Category Archives: Science

Earth Day History, Info & Activities for Your Child

Helping Save The EarthEarth Day is an annual world-wide celebration day to show support for environmental protection. Started back in 1970, April 22nd brings to the forefront the changes that our planet has endured and heightens awareness of ways in which we can help and make it better. Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

The theme for the 2013 Earth Day Celebration is The Face of Climate Change. We all feel the effects of climate change. Small variations in the weather,   droughts, poor crops affect not only humans but animals and their habitats as well.

  • In 2012 alone the National Weather Service recorded it to be the hottest year on record ever for the United States. Devastating droughts were reported across 2/3rds of the United States, as well as Brazil, Russia and parts of China.
  • Deforestation of Rainforests are driving not only animals out into other locations and reducing the clean oxygen levels in those areas but contributing to the global warming green house effect.
  • The Ice Caps are shrinking due to the global warming issues causing sea levels to rise in many places. As sea levels rise the threats of floods, landslides and less living space for animals such as Polar Bears in the Arctic.
  • Oceanic Dead Zones are increasing changing the migratory patterns of larger species like Whales  to areas where they can find plankton or small fish to feed on, thus changing the numbers of fish that come close to shore that fishermen can collect to feed their communities.

Each change or slight alteration causes a ripple effect throughout the world.

The Earth Day Network will be collecting and display images of people, places, and animals that are affected by climate change and the ways in which we can prevent and help to solve these changes.  A continued effort by the Billion Acts of Green movement rewards and inspires changes that are small such as  switching to LED light bulbs and washing laundry in cold water at your house to community planting efforts, installing solar panels, and recycling used electronics instead of trashing them. Any change no matter how small leads to changes worldwide that are huge!

Click here for instructions and a FREE activity to help your students understand the importance of the changes that they can make to keep the Earth as beautiful and as green as ever.

For more information on how you or your classroom can help the Climate Change movement:


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Recycled Ocean Bulletin Board {with how-to pics!}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

This fabulous idea was found organically (no pun intended) when my son’s pre-K class was learning about both recycling and the ocean. His {wonderful} teachers Lindsey Allman and Ariana Hull combined the two units in this uber-creative bulletin board, featuring an array of marine life made by the children out of materials pilfered from their recycling bins.

Check out the pictures below. This bulletin board is too cute not to share…and recreate!

How to build your own recycled ocean: 

The bulletin board was covered in white paper and then topped with crinkled blue cellophane wrap. Add a sandy ocean floor made out of textured scrapbook paper, white paper painted sandy tones, sandpaper, or a roll of craft paper. You could even get creative and have the children glue on dry grits: Paint white glue (thinned with a bit of water) over paper with a large brush, sprinkle on grits as you would glitter, allow to dry, dump off the excess, and hang.

The items can be attached to the board with staples, strong tape like Mavalus Mounting Tape, and/or a glue gun.

Add some yogurt-container ribbon jelly fish. The children loved painting their “trash!”

Check out the empty detergent-bottle Shamu!

Here’s how Shamu was attached…a little ingenuity, a little ribbon, and some staples. :)

How cute is this cardboard sea turtle with an egg carton head?

This empty container was inverted, painted, and given eight streamer tentacles with bead suctions. Adorable octopus!

A school of water-bottle fish is happily swimming in the corner. The bottles were cut by the teacher and their “tails” were stapled shut. The children customized their own fishies.

Some empty bottles cut into strips and painted green became seaweed. (Others were painted orange and assembled into coral.)

Paint and streamers transformed this drink bottle into a giant squid.

These three little egg carton clams may just be my favorite.

I like the idea of including a “what was learned” paragraph with the bulletin board, especially since this one is hanging in the hallway outside the classroom:

See why I had to share this idea? This bulletin board epitomizes a great culminating project: it combines two units of study, allows the children to utilize their creativity, and results in stunning student-made decor. Fabulous!

And…the class had loads of fun building this “recycled robot” out of their leftover trash:


Many thanks to Ariana Hull and Lindsey Allman with Primrose Schools for these awesome ideas. Your creativity is inspiring!

Click here for more ocean-themed activities, courtesy of The School Box.

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.


Filed under Activities, Art, Classroom Decor, Science, Social Studies

a long way from Legos: the latest, greatest building sets {and how to use them in the classroom}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! (Which you could use to buy…building sets! :)

Legos and Lincoln Logs used to rule the roost when it came to building sets. Not so these days, my friend. Magnets, gears and pulleys make today’s building sets more engaging–and mind-bending–than ever. Whether you’re looking for sets for a classroom, birthday gift, or just a rainy day, here are our top picks for kiddie-approved, creativity-inspiring building sets, followed by some ways to incorporate them into your classroom.

Gears, Gears, Gears!

The fun Gears, Gears, Gears! sets allow young builders to construct buildings, vehicles, factories and the like. There are a variety of sets, from beginner to themed kits (like this cute Movin’ Monkeys set), but all are interchangeable. Sets include spinning gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set creations in motion–plus interlocking plates for limitless building.


I first discovered these magnetized balls, rods and plates when my son received a Magneatos set from his Popi. Three years later, they’re still a favorite. No wonder why Magneatos have garnered so much praise: recipient of 2005 & 2006 OPPENHEIM AWARD WINNER; featured on NBC’s Today Show and Featured in MONEY magazine; recipient of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award (Top Honor); recipient of Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award Winner.

Thistle Blocks

Thistle Blocks are an oldie but goodie– a cousin to the Bristle Blocks from my own childhood. Guess what? These stick-to-each-other squares, rectangles and rods are still tons of fun. 


What set allows children to build movable bridges, creatures, vehicles and reptiles all with the same blocks? Flexiblocks! These wonder blocks, shown below, can be configured into a limitless variety of critters and formations: a boredom buster for sure. 

In the Classroom

Here are three ideas for using building sets in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creativity, while practicing  hands-on geometry, public speaking, measuring, graphing and writing.

  • Hold a Building Challenge.

Break students into groups or pairs. Give each group the same number of blocks (or have pairs bring in building sets from home) and set the clock. Give the groups 15 or 20 minutes to build. Then, have each group present their creation to the class. The class can vote on which structures win Most Creative, Most Impressive, Most Blocks Used, Most Movable, etc.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, oral speaking/presenting

  • Create (and Write About) a Fantasy World.

Allow students (individually or in small groups) to build a fantasy world with sets of blocks, including buildings, creatures, people, vehicles, bridges–whatever their imaginations hold. At the end of a set building period (around 20-30 minutes), students will then write either fiction stories, descriptive narratives or poems about their fantasy world, explaining what it looks like, who lives there, and how life works within the world of their imagination.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, writing, grammar

  • Have a Race and Chart the Results.

Lots of building sets have circle or disk components that make great wheels. Allow students to build vehicles and then hold a race. Make predictions about which vehicle will go farthest. Create a starting line with tape, line up students two-at-a-time to race their creations. Then, use a ruler or yard stick to measure the distance traveled. Chart or graph the distances as a class on a piece of a bulletin board or chart paper. Be sure to note which are creative and aesthetic, even if they don’t go the distance! :)

Skills utilized: critical thinking, predicting, math, graphing, measuring, comparing/contrasting

For more great building sets, click here and here and here.

Build on!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Critical Thinking, Parenting, School Readiness, Science, Summer Learning

Pinspiration: Pinterest Finds for your Classroom

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! 

So, you’ve heard of Pinterest, right? It’s a virtual pinboard where you can “keep” all of your online inspirations–from recipes to decorating pics to travel plans to–yup–teaching ideas. Here are our favorite Pinterest-found classroom inspirations…so read, enjoy, and pin to your heart’s content.

And, if you haven’t been formally introduced to Pinterest, yet, you’ll find a good article from USA Today on how to get started here.

Pinsirpiation: Look What We Found On Pinterest

Runde’s Room: The Queen of Measurement

This cute Pinterest pin, left, led us to discover the blog of teacher Jen Runde, who offers a wealth of creative teaching ideas. We love this idea for teaching the metric system by declaring yourself the Queen of Measurement– tiara included.

Mrs. Schmelzer’s First Grade: Sensational Space

The image from Pinterest, below, led us to the classroom of Mrs. Schmelzer, who’s always got a great idea up her sleeve. Love this idea for teaching the moon phases and other facts about the solar system.

One note about blogs, though, should you choose to begin one: make sure you use good judgment and secure parental online photo releases for any children you feature. You never know whose Pinterest board they may end up being pinned to….

Disney FamilyFun

This adorable paper tray, below from Disney FamilyFun, caught our eye on Pinterest. Can you believe it’s just three boxes (think: cereal boxes) taped together and then wrapped with wrapping paper? What a cute idea for art papers at a writing or crafts center!

These examples hardly scratch the surface of the fabulous ideas found on Pinterest. We’ll be sharing more of our favorites from time-to-time. We thought you might appreciate some help narrowing down the really great ideas, since it’s tough to ferret through the good, the bad and the pretty on Pinterest without losing several hours of sleep.

So rest up…and happy pinning!


Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Classroom Decor, Math, Science, technology

Toys that Teach: Christmas Gifts that Go the Distance

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card…just in time for Christmas! 

I recently sat down with my 4-year-old son to craft a Christmas wish list. Two hours and about 40 items later, we were done. And he’s only 4!! I didn’t even know he knew half those toys existed!

As his mom, I obviously have a more realistic idea of the toys he will actually play with beyond Christmas afternoon. My job is to sort through his list and pick the items that won’t be quick to become toy box fodder. To help me (and hopefully you) find toys whose impact and interest will last longer than the egg nog, I consulted with Chris Persson, mom of two, former teacher, and co-owner of The School Box along with her husband Dave.

“The best gifts,” says Chris,”are those that blend fun with learning. The toys we carry at The School Box are highly engaging, but allow kids to learn while they’re playing–often without even realizing it!” It’s like sneaking applesauce into the brownie mix: something good for your kids, incognito.

Here, Chris shares her top picks (and The School Box’s top sellers) for holiday gifts.  

1. Hands-On Science Kits, $14.99-$26.99

What child (or adult) wouldn’t want to build a robot out of an empty soda can? Or make their own slime laboratory? Or create a doorbell from electromagnets? As gifts, these kits are just plain cool.

What Kids Learn: “These kits bring science to life while reinforcing critical thinking skills,” says Chris.

 2. Games Galore, $10.99-$29.99

The School Box’s unmatched game selection is the perfect red herring for undercover learning. my new fave: Cartoon It!, a fast-paced memory game with an artistic twist. Younger kids will love Maze Madness, where they guide a ball through a twisty-turny maze. Game on!

What Kids Learn: “Games promote memory, strategy, fine motor skills, fair play and more. Plus, they’re fun!” Chris asserts.

 3. Froggy Ecosystem, Price: $19.99

This funky gift is an annual best-seller. It’s two little frogs in a plant-filled, self-sustaining ecosystem: no cleaning required. Much lower maintenance than a puppy on Christmas morning!

What Kids Learn: “They learn all about habitat and lifecycles,” says Chris, who notes that these fly off the shelves during the holidays.

These gifts have me thinking that The School Box may be as sly as those applesauce-laden brownies. Perhaps they should really call themselves The School and Toy Box: where your kids will learn without even knowing it. And, as for my son’s list, I think there may still be room to add a froggy or two.

 Need more gift ideas? Visit to order online or find a location near you. Or stop by any School Box location for Super Saturdays, where kids make a (free) craft! Second and fourth Saturdays each month, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This article was adapted from Little Black Dress|Little Red Wagon Magazine. 

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Games, Holidays, School Readiness, Science

What’s Your Problem? {science fair 101}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.
Comment on this post and be entered to win $20 School Box gift card. A new winner will be drawn this week!

Rows of project boards displayed on tables in the school gym. Students-turned-reluctant-scientists lined up beside them, ready to explain their findings. This scene–the annual school science fair–is part of every American child’s education, a prerequisite of elementary and middle school graduation. And it’s also an experience that can either turn a child onto science for life…or bore them to tears. Here’s how to help your child (or students) achieve the former and avoid the latter.

First Stop: A Strong Question

A successful science fair project all starts with an interesting question. Science Buddies ( suggests starting with student interests:
o Are you interested in plants?
o Do you enjoy sports?
o Are you interested in weather phenomenon?
o Do you enjoy mathematical calculations, formulas and looking at data?
o Are you interested in nature?
o Do you prefer mental or physical work?
o Are you interested in memory perception and learning?
o Do you enjoy learning about animals and their habitat?
o Are you interested in improving things?
o Do you like to create or design things?
o Are you interested in chemical reactions?
o Do you like to work with machines?

Next Stop: Problem Statement

The problem in a science fair project, sometimes known as the problem statement, is what the student will research and experiment. The wording of the problem statement often indicates what and how the student will research and experiment.

Good problem statements are easy to understand and directly relate to the rest of the project as a whole. Often, a problem statement discusses a variable–a part of the project subject to change–and indicates that the variable is important to the entire science project process. For example, a project on the best way to make rock candy might look something like: “Do seeded rock candy strings produce crystals quicker?”

Now Consider: Variables

Setting up the experiment in a couple different ways to explore different variables is the next step. Variables are the things that could change in the experiment to alter the outcome. An independent variable is something that YOU can change about the experiment. A dependent variable is something you OBSERVE about the experiment. A controlled variable is something you keep the SAME throughout the experiment. According to Science Buddies, a good variable is measureable, can be changed in the experiment, and is easily identifiable.

In the example of a rock candy experiment, for example, the independent variable might be how long you allow the crystals to seed on the string. The dependent variable is what you observe about the growth of the crystals on the string, and the controlled variable is what you keep controlled, such as the recipe of the rock candy mixture, the location of the curing rock candy, and the type of string used.

There you have it: three steps to a successful science fair project. First, consider personal interests, then construct a strong question, and finally alter variables to produce an answer to your question. Now all that’s left is assembling that project board for the gym!

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

Article edited by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Assessments, Science

The Coolest Birthday Gifts Ever (Hands-On Science Part III)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This is part three in a three-part series on fun science projects for home or school.

While the supplies under your kitchen sink make for great science experiments (as shared in Part I and Part II of this series), there are also some fabulous (affordable) science kits that you can purchase at specialty toy stores to provide hours of exploration and discovery.

Here are our favorites, which would also make welcomed birthday and Christmas gifts. Think of them as toys that pack a one/two punch. ONE: They’re tons of FUN. (Seriously, who doesn’t want to make a robot?) And TWO: They teach and reinforce critical thinking skills (cause and effect, reading and pre-reading strategies, direction following, synthesis, analysis, prediction…).

Now doesn’t that sound like a better gift than the usual overpriced plastic thingymajig that will become toy box fodder in two days? We thought so, too.

Five Rockin’ Science Kits

  • Tin Can Robot

Description: Recycle a soda can by turning it into a silly robot that can wobble around! Kit includes all working parts, motor, wheels, arms, googly eyes, and fully detailed instructions. Requires screwdriver and empty soda can (not included). Great way to recycle! Ages 6+.

Price: $14.99

Available at: The School Box store or online here:

  • Electromagnet Science Kit

Description: Build a doorbell, telegraph system and even a catapult using a true electromagnet! Kit includes: disc, latch and neodymium magnets, compass, straws, wires, sand paper, switch plates, wood screws, nails, light bulbs, battery holders, iron filings and more. An instruction booklet walks young scientists through an array of project options and experiments for hours of captivating fun.

Price: $26.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here:

  • Big Bag Of Science

Description: This giant kit is designed to whet the appetites of budding young scientists of all ages. With more than 70 unique, fun, hands-on science activities, this kit guarantees hours of science fun. Amaze your friends and family with such activities as making water disappear, having liquid flow uphill, making a 30’ soda geyser, growing fake snow instantly, balancing 6 nails on the head of one nail – and much more. Store all components in the reusable zipper bag. Ages 8 and up.

Price: $39.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here:

  • Solar Rover

Description: Learn how regular sunlight converts to energy as it powers this rover to roll along the floor. All you need is a recycled soda can! Ages 8 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here:

  • Weird Slime Laboratory

Description: Create green jelly worms, tadpoles and leeches, invisible jellyfish and more! Learn about the properties of matter, wet spinning, hydrated crystals and cross-linked polymers. Kit includes eight activities, each of which builds on the skills learned in the previous one. Ages 10 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box or online here:

For more hands-on science kits, check out these other awesome ideas and kits (erupt a volcano, anyone?):


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Centers, Critical Thinking, Reading, Science, Summer Learning, technology

Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part II

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects perfect for home or school.

Blow Up a Balloon with Yeast

How does yeast make bread rise? This experiment from Science Bob will explore that question…with a balloon!


A packet of yeast (available in the grocery store)

A small, clean, clear, plastic soda bottle (16 oz. or smaller)

1 teaspoon of sugar

Some warm water

A small balloon


  1. Fill the bottle up with about one inch of warm water. (When yeast is cold or dry the micro organisms are resting.)
  2. Add all of the yeast packet and gently swirl the bottle a few seconds. (As the yeast dissolves, it becomes active – it comes to life! Don’t bother looking for movement, yeast is a microscopic fungus organism.)
  3. Add the sugar and swirl it around some more. Like people, yeast needs energy (food) to be active, so we

    will give it sugar. Now the yeast is “eating!”

  4. Blow up the balloon a few times to stretch it out then place the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle.
  5. Let the bottle sit in a warm place for about 20 minutes.

If all goes well the balloon will begin to inflate!

How It Works:

As the yeast eats the sugar, it releases a gas called carbon dioxide. The gas fills the bottle and then fills the balloon as more gas is created. We all know that there are “holes” in bread, but how are they made? The answer sounds a little like the plot of a horror movie. Most breads are made using YEAST. Believe it or not, yeast is actually living microorganisms! When bread is made, the yeast becomes spread out in flour. Each bit of yeast makes tiny gas bubbles and that puts millions of bubbles (holes) in our bread before it gets baked. Naturalist’s note – The yeast used in this experiment are the related species and strains of Saccharomyces cervisiae. (I’m sure you were wondering about that.) Anyway, when the bread gets baked in the oven, the yeast dies and leaves all those bubbles (holes) in the bread. Yum.

 Make it an Experiment:

The project above is a DEMONSTRATION. To make it a true experiment, you can try to answer these questions:

1. Does room temperature affect how much gas is created by the yeast?

2. Does the size of the container affect how much gas is created?

3. What water/room temperature helps the yeast create the most gas?

4. What “yeast food” helps the yeast create the most gas? (try sugar, syrup, honey, etc.)

For more fun science projects, visit and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

For awesome science kits that kids love (that would also make great birthday presents), check out this top-shelf array from The School Box:


Filed under Parenting, Science

Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part I

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects that your young scientists will enjoy at home or school.

Color Symphony

adapted from ZOOMsci

  • several disposable cups
  • 3 different colors of liquid food coloring
  • milk, at room temperature
  • white glue
  • liquid dish-washing detergent


  1. Take the milk out of the refrigerator and let it warm up a little. It’ll work better if it’s not cold.
  2. Put the milk in a cup (fill the cup about 1/3 of the way).
  3. Add drops of food coloring in a triangle or square pattern.
  4. Put a drop of dish-washing soap in the middle of the food coloring design and watch the colors move. Cool, huh? Milk has fat in it, and the soap breaks up the fat. The food coloring swirls into the places where the fat used to be.
  5. Now, instead of using milk, try it with glue. Soap also prevents glue from sticking together. If you let the glue harden, you can cut away the cup and you have a colored disk.

For more fun science projects, visit and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

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Filed under Parenting, Science

Instilling a LOVE for Reading

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Any child who says he or she does not like reading simply has not been introduced to the right book. Everyone loves stories, and reading provides infinite access to innumerable stories. Even the toughest little nut sitting in your class (or living under your roof) will learn to love and enjoy reading with some positive encouragement.

Here’s how:

1. Get caught “read” handed. Make sure that you–the adult role model–is seen reading on a regular basis. Research shows that children who grow up with parents who read magazines are more likely to reach higher levels of education than their peers with non-magazine-reading parents. Children are more likely to do as you do, not as you say.

2. Let there be light (reading). Don’t insist on a certain type or genre of reading material. For regular pleasure reading, let your children select their own materials depending on their interest and comfort level, even if it’s “lighter” than what you’d prefer. Even comic books have been shown to significantly broaden student vocabulary (Holy Toledo, Bat Man!).

3. Pay up. In addition to whatever regular allowance your child may receive, allow them also to earn a “book allowance.” So many hours of reading per week can earn money toward either a purchase of their choice– or toward a new book or magazine. You can decide the stipulations, but either way, you’re encouraging reading the same way you encourage responsibility.

4. Establish ownership. Kids buy into activities when they feel a sense of ownership and independence. To establish ownership with reading:

  • Allow your child tosubscribe to a children’s magazine of their choice. They will enjoy getting something in the mail just for them.
  • Help your child design a reading corner in her bedroom with her favorite books organized on shelves or in inexpensive bins and baskets. Add a comfy floor pillow or blanket, a poster on the wall, a favorite stuffed animal: whatever makes the space feel like her own.
  • Have your child write his name in his books–again, signifying ownership.

5. Get plugged in. Literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. You are, after all, reading this online article at the moment, aren’t you? To encourage reading online, check out some of these sites, recommended by 24/7 Moms as the 2011 Top Learning Websites for Kids:

Discovery Kids

National Geographic


Cool Math 4 Kids

Learning Planet

Kaboose Fun School www.

e-Learning For Kids

The Kidz Page

Science Made Simple

The Story Place

6. Love your library. You can explore books together, check out DVDs, interact on the computer (together :), and–even if your child doesn’t want to take home a book–you can check one out for yourself. There you go, being a good role model again.

The take-away? Reading isn’t a school-time activity; it’s a lifetime gift. By incorporating fun reading attitudes and activities into your child’s world, positive associations with literacy will be built. Even for that toughest nut.

For a wide array of well-priced children’s books for all ages, visit

For a selection of floor cushions and loungers perfect for a reading corner (and starting at $18), check out:


Filed under Academic Success, Reading, reluctant readers, Science, technology