Computer Science Activities for the Young Mad Scientist

So your kid is into computers and you are at a loss to help stimulate this interest?

Join the club.

P1000151Thanks to my big brother, a Tech Lead at Google, I have two great free downloads for computer scientists as young as kindergarten age.

These programs are easy to use and inevitably your child’s skills will surpass your own quickly. But fear not, there are little communities of these smarty pants kids out there to help. Plus, books, online tutorials, etc.

Let’s begin:

Squeak — here is what they have to say for themselves

Squeak is a modern, open source, full-featured implementation of the powerful Smalltalk programming language and environment. Squeak is highly-portable – even its virtual machine is written entirely in Smalltalk making it easy to debug, analyze, and change. Squeak is the vehicle for a wide range of projects from multimedia applications, educational platforms to commercial web application development.


Okay, that might as well be written in Japanese for how much I understand it.

All I know is that when my son was 5, he could use it to program a little dancing cat.

The cool thing is it will grow with your kid. The more they learn, the more they can do…including program their own little video games. Very cool.

So whether you have a 1st grader or a middle schooler, they can guide themselves through the process. Obviously, the little kid may need a little of your time to read simple words, they will take it from there. The big kid will astound you!

Click here for more info on Squeak

Alice — here is what they have to say for themselves

Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a freely available teaching tool designed to be a student’s first exposure to object-oriented programming. It allows students to learn fundamental programming concepts in the context of creating animated movies and simple video games. In Alice, 3-D objects (e.g., people, animals, and vehicles) populate a virtual world and students create a program to animate the objects.

In Alice’s interactive interface, students drag and drop graphic tiles to create a program, where the instructions correspond to standard statements in a production oriented programming language, such as Java, C++, and C#. Alice allows students to immediately see how their animation programs run, enabling them to easily understand the relationship between the programming statements and the behavior of objects in their animation. By manipulating the objects in their virtual world, students gain experience with all the programming constructs typically taught in an introductory programming course.

Um…yeah… did you get that?

Again, very cool. This free download from the computer geniuses at Carnegie Mellon University is a great self guided introduction to computer science. Dig around the internet for books, communities, and tutorials.

Click here for more info about Alice

My brother points out that some of the greatest minds he knows taught themselves on a home computer. So, grab a free download and introduce your kid to the fascinating and ever growing world of computer science.

Always wanted to learn how your computer thinks through things? Try it yourself. It can be quite addictive.

Just remember to shove your kids out into the sunshine every now and then. Remind them that their minds will work better, if their bodies are in strong physical condition.

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Electronics Activities For the Young Mad Scientist

Well, hello there. Grab some Strawberry Lemonade from the pitcher in the fridge and join me in the basement lab/Bat Cave of my young mad scientist.

Every mad scientist should have an alias... or so I am told.

Every mad scientist should have an alias... or so I am told.

Today, we will share our favorite activities to keep the curious mind of a budding electrical engineer busy in his lab and well away from the disassembly of your kitchen appliances.

We’ll discuss the ElectroWizard series, Snap Circuits, and homemade wiring boxes.

And don’t worry about cost, I will mention a great free internet option, too.

ElectroWizard series:

I first found these little kits at Marshall’s or TJ Max or some buyout place like that after Xmas — and therefore on sale.

ElectroWizard is published (assembled, whatever) by Norman & Globus, Inc. Full price it may run around … oh maybe the $10-$15 range.

Anyway, my son first started building circuits when he was three using these nifty sets. Of course, the packaging recommends it for ages 8 and up, but that is just a suggestion. Certainly by age six, kids can easily manipulate the smaller parts and do more without your reading.

I’m a “I’ll read the direction, but you have to figure it out yourself” kind of mom.

The wires are prestripped and simply clamp into things like light bulbs or are held to a battery with a rubber band. Very simple.

The book that comes with the set includes easy picture and word directions.

The favorite of the mad scientist above is ElectroWizard: Invetions — Build, Build, Build by Penny Norman.

This particular set includes projects like motors, generators, telegraphs , relays,and even a radio. The kit includes everything you need, which pretty much comes down magnet wire, paperclips and rubber bands.

This just might be how MacGyver got his start.

Snap Circuits

Oh, where have you been all my life?!

I love this set. Buy the biggest set you can possibly afford. This thing will entertain your kid for years.

Everything literally snaps together. Very cool.

Recommended for ages 8 to 108, even you will find experiments to play with.

There are simple circuits, motors, generators, resistors, capacitors, lights, sounds…oh just everything you could want… including a solar panel.

My favorite part is that each componant has the actual schematic representaion on it. So when high school physics rolls around, this stuff will be old hat.

My favorite is the biggest, baddest set of them all. Model SC-750 with computer interface. With 750 experiments, you are gauranteed to have something for every dad blasted year of the science fair, plus Junior Academy of Science.

Click here for more info on Snap Circuits

Homemade wiring boxes:

The wiring box is an affordable way for your mad scientist to learn just what goes on behind the walls of your home.

By about 6 or 7 years old, every mad scientist aught to have his own wiring box. It is a simple rectangle made out of a 2 by 4 and wired with a plug. Using the regular stuff found in a home, like wall sockets, light sockets and switches, plus a little wire, your mad scientist will be on his way. The best part is you just plug it in to test wiring configurations. Safe and easy.

Everything you need can be found at your local hardware store and your usually your local high school shop teacher can talk you through the construction, if you are not familiar with this stuff.

Hit the library for a book on home wiring and your off.

This might be a nice time for a little safety talk and instruction on the use of basic tools, while your at it.

Free internet fun for the budding electrical engineer:

The University of Colorado at Boulder has a great simulation site. For the 4 or 5 years since I have found this gem, it has constantly grown better. More goodies to play with.

The circuits have always been a favorite at this house. It even simulates the fire my husband would cause if we ever allowed him at the wiring. Grand fun!

Click here for the outstanding PhET Circuit Construction Sim

Take time to poke around their site for other science simulation treasures.

One final note: Make sure you pitch your mad scientist out into the sunshine for some physical activity every now and then.

So, how are you going to stimulate your mad scientist this Summer?

Young Mad Scientists: How You Can Tell If Your Kid Is One

Tomorrow, I will share some summer ideas for the mini mad scientist. Today, let’s determine if you have one in your home.

You kid might be a mad scientist if:

1. She has disassembled all your appliances in the name of scientific discovery.

2. He knows one fact about sunflowers. Not that they have edible seeds, but that the seeds spiral out in a Fibonocchi sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, etc.)

3. She responds to every insane mess she created, especially those requiring a call to the plummer with, “But I needed to know what would happen.”

4. He builds Lego towers with color patterns that must be “just so.”

5. She builds ridiculously complex routes out of her train set.

6. When he helps you cook, he is most fascinated by the math involved and any good chemical reactions, like yeast.

7. She can create anything out of simple office supplies.

8. He knows there is more than one good design for a paper airplane or homemade kite.

9. She can rewire your house.

10. He finds the one Ivy league physics professor lingering by the new exhibit at the science center and they build carbon nanotubes models out of tinker toys together. Afterwards, you realize that was probably the faculty member you should have asked about summer camps and scholarships. Oops.

Any one of the above generally means there’s a scientific mind at work in your home. Tomorrow, I will help you find ways to keep them entertained and stimulated this Summer.

‘Cause if you don’t help them find ways to explore the world around them, they will without fail create chaos in the name of science. So let’s give the little evil genius a little guidance and keep our sanity at the same time.

Candied Violets — So Easy A Child Can Do It

Well, happy Friday, everyone!  My son has a project for you.

This time each year my lawn is full of violets.

Shaw, age 6, making his candied violets.

Shaw, age 6, explaining how to make candied violets.

Here’s a nice beginner cooking project that brings Spring to the kitchen. Shaw will show you how to make candied violets and how he adds them to his favorite dessert, ice cream.

Let’s begin:

1. Pick a nice sized bunch of violets from a chemical-free lawn.

2. Gently rinse them in a colander and allow to drain.

3. With the help of an adult, separate two egg whites.

4. Beat the egg whites with a wire whisk, until just frothy.

5. By holding the stem, dip each flower in the frothy egg whites. Make sure the flower is completely covered with egg white.

6. Lay the eggy flower in a little bowl of sugar. Spoon sugar from around the violet to cover it.

7. Gently shake the excess sugar from the flower.

8. Dry on a sheet of waxed paper.

French Vanilla Ice Cream with Candied Violets and pictorial instructions, of course.

French Vanilla Ice Cream with Candied Violets and pictorial instructions, of course.

Now, decorate your cup cakes or add them to your ice cream. Surprise your friends by showing them how to eat a little bit of Spring.

What ways can you think of to add violets to your food?

This week’s “Neighborly Advice” will include more advanced violet recipes for more formal use.

Join us for the fun. Let’s get picking!

Essential Gardening Books for Kids

I’m so glad you joined me today.

I have a big list of some of my favorite gardening books to teach and inspire the little ones.

And no, they are not really essential, but they are good activity starters and worth checking out of the library.

Linnea’s Windowsill Garden by Bjork and Anderson.

Charmingly drawn Linnea invites you to join her gardening adventures. This offers lots of information in an entertaining way. Elementary and young tween appropriate. You may already be familiar with Linnea in Monet’s Garden. Yup, I recommend that one, too.

Vegetables in Patches and Pots: A Child’s Guide to Organic Vegetable Gardening by Lorelie Miller Mintz.

Black and white illustrations. Seems to offer a well rounded approach. Everything from planning and placement to problems and pest. I’m guessing a 4th grade reading level.

Best Kids Garden Book by Sunset Publishers

Typical Sunset Publishers- you probably have something by them already. Color photos and illustrations. A nice beginner guide.

Grow It for Fun by Robson and Bailey

Color photo heavy. Little project for rainy days. Mushroom, air gardens, bottle gardens, etc.

Growing Things by Morris and Morris

Nice, short beginner guide. Color photos and illustrations. Glossary, resources, further reading, plant anatomy along with projects.

Kids Garden: The Anytime, Anyplace Guide to Sowing & Growing Fun by Hart and Mantell

From Williamson Publishing Kids Can series. I love all the books in this series on any subject, gardening, crafts, cooking, science. Black and white line illustrations. Loads of projects and simple explanations. These are also the people that publish the Little Hands series for 2-6 year olds. Warning: these series are addictive. Keep a sharp eye out for them at library book sales, because you’ll go broke when you realize you want everything they publish.

The Youth Gardening Book: A Complete Guide for teachers, Parents and Youth Leaders by Lynn Ocone

Fantastic! Truly complete. I also recommend this for any adult beginner gardener. Love, Love Love it! Super hard to find.

For some vegetable container gardening ideas to get students diggin’ in check the beginner gardening category to the right. Encourage your students to leave a comment and let us know how they’re growing.

What is your favorite kid’s gardening book?

I loved The Secret Garden. And I wore through an entire Anne of Green Gables box set. I still ache to visit Prince Edward Island. Oh yes, and I actually referred to Farmer Boy the first time I planted potatoes.

Oh, and for little ones … Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. I have a crazy amount of soft fruit in my garden from reading Jamberry every night of my son’s childhood so far.

What is your favorite garden inspiration literature?

Need some container gardening ideas? Click any of the articles below.

4″pot vegetables

Vegetables for a 6″ pot

8-10″pot vegetables

Hanging Basket Vegetables

Windowsill Herbs

Strawberries for the Apartment Dweller or Suburbanite

Essential Cookbooks for Kids

Note: 3/23/09 — Welcome parents and educators. Hope you enjoy this. The Essential Gardening Books for Kids, which is a far more descriptive post, is now available, too

Don’t forget to check the freebie category at the right for free seed offers.

–Neighbor Nancy

Back to our regularly scheduled post:

I have been cooking for as long as I can remember. My first “job” as my mom’s assistant chef was performed while standing on a sturdy, barn red chair at the side of the chopping block.

As a bibliophile, I feel the need to own a gazillion cookbooks.

Here are my favorites for the young cook:

Better Homes and Gardens: Junior Cook Book for the Hostess & Host of Tomorrow— reprint of the 1955 original– also, a good gift for the older chef that may have used it as a kid

Easy Bake Party Planner — Easy Bake oven recipes

The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Children’s Cookbook

The Spatulatta Cookbook — look for it in the scholastic book papers sent home from school

Rookie Cookie Cookbook

Just for Kids

Usborne Farmyard Tales Children’s Cookbook

Alpha-Bakery: Children’s Cookbook & The Rainbow Bakery: A Color-Full Adventure Children’s Cookbook — send for these two in the mail. Look for the form on Gold Metal Flour.

Curriculum based cookbooks:

Book Cooks: Literature-based Classroom Cooking — for K-3rd grades. I believe there is another one for older students, also. Hm… not sure. You’ll have to dig.

The Little House Cookbook — the cooking adventure inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. A personal favorite … I have worn through two copies growing up.

The Pooh Cook Book –the cooking adventure inspired by A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”

Perhaps, another time I will give a more in depth review of each in turn.

Why should kid cook?

Getting-by Together: Little Kitchen Helpers

What can they do?

Find out with Coach Trish’s Blog article “Kids in the Kitchen

Have fun!

Dig in with Essential Gardening Books for Kids

Do you have a favorite childhood cookbook?

Getting-By Together:Little Kitchen Helpers

If you really are not used to cooking all your own meals, it can be a little tough at first. Let it be an adventure, take others with you and be prepared to laugh at your mistakes.

I always just assumed that everybody knew how to cook everything. Well, forgive my ignorance.

The reason I can cook? I helped my mom, who created everything from oatmeal bread to sticky buns, yogurt to ice cream, chicken stock to stew, cottage cheese to cheese cake. She looked at the kitchen as our own adventure in chemistry and mathematics.

By eight years old, I could double or divide any recipe in my head.

By encouraging my brother and I to “make ourselves useful,” she got help in the kitchen and we learned so much.

Check out Coach Trish’s “Kids in the Kitchen” for an idea where to start your little one.

I’ll be back shortly with my a list of my favorite cookbooks for the very young and the young at heart novice.

Begin your kitchen adventure today!