Junior Explorers Brings the World Ecosystems to You

I was recently sitting on the pool deck one afternoon waiting for our kids to finish swim practice. As summer was still just a few weeks away, a few moms and I got to talking about activities to keep the kids engaged through the hot summer.

One mom suggested a subscription kit. “Yeah, but there are so many available today,” one mom replied. “How does one choose?”

I was delighted to share with them my experience with Junior Explorers. When choosing a subscription box – either as a gift or as a curriculum enrichment – my suggestion is to keep the interest and passion of the recipient in mind.

While my son is in the target age, a child passionate about animals would be the ideal recipient for Junior Explorers. I knew the perfect little zoologist – my friend, Liam, who was recently promoted to first grade! I was delighted to be able to assign him his first mission, Mission Amazon.

I received the Junior Explorers mission kit in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information. This post contains affiliate links.

Explore the World with Junior Explorers @EvaVarga.netLike many children, Liam loves animals and while waiting for his big brother at swim team, he will often role-play what he has learned in school or in the books he has brought along with him.

Junior Explorers helps foster that love to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. Junior Explorers is a subscription program for kids 6-11 that teaches them all about wildlife and nature through exciting adventures that are sent home each month. Every month kids receive a kit in the mail sending them to a new ecosystem to solve a mystery in nature.

Each monthly mission focuses on a new ecosystem with real facts about wildlife and the environmental threats today. This can be a hard conversation to have with kids, but Junior Explorers introduces the topics in an easy-to-understand and solution oriented way.

The monthly kit contains cool collectibles like figurines, animal trading cards, temporary tattoos, stickers, and more. Every kit also includes a secret code to access a wealth of activities, games, and additional learning materials.

Liam loved the animal trading cards with facts about the featured animals best. “Did you know there are frogs that sweat poison?!” he exclaimed. I didn’t get a chance to elicit more details, he hopped off in delightful imaginary play.

Send your child on wild adventures with Junior Explorers subscription boxes! Join Now!

At the end of every mission, kids see a handful of not-for-profit projects doing front-line conservation in the ecosystem they just visited. Kids select their favorite real-world project and watch as their earned points are converted into a real dollar donation.

Junior Explorers is a certified B-Corporation and while this may not mean anything to Liam, us moms can smile knowing that the company has met rigorous standards and been designated as a company that is doing good for the world.

Shipping is only $2 per month to send your child on wild adventures with Junior Explorers subscription boxes! Join Now!


How Well Do You Know Your World Geography?

We love geography! It is fascinating to learn about other cultures and to learn how the physical geography has influenced different peoples around the world.

A few weeks ago, I shared a post detailing how we use the sidebars in North Star Geography to explore the diverse cultures of the world ~ Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography. We love comparing the cultural points with our own life experiences and have delighted in the many similarities we have discovered.

We live in an ever connected, global world, so it’s important that we teach our children that the world is bigger than they are, larger than just their community. One way to get kids excited about geography is to make it as interactive as possible.

This post contains affiliate links.

How Well Do You Know Your World Geography? @EvaVarga.netWith the help of North Star Geography my kids enjoy exploring world geography studies with a variety of resources including books, videos, hands-on projects, and even online games. Here are some of our favorite online geography games for middle school:

geoguesserThink You’re a Geography Expert?  Try Geoguesser …

Utilizing images from Google Street View, BBC Travel has put together a fun online game called Geoguesser. You are given an image – like a peak from a small window – from Google Maps of somewhere in the world.

Then you have to place a pin on the world map by clicking on the spot you think the picture is from. You’ll see how far off you are and the closer you get, the higher the points earned. You can let others challenge your score too. This is a fabulous activity for families!

The game challenges your geographic knowledge by having you guess the location of a street view image. You can pan and walk through the images to try and extract clues from where you are. Click on a location on the small inset map and click the “Make a guess” button to submit your best estimate of the image’s geographic location.


Another fun game built upon the Google Maps platform is SmartyPins. Rather than show a street view image, it provides a trivia question and a regional map. You put a pin on the map to guess the answer to the question. You can select different categories for the questions such as Arts & Culture, History & Current Events, and more. The goal is to place your pin as close to the actual location as possible. You can “take a hint” for more information and get a bonus if you answer quickly. Try to see how many answers you can get correct before you surpassed 1,000 miles.

Geoguesser & SmartyPins are a great ways to utilize the technology we are already familiar to further explore geography.


One of our all time favorite interactive games is BrainPop. We all enjoy learning with Tim and his friend, Moby, a robot – the hosts of BrainPop’s animated videos and online games. BrainPop offers free feature videos daily or you can access all of their content through a subscription service. Their geography lessons include Geography Themes, Latitude and Longitude, Map Skills, Time Zones and more.

One of the things I like best about BrainPop is that it is accessible in other languages ~ Español and 中国 !! I’ve only recently discovered the Chinese site so we have only begun to explore. The animations and our familiarity with many of the videos help with comprehension while providing a fabulous tool to develop our foreign language skills.

We also love that BrainPop has both a web version and a mobile app so we can take our learning on the road. We travel frequently, so having access to educational material is a huge bonus!


Created by Houghton Mifflin, GeoNet is an online game they have developed to accompany their publications. You begin the game by choosing from a regional map of the United States or a world map. You then narrow it down by selecting a specific region you want to explore further. Lastly, you choose from six geography categories such as The World in Spatial Terms, Human Systems, Environment and Society, Physical Systems, etc. Your score increases as you correctly answer questions. The broad categories ensure each game will be different.

natgeokidsNational Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is geared for the younger ages and is a fabulous site for exploring geography and science. To navigate, select the round “Menu” button at the top of the screen. The menu will pop up and from there you can find interesting videos, animal facts, games, and more. You can sign up for a free account for your child where they will be able to collect point, earn badges, and access additional games and videos.

How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netIf you are looking for a high-quality and engaging Geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about North Star Geography – the program we have been using this year.

My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job as their teacher so easy! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.


TypeKids – Individualized Typing Lessons for Kids

We live in an information age. Strong typing skills are critical to success – regardless of what career path students may choose to take as an adult.

I’ve tried numerous typing programs over the years and my son has always dreaded typing lessons.  He whines and complains all the while and has never moved beyond home row.

When I learned of TypeKids‘ pirate adventure storyline – I knew I had to give it a try.

I was given a free membership to TypeKids.com in exchange for a thorough review.  I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely my own.


TypeKids.com is an online typing course for kids, recommended for children 8 years and up. However, younger children who know how to read and are computer savvy can do well with TypeKids, too.

The course consists of 30 lessons, each taking approximately 25 minutes.  Ideally, the course should take about 10 weeks to complete, and your child will be typing faster and more accurately by the end of those ten weeks.

Kids learn to type by following the story of a pirate adventure. Each lesson has multiple exercises which are broken up by the video story and the opportunity to play games. The games continue to reinforce the touch typing that the child has learned so far.

My son has congenital nystagmus. As a result, small fonts and type are sometimes difficult for him to see. He thereby struggled a little in the beginning when the lessons were random sets of letters.

As he has become more independent academically, he is also more adept at verbalizing what troubles him. He stated that the font size was perfect and the text was clear; he simply had to move slowly to ensure accuracy.

This is true of everyone learning to type, I assured him. I strongly believe that the TypeKids.com graphics, fun games, and engaging storyline encouraged him to continue.


TypeKids.com is an intelligent touch typing course – the program automatically detects which letters need more practice, and then instruction is adjusted accordingly. This means your child receives completely INDIVIDUALIZED typing instruction.

As the lessons progressed, and actual words were used, my son became increasingly motivated.  Because he is able to read, he was thereby able to move a little faster as he pictured each word in his mind.

As he moved beyond the basic lessons, he exclaimed, “This is really fun, Mom! Typing isn’t so bad after all.” He loved finding aeronautical words in the text and would gleefully point them out to me.

One of the things that I love about TypeKids.com is that it issues a progress report to me, the parent, via email when he completes the lessons. Whereas most other programs issue reports only to the child. This simple form of accountability alerts me of his strengths and weaknesses.

  • Consists of 30 on-line lessons.
  • Each lesson takes approximately 25 minutes to complete.
  • Instructions are given in the form of a video demo with audio narration.
  • Retail price of the entire course is $89.95, just $3 per lesson!

Apps for Nature Study

Have you ever been on a walk with your kids and they spot a cool insect that you have never seen before?  Have you ever looked at a tree and wondered to yourself, “I wonder what type of tree this is?”  Next time you’re out walking in nature, enhance your experience with great iPhone apps for nature study.

There are apps available to help you find nature, navigate through it, and learn more about it during your outings.  Whatever your interest, apps for nature study abound.  Here are a few of our favorite apps for nature study.

  • nature apps

    EveryTrail – Find great trips and hikes in your area; an interactive map uses GPS capability to show the path you are taking. You can post pictures and videos along the way and share via social networks.

  • NatureFind – NatureFind will help you find nature centers, gardens, zoos, museums and so much more. It also keeps you informed on upcoming events at these venues.

  • My Nature Animal Tracks – Helps you identify the animal, interactive maps show you where the animal can be found in North America, sound files of each creature’s vocalizations, a nature journal and more.

  • Leafsnap – Uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photos of the leaves. Location data is sent to database so scientists can track how the numbers and ranges of trees are changing over time.

  • Arbor Day Tree Identification Guide – This is a mobile version of the Arbor Day Foundation’s award winning field guide.

  • Project Noah – Helps you identify an unknown plant or animal, see what kinds of plants and animals have been spotted near you, and contribute to ongoing research projects.

  • Audubon Insects and Spiders – A field guide with 500+ descriptions and photos, a journal to track your findings, & a reference section with tips on finding insects and how to start your own collection.

  • iBird – A must have for any avid bird watcher; audio songs and calls, maps, and information on habitats and behaviors. Share your own photos via social networks.

  • Rockhound– Let Rockhound know where you are, and it will tell you what rocks, gems, and minerals you may discover there. There are pictures of each rock to help you identify what you find.

  • Meteor Counter – As you tap the keys, the app records critical data for each meteor you observe: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations.

  • SkyView Free – Take a photo of the sky and then tap to find out more. Change the date to see what the sky looked like long ago, or what it will look like in the future.

Do you have a favorite iPhone app for nature study that I have neglected to include here?  Leave a comment and let my readers and I know.  🙂

Southwest Landscapes – Lessons in Perspective

Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks in Utah offer the most amazing panoramas. Majestic rock formations, iron-rich colors, and endless blue skies are an artist’s dream.  Shortly after our return home from our road trip, I stumbled upon a promising looking art curriculum that I knew I couldn’t pass up.  When I showed it to the kids, they were eager to give it a go.    

drawing with chalk pastels

We didn’t have on hand the acid-free construction paper recommended, but they didn’t want to wait.  “We can always do it again, Mom!”  I thereby pulled out the materials and away we went.


The author states, “In this 15-page lesson plan, students learn how to draw a landscape focusing on perspective and space to create distance. Students use chalk and oil pastels to draw arches, hoodoos and cacti. Using the vibrant colors of the Southwest, children observe through photographs the rock formations and draw their own landscape.”   This was indeed true!  The author does an excellent job describing key vocabulary (Horizon Line, Foreground, and Background.

The America’s Southwest Landscapes is available as a PDF for $5.  The program includes three handouts (coloring pages), full color photo-tutorials, and a gallery of student work.  Essentially it is only one art lesson; the technique for teaching and drawing is the same for both Arches and Bryce Canyon, but the drawing is slightly different.  While I think this is a good value, I would have liked to see handouts or examples for the Grand Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and perhaps the Colorado River as well to provide a more complete picture of America’s Southwest Landscapes.


I was not compensated for this review.  I purchased the PDF myself because it appealed to me and it fit our current curriculum.  The opinion shared here is honest and is solely my own.

Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game

I am excited to share with you a fabulous game we’ve had the pleasure to experience with a couple friends of ours.  WildCraft: An Herbal Adventure Game is a cooperative game that teaches about edible and medicinal plants.  We love board games and this one is great for it teaches while it entertains.  I have been a fan of this herbal learning board game for quite a while and now I have ordered my own copy.

wildcraft-board-photoWildcraft! is all about real, valuable knowledge and skills that are quickly getting lost in today’s technological age. It is a gorgeous game that teaches the players all about herbs and their uses.  Artist and naturalist Beatriz Mendoza uses vibrant watercolors to create a colorful and playful world for Wildcraft!  The plant cards show the level of detail needed for identification in the field.

The players are on a mission from grandma to go and pick wild Huckleberries.  Players walk up and down a long winding path to collect berries, along the way they find herbs (plants cards), and they even run into some trouble (trouble cards).  Some of the troubles include sore muscles, an earache, a toothache, a hornet sting, and splinters.  Thankfully, the herbs you have been collecting along the way may provide just the right herbal remedy to help you.

Step by step along the game board kids (and parents) learn about various herbs and their practical applications in health and healing. Wildcraft! includes a 20×20 inch game board, instructions, 4 player pieces, 52 plant cards, 52 trouble cards, 25 cooperative cards, and a spinner. It also comes with a downloadable story to enhance the story of the game.

This game typically only goes on sale during the holidays. But for the next couple days (until May 30th) you can get it for 50% off, that’s less than $20!  To make the deal even sweeter they are also giving buyers the following free bonuses:

  • Access to webinar, Outdoor Kids, Herbal First Aid for Summer, by Aviva Romm
  • Dandelion Activity eBook
  • Herbal Roots zine kids activity magazine
  • The Herbal Gifts eBook (Saves you more in gifts than you spend on the game)
  • Mentoring Kids & Nature Connection with Jon Young (mp3)
  • Herb Fairies Activity Pack, with Book One and activity materials