Monday, January 26, 2015

Amazing Snowflakes: Images from a Blizzard

I often say that one of the greatest things about winter is being able to play in the snow with our son.  And then I joke that one of the worst things about winter is having to play in the snow with our son!  It is easy to forget how magical snow is to kids.  As adults, we have so many responsibilities- we worry about driving in the snow, shoveling the snow, dressing for the snow, school in the snow, etc. etc.  And although playing in it is fun, I don't have the stamina to roll around in it for hours anymore like my son does.  For kids, snow is snow.  Gorgeous white stuff that falls from the sky and blankets the earth!  And sometimes even closes school!   I mean, what more can a kid ask for?


So today after playing in the snow and shoveling it for a few hours, we headed inside to defrost.  We're expecting roughly 18 inches over the course of the next day here in Jersey, so we have to plan accordingly. I reached out the back door to grab the dog leash, and I noticed some 'stars' in the snow on the deck.  For a second I thought my son had dropped a little sticker there: 


It was then that I looked at the snow on the deck- really looked at it- and realized that all of the snowflakes looked like little stars.  The Jersey Momma's Boy came over to look, too, and we grabbed the cell phone to take some pictures.  If I had a better camera, I'm sure these would have been even more amazing.  Here is some of the magic that we captured (and no, it wasn't snowing pennies, I just added that for size comparison)...










The snowflake above the penny looks fake, doesn't it?

We might not like driving in it, or shoveling it, or playing in it for too long, but you can't deny its beauty.  Try this  yourself at home, too.  Grab a dark colored cloth or a scarf and stick it out the window or your back door.  Then take a peek at what you caught.  Hopefully, you, too, will be amazed!

And if you want to take it a step further with the little ones, check out the story of Snowflake Bentley, which is all about the first man to photograph snowflakes, and what he taught us about their beauty.



Image from Amazon.com

















Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fun Indoor Winter Activities for Kids: Boredom Busters

We have about 6 inches of snow outside today, and we were outside playing in it for a while until it started to rain.  So now we're stuck inside all day.  What to do, what to do?  How do I keep the Jersey Momma's Boy from playing Minecraft for HOURS? (he could do this, too, believe me).  Here are some ideas for indoor fun!

This was from 2014, but you get the general idea about staying inside...

Sensory Bins


Depending on the age of your child, you might want to consider creating a quick sensory bin for your little one.  Grab a big Rubbermaid box, or whatever you have on hand, and fill it with some cool stuff of your choice.  If your bin is plastic, you can even throw in some snow from outside.  Some quick ideas of things you might have on hand:

-dry rice
-dry noodles
-pom poms, cotton balls
-cereal (Kix cereal works great because it's round!)
-water (be sure to put some towels down!)

Add in toys, measuring cups, spoons, whatever you can think of.  You'd be surprised at what keeps them occupied.

A Spring sensory bin with pompoms and plastic eggs.
A Valentine sensory bin with Berry Berry Kix and conversation hearts.
A rainbow rice sensory bin for St. Patrick's Day.
You can learn how to make your own rainbow rice sensory bin here (and it doesn't have to be for St. Patrick's Day!).

Cork Toss


Okay, don't judge, but we just so happen to have a lot of corks lying around this house.  One evening when the Jersey Momma's Boy was bored, I asked him to dump my corks into a new container for me (why do we save them?  I don't know, but they have all of those neat cork holders on the market, so I gladly oblige). This quickly escalated into a game of cork tossing into a big bucket that I found in the laundry room.  Who knew corks could be so much fun?  You can also make things with corks, including little animals with googly eyes and glue (like this one pictured from TheHomelessFinch), but I don't know if you want to take it that far.

photo from thehomelessfinch.blogspot.com

Indoor Scavenger Hunt


This works great if you have several children in your family.  For younger kids, you can draw pictures of what you want them to find.  But for older kids, you can make a checklist of what they have to retrieve.  Be sure to state your rules and give your kids a drop off location for their goodies, otherwise they'll be bringing them to you every five seconds saying, "I found this, now what?"  It's up to you if you want to have prizes or some kind of reward at the end (prizes can be something as simple as an ice cream sundae or hot chocolate).  If you don't feel like making your own scavenger hunt, you can print one out for free from MyKidsTime.

image courtesy of MyKidsTime.com


Can You Find Me?


I like to play this game outdoors in the summer, but you can do it in the winter, too.  Last year I painted a rock to look like a bumble bee (you can also do a ladybug or something else with bright colors).  Then I would hide her in somewhere in the yard and my son would have to find her.  But this game works indoors, too.  Don't worry, you don't have to go painting rocks.  You can choose a favorite stuffed animal or a toy- hide it somewhere in the house and see if your kids can find it.  If they find it too quickly, hide it in a more challenging spot or hide several items.

Bumble Bee stone that I painted for hiding outdoors (or indoors!)

When All Else Fails


When all else fails and the kids are still bored, think outside the box!

-One year all my son wanted to do was stand at the kitchen sink and play with the water, pots and pans (dirty ones, no less!).

-You can whip out some plain old paper plates and let them create masks and faces with markers or paint.

-Have any old balloons lying around for party purposes?  Blow up a whole bunch and toss them around!

-Pull out the Play-doh but consider using some old kitchen tools or other weird objects to play with.  My son actually used to like dragging his monster trucks through Play-doh!

You can also make one of these measuring sticks with an old paint stirrer!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is the DaVinci Science Center? A Jersey Momma Review

This is the first time I visited a family friendly location as a homeroom mom and chaperone.  My first real field trip as a chaperone!  I was honored and excited to do the job.  On trips like these, I am usually the chauffer/mom/planner.  This one, I was just the chaperone.  So I didn't have anything to do with buying tickets or getting us there or anything.  And for once, that was pretty nice!  Although riding the school bus was not my favorite part of the trip.

Anyway, The Jersey Momma's first real field trip was to the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, PA.  It's actually right near Dorney Park and Planet Snoopy, easily accessible from Rt. 78, not too far outside of New Jersey.

What is the DaVinci Science Center?


The DaVinci Science Center is exactly what its name implies- it is a small science center (sort of like a hands-on museum, a la Liberty Science Center), with two floors of exhibits, hands-on activities and displays for children of all ages.  They are open 7 days a week.  Check out their visitor page for more information about what you will see there, since they have some changing exhibits and some permanent.

If you've never been to a science center, the general idea of them is that kids can kind of learn from play. They push and pull levers, experiment with water, sound and light.  They build mechanisms and touch/feel things. They see computers in action and learn how things are constructed.  The elementary schools are now putting great emphasis on STEM (incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math into learning), and most science museums do just that.

Entrance to the DaVinci Science Center

Where is the DaVinci Science Center and How Much Will it Cost Me?


The DaVinci Science Center is located off of Rt. 78 for those coming from New Jersey.  But it is also accessible from route 22, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Pennsylvania Rt. 309.  As of the publication date of this entry, ticket price for kids 4-12 is $9.95 and adults are $12.95.  Seniors and Military can expect to pay a dollar less, and kids 3 and under are free.  Always look online for coupon codes or check their Facebook page for specials, and check their website for current ticket rates.


What Will I See at the DaVinci Science Center?


The Center is essentially a much smaller and simpler version of the Liberty Science Center.  There are hands-on displays and experiments for kids to try.  When we visited, the cener was featuring a "Be the Dinosaur" exhibit, and the kids loved playing the POV dinosaur video 'games,' and digging for imaginary fossils.

The Jersey Momma's Boy operates a 'dinosaur.' You can even make it poop!
I tried my best to 'be' the dinosaur...

Who could pass up this photo op?

There were various rooms and activities, some of which included the Hurricane Simulator (the Jersey Momma's Boy was not a fan and had to be physically removed from this one!), and the weather report station, where the kids could pretend to be weather reporters.  Very funny because the Jersey Momma's Boy happened to be wearing a blue-green shirt, which made him (and one of his buddies) appear as "floating heads" on the weather map.  We definitely learned what a green screen was!  Ha!

A chance of stormy little boys near the Great Lakes!
There are some great displays of nano items, home energy, sea life (complete with touch tank), and some fun building planks called Keva blocks (all as of the publication date of this entry.  Check their website for their most up to date exhibits).

Displays inside the DaVinci Science Center

Hands-on science experiments at The DaVinci Science Center

The Jersey Momma's Boy loved the Keva blocks!

At What Age Should I Bring My Child to the DaVinci Science Center?


Here's my thought about science museums.  Sometimes it's hard to judge what age to bring a child to a science museum.  Bring them when they're too young and some of the displays go over their little heads.  Yet at the same time, the exposure to the idea of science and experimentation doesn't hurt at any age, even if they're not getting the "full picture" of some of the hands-on activities and puzzles.  Some of the displays in science museums seem like they are over the heads of kids 6 and under, but I'll be honest, my son seems to enjoy them regardless.  When we visit these types of places, we try our best to read the displays with him and try to help him understand each attraction.  But many times when you visit science museums, you'll see kids running all over the place just pulling and pushing levers, and I think parents/teachers really need to guide these younger kids to help them get the full experience.  I also think some parents need to remind their kids that this is the type of place where you need to take turns and wait in line to try out each display. Hint, hint, people!


Things to Note



*There was a small souvenir shop but because I was visiting as a chaperone, we did not stop in.  You know I was a little sad about this, since I love souvenir shopping!

*There is no restaurant but there are vending machines and small tables to sit at. As a visiting school, we were permitted to bring lunches, but I don't know if this is the case with regular visitors.  You might want to call ahead to ask if you can bring lunch.  If not, there are places in the area to dine if you drive outside the museum.

*Their website has a great facts and tips page that is worth reading before your visit.  They give general tips and suggestions for your visit.  Click here to read it in full.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Big Apple Circus: General Show Review

When I was a kid I loved going to the circus.  My father used to take us to see Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey at Madison Square Garden and it was so much fun.  But as I grew older I started to feel sorry for some of the animals.  As I learned about elephants, especially, I realized how sad it was that they were trapped in a circus for our entertainment (try reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate about a gorilla and elephants kept in a shopping mall for show, so beautiful and sad, and based on a true story).  If you feel like seeing a quick clip of what I'm talking about, check this out:

The book trailer for The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

So now I avoid Ringling Brothers.  I don't like the idea of so many beautiful wild animals becoming entertainment pieces.  That's where The Big Apple Circus comes in.  They are actually a non-profit organization and run many different programs to give back to communities.  They travel around from city to city, so check their website to find out when they'll be near you.  Then they fold up their giant tent and hit the road!

What is the Big Apple Circus?

Founded in 1974, the Big Apple Circus works under a traveling tent, very much a 'classic circus' of old.  The tent is small in comparison to modern day circuses, so guests tend to feel like they are part of the experience. Take a look at how close you are with a front row seat:


There is actually a wooden platform around the ring so the performers can run around it right in front of you.  The circus contains acrobats, magicians, clowns, jugglers, high wire acts and more. Oh, and they do have animals, but read further...

The Animals

There is a horse act that is amazing, and the trainer's love for her horses is very evident (her name is Jenny Vidbel and she even has a Facebook page).  You can read all about the Big Apple Circus policy on animals here.  The horses are elegant and beautiful.  If you are sitting up front, they run right past you at full speed (sometimes they accidentally kick dirt on you if you are in the front row, so beware!).


They also have an entire routine (which is my favorite!) involving dogs.  Yes, dogs!  Trained, adorable dogs, that were all adopted from shelters.  I always watch them knowing my dog Milo (who was very athletic and loved agility) would have been an amazing circus performer!  Some dogs just thrive on that, and you can see how much fun the dogs are having as they run around the ring.



They recently started adding more exotic animals to their routine.  I think the latest show has a camel and llamas.  If you are even more sensitive than I am about animals being in circus acts, and the thought of more exotic animals joining the troupe offends you, then this is something to take note of.  


The Show

The show is everything you can think of rolled up into one.  Breathtaking, funny, silly, thrilling.  They try to throw in a  little of everything.  There are some goofy clowns (which my son, at age 4, did not actually like too much.  I think he was afraid of them).  They like to come in the audience and tease some of the guests.  My dad, who was sitting on the end in the front row, fell victim to a flirtatious female clown who wanted to sit in his lap and gladly made him part of the act.  That kind of stuff always happens to my dad at these shows (remind me to tell you about the time he got splattered with phosphorescent bubbles during an oceanic puppet show).  They did come to us before the show to ask if they could make him part of the act, so we had a heads-up!  Each year, the circus changes its theme, so it's not the same every year.  We have gone three years in a row now and have not  been disappointed.

Scariness Factor

Ok, so I mentioned that my son didn't like the clowns (but, you know, the Jersey Momma's Boy is very particular--about everything--so don't go by his judgement.  I thought the clowns were cute and funny, very classic and not overly scary with weird painted faces).  He was also a little freaked out by some of the magic show scenes where they "sawed" a woman in half.  Although they kept it light and made the act silly, he still needed to be reminded that they were fake and an illusion.  If you're concerned, just talk to your child before the show about what to expect.  Other than that, he enjoyed the rest of the performances.  The acrobats were incredibly cool, as well as the trapeze/high wire act.

The Tent

The tent is one of the coolest draws about the Big Apple Circus.  Read about it here.  As soon as my son saw that tent in the parking lot of the Somerset Patriots TD Ballpark, he was soooo excited.  "We're going in there?" he asked in amazement.  And I must say, it's pretty impressive.


All of the seats offer a good view (although I am partial to that front row!!).  They sell snacks and souvenirs in the "lobby" of the tent, too (which we didn't actually buy because that flirtatious clown wound up giving my dad a free bucket of popcorn.  See, I told you she liked him).

Oh, and just a disclaimer that I did NOT receive any tickets in exchange for a review (although that would be nice!).  This was just me and the boy and the grandparents attending a fun day at the circus!  'Nuff said.

Jersey Momma Tips

  • mid-week shows tend to be less expensive than the weekends.  Look online for coupon codes, especially on RetailMeNot.
  • we have never been to an evening show (I told you I avoid crowds) but I can vouch that the day time shows are still vibrant, fun and exciting
  • they also offer special shows for guests with autism.  Check their website for more information.
  • if you get that front row seat, be aware that you are right there in the action!  One horse who ran by kicked dirt up on me by accident.  It hit me in the mouth.
  • there are restrooms and an intermission (some shows might not have an intermission but this is always stated on their site if you buy a ticket to one of those shows)
  • there's not too much room for a stroller.  If you don't really need it, leave it at home.
  • seats are very close together, so don't plan on having a lot of leg room!
  • the tent has heat inside, so don't worry about being cold if you go on a chilly day

Friday, January 16, 2015

Great Educational Apps for Kids

People are always asking me for app recommendations.  In fact, I often ask friends for app recommendations, too!  I think you get the best info from the people you know and trust, after all.  Anyway, here are some fun educational apps that we enjoy.  I have other app recommendations, too, but I'll start with the educational ones so that this blog entry doesn't become a novel.

What Device Should My Child Play On?


The Jersey Momma's Boy received a Google Nexus as a gift, and that's what he usually uses to play his games.  The Nexus is similar to an iPad but less expensive.  We haven't had any complaints with it so far.  We have it loaded with games and that's all he uses it for.  The only gripe I have is that certain apps are not available for android (just for Apple devices).  We have a 3ObjGear case on it to keep it protected, too.

image courtesy of Amazon.com

Fun Educational Apps


I love educational apps because if they're good, most kids don't even realize they're learning from them!  Here are a few of our favorites.  I mixed together the age groups, but I've listed some suggestions for preschoolers, kindergartners and elementary aged children.  The majority of the ones we get are free.  I don't like paying for apps if I don't have to, but I will if they're really good and not too expensive.

Stack the States - Freecloud Design, Inc.


My son actually enjoyed playing this game when he was only in preschool because he was fascinated by the states, but he needed a lot of help with it.  Now that he is 6, he can play the game on his own.  The game asks trivia questions about each state, and you have to stack them up like building blocks as you collect them.  The questions sometimes repeat so the kids wind up memorizing the facts about the states without realizing it.  It covers so much ground- kids learn about states, flags, abbreviations, locations.  It's really great!  This game was not available for his Nexus, but he likes to play it on my iPhone when he has the chance.


photo courtesy of Google Play

Endless Alphabet- Originator, Inc.


I love Endless Alphabet!  The graphics are adorable and the sound effects are silly and fun.  It's basically a vocabulary game that reviews letter sounds, too.  When the kids click on the letters they will see a little monster (nothing scary, they're all cute cartoons), hear the letter sound, and then be introduced to a vocabulary word.  The monster will demonstrate the vocabulary word so the player can see how the word is used.  I like that the words are challenging - 'cooperate,' 'bellow,' 'demolish,' etc.  There isn't really a game for the kids to play, they basically just scroll through to see the monsters and hear the different sounds and words.  They can drag and 'stick' each letter back into each word, too, to see how it is spelled.  It is very basic and even kindergartners can do it.  Your little one also might enjoy Endless Reader or Endless Numbers, too (Endless Numbers was not available on our android device).


Photo courtesy of Google Play


Moody Monster Manor - Alex Toys


This is a free app that we saw advertised inside the box of an Alex Toys product.  It's actually really cute and teaches kids about moods, feelings, colors and matching.  Graphics are cute and entertaining.  There are only four games so far, so I wish they'd do an update and get some more activities going!  It's recommended for ages 3-8.  But it's a cute set-up, like a little monster house (again, nothing scary, these are cute cartoony monsters with names like Scared Sam and Hungry Hank) with different doors and activities that the kids can explore.

Photo courtesy of freetech4teachers.com

Chicktionary - Blockdot


A fun word game for 6 and up (adults, too!).  The chickens present us with a mixed up word, and we see how many words we can make with all of the letters.  The letters ultimately make one long word, too.  You can play in a timed mode or just for fun.  The chickens make funny clucking noises as you build each word, and present you with a little ribbon for your achievements.  There is another version of this game available for Apple devices, but we've never played that one.  That one is made by a company called Soap.


Photo courtesy of touchmyapps.com

JumpStart Preschool - Knowledge Adventure


JumpStart has been around for years and I used to use their CD-Roms (wow, I'm dating myself!) in my classroom.  Their apps are bright, vibrant, and easy for little ones to use.  Just remember that the free apps sometimes have pop-up ads so that you have to close out of (although they are usually ads for their own games).  Your little one can practice sorting, counting, listening to stories and matching.  It is pretty self-explanatory and the little ones can usually navigate it on their own.

photo courtesy of JumpStart

Stay tuned for more of my App Suggestions for Kids.  Next installment will be great Logic, Reasoning and Building Apps for Kids!  See you soon!


Do you have a favorite childrens' app to share?  Tell us about it in the comments section below!