Summer Science Ideas for Teens & Tweens

For many families across the country, these past few months have been a struggle. I know keeping kids engaged and learning is not always easy.

Now that summer is here, I find kids are burned out on online worksheets. Fortunately, summer science can be more than hands-on. Grab a dip net and lead the kids on a fully immersive science adventure!

Here are a dozen or more ideas you can use with your middle level science students stay active and engaged in enrichment activities all through summer.

Community Science Opportunities

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and other insects.

Sadly, the number of pollinators is in decline. Other environmental factors are limiting the range of meadows and wildflower habitats, each of which have begun to show signs of succession.

Restoring native landscapes play a critical role in our ecosystem. Native plants provide shelter and food for pollinators, require less watering and maintenance, and add lasting color to any garden.

If you are concerned about saving bees, butterflies and other pollinators, #beecounted by helping the National Pollinator Garden Network reach one million bee-friendly gardens by National Pollinator Week.

The word citizen was originally included in the term citizen science to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists. Today, it is important that we recognize that the term has become limiting in some contexts. As a part of my commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, I have transitioned from using the term “citizen science” to the more inclusive term “community science.” 

The ninth annual National Moth Week, July 18-26, invites novice and experienced “moth-ers,” alike, to observe these fascinating creatures in their own backyards and contribute to our scientific knowledge as part of one of the world’s largest community science projects.

Find more community science projects and opportunities here.

image of teen setting a crab trap at low tide

Hands-on Summer Science

Take a walk outside or along a nearby trail and observe the natural surroundings. Encourage your budding naturalists to start a nature journal.

Consider journaling activities in the classroom or allow them to develop their skills independently.

Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a Rube Goldberg contraption, a skyscraper, or a bottle cap mural project.

Have students create a photo journal to document the trees, flowers, or common insects in your area.

Join Ms. Frizzle and her students on The Magic School Bus each month in exploring one of twelve different science topics through hands-on experiments with The Magic School Bus Science Club from The Young Scientists Club.

Practice your navigational skills using only a compass with orienteering! Set up a course in the neighborhood park and invite a few friends.

Virtual Field Trips & Movies

Summer is the perfect time for field trips. There are many benefits of local museums and science centers. Unfortunately, COVID19 restrictions have closed many popular museums and visitor centers.

Don’t worry! Many locations around the world offer ways to visit and explore their exhibits virtually. There are many movies to choose from to inspire further explorations of STEAM concepts. I will share my favorites soon.


What STEAM activities do you and your children enjoy in the summer months? Leave a comment below and share your ideas. 🙂

How Do Pets Help With Homeschooling?

Pets can be a distraction, but did you know they can also be a part of your child’s classroom? Many children love animals, and their interests can be used as motivation to read, write, solve problems, and create projects. 

Whether they can play along as a “student”, provide a source of comfort, or serve as a topic for a subject, pets are beneficial. Here are some of the many ways your fur babies can be a great addition to your curriculum.  

Teaches Responsibility & Pet Care

The first question parents typically ask when their children want a new pet is, “Are you going to take care of it?” With homeschooling, you can incorporate pet care and responsibility into their schedule. You can give your child essentials roles; tasks as simple as providing water and food to larger jobs such as walking and cleaning cages. 

You can take it a step further by outlining how to properly care for animals. When my daughter wanted a pet rabbit, I asked her to write a persuasive essay to convince us she was ready for the responsibility.

Students can research animal behavior and what type of enrichment items or pet toys are out there. Many retail and pet-related websites such as Pet Life have blogs that go into detail on pet care and safety. If students do their homework, they might even teach you a thing or two about animal companions. 

Provides Emotional Support

You have heard of emotional support animals. It is no different in your home – especially when it comes to facing challenges in homeschooling. The presence of pets has a positive impact on a child’s mental health. According to Pets in the Classroom, many children turn to their animal companions for comfort and emotional support, which is proven to relieve stress and anxiety.

My daughter has often expressed how much she relies on her fur babies to encourage her to work hard in her studies. Her pet rats will often curl up in the hood of her sweatshirt or climb into the pocket as she completes her math or chemistry calculations.

Your pets can comfort your children on their sick days, keep them company, and boost morale. The best part is that they can have them close during exams – pets are like a test buddy without the risk of cheating! 

Aids in Social Skills

Much of the social skills children develop comes from group projects, presentations, and interacting with others. If your home is lacking in peers, your pets can make for fun participants. If your little one struggles with public speaking and reading aloud, practicing in front of your cat or dog can help overcome anxiety and boost their reading skills.

Promotes Physical Activity During Breaks

Up until recently, recess was a perfect opportunity for children to run around and exert their energy through sports and playtime. A combination of being at home, not having peers to play with, and having access to tablets and smartphones is the perfect storm for a sedentary lifestyle.

If you have a dog, playtime can range from walks around the block to playing fetch at the park using dog toys. Otherwise, yoga and other fun kid activities are available online. This provides quality time outdoors with their animal companion and at times, much-needed stress relief.  

Incorporating Pets Into Your Curriculum 

Your pet can also serve as a midpoint between written assignments and hands-on training and observation. Here are some common school subjects and how animals can play a role in your child’s education. 

Mathematics and Finance

For younger children, simple math can be through giving treats or learning how to measure their weight or food. Having a pet is a financial responsibility. Older children can learn how to manage money by creating a budget. As important life skill is developed as they calculate how much it cost to care of an animal.

Biology 

Animals can also be showcased as part of a science observation. Students can research their ideal habitat, physiology, diet, and other needs to keep them healthy. 

Another idea is to undertake an animal behavior study. Older children can create what is called an ethogram or data table that lists the common behaviors of their pet. They can then use the chart to compile observational data as part of a larger study.

You can also help them take note of different breeds, traits, and characteristics of your pet’s pedigree and others. You and your child may learn much more than you expected about your animal friend. 

Psychology

Much of psychology and behavior was observed by how people and animals react to things. Pets are no different. Teaching a dog to fetch or sit on command provides learning opportunities for children. They can learn about processes such as positive and negative reinforcement as well as other terminology to achieve the desired behavior. 

Take it a step further by using safe psychology experiments on your pets! Can your hamster make their way through a maze to find their favorite treats? What does it take to teach your dog to shake paws with you? Many of these questions can be applied to your science and behavior studies. 

Art and Literature

If your child is young, they may have fun anthropomorphizing (giving human characteristics to) animals in their stories. You can encourage creative writing and illustrate the story together. There are many pet-related craft ideas online for your child to enjoy. 

When they are done, they can read the story to their pet. It is a great opportunity to teach literary devices and other story-telling elements involving their animal friends. 

My daughter wrote a book about an adventurous panda cub when she was in grade school, Mei Mei the Panda. I scanned her artwork and helped her to type up the story to publish in a bound book. It is now a keepsake we cherish.

History and Laws

Older children can learn how animal domestication came to be. They can also learn what purpose different animals have served and geographic origins.

Current events and local laws may be another great subject to touch on when it comes to your pets. Students can learn about animal rights and why specific exotic animals and testing are illegal. Learning about animal preservation can branch into protecting endangered species from hunting, pollution, and extinction. 

Conclusion

Going to class with your pet has to be one of the best perks of being homeschooled. Not only is it fun, pet ownership on its own is a valuable lesson that every child should have. Adopting pets into your child’s homeschool twill add interest, create amazing memories, and build relationships with their favorite animal companion. 

Anti-Racist Resources for Home & Classroom

Across the nation, communities are feeling the weight of the recent tragic events with heavy hearts. The pain of these events is felt not only here in the United States but around the world.

As an educator and parent, it is important that I am attuned to the feelings and experiences of my children and my students. I have compiled this list of anti-racist resources so I educate myself and be a better advocate for diversity.

Image of a sunset to symbolize the the work of anti-racism to bring racism to a close. Text overlay reads "Anti-Racist Educational Resources"

As a family, we do not condone racism of any kind. We value diversity and equity. We are committed to improving our community.

During times like this, it is important to look inward and recognize that we can do better and how we can improve. As a family, we pledge to find ways we can continue to learn and help make a difference in our community.

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against racism that harms you. You are beautiful. Tell me how to do better.”

~ CAROLOS A. RODRIGUEZ

We acknowledge that we have a long way to go in addressing the issues of diversity and equity, but we are committed to doing this work. 

Anti-Racist Resources

1. Know Your History

Educate yourself on anti-blackness, systemic oppression, privilege, and the role you and your communities play in upholding systems of white supremacy.

Non-Fiction Books

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Color of Money by Mehrsa Baradarn
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations

Fiction Books

  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • Stumped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The national Black Lives Matter At School coalition’s brilliant Curriculum Committee put together lesson plans on each of the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter for every grade level. 

Where do you fall on the Racism Scale ?

Anti-racism Resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein

Anti-Oppressive/Anti-Racist Home School Options

More resources from Embrace Race

21st century, oh what a shame, what a shame
That race, race still matters
A race 2 what, & where we going?

~ PRINCE & 3RDEYEGIRL – “Dreamer”

2. Listen

Listen to resources from Black women, Black community, Black leaders, Black activists, Black authors, Black podcasters. Do NOT put the labor on Black people to educate you.

In response to current events, Warner Bros. is offering free streaming of its film “Just Mercy throughout the month of June.

Watch these films:

  • Hidden Figures
  • When They See Us
  • Dear White People
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • American Son
  • LA 92
  • Just Mercy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Hate U Give
  • Selma
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Malcolm X

Follow these activists on Instagram:

Array 101 ~ A four-part film that tells the harrowing story of the wrongful arrest and incarceration of teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise in New York.

3. Stay Updated

Follow the hashtags to stay updated on continuing action.

  • #BlackLivesMatter
  • #AhmaudArbery
  • #GeorgeFloyd
  • #JusticeforBreonnaTaylor
  • #iRunwithMaud

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

~ ANGELA Y. DAVIS

Call your family, friends, and community leaders in dialogue around anti-blackness and violence agains the Black community.

Unsure how to talk with little kids about racism, check out the post, Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

Also consider the ideas here, Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race

Donate to a cause:

I know the difficulties and pain of these events do not stop today nor tomorrow. Neither should the work that we are committing to do to ensure the values of diversity and equity.

If you have ideas or resources, leave a comment below.

Customizing Her Graduation Ceremony

Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love May, in particular; everything is green and growing. We’ve left behind the cold bare branch of winter and summer’s promise is everywhere. More symbolically,  it’s graduation season and students blossom into graduates and continue to grow into their new lives.

The 2020 graduation season was one which I was particularly looking forward. The cancellation of commencement weighs particularly heavy on my heart. My daughter would have had two commencement ceremonies – one with her high school graduating class and another with her college peers who, like her, completed a two year degree.

She has worked her butt off these past few years. Spring term most especially because she is taking 17 college credits in addition to finishing up requirements for her diploma. Based on her course load – organic chemistry, physics with calculus, matrix methods and linear algebra, and differential equations – we’ve always known it would be tough. We certainly did not anticipate doing all these courses online.

We are feeling all the feelings, both somber and hopeful in response to the state of the world in 2020. For some, it has proven to be truly the worst of times. Yet, as we see an expanding sense of community, we take heart that there is some goodness as well. 

Honoring Our Graduates

The way in which we choose to honor our graduates varies from family to family. There are many ways to celebrate graduates – whether they are graduating from a brick and mortar school or homeschool. In a post I hosted at The Curriculum Choice, Celebrating Our Homeschool Graduates, homeschool moms shared their ideas for recognition and graduation.

My daughter’s graduation this year was not how we had envisioned it. We have rescheduled to a later part of the summer and made several adjustments to our plan. Rather than a luncheon, for example, we are planning an open house with staggered visitation from guests.

The decorations I created and the gifts we have prepared for her can continue as planned. Ever the optimist, I am excited that we will be able to create our own private commencement ceremony. We are even able to have her childhood role model, Jane Goodall, give an address.

The Commencement Speech

Public figures and celebrities are using social media to share their messages of hope and inspiration. In some ways, this has provided families with an opportunity to customize the graduation experience.

Consider planning a private graduation ceremony for your immediate family or as restrictions relax, invite extended family to join you. Choose recordings from speakers your child admires. Here are a few examples:

Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, shares her support and excitement for your future. Enjoy her virtual commencement speech to honor your achievements and share it with friends and family. Together, we will build a better world for people, other animals and the environment we share.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama also spoke to the graduating class of 2020 as part of NBC’s Graduate Together special. He tells graduating seniors to “set the world on a different path” while being “alive to one another’s struggles” as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.


Congratulations to the Class of 2020! Let’s celebrate all of your incredible achievements.

5 Great Board Games to Boost Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a very important skill to have for multiple different areas of your life. It will help you at your job, at school, and even in your personal relationships. While there are many different ways to build up your critical thinking skills. One of the most enjoyable and exciting is playing board games.

However, not all board games will boost up your critical thinking skills, despite how fun they might be. So which board games are good for developing critical thinking skills? Without any further ado, today I share 5 great board games to boost the critical thinking of everyone from teens to adults.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission. Reviews are done based on my own opinions of the quality of the products. All opinions are my own.

Dungeons and Dragons

While more of a tabletop game than a board game, Dungeons and Dragons definitely can help improve your critical thinking. It is a game all about crafting your character and working through your own adventure with your friends.

My daughter loves D&D! She explains, “I like being able to experience the fictional words I always dream about, creating unique characters, trying things out, and experiencing the repercussions of my decisions. It’s also fun!”

I think the role playing aspect is large part of the attraction. My daughter really gets into the game when she plays and even uses uniques voices for her characters. She has journals full of character sketches and notes on their abilities.

By rolling dice, the game throws numerous different problems and roadblocks at you, and you will need to decide upon the right action incredibly quickly. The game can help you make the right decision at high speeds, and also helps you think outside the box. It allows for a ton of creativity as well.

The game is easy to get started with as long as you have some friends and a set of dice. Dungeons and Dragons can be made even more exciting by purchasing fun accessories like game mats, dice trays, game master screens, and mini-figures. If you’re in the market for some colorful and unique dice for your Dungeons and Dragons journey, consider checking out D20 collective. I’m partial to the Druidic Dreams color scheme shown here.

Settlers of Catan

Catan is a wildly popular game that is played by tens of millions of people regularly. The game starts you off with a couple of roads and settlements, and you need to build that up to a whole civilization. Using a roll of the dice, you will eventually get the materials required to build your settlement.

The game is incredibly fun and rewarding, but can really test and improve your critical thinking. You need to always be aware of how many resources you have, the best ways to use them and whether there are any trades worth making. You need to come up with a strategy for how you’ll build the best civilization, while also making assumptions about the goals of others.

There are many versions available of Settlers of Catan including expansion sets, card games, and dice games (pictured above) .

Chess

Dating back hundreds of years, chess is one of the quintessential board games when you think of critical thinking. The game is played by two people, with the ultimate goal being to take out the opponent’s king piece. Each piece in chess can be moved a certain way and is unique from the other pieces on the board.

There are thousands of different moves that can be made and strategies that can be used. Chess relies a lot on using your mind, applying critical thinking skills. You need to think of the best and most optimal strategy for yourself. Using concentration, logical thinking, and focusing on the potential moves your opponent could make in response to what you do.

While there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to first playing the game, once you know the rules, it becomes easy. Chess is also great as it can be played by anyone, no matter your age or background.

For more critical thinking games, check out Hnefatafl and Kübb, two Norwegian games.

Mastermind

With a name like Mastermind, you just know that this game will be able to help boost your critical thinking. It is a game about breaking a code where one person creates a code, and the other tries to eventually break it over time. This takes a lot of critical thinking, deductive reasoning and helps to utilize and build up these skills.

There are well over 1,000 different patterns of colored pegs that could be chosen by the code maker, and the codebreaker has to start from nothing and use their critical thinking and reasoning to eventually decipher it. You need to think about not only choosing the right colors, but also eliminating the wrong ones on your journey to breaking the code.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is without a doubt, one of the most exciting games on the market and is also one that challenges you to think critically. The goal of the game is to connect train cars and fill railways across the map, trying to make links between specific places. The game is all about using logic and strategy to successfully build your connections, while also preventing others from doing the same.

Ticket to Ride is one of my family’s favorite games. We actually own three different versions – Asia, Nordic Countries, and Europe (including the expansion, 1912). In my post, Board Games & Fun, I share more of our favorites.

Ticket to Ride is a game with very simple rules, but can be played and won in several different ways. Some people might try to fill the largest railways possible to score points. Others will spend their game trying to stifle other people’s plans and focus on building smaller train connections. You have a lot of options and with numerous ways to connect different routes. You are free to play the game how you want.

In conclusion, these board games are great ways to not only have fun, but also boost critical thinking. What are your family’s favorite games?

An Extraordinary Time: Homeschooling Yesterday and Today

When the kids were younger, you would often find us on the beach with Papa, meandering about the woodlands, or strolling along on the Deschutes River Trail just a stone’s throw from our home.

A common query from strangers was, “No school today, kids?”

“Nope, we’re homeschoolers! The shoreline is our school today!” the kids would shout in unison.

In shock or dismay the examination continued. “Oh, but … how can you,” they stammered. “I mean, you will still spend time learning, won’t you?”

image of a grandfather walking along the shoreline at low tide with his two grandchildren, text overlay reads: "an extraordinary time: a look at homeschooling yesterday and today"

Classrooms Today

We’re living in a most unusual time and I don’t mean just due to the worldwide pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. We are living in a time where most people consider learning to be directly associated with a small space inside four walls.

With pencils,
worksheets,
textbooks,
calculators,
whiteboards,
desks,
structure,
routines,
bells,
tests,
and grades.

Stop and picture a typical classroom today. In your mind’s eye, you likely see a group of children gathered by age as the primary criteria. At the front of the classroom, an often overwhelmed and overworked teacher delivering a prescribed lesson at a prescribed pace. A tight set of curriculum standards, assessment measures, deadlines, and accountability governing them all.

How is this scenario considered the gold standard for all students?

A specific, narrow definition of success that is taught early and reinforced often. A place where the pressure to perform and the fear of failure chip away at a child’s mental strength almost daily, exacerbated by the potential of that failure happening openly in front of their peers.

The One Room Schoolhouse

Growing up, my favorite television program was Little House on the Prairie. I loved Laura’s spunk and pictured myself as her regularly. I also loved the one room school house and wanted more than anything to be a school teacher just as Laura aspired to be when she was growing up.

While I never had the opportunity to teach in a one-room school, I cultivated this idea when I made the decision to homeschool my children in 2006. Homeschooling provided the means to surround my children with learners of all ages. More importantly, we were not confined by the walls of the classroom.

Last week, I binge watched Anne with an E on Netflix. I loved the series so much. I had of course read the books years ago but the actors in this version really touched me, especially Miss Stacy.

Miss Stacy, the forward thinking, fierce, and compassionate young teacher (portrayed by the actor Joanna Douglas) who brought new life into the Avonlea schoolhouse. This was me! This is me!

Back on the stream bank, among the ripples, wildlife, plant life, physical exertion, and fresh air … we observed, we experimented, we asked questions, and we learned.

None of what we were surrounded by matched the accepted definition of the best possible “modern” learning space. None of it looked like what learning was supposed to look like. Yet this was our classroom.

Homeschool Spotlight

Around the world, classes have been suspended and schools are locking their doors. In Arizona, the remainder of the school year has been cancelled and Oregon is considering the same decision.

Parents have suddenly found themselves thrust into educating their children at home. Parents are now desperate for activities and educational experiences to occupy their time. There is now a global spotlight on homeschooling.

While it is wonderful to have so much attention on homeschooling, we must be careful to recognize that most of us aren’t actually homeschooling. Even veteran homeschool families like myself. Not fully.

We are all isolated from the world around us. Home educated kids don’t spend their lives at home the way we have been asked to right now.

Six months ago, homeschoolers would be at the library, the swimming pool, an art gallery, at the beach, at the park, or exploring a museum. They would be at Tae Kwon Do, dance class, music lessons, or at drama school.

They were interacting with all the different people in all those different spaces, and the balance this gives is incredibly important to a homeschooling lifestyle. Right now, they are not doing any of this.

image of two high school students seated at a dining room table with a laptop computer and working collaboratively on a project

Homeschooling Tomorrow

I’m hearing from a lot of parents who are struggling. Admittedly, I am struggling. These are extraordinary times. Nothing about this is normal, homeschooling included.

Not surprisingly, families have reached out to me to inquire about homeschool. They are curious about our story and desire to learn more. While the present situation is challenging for everyone, I want to encourage you.

The curriculum we have used has changed as the kids have gotten older. Today, they are both dual enrolled at the community college and taking courses full time on campus (though spring term all their coursework will be delivered online).

Homeschooling has provided us with a rich life experience. Through it all, we have always strived for five things:

meaningful work
good books
beauty (art, music, nature)
ideas to ponder and discuss
imaginative play

It is uncertain where we will be six months from now. When we begin to return to some measure of normalcy, I hope some of you will choose to continue homeschooling. I would be delighted to go tide-pooling with you.