Disclaimer: Below follows select freelance articles. Many were written and published years ago, some no longer available online through the original blog or website. As a result, some links may no longer function.
6 STEM Activities You and Your Little Ones Can Do Right Now!
Originally published on Mitz Accessories Blog, 6/26/17
STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” and there is no better time to start building your child’s interest in these subjects than when they are young. The best part about STEM activities is that they are mostly based on freeform experimentation. And experimentation, to a child, is just another word for play. Although structured activities are important for children to learn about boundaries and safety, guided activities are best for exploration, the root of all things STEM. Guided activities mean suppling the tools and equipment, giving the challenge, and then stepping back to oversee safety. Beyond that, it’s up to your child to determine what to do next and how to get from idea to success.
Here are six STEM guided activities that are so fun, you’ll want to jump right in and do them alongside your child.
Gummy Bear Mad Science
This SCIENCE activity is super fun! Depending on the age of your little one, there’s a lot they can get out of this experiment. Toddlers will love pouring and mixing, and preschoolers will enjoy guessing the outcome and seeing the results. Older children can delve even further into the science behind their discoveries by performing control and follow-up experiments.
One of the best parts of this activity is its freeform experimental nature. First, you begin with a bear in a cup. Ask your child what they want to add to the cup. What do they think will happen? Start with simple mixtures like water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. In most cases, you won’t see results right away. When you move on to baking soda, baking powder, and food coloring, this will change and you’ll see things happen right away. But the best results are achieved if you let your experiments sit in their liquids overnight.
And don’t forget to document your experiment. Label your cups with numbers or letters and make a matching grid to keep track of what you add to your cups. If your child doesn’t write yet, do it for them. Have them draw pictures of the ingredients they are adding and their guesses at the outcomes. Write the names of the ingredients beside their pictures. Modeling the activity of writing can motivate your little ones as well as demonstrate a practical use for the skill.
What You’ll Need: Gummy Bears, cups or Ziploc bags, spoons, pencil and paper, water, vinegar, salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and food coloring.
Safety First: Remember that an adult should always be present when performing these mad science experiments. Besides, this is a lot of fun and you won’t want to miss out. Also, although it may be tempting, don’t eat your experiments. Instead, you may want to set aside a handful of clean bears straight out of the bag for snacking.
Extension Activities: Try these same experiments with different gummy critters, or different liquids. You can also change the temperature of the bears or the liquids.
You might be surprised, but you don’t actually need a computer or a tablet to learn about TECHNOLOGY. With this simple paper game, children as young as toddlers can begin to understand the concepts behind computer coding. The object of the game is simple; you must travel from your house, avoiding obstacles along the way, to find the hidden treasure.
Begin by making your gameboard. The gameboard will be a grid of no more than 6 by 6 squares. Go smaller if you are just beginning and enlarge the grid as your child masters the game. Across the top and down one side of the grid, you will need numbers, letters, symbols, or dots (like those on dice). In this manner, both toddlers and preschoolers can participate. To coordinate with the numbers or symbols along the top and side of your grid, you will also need to customize a pair of dice for your game. One die should be left as-is (with dots for counting). On the other die, use label paper to affix the symbols of your choice.
Next you will need to create your command cards. These are simply arrow cards to indicate up, left, right, and down. If you’ve got a large grid, you can even make a repeat card for more complex adventures. Be sure to make a few of each command – up to the max number of grid squares per direction. So, if your grid is 5 X 5, make five of each direction. You’re not done until you create your home base, the treasure card, and your obstacles. Have fun with these and be as silly as you want. Obstacles can be traditional objects like mountains and rivers or they can be quirkier like laser sharks or lava fountains.
To play the game, role your dice to determine the location of your home base, the treasure, and the obstacles. Then, use the command cards to map out your route across your imaginary land in search of the treasure.
What You’ll Need: Paper, crayons or markers, ruler, scissors, dice and play figurines.
Safety First: Not only is this activity fun to play, it’s fun to make as well. Remember to supervise young children when using scissors.
Extension Activities: Why not try a life-size version? You can tape out a grid on the floor with masking tape (or yarn) and get moving as you play your own game character.
This ENGINEERING project is so fun that you’ll be building towers right alongside your little one. The premise is simple, use modeling clay to create sticky joints that will hold your toothpicks at various angles. Try creating flat triangles and squares first and then build your way up to pyramids and cubes. Challenge your child to make the tallest tower they can.
What You’ll Need: Modeling clay, toothpicks
Safety First: Children should be supervised when building their towers. With toddlers, you want to make sure that nothing ends up in their mouths.
Extension Activities: Experiment with different joints. How well does a marshmallow, a jelly bean, a raw cranberry work?
Introduce your child to basic PHYSICS and ENGINEERING principles with a hand-made marble run. Marble runs are extremely flexible. They can be as small as a paper plate or as large as a cardboard box lid. You can make corridors with almost anything; the best stuff can be repurposed from packing material or food packaging. Marble mazes can have clear start and finish spots or you can mix it up by drawing simple shapes on the maze floor in various places. Call out three shapes and have your child navigate their marble to the three spots you identified in their maze.
What You’ll Need: Cardboard scraps, toilet paper tubes, used packing materials, tape, marbles, or ping-pong balls
Safety First: Children should be supervised when building their marble runs. Adults should perform the cardboard cutting. Ping-pong balls can be used instead of marbles with very young children.
Extension Activities: Build an indoor mini-golf course in your house. Use ping-pong balls and create obstacles with household items. You can make your own putter with cardboard and tape and use toilet paper tubes for the putting holes.
Think playing cards are beyond your littlest learner? Well, doubt no more! Playing cards are excellent tools for building MATH fluency in your young children. Playing with cards not only develops number recognition, but it can also be used to learn math facts and number sense.
While babies will certainly love looking at the bold colors on the card faces, older children will enjoy sorting games. There are a number of ways to sort cards, beginning with simple groups and working up to more challenging categories. With toddlers, you can sort by color and shape (suit). Preschoolers can go a step further and sort by numbers and letters and eventually, by specific numbers and face cards. Older children can sort via more complex rules such as more than or less than five and odd versus even numbers. Keep a deck of cards in your bag for a quick restaurant game.
What You’ll Need: One or more decks of cards
Safety First: No special rules here, except watch for papercuts!
Extension Activities: Once your child has mastered these simple sorts, you can add a timer and challenge them to sort a deck of cards in less than a minute. Combine sorting rules. For example: Red and less than five; black and more than ten.
Freeform tinkering is one of the best ways to encourage your child to explore their world. Collect odds n’ ends around your house to put in their tinker box so that its contents are always changing. Be sure to only include items that are not harmful (sharp, toxic, odiferous, etc.). Make the tinker box accessible and tell your child that they can do whatever they want with the stuff inside.
Good stuff to put in your tinker box includes the following: popsicle sticks, paper towel tubes, cloth scraps, stiff plastic packaging, bottle caps, tissue paper, instruction booklets, egg cartons, buttons, paperclips, and clothes pins.
What You’ll Need: A box or spot to put supplies, glue, tape, scissors, other tools
Safety First: Make sure you identify a creation zone, or a spot that you designate as safe for tinkering. If your child is too young to work with scissors and glue by themselves, make sure these are out of their reach and supervise when they use them.
Extension Activities: Choose a theme (such as boats or houses) and find a few picture books you can place near their tinker box. Ask your child to look at the pictures to get ideas for their own creation.
Books for Budding Leaders: Girl Edition
Originally published on Mitz Accessories Blog, 6/20/17
We want the best for our daughters and we’ll do anything to help them grow and learn as individuals. And many of us see the seeds of leadership growing before our eyes. To help our little leaders along their way, it’s our job as parents and caregivers to nurture those seeds and help strengthen their characters for the battles and victories ahead. A good leader has a vast toolbox of skills – from learning to work with a team and dealing with problems face-on to building empathy and negotiating ability – these books not only offer great stories but important lessons that we can share with our littlest leaders.
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
Don’t be put off by the witch on the cover. This book is actually a powerful parable on leadership. The witch and her cat go for a zoom around the sky but along the way, she loses her bow, her hat, and her wand. It is through the help of a team of animal friends, each with their own special skill, that she is able to recover her missing items. What this book demonstrates is the positive power of working with others. This book does an excellent job showing children that when you allow others to do what they do best, you are building a team geared towards success.
(Photo source: Author Website: http://www.juliadonaldson.co.uk/)
Margaret and Margarita by Lynn Reiser
One day, Margaret’s mother takes her to the park but she doesn’t want to go and when she gets there, she’s not sure how to make friends. In this sweet bilingual story, Margaret meets Margarita and they both decide to give friendship a try, despite speaking different languages. They come away from the park at the end of the day, having learned new things and having made a new friend. Not only is this story special for being told in Spanish and English, but its special because it will show your little one that if you give a new thing a try, you might be surprised at the results.
The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Funny and thrilling, this new take on a familiar tale will have your children giggling up a storm. Written in an engaging style with hilarious rhymes and puns, The Three Ninja Pigs show how the third pig beats that nasty wolf using martial arts. But her skills aren’t quickly won; the third little pig only succeeds because she took the time to learn martial arts and wasn’t just looking for a corner to cut. This book is one both adults and children will enjoy reading and rereading.
(Photo source: http://www.coreyrosenschwartz.com/Three_Ninja_Pigs.html)
Emma and the Whale by Julie Case
Story is one of the most powerful tools for teaching empathy and this charming story is no exception. In fact, empathy is the theme of this gentle story of an adventurous and curious girl who discovers a beached whale. What will happen to the whale and how can she help it? This story is sure to inspire your little leader to think about those around them and the impact of their actions.
What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada
The title of this book raises a really good question. Just what exactly do you do when confronted with something you don’t know how to fix? The child in this story – a child who could be visually interpreted as a boy or a girl – begins by ignoring the problem, by hiding from, and avoiding it. Eventually, the child learns that the best way to handle their problem is by facing it. There’s a lot going on in this timeless and powerful picture book. Firstly, the illustrator uses color as a means of reinforcing the message; in the beginning all is monotone, but as the child becomes more aware of the problem and begins to acknowledge it, colors begin to pop up in the background. Although the text is sparse, it is meaningful and poignant. There is a lot going on to interpret and talk about. This book makes the perfect read aloud for late summer nights spent snuggling.
(Photo source: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-943-20000-9)
Brave Irene by William Steig
Irene’s mother is sick and although she just finished her work on a beautiful ball gown, she’s too unwell to bring it to the lady who ordered it. Irene, determined to help her mother, bundles up and goes out into the storm to deliver the dress. Irene is a strong female character with the will to succeed. Despite the wind tugging the box from her arms, Irene is determined to go on and tell the lady what happened, even though she no longer has the dress to deliver. Irene is an ideal role model for young girls – she doesn’t give up – and in the end, she is rewarded for her fortitude and honesty. And if you can’t wait to drive to your local library, you’re in luck! You can watch a live reading of it here.
My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
Isabella is a playful and imaginative girl whose heroines have made an impression on her playtime. She imagines she’s an astronaut, a scientist, and a civil rights activist – all characters based on her real-life heroes. This story creates a great opportunity for discussing what type of girl your daughter can be and just how high she can fly.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
This is a beautiful beginner’s compendium of female activists from U.S. history. They battled everything from slavery to outer space and their memory lives on as they become role models for the future. Any of these 13 women will inspire your child and Chelsea Clinton does a good job of gently introducing them and their battles. The illustrations are lovely and the message is solid. Use this as a jumping off point in exploring the lives of these inspirational women with your little heroine.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson
One day on her way home from school, Mary finds a blueberry bush full to bursting. She decides to pick them as a gift for her neighbor. And so begins a story about how one kindness worked its way around the world. And it all started with Ordinary Mary, an ordinary little girl. The message is uplifting and makes world change seem doable – even by two little ordinary hands. This is a great story to begin talking about impact with your little leader. Reading about Mary’s kindness and the kindness of others that it inspires is a great way to talk about leadership and setting good examples.
(Photo source: https://www.amazon.com/Ordinary-Marys-Extraordinary-Emily-Pearson/dp/0879059788/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0879059788&pd_rd_r=P9V10T91V8FEJKPK91A0&pd_rd_w=mlqYU&pd_rd_wg=30wlP&psc=1&refRID=P9V10T91V8FEJKPK91A0)
Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler
One day Jonah declares himself ruler of the playground, but there’s a problem. Lennox also wants to be in charge. Written with humor and panache, this story of unforgettable childhood characters is both familiar and enjoyable. After a prolonged playground battle, their friends are fed up and the two battling monarchs must forge a truce. Reading about their silly antics and their ability to forgo rulership for peace provides a conversational stepping stone for talking about bullies and power struggles, a crucial skill to negotiate for all budding leaders.
7 School Lunches from Around the World
Originally published on Baby Hero Blog by Hillary Dodge, 22 August 2017
The importance of a healthy lunch is obvious: it fills us up and keeps us going. But in the mix of our busy lives, midday meals can become stale and boring. We find ourselves making the same things over and over and again to save time and energy. Break out of the daily grind and take some inspiration from these school lunches around the world. Introducing your kids to world cuisines can be rewarding in many ways: 1) kids gain a respect for other cultures, 2) kids learn to try new things, and 3) these experiences creates an ongoing discussion about healthful eating.
Tips for Getting Started
- Build excitement by sharing photos. What’s for Lunch? By Andrea Curtis is a great source of school lunch photos around the world. You can visit her website for photos and a free teaching guide. (https://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/)
- Involve your children in selecting which recipes to try or which countries to learn about.
- Go to your local library and check-out books on the countries whose cuisine you are exploring.
(Photo Source: http://mykoreanschoollunch.tumblr.com/)
School lunches in Korea are visually and texturally appealing. They contain a variety of small plates – or banchan – that are eaten with a serving of rice and soup. In Korea, teachers and pupils eat together – the same meals at the same tables – an example of their communal cultural mindset. School lunches are typically served in metal trays with a variety of compartments suitable for banchan.
Banchan can be pickles, noodles, vegetables, or salads. The variety of tastes and textures makes Korean lunches interesting and appealing. Nothing is worse than a lunch that we aren’t excited to eat. This is where we can take a cue from Korea.
Try these banchan ideas to put some life back into your lunch:
- Broccoli Pickles (https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/broccoli-pickles)
- Sauteed Korean Cucumbers (https://mykoreankitchen.com/sauteed-korean-cucumber-side-dish/)
- Pan-fried Tofu in garlic sauce (https://mykoreankitchen.com/pan-fried-tofu-in-garlic-soy-sesame-sauce/)
- Spicy green onion salad (https://mykoreankitchen.com/korean-spicy-green-onion-salad/)
- Quick Kimchi (https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/yangbaechu-kimchi)
- Potato pancakes (https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/gamjajeon)
It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, to learn that French kids have fancy lunches. France, which has become synonymous with gourmet foods and fine dining, is a country where healthful school lunches are a thing of national pride.
School lunches in France are designed around the concept of multiple courses. There is usually a salad, bread, a main course with a side dish, and something sweet. Lunches are planned in advance and sent to certified dietitians for review. Food is prepared in the school cantina; very little is frozen or canned.
Here are some traditional French recipes to try:
- Carrots Vichy (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Carrots-Vichy-100847)
- Courgettes a Nicoise (http://www.paleoace.co.uk/recipes/main-courses/courgettes-nicoise/)
- Coq Au Vin (http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipes/a46138/slow-cooker-coq-au-vin-recipe)
- Pistou (http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/pistou-soup/)
- Brocoli en Beurre blanc (http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/steamed-broccoli-with-beurre-blanc/)
- Salade de celery-rave (http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/ribbon-celeriac-salad/)
In Chile, much like France, school lunches are made in the school. There are dedicated staff who plan, cook, and serve the food. Children may eat in the classroom or in a cafeteria. Lunches consist of a main dish, a mixed salad, fruit, and a juice. Colaciónes are snacks that are served in the morning and afternoon. They are usually a piece of fruit or a sandwich.
Sometimes, a more substantial meal will be served in the late afternoon, called oncé. For oncé, there are three typical approaches: eating sweets such as cake or pie, savories such as sandwiches or empanadas, or repeating breakfast with a paila de huevos – basically scrambled eggs and toast.
Try these Chilean favorites:
- Palta Reina (http://thelatinkitchen.com/r/recipe/reina-palta-atun-tuna-stuffed-avocado)
- Porotos Graneados (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/porotos-granados-51174610)
- Humitas (https://www.thespruce.com/humitas-steamed-corn-tamales-3029777)
- Porotos con Riendas (http://www.quericavida.com/recipes/chilean-porotos-con-riendas/d9677654-8f69-42ed-8619-2b2e79de5ecf)
- Charquican (http://www.quericavida.com/recipes/charquican-stew/d5dd043e-cfc0-4f18-8aa8-3f6d9c7eb811)
- Guiso de Acelga (https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=435381)
(Source: Hillary Dodge)
The monthly menu at this kindergarten demonstrates a variety of meals, many of which are vegetable based. Meals will rotate between soups, casseroles, grain-based, carb-based, and pastas. You can also see what they are serving for the morning colación and afternoon oncé.
Government regulations require that at least 30 percent of school lunch ingredients are locally sourced. This incredible guideline is part of Brazil’s Zero Hunger Program, the second largest school lunch program in the world (source: http://pulitzercenter.org/project/south-america-brazil-school-lunch). Not only does this program mean that every child in Brazilian schools gets lunch, but the initiative is also educating children on healthful eating, and supporting local agriculture at the same time.
As such, Brazilian lunches are chock full of vegetables, grains, and legumes. Also, because schools rely so heavily on local producers, meals become seasonal, resulting in a regular rotation of ingredients which keeps kids trying new vegetables all year long.
Here are some Brazilian dishes to try:
- Coxinhas (http://www.quericavida.com/whats-rico/tasty-trends/brazilian-coxinhas-authentic-croquettes)
- Feijoada (http://www.quericavida.com/recipes/brazilian-feijoada/c4734550-7435-4dc5-bf1a-a6d09616427b)
- Pao de Queijo (http://www.quericavida.com/recipes/pao-de-queijo-brazilian-cheese-buns/c40e1ef3-c586-4c63-82dd-a3f231732679)
- Fish Stew (http://www.recipetineats.com/brazilian-fish-stew-moqueca-baiana/)
- Black-eyed Pea Fritters (http://theamazingflavoursofbrazil.com/black-eyed-pea-fritters-acaraje/)
- Fried Cassava (http://theamazingflavoursofbrazil.com/cassava-chips/)
We already know that Sweden is a country that values its education system. What you probably didn’t know was how highly they value their school lunch program. In Sweden, where school lunches are provided free to all students, the government is continually and actively seeking input from students and teachers on the quality of the government-provided meals. SkolmatSverige is a web-based system that connects school kitchens to government resources and an in-depth feedback portal. The program aims not only to track whether food was liked or not, but it also seeks to track correlations between healthful food and the educational experience (source: http://www.skolmatsverige.se/in-english).
Lunches in Sweden are built based on a combination of sustainability, safety, and nutritional goals. Meals consist of a warm main dish, a salad, bread, and a drink. No desserts or prepackaged foods are served.
Here are some Swedish recipes you’ll love:
- Swedish Meatballs (https://sweden.se/collection/classic-swedish-food/article/classic-swedish-food-meatballs/)
- Kroppkakor dumplings (https://sweden.se/collection/classic-swedish-food/article/kroppkakor/)
- Toast Skagen (http://www.gretchencooks.com/recipes/790_Toast_Skagen)
- Swedish Poached Salmon (http://www.gretchencooks.com/recipes/493_Swedish_Poached_Salmon)
- Creamed Cabbage (http://www.indobase.com/recipes/details/creamed-cabbage.php)
- Het Notter (http://www.saveur.com/article/recipes/heta-notter-balsamic-spiced-nuts-and-seeds)
Although not practiced throughout the entire country, many schools in Nigeria are beginning to offer free lunches. Lunches are typically carb-based, such as rice and yam, and contain vegetables and fish or meat occasionally. Oftentimes, Nigerian school lunches are “one pot” meals with a pancake on the side.
Here are some delicious Nigerian recipes to try at home:
- Sinasir pancakes (http://www.allnigerianrecipes.com/rice/sinasir.html)
- Wrapped Okpa (http://www.allnigerianrecipes.com/beans/okpa.html)
- Platain Mosa cakes (http://www.allnigerianrecipes.com/plantain/plantain-mosa-2.html)
- Afang Vegetable Soup (http://www.1qfoodplatter.com/afang-soup/)
- Egusi Stew (http://www.1qfoodplatter.com/nigerian-egusi-soup-yoruba-lumpy-style/)
- Sweet Potato and Meat (http://www.allnigerianrecipes.com/kids/meaty-sweet-potato.html)
In Malaysian schools, children are likely to be served a rice or noodle based dish. Sometimes they are given a soupy curry entrée, while other times they receive a stir-fried vegetable dish. Because of where Malaysia is situated, there are many different Asian influences and food can be diverse. Most children must still pay for school lunches in Malaysian, and many children bring their own packed meals from home.
Here are some tasty Malaysian dishes to check out:
- Laksa (http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/malaysian-laksa/44bff923-782b-46ee-8b31-f866cd813319?r=recipes/malaysianrecipes&c=c0c5c721-097f-4c10-9bdb-96be867dbe30/Malaysian%20recipes)
- Butter Rice (http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/fragrant-butter-rice/3486c328-0156-4381-8a27-0dd1ab071216?r=recipes/malaysianrecipes&c=c0c5c721-097f-4c10-9bdb-96be867dbe30/Malaysian%20recipes)
- Fish Balls (http://rasamalaysia.com/how-to-make-fish-balls/)
- Pineapple Tarts (http://rasamalaysia.com/recipe-pineapple-tarts/)
- Turmeric Chicken (http://rasamalaysia.com/turmeric-chicken/)
- Indian Rojak (http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/indian-rojak)
Still Want to Learn More? Take a look at these great books:
- What the World Eats by Faith D’Aluisio
- Let’s Eat: What Children Eat Around the World by Beatice Hollyer
- What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel
- Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel
- A Life Like Mine: How Children Around the World Live by DK