Redefining ‘Summer Brain’ And A Giveaway *Museum Of Science And Industry Passes!*

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Although we have visited Chicago many times with our kids, one spot we have yet to check out is the Museum of Science and Industry.  They aim to remedy that by providing me with complimentary passes and compensation in exchange for sharing this giveaway and program with you.  So really, it’s a win win win. All opinions and failures are soeley mine and mine along.Tracking Pixel

We hear daunting phrases from educators about what happens to kids during the summer like ‘summer brain drain’ and ‘summer slide’.  Easy, fluffy books are called ‘summer reads’.  As if letting our brains go on vacation for a few months is a bad thing…

I don’t buy it.  Nope; not for a second.  I don’t think summer is the time for sliding or draining, even though most kids are not in school.  I think of it more as cross training.  Rather than a structured, teacher-led series of lessons, summer is the perfect time to pretend you are a homeschooler.  It’s the perfect time to let kids dig into things they are interested in, regardless of whether or not they fit into a curriculum.  It’s the perfect time for lots and lots of science experiments.


The Museum of Science and Industry has a fantastic free online science program to keep kids ‘cross training’ all summer long.  It’s called  the Summer Brain Games.  Once you sign up, they will send you an online kit that features an experiment or scientific challenge that kids can do at home.  Most of the supplies are things you have anyway, and the beauty is that once you do a science experiment with your kids, you can pretty much let them watch TV for the rest of the day.


I kid…  my children got so fired up after doing science experiments they decided to parlay their enthusiasm into baking a chocolate cake, figuring out how to substitute applesauce for eggs (um, I need to get to the grocery store…), and then frosting the cake, along with about 25% of my kitchen.  Your results may vary.  Hopefully they are equally delicious, and less messy.


You should go and sign up.  Really.  It’s free! And fun.  And it’s offered in English and in Spanish, so make sure you share with friends who speak Spanish, too!


We did a few experiments and while they did not turn out ‘right’; the kids had to figure out why and that, in my pretend homeschooler opinion, is the best way to learn something.


Before you begin an experiment, make sure you AND your kids have read through the directions.  If they don’t know what the process is, they are just obeying commands and will learn better if they are running the show (as much as that is possible).


And… if you register for Summer Brain Games, you will get a free pass to go to the Museum of Science and Industry this summer!

That is awesome!

One lucky person will win family passes to visit the Museum of Science and Industry any time between now and the end of 2013!!  Enter below, good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is offering a fun and free online science program called Summer Brain Games. The eight-week program lasts from June 17, 2013-August 12, 2013 and features a weekly experiment or science challenge that can easily be performed at home with kids of all ages.  Visit now to register for Summer Brain Games and download your free Summer Brain Games kit. As an added bonus, registering automatically gets you a pass to come to the Museum for free this summer. This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.


It’s Not Just A Moon; It’s A SUPERMOON! * Fun Activity For Learning About Lunar Phases *

Next Sunday, June 23rd, will be biggest full moon of 2013.  It is called a ‘supermoon’ because it will be closest to the Earth.   It will be full and bright and beautiful! Since the moon controls the tides; really high and low tides will be created for the next couple of days following this full moon.  Emergency responders and emergency room staff will tell you full moons are always busy nights; with a supermoon it’s going to be super extra crazy out there!

A full moon is always a great time to start learning about the phases of the moon.  My family tracked the moon for a month, and learned how it changes (or appears to change).  It start with buying a package of Oreos; which immediately stirred up my husband’s interest in the kids learning about the phases of the moon.o

June 23 biggest full moon

First, we printed a month calendar for each of us.  Looking at this website (you can choose which ever month you are doing the experiment in); we labeled which phase the moon would be in on each day for the month.  I gave everyone 8 Oreos each, and then we went to town carving up the Oreos and placed them on each of the first days of each phase.

June 23 biggest full moon

When we were done, I announced ridiculous but appropriate things like, “You may now eat your waning gibbous moons!

June 23 biggest full moon

The experiment worked beautifully; and my kids are both very fluent in moon-phase-ease.  Try it with yours, and don’t forget to take a look up in the sky on Sunday!

June 23 biggest full moon



It is almost unreal to me that this is my fifth annual summer reading program post!! What an incredible community we live in; where reading is celebrated and rewarded!!  We spend a few days roaming around town and signing up for all of the programs.  You can sign up a pre-reader for some of these programs too (just track books you read to them) and don’t be afraid to sign up at both the GRPL and the KDL programs regardless of which area you live in.

Keep a clipboard for each kid with all of the forms.  Different programs have different requirements (some need page numbers, some just need titles, etc) and although it seems like a bit of a chore when you’ve signed up for several different ones; it’s easier to take care of it daily rather than weekly or at the end of the summer and just to write in the newly-read titles as they are completed. They all have different completion dates too, so make sure you put the dates on your calendar.  You’d hate to miss out on the goodies after tracking the reading efforts in  your house all summer!

The benefits of the reading programs (in addition to keeping your kids quiet for a little while) vary from year to year; but we end up with restaurant coupons, gift certificates, and hockey and baseball tickets pretty much every year.

Here are the national programs, so even if you don’t live in Grand Rapids you can participate in these:

SummerChallenge4Color-300x206Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. Kids log into the site and record their reading efforts; but there is no payout other than a chance to win prizes.


Junie B Jones Reading Club. Kids get a FREE starter kit that includes a copy of Junie B Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, along with activity sheets and an ID card (this one is while supplies last).


Sylvan Reading Club Book Adventure. Kids in grades K-8 can search for books, read them offline, come back to quiz on what they’ve read, and earn prizes for their reading success.


Half Price Books Feed Your Brain Challenge. Kids get ‘Bookworm Bucks’ for each week when they read 15 minutes a day. There isn’t one of these stores in Michigan. But, maybe if you travel out of town you could cash in.


Barnes And Noble Summer Reading. Kids from 1st to 6th grade read 8 books, bring this form in, and get a free book.

There is also one at Chuck E Cheese; but that would involve me having to go to Chuck E Cheese and that is not gonna happen.

And here are the Grand Rapids specific programs:

FireShot Screen Capture #302 - 'Summer Reading Club I Schuler Books & Music' - www_schulerbooks_com_summer-reading-club

Schuler Summer Reading Club. The clear directions and specific instructions of the program, along with cookies at Saturday storytime make this my personal favorite. Kids can earn up to 3 $5 gift certificates for reading an age-appropriate number of books.


Grand Rapids Public Library. The program sign up is online – SWEET! The more you read, the more levels you unlock.  I don’t know what that means either, but this program usually has great prizes and I’m sure this year will not disappoint.


Kent District Library. Sign up at any KDL branch. Mark the calendar for each day that you read or do one of the suggested activities (they are all literacy related). Bring in your completed reading log to receive a free book and other great prizes. You will also be entered into a drawing to win even more awesome prizes


Baker Book House has a REALLY cool program this year.  It’s called the “Case of the Summer Reading Program” and kids read books from the The Mysterious Benedict Society Series, with activities in the store created around the books.  Kids get a little booklet to keep track of their reading and there are fun activities in there too; like a comic strip starring people who work in the store! The idea is that kids help solve the mystery of where the reading program went.  Love it!! There are gift cards given to kids who complete the program.

FireShot Screen Capture #307 - 'Home' - www_poohscornerstore_com

Pooh’s Corner is doing their own program again after a few years with the GRPL.  It begins after Memorial Day and is called “Camp Read A Lot“.  Kids will get coupons and rewards for summer reading.

FireShot Screen Capture #305 - '2013 Fair Schedule' - www_kcfg_org_Joomla_index_php_option=com_content&view=article&id=211&Itemid=104

The Kent County Youth Fair has “Reading For Rides“.  It is just on Tuesday, August  from noon until 2:00 PM.  Just print off the registration form and take it with you to the fair; kids with the form filled out ride free! (The form isn’t live yet; but try back closer to that date!)

The Hudsonville Fair has “Read To Win”, which is similar to the Kent County Youth Fair. The participant must bring the completed “Read & Win form” to the Hudsonville Community Fairgrounds office between 12 noon and 6:00 PM Tuesday of the Fair. For every 90 minutes you read you will receive 1 carnival ride ticket. (Tickets are non-refundable, and have no cash value. Limit 5 tickets per participant.)

According to you all, the summer reading program information is one of your favorite posts of the year. Be a good friend and share it with everyone you know!  Did I miss any programs? Let me know and I’ll add them! Happy reading!!

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Meaningful, Fun, And Delicious {Earth Day Activity}

Many, many years ago I was a volunteer at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.  I worked in the outreach program and had the honor of teaching hundreds of kids how to understand and connect with nature, but the biggest benefactors ended up being my own children.  I use lessons and ideas obtained way back then to help my own kids appreciate the natural world; and this is one of my favorites.   Earth Day is approaching quickly and this is an easy activity with a ton of impact.

Cookie Mining Activity For Earth Day

First, give your kids an overview of mining.  This activity can be scaled to age; meaning if your kids can understand details about mining you may provide it.  If not, just skip that part and give them a brief explanation about mining; that it is digging materials out of the Earth and give them a few examples of what people have mined.  If your kids (or you) are really into it; this is a great launch into a longer study of the Gold Rush or coal mining.

We took turns reading key parts of this information sheet about mining.  Any words or ideas that our kids weren’t familiar with we stopped to discuss, and since both my husband and I have an Appalachian family history we were able to tell our kids about how their own heritage includes actual miners as well as give them first hand examples of the positive – and negative – effects of mining on not only the land but also the people who live there.

Earth Day Activity

Next, give your kids a cookie. The cookie needs to have chocolate chips, or raisins, or carob chips, or dairy free sugar free chips, or something in it.

Then tell your kids to ‘mine’ the chocolate chips (or whatever) out of the cookie.  Tell them their goal is to get all of them out; we told our kids the more miners mine; the more money they make.  Tell them they will be able to eat the cookie later; but for now they just need to mine it.

Earth Day Activity

Once the cookie has been mined, with a straight face; tell them to put the chocolate chips back in the cookie.

Earth Day Activity

This is the best part! Watch their reactions.  Some kids will try diligently to reassemble the cookie.  Some will think you are kidding and laugh.

Earth Day Activity

Some will look confused.

Earth Day Activity

When they realize this is not possible; explain that this is what mining does to the Earth.  There is no way to put it back together and make it what it once was.

Let your kids eat the cookie mess while you are talking about renewable energy resources, reducing demand and consumption for mined products, and Earth Day.

In the end

we will Conserve

only what we Love,

We will Love only what

we Understand, and

We will Understand

only what

we are Taught

Baba Dioum Senegal


The Titanic Exhibit At The Grand Rapids Public Museum :: Your Questions Answered!

The Titanic Exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum is an incredibly unique opportunity to see a part of history that the world remains fascinated with even 100 years later.  I’ve read two reviews that claim it is not a great exhibit for kids, and have had several folks ask if there is a way to get a discount. I’ve seen the exhibit myself and I’ll answer these questions!

Should You Take Kids?

This is not an exhibit with lots of hands on experiences, flashing lights, and noise.  If that is what your kids are expecting, they will be disappointed.  Strollers are not allowed, and it’s a very quiet and somewhat somber atmosphere.  The exhibit creates a sense of reverence, and really little kids would probably not enjoy it at all.

I do, however, think that elementary aged kids and up will be really into the exhibit provided they have some Titanic information under their belt before they get there.  A ton of learning opportunities exist that you could approach from different angles.

Different states, different currency.

Different states, different currency.

One display shows that at one time, not that long ago, each state printed its own money and there was no standard dollar for our country.

The difference in classes in terms of the staterooms and meals are extremely well displayed with different menus and china for each class as well as excellent recreations of first and third class cabins in the exhibit.

First Class Stateroom

First Class Stateroom

Third class state room.

Third class state room.

There is one exception to the hands off nature of the exhibit; and that is an iceberg that you can touch.  Give your kids a little background on icebergs and they will be fascinated with this part as well as the pictures and information about icebergs throughout the exhibit.

An iceberg you can touch.

An iceberg you can touch.

If you’re raising little archaeology nerds like I am, a beautiful exhibit of serving dishes is right next to a picture of how they were found at the actual wreck site and it’s a great opportunity to talk and learn about items in situ as well as restoration.

Serving plates, as found at wreck site.

Serving plates, as found at wreck site.

Serving plates; displayed at exhibit.

Serving plates; displayed at exhibit.

At the beginning of the exhibit each ‘passenger’ gets a ticket that correlates to an actual passenger on the Titanic.  At the end, you find out if you made it or perished in the wreck.   Also at the beginning of the exhibit is a green screen where you get your photo taken and it looks like you are standing on the Titanic when it is is processed.  You pick it up at the end of the exhibit, and it costs $7.50 or $10.00 depending on size.  This would be a really neat way to help your kids start to imagine what it would have been like like on the Titanic.

See if your passenger survived (mine did not).

See if your passenger survived (mine did not).

I also found some additional resources for learning, either for homeschool or those of us just pretending, like I am.

A few of the many restored artifacts from the site.

A few of the many restored artifacts from the site.

Ways To Save on the Titanic Exhibit:

There is no dancing around this; it’s more expensive than some other exhibits that come to town.  Here are two ways to save on admission to the Titanic Exhibit:

  • Check it out during Museums Free 4 All on April 21.  Admission to the Titanic isn’t free; but general admission is and you will save $8.oo per adult and $3.00 per child, leaving only the special exhibit cost. Decide quickly though; this date is going to sell out FAST for that very reason. Edited:  While general admission will be free {without attending the exhibit}, if you do choose to see the Titanic exhibit you will need to pay the general admission and the exhibit admission price.
  • Depending on how many people in your family; it may be worth it to consider a membership.  If you have two adults and two children, you will pay $80 for everyone to get in without a membership.  A family membership costs $65 and you would then pay an additional $44 (so a total of $109) but you would have a membership for a year, and that additional $29 would gain you free general admission to the Public Museum along with reduced or free admission other museums with reciprocal membership benefits.

Have you seen the Titanic Exhibit? What did you think?

I received a media tour of the Titanic Exhibit.  All opinions are my own.

“Math Is Delicious!” {Learning About Pi Day :: 3/14}

This is A.P. and Maybelle last weekend at SugarBush.  Inside the school building at the nature center is a chalkboard, and A.P. left his mark.


The mark of Pi.   I don’t know what is is with Pi; he has been fascinated with it for over a year.  He writes it everywhere; like super nerdy graffiti.  He knows about 10 digits out past the decimal point, but I wasn’t sure if he knew exactly what Pi was other than a ‘magic number’ used to figure out something about circles.

Since tomorrow is Pi Day (March 14th; or 3/14), I ordered a the book Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi from Amazon because I couldn’t find it at the library; and now I’m VERY glad I did.

The book was only about $7 and I’m sure I would have ended up buying it several times over in late fees.  The story is one of several “Math Adventures”; this one about Radius, his dad Sir Cumference, and his mom Lady Di Ameter.  There are also appearances from the Metry brothers; Sym and Geo.

Sir Cumference ends up accidentally being turned into a dragon, and the knights are going to slay him so Radius has to figure out the right amount of medicine to give him to change him back.  By measuring several circles of different sizes, he realizes that the distance around (circumference) is always equal to the distance across (diameter) times 3 1/7.     At the end of the book, it explains that Pi is also expressed as 3.14159 and often rounded to 3.14.

We tested out the theory by making Turkey Pot Pie and  Apple Pie. I bought very simple ingredients; two cans of apple pie filling, two boxes (so four total) of pie crusts, two cans of cream of chicken soup, one pound of ground turkey (which I browned), and a bag of frozen peas and carrots.


Maybelle tackled the Turkey Pot Pie and A.P. took care of the Apple Pie.  They put one of the crusts in the pans whole, then dumped the ingredients on top of it.

They measured the circumference and the diameter of the pans.


Then they cut three strips of dough the same length as the diameter.


Both times, just a little space was left over which was a nice way to show how little 1/7 is; but also that it is important to make the whole circle. Then I let them go to town with the rest of the dough; and A.P. even cut “radius strips”.


Maybelle declared that math was delicious, and I was thrilled that my kids not only learned something; but made dinner too!



Michigan Maple Syrup Is For Michigan Kids!

Maple Syrup is only produced in about 12 states and a few provinces.  Fortunately for us; Michigan is one of them. According to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, Michigan ranks 5th in maple syrup production in the United States and the average maple syrup production in Michigan is about 90,000 gallons per year.


Kids growing up here have a rare opportunity to see syrup produced firsthand at one of the annual “Sugar Bush” celebrations.


We headed out to Blandford last weekend after reading up on the subject, and had a fantastic time.  We learned about the animals that live in the Sugar Bush.


The kids were really interested in the way that Native Americans produced and stored sugar, as explained by students from the Blandford School.  They loved hearing about the maple cakes, and even more interested to have a little sample of one.


My kids were most interested, though, in the story about how Gitchee Manitou, the great spirit, gave the Anishinabe “the people of this place” the gift of maple trees full of maple syrup.  They could just break off a branch and it was like a syrup faucet; very awesome.  But then the Anishinabe got fat and lazy and Manabohzo, one of the gods, decided enough was enough and dumped water in the trees to make it harder to get at the syrup, and also limited the time of year the sap ran in the trees.   My kids applauded wildly at the end of the skit!


Fortunately, there are other opportunities to see syrup being made, although I can’t vouch for the quality of any performances.

Head over to the Wittenbach Nature Center in Lowell on Saturday, March 16th for a Maple Syrup Fest and Pancake Breakfast from 9:00 – 1:00 p.m. You’ll have a chance to go back in time and learn how maple sugar and syrup were made by both the Native Americans and early settlers with the help of the Lowell Historical Museum. Breakfast is $5 per adult, $3 per child and children 5 and younger eat free. Trail activities are free for all. Call 987-2565 for more information.

Can’t get enough? Another chance to see how Maple Syrup is produced is at the West Michigan Academy of Environmental Sciences on Thursday, March 21 from 6:00 to 7:30.  It’s $3 for children and $5 for adults; and you need to register by March 14th.  Help WMAES with their syrup collecting and learn how syrup has been made throughout history.  Watch the boiling process, tap some trees and taste some different grades of syrup.

Looking for more fun things to do with kids in Grand Rapids?

Check out what else is going on this week, catch a show at LaughFest using the “How To Do LaughFest With A Family” guide, (and enter to win one of the FOUR family four packs of tickets!)

Save $5.00 on tickets to Monster Jam, and see my list of 25 things to do with kids in Grand Rapids while they’re still young, and check out suggestions for things to do each month in A Year With Big Binder.

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Sugarbush At Blandford Nature Center :: Oh How Sweet It is! {Resources for Learning About Maple Syrup}

A sure sign of spring is Sugarbush at Blandford Nature Center.  It’s a fun place all year, with their SmartPhone app, trails covering 143 acres, and nature backpack rental; but the festivals at Blandford are an especially good time.

This weekend, Saturday March 9 the date for the festival this year. It’s a celebration of tapping the maple trees that bring us syrup and a first hand look at how that syrup is made.  The educational component is phenomenal; and a little brushing up beforehand ensures that your kids (and you!) get the most out of it.

  • There is also a song about syrup on Postcards from Buster {from the Aurthur show}.
  • Reading Rainbow had a great episode on trees which includes syrup production; you can watch it here for free!  Just listening to the theme song of that show makes me happy.  The entire episode is good, but the syrup stuff starts at about 17 minutes.
  • We read books about syrup festivals and harvest to refresh our memories.

They are reading these books, which we got from the library:

The Blandford event kicks off with a pancake breakfast at the school building from 9 to 12, then demonstrations on the trail from 10-5.  Plan to spend a few hours; you get to see everything from how trees are tapped to how it is boiled down to make syrup.

Admission is $5 for Blandford members and $6 for non-members; but the cost of pancakes is additional.  The pancake line takes a while and we eat real syrup (step aside, Aunt Jemima) at home so it isn’t as much of a novelty for us but the opportunity to see ‘sugaring’ first hand is not something everyone gets to do; syrup is only produced in a few states and Michigan is one of them.  Take advantage of this!


The Underground Railroad {Craft And Learning Activities}

After reading some great books about African American History, my kids decided they wanted to learn more.

We headed downtown to the Grand Rapids Public Library for one of their biggest annual events; the Taste Of Soul Celebration.

First we hit the food samples.  A.P. was not a fan.

After a few other fun activities, we headed over to the children’s area to check out the craft.  They were making “Freedom Banners”; which they wore around for the rest of the day.  These were reportedly quilt patterns used to make “Freedom Quilts” which were then displayed so slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad would know which were safe houses, and also which direction to head.

I thought this was fascinating.  I had never heard of such a thing!  Maybelle’s, for example, gave directions to Cleveland, Ohio and A.P.’s indicated direction.

This is an easy activity to replicate at home; just print off a few of these quilt blocks in black and white, let your kids color them, and glue the picture to a piece of felt with a string on it.

Another thing you could do with these quilt blocks is put some together to make a larger ‘quilt’.  You could also cut pieces of felt out in the shapes on the patterns and let kids re-create them.  That seems very educational and whatnot; maybe even squeaking in an early math skill or two if your kids are little.  If you are really talented (unlike me), you could actually make a Freedom Quilt or at least a few quilt blocks.

It’s a great way to really teach kids how terrifying the road to freedom was; and how brave the slaves and the people who helped them were. Once we were home, we found two other online activities to help kids better understand the Underground Railroad.  First, this game lets kids make their own digital Freedom Quilt, describe its meaning, then print it off.  National Geographic has an interactive game where kids can decide if they want to risk taking the journey to freedom or not and the consequences of each decision.  Something my kids learned from this game was that helping slaves by hiding them and providing them food and shelter was illegal.  I assumed they knew this already, but I liked having the chance to talk about doing the right thing, even when there are risks.

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What’s Happening, Grand Rapids?

Black History is happening! It’s a great weekend for learning at the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Coretta Scott King by Storyteller Miz Rosie offers several free shows this weekend.  She includes audience participation in her performances, which are designed to entertain all ages.


Saturday, February 16
11:00 am    Yankee Clipper Branch – 2025 Leonard NE
1:30 pm    Seymour Branch – 2350 Eastern SE
3:30 pm    Madison Square Branch – 1201 Madison SE

Sunday, February 17
2:30 pm    Main Library – 111 Library St NE

Also on Sunday, February 17 from 1:00 to 4:00 don’t miss Taste of Soul at the Main Branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library (111 Library St NE downtown).

Taste of Soul Sunday, Celebrate African American History & Culture, February 17, 2013, 1:00 – 4:30 pm

The event is free and open to the public.  It’s a celebration of African American history and culture where you can sample African American art, music (including a songwriting workshop for kids!), literature, crafts, history and food.  One of the restaurants offering samples will be Chez Olga which is DELICIOUS; read about our visit there a couple of years ago.

While you’re there, check out some books to learn more about Black History.  Here are our favorites!

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