“Little Kid” LEGO Robotics

Fun times at LEGOLand

“Are you aware of this?”

That’s how my friend Brenda introduced me to the wonderful world of “little kid” LEGO robotics, officially called the Jr. FIRST LEGO League (FLL). While I wasn’t aware two months ago, I am now knee-deep in this new adventure, which introduces children ages 6 to 9 to teamwork, problem solving and simple machines.

Here’s how it works. Anyone can put together a team: a school, scout troop, YMCA, homeschool organization or neighborhood group. Teams have two to six members and meet once a week for six to eight weeks to work on the year’s challenge. This year’s challenge is called “Super Seniors.” Teams will work with a senior citizen partner to explore how one piece of technology has changed during the partner’s lifetime. The team builds a LEGO model of its finding using one moving part and a simple machine. Then they create a poster about their work.

If your child has any aspirations to join FIRST LEGO League, which promotes science, engineering and technology, Jr. FLL is a wonderful introduction. And it’s not too late to join this year’s challenge. Registration is now open for new teams, and the season runs through April. That gives teams plenty of time to complete their six weeks of work.

Are you interested in starting a team?


The Curious Kids’ First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. It was a day of new beginnings. Cooper started kindergarten. Finley started preschool. Both were at a new school.

I made a new start too. Today is the first day I spent more than a few stolen minutes on my writing. To date writing has been confined to nap time, after-bed time, when-the-kids-are-otherwise-occupied time.

Now I have some “me time,” three mornings a week, 12 whole hours. I’ll be able to hole up in the library or the bookstore, draft my freelance articles, write manuscripts and shop those manuscripts to publishers.

I relished my first day. After drop off and first day of school activities, I headed to the library with coffee in hand. Before the library opened, I had nearly completed an article for BirdBrain Science while perched on a park bench. Once inside I picked up some children’s books — inspiration and information for two leveled readers I’ll work on tomorrow. All-in-all it was a productive morning. I can’t wait until tomorrow!

Inspiration – Another SCBWI Takeaway

Inspiration is a much-discussed part of the creative process. There are two parts to inspiration: all the inputs that feed inspiration and the moment of inspiration itself. While we may not be able to control the flash of inspiration and its timing, we can help lay the groundwork. The key is to expose ourselves and our children to experiences that can inspire us.

A childhood walk in the woods inspired nonfiction writer Melissa Stewart and her writings. Her father asked Melissa and her brother to look carefully. What did they see? Melissa noticed smaller, younger trees surrounded by taller, older trees. She was right; there had been a fire years before, and the young trees had sprouted after the fire. That experience — thanks to her dad — helped Melissa see the narrative in nature and influenced her career path and writings.

While I was at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, my husband texted me at 10:o0 p.m. Sunday evening. Should he wake up Cooper to watch the Curiosity rover land on Mars. Yes! Yes! Yes! When we visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory months ago, I was struck by how many members of the Mars Science Laboratory team remembered watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television. They pointed to that experience as the inspiration for their work in space science. That same event, along with the book, THE RIGHT STUFF, inspired my husband to become a test pilot. I knew letting Cooper witness the event might provide him with the inspiration he needs to study Mars or other planets some day.

As a parent, I know we can provide opportunities and experiences that could inspire our children’s career path, creative work, hobbies or interests. As a writer, I know the more knowledge and experiences I have to draw from, the richer my work will be.

The Importance of Imagination-SCBWI Los Angeles

I have been remiss in blogging since my return from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles. I’ve had a hard time processing all of the wonderful inspiration and information and distilling it into something more than just a transcript of the proceedings. However, I think I’ve finally hit on some takeaways in keeping with the spirit of Creating Curious Kids.

First, imagination: Rock star Tony DiTerlizzi’s tag line is “Never abandon imagination.” (And when I say rock star, I mean it. There was an hour wait for his autograph, and I half expected people to ask him to sign body parts.) DiTerlizzi told a powerful story in his keynote. The summer he was 12 and refused to play outside in the South Florida heat, his mom told him to go into his room and find something to do. Tony stuffed a Trapper Keeper full of drawings and encyclopedic notes, using paper, art supplies and his imagination. These drawings would later spark his blockbuster¬†SPIDERWICK series.

Boredom, I think, is a necessary ingredient for imagination to run free. Kids — and grown ups too — need to be bored so we have room to imagine and create. We need time for quiet without distractions. Deborah Underwood, author of THE QUIET BOOK, reinforced this point. The quiet while she waited for a concert to start inspired her popular book, as it allowed her to observe several different types of quiet. Had she been checking Facebook on her phone or talking to someone beside her, THE QUIET BOOK may never have come to be.

Aside from boredom, we also need access to the tools of imagination: art supplies, papers, pencils, computer programs, flour, LEGOs, whatever media you or your children work best in. Famed illustrator Bryan Collier didn’t take an art class until high school, but he remembers the magic of watching the watercolors bleed together on the paper. Meanwhile, puppeteer Kevin Clash (aka Elmo), works in fabric and thread. He famously used the lining of his dad’s good coat to make a puppet when he was a child. Everyone is an artist or creator in his or her own way, we just work in different media.

In my next post, I’ll talk about moments of inspiration and how we can hopefully provide these for our children.

Children’s nonfiction: The write stuff

Hi everyone,

I’m off to the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s Summer Conference tomorrow. I’ll have a full report when I return Tuesday.

In the meantime, Jennifer Young, a fellow children’s author and my critique partner, is hosting me on her blog today. Jennifer’s book, Poison Apple Pie, recently was published by Meegenius. In the post, I talk about my nonfiction writing process.

Have a wonderful weekend and don’t forget to tune in for Curiosity’s landing Sunday night.

Curiosity rover: Hoping for a “perfect 10”

Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here is the AP’s headline, which I wish I had written:

NASA to athletic Mars rover: ‘Stick the landing’

In less than four days, NASA’s mini-Cooper-sized Mars rover will land on Mars (finger’s crossed). This is no small feat: about half of all missions to the Red Planet have failed. Plus, NASA is using a new “sky crane” landing technology rather than letting the rover bounce or parachute to a landing. So, yes, I’m holding my breath and sitting on pins and needles. It’s the same feeling I’ve had all week watching the U.S. Olympic team.

For those on the West Coast, Curiosity (also known as Mars Science Laboratory) will touch down at Gale Crater at 10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6). NASA TV will cover the event live with coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. PDT, so you can tune in on your TV or computer.

Curiosity has several advantages over rovers past. It will run on nuclear instead of solar power, meaning it can keep on trucking during Martian winter. It’s wheels are much beefier than those of Sojourner and Spirit and Opportunity, allowing the rover to drive over rocks 29 inches high and travel 656 feet per day. Curiosity is a chemist and geologist in one, with the most sophisticated instruments to date. It can gobble up samples and analyze them in its internal laboratory. Over the course of the mission, Curiosity will study the role of water on Mars, atmospheric evolution and climate.

Here are some resources for sharing this historic moment with your curious kids.

Will you watch the landing? Will you tune in with your kids?