a National Park near you? Are you planning to visit any this summer? You might want to check out this free program that encourages kids to complete learning challenges and activities in the parks, share their learning with park rangers and earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Can’t get to a park? Check out web rangers, a site where kids can virtually explore and hike the parks, earn rewards and learn about the parks through online activities.

Outdoor Games for Kids, All Ages

Education.com has a lengthy list of outdoor activities perfect for a party or outdoor fun. Try yoga with your dog, nature tic-tac-toe, making your own Frisbee, have a watermelon seed spitting contest, have a phonic scavenger hunt and more. Each activity includes instructions and reviews.

Volunteer Match, Ages 14 and up

Summer is a great time for teenagers, parents and families to get out and volunteer some time out in the community. Volunteer Match helps match volunteers with organizations based on interests and location. It’s also a great way for teenagers to learn about other fields they might be interested in pursuing in the future like education, healthcare, nonprofit work, museum studies and more.

RAINY DAY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES

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Kids Skate Free, Ages 12 and under

Roller skating burns 330-600 calories per hour, and it’s a fun way to get some aerobic exercise into your family’s day. It also helps build balance and flexibility in kids. Check out this national program to see if there’s a skating rink near you that participates in the Kids Skate Free program.

Kids Bowl Free, Ages 12 and under

This national program allows kids to play up to two games in the bowling alley for free per day. Parents will need to cover the cost of bowling shoes only. Check out the link above for a participating bowling alley near you!

Museums on Us, For Parents

If you’re experiencing a rain summer day, why not walk around a museum and feed your brain a little culture? If you’re a Bank of America customer, enjoy free entrance to over 150 museums and cultural institutions across the United States on the first full weekend over every month this summer and year round. Each cardholder gets one free admission, and many of these museums are free for younger kids. You can find a full list of participating institutions here.

Summer Reading, Writing and Publishing

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Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, Ages 5-12

This free summer reading challenge encourages kids to read books and log their progress over the summer for the chance to win virtual prizes. The contest runs from May 4 through September 4.

Summer Reading Lists, Ages 5-14

Visit your local library and check out some of these books recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children. Lists are divided by early education, elementary, and middle school.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading, Ages 5-12

Kids read eight books and log progress in a reading journal. Once kids have read eight books, they can choose a free book from the Reading Journal List at any Barnes and Noble Store. Parents can also pick up a free summery activity kit at the store. The program includes suggested summer reads broken down by age level.

TD Bank Summer Reading Program, Ages 5-11

Are you a TD Bank customer?  If your child reads and logs ten books this summer, they can receive $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.

Neighborhood Book Clubs, Ages 5-18

Start a neighborhood book club! PBS Parents has helpful tips for starting a book club with kids.

Young Adult Summer Reading List, Ages 12 and up

Mashable put together a list of 23 young adult books for summer reading that both teenagers and adult fans of YA literature will love.

Make Your Own Comics, Ages 6 and up

Learn how to make and publish your own comics for free with Bill Zimmerman. There are helpful resources for parents, educator and English Language Learners too.

Time 4 Writing, Ages 6 and up

This online writing resource features four-week online writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students. Students learn on a virtual campus with certified writing teachers and work at their own pace.

Scribblett, Ages 4 and up

Design, illustrate, write and publish your work using Scribblett. Kids can also enter contests, order hard copies of notecards or books featuring their work and share directly on the site.

Taking a trip and looking for even more ideas and reviews for online learning or education apps this summer? Check out this summer learning guide from Common Sense Media.

 

The Brain Chase Challenge keeps kids engaged with summer learning

Our interview and overview of Brain Chase, a five-week online treasure hunt / learning competition for kids ages 6-16.

Brain Chase is a five-week summer online treasure hunt competition for kids ages 6-16. This summer’s competition starts on June 22. Brain Chase partners with education programs online to provide math, reading, writing and foreign language support.

Certified teachers provide daily feedback on writing, and kids must meet certain daily goals in order to unlock clues, riddles and animated videos to solve their way to a real-life treasure worth $10,000. Kids also receive mail, such as letters from characters, seeds to plant with clues that grow on them or tools like a sundial.

We interviewed Neylan McBaine, Chief Marketing Officer for Brain Chase.

Parent Co: I’ve seen a lot of excitement building with parents online, as they sign their kids up for Brain Chase. What makes Brain Chase different from other summer online learning programs?

Neylan: I think the big difference is that we have this motivational platform built in to the online work. Not only have we curated and partnered with the best online curriculum providers that the web has to offer currently, but we’ve created this really fun motivation for the kids to do the work that is usually lacking in summer workbooks, online classes or summer school.

That motivation is just enough to keep the kids excited and let them feel like they’re on a real summer long adventure, without it sort of overshadowing the rest of their summer fun.

The kids get to follow along with our kid archeology team. They’re looking for lost treasure. Then we take the adventure offline as well, and the treasure is actually a real treasure hunt. So the kids feel like they’re participating in something online, but they know that there’s also something real buried in the earth that they potentially could be working towards.

It’s hard and riddled during the whole five weeks of the animated series, but it’s solvable and someone’s going to win $10,000 and this very cool golden mechanical trophy that looks like the ancient lost treasure found by Cortez.

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It looks like the parents on your site have great things to say about the program. You also enrolled your children in the program last summer before you started working with Brain Chase. What was your family’s experience with the program?

One of the things that worked best for my kids was simply becoming familiar with some of the resources. My kids don’t do a lot of stuff online. They’re not big gamers or anything like that, so they’re young enough that they sort of aren’t already online for other purposes.

My oldest was ten last year, so I had my ten-year-old and my eight-year-old do it last year. It was really cool to have them become familiar with Khan Academy and see them start navigating their way around it.

My kids particularly liked the writing exercises. They felt like it was really neat to have a real teacher on the other end of it that was giving them feedback on their writing in a fun, but productive way.

I think for me, the experience was really about having my kids become familiar with these really great, sort of super foods of the internet, like our curriculum providers are, and become comfortable and get to know their way around them.

Absolutely! I’m an educator in a school with one-to-one technology, and our kids use Khan Academy. It’s amazing, so I thought that was fantastic that you’re partnering with some stellar education companies like Khan Academy and Rosetta Stone.

What languages are offered through Rosetta Stone when kids sign up with Brain Chase?

They can actually choose from 30.

Wow!

The entire Rosetta Stone offering. That’s a big addition for us this year.

Our vision is to have a full curated library of these partners, so that parents don’t have to go and study up on all the different offerings themselves, but they can drag and drop the options that they want their kids to take every summer.

Next year maybe we’ll add a coding module or something else that the parents can select from. The core is always probably going to be reading and math with other modules built. Maybe we’ll have a science module.

We’ve talked about wanting to do a physical education module where maybe they upload activities from a pedometer that we give them, or something like that. Then they have to do a certain amount of physical exercise each week.

There’s a huge range that we can do in being this platform for a library of curated partners.

That’s incredible. The program seems like it’s really grown in three years. It’s great that it allows for more personalized learning, and that’s a growing movement in education right now. It’s also excellent for homeschooling.

Do you see Brain Chase ever being offered during the school year or other school breaks?

Definitely. In fact, we’re looking for partners right now with which to create after school partnerships, so that we can create a program for any number of students in an after school setting very easily.

We have content from our past year that we could be repurposed and sort of rewrite the clues. We’re looking for partners to do that right now, so if you have any recommendations or if any of your readers know of actual programs, we’re looking!

We do group rates and we can scale, so the per child cost of doing an actual program is actually very manageable for groups that are used to getting grants and funding for much more expensive programs.

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I know that students are working with academic skills like math, reading and writing, but what kind of social skills do you think this program helps kids develop as they work through the competition?

I think the academic work is entirely intended to be done by the child, but the riddles, watching the videos, deciphering the clues and learning together about where these clues might be pointing…that could potentially and is very likely to be a family activity.

The winners from last year said it was really a family event for them. We heard that a lot last year, that the parents would get involved with their kids and help them understand riddles and clues. They would kind of work together.

From all of the accounts last year, it was really a positive family activity that lasted the course of the five weeks. Not too heavy-handed, just fun. So parental support is definitely encouraged with the treasure hunt. The family collaboration was really powerful.

That’s amazing. I think what often happens is kids are learning at school, but when they come home parents don’t always know the right questions to ask about their day, and they get the same vague answer – “School was good.”

So I think that is what’s great about this program. They’re learning at home, and they sometimes need to rely on their parents or siblings to help them with riddles or accessing different technologies. It probably gives some great talking points for families about learning and technology.

Exactly.

Is there anything else that you think is important for our readers to know about Brain Chase?

One question we always get, is about the price. I think if people are comparing Brain Chase to an app that they can download from the Apple Store, it seems expensive. But if you’re comparing it to five weeks of a summer school or five weeks of a camp, 85% of our parents from last year said that they would’ve paid the same price or more for Brain Chase.

The value of it and everything that’s included in the program is a little bit hard to communicate because there really is nothing out there like it. The value we’re bringing is this curated library of content providers. We’re providing the whole motivational platform. We’re providing easy, all inclusive access to all of those partners. So you don’t have to buy your own Rosetta Stone subscription.

Then there’s the whole offline components. There’s the animations, the adventure tools that we send through the mail to help kids each week with the bonus challenges and deciphering the clues. And of course there’s the treasure at the end.

It’s a complex program with a lot of motivating factors. Once they’ve tried it and understand the full scope of it, parents overwhelmingly feel like it’s a really great value.

I definitely think so. I can already see the value because it’s less than the cost of a week of summer camp, or even the cost of Rosetta Stone. I was impressed with the price actually.

Oh cool. We’re very happy to hear that!

Absolutely. I plan to sign my daughter up this summer!

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5 TED Talks that will help you understand learning

The research is clear. Children learn best in environments that value relationships, curiosity, creativity, making mistakes, reflection, and personalized learning. Every parent should see these five TED Talks on learning by these dynamic and humorous speakers.

How to Escape Education’s Death Valley by Sir Ken Robinson

 

Sir Ken Robinson is a leader in developing creativity, innovation, and human resources in education and business. He works with government and education systems in Europe, Asia, and North America. Robinson says there are three principles schools need to adopt in order to improve and meet the needs of all students:

  1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse.
  2. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.
  3. Human life is inherently creative.

Robinson reminds us in this humorous and provoking TED Talk that the current American education system is a “human system involving people who want to learn, and people who don’t want to learn.” We need more parents and educators to advocate for a system where all people want to learn.

3 Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam

 

Ramsey Musallam is a chemistry teacher and father of two young daughters. A life-threatening health scare a few years ago led Musallam to rethink his teaching practice and the purpose of learning. Musallam offers three rules to spark learning in children inspired by one of his doctors:

  1. Encourage curiosity and asking hard questions.
  2. Embrace the messy and inevitable process of trial and error.
  3. Reflect intensely to gather information needed to design and revise.

He asks educators and parents to “leave behind the simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry” in order to bring more meaning to learning.

The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Susan Cain is the author of the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain discusses the challenge that introverts face as schools and workplaces shift to spaces designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation. Research points to the fact that some of the most productive and creative people “have a serious streak of introversion in them.” Cain calls for a better balance in education and work spaces, where introverts aren’t seen as outliers.

Every Kid Needs a Champion by Rita Pierson

Rita Pierson is an educator with over 40 years of teaching experience. She discusses the value and importance of human connection in schools in this humorous and moving talk. “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” says Pierson, who believes you can’t underestimate the power of relationships between teachers and students.

The Puzzle of Motivation by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink is the bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink shares powerful research in his talk that shows that intrinsic motivation matters more than extrinsic motivation. People are intrinsically motivated by three factors:

  1. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Pink’s talk focuses on business, but the implications can also be applied to education and learning. What would happen in a classroom where students had more autonomy, mastery, and purpose? What if schools used less “carrot and stick” extrinsic rewards and switched to investing in intrinsically motivated students?

It’s Summer Camp Year Round with DIY.org

Sitting in this sunny window, it’s not hard to believe that summer camp is an actual thing. Step outside into the -5 degree air, though, and suddenly I can’t be convinced it’s ever going to come around again.

Ah, summer camp. Kids gathering together to dig in and explore new territory, both literally and figuratively. It’s empowering and transformative as they discover interests they never knew they had.

Adventure and exploration come easily when, say, simply being outside too long won’t kill you.

In our house we have a phrase that incites eye rolling of epic proportions: “Only boring people get bored”. It’s the most annoying parent-y phrase we drop on our kids when they get to complaining about not having anything to do. It seems to happen on the daily lately.

Enter DIY.org.

DIY is a website (with accompanying app) and learning tool for kids ages 7 and up. With hundreds of categories to choose from (everything from front end web design to bee keeping), kids can earn badges by performing hands on, skill based challenges. Parents and kids alike are kept informed of individual achievements via a simple dashboard. Kids can give and receive constructive feedback and support from peers, and upload videos and of their successes.

My 9 year old just barely signed up, but he can hardly wait to get home this afternoon and master Yeti hunting. On second thought, maybe there’s hope for winter yet.