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Adventure/Outdoors Play/Outdoor

Where to Dig for Buried Treasure in the United States

Little boy wearing pirate costumeWhat kid doesn’t dream about becoming a pirate and digging up buried treasure to fill their chest? You may not be able to sail the bounding seas on your summer vacation, but you and your kids can enjoy nature while digging for buried treasure across the U.S. From gold and gems to actual dinosaur fossils, if it fascinates your kids, there’s a spot where they can discover it. These top-notch treasure spots are guaranteed to give your kids a great time and might even provide a valuable piece of treasure for a souvenir.

Hiddenite, North Carolina

Nestled in the hills of North Carolina, the Emerald Hollow Mine is the destination for thousands of gems seekers each year. Set in one of the most interesting geological areas in the country, Emerald Hollow Mine has produced dozens of types of gems, including amethyst, topaz, sapphires and valuable green emeralds. Your little treasure hunters might happen upon one of the 63 different types of gems that have been found here and they can turn any of their finds into cut stones or jewelry with the onsite lapidary shop.

Murfreesboro, Arkansas

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photo by Flickr user artstreamstudios

In Crater of Diamonds State Park, diamonds can be found literally sitting on top of the soil, ready for treasure hunting kids to pick up. Sitting on top of an ancient volcano field, this diamond field produces already-smoothed stones in white, brown, and yellow colors. There are three different diamond-searching methods used here:

  1. Walk the fields and, using a sharp eye, find stones laying on top of the soil
  2. Dig shallow areas and sift the soil, digging through resulting gravel by hand
  3. Dig deep holes, concentrating the resulting soil into a likely gravel mix

The first method is obviously the simplest, and has actually produced gemstone-sized diamonds for lucky visitors. Bring your own tools or rent them at the park. Rangers are prepared to identify diamonds from your pile of rocks, but leave the valuation up to your local jeweler.

Deming, New Mexico

In the desert lands of Rock Hound State Park, thousands of people have found geodes, also known as thunder eggs. These stones just look like plain rocks when you pick them up, but once you crack them open the insides show off lovely crystals in amethyst, hematite, or rose quartz. Make this treasure hunting outing a part of your camping or RV trip in the Western part of the country. Geodes can be found in washed-out piles of rocks or lying against wind-swept hills. Bring along small hammers to tap the rocks open to discover what’s inside the best of them.

Devil Hills, South Dakota

The Badlands region of South Dakota is prime dinosaur-fossil hunting land. Kids who are dino-lovers will eagerly spend their days sifting through piles of rock and soil just to find a hint of dinosaur history. Gigantic pieces of bone from over 145 million years ago have been discovered here, and young hunters have had as much luck as older, more experienced explorers. If you find fossils in this area you have to report them to the authorities and leave them where you found them, but pictures with the fossil make a great souvenir. Besides, how many kids can brag about personally discovering their own dinosaur and have the pictures to prove it?

Central Florida Coast

Photo by Flickr user  David Dawson Photography
Photo by Flickr user David Dawson Photography

11 Spanish galleons sunk off the Florida coast in 1715, dropping tons of gold coins, jewels, and other relics into the sea. The ocean waves have been washing this treasure up for the past 300 years onto the beaches between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. People have been finding treasure almost daily, even today, and the finds are so simple they’re great for kids to work on. Look on the high tide line, especially after a thunderstorm creates big waves and on the sand that’s still damp from the tide going out. Treasure has been found by looking with the naked eye but you may want to invest in a simple metal detector to find treasure buried in the sand. The entire eastern coast of central Florida provides abundant lodging for visitors so pick a small town for your best bet and look for your very own pirate treasure.

When you go treasure hunting with your kids, you’ll build memories and give them experiences none of their friends will ever have.

 

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Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Turning Kids Into Gardeners With Their First Private Plot

Springtime for gardeners is an exciting time, with seed catalogs coming in the mail and choices to be made about what to grow each year. Letting your kids help you in your garden is a great idea, but imagine how committed they’ll be when they have their own little plot of land to care for. Helping your kids to grow their own garden is the ideal way to give them a sense of pride and make them want to be responsible. Spend the next growing season teaching your kids to love gardening and you’ll give them a lifelong gift.

Choosing the Right Plants to Grow

The most important part of kids gardening is knowing they’ll love to eat what they grow. Sure, letting them help out in your garden is a great way to get kids to try new fresh vegetables, but when it comes to their own little patch, you want to make sure they’re motivated through the season. Growing something they can’t wait to eat is a fantastic way to do that.

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Their taste isn’t the only thing to consider, though. Your kids’ ages play an important part in deciding what to put in each garden plot. Preschoolers can’t handle much responsibility, but planting large seeds to grow their own jack-o-lantern for Halloween can be just their speed. School-age kids, on the other hand, can handle three or four different varieties, especially if they’re foods they love to eat. Some of the best and simplest for kids to grow are:

  • Cucumbers

  • Carrots

  • Strawberries

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Bush or pole beans

Digging and Soil Improvement

Improving the soil for a new garden plot is a lot of work, and there’s no reason your kids can’t get down and dirty, helping out with the digging and soil mixing. This is the perfect time to talk about nutrition. Start by showing why the vegetables you grow together help your bodies, then go on to talk about why plants need good nutrition, too.

A great garden starts with great soil, so teach your kids to start with a base filled with compost and free of rocks, sticks, and other foreign objects. Let them dig their own spot with the shovel, or grub around by hand to pull out rocks. Most kids love to dig in the dirt; the fact that you’re encouraging them to get dirty makes it even more fun.

Garden Maintenance

Maintaining a garden can either be a chore or a game, depending on the attitude you approach it with. If kids get excited because their parents “let them” take care of their own garden, they’re more likely to water and weed when the garden calls for it. Turning chores into fun little games never hurt, either.

Make a rain gauge with your kids by setting a ruler inside a glass jar, either a recycled pasta sauce or mayonnaise jar, or a canning jar. Use bright nail polish to mark the outside of the jar in half-inch increments, using the ruler inside to show you where to mark the jar. Once the polish is dry, have your kids put the gauge in the middle of their garden patch. Once a week, have your kids check the level of water inside the gauge. If it measures less than one inch, they should set up the water sprinkler and water their garden until the gauge is filled to the one-inch line. Have the kids dump out the jar after watering, to start over again with an empty gauge.

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Weeding is an obnoxious job that most kids balk at doing, and rightly so. After all, you hate to weed, don’t you? Avoid most weeding chores by covering the garden plot with black plastic before planting time, and planting the seedlings through holes in the plastic. When it comes to small plants like carrots, lay plastic on the soil surrounding this patch. The plastic will smother weed seedlings, preventing them from emerging in the garden.

Harvest, Pride, and Tasty Treats

Nothing beats the satisfaction you get from eating a delicious meal made with produce you grew yourself. Imagine the pride your child will feel when they provide cucumbers for the family dinner or a bowl of strawberries for everyone’s dessert. Good self-esteem comes from doing a job well done and being recognized for your hard work. Providing a healthy harvest is a fantastic way to help boost your kids’ self-esteem.

It all starts with teaching your kids when to harvest their produce. It’s easy to tell with some varieties such as bright red strawberries or plump green beans, but other plants such as potatoes or pumpkins have a sort of code to be figured out. Having the secret knowledge about plant leaves yellowing before digging potatoes or vines drying up before birdhouse gourds are ready to pick can give kids a sense of being competent gardeners. Teach them to watch for signs that their food is ready for harvest.

They’ve spent all summer helping their plants to grow. Your kids should be able to decide how they want their food to be served. Should every carrot be pulled from the ground and swished under a hose and eaten outside, or should some of them be saved for the dinner table? Are all the raw green beans destined for ranch dip? Who gets to carve all those pumpkins? Let your kids decide if they want to share those tasty treats with grandparents and neighbors, or if they want to eat them all themselves. After all that work, they deserve to decide.

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

5 Cookie Recipes to Make With Kids

Letting kids help out in the kitchen is the first step toward teaching them to cook on their own. One great thing about kids is that they naturally want to help out, especially when the job seems fun and new. Even the smallest of your kids can find jobs to do in cookie baking: dumping ingredients into bowls, smashing down balls of dough, and other simple tasks. If you’ve got school-age kids, they can be equal partners with you when making these five simple, tasty recipes.

The World’s Biggest Cookie

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This tasty version of the classic chocolate chip cookie is baked in a pie pan or skillet, making one very large and thick cookie. Serve it warm with ice cream for dessert, and pack small wedges of leftovers as a treat in their school lunches the next day.

1 cup light brown sugar
¾ cup softened unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg plus one egg yolk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with nonstick cooking spray (butter flavored or plain)
  2. Use a stand mixer or handheld mixer to beat the butter for one minute, then cream in the brown sugar. Mix this on medium speed for one minute.
  3. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Mix this until it’s all combined.
  4. Mix together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in a separate bowl. Beat the dry ingredients into the wet mixture slowly until completely blended. The dough will be very thick.
  5. Stir the chocolate chips into the dough until it’s evenly mixed.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cookie is golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan.

For extra variety, use milk chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, chopped walnuts, or chopped pecans, substituting them for part of the semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Super-Easy Nutella Brownie Cookies

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This recipe makes a small batch, so if you’re watching your kids’ sugar intake, this makes a nice treat without leaving cookies around for days. These soft treats taste like a combination of brownie and cookie, soft and chewy.

1 extra large egg
½ cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup Nutella

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all four ingredients together in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon.
  3. Have your kids form balls about the size of a walnut, and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, and allow them to cool completely before eating

Cake Mix Cookies

This simple recipe allows kids to choose their own unique cookie flavors. He loves lemon? Check! She’s a butter pecan fan? You can do that, too. The cookie flavor depends only on their imagination.

2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 15-ounce box cake mix, any flavor

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Measure the oil in a measuring cup and add the eggs on top of it. Stir the mixture with a fork until it’s well blended.
  3. Pour the dry cake mix into a large bowl. Add the egg/oil mixture and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s thoroughly mixed. The batter will be stiff and glossy.
  4. Scoop the dough by tablespoons onto two cookie sheets, placing 12 cookies per sheet
  5. Bake for 12-14 minutes until they look puffy. They won’t look done when you pull them out of the oven, but they will flatten and firm up once they begin to cool

Be careful not to leave the cookies in the oven too long, because they dry out and get hard very easily when over-baked.

Filled Cookie Cups

Sometimes you want to bake some cookies with your kids, but you don’t want to measure out a ton of ingredients. These fancy-looking cookies look like they took all afternoon to make, but they’re simple enough for even your smallest kids to help with.

1 package cookie mix
Eggs and oil according to cookie mix package list
Miniature peanut butter cups or chocolate-cover caramel rolls

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix the cookie dough according to the package directions
  3. Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray
  4. Allow your kids to make 1-inch balls of the dough, and drop one into each muffin space
  5. Bake for 10 minutes and remove immediately. The cookies will look puffy and not quite done.
  6. Push one unwrapped candy into the center of each cookie. The center will squish down, forming the cookie into a cup shape that cradles the candy
  7. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the pan

This recipe is also great for getting rid of dozens of tiny candy bars after Halloween.

Classic Cut Out Cookies

No cookie-baking year with kids would be complete without making and decorating cut out cookies. Between the fun of using cookie cutters to the pure artistic creativity of using frosting and candy decorations, no cookie allows your kids more free expression while making a sweet treat. Plus, this cookie is a natural gift for proud grandparents.

2 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1 cup (two sticks) room temperature unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  2. Cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer. Beat them for several minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the egg, extracts, and lemon zest.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients, then add them to the egg and creamed mixture, one cup at a time, until completely blended. You will be left with a soft dough.
  4. Divide the dough into two balls, and roll each one out ¼ inch thick between two sheets of parchment paper. Stack the layers together with parchment between them and refrigerate them on a cookie sheet for at least one hour
  5. Cut cookies out of chilled rolled dough and place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-12 minutes until lightly brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Frost with commercial frosting or your favorite frosting recipe, and let your kids go wild with the candy decorations

Do your kids enjoy cooking and baking? Find cooking camps and classes on ActivityHero that will help them expand their skills.

Categories
Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Making Pizza: Teaching Kids Valuable Kitchen Skills






If you ask kids about their favorite foods, pizza will be near the top of almost everyone’s list. Topped with traditional pepperoni or healthy veggies, pizza isn’t just a Friday night treat for your kids; it’s the perfect way to teach a list of valuable cooking skills. If you start teaching your kids to cook when they’re young and at the “I wanna help” stage, they’re more likely to grow up to be adults who know how to cook healthy meals for themselves. So turn on some music, get out the ingredients, and have a pizza-making party.

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Kids are always more likely to eat foods they make themselves, so this is the perfect opportunity to get them to try peppers, mushrooms, ham, or any other food they’ve been reluctant to taste. They can even make a pizza with different toppings on each slice, or mini pizzas of various flavors, to allow them to try new ingredients in small amounts. Just make sure to make some plain cheese or pepperoni pie, too, in case the tasting falls flat.

Yeast and Dough Making

When you make the pizza dough, it’s a great time to teach about yeast, bread rising, and the circle of life. Yeasts are small, one-celled creatures that live everywhere on earth. When you capture the right ones, they eat the food you give them and start to grow. When your kids eat a lot, what happens? They burp, and so do yeasts when they get full of the sugars they’ve been eating. The gas they expel is what makes the dough expand, causing the bread or pizza crust to rise. Once you put the dough in the oven, the yeasts die, leaving delicious bread for your kids to eat.

Teach your kids about yeast before making the crust, and they can watch all the steps of the process up close. When you drop the yeast into warm water, they can watch it bloom and grow. The rising dough will puff up with the yeast’s “burps,” and it will rise again after they punch the dough down. While the pizza bakes, kids can see a final rise before it finishes browning and baking.

Toppings and Tool Skills

Even the smallest children can sprinkle cheese or place slices of pepperoni on pizza, but by the time they’re reached grade school age, most kids are old enough to learn some basic kitchen skills. Successful cooking always begins with safety, and this is the ideal time to introduce safe techniques in the kitchen.

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Children 8 years and older are old enough to learn basic knife skills. If you don’t know the proper way to hold a knife and to cut food, research and practice yourself before teaching your kids. Show them how to hold the knife and how to curl their fingers back on the other hand that’s holding the food. Teach about chopping up and down slowly while sliding the food underneath the blade for the safest cutting technique. Some of the best pizza ingredients for cutting practice are:

  • Peppers

  • Onions

  • Mushrooms

  • Sliced ham

Once your kids have mastered basic knife skills, move on to using a box grater. This handy kitchen tool is just right for grating blocks of fresh mozzarella cheese as well as slicing sticks of pepperoni. Younger kids should wear oven mitts or other protective wear until they get used to using this tool.

Baking and Oven Chemistry

It’s often said that if cooking is an art, baking is a science. You can fudge ingredients and make up different flavor combinations when you cook, but if you omit a crucial ingredient in baking, your recipe will never turn out right. The final baking part of cooking pizza is the ideal time to teach your kids about careful measurements, chemistry, and science.

Try some fun experiments by making tiny portions of dough without ingredients such as salt or yeast. What happens to the ingredients? Do they bake into tasty pizza? Even dough with the wrong measurement of ingredients will produce a crust that doesn’t cook right. Showing kids how to level off measuring spoons and cups is a good way to start them on learning precise measurement, a skill that will transfer directly into science class in school.

Once you’ve made the right kind of dough, emphasize the importance of preheating the oven and setting it at the right temperature. Teach them what would happen if the oven was too hot or cool during the cooking time. When the oven is set correctly, put the pizza in the oven for them and help your kids to watch what happens. Point out how the dough rises even more with the heat of the oven, and show the color changes from the sugars in the dough browning from the heat.

Use this final cooking time to revisit kitchen safety. Use oven mitts, and always look behind you when opening the oven. Instill good cooking habits now, and your kids can learn to safely cook entire menus they’ll be proud to serve the family.