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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Neighborly Advice Vol. 5: Neighboorhood Gone Wild With Free Food

A. Onion Grass  B. Mint  C. Violets  D. Dandelion

A. Onion Grass B. Mint C. Violets D. Dandelion

With beginner articles on Mason Bees; Mushrooms; Crystallized Edible Flowers and Fruits; Dandelion Bread, Soup, Salad, Casserole and Wine; Violet Jelly; Sugared Violets; Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves; Outdoorsy Kid Activities, you could say we’ve gone a little wild this week. Join your neighbors for a new adventure!

Congratulations to Jen Neff, the only one to get all 4 correct in the You’re Eating WHAT From Your Lawn Quiz.

After we harvest some wild goodies, let’s head into the kitchen to make a feast from our foraged finds.  Don’t be afraid.  Open your palate to something new.  We’re all adults here.  If we are brave enough to step out of our comfort zone, then we open ourselves to a whole new world of learning, adventure and … well, free gourmet food.

In The Kitchen/ Into The Wild

Surfer Sam inspired the creative juices for this weeks edition with the following comprehensive article.

Everything Mushrooms — varieties, recipes, etc.

Langdon Cook’s new book, Fat of the Land: Adventures of A 21st Century Forager sounds like my kind of adventure. From his blog we have…

Dandy Muffins and Bread

Here are more dandelion recipes from all over…

Dandelion Fritters

Dandelion Pesto

Dandelion Soup or Dandelion Salad w/ Eggs or Italian Dandelion Casserole or Dandelion Wine

And just look at all the fun we can have with violets.

Violet Jelly

Sugared Violets

Crystallized Edible Flowers and Fruits

I am particularly eager to try the two recipes that follow as I have never tried either.

Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

Simple Delicious Fiddlehead Fern Recipe

Waiting to be mounted to get morning sun, afternoon shade, one of my semi-homemade mason bee homes.  Attracting more pollinators means more garden goodies!

Waiting to be mounted to get morning sun, afternoon shade, one of my semi-homemade mason bee homes. Attracting more pollinators means more garden goodies!

In The Backyard Barnyard

How to Build a Mason ( Orchard ) Bee House

Beneficial Bugs: Mason Bees

Attracting Pollinators

Mason Bees

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

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

Up In The Tree House

Make Your Own Printable Birthday Cards

Candied Violets — So Easy A Child Could Do It

Sorry for the quickie edition

In case you missed the past editions, here are the links:

Neighborly Advice Vol 1pizza dough, making jam, using a pressure cooker, learning to knit, rescuing lost stitches, adding goats to your backyard

Neighborly Advice Vol 2 — kool-aid dye, spinning wool, kids’ activities, natural egg dyes, keeping chickens, line drying clothes, making applesauce, finding your sanity, pickling eggs, frugal groceries, growing peas, tomatoes and even worms

Neighborly Advice Vol 3 — grocery budgets, foraging free food, starting a garden, seed tape, hemming pants, chickens, turkeys, fruit trees, goat cheese, fermentation, kid’s activities and my favorite book sale

Neighborly Advice Vol 4 — making marshmallows, starting a garden, planting potatoes, herbs and onions, charming row markers, slow-roasted tomatoes, foraging free food, kids’ activity to-do list, 100 ways to cook eggs, tabletop gardening, and even starting an aquarium

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!

You’re Eating WHAT from the Lawn?! — A Quick Quiz

What are these four food found in my front lawn?

What are these 4 foods found in my front lawn?

Here’s the deal. Name as many as you can and offer at least one use for each.

Serious and silly answers are welcome.

As this will launch a series of adventures, if you have an actual recipe using any of the above as a main ingredient, please e-mail it to That way you can get credit and be a featured recipe in the neighborhood.

Go ahead, guess! I double dog dare you.

(Neighbor Nancy reties her apron and heads out to pick a zillion of “C” for an upcoming recipe.)

Note: 5/8/09 — Oh, I am very entertained!  Get your guesses in.  Answers will be in this Saturday morning edition of “Neighborly Advice.”   Tomorrow’s theme is “Neighborhood Gone Wild”

BTW, forgive the picture, it will not stop raining here.  Lighting is terrible.

Hint — the stem on “B” is square.

Neighborly Advice: Vol 3 — Where to Begin

Hop the back fence for a little neighborly advice for beginner's

Hop the back fence for a little neighborly advice for beginners

With beginner articles on grocery budgets, foraging free food, starting a garden, seed tape, hemming pants, chickens, turkeys, fruit trees, goat cheese, fermentation, kid’s activities and my favorite book sale, we are full of advice

…or, at least, full of… something.

You neighbors have a zillion tips. So, grab a cup of coffee and a fresh, warm Philadelphia Sticky Bun let’s see what everybody’s up to.

The biggest problem with being a creative, frugal, productive person is the clutter that accumulates. Personally, I’m a sucker for windows from the garbage heap. I think yo myself, “Ooo, that would make a lovely hot box.” Of course, as of yet there is nary a hot box to be found on this property. Although there are about 10 windows waiting for me.

I guess it’s time for…

Reorganization — At Long Last

Okay, enough of that for today. What smells so good?

In the Kitchen

Oh, it is Joel and Dana with another wonderful tutorial

How to Make Your Own Turkey Gravy

Mm! I can just feel my arteries clogging. Scrumptious! Well, how about we balance that out a bit with a great list from FitBuff. So, grab an apple and check out:

Top 10 Lower Cholesterol Foods

Our next article comes from Heather, whose site looks like what I imagined mine would look like when I first started. She is obviously a kindred spirit. She offers ” a reminder that coupons are not the only way to save money in your food budget.”

Tightwad Tuesday: Talking Grocery Budget

Pickles, sauerkraut and fermenting. Oh my!

Pickles, sauerkraut and fermenting. Oh my!

Here’s a nice article with good resources on getting started with fermenting. I’ve got my crocks. I can’t wait to get started.

Homestead Critters on Your Countertop

More fermenting? Yup, ’cause it’s just so darn cost efficient.

Home Brewing to Save Money ( and have fun )

Confession: I absolutely ache to own dairy goats. You know, just two little Nigerian Dwarfs to provide milk, soap and, of course cheeeeese. Our next article shows just how simple the cheese making process can be.

Making Goat Cheese

Did you know it was that easy? Me neither.

My goodness! What is all that chatter going on…

In The Sewing Room

Oh, it’s a debate over sew and no-sew hemming methods. You’ll just have to check them all out and decide what will work for you.

How to Hem Pants — No Sew Method

How to Hem a Pair of Pants — Blind Hem Tutorial

How to Hem Pants into Shorts, Then Use the Pant Leg to Make a Hat

My those three just have such different ways for everything. I get a charge out of them.

Let’s head out to the back porch to see what Melissa is up to.

Oh dear, she has fallen asleep in the hammock with her knitting. Give me a moment here I just want to remove her project before she pokes an eye out.

(Neighbor Nancy covers Melissa with a warm blankey and giggles quietly as Melissa lets out a giant snore.)

We’d better tiptoe down the porch steps and see what’s growing…

In The Garden

Our first article was actually information I was try to dig up about this time last year. I guess I should have started the magazine sooner.

How to Make Your Own Seed Tape

Oh dear! You’re not even sure how to begin your garden? Have no fear. Go Green Thumb is here to walk you through the process.

Starting an Organic Vegetable Garden

And since I am crippled from working on our new orchard, I think everyone should know…

How to Plant a Fruit Tree

Just look at those silly chickens play in the freshly dug holes!

In The Backyard Barnyard

Nothin’ says frugality like some easy to care for backyard poultry. With two different authors, on two different topics, it should be easy peasy to get started.

Raising Turkeys for Fun and Profit: Basic Facts and Terminology

Raising Chickens for Meat and Eggs

What the heck is all that dad-blasted noise? Oh, it just all the kids…

Up In The Tree House

Well, it looks like they are up to some interesting project. Let’s take a peek.

Making a Backyard Weather Station

Very nifty!

Every tree house should have its own little shelf full of wonderful books. Grab your binoculars or just pretend with your hands. Here are…

Three Bird Books For Spring

I like to test the structural soundness of my tree house by weighing it down with as many books as possible. So, since it’s that time of year again, I offer you advice on my favorite source of children’s books.

Your Local Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale

Let’s finish our visit by going for a walk. I think you should see one way we can find some free food

In The Wild

I told my mom about the following article. She’s so excited she just may pop. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too. I know I did.

How to Forage for Pine Nuts

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you found something to keep you frugally busy.

Climb over the fence and join your neighbors in a learning adventure.

Climb over the fence and join your neighbors in a learning adventure.

Join the neighborly discussion Saturday night at 8pm. All you have to do is type in the Meebo box at the right so I can pull you into the chat room.

If you are a blogger with a beginner “how-to” article, please feel free to e-mail me the link.

Missed the other editions? Click below:

Neighborly Advice Vol 1pizza dough, making jam, using a pressure cooker, learning to knit, rescuing lost stitches, adding goats to your backyard

Neighborly Advice Vol 2 — kool-aid dye, spinning wool, kids’ activities, natural egg dyes, keeping chickens, line drying clothes, making applesauce, finding your sanity, pickling eggs, frugal groceries, growing peas, tomatoes and even worms

Neighborly Advice Vol 4 — making marshmallows, starting a garden, planting potatoes, herbs and onions, charming row markers, slow-roasted tomatoes, foraging free food, kids’ activity to-do list, 100 ways to cook eggs, tabletop gardening, and even starting an aquarium

What are you going to try?

Which was your favorite article?

Are you going to the book sale?

SourDough Challenge — Phase 1

(Neighbor Nancy holds out a warm pan of Philadelphia Sticky Buns to any cook with some hints for our little neighborhood learning challenge.)

Ok, so my dehydrated sourdough starter came in the mail today. I headed back over to the site to get the re-hydration instructions

Click here for re-hydration instructions

Oh, you didn’t know about the free sour dough starter? Click here to get yours and join the fun.

Although any starter recipe you want to try is welcome. We are all learning here.

At the suggestion of a friend, I used a ceramic bean pot. I measured the 3/4c flour and 1 t. sugar into the bean pot. Then dissolved the stuff in the 3/4c of 90 degree water.

Well, it didn’t completely dissolve. I stirred and stirred and ended up just dumping it into the bean pot. Then stirred it until it was smooth.

I covered it with a warm damp rag to begin, because I can’t find just the right place to put it in my house. I don’t have a gas stove so, no pilot light and my oven doesn’t have a light.

I ended up placing next to my tomato seedlings that are on a table in a sunny window above the baseboard heater.

I guess we shall see what we shall see.

Maybe, I should have left this up to the “peanut.” He could have used it for the science fair.


Stepping outside of my kitchen comfort zone is very nerve racking.

If you have any advice for our little neighborhood of bakers please comment, email me ( or look for the green “available” in the Meebo instant messanger at the right.

Same is true for questions and concerns. We’ll share the experience.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be the freebie starter… that was really for the fun and history of it. Please join us with any starter recipe you can find. I know there is one in the Encyclopedia of Country Living. In the comments below Kaela references a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads cookbook. Poke around your favorite recipe site.

Join me Friday afternoon for the 1st edition of the Neighborly Advice weekend magazine.  A few neighbors and I have gotten together to share some beginner articles on backyard livestock, preserving, cooking, baking, knitting, etc.  Join the fun as we challenge you to learn a new skill.

Let’s get sour dough started.

Did you start it?

How’s it going?

A Ton of Garden, A Tiny Space: Vegetables for Hanging Baskets

I find the idea of vegetable hanging from baskets just fascinating. What a cheery way to fill vertical garden space.

Grab a cup of coffee and join me.

(Neighbor Nancy switches her kitchen apron with fresh blueberry stains from baking for the cub scouts to her grimy, sturdy garden apron as she leads you to her potting table overflowing with gardening goodies.)

Vegetables for Hanging Baskets

After the plant name is the variety, followed by the number of plants the holding basket can contain. There is no diameter mentioned on the chart, so I would guess the most common size available…maybe 10″or 12″

Beans, Pole

  • Blue Lake — 3 or 4


  • Patio Pik — 1 or 2

Peas, Sugar or Snow

  • Snow Bird — 4 to 8
  • Dwarf Gray Sugar — 4 to 8
  • Oregon Sugarpod — 4 or 8

8″Hanging Basket


  • New Zealand — 3 or 4

6″Hanging Basket


  • Melody Hybrid — 4 to 6

Nope, that’s not a mistake the smaller basket does get more spinach than the larger. Different variety, you see.

Well, by now, you really have some growing options. I think.

I’ll be back with all the great stuff you can plant in 3.5 or 5 gallon buckets, bushel basket and tubs.

Dig in and join the adventure of providing for yourself, even in a small space.

Go ahead. Click the links below for more container vegetable ideas.

4″pot vegetable

6″pot vegetable

8-10″pot vegetables

Big Bucket, Bushel Basket or Tub vegetables

Windowsill Herbs

Loads of Small Space Strawberries

Is your sunny window a jungle yet? What are you hoping to grow?

Camping in the Country — A Read Aloud Story for Little Ones

The following is a true story. Snuggle in and enjoy:

Camping in the Country


Neighbor Nancy


Joey lived in the big, bustling city. He lived on a noisy street with his mother, his father and his big brother Teddy. Well, Teddy was only a little bigger.

One day, his father came home from work with all sorts of things in the back of the car.

“Who wants to go camping at a park in the country,” he bellowed as he burst through the door.

“We do! We do!” both boys shouted.

So, everyone packed their gear and off the family went. They were very excited about that first camping trip in the country.

Along the way ,they sang and pointed out farm animals. They saw horses, cows, pigs, and ducks. And just before the park entrance they saw white, fluffy animals dotting the hillside. Can you guess what animals they saw?

Sheep. About two dozen sheep just standing around munching the grass.

On their way into the park, the ranger warned them to lock all their food in the trunk of the car because of the rather curious bears that lived there.

Bears? The boys hoped with all their hearts that they might see one.

The camp site was very interesting. There were so many things to investigate. The boys noticed how the light green stuff only grew on one side of all the trees, the strange mushrooms that stuck out like shelves, and all the wonderfully different bugs living under the rocks.

After all their exploring, the family sat down around the campfire to enjoy a flame cooked meal together. As the night grew darker, they enjoyed the heat and fascinating light of their little campfire.

Unfortunately, bedtime did come, as it always seems to do at the most fun times. Does that happen to you?


Joey and Teddy’s parents locked away all the food and put out the fire.

Everyone got ready for bed. They climbed into their toasty sleeping bags and zipped the flaps of the tent closed. Quietly, peacefully, everyone fell asleep.

Suddenly, Joey sat up.

What had he heard?

Scratch. Crunch. Crunch!

What was that, he wondered.

He quietly shook Teddy awake to listen, too.

Now they both heard the noise and whatever it was it was coming closer.

Scratch! Crunch! Crunch!!! Burp?!

“Should we wake Dad,” Joey asked in a shaky whisper.

“No,” Teddy said, a little shaky, too,” he said he was tired.”

“D…d…do…do you think it’s a bear?”

“M…maybe,” replied a now very scared Teddy.

Just when the boys couldn’t stand it any longer and were about to wake their parents…


The boys burst out laughing so loudly that their parents woke up.


They peeked out of the tent into the dim pre-dawn light to see a sheep, happily munching her breakfast of grass, right by their camping chairs.

Well, the boys never did see a bear. But they certainly did have an adventure to tell their friends at home!

The End

What did you think was outside the tent?

Did you like my story?

Those sheep in the story were my sheep. When I was little like you, they liked to visit the park across the valley and get into all kinds of mischief.


Please feel free to let your little ones comment, even if you have to type it for them.

We had a backyard flock of sheep that used to go for walks pretty frequently. No fence could contain them. The park ranger could barely contain himself, when he shared this particular story. I still chuckle when I remember it.

No Time-Outs for Mischeivous Mike — A Read Aloud Story for Little Ones

I wrote the following story for my son’s kindergarten class last year.

After the story, we discussed bullying, pointing out their teacher was their wise wizard. I hope your little ones enjoy the story as much as Peanut’s class did. Please allow your little one to leave a comment, even if you have to type it.

Snuggle in and enjoy the story.

No Time-outs for Mischievous Mike


Neighbor Nancy


Once there was a wise wizard, who lived with four bouncing bunnies, three cuddly kittens, two cheeping chicks, and one tom (that’s a boy) turkey.

Now, I would like to tell you that they all lived happily together, but that is not quite the case. You see, all the animals played nicely together, except the tom turkey, Mischievous Mike. I regret to inform you that Mischievous Mike was a bully.


He would fluff up his feathers (fluff, fluff) take a deep breath (uuuuuh) and run after the four bouncing bunnies, three cuddly kittens and even the two little cheeping chicks. Why he gobbled so loudly and startled them so much that they all took turns talking to the wise wizard about Mischievous Mike’s naughty behavior.

The wise wizard was deeply disappointed in Mischievous Mike. The big tom turkey must be taught a lesson.

“If you bully anyone again, I will turn your feet into sparkly,red, party shoes” threatened the wise wizard.

Even though Mischievous Mike had said he wouldn’t scare anyone again … guess … just guess what he did.

That’s right. He frightened the cotton tails right off the four bouncing bunnies.

Poof! Mischievous Mike’s feet had permanently become sparkly, red, party shoes. I must say that he looked quite silly.

He was warned, ” If you scare anyone again, I will turn all your handsome, brown feathers into silly pastel colors that are not dignified for a tom turkey such as yourself.”

Unfortunately, the next day Mischievous Mike chased the three cuddly kittens about until they cried.

Terrible, terrible tom turkey!

Poof! Pastel fluffy, frizzy, feathers were now on the once lovely brown bird.

The wise wizard was furious.

“If I must speak to you again about your behavior, I will turn your head into a wiggly, wobbly pumpkin. Now, that is enough!”

So … um … I would like to tell you that he was well behaved, but …

Later that afternoon, Mischievous Mike scared the cheep right out of the two cheeping chicks.

Poof! A wiggly, wobbly pumpkin head had taken the place of his nice turkey head.

The wise wizard was so angry he could barely speak his final threat. It was just a harsh, spitting whisper.

“Bully anyone ever again and you will be our dinner.”

What do you think happened next? Did Mischievous Mike change his ways?

I am relieved to tell you that he did. Are you surprised?

Well, he tried very hard to be kind and good. He tried even though he ached, just ached to be naughty. I’m very proud of him, now. Are you?

In time, the four bouncing bunnies, three cuddly kitten, two cheeping chicks and the wise wizard found it in their hearts to forgive Mischievous Mike. After all, he did have to clomp about in those sparkly, red party shoes, fluffy, frizzy, pastel feathers and his new wiggly, wobbly pumpkin head.

The End

If Mischievous Mike was bothering you, what would you do?

Freebie Days: Free Tomato Seeds — Yippee!

Oh! I am so glad you dropped by today.

This is my favorite freebie. I have been waiting for this one.

Today is the beginning of Cambell’s “Help Grow Your Soup” campaign.

So, follow the link below. Grab a can of soup, fill in the stamped numbers from the can and get your free tomato seeds.

You can find growing and care instructions right there on the site.

While you’re there, click the little button to encourage Cambell’s to donate to FFA.

In this year of backed up seed orders, I would do this ASAP, because once they run out, they’re out. And you, dear reader, are left without free tomato seeds.

Hurry! Click the link below. Go. Go. Go!

Cambell’s Grow Your Own Soup Tomato Seeds

Poke around the freebies category on the right for more free seed offers.

Or join me later this evening for

A Ton of Gardening, A Tiny Space: Vegetables for the 6″pot

(Neighbor Nancy ties her apron, adorns her black wellies and heads out to check maple sap lines, gleeful that she doesn’t need a jacket )