Category Archives: Education

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Solar Eclipse Viewing and Fun for Families

Since ancient times, solar eclipses, like the one due over North America on August 21, have inspired fear and wonder. Ancient people in what is now Asia and the Middle East thought that an eclipse indicated the attack of a sky or sun god, and made loud noises or created offerings to scare and appease whatever was threatening their god.

Today, that fear has been replaced by awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something larger than ones self. We often experience awe in the natural world, and during the unexplainable or communal. Perhaps the 2017 solar eclipse will involve all of the above! (Awe and its many benefits to the human spirit have been explored by The Greater Good Science Center.)

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and temporarily blocks the view of the sun. The 2017 solar eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental U.S. in 38 years. Read more about how eclipses work.

If you’re ready to create some awe and memories of your own when the solar eclipse occurs on August 21, check out these links:

How to view the eclipse safely and what to expect, from Space.com

An animation that shows exactly what the solar eclipse will look like from your zip code, from TIME.com.

NASA’s Total Eclipse Site, which shares how to view the eclipse safely, lots of great educational and geographical information, eclipse activities, and citizen science opportunities that allow you to be a scientist for a day or longer, and help NASA study the eclipse.

How to make an old-school pinhole eclipse viewer, from Washington Post.

9 facts about the solar eclipse, from TimeandDate.com.

Jacquie at KC Edventures shares eclipse snacks, reading and citizen science activities that you can engage in, even after the eclipse.

Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten offers terrific space-themed projects for kids, so you can keep excited and learning about science.

Easy eclipse foods to make or buy, from Today.com

For adults, this list of eclipse-themed drinks (moonjito, anyone?) from Food Network will surely inspire your celestial cocktails.

However you celebrate the 2017 eclipse, remember to view the eclipse safely. I hope you’ll also make some memories, get in touch with your awe, and stay connected to science.

Photos: Time and Date, NASA, Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten

 

Give Your Child a Great Start with First 5 California’s Talk Read Sing ®

Did you know that 90% of our brains are formed by the age of 5?  Recent research on brain development from First 5 California also reveals that more than 80% of a child’s brain is formed by age 3.

This means that most of children’s vital early learning takes place with parents or caregivers, before elementary school even starts. What’s the best way to ensure children’s crucial learning and brain development in those early years? According to First 5 California, Talk Read Sing ®. It Changes Everything.

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What’s great about talking, reading and singing?

  • It teaches language skills that last a lifetime.
  • It’s natural – every culture around the world does it.
  • It helps secure parent-child bonding.
  • It’s free!
  • Even if we don’t think we’re good singers, our children don’t care! They just love the sound of our voices.

How to get more talking, reading and singing into your child’s life

As vital as it is to use language with our kids, sometimes we feel silly having what feels like a one-way monologue with our little ones. First 5 California has tons of fun activities on their site that help kids learn creativity, language and problem solving. We like this Alphabet House activity because it’s a way of utilizing the body and the senses to learn language. Here are 6 other ways to add talking, reading and singing into your lives:

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places where kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us! When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. My daughter loved to make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (this is a good travel game as well).

We found these letters on local mailboxes! (Of course, letters appear on store signs, billboards, street signs, food packages, and more.)

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Chat Through Your Chores

When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but they’ll love it, and you’ll be helping them learn those language skills.

Make Lists

Kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Have older preschoolers watch you make your own shopping lists to make the connections between letters, words and items.

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Hit the Library

There’s a lot going on at the local library! We love our library’s sing-a-long and other programs. Many libraries offer an array of early literacy programs to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They also serve as community hubs and help bring families together. Most libraries have expanded to programming far beyond books, and yet they initiate and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Our library hosted a paper boat making session and a race, based on the one in the book, Curious George Rides a Bike.

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Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book.

Sing Throughout the Day

In traditional cultures, people appreciated and expressed the rhythms of their bodies and the days and seasons with dancing and song. We do that today when we sing lullabies to help lull our babies to sleep. Most kids love sweet singing rituals, and those habits help them feel calm and secure. There are many other times throughout the day that are good for singing. I used to sing my favorite childhood camp songs to bond with Anna and make her bath time more fun.

Please note: I am not a great singer! I sing off-key and have a tiny range. Still, I ended up being a song leader for our local Girl Scout unit – perhaps enthusiasm outweighed ability. My teen wasn’t always so happy about my voice, but as a baby she loved mama’s singing, and I loved singing with her.

There are also some wonderful songs that can help kids feel more secure and have more fun during chores and transitions. Here are a few of our favorites:

Cleanup Song

Clean up, clean up,
Everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do your share.

Let’s Clean Up (to the Tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”)

Let’s clean up today.
Let’s clean up today.
We’ve had our fun.
Our day is done.
So, let’s clean up today.

A helper I will be.
A helper I will be.
There’s work to do.
There’s work to do.
A helper I will be.

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands (to the Tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush)

This is the way we wash our hands,
Wash our hands,
Wash our hands.
This is the way we wash our hands,
Early in the morning.

(If you like, substitute a day of the week, such as “On a Tuesday morning” or substitute an activity, such as “Brush our teeth”, “Put on clothes”, etc.)

Read more fun, singing ideas from Bailey at Feng Shui Mommy.

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If you have musician friends, all the better, but this is not a prerequisite!

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Don’t forget to check out all the great activities and resources from First 5 California about the importance of talking, reading and singing and how to bring more of them into your and your child’s life.

Please share this great information with others and let me know how you’re talking, reading and singing.

#TalkReadSing #First5CA #First5California

The songs were featured in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (first photo)

 

 

Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits

 

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Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit www.BrightSchoolsCompetition.org.

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This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.

 

Help National Park Trust Get More Kids to National Parks

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What if you could give a child a national park experience for the price of a latté? You can! National Park Trust recently learned that their youth programs were selected as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project in honor of the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25, 2015. ​T​he National Park Service selected​ National Park Trust (NPT) for a one-to-one match of $450,000 that will result ​​in a total of $900,000 specifically designated for the expansion of their school programs (Buddy Bison Environmental Education Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest). As we approach the new school year, NPT is asking for our help to raise resources for the Buddy Bison School Program.

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The Centennial Challenge will allow NPT to be able to work with up to 60 Title 1 schools to provide multiple park experiences — at least one to a national park unit — throughout the school year, plus classroom toolkits full of resources and so much more! ​Your $5 will become $10, which provides bus transportation for one child for one park trip. There are more than 400 national park units across the country!

For just $5, you can be part of a grassroots movement and help children have a park experience who wouldn’t otherwise have one. Click to Donate to NPT’s Centennial Challenge.

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My family loves the U.S. National Parks. We have visited many and are fortunate to live near the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks spanning three counties. It includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, and 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day.

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Read about our recent trip to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the highlight of which was San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Like many national park units, Maritime Park features more history and science than nature, with historic ships, hands-on activities and elaborate displays.

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While we’ve hiked and biked in stunning national parks, such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and Acadia National Park (above), we’ve also discovered that some of the lesser known national park units (which include seashores, museums and monuments) provide fascination for kids who are interested in the outdoors, and also in history, anthropology, sociology, botany, earth science, literature and art. The great thing about our national parks is that they allow people to enter them through all different interests and enjoy them in many different ways.

More and more children are discovering our national parks, thanks to the National Park Service’s promotion of its Centennial Year and the National Park Trust’s work through their school programs. One more thing to celebrate? The National Park Service Centennial Year coincides with President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park Initiative, which will allow every 4th grader in the U.S., and their families to have a park experience during the 2015-16 school year. (The above link explains the program’s logistics.)

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National Park Trust is the nation’s only non-profit dedicated to supporting America’s parks through both land acquisition and preservation and youth education programs and initiatives that connect children with their local, state and national parks. I’m thrilled to help spread the word about their Centennial Challenge and hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

 

I was invited by National Park Trust to participate in their Centennial Challenge Campaign, however the views expressed are my own.

Photos by National Park Trust and Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

10 Fun and Unusual Holiday Gifts for Kids

I’m always on the lookout for cool and unusual kids’ holiday gifts, the kind that convey a fondness for and knowledge of the recipient, as well as a desire to give them something truly unique and worthwhile. Looking for something with a lot of play value that won’t already be under the tree? Check out these choices.

Pssst. Know a spy in training? They’d enjoy 4M’s  Spy Science Secret Messages kit. Future cryptologists can learn how to send top-secret messages by writing on X-ray paper, using invisible markers, utilizing a cipher wheel, and more.

Insect Lore’s Giant Butterfly Garden lets kids (and adults) witness the wonder of the butterfly life cycle, from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. See-through mesh with zippered entry allows easy access for care and feeding, and keeps butterflies inside until you set them free.

The Perfumery Science Kit, from Scientific Explorer, allows kids to create, design and mix their own perfume, enjoying a science and art that dates back to 2000 B.C. The kit comes with instructions, vials of various scents, and ideas for experimentation, so that kids can become their own mini olfactory factories.

I don’t know many kids who wouldn’t want this Expresso Cafe and Playhouse from Serec Entertainment. The cute 7′ x 4′ playhouse easily fits eight kids. It features a front entrance with a swinging door and a roll-out patio for role playing, inside and out.

Seeking a fun, holiday themed gift? Smart Snacks’ Gingerbread House Shape Sorter features a sweet and brightly colored cottage with six holes that match six chunky candy shapes. In addition to being fun, shape sorting toys are great for teaching and enhancing early learning skills.

No need to stop the fun when bath time comes! Construction Squirters, from Alex, allow for fantasy, dramatic and water play. Alex also offers Squirter sets in Pirate, Piggy and Doggy themes, as well as lot of other toys for creative bath play, from toys that let you make music and art, to shapes that stick on the wall for storytelling.

Why be limited to run-of-the-mill superheros when you can make your own? Emce’s Comic Book Hero Action Figure Customizing Kit contains everything you need to create and customize  your own superheros, including three articulated base bodies and various heads, hands, hair, masks, capes, paint and decals.

Since you’ve got to wear a helmet for bike and roller-sport safety, you might as well customize it. Wipeout’s Dry Erase Helmet lets you do just that. Helmets come in a variety of colors and include dry erase markers in assorted neon colors and a stencil kit with eight fun shapes.

The award-winning game SET (Enterprises, Inc.) is one of my family’s long-time favorites. It’s fun, challenging, and different each time you play. In addition to the original card game, SET now offers online daily challenges, as well as an iPad version.

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Most kids (and adults) are fascinated by magic. My First Magic Kit lets you perform your own. Watch a picture magically paint itself, make candy magically appear in an empty box, and much more. Have fun and amaze friends with this art that has been performed throughout history.

Enjoy your holidays!

 

This post originally appeared on Bookboard.com.

Top 10 Ways to Learn in Your Own Backyard

Many parents worry about summer slide, the learning loss that can occur while school is out for the summer. Great news: There is a hotbed of learning right in your own backyard. Science, math, art, history, and early literacy can come alive through the kinds of rich, hands-on, project-based experiences that make learning meaningful, all while you’re having fun exploring outdoors.

(Read on for info about Galileo Camp and Natural Nester DIY Camp.)

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Grow a Habitat Garden and Experience Citizen Science

Small creatures like birds and butterflies are always fun to watch. There are lots of ways to encourage them to visit your garden and linger a while, many of which provide fun and fascinating projects while benefiting your local habitat, your garden and the greater ecosystem of the Earth. You don’t need a large yard to have a habitat garden. Apartment balconies, window ledges, school gardens, and decks can all host local habitat.

Backyard creatures essentially need four things: Food, water, shelter and places to lay eggs and care for their young. Learn more and find resources about habitat gardening. Welcoming wildlife needn’t be complicated. One very easy way to start is by making a bird feeder.

Want to take it a step farther? The Great Sunflower Project is just one of many opportunities for kids to experience citizen science close to home. Citizen scientists are ordinary people of all ages who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bees and others. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help them gain important information about nature. If you have 15 minutes, you can count bees, which are vital for the Earth’s ecosystem, for The Great Sunflower Project. Other projects available year-round allow you to track birds, bats, butterflies, fireflies, wildflowers, meteors and snow, learning about each in the process. See a list of citizen science projects.

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Have Some Gardening Fun

Pizza Garden

You can grow just about everything needed for a pizza right in your own yard and then harvest and eat all the items baked in a pizza. All you’ll need to add is the dough and cheese! Pizza gardens teach design, planning, growing, harvesting, cooking and nutrition. Determine the shape of your pizza garden and decide what you’d like to grown and how you want to divide the space. Round pizza gardens, for instance, can be divided into four, six, or eight spokes, to resemble pizza slices. Mark off areas with string or rocks. Make sure to give plants like tomatoes plenty of room. In addition to tomatoes, try zucchini, eggplant, peppers, spinach, basil, oregano, onions, or garlic. Or grow flowers – red flowers to represent tomato sauce, yellow flowers to represent cheese, pink flowers for pepperoni, and some green leafy plants for spinach or peppers.

Seed Race

Why not make gardening into a game, and create a science experiment at the same time, with a seed race? Choose two or more types of seeds.
Plant them at the same time, in the same conditions, near each other in the ground or in similar containers, indoors or out. (Or plant the same seeds and vary one or more conditions as an experiment.) Water and watch which one emerges first and grows fastest. Stake them with a store-bought or homemade yardstick to measure their progress.

Growing Initials

Give your kids something they can claim as their own, and engage them in early literacy  at the same time by planting seeds in the shape of a child’s initials. Lay string in the shapes of the letters you like and dig a shallow furrow beside it. Plant your seeds – leafy greens work well for this project because they come up quickly and fill out nicely. These include lettuce, chives, radishes, cress, and various grasses. Most greens have fine seeds, which can be planted in a close, continuous line and thinned as needed.

Saving Seeds

What better way for kids to learn about the process of seeds becoming plants than to collect, save, plant and grow their own seeds? Seed saving is fascinating, rewarding, frugal and fun!

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Make a Wind Chime or Music Tree

Kids love to make music and noise. What better place for that than outdoors? Hang old or recycled pots, pans, tin cans, lids, muffin tins, silverware, measuring cups and other items from tree branches. Group lighter items close together to create wind chimes, or place them farther apart to let kids make music with wooden spoons to experiment with different sounds or learn about the effects of wind.

Have Fun with Water

Outdoor time calls for water play, which allows even the youngest children to learn about the properties of water, as it allows things to float, sink, fill, empty, change textures and temperatures, and move at various speeds. Young children will enjoy a mud play area and lots of old cups and kitchen items for filling, scooping and dumping. Others may enjoy filling cups with water and making “magic potions” with food coloring, glitter and small found objects. Or fill a tub of water and make a fine sea-worthy vessel to play with.

Cork Rafts and Sailboats

You’ll need:
Corks
School or craft glue
Flat toothpicks
Construction or other paper
Ruler
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Scissors

Raft: Arrange corks in a square or rectangle, with long sides touching each other. Glue the sides of the corks together. Draw a small rectangle (approximately 1 x 4”) on the paper with the ruler and cut it out. Fold the paper in half, so that you have two rectangles approximately 1 x 2”. Draw your country’s flag, or flags from your imagination, on each outer side of the paper. Glue the toothpick into the inner fold on the back side between the two flags, and let the glue dry. Glue the two halves of the paper together to secure the flag. Affix the toothpick flags into one cork or several corks and set the raft in water.

Sailboat: Glue corks together, following the instructions for the raft, or simply use a single cork. Draw a triangular sail shape on the paper (approximately 1” long on the side that will be glued to the toothpick. Decorate your sail, if desired. Glue the sail to the toothpick on its 1” side and let the glue dry. Affix the toothpick sail into the cork or cork base and set sail!

Elementary and older children will enjoy making a paper boat and sailing it in a nearby body of water, alone or in a race with others.

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Create Garden Art

Artists and craftspeople have long been inspired by the garden. Just getting outside with art and craft materials can open a world of wonder and observation. Gardens, in all their color, variety and changing light, offer great subjects, as well as a place to clear the artist’s head. In addition, they often provide a place where one can get messier than inside a house. Bring tempera or finger paints and paper outside, for plein air painting, paint a flower pot that you can plant in, or make a pretty beaded spider web.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. While providing endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, bubbles also illustrate properties of science. Each one is a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas. The water molecules on their surfaces bond tightly together, because each is made up of two sticky hydrogen atoms and one oxygen one – H2O. More bubble science is explained here. Bubbles can be made using ingredients you have around the house. When the weather’s nice, I often make a bucket of bubble solution and leave it outside with wands and other fun equipment so my daughter and friends can make bubbles whenever they like. It’s always fun and magical to create bubbles and watch them trail in the breeze. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Web of Life

This is a powerful group game that teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it.

You’ll need:
A ball of string, yarn, or twine

Players form a circle. The leader asks them to name a plant or animal that lives in the area. When someone names a plant or animal, he or she is handed the end of the ball of string. When someone names another plant or animal, the string is unraveled and handed to that person. The game continues this way until everyone is holding the same piece of string. It can be very dramatic for everyone to realize that they are webbed together. Choose one of the players to illustrate what happens when there is change, such as when a tree burns down or an animal is eaten. Have that person pull his or her piece of string to see its effect on all the others.

Slow Tip: If people get stuck on what to say next, go backward or forward in the food and shelter chain. The bird eats a frog, the frog eats an ant, the ant crawls under a tree, the tree provides oxygen for the deer, and so on.

Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. But while people have dried food in the sun for centuries, it was French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure who harnessed it for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven, though it’s best to stick with recipes that don’t require raw meat or eggs, until you’re proficient.

You’ll need:
Large sturdy cardboard box, with four sides and a bottom (no top or lids), such as a 10-ream paper box
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Duct tape
Cookie sheet or large cake pan
4 tin cans, filled with water to weight them
Charcoal briquettes and fire starter
Disposable foil tray or pie tins
Small stone
Recipe and cooking items
Bucket of water for fire safety

Choose a hot day with full sun. Completely line the box inside and out with foil, shiny side out. Tape only on the outside of the box (to avoid fumes getting in the food.) Choose a flat surface away from flammable objects. Line it with foil. Use the tin cans as “feet” to hold the cookie sheet or cake pan, which serves as the oven tray. Fill the foil tray or pie tins with briquettes, approx. one for every 40 degrees of desired oven temperature, and start. Place the item to be cooked on the oven tray (ideas follow). Slide the briquettes under the oven tray when ready (white). Place the box oven down over the items, using a small rock on the least windy side to lift part of the box off the ground for ventilation.

Follow the directions for your recipe. Cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times all work well in box ovens. Try one of our favorites:

Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

You’ll need:
2 boxes yellow cake mix, prepared
1 ounce butter or margarine
1 8-ounce can of pineapples
½ cup brown sugar
Dutch oven or large cake pan
Second pan or cookie sheet

Place butter or margarine in the Dutch oven or pan and melt it in the box oven. Stir brown sugar and pineapples into the melted butter. Pour prepared cake mix over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or more, until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the box oven and invert onto a second pan or cookie sheet.

Slow Tip: Want to try some super easy sun cooking? Make sun tea by filling a container with water, adding tea bags, and letting the container steep in the sun.

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Enjoy the Night Sky

Backyard fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. Nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars; meteor showers, like August’s Perseids; or phases of the moon. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.

Get to Know the Constellations

With 88 constellations and numerous other stars, the night sky can seem a bit overwhelming. Begin to get to know it by locating a few key constellations and orienting to those. After all, the constellations were themselves created to help the ancients better understand the night sky.

The Big Dipper, which is part of a larger constellation, is a great starting point, as it has an identifiable shape and is usually visible over much of the Northern Hemisphere. It appears like a ladle (bowl) and handle. Seeking the North Star, or Polaris? Extend an imaginary line up from the top corner of the ladle that is furthest from the handle. Polaris is in turn on the handle of the Little Dipper, which appears upside down and facing the opposite direction from the Big Dipper. Continue on from the North Star, away from the Big Dipper, for about the same distance and you will reach Casseopeia (the mythical Queen of Ethiopia), another famous constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, Cassiopeia is shaped like an “M” in the Summer and a “W” in the Winter.

Consult a star map and continue to find relationships to these constellations.

Slow Snippet: What makes stars twinkle? What we see as twinkling is really the light from the star bending as it moves through layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. That trip takes billions of years, so that what we see is a snapshot of a time in the cosmos that is long past.

Keep a Moon Diary

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. Observing the moon and keeping a moon diary can help younger children understand how long a month is.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great way to get everyone exploring and observing in nature.

You’ll need:
Pencils and paper

Create a list in advance or have players contribute to one list of 10-20 things they might find in the backyard or park. A list might include an oak tree, a pond, a red bird, a dandelion, a wildflower, a nest, a feather, an acorn or a hollow log. You or the hunters could also list more subjective items, such as something rough, something orange, something unexpected, or a heart-shaped rock. Teams or players go off to seek the items on the list and cross each off when they see it. One point is awarded for each item found. The person or team with the most points wins.

Make a Nature Bracelet

This is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items in their own backyards.

You’ll need:
1″ or wider Masking Tape, enough to go around each child’s wrist

Tear off a piece of masking tape, slightly larger than the child’s wrist. Place it around the wrist with the sticky side out. Go for a walk or hunt and look for small items in nature that can be stuck to the masking tape, such as leaves, twigs, seeds, acorns and pods. (Generally things that have already fallen on the ground are safe to pick. If in doubt, leave something.) Fill the bracelet by sticking the items onto it and wear it proudly.

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These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Want to take it further? Create your own backyard DIY summer camp with eight weeks of ideas from A Natural Nester and many others.

San Francisco Bay Area parents, want to find a camp that inspires summer learning and fun? Check out Galileo Camps, with over 40 Bay Area locations. Use code: 2014INNOVATION for $30 off.

This post is part of the School’s Out Top 10 Summer Learning series. Be sure to read all the other great Top 10 lists!

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Thanks to our sponsor, Galileo Learning.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Kids Growing Strong (pizza garden), Public Domain (night sky), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet)

Win $5,000 for your School Garden from Dole and Captain Planet Foundation

School gardens provide such a unique learning environment for kids. I’ve seen gardens used to teach science, math, history, social studies, art, language, and other subjects, in addition to teaching kids the mastery and joy of caring for living things, and the methods to grow and harvest their own food and other items. Often school gardens are the only places in which kids will gather these crucial experiences and even get outside during their school and home days.

So I was thrilled to learn that DOLE Fruit Bowls® and Captain Planet Foundation are teaming up to host the “DOLE Fruit Bowls & Captain Planet Foundation’s Learning Garden Challenge.” The contest will recognize K-8 schools that have established school gardens that provide occasions for learning and environmental stewardship, and an understanding of the role that fresh fruits and vegetables play in a healthy lifestyle.

If your school has a learning garden, you could win $5000 plus a bunch of other prizes from Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation — It’s easy! Enter here. The deadline to enter is March 12, 2014 at 11:59PM ET.

 

This post is sponsored by Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation. The opinions expressed are my own.

Images: Dole, Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s National Pollinator Week: Have fun attracting and helping bees, butterflies and birds
Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s guide to getting your garden growing
Earth Day and Every Day: 11 ways to make gardening extra fun for kids
The Rise and Fall of New York City’s School Gardens

 

How to Raise Readers in the Digital Age

A lot of us parents worry that the expansion of digital technology into our children’s lives will result in them reading less than kids of previous generations. It turns out that we needn’t worry at all. Children today are reading more than ever, in both digital and print forms, says a Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report.

What steps can parents take to ensure their kids become enthusiastic lifelong readers?

Embrace the e-Book

Half of children ages 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books, according to the Scholastic report. E-books, in particular, are motivating boys and reluctant readers, who are reading e-books for fun in record numbers. E-books needn’t replace the printed book – 80 percent of kids who read e-books still read print books for fun. Having multiple options simply means more reading opportunities in many children’s lives.

Take your Reading with You

Tablets and e-readers make it easier than ever to take your reading along wherever you go – in the car and during other travel, in waiting rooms and local parks. And there are increasingly more great devices for reading e-books. The digital subscription service Bookboard provides access to a library of children’s books (audio and non) for the tablet, in a playful system that harnesses the natural interest kids have for technology and helps motivate them to read by rewarding them with books appropriate for their age, reading level and interests. Audio books, in particular, have proven a very effective tool for kids who have difficulty reading.

Use your Public Library

Libraries are still extremely popular, says a Pew Report on Library Services in the Digital Age. As many as 91 percent of people say that libraries are important to their communities and families. Libraries provide early literacy programming to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They serve as community hubs and help bring families together. They invite hands-on experiential learning that prepares kids for reading and school. They provide access to technology and support digital learning in a way that may not be available to families at home. All this makes libraries a great place for readers and pre-readers alike to enjoy the array of services and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us. When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. Make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (or have children search while they’re in the car). When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but children initially learn the skills that lead to speaking and reading by listening to you.

In addition, kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Older children can help read recipes and make shopping lists and then help read the items in the store.

Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Read a variety of media. Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book. Young children treasure time with their parents and when you spend some of that time reading, they’ll associate it with your presence and physical closeness and the sound of your voice.

Enjoy fostering your child’s lifelong interest in reading.

This post originally appeared in Dot Complicated.

New Book Helps Parents Homeschool While Working

Do you wish to homeschool while working but remain unsure about your ability to “do it all”? Pamela Price’s How to Work and Homeschool is here to help. Pamela Price, herself a working homeschooler and blogger at both How to Work and Homeschool and Red, White and Grew, shares extensively from her own experiences and challenges, as well as her observations hosting a series of homeschooling workshops and her interviews with multiple families who are successfully combining homeschooling with a variety of work  schedules and needs. In her introduction, she refers to the growing group of working homeschool parents as “part of a new breed of ‘educational entrepreneurs'”. She writes of her own experiences:

We have stitched homeschooling into the weave of our lives, if not seamlessly, at least functionally.

That sentence sums up much of the tone of the book – hopeful, extremely practical and helpful, and also realistic about the possibilities as well as the imperfection inherent in choosing a path that combines homeschooling with working.

How to Work and Homeschool covers a lot of ground, about what it takes to be, in essence, a “social change agent”, redrawing the traditional lines of school, work, home life, education, community and parenting. Pamela interviews multiple real people, in the trenches and in a variety of situations, who are making all of the new possibilities work for their families, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

We meet Emilee, a homeschool student and then parent who runs the thriving Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds business; Brenda, who enjoys multi-generational involvement in her homeschooling endeavor; Khadija, a telecommuting mother of eight; and Jennifer, a nurse-turned-journalist and homeschooler of four.

Pamela Price

Through interviews, anecdotes, experience and statistics, Pamela reveals many myths, truths and tips about homeschooling and combining homeschool and work, that could help the trepidatious take the leap into homeschooling and continue to homeschool with grace. Countless experienced homeschoolers share what has worked best for them and some things they may have done differently. The book has a section on single-parent homeschooling and on contingencies when things don’t quite go as planned. Most helpfully, Pamela outlines different homeschool/work scenarios and schedules, based on family needs, that would help any family consider the best way to tackle homeschool and work, philosophically and practically.

How to Work and Homeschool would be a fantastic addition to any homeschooling library and is a must for parents who intend to combine homeschooling with work.

Graphics: Pamela Price, Hedua.com

Preschool and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?

Frederick Froebel‘s invention of kindergarten, in early 1800s Germany, heralded the idea of early childhood education — of reaching children during a period of dramatic brain development and introducing a holistic style of learning through play, music, movement, paperfolding and games. Froebel recognized that children learn differently from one another (the precursor to Multiple Intelligence theory), and that one child may learn best by sorting objects, another by talking with peers, and another through sensory experiences like physical movement and touch. He influenced many schools of early childhood education that are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and social skills, as well as the preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward a century and a half since Froebel’s time to find online parent message boards crammed with questions from anxious parents: “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” There are scores of kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits, which denote and teach precise skills one should know before starting kindergarten, such as the ability to count from 1-10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip. (The last includes the especially ridiculous coda that  preschool children around the country are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.)

Of course, if a child is not ready for today’s kindergarten, by all means, have the child wait a year. My issue is with the sped-up nature of education. The rush toward school and academic curriculum robs many children of the age-appropriate experience of learning through play, discovery and activity. Given the fact that early childhood has accelerated to the degree that my kindergarten has become my daughter’s pre-K, is it any wonder that the ritual of graduation has also trickled down, from high school and college to pre-school?

I don’t believe I had a pre-school or kindergarten graduation. I remember a ritual of autograph books when moving from elementary school to middle. I’m pretty sure there was no middle school graduation either. High school graduation was exceedingly special. I wore a mortarboard cap and gown and screamed with excitement in the school quad, and actually got to attend a Grad Night at Disneyland that ended at dawn.

Perhaps, then, a blend of personal history and a feeling that childhood has dramatically accelerated leads me to think that elaborate preschool graduations that imitate high school and college graduations are silly (not to mention possibly expensive). Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful, and even helpful, to have an age-appropriate ritual for young children to help them note the fact of their moving on and perhaps address some conscious or subconscious grief and fear. The trappings of diplomas and caps and gowns do none of those things, however, and are another example of a culture that views children as miniature adults (when convenient). Fortunately, there are some simple rituals that might have more meaning for a child and help them ease and celebrate their transition.

This is a ritual that Anna did at her preschool to mark summer and winter solstices. It can be altered to mark a graduation. Have children stand in a circle and hold hands. An adult leader can then lead children to walk around the circle, or can break free and lead them in a spiral to form smaller circles. The children chant:

We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

I find this a gentle ritual that is symbolic of the movement of time and of change. Because small children make the circle with their bodies, I believe that act has more meaning for them than receiving a piece of paper (that many can’t even read).

Another ritual can be taken from Girl Scouts: The bridging ceremony is typically done when scouts “bridge” from one age-group level to another. They symbolize their passage by walking over a bridge (footbridges work well), under an archway, through a path or over stepping stones. Symbolic bridges can also be created with rows of ribbons, chalk or flowerpots on a lawn or in a driveway. Archways can be created with people’s arms. Sometimes older children greet the ones who bridge over. Bridging is a simple, lovely and meaningful ceremony.

What do you think of formal graduations from preschool? Do you have a favorite alternative?

Photos: Let the Children Play, Quiqle. Cartoon: Fault Lines, by Lippy, Creative Child, Academic Advancement.

 

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