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!

The Psychological Benefits of Games

I have an obsession with infographics. I have tried to steer away from reblogging all the lovely ones I keep finding. I think I have managed quite well. On my list of resolutions this year, however, I had written “Design my own Infographic”. I slaved over it for months and months. They never tell you how hard it is to narrow down to a topic. I have felt like a prospective PhD student, ideating pitches.  After all that hair-pulling and day dreaming, I’ve finally finished.

Here is the finished product. Feel free to share and leave your feedback.

The Psychological Benefits of Games

Coming Up with a Winning Science Fair Project Idea

So your child is participating in the school science fair, and you’re now trying to help come up with science fair project ideas. Irrespective of whether your child was forced to take part in the science fair or even if science is a much-disliked subject, you can turn the situation around with a winning science fair project idea. Here are six tips to share with your child to ensure (s)he enjoys working on the project, learns a lot in the process and maybe even ends up with a prize!

"Science Fair, 09" by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Science Fair, 09” by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. Begin Early

The science fair is a long way away, and you figure you have more than enough time to come up with a good science fair project idea and see it through to the end. Great! That’s no reason to put off starting on the project. You never know what complications may arise once you actually begin. Even the seemingly simple task of coming up with a good idea may take a lot more time than expected. The last thing you want is to find out that you have only one week left for the project, and an understandably limited choice of ideas to choose from. With more time in hand, you have the liberty of choosing a topic that truly interests you, spending enough time to do research and understand the topic in detail, and collecting the necessary information in a well thought-out and organized manner. And if you’ve got your eyes on the prize, each of these factors will help differentiate your project from the other good ones on display. Believe me, the judges can tell.

2. Choose a topic that really interests you

The right way to go about finding a good science fair project idea is to begin with your interests. Don’t read through a list of ideas and see whether any of them appeal to you. Rather, take some time to think about what kind of topics get you excited. It doesn’t even have to have a direct link to science. What things make you sit up and pay attention? Sports? Cats? Building things with your own hands? Narrow your list down to a few of your favorite topics and spend some time thinking about them. Most probably you will have to do some additional reading on the topic to come up with a question that interests you. The Google Idea Springboard is a great tool to help you out in this area. You’re likely to spend a few weeks if not months working on your project, so having a topic that you love will keep you interested till the end.

3. Come up with a good question that you can work with

A good science fair project idea begins with a good question. How do you define a good question? Firstly, it should not be a question that has already been answered by someone else. If you design a science fair project around the question ‘Which color light do plants grow best in?’, it is unlikely that you or anyone else will learn anything new from it. The experimental procedure and results for such a project can easily be found on the internet. Even if you do decide to do a project based on a science fair project idea you found online, make sure to change the question and ask something new so that you are experimenting and doing research on a slightly different area. Secondly, the question should truly interest you. Don’t adopt a question that someone else finds interesting or exciting. Use your ‘favorite topics’ list, spend time playing with different ideas in your head and only settle for a question that you would genuinely like to know the answer to. This interest will completely change the way you approach the project.

4. Consider the experimental procedure involved

Remember, while trying to settle on your science fair project idea, that you have to come up with a fool proof method for collecting data to answer your question. Consider the kind of time, energy and resources required to set up your experiment, and realistically evaluate whether it can be accomplished with what is available to you. Also check your experiment for any flaws. Is the data that you are collecting quantifiable? Is there any subjectivity involved? Have you considered and taken care of external factors that may affect your results? If you do not know the right answers to these questions, or how to design your experiment accordingly, you will need to spend some time understanding how to set up a scientific experiment.

5. Feel free to change your question based on your background research

It is entirely possible that as you go about collecting the information you need for your project, you realize that your question isn’t a very good one, or that you think of a better and more interesting one. Feel free to change your question according to your findings. This is where point #1 becomes even more important.

6. Make sure you understand all the concepts involved

Don’t worry about finding a topic that sounds highly complicated or scientific. In fact, the more simple your topic, the better you will be able to work with it. Nobody is expecting Ph.D. level research from you. More importantly, you will find the research and data collection far more difficult if you haven’t fully understood the topic yourself. Feel free to ask for help from an adult or the internet in order to learn more about the topic, but when it comes to the project, do all the thinking and analysis yourself. This will help you immensely when it comes to answering the judges’ questions about your project, and your in-depth understanding will show.

As long as you keep these tips in mind, you can be sure to come up with a science fair project idea that will win you over, impress your audience and maybe even tip the judges’ scales in your favor.

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.

Fairy Tales Learning Games and Activities for Kids

All it takes to entertain a three-year-old is an illustrated book of fairy tales. But fairy tales are more than simple entertainment – they are learning opportunities to impart a variety of skills to their young audience – language, math, creativity, cultural awareness and even cooking! Here are some interesting learning games and activities based on some of the most beloved fairy tales of our times.

Hint – Remember to adapt them to the age and attention span of your child!

Three Bears Dinnerware

In the tale, Goldilocks enters the Three Bears home, eats off their china and sleeps in their beds. You can use this simple story to teach your child sorting and classification skills. Place dishes, glasses and silverware in three different sizes on the table and invite him to sort them by size – small, medium and large. He could also sort them by category or material used. This entertaining learning activity is suitable for four to six year olds.

Act it Out

This fun game puts the “act” in “act”ivity! Just create a variety of cards featuring popular fairy tale characters and invite the kids to perform an action. For instance, one card could say “You’re Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf is chasing you. Run as fast as you can!” Or, “You’re Karen and you’ve put the magical red shoes. At a word from the old soldier, you must dance.” Apart from building your child’s literacy skills and gross motor skills, this fun learning game also allows them to give free rein to their imagination.

Make Your own Fairy Tale

Place small objects and pictures in a bag and invite your child to make his own fairy tale, using the contents of the bag. For instance, he could start off with “Once upon a time, there was a gnome who loved to dance in the rain. One day (pulling out a picture of the sun) it was bright and sunny and the poor gnome couldn’t dance. So he (pulling out a toy car) went for a ride in his car instead.” The story goes on until he has incorporated all the objects into his story and brought it to a conclusion. Your little story teller is sure to enjoy this creative learning game!

Cook up a Tale

Here’s a great learning game to keep your child engaged on a rainy day! Read a fairy tale together and do a cooking project based upon the story. For instance,

  • Make porridge after reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Make gingerbread cookies after reading The Gingerbread Man
  • Make apple pie or apple strudel after reading Snow White
  • Bake a cake after reading The Little Red Cap

As adults, we relive our childhoods by reading fairy tales to our kids. Now it’s time to make your child an active learner rather than a passive listener. If you have more ideas for turning fairy tales into learning games and activities, I’d love to hear them!

Subtraction game ideas to teach the concepts of ‘difference’ and ‘take away’

Before I start, I’d like to apologize for my blog silence. I tried to schedule as many posts as I could but some of them got lost in the maze that is the internet. I was away on vacation with the family to England (Photos up soon I promise!). What I have learnt in the past few weeks is that clichés are clichés for a reason. You know when people say they need a vacation to recover from a vacation? Oh boy is it true! Meanwhile, I have been able to write this post on Math because homeschooling doesn’t have terms. It’s an ongoing process! :) Hope you are all well. I will catch up with all your blogs soon! 

Experiencing difficulty in learning subtraction is a very common problem early in schools because students fail to move beyond the not-so-foolproof counting strategies of subtraction taught at kindergarten level. A simple solution lies in explaining the concept of subtraction to kids as both ‘take away’ and ‘difference’, helping them to understand the concept clearly. ‘Difference’ can be explained as comparing two numbers while ‘taking away’ can be explained as ‘removing numbers from a larger series of numbers’. M&M candies, cookies, chocolate squares, buttons, cookies, Lego blocks, cheerios, and marshmallows have always been very efficient tools in teaching kids the ‘difference’ and ‘taking away’ concepts. However, when I am not time bound and the kids are eager to learn, I play a few subtraction games with them in order to help them master the concept.

Flip flop math explaining ‘difference’

I stumbled upon this cool subtraction game on Pinterest when I was researching for general math game ideas for my 2 1st graders at home. I improvised on the game suggested by The Teacher’s Cauldron and came up with my own! This is a subtraction game that will help them understand the idea of ‘difference’. You will need a fair collection of sea shells, card stock, plastic laces, glue, scissors, markers, and 2 large sheets of construction paper. Distribute the shells unevenly among the kids and make multiple teams of 2 children each. The idea is to compare the number of sea shells and make a flip flop craft out of their ‘analysis’. If two girls in a team got 6 and 1 shells respectively, they cut out two flip flop bases and write their names on them. Next, have them write the number of shells they got on the flip flop next to their name. Paste the flip flops on the large construction paper and write the ‘difference’ in the space between their flip flops. Follow the image and replace the names with the answers and the addition problems with the number of shells each girl/boy got. Make several such pairs of flip flops for each team. Help them make the straps with the plastic laces and their flip flop craft is ready to go on the soft board.

Burning game explaining ‘take away’

This is a magic math game for kids of 2nd grade. It’s a twist to regular boring games, but must only be tried with necessary precautions in place!

You will need a mix of 3 portions of lemon juice and 1 portion of water, cotton swabs, a candle, a matchbox, papers, and markers to play the subtraction game in the class. Write an addition problem, like in the image, on strips of construction paper.  The only thing that you need to do differently here is write the number that’s hidden under the orange paper with cotton swabs dipped in the lemon juice and water mix. Ask the kids to calculate the number by ‘taking away’ the first digit from the answer, ‘taking away’ 7 from 10 in this case.

Hold the paper over a lit candle for the missing number to gradually reveal itself! The kids will be thrilled to bits to see their prediction appear magically on the paper! Please make necessary precaution and follow safety rules in the class while lighting the candle and holding the paper over it.

Understanding dry ice with science experiments

Many science experiments explain in detail how dry ice can be made but very few list its usage and application. Here is a detailed study of dry ice with possible science experiments, usages, and applications of dry ice in our daily lives.

What is dry ice?

The cold dense white mist produced by solid carbon dioxide in air is commonly known as dry ice. In chemical terms, dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, a normal part of our earth’s atmosphere. Dry Ice is particularly useful for freezing, and keeping things frozen because of its very cold temperature: -109.3°F or -78.5°C. The coolest thing about dry ice is that it changes from a solid directly to gas without changing into liquid. Wearing insulated gloves is a must while handling dry ice.

Making dry ice –

Follow these easy steps to make dry ice easily.

Supplies

  1. CO2 fire extinguisher or carbon dioxide tank
  2. Cloth bag
  3. Insulated gloves

Directions

  1. Put on your insulated gloves first.
  2. Carefully insert the nozzle of the fire extinguisher into the cloth bag.
  3. Clamp your hand around the mouth of your bag and discharge the fire extinguisher.
  4. Turn off the extinguisher and seal the bag.
  5. You will soon see dry ice in the bag. Store it in the freezer for longevity. 

Science experiments with dry ice

Blowing up balloons –

Supplies:

  1. Balloons
  2. Empty plastic bottle with a narrow mouth
  3. Pellets of dry ice
  4. Insulated gloves

Directions:

  1. Blow up a balloon with your breath and keep it aside.
  2. Put a few pellets of dry ice in a bottle.
  3. Hold a balloon over its mouth and see it getting inflated with the carbon dioxide that releases when the dry ice sublimes.
  4. Once it inflates, tie it up with thread.
  5. Toss up both the balloons in the air and notice their flights.

Observations and questions – Which balloon comes down sooner? Can you explain why?

Explanation – Carbon dioxide is heavier than air which is why the balloon that contains dry ice falls down faster!

Hot pot –

Supplies:

  1. Dry ice
  2. A large pot
  3. Hot water

Directions:

  1. Place a few pellets of dry ice in the pot.
  2. Pour hot water in the pot and watch the cool cloud forming almost immediately.

Observations and questions – How soon does the cloud stop forming? Don’t add any more water till all the cloud is over. How does it happen?

Explanation – Over time, the dry ice will make the water cold and the “smoking” will slow down. Dry ice will blend only with hot water to produce carbon dioxide and smoke.

Aren’t the science experiments cool? They can be easily tried and tested at home with adult supervision and by wearing proper safety gear, especially insulated gloves. Dry ice will get you cold blisters if you don’t use gloves. Have fun with science!

Summer Science Games for Kids

Summer is here and so are lazy afternoons and loads of playtime. Most kids look forward to unstructured summer schedules and you definitely don’t want to take that away. But it’s important to remember that learning is a year-long activity and summer break is no exception. In fact, you can put the hot weather to good use by linking it to simple science concepts that can be taught without investing too much time and do not require special equipment. No matter how old your child is, they are sure to enjoy these fun science games for kids. 

Reading Shadows

Reading Shadows

Photo Courtesy – dvs

Invite your child outdoors to enjoy the sunny weather. Have him observe his shadow at different times of day. Explain how the length of his shadow is related to the sun’s position in the sky. Use chalk or a stick to trace his shadow and ask him to measure and chart it. Why does it grow and shrink at different times?

Grow your own Veggies

Summer is a great time to encourage your child to grow something in the yard or garden, or a pot on a windowsill. Let him grow flowers or herbs or veggies you can use later in the kitchen. Take an empty egg carton, fill it with water and use last night’s avocado pit to grow a houseplant. Explain that not all plants need soil to grow and why.

Stargazing

Stargazing

Photo Courtesy – vincent.limshowchen

Stargazing can be a fun science activity for kids and is perfect for clear summer nights when you can easily spot the stars and planets in our solar system. Camp out in the yard or any open space and ask your child if he can identify the North Star, various constellations and the phases of the moon. Take your child for an outing at the beach and discuss how the tides of the ocean are affected by the moon.

Go Butterfly-Watching

Watching butterflies can be a fascinating pastime. Go to a local park where they have different kinds of flowers and ask your child to observe which ones attract the most butterflies. Discuss how butterflies go through different stages of development and what they look like during each stage.

Make your own Bird Feeder

Bird Feeder

Idea via Pinterest

Spread peanut butter on a roll of toilet paper with your fingers and roll it in bird seed. This is your homemade bird feeder. Hang it on a tree branch, get a pair of binoculars and watch those birds flocking hungrily! It’s a great way to meet the birds that throng your neighborhood and observe their habits.

What have you got in store to prevent the dreadful brain slide?

Educational Games Kids Can Play During Their Spring Break

It’s mid March already (can you believe it!) and you must be scratching your head trying to come up with fun ways to engage the kids during their spring break! I know I was and while in the process, started compiling a list of  educational games that the kids could get busy with. I’ve come up with what I’d like to think of as a cool mix of educational games that will keep the little ones on their toes this spring. Sit back, and enjoy!

Educational Game #1 – License Plates Scavenger Hunt

This educational game is a treasure trove of fun and excitement! Play it to practice some geography.

You will need –

  • Checklist with the abbreviations of the U.S. states
  • Pencil

How to play –

  • Print out a checklist with all the 50 U.S. states and have your kids keep their eyes open to see how many license plates from different states they can find.
  • Name the correct state capital before checking off a state.
  • You can also color in an unlabeled U.S. map instead of using a checklist to test your child’s knowledge of national geography.
  • The game is over when all the states are checked off.

How it helps –

Recollection of state abbreviations

Educational Game #2 – Counting Coins

Play this educational spring game with the kids while traveling.

You will need –

  • Plenty of coins

How to play –

  • You can play this game with the kids only if you’re in the passenger seat.
  • Pull out as much loose change as you can find.
  • Ask him/her to count the change. Throw in another task by asking him/her to guess the total amount before counting it!
  • After he/she counts it once, remove a few coins and ask for a recount.
  • Can your son or daughter guess which coins are missing?

How it helps –

Counting, recollection power

Educational Game #3 – Lunar Tags

Let’s just imagine that the backyard is the night sky and a football is the moon. The objective of the game is to be the first to get the football, “the moon”. This game has to be played after the sun sets. The darker, the better!

You will need –

  • Backyard
  • Friends
  • A football
  • Flashlight

How to play –

  • Choose one player as the ‘astronaut’.
  • Have him stand anywhere in the backyard with a flashlight in one hand and the football in the other.
  • Ask him to close his eyes and count till 29 – the number of days in a lunar cycle.
  • While he counts, the other players have to run and hide themselves all over the backyard.
  • He has to call out “full moon” as soon as he finishes counting till 29.
  • Once he calls out “full moon”, players try to run to him and grab the ball without being caught in the flashlight’s beam.
  • The ‘astronaut’ can turn off the light between tags and sneak up on players to catch them!
  • Whoever reaches the ‘full moon’ first is declared the winner and becomes the next ‘astronaut’. And, when a player is caught in the light, he’s out.

How it helps –

Hand-eye coordination, knowledge of the lunar cycle

Cooking games for kids and their advantages

Cooking is fun and educational too! Introduce the little ones to this essential skill with some wonderful cooking games for kids that will not only get them hooked to the culinary pastime but also improve their hand-eye coordination, measurement skills, and other fine motor skills.

How do cooking games for kids help them learn and develop new skills?

Many online cooking games for kids help them develop their time management skills by throwing tasks at them which need to be completed within a stipulated time frame. Players are penalized if they fail to meet their target and are rewarded if they successfully achieve them. Café World  is one such cooking game for kids where they will have to make a dish in real time, example – if the player is cooking turkey, it will take around 24 hours for the dish to be completed and the rewards reaped. Players will have to go back to their virtual cooking world in the interim to check if the dish is properly made or not. Not only do kids develop their time management skills, they also learn how to multitask and manage tasks in a virtual world.

A few cooking games for kids reward them with game currency which can be redeemed any time to purchase kitchen tools, accessories, furnishings, or to even skip levels. Along their way, kids learn to manage their hard earned virtual money by using it wisely. They have to invest in the necessary purchases only after carefully weighing the pros and cons so that all of the cash is not used up at one go. Such activities improve kids’ money management skills.

Cooking games for kids break traditional gender barriers and encourage both boys as well as girls to play. They give players detailed knowledge of the ingredients used in the kitchen, time taken to cook, kitchen etiquette, how to operate kitchen appliances, and running the kitchen efficiently by the time the game is over.

Some cooking games for kids that you can play at home –

Invite a few of your kid’s friends over for a fun session of cooking games! Tell them you’re about to make cucumber and cheese sandwiches . Spread slices of cucumbers on a tray and keep the cheese, butter, pepper, and salt ready. Don’t allow them to use knives. Ask one of them to pass you four triangles of bread, another one to spread two teaspoons of cheese on a triangle slice, sprinkle half a teaspoon of pepper and close it with another triangle. Ask the last one to put a toothpick through a slice of tomato and into the bread to seal it. Besides improving their hand-eye coordination, kids will also learn and develop essential math skills from this cooking game. And, in the end, they will have creamy cheesy cucumber sandwiches! Play cooking games with kids such as ‘who can make lemonade the fastest’, ‘who can make the yummiest sandwich’, ‘who can make the best hot chocolate’, etc., during their stay-over.
Cooking games for kids can be great stress busters and a source of endless fun too! Come, explore the world and be a part of it!