Arts/Crafts, Cultivating curiosity, Education, Homeschool, Parenting, Reading

Tools and Activities for Keeping At-Home Kids Busy

For those who have students home from school due to COVID-19, children’s book creators are putting together a number of resources to keep your students occupied and engaged. Aside from creator content, I am also sharing some of my favorite sites for kid-friendly activities and content. My goal is to keep this site updated as I find out about more.

Arts/Crafts, Homeschool, Parenting

Summer Plans

Yowza! I looked at the calendar and realized there are less than three weeks left in the school year. It’s time to start planning for at-home summer fun.

  • First up? Makerspace. The kiddos recently expressed an interest in having their own robot lab. Right now, this has included scavenging parts from the garage (old training wheels and wood, for example) and toting around their toolboxes. I think we could build an outdoor makerspace using tips I found here.
  • Random Acts of Kindness. We are brainstorming ideas for ways that we can be kind to others, especially people outside of our own family/friend circle. We’ll put strips of paper in a jar so we can pull out one or two ideas a week.
  • In fourth grade, my gifted and talented class did lessons based on DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN. I ordered the book several months ago and hope we can all do the lessons together.
  • Writing and Reading. Of course! We’ll set aside time for everyone to write and read. Here’s a great idea for DIYing a journal. Also, Barnes and Noble is offering a free book for students who compete a reading journal. Download it here.

What are your summer plans?

Organization, Parenting, Writing

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.


Parenting, Science/Math

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?

Holidays, Parenting, Writing

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!

Cultivating curiosity, Geography, Parenting

The Olympics: Studies in Geography and Perseverance

My children are obsessed with the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team and their quest for gold. The boys cheered on Destinee Hooker, Jordan Larson and the others during their first two matches against South Korea and Brazil. Now we are waiting for the Wednesday match against China. My oldest son also has asked to watch swimming and archery (inspired by the Marvel Superhero Hawkeye, I’m guessing). Though we don’t watch a lot of daytime TV, I’m indulging him, because the Olympics can be a valuable learning experience for curious kids.

The most obvious Olympics lessons include geography and map skills. With each volleyball match we look up the competing countries on the globe and read about them in our atlas. The Web site Living Montessori Now has some wonderful Olympic geography activities including DIY globes and a whole Montessori-inspired unit for those who are interested.

Still, I think the real value in the Olympics is teaching children the value of perseverance and mastery. The kids and I talk about what it takes to win gold and to be the best in the world. It requires some natural talent, luck and timing but also practice, practice, practice. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that one reason greats like Bill Gates or the Beatles are so successful is they’ve accumulated 10,000 hours of experience and practice in their disciplines, essentially 20 hours a week for 10 years.

So let’s look at 17-year-old Missy Franklin, who just earned gold in the 100m backstroke. (Go Missy!) She’s extremely young, but she swims 2 to 4 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week, essentially 20ish hours a week. She started swimming 12 years ago at age 5, so she’s probably pretty close to the 10,000-hour mark despite her young age.

Now, before you go all “Tiger Mother” on your kids and force them to practice the piano for four hours a day, bear in mind that your child’s passion and desire has to underlie all this practice. Psychology Professor Todd Kashdan, author of Curious, had this to say on Huffington Post: “Try to ensure that the bulk of activities in their lives map onto their interests and give them challenges that push their skills to the limit,” he wrote. “Children need to feel a sense of ownership over their own actions instead of feeling controlled like ‘pawns’ by pressure, guilt, and the rules and regulations of adults.” With young children, it’s great to try out lots of things — not all at the same time — and see what sticks. They might try gymnastics today and cooking club next month. But once they really enjoy something, encourage them to master it.

Are you watching the Olympics with your children? What’s your favorite part of watching the games with your kids?

Parenting, Writing

When Curious Kids Get Sick

Sick boy

Well, we’re all still in our pajamas. Nobody’s going to school or “Mommy and Me” today. We had a sleepless night marked by raging fevers and barking coughs. So now I’m contemplating how best to keep two housebound, curious kids entertained until nap time.

Right now the kids are playing Starfall on the computer. Normally, I’m pretty strict about how much “screen time” they get, but these are extenuating circumstances. We’ve snuggled up with several favorite picture books and magazines, like Wild Animal Baby. (Note: We also love Highlights High Five, Big Backyard, LEGO Club Jr., and National Geographic Little Kids, which have lots of activities and puzzles.)

After a couple of PBS Kids shows, we have a science experiment to finish up. Yesterday we grew red and blue polyacrylamide crystals. We stacked them in a test tube and are awaiting the “sunset” it should produce. Sometimes being sick slows the boys down just enough that they are game for coloring, activity books or craft activities. When they are healthy, these things don’t keep them occupied for long. And there’s always our mountains of LEGOs to build and board games to play.

As for me, I will try to take advantage of this “slow” day to get some extra writing in. Since there’s been a marked downturn in wrestling and fighting, I’m revising my January manuscript so I can share it with my newly formed critique group. I’m hoping to finish a critique of another member’s draft today. I plan to go through and “Like” or “Follow” all my 12 x 12 in 2012 pals. Oh, and I need to get together a submission for Query Tracker’s logline contest. I better get moving before Mr. Rogers is over!


Cultivating curiosity, Parenting

How do you cultivate curious kids?

This blog encapsulates my efforts, for better or for worse, to spark my kids’ curiosity and to keep that fire burning, especially if/when they meet the traditional public school environment. Recently, I’ve become very interested in how my efforts correlate with what the experts say are important ingredients for fostering curiosity.

In his Huffington Post article, George Mason University Professor Todd Kashdan identifies six things parents can do to encourage curiosity. Here are some of my takeaways from his article.

  • Teach flexible thinking. There’s never one right way or wrong way to do anything, whether it’s baking a quiche or reading a book. Teach your kids to think in shades of gray rather than black and white. Help them approach questions and problems from multiple angles without fear of failure.
  • Let the kids take the lead. Make sure their activities correlate with their interests most of the time rather than pushing activities onto them. If kids have to participate in an activity they don’t want to, make sure you have a good justification, and explain it to them. For example, you may want your nonathletic child to engage in some physical activity because it’s good for his body.
  • Kids need a lot of opportunities to build self confidence. Provide positive feedback and constructive criticism on their efforts, and make sure they have time for unstructured play where they are the masters of their own kingdom.
  • Children need new experiences and challenges. If your kids love dinosaurs and frequent the natural science museum, make sure you head to an art gallery every once in a while to mix things up. (Note yesterday’s post.) If your child is a pro at building LEGOS following the directions, challenge them to go off-script from time to time and build something from scratch.

I’m interested to hear from you as parents, educators and former children yourselves. What do you think about Kashdan’s theories? How do you foster curiosity in your children? How did your parents help you become the curious adult you’ve become? Please feel free to post your comments below.

Organization, Parenting

New Year’s resolutions

Turkey trot with Lourdes

It’s New Year’s resolution time! While I’m a very goal-oriented person, I typically don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Generally, I set new goals, both formally and informally, throughout the year rather than confining them to the first day of the year.

Last year, getting on a regular house cleaning schedule was a major goal. While cleaning for our 2010 Holiday Open House, dusting amounted to scraping sheets of dust off of our living and dining room furniture. I was sneezing so hard, my eyes were tearing, and  I could barely see. Thus, I decided that more regular dusting and cleaning in general would make the chores –especially dusting — less onerous. Plus I wanted a house that was ready for last-minute play dates and drop-in visitors at a moment’s notice.

To help me accomplish this goal, I turned to the Queen of Clean, Linda Cobb, who is my cleaning idol. She espoused “green” cleaning before green was cool. Cleaning your mirrors? Try vinegar. Need to clean a drain? Try a vinegar/baking soda volcano! Want to clean a cutting board? Look for lemons. In her book, How the Queen Cleans Everything (Atria 2002) she offers dozens of tips and, in one chapter, sets out a schedule for a year of cleaning. I used her schedule and turned them into checklists that I’ve tried to abide by for the past year. (Tried is the key word here. Will I dust my walls? Likely never.)

For weekly jobs like dusting and vacuuming, I assign each task to a day. Monday I do bathrooms and some kitchen cleaning, since the two chores require the same cleaners (vinegar and Bon Ami); Tuesday I dust; Wednesday I vacuum. Normally I start these jobs while the kids are watching their half-hour morning cartoons. I can get at least the bedrooms vacuumed or dusted, so I can wrap up the remainder of the job at nap time, or, better yet, during the kids’ afternoon cartoons. In January I typically make a big push on some annual jobs like cleaning leather or polishing baseboards. The first month of the year, I do clean on Thursdays or Fridays, but only if I’m watching something fun on Netflix instant or DVD.

As much as possible, I try not to clean during nap time (except for my January kickoff). I once read there was nothing more demoralizing than cleaning during those few precious moments of peace and quiet. I normally use nap time to grade papers or work towards other goals I’ve set.

Speaking of other goals, last summer, I decided I was going to start writing again, and I aspired to get at least one manuscript published in a magazine by the end of the boys’ school year. While, I haven’t had success yet, I keep telling myself I’m taking baby steps. I’ve submitted manuscripts, and learned to love (ok, tolerate) rejection. I also endeavored to build my platform as a writer by launching this blog and committing to blogging Monday through Friday. My writing goals have been a mixed bag, but I’m hoping the relaxed pace of the new year will help me get back in the groove.

Finally, my dear friend Lourdes has foisted a final goal upon me: running a 10K in February. All I can say is, “stay tuned.” However, being able to run down an escaping 3-year-old is a valuable skill (those little legs are fast!), and races do keep me motivated.

For me, staying in shape, having a reasonably clean home and blogging are essential elements for raising curious kids. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If so, what are some of yours?