Computers Digital Media Gaming Overnight/Travel Programming Tutoring

Smart Sites That Boost Kids’ Brainpower

Worried about the time your children spend online? Steer them toward these websites, which can help them explore new interests and expand their knowledge.

By Anita Sharma

Kids today are spending more and more time on their computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones. That’s not exactly news to parents, who have spent years agonizing over how much screen time is okay. What is news? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed their policy on screen time. Though they once deemed two hours to be the recommended upper limit for older kids (and zero hours as ideal for children age 2 or younger), their approach today is more “nuanced.” According to a recent article by Jordan Shapiro, the AAP’s new message, at least in part, is that quality is more important than quantity. One of their new guidelines, in fact, reads: “Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.” You can almost hear parents everywhere giving a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, this doesn’t give us carte blanche to sit glued to a screen all day (read Shapiro’s complete article for more detailed recommendations). What it does mean? We can feel better about the time our kids do spend on this new media if we’re more selective about what they view. To that end, ActivityHero offers this peek at some quality websites that children can use to expand their world, explore potential career paths, and elevate their education.

Find after school classes & camps near you >>

Sites That Help Kids Excel in School

There are so many websites that can help children with their education. Whether your child wants to get ahead, review previous subject matter, or solidify concepts they’re learning in school, Khan Academy is a great place to start — and it’s completely free. Information is conveyed through videos, which are developed and written by experienced educators. These videos — many of which are still made by the company’s founder Sal Khan — are generally 3 to 15 minutes long and break down each topic into smaller lessons, which helps students understand one concept at a time without feeling overwhelmed. Khan Academy also provides other visual aides such as pictures, maps, and diagrams to help boost students’ understanding. This site focuses mainly on math for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. However, it also offers some content in other popular subjects such as computer science, history, music, and science.

Sites for One-on-One Help

When school class sizes are usually 20 or more kids per teacher, individualized instruction from a private tutor might give your child the extra help they need. Wyzant helps families find a tutor for math, English, or any other subject. Tutors are local or can meet online. The tutors set their own price, and Wyzant says the first session is free if you don’t like it.

Other tutoring websites specialize in only one subject. An example of this is PandaTree, which offers personalized tutoring in foreign languages via video chat sessions. The tutors, many of whom are foreign language instructors or professional educators, personalize each session to make sure that students have fun while they learn. Parents can choose the session duration (25 or 50 minutes), as well as which tutor they believe is best for their child. Students may change tutors at any time; in fact, it’s encouraged. According to the website, “Getting comfortable having conversations with lots of different people is great preparation for real life.” Each session costs $25 to $45, but PandaTree also offers package deals, which allow parents to purchase 3 to 40 sessions at once.

Sites That Teach Kids to Code

According to Business Insider, more people on our planet have a mobile phone than electricity, safe drinking water, and bank accounts. Learning to code can give your kids an edge in this high-tech world, since coders are in demand everywhere and will continue to be in the future.

To help them get started, the website Tynker offers introductory computer science courses for students who are 7 to 14 years of age. Here, students learn how to code through video games that they play on the site. (One scavenger hunt features characters from the Monster High series.) Gamers select blocks with actions on them such as “walk” or “mind control” to dictate what a character should do during each round. In order to complete a level, gamers have to use the correct amount of each block in the correct order. The Parent Dashboard gives you a window into what your child has learned, as well as the projects they have completed, and kids have lifelong access to each course that’s purchased. Tynker offers several pay plans: the Yearly Plan, the Quarterly Plan, and a Family Plan for households with two or more kids. Costs range from $6 to $9 per month.

Another great coding website is Youth Digital, which offers online courses in video game and app design, as well as some unique subjects, such as 3D animation and fashion design. Students can online-chat with instructors to ask questions and make sure they understand the material. All of the instructors have teaching experience and are passionate about working with students. Kids can proceed at their own pace since they are given a full year to complete their chosen course. These courses are designed for children 8 to 14 years of age and range from $74 to $250 each.

kid and grandpa checking out websites

Sites That Help Kids Explore the World

Plenty of websites today help self-motivated children follow their passions and explore more of the world around them. One example is Jam, which offers courses in careers that kids might want to pursue. Subjects reach beyond traditional school curriculum to include subjects such as cooking, singing, illustrating, inventing, and animating. Students learn from professionals who are up-and-coming in their field, and they can interact with other kids online, complementing (and learning from) each other. A mentor team ensures that students are on track and provides regular feedback on their work. A year of access to 20 “quests” costs $99.

Our global economy also means that fluency in more than one language can open doors to more career opportunities for your child. Conjuguemos is a website that offers free instruction in French, German, Italian, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. Created by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this site offers printable worksheets on verbs, vocabulary, and grammar, as well as games and graded practice sessions to evaluate their progress. Users can test listening comprehension by playing videos and writing out the words that they hear. Their efforts are graded right away, providing the student with instant feedback on what they need to review. Students can also track their overall progress by making an account on the site.

Another site that can prepare kids for life beyond their own borders is Kids World Travel Guide, which provides information about other locations and cultures and can help families prepare for upcoming trips. This site goes beyond listing facts and figures, helping kids explore other countries’ cultures through descriptions and photos of local wildlife, food, holidays, and more. The team that created this site includes young writers and travelers, and it’s headed up by travel-savvy adults who have lived on multiple continents. Kids World Travel Guide is based in Cape Town/South Africa, but their menu of 15 countries includes familiar locations like Germany and Spain, as well as some surprises like Qatar and Mauritius. You’ll also find tabs for trivia and quizzes, fun facts, travel tips, and games, including ones to play when traveling in a car.

Last, everyone in your family (you, too!) should take a few minutes to peruse the offerings on Masterclass, a website where people of any age can learn from celebrities who are tops in their field. For example, students can take a singing class from Christina Aguilera or a writing class from James Patterson. Each $90 course includes video content from the celebrity instructor, along with a workbook, interactive assignments, and community activities. Enrollment provides students with lifetime access to the course materials, so students can proceed at their own pace; however, the workbook does provide a recommended pace for completion, which can help students motivated and on track.

Editor’s note: All prices and information are accurate as of August 2016. Please check the actual websites for current pricing and details.

Take Kids’ Interests to the Next (Local) Level!

The web is a great place to start when trying to find some new hobbies, interests, and activities for your kids. Once they’ve hooked into a new subject matter or discovered a hidden talent, it’s time to search ActivityHero for in-person instruction provided by talented educators and program directors who live and work right in your own “backyard.”

Find kids’ computer classes & camps near you > >


Family Cooking: An Interview With Sarah Michelle Gellar

One of our all-time favorite stars is now a mom launching her own business — find out what inspired her new line of baking kits.

By ActivityHero Staff


ActivityHero: What inspired you to take your kids to the kitchen?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: As a busy parent, I am always looking to find ways to engage in true quality time as a family. While I am not anti screen time, I do believe a balance is necessary. My kids were showing a great interest in the kitchen, not just the actual eating but the preparation as well. I’ve always been aware of the benefits that can be found by engaging in the kitchen, from the development of fine and gross motor skills to language to mathematical and scientific knowledge and, most importantly, true connection. It has even been found to lower the rate of depression and obesity. (My favorite study was one done on Rhodes Scholars where the common link was found to be family dinners rather than socioeconomic status, religion, or ethnicity.)

My kids, not surprisingly, were really interested in baking. Since complete scratch baking overwhelmed me, I looked to my grocery store for help. I was shocked by the ingredients I found in the traditional mixes: bleached flour, heavy salt, and not to mention the dyes and preservatives.

AH: So you decided to create something better?

SMG: Inspired to create better options, Foodstirs was born. We consider our company the answer for “modern bakers.” At the heart of our company, our goal is to offer consumers a better baking experience focused on amazing taste, contemporary nutrition (non-GMO ingredients, organic flour, biodynamic sugar, no artificial dyes and flavors), and creating real connections. We offer a range of not just our signature mixes, but also our creative kits.

AH: Any tips for other moms and dads who want to get their kids more interested in cooking and food?

SMG: Cooking and especially baking is now part of our everyday routine. We love to come up with new ideas to make as a family. The supermarket trip is no longer a chore but a learning lab, where we discuss labels and ingredients and look for inspiration. And the time we spend together in the kitchen, being creative, is priceless.

We’ve put together a special offer just for ActivityHero where you can get 30% OFF your first purchase – just use promo code ACTIVITYHERO.

Learn more about Foodstirs >>

AH: Wow! Thanks, Sarah Michelle! And just a reminder: If your aspiring chef wants to try cooking classes and camps, search ActivityHero for options near you.

Find nearby cooking classes and camps >>


Photography and Video

How to Find the Perfect Photography Class for Kids

With today’s technology — especially smartphones — kids of all ages are having fun capturing the world around them.

But your child is different. You aren’t really sure how it happened, but your one day your kid picked up a camera has been taking snapshots ever since. Or maybe your smartphone is filled with kids-eye-view photos of the world. Something tells you your child might just have a natural knack for visual arts. Maybe you have a budding photographer in the family.

So why not try a photography class?

I myself took multiple photography classes throughout high school and college, which allowed me to hone my passion for taking pictures and my skills of working a camera, both film and digital. Given my experiences, I know that when choosing a photo class for your child, it’s important to know exactly what you are looking for. You want them to be inspired, because that is when their best work is going to shine through and they will actually have fun. So here are a few things to think consider:


Where to Start

Consider what your goals are. Make a list of your priorities, and if your child is old enough, invite her to participate in the exploration. Do you just want your child to have a chance to take photos with friends? Or do you want her to learn specific skills? Do you want her to know how to use a DSLR camera? How to take a picture? What techniques make for a more unique photo: lighting, composition, shutter speed, etc.? And what about learning how to manipulate photos in PhotoShop?

Search for Classes Near You

Shameless plug alert: We recommend that you search for photography classes or summer camps on ActivityHero. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll find hundreds of options from lots of different teachers, so you can do a side-by-side comparison.

When you’re looking at the descriptions, refer back to the priorities on your list. (And if you don’t find the info you want, be sure to contact the provider by email or phone to ask more.) Look closely at the class level.

Another detail to look for: equipment lists. Some beginner-level classes don’t require much equipment, but you might be interested to see what’s involved with the more advanced classes at each location.

If you really want to be thorough, check out the work of the instructor teaching the program. This can give you an idea of his/her skills and focus. It isn’t necessary for them to be highly accomplished, but it will give you comfort knowing that they can implement the skills that they are teaching your children into their own work.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Revisiting the Basics

It may seem too simple or boring to go over all the controls and features on a camera in a beginner class, but I recommend looking for classes that cover this info. If your kid doesn’t learn those things early, then she may never really be able use those settings properly and in turn will never fully unleash her photography skills. (I have taken three different beginner photography classes in my life just to refresh and master all of the settings on my camera. It isn’t hard to take a good photograph using the Automatic setting, but that isn’t where the art is.)

Look for a class that starts in the classroom and then quickly gets your kid an opportunity to try out the complex techniques. This really helps the material stick and might make it less “boring”. One of the best classes that I ever took did the first 20 minutes inside studying the concept of the day and reviewing pieces that mastered said concept, and then the rest of the class we were sent outside to practice what we had just learned. Then the next class would be used for reviewing and critiquing our work.

Kids may also like to combine digital photography with graphic design using software such as Photoshop. You’ll find photography and graphic design summer camps offered by Digital Media Academy.

Ask the Right Questions

Here are some additional questions you might want to ask, depending on your child’s level of experience.

What to Ask for Beginners:

  • Is this class for beginners?
  • What is the ideal age group?
  • What will they be learning?
  • Do they need their own camera? Any other equipment?
  • Is any outside work required?
  • Are there other activities besides photography? (more common in camps to keep kids entertained)

What to Ask for Intermediate Photographers:

  • How much experience is needed?
  • What concepts should they know already?
  • Aside from a DSLR camera, are there lenses or other specific equipment required?
  • Is Photoshop provided or do they need their own computer/license?
  • Are the photos critiqued or graded?
  • Is a portfolio created in the end of the session?
  • Does the instructor have any freelance or scholarship opportunities/contacts upon completion?

Finalizing Your Choice

Once you’ve gotten through your exploration, take a step back and do a gut check. This is where your child’s interests are going to play a major role in the decision. As mentioned before, one of the most important parts of photography is inspiration. If what your child is being asked to shoot doesn’t inspire them at all, then they probably aren’t really going to enjoy the program. When it’s time to go out and take photos, what will be the focus? Some classes highlight urban settings, nature, black and white photography, portraits, sports, and more. As they get older and more experienced, there are even options to travel internationally — which can really spark creativity.

From beginners to advanced photographers, there are camps and classes available to help any budding photographer master a passion for snapshotting the world around them. It is just a matter of a little research and questioning to find the perfect photography course for your child! Check out these photography classes and camps offered in your area!


The Perfect Gift for Your Favorite LEGO® Lover

Learn how LEGO® camps and classes can help unlock your kids’ interest in S.T.E.M. subjects and build important life skills. Plus: Discover 4 questions will help you find the right LEGO® program for your child.

By Laura Quaglio

Lego BricksFun fact for LEGO® fans: These versatile building bricks got their brand name from a mashup of two Danish words: leg and godt, meaning play well. Since LEGO® bricks were launched in 1958, kids and adults alike have certainly taken “play well” as a personal challenge, creating LEGO® masterpieces (Will Ferrell’s New York scene in the movie Elf comes to mind), attending LEGO® festivals and conventions, and flocking to see The LEGO® Movie last year.

If you’ve got a kid who loves all things LEGO®, here’s a great gift idea that can help them take their building skills far beyond play time: Enroll them in an after school class or camp that uses LEGO® bricks as a tool for exploring, learning, and having fun.

Find Lego Camps & Classes Near You >>

Kim Nguyen-Ehrenreich is owner and executive director of Bricks 4 Kidz San Francisco, an organization that does just that. Her company (which has franchises in in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), teaches the fundamentals of S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects through the use of LEGO® bricks, using custom model plans created for Bricks 4 Kidz by engineers and architects.

How LEGO® Building Helps Kids Understand S.T.E.M. Subjects

The Bricks 4 Kidz programs don’t serve as another hour of classwork for kids, says Kim, but offer kids an engaging way to learn science and tech through hands-on building. Specifically, these “S.T.E.M. enrichment” courses guide kids to learn math, science, engineering, and technology concepts to help them build LEGO® models and robots. “Anything that’s interactive makes learning a lot easier,” says Kim. “I think our main goal is to get the kids to be excited about S.T.E.M. subjects so they can move forward in that area.” By learning how these subjects apply to something they love – LEGO® bricks – kids may develop an interest in S.T.E.M., eventually leading to success in school and a rewarding career.

Though many branches of science are touched upon during the 1-hour afternoon classes – including physics, engineering, life science, and others – the two points of the day’s activities are for the kids to learn and remember something related to the S.T.E.M. concept and to have some creative fun. Kids of all ages are able to use LEGO® bricks and technic gears to create simple moving robots, with help from their instructors and age-appropriate plans. Older kids – say, in third and fourth grades — also work with simple drag-and-drop coding computer software to “program” the robots to make sounds or move in a particular way. “We try to make these subjects enjoyable for them,” says Kim. “If they can also take away a key concept for the day, we’re very happy.”

Girls building LEGO projects togetherWhy Not Just Build at Home?

Though free play with LEGO® bricks does allow kids to be creative, many of the new kits on the market today are essentially models, explains Kim. Often, kids will get a kit, build it, and leave it intact, she says. “So the element of free play is out the door.” In Kim’s programs, kids use LEGO® technic bricks to build something entirely new each week. Also, the model plans used by Bricks 4 Kidz were designed just for Kim’s programs, so they’re different from anything kids will find on store shelves. (A quick tip from Kim: Be sure to get your LEGO® fan some bricks that aren’t part of a kit – or get them an extra kit or two that they won’t leave intact — so they can dream up their own projects at home!)

Using LEGO® to Build Important Life Skills

Bricks 4 Kidz programs teach skills that help kids in all aspects of life, not just S.T.E.M. subjects. “They learn how to work in a team setting,” says Kim. They also develop fine motor skills, as well a self-confidence and perseverance. “Building a model is not always easy,” says Kim. Working to complete a challenge helps build patience and character. And kids take the skills they learn in S.T.E.M. LEGO® class back to their school classroom and their play room at home. “I’ve heard from a few of the parents that kids who took our classes seem to be more focused on whatever project they’re working on,” says Kim. “They become more excited about building with LEGO® models and learning about science.”

Kids building lego projectsFinding a Great LEGO®-Based Program

There are LEGO®-based kids’ programs popping up all across the U.S. — and not just in the sciences. You may find LEGO® art classes, LEGO®-themed birthday parties, model-building camps, and even activities focused on developing civic responsibility and leadership. (You’ll find plenty of options on ActivityHero!)

Here are a few key questions Kim suggests you consider when checking out LEGO®-based programs in your area:

Is class placement based on both age and skill level? In LEGO®-based programs, the curriculum should be age-appropriate, says Kim, but instructors should be sensitive to the needs and abilities of each individual child. “Some kids have really defined fine motor skills as a kindergartener,” she says. This means they might be really good at manipulating tiny bricks and assembling more complex models than other kids in their grade. At Bricks 4 Kidz, children are paired with others who have a similar skill level, which helps them work together in a way that allows them to build their self-confidence and learn cooperation and patience.

Is the curriculum unique to that program? Kim’s program uses special plans created by engineers and architects. This means that the kids in her programs will be completing models that aren’t available elsewhere.

What are the goals of the program? For the younger kids, goals are probably more basic. Children might learn to break down a project into small goals and solve problems along the way. They begin by sorting and identify the pieces, reading simple project plans, and learning how different bricks and gears work together. As kids get older, they can explore other skills, such as using pre-coding software to direct a robotic LEGO® creation to move or make sounds upon command.

Is there individualized attention? Rather than have a lot of kids working on one big model, Bricks 4 Kidz encourages children to work in pairs and on smaller, motorized models. She says this gives each child plenty of hands-on time – and a greater sense of accomplishment.

For girls, are there gender-neutral or girls-only programs available? Currently, all Bricks 4 Kidz programs are gender-neutral, says Kim, but she plans to expand the girls-only offerings in the coming years. “Particularly with middle-school girls, it’s hard to keep them interested in S.T.E.M. subjects,” says Kim. “We have to pull them in a little more and help them build their confidence.” Programs designed for girls can help do just that.

What are the instructors like? When hiring instructors, Kim looks for people who are going to be mentors for kids. “We look for people who love to be with kids and to be able to help them learn,” she says. “They make a connection with the kids and encourage them to take on challenges. We have kids coming out of our programs really loving our teachers.” Ask to meet with some of the instructors, ask for some specific information about the teachers, or read their bios so you can tell if the teacher will be a good match for your children.

Does the program look beyond LEGO®? “We’re not exclusive to LEGO®,” says Kim, who is offering winter break camps that teach kids about renewable energy, the water cycle, and water conversation – a current hot topic due to the ongoing California drought. “We’re teaching kids about the things their parents hear on the news that impact our daily lives,” says Kim. “There’s no limitation to LEGO®,” she adds. “But we incorporate a lot of mediums in our full-day camps to teach different aspects of our focused theme.”

creativity at lego campGetting More from LEGO® Play at Home

One of the easiest ways to encourage your kids to get more out of every LEGO® session at home, says Kim, is to sit down and play with them! “I think when parents sit down with their child, that helps kids feel confidence in building,” says Kim. “And it helps build the level of connection between the parents and their kid.” Though Kim acknowledges that it can be tough to find time to build with your children on a weekly basis, her company sometimes offers mother-daughter and other parent-child workshops that carve out a bit of time for you to bond over a big, colorful pile of these time-honored toys.

Find a LEGO®-Based Activity in Your Area

Ready to see what LEGO® classes and camps are offered in your community? ActivityHero can help! Check out our special LEGO®-based offerings today, and give your child a LEGO®-related gift that will keep them playing happily throughout the winter!

Lego Camps & Classes Near You >>


The Picky-Eater/Top-Chef Connection

A chef — and a former picky eater — shares surprising ways that cooking classes help kids with finicky taste buds branch out.

By Haley Burress

picky eater

Dinner time should be an opportunity for your family to gather around the table and catch up on the events of the day. But if you’re busy being a short-order cook and catering to (or arguing with) a fussy eater, you’re not likely to have that Norman Rockwell moment.

We are willing to bet that you have tried almost everything to inspire your picky eater to try “just one bite,” but according to The Culinary Dude’s Scott Davis, you might just need to bring another person to the table — specifically, a professional chef. No, we don’t mean as your private cook, but as your child’s instructor. Enrolling your child in a hands-on cooking class can expose him to new ways of preparing food, inspire him to try new fare, and provide him with a valuable life skill that will serve him well after he leaves home. It might even lead to a lifelong passion: Some chefs, including The Culinary Dude himself and Michael Voltaggio of Top Chef fame, started out as unsure and picky eaters.

Here, Davis explains how a chef-led cooking class can help all kids (including the picky ones) venture into more creative culinary territory.

A New (and Neutral) Face

When it comes to picky eating, “parenting tactics can only take you and your child so far,” says Davis. “Having an experienced third party involved who can offer new experiences and advice can take the situation from bad to great.”

You are likely no stranger to the neutral-party teaching strategy: You may have passed off your kindergartner to a swimming instructor and watched her paddle across the pool in no time, though she would never go underwater when it’s just you and her. And you are fascinated when you hear your child’s teacher sing the praises of his good behavior, though there are times you can’t get him to sit still for four minutes. These teachers and instructors are key members of your child’s village and experience. Why not get a chef involved to work similar magic in the realm of food education?

A Low-Pressure Environment

“I never force a kid to eat something that he doesn’t want to,” says Davis. “That low-pressure atmosphere is established first thing in my classes.” At home, picky eaters are often forced to eat certain foods, which can cause kids to dig in their heels even more. In contrast, a cooking class is often low pressure. Kids don’t have to try new things in the class, but chances are they will. After all, the rest of the class is sampling what they made, and they all worked hard on the dish together. Nine times out of ten, says Davis, kids will try the dish — even if they thought they wouldn’t at the beginning of the class, based solely on the ingredients list. Watching a child try a food that was once on his forbidden list is a step in the right direction!

Find Kids’ Cooking Classes Near You >>

A Role in the Food-Prep Process

Children are not always free to help with meal preparations at home. Older kiddos are often doing homework at the kitchen table instead of chopping veggies, while preschoolers may be coloring instead of mixing ingredients. However, group cooking classes often succeed with picky eaters in part because of the role that kids take in preparing various dishes.

“Kids in cooking classes should be empowered and involved with every step of the dish,” says Davis. “At the end of the hour, they are able to look at the finished product and know that they had a major part in making it.” Davis says that picky eaters may have an aversion to an ingredient on the prep table at the beginning of the class, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t still help with the dish. “You may not like tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chop a tomato,” affirms Davis.

At the end of the chopping and dicing, stirring and mixing, kids become chefs — and experts at the dish they have created from scratch. Even if the kids try the completed dish and don’t like it, they often will take it home to share with parents or siblings because they know how hard they worked on it, says Davis. Kids who prepare meals are proud of their work, and they can then lead a “family cooking night” in their home kitchen, using the recipes that they bring home after each class.

Picky chef making pizzaA New Preparation

Kids are sometimes picky because they have been exposed to only one particular way of making a food. Davis focuses on preparing the same ingredient in a variety of ways so that kids can see that roasted cauliflower florets, for instance, are not the same as mashed cauliflower … or that basil isn’t the same as Thai basil. Cooking classes encourage kids to get a little curious and experimental in the kitchen, which can lead to some new ways of trying foods. Broccoli brownies, anyone?

A Focus on the Positive

Your picky eater isn’t going to change overnight, but the more you can support the skills and lessons he learns in cooking classes, the quicker he will develop a more well-rounded palate. After class, ask your child about the recipe he worked on, or see if he would like to help you prepare ingredients (dicing, chopping, etc.) the next time you are cooking.

Also, try to refrain from saying “but you never liked….” when you hear that your child tried a food in class. Instead, focus on the positive, saying, “I’m so happy you liked this salad — that is great!” Then, breathe a tiny sigh of relief because perhaps your child will, in fact, grow up to eat things that are green.

Get Your Kids Their Own Chef!

Ready to ignite your child’s passion for new foods? Get him or her started in a group cooking class with a chef instructor! Check out our list of classes near you at ActivityHero. After plenty of time to experiment and prepare, and to taste and taste again, your child will be on the road to a more varied diet.


3 Truly Gross Recipes That Kids Love

Disgusting recipes are a win-win: You show kids some valuable life skills in the kitchen, and they get to gross you out! Check out these delicious, disgusting offerings from some of our favorite bloggers.

By Jillian Chamberlain

gross recipes for kidsWhat is it with kids and poop? They think it’s hilarious and they love talking about it, usually at the most inappropriate times. (Like, for instance, at the dinner table!) Well, why not use their propensity to be entertained by all things disgusting to get them into the kitchen and interested in food! (If it makes you feel better, cooking with kids is a great way to reinforce math skills, thanks to all of the measuring — and it’s great quality time for both of you!)

I have searched the internet to compile a truly gross recipe roundup for kids from some creative bloggers.

Unicorn Poop Cookies

Photo Credit:

First up is Unicorn Poop Cookies from an adorable kid blogger who goes by the name Hallecake. Be sure to check out her website and YouTube channel for more cool and geeky recipes! These cookies are easy to make and perfect for play dates, parties, or school snack day! .

Kitty Litter Cake

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

For all of the feline-loving fans out there, Kitty Litter Cake is sure to be a hit! There are many recipes out there for Kitty Litter Cake; however, I happen to think that this presentation from Katherine Marie Photography is one of the best looking! WARNING: Make sure you use a NEW kitty litter box and a NEW kitty poop scoop. Or, if that’s too gross for you: Use a baking pan and slotted spatula!

“Used Band-Aid” Snacks

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Katherine Marie Photography seems to have the market cornered on beautiful photography of truly nasty snacks! Cinnamon graham crackers, frosting and a strawberry jelly is all you need to make these snacks. I would even try swapping out the frosting for cream cheese, if your kids are into that. These Used Band-Aid snacks are easy to make and sure to please.

What’s Cookin’ in Your Town?

If your kids love making these gross recipes, they might be game for dabbling in a cooking class or program after school! Find a wide variety of options at locations near you on ActivityHero! Bonus: When kids enroll in a cooking class, you usually get to enjoy the fruits of their labor (fruit pies, too) — and your kitchen stays clean!

Calling All Readers: Give Us Your Grossest!

Hope you enjoyed this roundup of gross goodies! If you have a recipe that you want to share, leave us a note in the comments below! We’re short on booger recipes …



Everything is Awesome: Lego Activities

indoor kids activities obstacle courseIf you have a Lego lover, or even if you don’t, you can have some fun and creative activities with these everlasting bricks. These Lego activity ideas require minimal prep time and as long as you have Legos (or Duplos for the younger crowd) somewhere in your house, you are already halfway prepared. I pull out these ideas when my son is looking for something to do on a snow day or when I need a few minutes of quiet to take a deep breath or read a few chapters of my library book.

While these activities work great for kiddos alone, they really start to break the imagination barrier when you get the kids working in groups. You can try a few of these out for your next play date, Scout meeting, or even a Lego themed birthday party. Compete in teams or work in groups and then share the creations. No matter how you use these activities, you are sure to find some meaningful (and educational) time together. Let’s get started!

Problem Solving Situations
Lego 1
This one is my preschooler’s favorite and I love that it works his imagination and critical thinking. Before your group arrives (or while they are having a snack or playing in the other room), set up Lego figures in situations that require intervention. For example, figures trying to cross a shark infested river (like the photo), figures trying to climb a bookcase to retrieve a treasure, or figures trying to open a drawer. It doesn’t have to be a major production, so don’t worry if you can’t come up with a major storyline and situation. Instead, you are just giving your group the starting point.

Lego 2Let the kids know that they can create anything with their Legos to help the figures solve their problem. You’ll be surprised and impressed when you see them create creations from ladders to spaceships to help their figures solve the problem. Once they have created, give them time to talk about their ideas with the rest of the group.

Color Puzzles

The great thing about Legos is that you don’t need a lot of direction to get kids thinking differently or creatively. Try out a color puzzle with your group and see how they use the colors to make a new creation.

Lego 3Simply grab some crayons (make sure you only use colors that match your Lego stash) and make a pattern on a piece of paper. Then, ask your group to use the Legos to create something that matches the color instructions. They might have lots of questions at first, but simply let them build whatever they want. It just has to match the color puzzle that you laid out for them.

Lego Races

Pre-build a few creations to put at the end of the room. Tuck the pre-built creation into a shoebox so that it is not visible from anywhere else in the room. At the other side of the room, or the starting line, put a pile of Legos that includes pieces and colors that match the shoebox creations. Group children into teams, and let them know that their objective is to work together to build the project that is completed at the other side of the room. When you start the race, each child runs to the end of the room to look at the creation and comes back to the start line to start to create the finished product that he just saw. Once he places a few pieces, it is the next child’s turn to run down, take a look, and return to build on what they have started. Continue with this until the team thinks that they have built the exact replica of item in the shoebox.

When they think that they have it, I like to have them yell something silly like “Legopalooza” or “Happy birthday Johnny!”. Once they yell that they have it, you can inspect their creation. If it matches, they win and if it doesn’t match, they have to keep racing to figure it out.

Depending on the age and skill of your group, you can make the shoebox creations easy or more difficult to replicate. It is fun to watch the kids form a strategy and then adapt that course of action as the race continues. I love Lego races because it gives the brain and the body a good workout.

Start with a Book

indoor kids activities obstacle courseI’m always looking for ways to incorporate books into our home activities. I am an avid reader and, so far, so is my son. I think that the more we can get good literature into our day, the better and more imaginative our day is.

For this activity, you only need a good read-aloud book and a pile of Legos. Read the book to your group and then have them build something (individually or in groups) that is inspired by the book. Try not to give them ideas or any further direction and just watch where their imagination leads them. After they build, give them a chance to explain their creation to the group and how the book inspired it. Not only is this activity excellent for imagination, it is also great for comprehension, which is a major reading readiness skill.

These are just a few ways that you can breathe some life into your Lego activity sets. If you have Lego lovers that still can’t get enough, you might want to check out these awesome Lego Camps or Classes!


Kidizens Summer Camps: Leveraging the Love of LEGOs to Learn Civic Responsibility and Leadership

ActivityHero spoke with Prerana Vadiya, the CEO of Kidizens to learn more about their unique program.

How do LEGOs and being a mayor go together?  

At Kidizens’ Summer Camps, children (grades K-3 and 3-6) learn all about the civics and economics of managing and governing a city!  In a one or two week intensive, action-packed session, children partner up to create and run their own small civilization from TONS of LEGOs. As mayors, our campers have LOTS of responsibility and opportunities for leadership –they’ll be providing residents of their cities with EVERYTHING they need to stay safe, healthy, and happy! At the same time, the mayors will be managing natural disasters, solving everyday problems, dealing with budgetary crises, holding inter-city summits to work with neighboring cities, and handling animated court cases!

Our Kidizens team will present real-life lessons and necessary information on all topics and create newer challenges as well as opportunities for problem solving!


Do you have kids returning each year?

Kidizens’ Summer Camps have built upon the successes of previous camps and its established year long civics and real life social studies programs. Our summer camps have received tremendous parent endorsements and have become increasingly popular: many kids have returned for a second and third year. All the summer camps are run by experienced teachers and supported by dedicated volunteers.

Kidizens Summer Camps offered for grades K – 6 in Los Altos, Saratoga and Belmont, CA.

Creative Arts

Pantry Art

Looking for a rainy day or evening activity for your preschooler or kindergartener? We have a few ideas that will tap into your child’s inner artist, and that will work on fine motor skills. Even better, we made sure that each of these activities can be done with items that you probably already have hanging out in your kitchen pantry. Open up your cabinets and find out how you can turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, with the help of your kiddo.

Old School Pasta Jewelry

Let’s throw it back to the 1980s with a little pasta necklace action. I know it might seem a little boring or old school, but I’ve gotten out some leftover dry pasta and ribbon more times that I can count for my preschool son and it has been a hit every time. What I love about this particular activity is that you can change it up easily so that it feels like a new activity every time you pull it out.

2015-02-05 09.55.31.jpg

Today, my son and I colored the pasta by putting a splash of vinegar and food coloring drops into each bag. You can color almost anything (rice, pasta, etc.) this way – roughly 1 cup of pasta with a tablespoon of white vinegar and enough food coloring to give your little artist the desired color. Your child can do all of the pouring and measuring with your supervision, and can mix colors to experiment. Today, my son chose a red bag, a yellow bag, a green bag, and then a bag with every food coloring hue. Once he mixed that bag together, he declared that it was the pasta looked just like green beans and deemed it a good result.

Once you combine your vinegar, pasta, and food coloring, seal up the ziplock bag and do a mix of shaking and squishing to get the color incorporated. Your little one will love this part too. Dump the pasta onto paper towels and let it dry out for a few hours. Then, you are ready to string some sweet neck or wrist wear.

Grab twine, curling ribbon, pipe cleaners or even twist ties – whatever you have lying around – and have your child get to work stringing. Your child will not only be working on artistic expression, but his fine motor skills will be getting a major workout. Remember, fine motor skills come into play with pencil holding, writing and cutting. Introduce or practice pattern skills, or just set up the activity and see which direction your child takes it.2015-02-05 12.30.12.jpg

Don’t have pasta on hand? No worries. This activity is just as sweet with a few handfuls of cereal to string. There’s nothing old school about this retro activity. We’re betting your little one will love it!

Glue By Letter

This winter, we introduced my son to color by number sheets. He loved them, and was able to work independently on a sheet while I prepped dinner or checked my email. A few weeks ago, I was looking for something for us to do while we were trapped inside during a major snowstorm and decided that we could grab a few leftovers from our kitchen cabinets, a glue stick, and a piece of paper to make our own 3D glue-by-number art projects.2015-02-05 13.40.50.jpg

Today, we pulled out some dry red beans and dry lentils. He drew a picture for me and I drew a heart for him, and then we traded. “R” was for red beans and “W” was for the white lentils. Next, follow directions and glue the materials down. Once completed, admire and let dry.

You can do the draw and trade method like we did, or you can ditch the glue-by-number idea all together and just let your artist glue materials where they would like. You can use beans, lentils, leftover candy (perfect for after Halloween), extra colored pasta that you have leftover from necklaces, or anything else you can find. For extra fun, get your child involved in the hunt for materials in your cabinets. 2015-02-05 13.39.38.jpg

Marshmallow Painting

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but we almost always have leftover marshmallows sitting in our kitchen drawer. We buy a bag for s’mores or for hot cocoa, and since no one in our family likes to just munch on marshmallows, the leftovers just hang out and get stale. On another snowy day this month (we live in the Chicagoland suburbs where the term Chiberia is used to compare our weather to that of Siberia), my son pulled out the bag of marshmallows and wondered out loud what we could do with them.

Since we are certainly not going to eat them, we decided that marshmallows would make the perfect thing to paint with. A few drops of different colors of paint on a paper plate, a few marshmallows, and a long piece of butcher paper on our kitchen table were the perfect ingredients for a creative afternoon. While you can use the marshmallows as a stamp, my son had fun dragging the marshmallows along the paper like a paint brush as well. All marshmallows work – from the tiny ones for hot chocolate to the jumbo ones for s’mores. If your child isn’t too big on getting their hands messy, sticking a toothpick in the top of the marshmallow gives a safe place to grab and hold.

Friends, your preschooler doesn’t want the Pinterest perfect activities. He thinks it is awesome (and funny) when you use items from your kitchen in a different way. What will you try with the items in your pantry today?

If your child can’t get enough art, check out art camps near you.

Creative Arts

2 Unique Same Day Holiday Activities to Make With Your Kids

Looking for some fun holiday activities this winter break? Here are two unique and simple holiday activities you can make with your kids today — that won’t take all day.

Reindeer Cookies

  • 1 Package of refrigerated sugar cookies
  • 1 Bag of chocolate chips
  • 1 Jar of cinnamon sprinkles (or anything red and small)
  • 1 Bag of small pretzels

Pick up a package of refrigerated sugar cookie dough from the store (or make your own recipe). Divide the cookie dough into one inch balls and shape into a peanut shape with the head portion slightly larger. Don’t smash these shapes down too much or the cookies won’t rise! Add chocolate chips for the eyes, bite off the ends of pretzels so the center can be used for the antlers and add a cinnamon chip for each of the noses. Wrap up in plastic bags with some ribbon and voila, you’ve got the cutest holiday cookies ever!

Reindeer Christmas Sugar Cookie

Pine Cone Ornaments

  • 6 Pine cones from your yard
  • 1 Silver acrylic paint from your local craft store
  • 1 paint brush
  • 1 ½ inch wide silver ribbon
  • 1 rounded silver string

Clean your pine cones of debris and lightly wash off dirt. Leave out to dry for an hour (make sure they’re totally dry). Use your paint brush and add silver paint to the tips of the pine cone. Do this sparingly for a more organic effect. Let dry. Tie silver string around the end of the pine cone. Create a bow with your ribbon and glue in front of the string. Let dry. Hang on your tree and enjoy for years to come!

Gold Tipped Pinecon Ornament

Crafts Hiking Holiday Break Camps Ice Skating Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Nature Programs Play/Outdoor

8 Great Holiday Activities You Can Do With Your Kids

Christmas break and other holidays can leave kids bored or blue. Beat cabin fever with these low-cost family-fun activities that kids of all ages enjoy.

By Jennifer Moore

 kids winter holiday activities

The holidays are one of the best times of year to promote family bonding, and doing activities as a group can help strengthen those ties even more. Keeping your kids’ brains and hands busy also makes for fonder memories, since boredom and cabin fever are sure-fire triggers for sibling squabbles. The following are a few activities that cost little or nothing and can be enjoyed by children of all ages. With each one, think about your own favorite holiday activities from childhood, and use those fond memories to add your own special touch.

Shop for kids’ holiday camps near you > >


Get Crafty

From Flickr user sararuthberry

Start making holiday crafts, tree ornaments, wall ornaments, and frames. You’ll get keepsakes you can bring out every Christmas, and your kids will get a kick out of seeing their crafts on display for years to come. (Be sure to have your child add their name and date to each item.) Even if Christmas is over, creating decorations is a great way to keep kids busy during the break. Plus, you can see what areas of the house could use some extra adornment next year, then make items just for those spots. This is also a great time to do minor repairs and touch-ups on decorations from years-gone-by.

Stir Up Some Fun

Kids of all ages love to cook, and the holidays are the perfect time for parents and kids to bond while baking. Get out the cookie cutters, icing, and edible decorations (such as sprinkles and candy letters), and create unique cookies, cupcakes, and candies. If you’re not much of a baker, purchase a gingerbread house kit and have fun decorating it. Clean-up tip: If you’re not planning on nibbling on the gingerbread house later, you can adorn it with old candies that are left over from Halloween or school goodie bags.

Have a Movie Marathon

From Flickr user DavidDMuir

Don’t forget family movie night! A dreary or cold day is the perfect time to pull out all of those must-see holiday classics. Or break out the new DVDs that the kids recently received as presents. This is especially great when siblings are tiring of each other or when they don’t like to play the same games. Having the “shared experience” of watching a movie will provide siblings with an enjoyable interaction. Plus, they’ll have something to discuss later, such as favorite scenes, lines, and characters from the film. If they tend to bug each other, be sure to have them be bookends, with you sandwiched between them as a buffer.

Soon-to-be classic holiday movies > >

Throw a Goodies-Be-Gone Party

The best way to get rid of extra Christmas cookies is to invite some of your kids’ friends over. This may seem like a lot of work when you’re already trying to amuse your own children all day during break, but it actually may give you time to regroup while the kids show friends their new toys and games. You and your spouse can take turns supervising the play date, while the other does chores … or relaxes with a good book.

Get Out of the House

From Flickr user Michael Allbritton

It’s easier to get rid of cabin fever if you don’t spend the whole break in your “cabin.” If you live in a place that gets winter weather, then go out and enjoy the snow. Building snowmen, making snow angels, having snowball fights, and even constructing snow forts or igloos are all classic family activities because they just never stop being fun. But if you live in sunny California or Florida, winter is also the perfect season for a family walk in the neighborhood, a sing-along with the local kids, a hike in a local wildlife refuge, or a sight-seeing trip to a local tourist spot. Check out local travel guides and newspapers to see what family-friendly events are coming up.

Boost Kids’ Brainpower

School’s out, but that doesn’t mean your children have to stop learning. For kids who love tech, sit down together and check out interactive games on websites like, and Or plan an educational family outing to a nearby planetarium, zoo, children’s museum, or state park. Many such locations offer free talks from experts, guides, or rangers. (Kids don’t need to know that they’re educational!) You can also document the visit with photos, then research fun facts on wildlife or relevant subject matter when you return home.

Beat Boredom With Board Games

From Flickr user Crazybananas

When you ask adults what they remember most from their childhood, many will place “family game nights” among the “best nights of their lives.” Though kids will love playing against you on some of their video games, they’ll also get a kick out of playing those “old-fashioned” games from your childhood. Get out the Monopoly board or play Clue. Even a game of Scrabble can be fun when you divide the family into teams — particularly if your teens are obsessed with Words with Friends.

Burn Off Some Kid Energy

Many public parks set up ice-skating rinks for the winter, complete with cheerful Christmas lights and skate rentals. Or simply grab some hot cocoa, soak up the holiday music, and sit and watch the skaters twirl by. Not a fan of ice? Hit the roller rink or ski slopes instead. Or try a physical activity that requires less athletic talent, such as bouncing at a trampoline park, or a different kind of skill, such as playing laser tag. These latter options may be less holiday-oriented, but they’re just as good at burning off holiday-cookie calories and kids’ excess energy.

Shop for kids’ holiday camps near you > >

Jennifer Moore is a mother of three, juggling work, kids, and family time. Promoting family time is usually a job that falls on Mom’s shoulders, but the benefits are long-lasting, keeping a family united over generations.