Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

6 Spooky Science Experiments for Halloween

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

As classroom parents plan Halloween party activities to occupy the time between the school parade and the night’s sugar rush, it’s a great time to sneak in some wonderfully spooky science experiments that will allow kids of all ages to learn a little science before diving into the afternoon’s treats. Here are six easy experiments that will dazzle kids of all ages and are pretty easy to prepare.

Serve misty punch. A chunk of dry ice in a big punch bowl allows the room to be overtaken by a creeping fog. Show elementary aged kids the dry ice before it’s immersed in the liquid and talk about why it’s called dry ice. Hint: says that the substance is really frozen carbon dioxide. “It is called dry ice because it resembles water in many ways…but when it sublimates [when a solid or gas changes state without becoming a liquid], it turns to gas instead of liquid.” Save another chunk of dry ice for Halloween night and add it to your jack-o-lantern after lighting the candle to make some spooky fog.

Create a Halloween feel box to invigorate their senses. Get a large bowl and add a package of wet gummy worms, wet spaghetti coated in oil, and peeled grapes. Place it inside a box where you’ve cut a hole big enough for a little arm to slide inside and let early elementary ages, preschoolers, and toddlers try to guess the real foods inside your slimy bowl. It’s a fun idea that allows children to make observations based only on touch. Family Crafts has more ideas for household items to place inside the feel box.

Make ghosts and bats dance with static electricity. Balloons, tissue paper, markers, scissors, tape, and your sweater or hair are all you need to make fun Halloween shapes float around thanks to static electricity. How do you do it and why does it work? Visit Inspiration Laboratories for the full instructions and explanation.

Write and reveal secret messages with Goldenrod bleeding paper. According to the American Chemical Society, “Goldenrod paper turns bright red when exposed to basic solutions, like ammonia water. Spray some ammonia-water solution on your hand to make a bloody hand print.” For full directions, visit Steve Spangler Science for directions and why this is a very cool experiment, especially if you’re short on time. Ammonia water is safe for kids. Just make sure that they wash their hands after being sprayed.

Concoct some glowing bubbling brew. Did you know that a diluted yellow highlighter will glow under a black light? Have kids make a prediction about what will happen when you turn on a black light and turn off the overhead light. Also make them guess what will happen when you mix the yellow highlighter water (aka glow water) with vinegar and then pour it over some baking soda. For some great photos of what this experiment looks like, visit Play at Home Mom.

Test the density of candy with a simple sink and float test. Once Halloween has come and gone and you’re left with the candy that hasn’t been eaten, it makes for great science experiments. has tons of great candy experiments but a really simple one is the sink/float test. Visit the site to learn why some candies float while others sink!

Scary Halloween laboratory via Shutterstock

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Tags: | Categories: Education, Science

5 Things Angry Birds Can Teach Kids About Physics

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Angry Birds is the number one downloaded app worldwide and while we may think our kids are wasting away precious hours slingshotting birds into caged pigs, there are many scientific concepts that can be learned from the addictive game. National Geographic’s Angry Birds Furious Forces describes the complicated physics at play in the world’s most popular game. With chapters titled mechanics, sound and light, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, and particle physics and beyond, parents who had previously felt guilty about allowing their Angry Birds obsessed kids can rest easier knowing that there’s some serious science behind the game that’s presented in easy to understand language in a format that’s fun for kids and adults alike.

What five basic scientific concepts do kids really learn through their endless hours of playing any version of Angry Birds?

Physics- The book begins with an introduction by Peter Vesterbacka, Chief Marketing Officer of Rovio Entertainment, who writes, “Angry Birds fans come face-to-face with basic principles of physics every time they take aim with the slingshot.”

Motion and trajectory- The act of flinging a bird into the air represents motion while the trajectory is the path that it takes to reach the pigs. The first chapter builds on motion by introducing projectile motion too. Roller coaster enthusiasts will identify with the motion of the cars on favorite rides.

Force- Force is required to pull back and Angry Bird and also bust open the pigs’ crates but there are also other forces that can cause objects to speed up or slow down. Angry Birds Furious Forces also provides additional concrete examples such as baseball and skateboarding to describe forces at work.

Kinetic energy- Kinetic energy is a tricky concept to understand but explaining stored energy in relation to familiar objects such as the rubber band that launches the bird, provides a concrete example that kids can relate to. The book describes kinetic energy at work by describing the behavior of the birds as they reach their targets. “The faster the bird moves, the more energy it has…As the bird gets higher, it slows down, so its kinetic energy decreases.”

Gravity and weight- Real world examples interspersed with those from the game enrich this book even more as it explains gravity as the pull of the Earth but as it relates to weightlessness that astronauts feel in space.

Angry Birds Furious Forces serves as a great introduction to basic physics concepts for young ages because they’re presented in a way that kids can relate to as they play their favorite game. Older students who grapple with the abstract nature of physics will appreciate the way the book uses real world examples to provide concrete examples of more complex topics like relativity, gravitational potential energy, vectors, matter, along with protons, neutrons, and molecules. This book also makes Angry Birds loving parents a little envious that the game didn’t exist when we were kids because we all could have benefitted from this book to help make high school and college physics a little more fun and easy to relate to.

Little boys playing on smartphone via Shutterstock

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How Challenged Captain Underpants Series Encourages Reluctant Young Readers to Love Reading

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The American Library Association (ALA) published their list of top ten most challenged books in 2012 as part of Banned Book Week and appearing at top of the list and the first image in a CNN slideshow is Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series. What does it mean to be a challenged book? According to the ALA, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” Who challenges the book? The ALA says that the 464 formal complaints they received came from “librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens.”

“Wow,” declared Sue Wagner, a Washington, D.C. parent and blogger of Laundry for Six. “I’m speechless. Really?”

Objections to Captain Underpants could land it with these 15 classic children’s books that have been banned in America but are there lessons to be learned from the underpants wearing toilet plunger yielding Captain Underpants character? Is there value in letting your child pick up a challenged book? Absolutely.

The Captain Underpants series is told from the perspective of George and Harold, two fictional elementary aged kids whose comics start each of the books and are interspersed throughout the chapters. Their top secret “infomashional” comics are filled with words that are spelled exactly as they sound. While younger readers may not catch the misspellings, older children do, making for perfect learning experiences where they delight in knowing that they’re better spellers than George and Harold.

“While Captain Underpants would never make my preferred reading list (the toilet humor is lost on me), my third-grader son absolutely adores this series and I am okay with that,” admitted Sarah Caron, a Connecticut parent and blogger (Sarah By the Sea and Sarah’s Cucina Bella). “These books were challenging as a second grader and that spurred him to dig into even more challenging books beyond the series (for instance, he’s been reading Tom Sawyer in his spare time). Whatever makes him a devoted and passionate reader who regularly challenges himself with harder books is a good thing to me.”

But what about the complaints to the ALA that the Captain Underpants series contains “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” material, and are generally “unsuited” to the intended age group?

“Just because a person disagrees with a topic or theme, does not give them the right to impose their beliefs upon others,” said Washington, D.C. area parent, Drew Cohen. “First Amendment- let them read, enjoy and question.”

Even though Captain Underpants may not be classic literature and the little clothing he dons with his cape would get any child sent home from school, the graphic novel’s laugh out loud potty humor appeals to kids and inspires them to read other books in the series for more of George and Harold’s misadventures. It’s ironic that the complaints about Captain Underpants and other challenged books on the list were filed by librarians, teachers, and fellow parents-  individuals who we trust will inspire our kids to read. After all, getting reluctant kids to read is an important first step to developing a lifelong love of reading for pleasure.

But not all librarians agree with pulling challenged books from the school shelves. Naomi Gelfand, a school library media specialist in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland said, “Whatever gets your children to read is great.”

Parents tend to agree. “I have a reluctant reader,” Ilina Ewen from Dirt and Noise shared. “I let him choose anything that he fancied just to see him experience reading for joy rather than a chore.”

Even if it’s a book from the Captain Underpants series.

Image courtesy of the author


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Bing for Schools and Comcast Internet Essentials Promote Digital Literacy in Schools and for Families

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Kids are growing up in a world where connectivity is part of life and digital literacy is an expectation but in many schools, shrinking budgets are causing districts to do more for less. Pricey hardware plus time and money for teacher professional development along with the resources to support ongoing education for our kids to ensure they’re using current tools to provide them with the skills they need for the future can be a challenge. Thankfully company initiatives are helping strapped school systems and financially challenged families get the hardware and connectivity they need to prepare this next generation of learners with the digital literacy skills they need for their future. Please share these two great initiatives with your child’s school to ensure that they can take advantage of offers for free hardware and spread the word about how families can get affordable internet access.

Bing For Schools

Bing for School is a new initiative focused on digital literacy for students that puts technology in classrooms, helps students learn how to use the power of search through helpful lesson plans that teach critical thinking with technology, and allows them to practice what they’re learning in a safe, supportive, and ad-free environment. By signing up for Bing Rewards, community members earn credits for Bing searches and the credits are given the school of their choice. When schools earn enough credits, Bing for Schools sends a Surface RT with a Touch Cover. Unlike other programs where it takes a long time to aggregate credits to realize the rewards, Bing estimates that with 60 parents/community members using Bing Rewards, a school can earn a tablet a month! Bing has also created a safe search environment that removes ads from Bing search results for any school district and private school that registers for kids, school districts, and private schools that register for the Bing School pilot. Bing believes that schools should be ad-free zones, free of adult content, and privacy enhancements used to ensure that kids’ data isn’t being monetized.  School administrators can register at and parents can encourage their kids’ schools to participate by visiting

Comcast Internet Essentials

We don’t hear much about the digital divide that President Bill Clinton discussed during his presidency but while it may not be talked about, it still exists. In an attempt to provide more families with access to home computers that are connected to the internet, Comcast Internet Essentials makes accessibility affordable by providing qualified families with computers for $149.99 and monthly internet access for $9.99/month to help eliminate the digital divide.  Comcast offers free learning tools through their Online Learning Center that offers videos and tutorialsassistance in locating an in person internet training classlessons in social media, and links to aid in an online job search to help families increase digital literacy skills by providing computer training and teaching users how to navigate the internet.

Portrait of two schoolgirls looking at the laptop during lesson via Shutterstock

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6 Children’s Author Websites For Families to Learn Beyond the Book

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Every family has their favorite authors and in many homes, these are the books that you find yourself reading over and over again to your children night after night after night. While they may get old to you, they’re never old to your kids. The words and pictures often leave them clamoring to know more about the author, their inspiration, and favorite characters.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, many authors enable families to continue the education beyond the book thanks to interactive sites featuring games with delightful characters, videos, answers to the questions your kids have probably asked you about their favorite author, tutorials on drawing the creatures on the pages of the dog-eared book you so often read, and printables to color and adorn their walls. Here are six popular children’s book authors and illustrators whose phenomenal sites allow for families to explore a world beyond the book. As always, parents should preview the sites first to ensure they’re age appropriate for their child and then introduce it by sitting down together to take a look.

Kevin Henkes— Kids who identify with Owen’s attachment to his yellow blanket, delight in Lily antics with or without her purple plastic purse, and are inspired by Sheila Rae the Brave will love learning more about their favorite author on his beautifully done website that is chock full of videos where you can meet the author and get his perspective on your favorite books. A six minute video called Meet Kevin Henkes is fun to watch together to get a look inside the author’s studio, his early inspirations, and creative process.  Homeschooling parents and teachers will love downloadable activities for many popular books, including the Lily books, along with teaching and discussion guides for books like Penny and Her Song, Bird Lake Moon, Olive’s Ocean, and Junonia.

Grace Lin— For many years, Round is Mooncake was my daughter’s favorite book. The beautiful illustrations by Grace Lin captivated her while teaching her about our Chinese heritage. I love Lin’s site because it allows families to learn about a different culture.  Kids can learn Chinese with the correct pronunciation audio guides and character studies from The Ugly Vegetables and Where The Mountain Meets the Moon and are treated to a new Chinese word a day on her blog. It’s also fun to go on a virtual field trip of her studio, get ideas for crafts inspired by her different books, and read about the other careers she could have pursued based on her interests though she’s glad to be a children’s book illustrator!

Eric Carle— Well known for over 40 books, Eric Carle is a favorite in many homes across the country where children have memorized the words of his stories. While the text is memorable, so are his unique illustrations. Slideshows featuring how Carle paints his tissue papers, creates pictures, and made collages for Mister Seahorse can be found on his site. There’s also a short video of Carle reading his famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar that is fun for young fans to see. For families teaching their kids another language, there’s also an audio gallery of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in simplified and complex Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Lithuania, Maori, and Norwegian on his site.

Jan Brett— This fall Jan Brett is visiting 24 cities and towns as part  of a tour for her new book, CINDERS a chicken Cinderella. Her site provides dates and locations of tour stops for her book talk and illustration demonstrations. If Brett isn’t visiting a city near you, her site features a wealth of activities for her many books, video drawing tutorials to help her fans learn to draw favorite animals from her stories, virtual ecards and printable cards, coloring pages, and so much more! It’s easy to get lost on her site looking at the amazing resources she’s made available for fans of all ages.

Mo Willems— Mo Willems’ site is just as fun as his books. Sure, kids can get to know Mo but the content is really the shining star of Willems sites. There are multiple links from the main that lead kids and parents to different microsites with tons of content. features interactive games, like the Bedtime Game, Spot the Dinosaur, Alligator Wants to Play, and Knuffle Bunny’s Baggage Claim Game, that include audio cues where the directions are read to young learners who aren’t quite reading independently. They’re easy for preschoolers to play plus provide plenty of encouragement thanks to positive reinforcement. Parents will love that the audio can also be turned off. Fans of the Pigeon books will enjoy an entire website devoted to Pigeon-centric activities like games, coloring pages, information about favorite characters, and teacher and parent stuff like teacher guides and event kits.

Tomie dePaolaHaving written and/illustrated over 200 books for children, Tomie dePaola is truly an inspiration for kids. Kids can learn more about Tomie (the frequently asked questions section is particularly fun!) while also learning about his creative writing and illustration process on his site. Mr. dePaola’s website also provides contact information for young fans and classes to write him a letter.

Portrait of happy family with two children reading at home via Shutterstock

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