The Great Outdoors – Activities to transform your backyard!

It’s coming up to my favorite time of year. For those of you who have been reading this blog a while, you know that almost every time of year is my favorite time. I can’t help when each season has its own charm. This season, it is the joy of stepping foot outside of the house and not freezing into a life-sized ice sculpture. Aah the great joys of being outdoors!

I have been making lists, and you know how much I looove lists, of all the activities I could potentially participate in or host this spring/summer. Some of the activities I found online, they blew my mind. Here are some that I’m mostly definitely going to try or con people into trying. What’s great about these activities is that it is something that people of all age can enjoy without having any bones broken or muscles aching.

In no particular order, here are 10 insanely fun games that make you wish summer was a year-long affair.

Giant Beer Pong

Giant Beer PongIdea from kroqslightning

Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag

Glow in the dark Capture the FlagInstructions at Let’s Get Together

Outdoor Pictionary

Outdoor PictionaryInstructions at Tiny Sidekick

Dunk Bucket

Dunk BucketInstructions at The Happy Housewife

Cup Races

Cup RacesInstructions at All For The Boys

Sponge Launch

Sponge LaunchInstructions at How Does She

Lawn Twister

Lawn TwisterInstructions at One Good Thing by Jillee

Giant Jenga

Giant JengaInstructions at A Beautiful Mess

Water Slides

Water SlidesInstructions at How Does She

Frozen T-Shirt Race

Frozen T-ShirtInstructions at A Girl and a Glue Gun

Would you take any of these up? Do you have your own summer outdoor list? Let me know.

Learning Activities with Water Beads

Water beads are such a versatile yet hardly explored tool for learning that you’ll not realize its benefits unless you start playing with them. Add a handful of water beads to the child’s activity time (well monitored to ensure kids don’t swallow the beads) the next time she brings out her toys and see the difference. Learning will reach a different level altogether with the effective play tool.

Learning Math with Water Beads

Have fun simply counting the tactile, colorful water beads with the kids. Line up a handful of water beads in a row and take out a couple from it. Ask kids to count how many remain. Add a few and ask them to recount. Play the symbol game where you write two digits on the left of an ‘equal’ sign and a resultant on the right. Ask the kids to guess the math symbol which will get the resultant and have them write the symbol with water beads. Though water beads don’t hold any topical significance in this activity, kids will be eager to play it out just to enjoy the tactility of the beads. If you are playing with a group younger than 6-7 year olds, here are a couple of more activity ideas.

  • Have them put red beads in one spot and the yellow ones in another. Ask them to count both the groups individually as well as together.
  • Have kindergarteners make shapes and patterns with the beads. You can choose to make the first shape and ask them to follow you.
  • Ask them to count if they’ve got more blue water beads or white water beads? If they have mastered their math by now, ask them to count the difference in the number of beads of the two colors.

Learning Science with Water Beads

It’s time to explore the science behind water beads that swell up to look like the way they do. Start by handing over an unopened pack of water beads to the kids. Let them experience the fun of these tactile beads from the beginning. Have them play with these beads which have not been soaked in water yet. They’ll be coarse to touch, similar to M&M candies. Keep a notebook handy to document the experiences step by step. Read out the packet instructions to the kids and have them follow. The steps will mostly ask you to add a liter of water to a packet of beads. Find out if the kids are surprised at this stage at the proportion of water to the beads. Let the beads soak in the water and the kids marvel at the change of the beads’ appearance. To add more fun, divide the beads into three bowls and add a few drops of food color to the water in each to get colorful beads. Let kids squash, squeeze, squish, and smash the beads and understand why the beads swelled up. Encourage them to test out the properties of the swollen beads and compare these with the ones with which they started. Do they roll, bounce, go flat or back to their original shape? Explore the possibilities with the kids.

Learning English with Water Beads

Right at the beginning, we told you water beads are versatile. Well, here is an English activity too with the multipurpose water beads! Play this activity with the kids before the water beads go all dry and you have to throw them away. Fill up a bowl with squishy water beads and add a number of letters into the bowl. Instead of using tongs or another similar tool to pull out the alphabets, blindfold the kids and have them put their fists into the bowl and pull out any three random letters. Next, ask them to make a syllable or a word with them. If the letters cannot make up a word or a syllable, you can give them an imaginary vowel to complete the task. You’ll be surprised at how long this alphabet game can go on!

Explore the many learning possibilities of water beads with the kids as you play with them!

Old School Cartoons for Kids

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These are cartoons I grew up watching and so I am slightly partial to them and therefore there is some amount of bias on this list. They are in my top 10 old school cartoons that your kids MUST watch list. They are classics. They are sometimes just pure unadulterated entertainment but most of the time, they have life lessons I still remember as an adult.

They also take me back to my childhood. Everything good about the spring and summer break involved memories of watching these shows in our pajamas and eating overly sweet cereal before we went out to explore the great outdoors. While I don’t want to give too much away in terms storyline, I have compiled, along with a list, their respective intros as well. Hopefully they will be catchy enough to make you want to watch the show with your kids.

Flintstones

Wacky Racers

Yogi Bear

Atom Ant

The Jetsons

Dastardly & Mutley

Richie Rich

Addams Family

Johnny Quest

Scooby Doo

What were your favorite cartoons growing up? What are some of those shows you would gladly get your kids to watch? Leave me a comment; I would love to have a discussion with you about it!

Science Games that Teach about the Five Senses

The five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) help us discover, explore and understand the world around us. These senses also help us find food and identify and avoid dangers. For instance, the sense of hearing lets us communicate with others, identify sounds made by other species and avoid dangers in our environment. The sense of touch helps us find and identify objects. The senses of smell and taste enable us to find edible foods. When it’s time to show your child how their senses work, nothing does the job better than fun science games. There is a variety of online science games you can choose from or you could try these active games that your child will definitely enjoy.

Five SensesFive Senses” by Nicki Dugan Pogue, licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

Feel the Bag

Your fingers have nerve endings that are extremely sensitive – they can sense texture, shape, temperature, dryness, moisture, softness and hardness. Your fingertips help you learn a lot about your environment. Help your child understand how the sense of touch works with this easy science game.

You will need

  • Old purse / Cloth shopping bag / Pillow case
  • Assorted objects (pin, comb, fruit, notebook, toy, etc.)

How to play

  • Place all items in the bag and invite your child to feel it without opening it.
  • Encourage him to identify the contents and describe them by size, shape, texture and hardness.
  • Ask him how he can identify an object without seeing it.
  • Discuss how people who do not have the sense of sight can identify objects and even read books using the sense of touch.

Design a Telephone

Sound waves can travel through solids (walls), liquids (water) and gases (atmosphere.) Sound waves travel fastest through solids. This simple science game can help your child learn more about the sense of hearing.

You will need

  • 8 dry, clean plastic yogurt cups
  • Plastic wire
  • Copper wire
  • Yarn
  • Packing twine
  • Scissors

Instructions

  • Drill a small hole in the center of the bottom of each cup.
  • Cut four feet lengths out of the wires, twine and yarn.
  • Divide the kids into groups of two and hand out a yogurt cup to each pair.
  • Now let each pair choose a twine, yarn or one of the wires to create their telephones.
  • One end of the twine, yarn or wire must be inserted through the hole in the cup and knotted.
  • Once all the cups are connected, invite the kids to test which material is the best conductor of sound waves. They can do this by stretching the connectors and taking turns to listen/talk into their cups.

Make your own Storytelling Games!

storytelling

Storytelling, in its traditional sense, in an art that is being slowly forgotten. The great oral traditions of old have been replaced by movies and songs and even books. In the old days, travelling communities like the gypsies brought you news from towns you would never have visited – latest inventions, news about politics and the current state of affairs etc. Nowadays, everything is relayed the minute it is breaking and it is delivered to our fingertips. You don’t need an uncle visiting from Canada to know that there was x inches of snow this year. However, there is a forgotten charm to sitting around in a circle, sometimes around a fire, and narrating stories that have captivated your imagination.

In a bid to do so with my family, I’ve compiled a list of storytelling games that you could be your next pet DIY project.

Draw a Story –

If you have two or more people to entertain, start the activity by giving out art equipment and freedom to draw whatever they please. Once the activity is done, swap drawings and come up with a story for the image you have in hand. It’s a great way to keep your kids occupied for more than a few minutes and also a great way to exercise your imagination. An alternative version is to either collect previous artwork from your kids or draw more than one on cards and shuffle them up. The one rule would be that the story couldn’t be repeated more than once.

Once Upon a Time –

I found this idea at a beautiful blog called Blackboard and Brush and I don’t want to go on when Kim has done such a lovely job of it. Kim has described a lovely game that can be played during game night and can also be great lesson plan. In her words, “In this game I call ‘Once Upon a Time’, students become storytellers, not of someone else’s stories but of their own. Students will be presented with three sets of story sticks, the green sticks represent the place where their story will take place, the blue will be their main character(s) and the red (my personal favorite) will be the central problem of the plot or a problem their main character must endure or overcome” Don’t forget to click on the name of her blog for instructions.

Make it up –

You sometimes hear that the best songs, the best ideas – they come from last minute panic or from just winging it in an unforeseen situation. This is a game like it. I had my nieces and nephews apart from my own kids to take care of. I suddenly found myself in a situation where I had to babysit around 10 kids and wasn’t prepared to keep their attention. If you just leave them to play with whatever toy was lying around, you could almost guarantee there would be a fight. So I took an old laundry bag, stuffed it with toys and had the kids sit around in a circle. Like in scrabble, one kid would have to blind pick a toy and then make up a story that included that prop. The next kid who would pick up the next toy would continue the story and think of a way to include his or her toy in it. The game can go on for as long as you like.

Do you have similar games you have made up or ideas you have heard? Feel free to comment with your favorite games and camp hacks that bring out the inner storyteller in your child.

Grade-Specific Science Fair Project Ideas

My kids love to get their hands dirty when they learn, sometimes quite literally. This makes our home that much messier and livelier. With two kids in separate grades, discussions over what to work on can turn into a rough tumble of ideas.

Over the years, I have compiled a list of science fair project ideas that I have used and sorted them out grade-wise (kindergarten to third grade so far) so that we have an easier time finding the right project (or subject) based on my kids’ curriculum, interest and relevance.

1DSC01160” by Laurie Sullivan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Kindergarten – Projects can be nature-based. Science fair project ideas that kids can explore include the weather, plants and animals. Kids can grow plants to understand what a plant needs to grow. This could be in the form of growing a bean plant in cotton wool or grouping plants and studying their growth when they are exposed to sunlight and water, and when they are not. Other simple experiments include understanding the density of fluids (oil and water) and demonstrating displacement by dropping pebbles into a jar of water. Collecting different types of leaves and flowers to understand their structure, and sorting seeds from fruits and vegetables is something kids enjoy.

2Test site 3 & 4” by Dave is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

First Grade – Kids can move beyond curiosity and start learning to make and record observations. They can perform experiments with water to understand the states of matter (solid, gas and liquid). Other experiments can revolve around the five senses. Kids can interact with objects using only one of their senses and jot down observations. Other concepts that kids can learn include rain and cloud formations, the solar system, colors and surface tension.

Second Grade – When your kids get to the second grade, they can start experimenting with electricity and magnetism, animals and lifecycles, study anatomy, and learn more about the earth. Making a bird feeder to track bird species in the neighborhood is a popular project. Apart from continuing to collect data and making observations, kids can also start making models and presentations. Drawing the life cycles of insects and their anatomy, the most popular being a butterfly, is a good way to start. Observing mold to understand the effects of heat, humidity and other factors that cause mold is another easy to put together projects that second graders can work on.

3DSC00170” by Laurie Sullivan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Third Grade – By the time kids get to third grade, they should be able to observe, collect, conduct experiments, record observations and form hypothesis. Science fair project ideas that you can consider are motion and sound, electricity and magnetism, animal and plant life, the human body, and the earth and solar system. Children can study chemical reactions like rusting and making soaps. Third graders can try their hand at making sundials, volcanoes, model airplanes and even a simple electric circuit.

4Making Marbled Paper” by Topeka Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

These are just a few of the science fair project ideas I have tried with my kids. It helps to talk to their science teacher, figure out the subjects that they will be studying, the extent to which they can explore a subject and grasp a concept, and their own interest before zeroing in on an idea.

Top 4 movies to look forward to this December

The last 2 months of 2014 seem to be really promising. The movies that are lined up to release in the U.S.A. this winter will have many of us queuing up at the movie halls! Here are a few movies that America is looking forward to towards the end of 2014!

Penguins of Madagascar

Here’s an adorable spy team heating up the sub-zero part of the world! The flightless four consisting of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are on their mission to save penguins the world over! As they are forced to collaborate with The North Wind, an undercover task force led by the handsome Agent Classified, the four penguins go undercover and do what they do best – plan to save the day. They must stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine, voiced by John Malkovich, from destroying the world as we know it. The first four minutes of the movie released by DreamWorks symbol a good time this Thanksgiving. We have a strong feeling that the penguins will entertain us as much as Alex and his troop from Madagascar did!

Touch the Wall

“Touch the Wall” follows the lives of two Olympic swimmers – Gold-Medalist Missy Franklin and Silver-Medalist Kara Lynn Joyce – and their journey to the 2012 London Olympics.  When the veteran Joyce joins teenager Franklin and her age-group swim club, everything changes. While Missy finds a hero and idol in Joyce, the veteran Joyce finds a new start to life and a training partner in Missy. They form a team and Joyce starts training Missy. Together they start winning tournaments and soon realize that they can make the world’s best winning combination. Thrown apart by coach and circumstances, they reunite at Olympic Trials only to win the prestigious medals and titles.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Mockingjay is a 2010 science fiction novel by American author Suzanne Collins. It is the last installment of The Hunger Games, following 2008’s The Hunger Games and 2009’s Catching Fire. The book continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, who agrees to unify the districts of Panem in a rebellion against the tyrannical Capitol.

After Katnis (Jennifer Lawrence) is rescued from the devastating Qaurter Quell, she awakes in the complex beneath that was presumed to be destroyed long time ago called District 13. District 12 used to be her home which has also been reduced to rubble and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is now the brainwashed captive of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Learning about a secret rebellion rising in Panem, Katnis jumps back to life to defeat the evil Snow.

Imitation Game

This was Benedict Cumberbatch’s first release this year, prior to “Penguins of Madagascar” where he is lending voice. Though it released in August in the U.K., it’s left to see how it actually fares in the U.S.A. when it releases in November.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who cracks the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Though Alan exhibited his genius by cracking the German code as well as assisting with the development of computers at the University of Manchester, he was later prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. It will be interesting to see how the U.S.A. reacts to this biopic which received great reviews in the U.K.

Have a movie-filled November and December with a little dose of fun, sci-fi, motivation and thrill!

My Family’s Fall Bucket List

I love fall – the crisp cold air means you get to snuggle up in a sweater and nurse a hot cocoa but it is not yet cold enough to be miserable. Because we love making lists, every year this time we create a fall bucket list. Here is ours for the year. I would love to hear what would be on yours.

Fall Bucket List

Candy for a Cause – Science Fair Projects for the Sweet-Toothed

Science is a highly competitive field so if you’re aiming for the top, this is a good time to get your science fair project ideas in order and start planning. Avoid last-minute panic, impress the judges and grab top grades with these three delicious and easy candy-based science fair projects. Ready to start?

Expanding Balloons with Pop Rocks

pop rocks

Pop Rocks” by Carolina Alves Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As all candy lovers know, Pop Rocks RULE! And in case you were wondering, there’s an interesting science angle to these fizzing popping little dudes. Here’s how you can explore it.

You will need

  • Pop Rocks
  • Balloon
  • A 12 oz. bottle of soda
  • Funnel

What to do

  • Dump an entire package of Pop Rocks into a balloon. This is easier said than done, so place a small funnel in the mouth of the balloon to avoid spills.
  • Open the soda bottle and carefully stretch the balloon over its mouth. Make sure the candy doesn’t slip into the bottle before you’re ready.
  • Now, quickly dump the candy into the bottle and watch all the interesting things that happen when soda and candy meet for the very first time.
  • Did the balloon inflate without you doing a thing?

How did it happen?

Pop Rocks contain pressurized carbon dioxide gas that makes the famous popping sound when released from its candy shell prison. But the amount of carbon dioxide present in the candy isn’t enough to inflate a balloon on its own. However, soda also contains pressurized carbon dioxide gas that escapes from the fructose-rich corn syrup when you drop Pop Rocks into it. Because the balloon is tightly clamped over the bottle’s mouth, this gas has no place to go except straight up into the balloon.

Finding Acid in Sour Candy

“_MG_7421” by Chris Short licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

_MG_7421” by Chris Short licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sour foods contain acid and acidic foods produce carbon dioxide bubbles when they react with baking soda. Here’s something you can do to demonstrate that sour candy contains acid.

You will need

  • Sour or fruit candy (Nerds, LemonHeads, Pixy Stix, etc.)
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring cup
  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Water

What to do

  • Dissolve the candy in half a cup of water. Try crushing hard candies to make the process faster.
  • Add a spoonful of baking soda to this mixture and blend.
  • If you can see bubbles rising up from the mixture, the candy contains acid.

Lighting up with Lifesavers

“100 k wint-o-green” by Windell Oskay licensed under CC BY 2.0

100 k wint-o-green” by Windell Oskay licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here’s the how (and the why) of producing magical lights with Lifesavers.

You will need

  • A dark room
  • Mirror
  • Wintergreen Lifesavers

What to do

  • Turn off the lights and stand in the dark facing the mirror.
  • Chew on some wintergreen Lifesavers
  • Can you see those blue flashes of light?

How does it happen?

When you chew on the Lifesavers, you break down the chemical bonds between the molecules of the candy. In certain foods, this produces energy, sometimes light energy as in the case of wintergreen Lifesavers. It is the wintergreen oil present in the candy that is responsible for the blue light produced during chewing.

Sweet or sour, candy is one of the best chemistry teachers you’ll ever learn from!

4 Ideas to Keep Kids Occupied at Family Gatherings

For most of us, family gatherings are once-in-a-blue-moon events that take a lot of planning and coordination, just so we can spend a few precious hours with loved ones. If you are a parent, you definitely want to make sure your toddler is reasonably well behaved and productively engaged at the party. Here are four useful ideas to keep the kids busy and happy next time you host a family get-together.

Crafts and kids’ activities

Depending on the available space, have a dedicated craft/activity room where the kiddos can happily work on crafts, puzzles, building blocks, coloring, toy-making and other activities that require little or no adult supervision. If possible, enlist an adult helper to keep an eye on the kids. Easy-to-make crafts such as paper airplanes, necklaces, scrapbooks and doorknob hangers can also serve as keepsakes or goodie bag items. Whatever activity you choose, make sure there are plenty of supplies at hand so there’s no squabbling or whining.

Fun kids’ games

There’s nothing like a game or two to keep the youngsters occupied while the adults are having fun. For an indoors party, try classic children’s games such as bowling, Hangman, Duck Duck Goose, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Simon Says, and so on. For outdoor games, let the kids run loose with relay races, balance games, poolside games, hide and seek, etc. Consider the amount of preparation required for each game and as far as possible, do all the prep work ahead of time. Keep the kids’ ages in mind while choosing the game – younger kids enjoy simpler games with few rules, while older ones appreciate a certain amount of complexity. After all, the idea is to keep them engaged!

Preschool worksheets

While I do not recommend indiscriminate use of worksheets for kids, there are times when these free printables come in handy, especially when it comes to keeping tiny preschoolers busy. Online preschool worksheets cover a variety of interesting topics – healthy eating and physical activity, coloring, dot-to-dot, reading, alphabet, critical thinking, etc. Since preschoolers have notoriously short attention spans, you’d be better off downloading simple one-page worksheets that can be completed in a few minutes. The kids can then move on to a different topic or subject without getting bored. Like games, preschool worksheets combine fun and learning in one innovative package.

Books and movies

Visit your local library to find children’s storybooks and picture books. Once the party begins, have an adult read to the kids and encourage them to invent and exchange stories. Lots of hot chocolate (or iced tea) and munchies can keep them going. Or you could play a selection of kids’ movies (The Wizard of Oz, Toy Story, How to Train your Dragon) with plenty of popcorn and cold drinks doing the rounds. Either way, your party is definitely going to be a tantrum-free success!

A combination of or more of the above ideas will make your family gathering a smooth and stress-free affair.