Camp Google

I just heard about Camp Google which sounds amazing! It is an online free “summer camp” for kids that they can do on their own from home or the library or another computer. There are four themed weeks (Ocean, Space, Nature and Music) and during each week, they have various activities. Each week from July through the first week of August a new theme “launches” and kids can follow along.

The Ocean week is currently live and features a video (originally a live stream) of two scientists from National Geographic speaking about what lives down in the ocean. It didn’t go unnoticed by me that the two scientists featured are both women (bonus!). During the live stream, kids can interact by voting and asking questions.

The other activities are experiments that the kids can do at home. They provide a list of supplies needed and kids can learn about different properties of science based on the experiments. Kids can earn “badges” that they print out for each activity completed, if they need a visual tangible chart of what they’ve accomplished.

The interface seems very intuitive and easy for kids (they recommend age 7+ but younger kids can definitely participate with help from a grownup… or an older kid). This seems like a good compromise for the summer: screen time but with an educational focus. Thanks, Google! (Meanwhile, we’re waiting patiently for Google Fiber!)

Science Camp

Building bridges on Engineering day.

Last week, Theo participated in a week-long science camp called Super Science Investigators that was offered by the University of Utah’s Continuing Education programs. This was the first time I had looked into these classes and we were really happy with our experience. The class description was a broad overview of different scientific disciplines for kids aged 6-8. There were only 4 kids in the class and they met every morning (from 9-12) for a week. The class was held in an administrative building on the U of U campus.

The instructor is a science teacher in the Salt Lake public school system and he was wonderful. Every day had a different theme: Astronomy, Biology, Geology, Chemistry and Engineering. Theo absolutely loved it. He looked forward to class every day and wished that it was longer. He’s already looking forward to classes he can take next summer.

The classes offered through this U program have a  huge range of topics and ages. I am definitely looking into more classes and will use this resource all the time as Theo gets older and is eligible for different classes. We are so lucky to live right next to a big research university that offers wonderful community programs. Glad we took a chance on a new experience!

This picture was actually taken in a Whole Foods elevator but fit with the science theme of the week.

Time to Build

Over the past month, we’ve checked out the various free workshops offered by our local Home Depot and Lowe’s hardware stores. The alternate title of this post is “Building Character” because there is something satisfying about having your children make and build their own toys — and hopefully having them appreciate them more. Time will tell if Theo has learned any character-building traits from these activities, but he did have a lot of fun making them.

Both stores have a same general concept: they set aside time (on Saturday mornings) to have a section of the store designated as the kids’ workshop area and supply a kit and the tools necessary to build the kit. After giving you these items (and a free kids apron to keep), you’re pretty much on your own. Even as non-handy as I am, we had no trouble navigating the instructions sheets — well, sort of.

The Home Depot activity this month was a small toy riding lawnmower. We needed to use a hammer, wood glue, and paint (to decorate the lawnmower after it was built). Pretty straightforward although the paint was a little messy and it was hard for an instant-gratification-er like Theo to realize that he had to wait for the paint to dry before he could apply the supplied decoration stickers. He actually plays with the mower at home and it’s found a nice place to live with the rest of his cars/trucks. Home Depot gives each child a pin of the activity upon completion to put on their apron, which is kind of a nice touch and gives a sense of accomplishment. I saw some older kids there with their aprons full of pins (like 20+) which seemed like this could be a fun ongoing activity.

The Lowe’s program (called “Build & Grow”) was similar to the Home Depot one, except that they had a much more restrictive registration policy. You definitely have to sign up in advance for the Lowe’s workshop (I actually missed the deadline for one of them and had to wait for the next one) and they fill up. (Whereas the Home Depot one says you can call ahead and register, but they seemed a lot more lenient on just walking in.) Lowe’s also gives you a free apron and throws in some kid goggles as well (which Theo took off after he realized the activity didn’t really warrant eye protection, but they sure look cute).

The Lowe’s activity was a “sheep drop” game which was merchandised in conjunction with the How to Train Your Dragon 2 movie. We haven’t seen the movie and had no idea what the tie-in was, but were still able to enjoy the construction and the game/toy. I mentioned how I sort-of had no problems with the instructions in general — in this kit they gave you two different lengths of tiny nails and I didn’t realize until we finished one of the steps that I had used the wrong size nail. It wasn’t a big deal but I kind of figure that these kits should at least be as easy as assembling something from Ikea. No matter, Theo still had a lot of fun pounding in all the microscopic nails. This kit just had decoration stickers to apply (we opted out of the movie-promoting-non-essential/functional one) and Theo could begin to play the game immediately. It is basically a box that you fling small wooden sheep into using a launcher, and you can conveniently carry all the pieces in the body of the box. Lowe’s gives each child an iron-on patch of completion for the activity similar to Home Depot’s pins. I definitely won’t be taking the time to iron on any patches but there is a handy pocket on the apron where you can accumulate the patches.

Given that these workshops are completely free, I think we will definitely be heading back to them depending on the kit and our schedule. You can look at the websites (links above) of each store in advance to check out what the activity will be (and register online), and remember to sign up for the Lowe’s one in advance if that is looking interesting to you. Happy building!

Science & Engineering is Fun!

Yesterday we went to a lecture given by Grant Imahara, one of the “Mythbusters” from the Discovery Channel show of the same name. We have been big fans of this show for a long time, so this was truly a fun celebrity sighting for us. Grant’s talk explained some of the experiments and myths they had done on the show and Theo was very intrigued. After we came home, he wanted to watch some episodes and has been watching them on Netflix in true binge fashion ever since.

Grant spoke about how his background in electrical engineering enabled him to do cool things like build experiments for the show and build robots and other machines for movies. This blog isn’t really about product placement or specific recommendations, but these are a few relevant toys that Theo enjoys that I thought I would mention.
The set we have comes with different parts that when literally snapped together, create conduits for electricity that make “machines” (an alarm, a flashlight, a fan, etc). Some of the machines are still way over Theo’s head but the general theory of how different pieces relate to each other is cool.

Goldie Blox

This toy got a fair amount of attention when it was a Kickstarter project started by a woman engineer who wanted to create a toy for girls to encourage them to explore science and engineering concepts. I was really interested and bought Theo a set (gender equality goes both ways). It comes with a storybook with characters which you follow to put together their “spinning machine” and is fun to read as you build.

Alpha-Bots and Number-Bots

These are a set of alphabet and number blocks that all turn into robots. Yes, it’s that simple and they are awesome! Good for little fingers to manipulate and figure out how to switch them back and forth and they are really cute. Each letter and number has a unique design and look.

Everything is Awesome at the Lego Show

We went to the “Brick Slopes – A Lego Fan Event” show at the South Towne Expo center last weekend and had a glimpse of what Legoland must be like (on a much smaller scale). It was still really interesting to see the big displays that people put together, and notice the details and workmanship put into them.

I discovered that there is big overlap between Lego fans and fans of “ComicCon-esque” franchises like Star Wars, superheroes, and other sci-fi books/movies. I don’t know many of them so it was a little lost on me, but there were still plenty of other more relatable displays that I could enjoy. My favorite was the Clue board game in 3D with each room decorated like a dollhouse.

Theo thought it was cool to recognize the different displays and familiar references; he noticed with alarming immediacy the McDonald’s-themed display with a Happy Meal. They also had a large pit filled with thousands of loose Lego bricks and invited people to wade in and start building. Imagine a huge ball pit but made out of small, sharp plastic pieces. We declined this part of the event but had a nice time at the Lego show overall (I was hoping for a life-size WyldStyle display to stand next to… maybe next year!).