Archive for Summer Vacation

“Crazydash” your way around a city this summer!

Crazy Dash

 

Crazy Dash is a fun way to explore a city – and a perfect activity to do with students. Crazy Dash is a scavenger hunt game you access from your cell phone that has you running around and doing crazy things while learning about the city you are in.

The middle school students at the after school center I help in did one recently and loved it. I did it with a friend a few weeks later and we had fun too! So it works for all ages which makes it a good activity to do as a family in the summer vacation.

Playing Crazy Dash

 

So – how exactly does it work.

  1. See if Crazy Dash operates in the city you live in or are visiting.
  2. Buy a “game”. You can buy from their site, or check if Groupon or Living Social is offering it at a discount. When you buy you select the time you expect to start playing.
  3. When you are ready to play travel to the area in your city where the game will start and click the link you have been sent on your phone to launch the game.
  4. You will be sent clues to follow and instructions on fun things to do. And you will have questions to answer. Continue until you reach the end!

What makes Crazy Dash different from other scavenger hunt games like Stray Boots is the crazy things you have to do. This will make it very appealing to children (children under 12 play free with a playing adult). You may need to strike a funny pose next to a statue, or interact with passersby.

You could turn it into a race and have different groups competing against each other to see who finishes first, or you can just do it at your leisure. It will take between 1 and 2 hours – depending on the speed you move at :). You could also see who scores the most points as you are awarded points for each correct answer.

Crazy Dash Screenshot

Unlike Stray Boots, Crazy Dash does not provide a lot of extra information on the places you visit BUT it is still educational as you read information on plaques at various places you visit.

Doada S., a 7th grader in the program I work with, had this to say about his experience participating in Crazy Dash:

It was fun and exciting and I discovered new things I did not know.

If you have done a Crazy Dash, how did you enjoy it? Please leave a comment to tell us.

**Some of the links may be affiliate links. Doesn’t cost you anything more and helps support this blog.

12 Fun Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Fun Ways to prevent the summer slide

I grew up in a country where we didn’t have 3 months summer vacation so the “summer slide” wasn’t an issue. I hate the idea of my kids doing “school” in the vacation – but I also understand the problem of such a long break from academics.

But there are alternatives to worksheets and other boring ways to keep skills up. Here are 12 you can try.

1. Visit FUN and ENGAGING Museums.

There are museums … and museums. I grew up hating being dragged into museums by my parents but since becoming a parent myself, I have discovered not all museums are boring! So, how do  you pick a “good” museum?

See if the museum advertises hands on activities.

Do they have any scavenger hunts or similar activities for children to do while they go through the museum?  The Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C. has an extra activity you can purchase for a few dollars (you just need one per family so it is worth it) that gets you searching for answers as you view the exhibits. If you get everything correct you can solve the final puzzle and win some free merchandise. And Hampton Court Palace in London has a number of similar activities for children

Read review on places like TripAdvisor and see if other families with children give it a thumbs up.

2. Sign up for a Summer Reading Program

I think most local libraries have programs and then there is also Barnes and Noble’s one for children up to 6th grade where they win a free book after reading 8.

3. Travel

I wrote a whole blog post on that topic so if you think you can’t do it with children or can’t afford it – go read it! Even a few days road trip in your area exposes your children to new and interesting things. And if you get your children to help plan they learn research and planning skills too.

4. Computer  and Video Games!

There are many games that are surprisingly educational. Treat your children and buy them one or two new ones – but be sure they have educational value. Civilization was one of my boys’ favorite games growing up and they learned a lot of history without even trying.  Games like Nancy Drew and Myst encourage thinking skills. 

5. Sign them up for summer camps and classes

There are a plethora of summer classes in our city. The local university provides a number and so do many individuals and organizations. But another option is online classes. We offer a number of online computer classes, and DIY clubs has a host on a variety of topics.

6. Learn a new hobby

Quilling, photography, calligraphy, playing a musical instrument, cake decorating, wood carving – with the host of online resources it is easy to learn anything you want to. Obviously you will need to buy supplies but most kids should be able to at least get started by watching Youtube videos.

7. Start a business

Encourage your children to brainstorm and think of ways to make money. In our neighborhood we still have one family who runs a traditional lemonade stand for a few days each summer. We have others who offer pet sitting and lawn cutting services. If they have become skilled in some hobby they can try and use that in their business. My own children ran computer camps, built websites, fixed computers and did photography to make extra money.

8. Go Geocaching or Letterboxing.

This is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer weather and keep those grey cells working at the same time. There are now geocaches and letterbox hidden all over the world just waiting to be found!  I have also just discovered Munzees which is an app and looks similar but I haven’t tried it yet. All of these are free.

9. Play board and card games

Just about any one of these has some educational value. They also serve as fantastic family activities. Settlers of Catan is one I know many families with older children enjoy (mine too!). All strategy games give the brain a good workout. Games like Bananagrams are small enough to take on vacation too – that’s the one we always throw in to take with us!

10. Apps

As most teens have smart phones and many homes have tablets or iPads apps children are likely to be on them anyway. Invest in a few apps that will have them hooked – but will be beneficial too. Here are some you can try: 

11. Do Logic Puzzles

These are great to do on car trips or while waiting in airports or dentist offices or anywhere you need to amuse yourselves for a few minutes. You can find them online, or buy books. You can also play online games that involve logic. And if you really want to treat yourselves, look for an Escape Game near you and do that as a family.

12. Jigsaw puzzles

When it’s too hot or too wet, this is another good family activity that is quietly exercising your kids’ brains. Some of our favorites were ones where you have to make a jigsaw puzzle to solve a mystery. My brother’s family have enjoyed 3D puzzles too.

Any more ideas on ways to keep kids’ brains active – without them feeling like it is just more “school”? Please leave a comment!

**Photo Credit: Thanks Adam Whitescarver for letting us use your photo!

**Some of the above links are affiliate links.

Escape Game Rooms: Who Thought Critical Thinking Could Be So Much Fun!

1

 

I never imagined getting hooked on anything … but that was before my first Escape Game experience. In my defense, as I walked out of the first game with my two daughters, one of them turned to me and said: “When can we do the next one?”.

It turned out, we could do another one just over a week later, when my son was home from college. We felt we needed to let him in on the fun. And once he played, well, he felt he needed to play again – two days later.

So, all in all, I have played 4 different Escape Games in 4 different cities. 3 in Tennessee and 1 in Florence, Italy.

Each experience was similar – but also entirely unique.

So .. let me tell you what I can. It will become obvious why I can’t tell you much at all 🙂

The premise of all Escape Games is that you are locked in a room for 60 minutes and need to solve various puzzles in order to escape. The rooms we played allowed 6 – 8 to be in a room at a time but that can differ. You don’t want too few or it becomes very hard to get through everything.

It is not scary and there is always a way out so no need to feel claustrophobic. They do not require any physical skills. Just mental ones. If you like whodunnits and spy stuff – you will LOVE this!

Each room has a backstory. You learn this story as you start and then the clock starts ticking down …. you have NO idea how that gets the adrenalin going!! The games we played all allowed us 3 free clues. And we used all 3 clues in each game 🙂

Did we escape? The first time we did – even though our room only had a 27% success rate. It was 3 of us and 4 strangers at 8:30am and let’s just admit it – we were AWESOME!

Escape Game

But not so awesome on the next two occasions … though both times we were solving the final clue when the time ran out, so we were super super close to escaping!

We enjoyed each experience – even when we failed. And each time we talked for hours about it. And told everyone we saw how cool it was.

Trapped Escape Game

We have discovered that you can find Escape Rooms in most cities around the world. They are pretty new in the US but springing up fast. Different franchises have different names but if you google “escape rooms + {your city}”, you will find them. Check the ratings on Tripadvisor or Yelp. All the ones we did have 5 stars.

We did this when we were in Florence and loved the one we played there. We were thrilled to not only get out in time, but do in the best time in the past 3 months! This one was much more high-tech than the others with some cool gadgets we got to use – and we had to perform science experiments to solve clues.

Escape games are a really fun activity to do as a family. And what better way to get kids using their minds during the vacation? Kids from 10 years old should enjoy themselves and be able to contribute. It’s definitely great for teens and my 15 year old daughter has proved herself a very valuable asset each time.

It is not a cheap activity – one reason for that is every room is monitored while you are in it – the clues they give you are tailored specially for you! All the ones we did also provided occasional hints (they provide them on screens or via walkie talkie). Doing one would make a great birthday activity or special vacation treat.

If you become addicted, look into getting the Escape Room Card. It costs $20 and gives discounts to an entire group – not that many games work with the card so check before you buy! But I think it would pay for itself even if you just use it once!

Here are links to the four we have done:

Escape Game Nashville – we did The Heist

Trapped Escape Game – we did Capone

Which Way Out – we did Casino Heist

Adventure Rooms – we did the Original Challenge

So what are you waiting for? Go find one you can do this summer – then come back and tell us in the comments what it was like!

 

Scavenger Hunts: a great way to explore a city

While I was planning a recent trip to Washington D.C. with my 14 year old daughter, I discovered Stray Boots. This company has created Scavenger Hunts in many major cities of the USA which one plays using a cell phone (Android or iOS).

Strayboots App

Please note: this is not a sponsored post and Stray Boots has no idea I am writing this review. We had fun and I just want to share our experience.

Buy your tickets online (one per player) and then you download their app and use the code you bought to unlock the game. You can do all this before you leave your hotel. In fact, that is the better way to do it. We didn’t realize this and had to find the nearest Starbucks to get everything working. In fact, we had entirely missed the fact that we had to download the app and so phoned the number on the payment receipt. The phone was answered immediately and a nice lady explained exactly what we needed to do. Great customer support!

Once you have the app up and running, select the Scavenger Hunt you want and then it is a simple matter of following the clues.

Reading a clue for Strayboots scavenger hunt

Solving a clue in a gift store

We did the one that started at Ford’s Theater. There were 15 clues and it took us about 2 hours. There were 4 of us – my daughter and her friend, her friend’s mom and me.

Every time we solved a clue we got points and some interesting facts about the location which my daughter read out to us all. And then we got the next clue.

What happens if you can’t figure out the answer? Well, you get multiple attempts (yes, first hand knowledge of this!) and if you are really stuck you can ask for a hint. (We only needed that once.) You can also opt to skip a challenge (proud to say we didn’t do that).

What are the challenges like? Ours had us scouring museum shops, looking at signs outside stores, examining the sidewalk and reading information on windows of buildings.

Posing as spies

You have to take photos in various fun poses – we had to dress up like spies for one and with a statue for another. (These can be skipped).

We walked a lot – not sure how many miles, but we got exercise along with knowledge! Fortunately it isn’t timed, so you can stop for a drink along the way.

You do receive a score – which means you could play against a rival family or split your family in two and see who does the best. We lost points for wrong guesses and needing a hint at one point.

I am glad Strayboots has challenges in many different cities as I will definitely be a repeat customer.

Photo proof for Stray Boots

Proof we had found the statue

And – they allow you to create your own hunts too so I am planning on creating one for my home town. You can even make them for things like birthday parties and just share with friends.

You can find the Strayboots apps on the iTunes and Google Play stores.

A little bit of googling revealed 2 more similar apps – Klikaklu (you have to take photos that prove you are in the right place,) Munzee and Huntzz (most of these are in Europe). Klikaklu could be used in a classroom setting but the others could all be part of field trips.

If you have done any Stray Boots hunt or anything similar, please share your experiences in the comments.

Learning by Doing: A website that makes it fun

Imagine a site where kids can have fun. Imagine a site where kids can learn skills. Imagine a site that encourages creativity. Imagine a social site where kids can interact with other kids. Imagine a site where kids earn points and win cool badges. DIY.org is all these things and more.

diy_welcome_screen

In fact, DIY.org is one of the most innovative sites I have seen. A friend told me about it a while ago, and today I was reminded of it on a forum I am on and I went to take another look. And I am excited!!

In a nutshell, DIY.org is a ‘social’ site (ie the kind kids and teens love) which encourages students to create and innovate and learn new skills. Once they have mastered a skill, they post a video or photo to prove it which earns them points towards the skill badge. And of course, they get to share their achievement with the rest of the children on the site.

diy_screen

Parents have to sign up alongside their children so they can monitor what they are doing online. In addition, parents will probably need to get involved buying supplies, and giving some help.

It is exciting to look through the different skills featured on their site. I really can’t believe any child would not find something to like. Here are some of them: Fashion Designer, Chef, Detective, Fort Builder, Zoologist, Bike Mechanic and Animator. But there are many more.

diy_skills_screen

Once students select a skill they would like to master, they start working through challenges. Sometimes challenges have extra info to help students on their way. They also post videos of some ways to solve the challenge. But the challenges are open-ended encouraging students to try whatever they think might work.

This is an example of a project that would solve one of the Circuit Bender challenges

If your kids are bored this summer – they won’t be once they sign up here. But the people behind DIY.org obviously want this to be more than just some summer fun. They encourage parents, teachers and interested adults to start DIY clubs to encourage hands on learning.

As a 4-H  volunteer leader, it immediately struck me how perfect it would be to incorporate these skills in many of the 4-H projects. And I am sure you can think of other ways to use this site in classrooms, after school centers and more. Read their Guide page to get a complete overview.

If any of your kids have already been on DIY.org, please share their experiences in the comments.

Got Kids? Must Travel!

RVing through Europe

Are you thinking the title of my blog post doesn’t make sense? Surely it should have been “Got Kids. Can’t Travel.” But as I visited most countries in Europe, and many states in the USA before I turned 12, and as my own children could add to that list a number of countries in Asia, as well as Australia, I have definitely seen the HUGE benefit there is to traveling with kids.

St Mark's Square, Venice

St Mark’s Square, Venice

Before I go into the benefits you all will gain, let me just say I am also aware of the challenges, and more planning does need to go into travel when children are involved.

You need to make sure to plan in nap times if they are very small. You need to take plenty of snacks – especially if they may struggle with local food. You need to make sure your destination has kid-friendly activities.

For example, we waited until our youngest was 6 years old before embarking on a 5 week tour of Europe. Europe is expensive and we wanted to be sure all our children were old enough to appreciate the history and beauty.

Also, when I say ‘travel’, it does not mean only overseas travel. It also refers to travel in your own country. It means going anywhere outside your immediate environment to encounter something a little different.

So – why travel?

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Travel teaches children to be appreciative of other cultures

Children in Laos

Children in Laos

Travel allows children to interact with other people – so similar to themselves in many ways – yet with different ways of doing things. Hopefully they will come to an understanding that culture is one of things that makes us unique and interesting.

They will see people from different cultures who are kind and funny and smart – and learn that their own culture isn’t superior – just different.

As a child who grew up in South Africa, I got to experience a day in an American school – and that was fascinating. My own children got to have fun with children in Laos – my son took this photo.

 

Travel gives children an understanding of our global village.

People all across the globe are easily connected today by the internet, planes and other modern technologies. And although all people share common characteristics, there are also huge differences as a result of the location and culture one grows up in.

Travel prepares children to grow up to be adults who can thrive in jobs where they are regularly dealing with people from other countries. It also makes them more concerned about people all over the world. I know the unrest in Egypt has been so much more ‘real’ to our family as we walked those streets you see in the news, and we spoke to many unhappy Egyptians when we visited 5 years ago.

Travel teaches children to be adaptable

Food in ChinaWhen you leave the comfort of your own home town, you are setting off on an adventure. No matter how carefully you have planned your trip, there will be travel issues and many other surprises. The food and the climate and the terrain and so much more will be different and your children will need to learn to ‘go with the flow’ and cope in a variety of situations. Things definitely won’t be the same as they are at home!

We started traveling with our youngest when she was 6 months old. I kept her in her usual routine as much as possible – I put her to sleep at nap time wherever we were. Once that was in the British Science Museum, and once in the Ice Palace at the top on the Jungfrau in Switzerland. While I watched her, my husband was with the other children, so they could carry on having fun.

Our children have watched us ‘problem solve’ when our plans went awry and now as they are older, I see them capably manage to travel on their own. They are not concerned about going into the unknown and love the adventure of exploring somewhere new. Often the things that go wrong lead you to some of the best memories of a trip – or at least, the ones you talk about the most afterwards!

Travel lets you ‘feel’ history

kids at pyramids

Whenever possible, we try to let our children experience some of the history they have studied recently. After studying ancient Rome, it was incredible to stand in the Colosseum, walk around the dusty remains of Pompeii and visit the Roman Baths in Bath, England – a great reminder of how far their Empire stretched.

When our older children had a year of intensive US History we spent a few days in Washington DC. How amazing to have so much of the nation’s history all around one! This is so much more meaningful than studying history as a list of dates and events!

I could come up with so many other benefits, but this post is getting long, so I will let you suggest more in the comments. I do just want to end with a quote from one of my past students. Sarah F said this to me on returning from her first trip out of the country:

I have taken Geography classes and learned about what’s out there. But to actually see it was incredible. It really opened my eyes to the world.

If any of you would like me to follow this up with more posts about how to travel with children, let me know in the comments. It is something I have had first hand experience of all my life! And I know how to do it very cheaply too!

All photos (except the one from Laos) are my husband’s. Visit his Travel and Photography Blog if you still need to be convinced it is worth while traveling!

43 Activities for Kids to do in Summer

Here’s my list of things to do with kids this summer. Be sure to add your ideas in the comments field.

1.  Have a water balloon party
2.  Camp in your yard overnight
3.  Go geocaching or letterboxing
4.  Visit museums (my daughter told me to add ‘interesting, hands-on ones only”)
5.  Learn a new hobby
6.  Go cycling in a nearby park or on a trail
7.  Have a movie marathon
8.  Travel … Even if it is just somewhere close by
9.  Attend a camp
10. Volunteer at your local food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter etc
11. Get a job (even younger kids can do pet sitting etc)
12. Clean out closets
13. Participate in a summer reading program
14. Start learning a new language. (Duolingo App is free and gets thumbs up from my son)
15. Play board games
16. Make jigsaw puzzles
17. Go bowling – you can get free bowling for kids in many areas now – read it about on this blog post.
18. Play putt putt
19. Play frisbee golf
20. Go to free or cheap movies (Regal is now $1 per movie for their summer kids program)
21. Go to a play
22. Go to the pool
23. Make a movie and upload to YouTube (WeVideo is a cool free tool they can use)
24. Tie dye tshirts
25. Play four square
26. Go to laser tag
27. Go to a concert
28. Go hiking
29. Do craft projects
30. Go canoeing or rafting
31. Go go kart racing
32. Attend programs at your local library
33. Visit an amusement or water park
34. Do a mall scavenger hunt
35. Have a picnic in a park
36. Go ice-skating
37. Bake cookies
38. Play educational apps and video games (find ones that aren’t obviously educational eg Angry Birds)
39. Learn a computer language – great ones for all ages of kids
40. Attend a baseball game
41. Enjoy fruit-picking at a local farm
42. Plan a fltower or veggie garden – or just a pot or two.
43. Hold a garage sale (after doing no 12). A way for the kids to earn some money.
Your turn now. Add your ideas in the comments.

Teaching Opportunities during the Olympics

Many parents are sitting with their children watching the Olympic Games. If that describes your family, are you using the time to do a bit of informal teaching? Here are 3 ideas how you can effortlessly use this time to learn together while you are enjoying cheering on your country’s athletes.

1. Play ‘Guess the Country’

 

Flag of the United Kingdom

Country flags are prominent during the Olympics. We watched them carried proudly during the Parade of Nations. We smile at enthusiastic fans waving them from the spectators areas. And we are impressed when they are hoisted during the medal ceremony. If it is not obvious who the flag belongs to, ask your kids to guess. Turn it into a game and by the end of the 2 weeks it will surprise you how many flags they can identify. And for an added twist on the game – quiz your kids on the capitals of each country. Just remember – keep it a game or they will lose interest!

2. What sport is that?

Handball pictogram

There are so many Olympic sports that most of us know little about. Challenge your kids to figure out the rules for handball. Can they find out the difference between Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling. And what exactly is Dressage? If you have more than one child, see who can find the information first – and your kids will be learning valuable research skills without realizing it.

3. What’s special about this venue?

 

Hampton Court Palace 20120224

 

These Olympics so many of the events are being held in venues with a lot of history. If you are watching the cycling, use the opportunity to tell your children about Henry VIII and his 6 wives. And Jane Austen enthusiasts will recognize another of the cycling venues – Box Hill which has an important scene set there in Emma. And you can talk about Lord’s and Hyde Park and the Horse Guard Parade.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers -the internet makes everything so easy to find!

In addition to teaching my kids facts, watching the games has also given me the opportunity to talk about good and bad sportsmanship (I loved watching some of the swimmers enthusiastically embracing their opponents when they set a record), how to be a gracious winner and many other things. For instance, I love the fact Kerri Walsh chooses to travel to competitions with her kids as she sees them as an essential part of her life – not a distraction to her competing.

Any other lessons you are teaching your kids as you watch the games together? Let me know in the Comments.

Photo Credits

Thanks to my brother, Peter Temple, for the first photo – he was actually at the opening ceremony! Yes, I am jealous.
Handball icon by Thadius856 (SVG conversion) & Parutakupiu (original image) (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hampton Court Palace By James Park-Watt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Summer Vacations – A time to learn

In Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell statistics are quoted to show that the biggest difference in the educational achievements of students is not dependent on the schools they attend, but rather how they spend their summer vacations. In the USA where an average school year consists of 180 days in contrast to a Japanese school year of 243 days – summer vacation plays a significant role in how much students retain and how much they learn each year.

A long vacation may seem like bliss to children, but it is not necessarily good for them. Parents need to be intentional in ensuring young minds stay alert and keep learning.

But don’t groan! This does not need to be a chore for either parents or kids. Learning should be a fun experience – and while this may not always be so in school – parents, you can show your children how enjoyable it can be. And you will also discover that while you learn together, your family will also grow closer together – a great side-effect!

The trick is not to make it obvious that you are trying to get your children to learn anything. It is in the nature of children (particularly teens) to resist parents’ attempts to educate them. Learning needs to happen without them realizing it.

So, are you wondering quite how to achieve this? In the next few weeks I will share some of the ways we do it in our family. And please use  the the comments section to share your ideas.

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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