9 Reasons Chess Classes Are a Smart Move

Sure, chess is a great brain-booster for type-A kids, but did you know it’s also perfect for children who struggle to focus in school or organize their homework? Here, a seasoned chess coach explains why every child can enjoy many brain-boosting, skill-enhancing benefits when learning this “Game of Kings.”

By Rachel Stamper

Chess camps, chess clubs and chess classes are the perfect way to introduce your child to the “Game of Kings.” While experts disagree on the optimal age to begin chess — some say as early as kindergarten, while others recommend starting at second grade — all concur that chess offers incredible benefits to boost the developing brains of children of all ages.

My son, now nearly 13 and in 7th grade, participated in after-school chess club throughout elementary school, and the skills he learned in chess continue to benefit him both socially and academically. “I don’t like sports, but do like competition,” he says. A variation called “bughouse chess” was his favorite, because it’s a team chess game. “Plus I’ve got a shelf full of chess trophies!”

I chatted with Coach Brett Ramirez of The Chess Club about these and other benefits of enrolling a child in a chess program. He offers the following insight, gained from his more than 20 years’ experience coaching chess for elementary through high school kids.

#1 Chess Encourages Focus

Learning and playing chess teaches children the benefits of careful observation and concentration If the student doesn’t watch what’s happening, they can’t respond to it, no matter how smart they are.

#2 Chess Teaches Visualization

We prompt children to imagine a sequence of actions before it happens. This strengthens their ability to visualize by training them to shift the pieces in their mind several moves ahead to predict outcomes.

#3 Chess Trains Thoughtfulness

Children are taught to think, then act. We teach them to ask, “If I do this, what might happen as a result and how can I respond?” Over time, chess helps kids develop patience and learn to think ahead.

#4 Chess Inspires Critical Thinking

We teach students that they don’t have to do the first thing that pops into their mind. They learn to identify and weigh options and consider the pros and cons of various alternatives before they act.

#5 Chess Instills Analysis and Logic

Children learn to evaluate results of a series of actions and outcomes. They ask themselves, “Does this sequence help me or hurt me?” This way, they see that better decisions come from logic, rather than impulse.

#6 Chess Guides Abstract Thinking

We teach kids how to step back from details periodically and consider the bigger picture. They also learn to transfer patterns used in one context and apply them to different, but related situations.

#7 Chess Supports Planning

Children are shown how to develop longer-range goals and take steps towards accomplishing these goals. They are also taught how to reevaluate their plans on the fly as new developments change the scenario.

Photo Credit: The Chess Club - San Jose, CA
Photo Credit: The Chess Club – San Jose, CA

#8 Chess Inspires Multiple Lines of Thought

We encourage students not to become overly absorbed in any one consideration, but to try to weigh various factors all at once. Simultaneous juggling of multiple considerations is a skill that can be learned early.

#9 Chess Spurs Socialization

In schools, chess serves as a bridge, bringing together children of different ages, races and genders. Chess helps build individual friendships, camaraderie, healthy competition and sportsmanship.

Coach Brett adds, “The beauty of chess as a teaching tool is that it stimulates children’s minds and helps them to build these skills while enjoying themselves. As a result, children become more critical thinkers, better problem solvers and more independent decision makers.”

Now It’s Your Move!

Find an online chess class or club  and introduce your kids to the great game of chess.

Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Kitchen Science: Easy and Fun Experiments Straight from the Cupboard

You don’t need spendy science kits to have fun with your kids and teach them (or learn with them) about science at home. Never fear – you don’t need special tools or any deep knowledge of chemistry to take on these projects. Your kids will be thrilled to be doing science with you and you can be excited that they’re doing something educational and spending a few minutes away from video games, texting and TV. There are endless possibilities for at-home science or online science classes to do experiments with things you already have in your cupboards or that you can buy for less money.

Fantastic Foam

One bar of basic Ivory soap (must be this brand)
Microwave safe plate

The experiment:

Unwrap the bar of Ivory soap and place it in the center of the plate. Turn the microwave on and just watch what happens. The soap will begin to bubble and puff up, then will expand to 10 times or more its original size. It’s incredible to watch. Expect a lot of oohs and ahhs from the kiddos. Once it’s splendidly large, turn off the microwave and open the door, but don’t touch! It will be hot.

Wait a few moments then use a pot holder to pull out the plate. Wait about 5-10 minutes for it to cool then your kids can touch it, break off chunks and even wash their hands with it. While they wonder at the feel of exploded soap, you can explain the science behind what they saw and are now feeling. The soap will get a bit harder once it cools down, but it will stay in the shape it expanded to.

The science behind the phenomena:

Ivory soap is whipped up with air, that’s why it’s so much lighter than other brands of soap. The microwaves interact with the water molecules inside the air pockets trapped in the soap. The water molecules turn to steam and that increases pressure on the soap and breaks down the outside. It then puffs out for the same reason that popcorn kernels do when they’re microwaved. Cool, huh?

Breathless Balloon

What you’ll need:

Round balloons
White vinegar
Baking soda
Twist ties
Empty 16 oz water bottles

The experiment:

Using the funnel, have your kids pour two tablespoons of vinegar into the balloon. Secure it tightly with a twist tie close to the lump of filling. Next, rinse your funnel and use it to fill the water bottle with a cup of vinegar. For littler kids, you can do this prep work for them or help out with the sloppy parts, but ages five and up should be able to do all this on their own.

Stretch the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle with the twist tie still in place. Once it’s snug in place, undo the twist tie and let the baking soda fall into the vinegar and watch the balloon inflate as if by magic. Your kids will be amazed. Once it’s done, they can remove it and knot it off and it will stay inflated just as if you blew it up with your mouth.

The science behind the phenomena:

Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. When combined, there’s a chemical reaction that breaks apart both original substances and forms new ones. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and vinegar is acetic acid and water. This chemical reaction leaves you with water, salt and carbon dioxide. It’s the carbon dioxide that fills the balloon. Recognize CO2? That’s the stuff we breathe out.

Elephant Toothpaste

Hydrogen peroxide (regular will work but for a bigger reaction, get 6% from the beauty store)
Liquid dish soap
Food coloring
Packet of yeast
Cake or foil pan
Plastic gloves
Empty 16 oz water bottle

The experiment:

Use gloves to keep peroxide off your kids’ skin and make sure your kids don’t get it in their eyes. Use the funnel to pour ½ cup peroxide into the water bottle, add ¼ cup dish liquid and a few drops of food coloring. Gently swirl the bottle to blend the ingredients. In the bowl, mix the packet of yeast with a bit of warm water and leave it for 5-7 minutes until it’s foamy and active.

Put the bottle into the center of the pan to control any mess and then use the funnel to pour the active yeast mix into the peroxide/soap mix. Then stand back and be amazed. You’ll get a foam that expands up and out of the bottle like a gush of toothpaste out of a tube. Standard peroxide will give a thinner foam. Let the kids touch the foam and bottle to feel the heat that comes with the chemical reaction!

The science behind the phenomena:

Hydrogen peroxide has lots of oxygen in it and when you added the yeast, it served as a catalyst that remove the oxygen really fast and created tons of bubbles. Because it also produced heat, it’s called an exothermic reaction. The products left over are just soap, water and oxygen, so it’s safe for your kids to touch – but don’t let them get it in their mouth or eyes.

Clean up tips

When disposing of your science experiments, you can keep the Ivory soap around, just chip it up and put it in a bag for hand washing or toss it in the trash if you don’t want to keep it. The baking soda and vinegar from the breathless balloon can go straight down the drain – they’re harmless. The elephant toothpaste leftovers can also go down the drain since it’s just soap and water.

And, you never know, your kitchen science experiments may inspire one of your kids to be the next Neil deGrasse Tyson or Mary Leakey. If these science experiments are a big hit, there’s no need to stop here. Check out online science classes or science camps for more at-home projects and experiments.

Find online classes in science and technology  >>


5 Surprising Ways to Get Your Math-Hating Kid to Embrace Numbers

Have a child whose homework mantra is “I hate math”? This mom’s been there — and formulated some smart solutions that you can use to put the “fun” in the fundamentals of math.

By Rachel Stamper

If your child’s daily after school mantra is “I hate math” or “I just don’t get it,” you may be facing an uphill battle. When kids are struggling in a particular subject, they may close down and it can be tough to convince them that they can succeed. We had this experience with our older son and the subject of math. When he was in elementary school, he was routinely brought to tears by his math homework. We tried to help him, but soon realized it wasn’t enough. We had to change up our approach to math in general.

After some research and experimentation, we found that incorporating math into our everyday activities was the best method to reinforce skills and get our son excited about math. Over the course of a few weeks, we found opportunities to practice math in real-world ways — in playing games, making recipes, and participating in other fun activities. This built our son’s confidence while honing his math skills and, within a few weeks, there were no more tears and much better grades. By the time our son hit the more complex course work of middle school and, later, high school, he was more open to math in general.. Here are some of our best ideas to try at your home.

Find kids’ academic classes > >

1. Add Math into Family Game Night

Family game night is a fun and subtle way to reinforce math skills while spending quality time with your child. Some of the best math games are those that your child will not realize are math games. Here are three of our favorites, which are available online and in retail stores.

Set. This card game for ages 6 and up can be played on a small surface and teaches pattern recognition and logic that are core to mastering math skills. Players make sets of cards with patterns and colors. On the surface it won’t seem like a math game, which is why it’s perfect to reinforce skills. When you can no longer make sets, you can ask your children to explain why there are no more sets to make. This is more of a math thinking game than a math computation game.

Sumoku. This tabletop game is perfect for kids in elementary school through middle school, and it’s played with numbered tiles that come in a totally portable cone-shaped vinyl bag. This fun and fast game reinforces both addition and multiplication. You can choose from five levels of game play, from easier to more challenging.

Monopoly. The classic game of real estate property ownership — for kids 8 years and up — is a perennial favorite in most homes and, if you play the original version, you can help your child reinforce a number of math skills, specifically those related to money. The more recent version that comes with a credit card is not helpful since it does the math for your kids — not good!. Have your child act as banker or let your kids take turns if you have more than one child. (There’s also a Junior version for kids as young as 5.)

It’s important to make math fun!

2. Download Some Appealing Math Games and Apps to Get Kids to Like Math

Let’s face it, our kids are all about their devices, whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. So it’s natural to use your child’s favorite tech to get them crunching numbers. Here are some free and low-cost resources that we’ve used with success: This website serves as a treasure trove of free, interesting games that your kids will love to play for hours at a time. Alongside it consider, a site with fun and easy-to-grasp tips and tricks for addition, multiplication, fractions, and more, as well as, which includes pre-algebra, algebra, and pre-calculus options.

Math vs Zombies. The lite version of this fun app is free and the full product costs just a few dollars. The plot: You are a scientist who uses math to save the world from zombies … while building addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. Your kids will know they’re doing math, but they won’t want to stop for a moment.

DreamBox. This high-quality product is used in schools across the country but is also available affordably for use at home. It auto-adjusts in difficulty as your child grasps concepts. It is pricier — and comes with a monthly fee — but it’s well-reviewed and proven to work. Plus, there’s a 14-day free trial, so there’s no risk.

Origami crafts help build geometry skills

3. Try Hands-On Math Crafts and Activities

Your child treasures face time with you, so find a time to engage in math activities without actively teaching or instructing. Some examples include cooking together to review measurements and fractions. Work on craft projects like counted cross-stitch, which requires counting threads and grids. Sewing projects can include measuring fabric and considering proportions. Building with Lego blocks can reinforce spatial concepts. Origami teaches geometry and proportions. The ideas are endless, and most any hands-on activity can use some sort of math.

4. Take Math on the Road

To help reinforce how math helps everyday life, demonstrate rather than lecture. Take your kids along to the grocery store and have them keep a running tally of purchases — then let them figure out how much your coupons will save. Set a budget for holiday shopping or a birthday party and have your child check flyers for sales. If you have a coupon for a percentage off, let your child calculate how it impacts cost. When planning family road trips, put your kids to work to calculate mileage between locations. For bonus points, show them how to estimate gas consumption and cost … then compare actual fuel consumed to their projections.

5. Inject Math into Their Interests

Math can make the most sense when it relates to your child’s hobbies. Is your child into model rockets? Watch October Sky to see how rocketry and math are interrelated. Is your child all about Minecraft? Ask them to how big the fortress they built in the game would be in real life. Is your son or daughter all about sports? Watch a ball game and calculate statistics, yardage, etc. Again, the possibilities are endless.

Find kids’ academic classes > >

Math is everywhere in our lives every day. If you can demonstrate (rather than instruct) how people use and need numbers, you can help establish a life-long love and acceptance of math. This adds up to tear-free homework in the short-run… and expanded academic and career opportunities in the long-run.

Multiply the Fun with Math-Based After School Classes and Activities

Trained instructors who love and use math are particularly adept at teaching kids and teens why numbers should be a source of wonder — not fear and loathing. You can find math and STEM classes that overtly help kids build skills, or look for a class in another subject that uses math, such as art, science, and kids’ engineering courses.


What Modern Kids Need to Know About Computers

Kids want more screen time? Offer these options to build strong skills in keyboarding, online research, internet safety, and yes, video game play too.

By Rachel Stamper

what-modern-kids-need-to-know-about-computersRemember when school was about the three R’s — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic? These days, it’s more like the three R’s and a C — computers. There’s been plenty of media talk in recent years about how programming and computers in general essential subjects for kids. And while the school year may offer children exposure to computer use and even coding skills, summer is a great time to build upon that knowledge base and expand into new and related areas.

Here are some summer activities to help your kids gain the computing skills they need to keep up (and get get ahead).

Enroll in a Video Game Camp

Why you’ll like it: All your kids want to do is play Minecraft or Geometry Dash for hours on end. Many video-game-themed camps allow them to play — but also encourage them to dig deeper and learn about how games are actually built. There’s also a social aspect, since your kids will get to make friends with like-minded gamers in the camp.

Where to find it: You’ll find dozens of options in the San Francisco Bay area, and beyond, on ActivityHero’s list of Gaming Camps & Classes (Note: Summer camp spots fill up fast as early as springtime, but there are still options for July and August, so don’t fret if you’ve waited till the last minute!)

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Build Strong Keyboarding Skills

Why you’ll like it: Many kids hunt and peck and never learn proper home-row typing skills. After all, they only need four keys to navigate a character through most video games (W, A, S, and D). Summer is a great time for your child to learn legitimate keyboarding skills. Worried they won’t be into it? Don’t be. Today’s typing instruction is way cooler than the dull “quick brown fox” drills that you remember.

Where to find it:

  • Dance Mat Typing – The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has tons of free educational tools online, and you don’t have to be a Brit to use them. This is a fun typing game that uses a talking goat to instruct. It’s perfect for kids in elementary school
  • Fun to Type – The plus of this site is there is a wide array of typing games to play. However, some games can be played via hunt-and-peck, such as Ninja Cat (which has you type to kill zombie dinosaurs). Good for elementary through middle school.
  • Power Typing – Here, you’ll find a tab that leads to “Qwerty” lessons. These are more traditional lessons that are better for kids in middle school and older. If your older child continues to use hunt and peck, try this program for 30 to 45 minutes a day.
  • Typing Club – This is a program that many schools use. While it’s not as gamified as others, the “stats tracking” feature can spur your child toward faster mastery and allow you to monitor their progress. Great for grades 4 and up. Learn here, then reinforce with games on Fun to Type.


Create Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations

Why you’ll like it: Your kids will need to know how to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations like slide shows to be successful in high school, college, and the workplace. Get them started now. And if they need a little motivation, challenge them to use these tools to make a sales pitch — like, 10 reasons you should boost their allowance or take them to an amusement park. If their presentation is on point, be sure to reward them!

Where to find it:

  • offers lessons on Word, Access, Excel, and PowerPoint for gratis. These run the gamut from how to create documents through advanced topics like mail merge and creating tables and charts. With video tutorials, written instructions, and downloadable practice sheets, these are best for older elementary schoolers, up through high school and beyond (adults too!).
  • has a set of great spreadsheet activities for grades 1 through 6. You have to register, but it’s free. Click “Download all 13 files” (find the blue bar on the right of the screento get the pack.
  • has PowerPoint lessons aimed at the younger set of kids that are quite engaging for the younger set of kids. These are developed for the 2003 version, but will apply to the current iteration as well. Check out ActDen too, although it is heavy on text.
  • offers a wide array of courses on a variety of subjects (not just computer-related topics). All are free and all delivered online in an easy-to-understand format.
  • also has a wide selection of online content for different age groups. Not all of it is free, but when you search by course keyword, you can filter for courses that don’t cost a dime.
  • Libre Office and Open Office are both free office tools to try if your Microsoft Office Suite is out of date or if you don’t want to pony up the big bucks to buy the new version. These are open source alternatives, completely free, and include document, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications. You can save documents from these programs into Microsoft-compatible files and can open Microsoft-created files.

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Dive in to Online Research

Why you’ll like it: When you were a kid, if you asked Mom how to spell something, she’d tell you to look it up i the dictionary. You can do the same with your kids — but with everything, not just vocab words. For many kids, doing online research consists of seeking out video game cheats, watching YouTube videos, and searching for the next toy or tech they want you to buy. But in-depth internet-based research using legitimate sources will be a critical skill that can help them throughout their schooling and beyond. When your child asks a question, instead of answering, send them to the web. Do ensure your younger child’s computer has “safe search” turned on or a kid friendly web filter. Here are some excellent (and safe) internet research resources to satisfy the most curious minds.

Where to find it:

  • The Internet Public Library (for teens) offers a great guide for research on the web. It explains what search engines are and how they differ from directories, how to phrase search terms properly, and how to bookmark internet sites for easy access during future research.
  • Research Starters is offered by Scholastic in conjunction with Grolier Online and offers a wealth of resources for academic projects, research papers, and science projects — or kids can just have fun learning about the world.
  • Virtual Middle School Library is a compendium of resources for research from student-friendly search engines to digital magazines and newspapers.
  • Most public and school libraries offer free and extensive digital (online) research resources. Search your state’s name and “state library digital resources” to get login information to access them, or ask your local public librarian or school librarian for access information.


Learn Internet Etiquette and Safety

Why you’ll like it: Any kid growing up today has to know how to participate appropriately in social media. And even though you’re comfortable that you can keep an eye on them on Facebook, are you ready to supervise their use of Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Yik Yak, and others that seem to be cropping up constantly? Give your kids some firm ground rules and practical instruction about the do’s and don’ts.

Where to find it:

  • offers a wealth of resources to help your entire family stay safe online.
  • BrainPOP offers a great video on digital etiquette for elementary and middle schoolers.
  • Teaching Channel features a short, easy-to-grasp 2-minute video lesson on email etiquette that’s perfect for kids of all ages.
  • Tween Parenting prepared a great lesson on text etiquette for tweens that’s worth watching and sharing.

Explore Coding and Computer Science

Why you’ll like it: Coding and computer science are the critical job skills of tomorrow, and the United States is trailing devastatingly behind on educating young people in these specialties. Don’t wait for them to learn the basics in college. There are many resources available to get your kids coding now — even as early as elementary school. Even President Obama is pushing the Hour of Code, an initiative to demystify computer science. Introduce your kids to these resources, and set them loose so they can find out the secrets behind creating the apps and video games they love.

Where to find it:

  • is a nonprofit dedicated to educating young people of all ages on coding and computer science. Their resources use Frozen’s Elsa and Angry Birds to engage kids.
  • offers computer science classes, including a badge that takes middle school and older kids through lessons on everything from algorithms to cryptography and information theory.
  • also has a selection of coding content suited for middle and high schoolers and those kids who are mastering coding more adroitly.

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Added together, these resources give your child a great way to get all the computing essentials. But did we forget anything? What tools would you recommend to other parents? Let us know in the comments section below your thoughts on what kids need to know about computers.

After-School Activities

5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Love Museums

Museums are something you may have frequented as a singleton or couple without kids but once you start your family, these cultural outings may have fallen by the wayside. You don’t have to give up your favorite galleries or drag your kids kicking and screaming to exhibits – you just need to ignite their interests. Try these tips to raise a museum-loving kid and you may find you appreciate both your kids and the cultural outings in ways you never did before.

Here are five things to try:

#1 Start when they’re young

As soon as your kids are walking and talking, they’re old enough for short museum outings. You may be tempted to strictly stick to “kid’s museums” when your little ones are young, but this may not be the best approach. You don’t want your children thinking that every museum is a loud, touchy-feely, free for all. Instead, take them to “adult” museums when they’re young but make it fun. Play “I Spy” with exhibits, ask your child to tell you what family members a portrait resembles, or as what piece of history or art they’d like to take home. If photos are allowed (most museums are open to this now), snap pics of your child imitating exhibits and then print them out and tack to the fridge at home.

Image from Flickr

#2 Always leave them wanting more

Nothing kills a child’s urge to do something again more than being dragged through an event. So don’t try to complete a major museum in one visit. The only way to see an entire museum in a day is to speed race through it. This will exhaust your kids mentally and physically and take the fun out of it. Instead, choose one gallery, artist, time period or a special exhibit to focus on so that the visit has scope and purpose, and you’ll leave them with plenty to see next time. For a younger child (five or under), cap the visit at 45 to 60 minutes. For age six to eight, 60 to 90 minutes is workable. For age nine and up, max it out at two hours or so. Better to take them out crying for more than crying in frustration.

#3 Download interactive apps to engage

Where museums were once camera-free and phone-free zones, now they encourage personal devices as part of the museum experience. Many museums offer an app specific to their facility. For instance, MoMA’s app offers self-guided tour info, a camera feature, search functions and lets you curate your favorite content. The Smithsonian’s new app brings exhibits to life. And, if the museum you plan to visit doesn’t offer an app (although most do), you can use other tablet and smart-phone tools to enrich your visit. Use a sketch app to let your child try and reproduce an exhibit they like or download a photo manipulation app then snap pics of paintings or exhibits and play around with them.

Image from Flickr

#4 Look beyond local offerings

The easiest thing is to visit museums near you. If you live in an area that’s rich with culture that’s great, but if you aren’t in a museum-filled area, you may run out of places to visit or discover you’re not near museums that cover your child’s interests. If your child is into airplanes, why not add a trip to the Kennedy Space Center as part of your next Disney World visit? Also look at museum offerings within a couple of hours drive or close to a relative you owe a visit. Click here to search for museums by state. And don’t discount smaller museums. These are often cheap (or free), highly focused and able to be done without any stress in one visit. Anywhere you vacation, you’ll find a museum.

#5 Expand your own horizons

While you may prefer art museums, your kids may be more keen on science, classic cars or natural history. Plus, there’s a whole swath of museums that don’t fit into common categories. Step outside the lines when choosing museums to spark your kids’ interest in learning new things and seeing the unexpected. In Tennessee, there’s an amazing towing and recovery museum with vintage fire and rescue trucks. Alaska has a museum devoted to hammers (any Thor fans out there?). Iowa has a matchstick museum that features a match-made miniature Hogwarts. Take your kids to explore museums from the serious to the whimsical – your kids will love it and you will too!

Some other things to remember – no matter what museum you visit – is to pack snacks, stop and rest weary feet, don’t postpone bathroom breaks and never show up hungry. Also, do research ahead of time to plan your visit. Find out what days and times are less busy, whether there’s a snack bar or restaurant, if there’s an app, what touring exhibits are open and if there are free or discounted days or coupons. Finally, keep the visit chatty and interactive. Ask questions and talk rather than encouraging quiet contemplation.

Check out this list of museum suggestions in our article “From The Midwest to the West Coast…Must See Museums”

Also, consider some of these museums that host summer camps for children:

Houston Museum of Natural Science – Houston, Texas

Children’s Creativity Museum – San Francisco, California

Miami Science Museum – Miami, Florida


5 Ways to Help Kids Learn a Language

The benefits of knowing a second language are multi-fold. It can increase your children’s future job opportunities, enrich travel experiences and stimulate their minds in new and exciting ways. If you’re not bilingual yourself (or all you have is a couple of years of high school Spanish), you may think you’re not equipped to help kids learn a foreign language. In fact, exposing your child (and you) to a new language need not be complex or costly.

Here are five ways to help your child develop bilingual skills that fit any budget or learning style:

Language Apps For Kids

Apps are the best thing ever. These days, there seems to be a low-cost app that can teach you anything. You can buy Rosetta Stone software for $100-$250, but why not try a free (or nearly free) app for your kids’ iPhone, iPad or tablet instead? Since kids love their devices, this seems like the natural conduit to drop some language skills on them lennossa. Here are a few apps to consider:

  • Gus on the Go – Better for younger kids, an animated traveling owl teaches fun and easy foreign language vocabulary lessons. With more than 25 languages to choose from at a price tag of less than $4, this one is muy bueno.
  • Little Pim – For elementary school kids, the Panda hero of this series of iTunes videos and apps teaches kids language in a fun way. Videos run $20 and are themed (like food, home, numbers, feelings, etc.). This series is sehr gut.
  • Mindsnacks – This totally free app was rated “one of the best educational apps of the year” and is recommended for grade five through adult. It’s game based, so you play along to level up while you learn. The low cost and high ratings make this one perfetto.

Language programs

As mentioned above, Rosetta Stone can cost a fortune, but you can get costly audio, video, software and book language programs for zero cost from your local library. Browse the non-fiction stacks of your local library (or your child’s school library) in the 430 through 490 sections for shelves of free resources. Your library may also offer e-resources you can access through your digital device. Check, 3M Cloud Library or ask at the checkout desk to see if your library participates in an online resource program so you can download language books for your kids free and instantly. That’s a magkaunawaan.

Total immersion


It’s accepted wisdom that immersion is the preferable way to fast track lifelong foreign language skills, but if you don’t speak a foreign language yourself, what can you do? Here are some tips to try to help your child jump into the djúpt enda.

  • Look for a family friend or relative with second language skills and arrange for your child to spend time with them but ask them to only speak their native (or learned) language when they interact with your child.
  • Consider an immersion summer camp to fast-track language skills. Universe of Colors offers day camps, and Concordia Language Villages offer cool sleep away camp programs to make it easy for your child to learn new skills in no time.
  • Check local colleges for foreign students that may be willing to come to your house and hang out and share their native language skills in exchange for a bit of cash, a home cooked meal, and some family time if they’re lonely.
  • Contact your local senior center to find out if they have any retirees with multi-lingual skills who might enjoy a visit from your student. This is a win-win. The senior gets face time with a visitor, and your kid gets language help.

Community programs

Parks and recreation based programs are cheaper than language schools or day camps. You can score a language program for as little as $5 a class through your rec department. The downside to a community program is that it’s a group setting and will move only as fast as the slowest participant. The upsides are that it’s local to you, very affordable and can allow your child to sample different language programs on the cheap to see which one they prefer. From there, you can invest in language learning for the tongue that most appeals to them. That’s koopje!

Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube


Take advantage of free and subscription video accounts to find language lessons. Today’s children are very comfortable with video lessons – many use YouTube to learn the tricks of all their favorite video games or to master their latest math lesson. Why not put their love of video to practical language use? It can be synarpastikós for you and your kids.

  • offers a wide array of free language lessons. Some offer a short session then send you to a website for priced versions while some channels are dedicated to a specific language and offer a free YouTube-based program to teach your young one language skills.
  • There are two ways to use for bilingual instruction. First, Have your kids watch their fave films dubbed into another language. Click here to see how to utilize alternate audio settings. Second, use Netflix DVD mailer options to rent instructional language DVDs. Log into your account and browse the Special Interest category to find foreign language lesson DVDs.
  • With, an annual Prime account gets you access to a load of free materials including gratis Kindle language books. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for your iPhone or another device. Prime Music offers subliminal language lessons, and the Kindle Owners Lending Library has a number of foreign language books you can check out for free. As with Netflix, you can set streaming videos to alternate dubbed languages or foreign subtitles. And if you have a $9.99 monthly Kindle Unlimited subscription, there are more than 7,300 titles in this category to help your child learn a foreign language. And if your child doesn’t have a Kindle, you can get an HD Fire Kindle for as low as $99 so they can access these lessons without the cost of an iPad.

Learning a second (or third or fourth) language can broaden your child’s horizons for the rest of his/her lives. If they want to try a foreign exchange program as a teen, they’ll be well equipped. It can make them feel more at ease when you travel internationally and, studies show, taking on a second language enhances your child’s cognitive development. Plus, once they’re grown, having another language in their skill set can enhance your kid’s job opportunities and earnings potential which is fantastisk.

Article phrase guide:

  • lennossa – Finnish for “on the fly”
  • muy bueno – Spanish for “very good”
  • sehr gut – German for “very good”
  • perfetto – Italian for “perfect”
  • magkaunawaan – Filipino for “bargain”
  • djúpt enda – Icelandic for “deep end”
  • koopje – Dutch for “bargain”
  • synarpastikós – Greek for “exciting”

If you want to help your child learn a foreign language this summer, and you live in the Bay Area, check out EFBA French Immersion Summer Camps in Mountain View, CA. Or you can click here to discover language learning classes in your area!

Academics Creative Writing Reading

Best Books to Get Your Middle Schooler Interested in Reading

If your middle schooler hasn’t fallen in love with reading, take a look at this list of books. From fantasy to nonfiction to movie stories and more …

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Getting your child to read can be a matter of simply putting engaging material in front of them. My personal strategy is to pre-read books with my son’s taste in mind, then put only the best books in front of him. Not only does this ensure my tween has compelling (and appropriate) reading material, but it also gives us plenty of things to talk about around the dinner table. Consider trying out lit in many forms — graphic novels, Kindle books and good old fashioned paperbacks.

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Here’s an intriguing roundup of everything from end-of-the-world tales to mysteries to nonfiction. You just might find a title that will entice your middle school child to start turning pages (whether paper or electronic) immediately!

Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic Books for Middle Schoolers

Dystopian literature is a popular Young Adult genre that is typified by a society unlike our own with unsettling or unpleasant living conditions that must be overcome. Post-apocalyptic novels are set in a period after a world-changing cataclysm. Here are a few in this category to consider if your tween likes games and TV shows that are a little darker.

Matched by Ally Condie

In a world rigidly controlled by the “Society,” young people at age 17 are matched (by the powers that be) to their life partner. Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander, but sees that an outcast named Ky was a discarded possibility. This sends her on a journey to question the choices made for them and how little control they have over their futures. It’s the first in a three-book series that Disney purchased for future film production.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Teen Thomas wakes in a service elevator being lifted into a harsh world populated only by other boys his age. They have to survive within a courtyard surrounded by a maze with walls 50 feet high and dodge the monsters that lurk in it. When they don’t progress fast enough, the stakes get higher. This has been made into a hit movie and is the first of a trilogy, so there’s plenty of reading available.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

The setting: an alternate world where everyone grows up looking average until they get mandatory life-changing cosmetic surgery when they reach age 16. But physical perfection comes at a mind-numbing cost. A band of rebels fights against the ruling overlords to be who they are no matter how they look. This is a great book for pre-pubescent kids already feeling the pressure to look a certain way. It’s the first in a series of four novels.

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Science Fiction Books for Middle Schoolers

This isn’t your mother or father’s sci-fi. Today’s futuristic YA novels are more complex and look beyond simple travel to (or life on) another planet. Or they look to the future of our own Earth, where new technologies craft our societies and how we live. If your tween is all about high-tech stuff and enjoys movies like Ender’s Game, this is a category of fiction that encourages them to explore their imaginations.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael and a group of teens were born in a hospital while a new medical devices were being tested — and now they all have superpowers. Vey can manipulate electricity. He has Tourette’s and is being raised by a single mom while on the run from the corporation trying to collect the kids. He makes friends with more super kids and they confront the evil Dr Hatch. Four books have been released of this gripping seven-novel series.

Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

The sci-fi Escape from Furnace series borders on horror and is perfect for tweens who dig The Walking Dead and Attack on Titan. In the distant future, Furnace Penitentiary, a fictional highly secure London prison for troubled teens, is buried a mile beneath the earth and is guarded by creatures in gas masks and deformed howling beasts. Chills ensue as the teens try to escape unjust sentences and monsters.

Feed by MT Anderson

This science fiction novel falls under the new class of cyberpunk. Set in the near future, people have brain implants called a “feed” that is a pipeline to an advanced and aggressive Internet. Corporate ads, social media, and online chats consume the brain while corporations run America. Teens enjoying Spring Break on the moon begin to question the system and try to break free of the feed.

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Fantasy Books for Middle Schoolers

For tweens who have an interest in supernatural shows and movies, YA fantasy covers a wide swath of subjects. From vampires to werewolves, fairies to witches, angels to ghosts, there is a wide array of books and authors to choose from — and best of all, many come in a series that will keep them reading.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

Set in New York City, this series starts with City of Bones. It’s considered urban fantasy and involves a set of young teens. Demons have invaded the world, and part-angel part-human Nephilim, called Shadowhunters, hunt them down and protect the world. Fifteen-year-old Clary doesn’t know she’s a Shadowhunter, but soon finds out and discovers her world has werewolves and vampires as well. It is a gripping series.

The Secret Watchers by Lauren Klever

A rare YA fantasy with a male protagonist, this series starts with Visions where 14-year-old Owen Ryer visits a pawn shop and happens upon an old watch that unlocks a gift to sense dark energy and evil. Now he has to figure out how to support the greater good while dealing with homework, bullies, and other challenges that high schoolers face. Owen is an unintentional hero that will inspire your teen reader.

Echo’s Revenge by Sean Austin

Everyone likes a good video game, and 14-year-old Reggie draws the admiration of fellow teen gamer Claire. A new game monster ECHO-7 is released into the real world by game developers, and this fantastical creature is now going after the top gamers and taking them out. Reggie has to learn to apply his online gaming skills into real-world adventures to keep his fellow gamers safe. Great for gamers that hate to read!

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Movie Adaptation Books for Middle Schoolers

This may be one of the easiest ways to lure your tween into reading: Get them to investigate their favorite movie in book form. While a number of the above have been adapted into movies, most of those listed below became popular after they hit the big screen. Leverage your kids’ interest in the characters to get them reading.

Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

If your tween ever wondered exactly how Katniss came to be so good with that bow, the trilogy of books offers lot more back-story on her (and Peeta’s and Gale’s) childhood in District 12. There’s a lot more story than even four movies can show, and these books are great reads.

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

The Divergent movie didn’t have enough screen time to truly explore the strange and dangerous world Tris grew up in, the books do so quite nicely. And once your tween hits the halfway point of book two, they will be shocked to find out the real story of how Chicago came to be the land of factions and what waits beyond Amity and that imposing fence. This is one you may enjoy reading along with them!

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

The Percy Jackson movies were fun, but the books may help your tween pick up knowledge to ace a class on mythology. There’s enough story there to keep them reading all summer long. Riordan wrote seven primary novels about Jackson and his pals, plus five supplementary books and three graphic novels. The cast of characters suits male and female readers alike.


Mysteries for Middle Schoolers

If your tween is a fan of the shows Sherlock and Elementary or could never stop solving Blue’s Clues as a toddler, mystery may be a great genre to unveil for them. Some of these mysteries are whodunits where crime takes a darker and more lethal turn, while other books involve less deadly crimes. A good mystery can be quite the page-turner to keep your tween reading and engaged.

Heist Society Series by Ally Carter

This one is fun because the female heroine is both criminal and crime solver. Katarina was raised in a family of highly skilled cat burglars, but then she chooses to leave the family business. When her dad is suspected of stealing a painting from a dangerous mobster, his life is on the line. Katarina and her crew of teen accomplices must find the painting to save her dad. There are three novels and counting.

Young Sherlock Holmes Series by Andrew Lane

Picture Sherlock as a teen in Victorian England solving crimes as a young rogue. The series begins with 14-year-old Holmes investigating mysterious deaths. The second installment has him investigating whether John Wilkes Booth is alive and well in England. Intrigue and adventure accompany the teen prodigy as he develops his investigative skills across the UK, Russia and even China.

Echo Falls Mystery series by Peter Abrahams

A YA series by a best-selling writer of crime novels for adults, these books are genuinely thrilling and perfect for tweens. Ingrid is a busy girl and a big fan of mysteries, but when her shoes are left at a murder scene, she has to retrieve them without implicating herself. Ingrid must solve the murder of the town’s resident loon while sorting out the strange undercurrents she never noticed in her small town. You may want to read it too.

Nonfiction Books for Middle Schoolers

Not every kid digs fiction, and that’s okay. There are a ton of great reads on the nonfiction shelves, from biographies to how-to’s to historical accounts of great events. This is a genre to experiment with, so explore your local library’s generous nonfiction section. Below are a few suggestions to get you thinking about what true-life things your tween may like.

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

This memoir by a Paralympian who lost a leg at age 9 to Ewing’s Sarcoma is surprisingly hilarious. He’s been unlucky in love since middle school and goes back to talk to each of his former girlfriends to find out why he’s so clueless and where he went wrong. In addition to being a compelling coming-of-age story, this book explores Josh’s cancer struggle, what it’s like to have lost a limb, and how he found the courage to compete as a Paralympian.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L Swanson

This slice of American history vividly describes the race to capture John Wilkes Booth. Swanson used rare manuscripts, as well as interviews with those who pursued Booth, to explore the 12-day manhunt that ran from the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., across Maryland and into Virginia before they caught Lincoln’s assassin. Your tween will impress their Social Studies teacher with knowledge gleaned from this book.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson

This is a survivor’s account of life in a concentration camp. The author was 13 when her family was sent by Nazis to the Jewish ghetto and then to Auschwitz. She details living at the camp, wearing the yellow star, and being forced into labor, as well as how her experience strengthened her faith. Bitton-Jackson’s survival tale is moving and poignant, and it brings to life this terrible and important chapter of history.


Whether reading entertaining novels, visiting museums or attending academics-focused summer camps, make sure your tween makes the most of summer by keeping their brain active!

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Those of you located in the Bay Area should look into Journey Across Time’s Marco Polo Camp in Palo Alto. Children are taken on a 10-week journey through time as they read and learn about art, culture, languages, and history through a unique, hands-on, role-playing summer camp experience for kids ages 8 to 13. Storytelling and role-playing historic events are a great way to immerse your children in reading historical literature, while also keeping them entertained all summer long!

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5 Best Board Games to Trick Your Kids Into Learning while Playing

These days, most kids are heavily into video games and apps, but there is much to be said for a good old fashioned board game. No matter how old your kids are, sitting down for some dedicated time together will thrill them (even if they won’t admit it). Most Americans tend to stick to the classics we know like Monopoly, Battleship, Chess, and Trivial Pursuit, but there are many exciting new board games out there that can liven up family game night!

Here is my list of the 5 Best Board Games.

At our house, we dedicate two to three hours of every Saturday night to family game night and try to never play the same game two weekends in a row. This keeps the kids (and us) from getting bored and gives everyone a chance at winning since most of us have expertise in different types of games. Here’s a look at five of the best board games we’ve made part of our family game nights that offer the added benefit of tricking our kids into a little learning while we’re having fun playing together.

These tabletop games are fun for both adults and kids in the elementary to middle school age brackets.

Apples to Apples

This game doesn’t have a board, just cards. It comes in both junior and regular versions. This was a game our youngest son introduced us to after playing it at school. It’s a comparison game (thus the name) that expands the vocabulary, encourages critical thinking and usually provokes serious belly laughs.

You take turns judging by selecting a green apple theme card that usually contains a one word descriptive like “adorable.” The other players each choose a red apple card they think best matches the theme. Red apple cards played might include “Koala bear” or “Hello Kitty.” You can also go for something funny like “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

This game never gets boring and when your kids come across people, places, pop culture references or words they’re not familiar with, offering a quick explanation enriches their knowledge base and teaches new vocabulary. The grown up version is great for kids 10 and up and the junior version for grades 2-4. No matter the version, it’s a good time for kids and parents alike.

Settlers of Catan

This game is an award-winner created in Germany where tabletop gaming is a passionate pastime. It’s appropriate for ages nine and up and combines the appeal of Risk without the frustration of being wiped off the board by aggressive opponents. Settlers of Catan teaches strategy and cooperative bargaining because this is a game where you have to trade to succeed.

settlers of catan

The hex shaped board game offers spaces that provide you with resources including brick, ore, wheat, sheep and wood. You use these resources to expand your holdings by building settlements, roads and upgrading to cities. Because you start out with limited resources, you must bargain and trade with other players to progress. This requires you to be both cooperative and competitive.

This one is a big hit in our household and has spread like a virus to our friends and family who’ve played it at our house. Once you master the basic game, you can try expansion kits that add fishing and seafaring into the mix. Other exciting versions of Catan include Traders & Barbarians, Explorers & Pirates and historical versions like Ancient Egypt or Greece.

Rory’s Story Cubes

This tiny game has won big accolades including Child Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, Best Game at the Independent Toy Awards, Dr Toy Best Game and Educational Toy of the Year. One of the best things about Rory’s Story Cubes is that the game fits in the palm of your hand so it’s great to take on trips or to a restaurant so that family game night can travel with you wherever you go.

Each tiny boxed set version comes with nine “dice” with images instead of pips. This gives you 54 options to spark the imagination. You roll the dice then create a short story of a few sentences that must include every element. The basic set features story prompts such as a cell phone, house, bee, pyramid, sheep, fish and an eye. What’s also fun is that there is no winner. It’s a just-for-the-fun-of-it game.

As you and your kids create stories to fit the images, you stretch your imagination and strengthen reasoning and logic skills. Other versions include Voyages and Actions. Mix and match sets to make the game more challenging. It can be played anywhere: in the car, on a table, even on a plane. I keep a set in my purse so if we get stuck somewhere, we can kill time when our devices are dead or there’s no WiFi.


Scrabble is fun enough, but UpWords is more engaging because it literally takes it to a new level. It’s also played on a grid with letter tiles and game time runs from 40-90 minutes depending on number of players and skill level. Everyone gets seven tiles and the first player has to play a word that includes the center square on the board (like Scrabble also requires).

upwords gameFrom there, it gets crazy. You can either lay down a new word that crosses an existing word or build on top of someone else’s word. For instance, if someone plays the word “games” you can replace the G with a T to make “tames.” That’s a simple instance that younger kids are likely to play. Older tween players will explore more sophisticated options that allow them to replace several letters.

One letter of the prior word must be left uncovered. For instance “cater” can be turned into “laser” with an L and an S. UpWords helps to expand vocabulary and encourage language development. It also tickles your brain by adding spatial thinking to a language skill which doubly stimulates your cranium. Another plus is that the plastic tiles hold firm so a table jostle won’t send your words skittering.

Establishing (and sticking to) a family game night while your kids are younger can become a family tradition that will keep you in tight with your offspring even when they’re spreading their wings. These games range in price from $10 for Rory’s Story Cubes up to about $35 for Settlers of Catan. We expand our library by three or four games a year to keep things fresh, try new games and appeal to everyone’s interests.


The board game classic comes in both junior and big kid/adult versions as well as a wide array of interesting custom versions including Disney, Marvel Comics and Dot Com (properties are famous websites). We prefer the classic good-old Atlantic city version for our game nights. Monopoly is a fun way to reinforce counting and math skills, strategy and patience.

You may remember as a child that a multi-player Monopoly game could monopolize your whole day so when we break this one out, we decide ahead of time how long we’ll play and set a timer. The person with the highest net worth at the designated stopping point takes the win. And because this game comes with so many little pieces, we established a “winner cleans up” rule to make sure parts don’t get lost.

One version of Monopoly I don’t recommend is the Electronic Banking iteration. This one doesn’t use cash and instead has a credit card type device where you swipe your card to pay bills and collect rent. This is a lazy version that strips away the educational value of handling the faux currency and teaches kids that swiping plastic is the way to pay for everything.

Are your kids into board games? Camps like The Game Academy, Active Learning, and It’s Your Move Games allow campers the chance to do what they love all summer long!

Parenting Resources

Is Your Kid Addicted to Minecraft? Here’s Why You Should Learn to Play Too

My 12 year old son loves Minecraft and plays almost every day online either solo or with friends. And when he’s not building or adventuring, he’s watching YouTube videos of others playing and building. Seems like an addiction, right? That depends on your perspective. I have to say that I thought his hours of Minecraft screen time were verging on unhealthy until my husband and I tried it for ourselves.

My husband was the first to give it a go, playing on our PS3 with our son. It seemed to be a great bonding experience but I was even more surprised when I would wander in on my hubby playing the game when my son was nowhere in sight. He took to the game like a fish in water. I held out longer, but when my son gifted me with a Minecraft download for my birthday, I could no longer resist.

Let’s be frank – I’m bad at the game. My son and his friends laughingly call me a “noob” and I have to admit that I’m less into building than chasing virtual bunnies around, but my tween is just thrilled that I’m online with him. He’s even taken to recording our sessions and editing them into his own Minecraft YouTube series he plans to publish about teaching your clueless parents how to play.

But it was more than curiosity about the game that got me to log in and play online with squares of dirt and trees – it was wanting to be closer to a kid that puberty is turning into a “don’t hug me in public” hormonal creature. Here are four reasons to consider investing the $30 and a couple of hours of your time each week to play Minecraft with your kids.

#1 It gets your tween to willingly spend time with you

My sweet little son is growing a pubescent fuzz-stache and is migrating to that stage where he needs me less and less. Logging on gets me dedicated time where I have all his attention. My lack of skill in the game allows him to step into the position of authority and instruct me on how to mine, build and protect myself. He’s proved himself a patient and generous instructor. I sit down with a pledge to play for half an hour and then suddenly realize we’ve been at it for an hour or two. Offline, I get monosyllables. Online, I get quality time. Think of it as a relationship tool.

#2 It’s a great way to stay in touch online when you’re traveling

If you have to travel for work regularly, playing Minecraft is a great way to thoroughly engage with your kids when you can’t be physically present. Minecraft can be played in a variety of way – as a single player, you can play alone on your computer or on a public server with other players. You can even set up your own server and make it invitation only. From wherever you are, you can log on and play with your kids while simultaneously chatting on Skype so it’s a genuine hangout. This can ease the separation pangs that both you and your kids suffer when you have to travel.

#3 You can see who your kids are spending time with online

In addition to playing as a solo player, my son plays on public servers, sometimes with people he doesn’t know and sometimes with a handful of school friends. He and his buddies also Skype chat while playing so it’s like a virtual play date. Minecraft also has a text chat function where you can talk to other players, but my tween sticks to audio chat so he has hands free to build. It’s easy to monitor Skype activity, confirm that your kid is chatting only with friends and family and isn’t in stranger danger. Sometimes players on public servers may start an argument, but mostly it’s pleasant interaction.

#4 It’s fun

I’ll just say it – I don’t care for today’s video games in general. When I was my son’s age, video games came in increments of what a quarter could buy at an arcade. Saga adventure games on the Xbox or PlayStation have never held allure for me. But Minecraft, I have to admit, is fun. I chop down trees, dig holes, chase pigs around and build shacks. My son, by comparison, builds castles and sophisticated machines. But we laugh and he encourages me to evolve my skills. I even invested in a set of Minecraft Essential Handbooks with all the recipes for crafting (two sticks plus three wood planks = one wooden axe) that my adult brain can’t retain without reference material. You can even book your tween a Minecraft birthday party or camp!

What’s infectious about Minecraft is that, no matter how inexperienced you are, you can play and have fun. If you die, you respawn immediately. You can also turn on creative mode (rather than adventure mode) while you’re learning so you can play without worrying about running out of virtual food, being attacked by zombies or running short of building resources.

Even for the least computer game savvy parent, Minecraft is learnable. I highly recommend not only buying it and playing with your kids, but letting them take the lead to teach you the game. This will let you experience an aspect of your child’s personality you may have never seen because they’re in the driver’s seat and you’re the one with the virtual training wheels. Flipping the dynamic can deepen your relationship and bring you closer to kids that are growing up and away from you far too fast.

Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

5 Fast & Fun Rainy Day Play Plans for All Ages

Rather than letting rain put a damper on your plans, why not teach your kids to relish the bad weather as an opportunity for indoor fun and games? Too often, when plans fall apart, kids end up in front of the TV, computer or with a video game controller in their hand. Instead of moping, try these five rainy day activities to bring your family closer together. Soon, your kids may be watching the forecast hoping for a drizzle so they can try out these fun games again and again.

Board Game Buffet

Let each child choose their favorite board game and set them all up at once. If you have a long dining room table, pop the leaf in and make it a buffet. If you want to make it more physical, set one game up in each room so everyone takes a turn at one game, then run to the next room for a turn on the next game. This ensures that everyone gets to play their favorite game while getting your kids moving on what would otherwise be a lazy day. Leave a notepad by each game to remind whose turn it is next and what order the turns progress. Set a rule that winners cleanup to spread the task around. If you have an only child, you can be their opponent and try out two player games like Battleship and checkers.

Treasure Hunt

This is a great game for little ones that don’t yet have an attention span for board games but definitely want to play. This game can be hosted by you or an older sibling. Have them step out of the room while you hide some of their favorite toys in a couple of different rooms of the house. Let them come back in and tell them the item they’re looking for such as “your teddy bear” then lead them by warmer or colder until they find it. Eventually let them hide some things for you and guide you to them through the same clues to teach them critical thinking skills. They’ll be thrilled they were able to trick you. Even if you immediately spot what they’ve hidden, play along for a couple of minutes before you spot it. Gradually make the game more difficult and soon you’ll have a master detective on your hands.

Take a Wet Walk

As long as it’s not chilly, there’s no thunder and lightning and none of your kids are sick, why not get out and play in the rain? Dig out some already stained clothes and shoes and go outside and puddle jump. Make some mud pies, go on a nature walk and get rained on. The only real health risk is lightning or slipping on something wet. It’s on old wives’ tale that getting your head wet or being out in the rain will make you sick. Take a walk around your neighborhood or go to the local park or just play in your yard. Dig out your beach stuff – including sand buckets and shovels – for making mud castles. Sure you’ll get muddy, but then you’ll have the fun of bubble baths and hot cocoa when you’re done!

Blanket Fort Film Festival

Movie marathons are great on rainy days and indoor camping is always a treat, so why not combine the two for an extra special rain day surprise? Either put a group of chairs together back to back and throw some blankets over them or just throw a couple of blankets over your dining room table to create a cool and good-sized fort. Toss in some sleeping bags and pillows and you’ve got a comfortable nest. Add a laptop or tablet with your Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming service for movies and you’ve got your own miniature cinema. Just add juice boxes and a bowl of popcorn. By creating this environment, your kids will enjoy movies the old-fashioned way without a multitude of distractions.

Make Your Own Movie

Watching movies on rainy days is great, but why not take it to the next level and let your kids make their own? Most smartphones and tablets record high quality video so you can just hand over a device, cut them loose and see what they can do on their own. Encourage your kids to recreate their favorite TV show or movie, bring their favorite book to life or even conjure up their own script. You could get involved and do costumes, hair and makeup or, if you’re brave, let them have free rein in your closet. You never know, you could be raising the next Spielberg. Once they’ve got their movie done, watch and be amazed.

There’s no reason to ever let a rainy day get you and your kids down. Keep these five rainy day ideas in mind, take them for a test run and see which works best for your family. You never know, you may start a whole new family tradition. We’d love to hear some of your out-of-the-ordinary rainy day play plans. Be sure to share in the comments below.