Monday, July 21, 2014

July Science Ideas for Kids

Do you have a child who is more interested in science than in arts and crafts? In this post I am sharing several great science and engineering ideas that will delight your kids.
Planet Smarty Pants: July Science Ideas

Science at Planet Smarty Pants

Making a bouncing ball
Smarty had a “science week” in her Y camp last week. She loved her field trip to California Academy of Science in San Francisco and to local The Round Pizza where kids could see how pizza is made. Camp counselors also showed kids several science experiments including homemade bouncing balls. Smarty came home and begged me to make one with her. First she wanted to just randomly mix the materials and see what happens, but I explained to her that for this experiment it is actually quite important to know how much of what you need.
Silly Putty
Honestly, this experiment looks a lot messier in real life than it does on other people’s blogs! It also seems that you need to get ratios exactly right. At least we ended up with silly putty and not with slime, and Smarty had a lot of fun with this chemistry experiment for kids.

Science From After School Participants

Now let’s see what others did this week:

1. Ashley from Life with Moore Babies was a guest on Enchanted Homeschooling Mom where she gave a tutorial on making sun catchers from gelatin. I’d say that this takes messiness level a notch higher than bouncing balls and is definitely a parent-led project, but kids can help with making their DIY sun catchers (also known as window clings) colorful and glittery and deciding where to put them up.
Gelatin Sun Catcher
2. Mary Warner, a guest at In the Playroom contributed a tutorial on making classic plastic wrap parachutes.
Parachutes from In the Playroom
3. Navigating by Joy introduceds a complex matter of atom composition through food. These atomic pancakes look like so much fun!
Water-molecule-pancakes
4. My co-host The Measured Mom shared a great post about planning science activities for children 3-7 years of age and introducing scientific method.
how-to-plan-science-activities-for-kids-ages-3-7
5. There’s Just One Mommy made a DIY water wall with her kids. I tried to talk Smarty into making one, but she said that this is “for little ones” Open-mouthed smileI think it’s so much fun for kids of any age, especially if they play together.
DIY Water Wall from There's Just One Mommy
6. I love child-led projects. Inspiration Laboratories described how her son wanted to invent a bouncing ball dropping machine and how she met him halfway in this creative challenge. That’s really what it means to encourage your child thinking without taking over an entire thing. Definitely recommend checking this post out.
Inventing a Bouncy Ball Machine

More  Science for Elementary School?

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2014 After School Link Up Hosts

Share Your Summer Learning Week

School might be over, but lifelong learning never stops. We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your summer learning including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures that you are doing to enrich your children's lives. When linking up, please take a moment to comment on at least one post linked up before yours and grab our after school button to include a link on your post or site! By linking up you're giving permission for us to share on our After School Pinterest Board or feature on our After School Party in the upcoming weeks! Don't forget to follow along and join our After School Enrichment Community.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Week In Review–July 19, 2014

Highlights of the Week

  • Watching-World-CupLast Sunday we watched Germany win the World Cup in soccer and celebrated their victory.
  • I picked up a very intense project at work, we’ll have to see what it will do to my blog life.
  • Smarty’s theme in her Y Camp was Chemical Chaos with a field trip to SF Academy of Science museum and a trip to Round Pizza to see how pizza is made. She loved this week of camp!
  • We had a playdate with one of her best friends and his younger sister. The kids didn’t see each other for a while but picked right where they left off – it’s great to see that this friendship is still going strong. Hoping that they are put in the same class this year (they were in different classes last year).

What My Child Is Reading

Reading 101 Kid Activities
Smarty is mostly rereading her favorite parts of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series… again! She also went through two first chapters of 101 Kids Activities book by Holly Homer and Rachel Miller trying to decide what she wants to do. So far nothing really spurred her to action, but I have high hopes for the next two chapters (Games and Science). Our weekly books are placed in my Amazon affiliate widget.

Places We Are Going

Castle RockAnother highlight of the week was that we renewed our California State Parks Pass with the goal of going on hikes more often. We found the way to make hiking more interesting for Smarty by adding special photography stops on the way. Last Sunday we went to our closest and most favorite state park – The Castle Rock.
Favorite Memory from This Week
Rock Climbing
Me: I slept like a log last night.
Husband: You were a very loud log.
Smarty: Maybe it was a log with a frog on it.

Most Popular Post

Yes, 12 Amazing Engineering Projects is still most popular, but my newer post The Gift of Doing Nothing saw some traffic this week driven partially by Teach Mama sharing it on her Facebook page.
Gift-Doing-Nothing

Your Turn

How was your week?

Friday, July 18, 2014

6 August Books for 2 and 3 Year Olds

This post is part of the series in Book Recommendations by Age and Month of the Year. This post has August book recommendations for children who are 2 or 3 years old. Each book is paired up with additional resources that you can use to extend the story further.
August Book Picks for 2 and 3 Year Olds with Extension Activities
My daughter is now 7 year old and a very fluent reader. Very often I hear the same question, What did you do with her when she was little? Well, we read a lot, and I maintained a diary of our reading activities in weekly What My Child Is Reading entries in my blog. I decided to make these reading diaries more useful and create a new series on my blog where I will share our best books for each month for ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. Moreover, I will pair each book with an extension activity – sometimes with ours and sometimes with activities from my creative friends from Kid Blogger Network. In this post I am featuring books that we read when Smarty was 2.5 years old.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

1. Rainbow Fish

The Rainbow Fish
It’s still summer! Perfect time to read stories set in the mysterious underwater worlds. My daughter loved Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish series that slip some value lessons in beautifully illustrated stories. Here is a round up of amazing Rainbow Fish art projects for preschoolers from my blog including our own take on this character.
Rainbow-Fish-Projects-For-Kids

2. A Day at the Airport

A Day in the Airport
Many families are flying this summer. It’s so exciting (and can be a little scary!) to be in the airport for the first time. Richard Scarry introduces a charming world of the airport that might be a little outdated, but that makes it even more interesting to read this book. Older kids can compare and contrast Richard Scarry’s airport to the airports they know. They can also make this adorable cardboard airport from One Time Through for themselves and for their younger siblings – the post has a detailed tutorial.DIY-Airport from One Time Through

3. Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo?

Where are You Blue Kangaroo
2 and 3 year olds are giving up their toddler habits, but they are hopefully keeping their favorite stuffed friends. A Blue Kangaroo from Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo is very worried about being left behind by his easily distractible owner, so he decides to make sure it doesn’t happen. An entire Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chidester Clark is adorable and worth a read. And if you are interested in building responsibility in toddlers and preschoolers, Teachers of Good Things has some great advice.
Teach Toddlers Responsibility

4. My Preschool

mypreschool
My daughter started in daycare when she was a little over 2, but we were moving her to a “real” preschool in August 2009. She was a little apprehensive about that as many other kids are. Preschool is such a big step, and it’s good for children to know what to expect. My Preschool gently goes over the events of a typical preschool day and reassures children that Mom or Dad will come back for them once this day filled with fun activities comes to an end. If you are preparing to send your child to preschool for the very first time, you might want to think of a fun way to make this first day special. Teaching Mama offers 4 ways to celebrate the first day of preschool – I love this ABC pancakes idea!
ABC Pancakes from Teaching Mama

5. Elmer

Elmer
We loved Elmer series by David McKee. It sends such a strong message about individuality, friendship, and respecting individual differences. I think each child should read this series and then reread Elmer books in elementary school, especially while trying to fit in. The Imagination Tree shows us how a recyclable milk jug can transform into an amazing craft if you apply some imagination and creativity. It is certainly a parent-led project, but her Elmer is beautiful, durable, and can make a great gift.
Elmer-elephant-milk-jug-craft

6. Penguin Post

Penguin Post
Again, I am including a longer book for young kids who can sit still for a while. My daughter and I both enjoyed adorable Milo from Penguin Post by Debi Gliori. We read it many times discussing the packages that Milo delivers. There is also a fun twist in the end of the book. This book will be especially appreciated by the children waiting for a new sibling. A great extension for this book is playing post office. It can be a free play set up by your children or you can get your children to practice their letter recognition skills as they play with this great pretend play with letters from No Time for Flash Cards.
Alphabet Mail from No Time for Flash Cards

More August Books Recommendations

August Books for 4 Year Olds – coming up next week

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Your Turn:

What are your favorite books about starting preschool?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Photography Skills for Kids –7 Simple Tips

“Photography is an art of observation. It has very little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them” – Elliott Erwitt. I strongly believe in teaching kids photography skills and letting them develop their own view of the world through the lens of the camera. I am hoping that understanding the power and beauty of photography will help my daughter make better choices than taking up sexting when she is a teen. So what can parents do to foster interest in photography in their children?

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!
Tips to Get Kids Started With Photography

1. Don’t Start Too Early

It might be tempting to hand your toddler a camera or your phone and let them push buttons, but most kids under 5 don’t have stability and dexterity to take non-blurry pictures. Unless you have an exceptionally interested children, I’d suggest waiting until they are over 5 to really introduce photography to them.

2. Don’t Fret About “Just Right” Camera

Camera choices depend mostly on your family situation. If your child is not careful with things, you might want to invest in a camera for kids. A well meaning friend of the family gave Smarty  VTech Kidzoom Camera when she was 4.
VTech Camera
It is sturdy and has big buttons designed for smaller hands. However, quality of lens is sub-average, and we thought that this camera has too many unnecessary bells and whistles taking children’s attention, which is already a precious commodity, away from actually learning to take decent pictures. We put that camera away and for her 7th birthday gave her my old Canon Powershot SD1100 while I upgraded to Canon PowerShot Elph 330. You could use any older digital camera as long as it is reasonably small and reasonably fast while taking pictures.
Canon Powershot

3. Make Them Get a “Camera License”

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her class had iPads in the classroom. Before children could get access to iPads, they needed to pass a “test” to demonstrate that they know how to handle this expensive piece of electronics properly and receive an “iPad license”. The same applies to cameras. We expected our 7 year old to:
  • Know how to turn a camera on and off
  • Remember to put it in a protective case when not in use
  • Return it to a designated spot in the house - we are still working on that. Recently she “lost” her camera for a few weeks and then I discovered it quite by accident in my own backpack!
  • Take pictures, take videos and view the results
  • Use zoom button
  • Turn flash on and off

4. Teach Them to Stand Still

We are trying to teach our daughter that there are three parts to taking a good picture:
Holding Your Camera for Kids
    • Decide on what you want to photograph
    • Hold camera straight with both hands
    • Make sure your hands don’t block your lens or flash (as you can see from the photo, this is still work in progress)
    • Stand still – you cannot take photos while moving. This is getting better… most of the time daughter remembers this tip.

5. Don’t Tell Them What to Photograph…

Mama Portrait from 7 Year Old
… Or you are going to regret it as I did when I asked Smarty to take my photo. Smarty is not very interested in photographing people, she is a lot more interested in details around her. There was a period when she was photographing stones and cracks in the sidewalks. Luckily we live in the age of digital photography and we don’t have to worry about the cost of every shot. Picking their own subjects not only make photography a lot more interesting, but also allows us a unique insight into their view of the physical world.

6. Show Them the Possibilities

Fairy Houses
This weekend we took this little Playmobil fairy on a hike with us and focused on looking for fairy houses and photographing her homes. Smarty loved this idea, and suddenly hiking was a lot more interesting to her than it usually is (it also took us much longer than usual to get through our usual hiking loop in our favorite hiking place). I think that we will have a lot more of those “props” pictures in our future trips.

7. Play Photography Games

Photography games can be a lot of fun to play, especially if you have more than one child. In the past we did photography scavenger hunt and went on a photo walk. Playtivities has a fun photography “find the spot” activity that I think we will be playing here too:
photoraphy-activity

Your Turn

Do your kids like photography? When did they start taking their own pictures?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Gift of Doing Nothing

Our summers are full of “bucket lists”, plans and schedules. We want our children to have a good time, but sometimes we forget what vacations are for – they are meant to give our children free time. What happens if we simply do nothing and let our children be – that was our “experiment” for the last couple of weeks.
Gift of Free Time and Doing Nothing

Are We Entertaining Our Kids Too Much?

As a working parent, I struggle often with mother’s guilt. I feel that I should be doing more with my daughter, especially in summer when she has more time. My blogging addiction is partially to blame – several times a day I get this, We should be doing that! moment when I see a particularly clever project.
My husband, however, pointed out an interesting trend to me – the more I “lead”, the more dependent and clingy our daughter becomes. We both come from happy and functional families, so we revisited our own childhoods to recollect how we were raised. Both of us remember times spent with our parents learning something new or playing family games or traveling together, but we don’t remember parents doing “projects” with us. I was an only child, and I was happily playing by myself or reading while my Mom cooked, cleaned, read and did other “adult things”. My husband spent a lot of time playing with friends outside or designing and building things on his own. We decided that it’s time to change things a little bit around here.

“Do Nothing” Experiment

Our experiment was really very simple. We decided not to offer our daughter any helpful suggestions on how she should spend her time or offer to do things with her. Her rules and responsibilities remained the same – she could use 30 minutes of computer time for games (more for “productive activities” if she wished) and she was expected to do her other chores as usual.
Her first choice to fill her time was books. No surprises here from our bookworm. She loves to read on the stairs to be closer to the family hub – our dine-in kitchen.
Do Nothing - Reading
Her second choice was computer time. Again, no surprises. As any other modern child, Smarty loves electronic games. This is why I firmly believe that limits on computer time are needed – there are too many options available nowadays for kids to spend their entire day in the universe created by someone else.
Do Nohing Computer Games
And then… slowly… it happened. Smarty moved to expand her books-computer routine with more creative ideas – researching choosing and care of fish, playing with Lego and Playmobil sets, drawing. It was good to see her getting out of her comfort zone without us dragging or coaxing her out. And I could totally connect to the words of my wise blog friend MaryAnne from Mama Smiles: Joyful Parentingcreativity comes with time, space, and respect.
Build a Mini World

Where Do We Go From Here?

Will we continue this unstructured experiment all summer? Well, I do have a couple of things that I really want to do together in the upcoming weeks. I also want to return to our Saturday cooking classes with Mama. But I do want my child to experience one of special privileges of childhood – a gift of doing nothing and discovering your own desires during this time of full freedom. I want most of her “free” time to be really free and to be her own, and even if I don’t see the “results”, I know that they are actually there.

More Thoughts About Parenting?

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2014 After School Link Up Hosts

Share Your Summer Learning Week

School might be over, but lifelong learning never stops. We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your summer learning including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures that you are doing to enrich your children's lives. When linking up, please take a moment to comment on at least one post linked up before yours and grab our after school button to include a link on your post or site! By linking up you're giving permission for us to share on our After School Pinterest Board or feature on our After School Party in the upcoming weeks! Don't forget to follow along and join our After School Enrichment Community.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Week In Review–July 12, 2014

In Our Lives…

Japanese Food
This week Smarty went back to her Y camp where the theme was Little Athletes. She got a little too used to “freestyle” life in the last 2 weeks and asked to stay home every single day. However, she enjoyed the camp and their outdoor rock climbing field trip, and now she is looking forward to going again next week. At home we took it very easy with no planned activities. She spent most of her time reading and daydreaming.

A Wish for a Fish

Fish facts
Smarty really wants a pet, and we agreed that she can have fish. She read three different books on choosing and caring for fish and presented us with her “research paper”. There is only one problem – we have no idea where to put a 10 gallon aquarium, so she might have to compromise for smaller fish. We plan a trip to a pet store this weekend to figure our options out.

What My Child Is Reading

Fish Research
As always, Smarty spent a lot of time reading. She finished all the books by J.K. Rowling and keeps hoping that she will return to Harry Potter (conveniently, J.K. Rowling did just that this week by publishing a short new Harry Potter story online). We expected her to reread the books right away, but she seems to need time to “settle them” in her mind first. Instead she returned to some of her other favorite books – they are placed in my Amazon affiliate widget:

Favorite Memory of the Week

Independence Day 2014
OK, technically this is a picture from the last week, but I wanted to share this memory from our 4th of July street party. Interestingly, Smarty didn’t enjoy the party quite as much as in previous years, but maybe it’s because we didn’t have any friends with kids joining us this year, and she doesn’t have close friends on the street. Still she had fun, especially while watching fireworks.

Most Popular Posts

My most popular posts this week were:
July-Books-3-Year-Olds

Your Turn

How was the week in your house?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

6 July Books for Kids 6+

This post is part of the series in Book Recommendations by Age and Month of the Year. This post has July book recommendations for children who are 6 years old or older. Each book is paired up with additional resources that you can use to extend the story further.
July Book Picks for kids age 6+ from Planet Smarty Pants
When my daughter was younger, I maintained a diary of our reading activities in weekly What My Child Is Reading entries in my blog. In this post I am featuring books that Smarty was reading on her own in the summer after kindergarten, when she was 5.5 years old. While my other entries in the series are focusing on picture books, here I am recommending picture books, non-fiction books, and chapter books, so it can be used for children of different ages depending on their reading skills.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

1. 11 Experiments That Failed

11 Experiments that Failed
11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill was one of Smarty’s favorites to read then and she is rereading it now. It’s a delightful picture book that combines light-hearted humor, brilliant illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, and some sneaky reinforcement of scientific method. Can washing machine wash dishes? What makes fungus grow? Read this book and enjoy illustrated answers to these questions. And then conduct a real experiment – for example, find a way to move water from one container and teach scientific method like Kids Activities Blog.
siphoning-experiment-with-water

2. Measuring Penny

Measuring Penny
While we don’t do worksheets during summer, I believe in keeping math skills sharp by reading fun math books. Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy is a great book to introduce and reinforce measuring skills including measuring length, weight, and time. Dog lovers will especially enjoy this book, since it also introduces different dog breeds. Of course, it’s good to practice some measuring skills after reading this book – The Imagination Tree has several interesting posts on measuring including this fun idea of constructing your own scale and measuring with egg cartons.
egg carton weighing scales from The Imagination Tree

3. Ready to Dream

Ready to Dream
I make a point introducing books set in different cultures to our daughter. We made several virtual visits to Australia at different ages, and read Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli during every visit. It’s a beautiful book, and illustrations by Bronwyn Bancroft might inspire your children to try some aboriginal dot painting of their own. We did ours on rocks during our hands-on Australia mini unit.
Dot Drawings

4. Around the World on Eighty Legs

Around the World on Eighty Legs
Around the World on Eighty Legs by Amy Gibson is a book of short poems that take children to several different continents (skipping Europe!) and introduce them to various animals. I am thinking of getting this book back from the library and using it for a scavenger hunt next time we go to the zoo. Or you can create handprint animals – Red Ted Art has an amazing collection of animal alphabet handprint art for every letter.
Charming-handprint-alphabet-crafts-from-Red-Ted-Art

5. Rainbow Magic

Ruby Fairy
Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows is a great series for children who are graduating from easy readers to “real” chapter books. The books are reasonably short and follow a similar pattern where human characters partner with fairies to recover lost magical objects while outsmarting incompetent goblins. My daughter never really cared for fairy worlds, but she surely read every single book in the series that she could find in our library – probably 60+ in all. If your children are into fairies, check out this terrific round up of 30+ Fairy Crafts and Activities from Happy Hooligans.
30 -fairy-crafts-and-activities from Happy Hooligans

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be an excellent read-aloud for elementary school kids. If I recall correctly, we first listened to it as an audio book and then Smarty read it on her own or maybe I started it with her and then she took off on her own. She read it several times since then, but she always skips the beginning – the thought of Charlie and his family nearly starving to death is too much for her. There are any number of extensions that would work very well with this book, but I decided to choose this edible Nutella playdough from Still Playing School to recreate some of Willie Wonka’s magic. We tried this recipe ourselves recently, and it was a lot of tasty fun!
nutella-play-dough

More July Books Recommendations

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Your Turn

What are your favorite first chapter books for kids?

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