Cryptology for kids

spy vs spy from www.strangehistory.net/

Mad Magazine’s spy vs spy from http://www.strangehistory.net/

posted by Beret

Ages:  Any, although kids 8-11 get particularly fired up about secret codes. That’s typically the age when kids decide that a little privacy would be great–especially if younger siblings are involved.

Many aspects of being a spy are, in reality, probably unappealing:  lying, hiding, sneaking–all while your life is in constant jeopardy–plus a boatload of observation, sales, and psychological manipulation, according to former C.I.A. operative Lindsay Moran. Still, the idea of secret messages never gets old, and I’m excited to show you a few simple codes to get kids started. Continue reading

Finding Your Way: Maps, Compasses, and Treasure – Oh My!

posted by Gina

When I was a kid, there was no internet and there were no smartphones. The same is true for when I was a high school and a college student. The practical upshot of this meant that I was lost a lot of the time.

Turn right, then left. Second street over.

Continue reading

Life After Harry Potter – Part One

posted by Gina

I know you’ll be shocked to hear me say this, but we will not speak of the films here. I am not a fan of books made into movies. I will not tire you with my various rants (way to take away all of Ginny’s awesomeness, movie people) or go on a teacher tirade (nothing’s better than a series that inspires struggling readers). We will merely discuss the BOOKS.

Now that that’s out of my system, let’s chat.

Not all readers embrace this genre, but for those who found themselves captivated by all that is wonderful about Hogwarts, let me help you out with what to give your magical reader next. Continue reading

Jello Worms

Mmmm.

Mmmm. Delish.

posted by Beret

Ages:  This project is suitable for any age, though very young children might have a hard time squeezing the worms out of the straws.

At first glance, this project may seem better suited to the Halloween season. It would certainly be fun then as well. In a few short days, however, the winter holidays begin, and small people everywhere will have long stretches of unstructured time. It is always a good idea to have a couple of projects up your sleeve. You know, in case someone breaks their sibling’s favorite new toy, or loses Sorry! for the fifth time in a row, or–even worse–discovers that their best friend’s Santa brought an iPod Touch. Who knows, maybe you just want to pry their little eyeballs off of a screen for a few minutes. In any event, it’s nice to have a game-changing activity on hand.

Jello Worms were a little messy, but great fun to make and to eat.   Continue reading

Ghost Cake with Flaming Eyes! + Halloween Science Projects

©2013 Beret Olsen

©2013 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Age Range:  almost any, depending on who handles the fire.

When I was eight years old, my mother gave me a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls. Not the first edition, people. This cookbook has been around since 1957.

My copy looked exactly like this:

From Saveur100.com

I believe we had matching wallpaper, too. From Saveur.com

It was full of frightening recipes. Weird little polka dot pizzas made with frankfurters. A cake that looked like a hamburger on a sesame seed bun. Recipes calling for instant minced onion, pickles, Bisquick, and bottled dressing. I pored over the pictures in it, but I only ever made two things: a gingerbread ski chalet (of course!) and the GHOST CAKE WITH FLAMING EYES.

Now, you can make one, too.   Continue reading

Make Your Own Play-Doh

posted by Gina

Who doesn’t love Play-Doh?

There’s something for all ages – from the mucking-about-with-it Pre-K-style to the sculpt-yourself-some-impressive-creations (I’m looking at you, Josie) up-through-6th-Grade-or-so style.

But it dries out.  The colors get muddled.  And you find yourself not wanting to shell out for yet another set of little yellow tubs.

Fear not, my friends – because it is insanely easy to make Play-Doh at home.  Continue reading

Learning to Love Math

posted by Beret

I love math.

It’s possible I love it because I had a very handsome math teacher.

More likely, it’s because I had a very handsome, very effective math teacher at an impressionable age. Junior High was such a wasteland of raging hormones, brutal social cliques, and boring grammatical exercises;  Mr. W. was like a shining star in the midst of it all. Unfortunately for him, we loved him eighth-grade style; we were constantly doing ridiculous things to get his attention. One day we spoke without making a sound–just mouthed words–for the entire class period. Once we stacked the desks in a pile and sat on the floor in a circle, like kindergartners. But Mr. W. was well acquainted with thirteen-year-olds, and remained completely unfazed. Not only did he maintain his sense of humor, he doggedly plowed through the equations, vividly illustrating the meaning of X with his wacky stories and chalk drawings of widget factories. Thanks to Mr. W., algebra still makes happy sense to me and everyone else who drove him crazy.

Someone killed math for a lot of people, which is a crying shame. If your child hates math, though, it might not be their teacher’s fault. It might not even be because of you and your own math badditude. It might just be the way our culture seems to throw up their hands in the face of it. People make jokes about their inability to do math in a way that they would never, ever do about reading. They dismiss the ability to calculate by pointing to the computer and asking, “why bother?”    Continue reading

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©2012 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Age Level:  Any

I’m a huge fan of Halloween.  It’s a festive, fabulous holiday without the baggage and stressful travel.  Sure, I had my candy stolen once or twice, and there were a couple of costume disappointments, but the pure pleasure of carousing after dark as a child–dressed as my alter ego–outweighed any of that.  I love the whole wacky mess of it.

Except.

I’m not so wild about the morning after.  Everyone is tired and cranky.  Work and school go on as usual.  And then, there’s the CANDY.  What to do with that boatload of sugar?    Continue reading