Mea Culpa and Group Tool Review

First, mea culpa! I feel terrible for neglecting Curious Kids. I’m talking about the blog, mind you, not the actual kids. The real kids are rested, fed and dressed in clean clothes. At least their clothes were clean this morning. Right now, there are no guarantees.

I do have a good excuse for not posting…I’ve been writing and submitting. I’ve sent out one picture book manuscript and two articles this week. And I have two leveled readers almost ready to go out on submission. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. That waiting is definitely the hardest part! Cross your fingers for me.

Now, on to the subject of this post. Are you looking for group tools for your in-person critique group, book club, PTA, or Scout troop? By group tools, I mean one place you can privately share a calendar, post photos and video, RSVP for events, maintain a discussion board, and so on. I recently reviewed a whole host of these sites for one of my groups and would like to share a couple with you.

My group opted to set up a Shutterfly Share Site. Shutterfly has designed these free sites for families, classrooms, sports teams, events (like weddings or graduations), and so on. They are private, and you decide who can access the site. There is a group calendar, discussion board and places to share photos, videos and files. As a user, you can adjust your settings so you receive any updates in your email box rather than having to log into the site.

The main reason my group chose Shutterfly is that we can easily use the photos shared on the site to create photo books and other photo gifts. I can already tell you we’ll be making a photo book at the end of the year. We thought using Shutterfly from the get-go would be much easier than downloading photos from another site and uploading them to Shutterfly or Snapfish.

Another popular free site is Big Tent. Big Tent is like a free version of, for those of you who are familiar with Meetup. (Note: Meetup is free for users, but organizers pay $150 a year to maintain sites). On Big Tent you can make your site public or private. Or, you can have a public page and a private section for members only. Essentially Big Tent has the same capabilities at Shutterfly, but if you wanted to create photo books or gifts, you would have to export the photos and upload your them elsewhere. It’s just an extra step.

I suspect many of you have your own curious kids who are involved in lots of activities. Maybe one of these sites will work for you. Or, if you have an in-person critique group or book club, Shutterfly or Big Tent might help with ongoing communications.



Welcome home, Space Shuttle Endeavour!

Space Shuttle Endeavour came home to California today, and we were able to join the festivities. Endeavour, like all the orbiters, was born in Palmdale, California. Endeavour is the “baby” of the now-retired fleet, first flying 20 years ago.

One of NASA’s specially modified 747 airliners gave Endeavour a high-speed piggyback. Amazingly, only 7 bolts hold the orbiter to the airliner. On Friday the 747 will fly Endeavour to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) where it will stay until mid October. At that point it will be towed through the streets of LA to its final home at the California Science Center.

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Cleopatra Exhibit

This weekend we took the Curious Kids to the California Science Center for the traveling Cleopatra exhibition. Although there were no mummies, the show was still a big hit, primarily because Finley got a King Tut crown.

The exhibit boasts the largest collection of artifacts from the Cleopatra era ever assembled in the U.S. Many of the pieces were recovered from the sea near Alexandria, Cleopatra’s capital city. Over hundreds of years the temples and treasures washed out to sea, a result of earthquakes, a tsunami and other natural forces. Underwater archaeology teams, led by Franck Goddio, have only discovered the ruins in the last couple of decades.

Another major portion of the exhibit discusses the search for Cleopatra’s tomb led by archaeologist Zahi Hawass. Hawass and his team now believe Cleopatra and Mark Antony may be buried in the temple of Taposiris Magna west of Alexandria. His team has not yet recovered a mummy.

If you are in the Southern California area, the exhibit runs through Dec. 31st. It’s a wonderful opportunity to inspire a budding archaeologist.

You can learn more about Cleopatra, ancient Alexandria and the temple:

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Tutankhamun

Author/Illustrator: Demi
Publication Info: Marshall Cavendish, 2009
ISBN: 9780761455585
Source: Library copy
Intended audience: ages 9 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (64 pages)
Themes/topics: Egypt, mummies, world history
Opening and synopsis: ”King Thutmose IV, who ruled from 1419 to 1386 BCE, was the great-grandfather of King Tutankhamun. As a young prince, Thutmose IV had many brothers and half-brothers who wanted to seize the throne.”
Illustrated with stunning images, this book places King Tut in his cultural and religious context. Demi tells of Tut’s ancestors, his life and tomb. Tut emerged as pharaoh at an interesting time in history. Inspired by Thutmose IV’s vision, Tut’s father, Akhenaten, did away with worship of traditional Egyptian gods in favor of monotheism. When Tut came to power, political strife ensued as two regents wrestled for control. After Tut’s death, his ultimate successor tried to erase Tut’s family from history forever. But he couldn’t destroy Tut’s hidden tomb.
Why I like this book: As obsessed as my three-year-old is with mummies, we actually knew little about King Tut’s life. Although the story line is far too advanced for preschoolers, Demi’s images can be appreciated by all ages. She’s gilded many of the images, conveying the wealth of ancient Egypt and the pharaohs.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Science Fun: Water Balloon in a Bottle

It’s still warm — ok, hot — in our part of Southern California, so this experiment from Steve Spangler Science was a fun way to cool off. We used it to discuss how air is “stuff” even though we can’t see it.

Air takes up space in a one-liter bottle, which you find out when you try to blow up the balloon inside the bottle. You can’t do it because the air already in the bottle has nowhere to go. When you poke a hole in the bottle, the air filling the bottle can escape as you blow air into the balloon. Really, the water balloon part is just for fun.

The boys enjoyed the final part of this experiment the most. The Steve Spangler team shows you how to splash your friend as he or she looks at your water balloon in the bottle. The boys got to splash Daddy, which they found hilarious. File this one away for April Fool’s Day.

The experiment requires only a few household items:

  • One liter bottle
  • Duct tape
  • Balloon
  • Tack or pushpin
  • Water

You can watch the how-to video…

Bouquet Card Craft

This bouquet card is so versatile. We recently made it for Grandparents’ Day, but it also works for Mother’s Day, birthdays, teachers’ gifts, you name it!

I adapted the craft from FamilyFun Magazine, replacing the card stock stems with green pipe cleaners. We’ve made the card before with card stock stems, but they weren’t strong enough to support the blooms. You can find step-by-step instructions….here.

We used this template for the flowers, but you can design them any way you like.

Our barely-visible wording says, “A bouquet for Grandparents’ Day!” The FamilyFun site also suggests several alternate greetings for other occasions. Enjoy!

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE MIGHTY MARS ROVERS

Author: Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrator: NASA!
Publication Info: Houghton’s Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-547-47881-4
Source: Library copy
Intended audience: ages 9 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (80 pages)
Themes/topics: Mars, space, science
Opening and synopsis: “Are Martians real? As silly as it may seem, this question has driven Mars exploration for decades. People all over the world yearn to know: Is there life on Mars? If not, has there ever been life on Mars?”
As part of the “Scientists in the Field” series, Rusch follows the development of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, as well as their years of exploration on Mars.
Why I like this book: Other wonderful books about the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity exist, notably Alexandra Siy’s CARS ON MARS. However, Rusch focuses much of her book on the team behind the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. She shines the spotlight on Steven Squyres, the principal science investigator, who dreamed up the rovers as “rolling geologists.” It was Squyres’s sheer grit and determination that brought this mission to fruition, after NASA turned down his proposals for eight years. Rusch shows how scientists see the rovers as extensions of themselves on Mars, truly as “scientists in the field.” Rusch also previews the Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet last month, kicking off a planned two-year mission.
Resources/activities: NASA has some incredible Web sites, games and resources for all things Mars.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Curious about money

A few weeks ago I put out the call on my Facebook profile: “How much allowance should one give a kindergartener.” My favorite responses included, “two graham crackers” and “hugs and kisses.” (You know who you are.) Others chimed in with suggestions like “$1 per year of age” or  “10 cents per chore per week.”

After sifting through a wealth of information and opinions and examining our convictions, we decided upon the following: Cooper will get $2 per week, and Finley will get $1 per week. Honestly, $5 a week for Cooper just seemed like a lot. That’s $250 a year, a whole month of preschool tuition! Plus we aren’t requiring the boys to buy all their toys.

The allowance comes with some requirements, modeled after those instituted by the parents of 10-year-old twins. The boys can spend half of their allowance on toys and treats. They have to save 25% until they meet the required “reserve.” Cooper has to save $20 and then can spend anything above his $20 savings. For Finley, it’s $10 savings. Hopefully this will be the beginning of teaching about the importance of saving and interest once we open savings accounts.

The boys also have to donate 25%. We may reduce this amount over time (10% seems pretty reasonable), but right now it’s easier to dole out the allowance in quarters. Most of this money goes to church now, but I can picture saving up and matching funds to give Thanksgiving baskets, angel tree gifts at Christmas etc.

As for the age-old debate about tying allowance to chores, we decided against it. I want the boys to do chores because they are part of the family, and we all pitch in. That’s what being a part of the family means. I don’t cook dinner or clean dishes because someone hands me $20 every time I do it (though it would be nice!). Similarly, studies have shown offering children money for effort does improve their school performance. But again, I want my kids to be self-motivated to learn and do well in school rather than externally motivated. What happens when you stop paying them?

With that said, I’m not opposed to paying for extra chores (some day). When the boys are ready, I’m sure I can come up with some odd jobs to earn some cash. And perhaps we can undertake some entrepreneurial adventures, like the folks over at Shafer…Power!

So what do you think? How much allowance should a kindergartener get? Should it come with strings attached?

Review: Can You Find These Butterflies?

Author: Carmen Bredeson
Illustrator: Lindsey Cousins
Publication Info: Enslow Elementary, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7660-3980-3
Source: publisher-provided complimentary copy
Intended audience: PreK through first grade
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (24 pages)
Themes/topics: butterflies, nature
Opening and synopsis: “A butterfly starts out as an egg. A tiny caterpillar hatches from the egg. It eats and grows.” Using simple language, Bredeson describes how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Then she challenges young readers to learn about nine different types of butterflies and spot them in nature.
Why I like this book: This book invites children to become butterfly experts. Rather than just feeding them facts about butterflies, it encourages them to explore their own backyards, parks and open spaces and see if they can tell a Monarch from a Viceroy. Stunning time-lapse photography shows a caterpillar forming a chrysalis and emerging as a butterfly. Additional, close up photographs show primary features of each butterfly. Simple language geared towards first-grade readers make this a wonderful book for progressing readers.
Resources/activities: Raising butterflies is always a favorite for small children. You can order caterpillars through Insect Lore. Also, if you are on the migration path for monarch butterflies, you can record your sightings online.