Tag Archives: Summer Learning

Top 10 Educational iPhone/iPad Apps for Your Kids

by Steven Burrell

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The day you came home with your newest iPhone or iPad, you felt like you had won the smartphone lottery. With built in GPS, camera and e-mail, not to mention the endless applications, you thought you had just bought yourself the best present in the whole wide world. Until your kids got ahold of it.

That’s when you realized that you had actually bought your children the best present in the whole wide world, whether you liked it or not.

Instead of letting your kids play hours of Angry Birds, put a few of these educational apps on your iPhone/iPad. Then you can sit back and relax while your children monopolize your favorite gadget. After all, they’re learning something.

1. Simplex Spelling HD is a great app for the spelling test challenged grade school students. It has more than 260 words that have been specially selected because they are the most frequently used in children’s literature. It’s a great way to help your children read better and learn new vocabulary without feeling like school.

2. Boggle is an old classic that you might already have on your phone for yourself. The newest incarnation has three-minute games of basic Boggle, but a whole slew of variations to keep things interesting. You might just find yourself vying with your kid for top scores.

3. Geocoachingis perfect for the Indiana Jones wannabe. The game takes its players on an exciting treasure hunt looking for hidden treasures, called

Geocoaching App

“geocaches,” by leaving clues and utilizing the iPhone’s built-in GPS It’s the safest way to send your adventurer on a wild expedition.

4. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox is perfect for the preschooler set. Using an animated, cuddly little monkey, it captures their attention. Once they’re under the monkey’s trance, they will learn colors, letters and numbers. It has written directions, but playing will also come very naturally to those who don’t know how to read yet.

5. WeetWoo is basically YouTube with a filter. Parents can curate their own children friendly video libraries, weeding out anything inappropriate. There are a lot of educational videos suited for all interests. Nursery Rhymes is good for the toddlers and Mythbusters is perfect for a science lover.

6. Math Ocean is an engaging way for kids to learn skills including addition, subtraction, matching, sorting, and patterns. You can also add fun themes like holidays!

7. Clever Tales makes reading fun. It uses beautiful images and great stories.

8. PUZZINGO is a top puzzle game. It will teach your kids animal names, letters, numbers, and more. And they’ll learn quickly, thanks to PUZZINGO’s reward system which encourages learning with prizes.

9. Cash Cow is a great app for first graders that uses a fun puzzle game to teach math.

10. PlayART is a unique artistic application that adults can play too. It incorporates the work of Van Gogh, Klee, Rousseau, Monet and Cezanne, and is suited for a wide span of ages, beyond the 5-13 range it was designed for.

There you have it: 10 apps that make your phone the best invention since sliced bread…for whoever happens to be monopolizing it.

About the author: Steven Burrell researches and reviews cognitive ability tests that help students measure their growth. His favorite thing in the world is spending rainy days indoors with his family.


Filed under Critical Thinking, Summer Learning, technology

50 Top Twitter Feeds for Readers

Need some money for classroom sprucing or school supplies? Win a $20 gift card to The School Box simply for commenting on this post. A winner will be drawn by the end of the month. 

It’s summer, which not only means time for the kids to read, but it also means time for you, the adult, to dig into a good book. Not sure where to start or which author to go for? Here’s a comprehensive list of top Twitter feeds to keep you in the know on all-things literary, according to Online College Resources. And you thought Twitter was just for teens!

Browse the list, pick a few, and get plugged into a rich online community of fellow bookophiles.

five types of reading-related twitter feeds

Top Twitter Feeds for Readers

top 50 twitter feeds, by type


If you can’t commit to a whole book, check out these author tweets for interesting summer reading.

  1. @neilhimself:Follow Neil Gaiman to learn about his latest work, pop culture, and other fun reads.

    Follow author Jenny Lawson @TheBloggess

  2. @TheBloggess:Newly minted bestselling author Jenny Lawson shares her daily musings and hilarity on Twitter as @TheBloggess.
  3. @jenniferweiner:The author of incredibly popular summer novels, Jennifer Weiner is a great resource for fun summer reading.
  4. @TheAuthorGuy:Christopher Moore brings a daily dose of crazy to Twitter as @TheAuthorGuy.
  5. @doctorow:Check out author Cory Doctorow’s Twitter for insight into books, activism, and interesting reads.

Book News

Stay on top of new releases and book news through these Twitter accounts.

  1. @CoverSpy:Want to know what New Yorkers are reading, right now? @CoverSpy hits the streets, subways, parks, and bars of NYC to tell followers what’s hot in reading.

    Follow @bookninja, the Twitter feed from this relevant top Canadian literary site.

  2. @thebookslut:Follow Jessa Crispin for book recommendations, fun reading resources, and book news.
  3. @bookninja:”The world’s deadliest books site” offers book news, insights, and musings into the summer book world and beyond.
  4. @LiteratureBooks:Follow @LiteratureBooks to learn about new literature and fiction book releases as they are published.

Publications & Publishers

These books columns, publishers, and book bloggers offer plenty of insight into great summer reads.

  1. @PublishersWkly:Check out @PublishersWkly to find reviews, information, and bookselling news, plus picks for new books.
  2. @ChronicleBooks:This independent publisher discusses distinctive books and new releases on Twitter.
  3. @AtYourLibrary:Find out about the excellent resources available at your local library this summer from @AtYourLibrary.
  4. @randomhouse:@randomhouse is on Twitter to chat about books and writing. They often share reading lists, excerpts, and other fun resources for readers.
  5. @RandomHouseCA:Random House’s Canadian branch tweets to help readers find their next great book through recommendations, contests, interviews, and more.
  6. @nytimesbooks:Check out @nytimesbooks for interviews, author profiles, book reviews, and more book news from The New York Times. Highlights include novelist quotes, prize announcements, and timely book happenings.
  7. @torbooks:A publisher of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction, Tor Books is full of resources for getting your hands on some strange summer reads.
  8. @GalleyCat:Follow the book publishing industry on Twitter through @Galleycat. This account offers news on new adaptations, and even summer reading flowcharts for you to find your next great read.
  9. @littlebrown:Little Brown and Co. offers fun summer reading suggestions, excerpts, and other fun reading resources.
  10. @vintagebooks:Check out @vintagebooks for news, giveaways, and recommendations for summer reading and beyond.
  11. @NYerFiction:@NYerFiction tweets about the latest in fiction, plus, the account will feature Jennifer Egan’s Twitter short storyBlack Box.
  12. @paperhaus:This LA Times staff writer covers books, paper, and pixels.
  13. @GuardianBooks:Follow @GuardianBooks to discover news, reviews, and even author interviews. Recent tweets include insight into reader reviews and obsessive book dedications.
  14. @latimesbooks:Follow @latimesbooks for news and reviews from the LA Times Jacket Copy blog.

Picks & Reviews

Need help finding a great book? These recommendation and review accounts are a great resource for readers.

  1. @flwbooks:@flwbooks recommends books so good, they’re flashlight worthy.
  2. @books:@books shares news and selected books from the Readers Read community.
  3. @BookBrowse:BookBrowse Books offers a guide to exceptional reading with reviews, back stories, and reading lists. Follow this account to find a daily recommended book.
  4. @SelectedShorts:In this series, you’ll get access to selected short readings of classic and contemporary fiction read by acclaimed actors.
  5. @KirkusReviews:Get the straight story on books from @KirkusReviews, the world’s toughest book critics since 1933.
  6. @FanLit:@FanLit believes that life’s too short to read bad books and shares the best of fantasy literature on this Twitter account.
  7. @bookpage:With hundreds of book reviews every month, @bookpage shares the real deal on just about every summer read out there.
  8. @dearauthor:Lovers of romance can find a wealth of romance novel reviews and news through @dearauthor.
  9. @booksin140:Erin Basler shares personal book reviews and insights on @booksin140, plus live-tweeting of important book events.
  10. @booksmugglers:Review mavens and self-proclaimed super dorks @booksmugglers can help guide you to your next great summer read.
  11. @BittenbyBooks:Check out @BittenbyBooks for paranormal fiction reviews, interviews, and even giveaways.
  12. @KindleSurprise:Find some of the most entertaining books on the Kindle through @KindleSurprise.
  13. @hipsterbookclub:Find out what books the hipsters are reading from @hipsterbookclub on Twitter.

Book Lovers & Community 

Follow these book-loving communities to connect with other readers, find recommendations, and even join a book club.

  1. @goodreads:Take part in the @goodreads community to find new books, book recommendations, and even join book clubs.
  2. @inreads:In this reading community, you’ll enjoy a love of books and a new reading experience.
  3. @LitChat:Check in with @LitChat for an always-on discussion of the love of books.
  4. @litblog:@litblog offers a discussion on books, sharing selected author tweets, excerpts, and more.
  5. @shelfari:Get connected to books, book lovers, and book recommendations through @shelfari.
  6. @bookclubgirl:Jennifer Hart shares her love of great books and book clubs on Twitter as @bookclubgirl.
  7. @ReaderIReadIt:Check out the @ReaderIReadIt community for reviews, challenges, trailers, and more.
  8. @1book140:Join in with @1book140 to take part in a Twitter book club picking up a new read each month.
  9. @FridayReads:Check out the @FridayReads team to learn about what other people are reading, and even find weekly book giveaways.
  10. @BookBitch:Follow along as @BookBitch reads, reviews, and gives away books.
  11. @FreshFiction:Find out what @FreshFiction has to say in the world of books for new titles, bestseller lists, contests, and thousands of author profiles.
  12. @bookpatrol:Join @bookpatrol to find a haven for book culture.
  13. @lovereadinguk:Book lovers in the UK will enjoy checking out this Twitter feed for the latest in new books and news updates from the publishing world.
  14. @bookgeeks:Follow along with The Bookgeeks to celebrate the love of books and find some great reviews.

Happy summer reading!

Source: Online College Resources


Filed under Reading, technology

Fostering Text-to-Life Connections through Common Summertime Activities – Part II

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card. Winners are drawn monthly. 

Making connections between a text and a reader’s life is an important part of reading comprehension. The more young readers are encouraged to relate books to their own experiences, the better they’ll be able to access prior knowledge, make predictions, infer cause and effect relationships, and synthesize meaning. And, the more readers practice making connections, the more natural this critical reading skill will become.

So, why not use summer to practice making authentic text-to-life connections? It’s easy. Just pick a book and read it before, during, or after an activity with a similar theme. Before you begin reading and also during reading, ask prompting questions like:

  • “Have you ever done this?”
  • “What was your favorite part about _____(fill in experience)___?”
  • “How do you feel when you’re ___(with Grandma, at the beach, camping, etc.)___?”
  • “How do you think the character is feeling now? How would you feel in this situation?”
  • “What did we do next when we were ____(experience)__? What do you think the character is going to do next?”
  • “How was this like our trip? How was this book different?”

To get you started, we shared a list of books that connect to visiting grandparents and going to the beach in Part I of this series. Now, here’s a list of books that connect to camping, flying on an airplane, and making something creative out of an empty box!

Summertime Activity:


The books that connect to the activity:

S if for S'mores

S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet, by Helen Foster James

From what to pack, to where to go, to what to do when you get there, S is for Smores: A Camping Alphabet takes readers on an A-Z trail exploring this outdoor pastime.

Canoe Days, by Gary Paulsen

This gorgeous picture book is by the award-winning outdoor youth novelist of Hatchet. Here’s the publisher’s review: Opening this book is like sitting down in a canoe, taking up a paddle, and gliding out into the summer beauty of a hidden lake. In this picture book that is as refreshing and inviting as a perfect canoe day, a fawn peeks out from the trees as ducklings fan out behind their mother. Ruth Wright Paulsen’s sunlit paintings and Gary Paulsen’s poetic text capture all the peace and pleasure of a day when water and sky are one.

Summertime Activity:

Going on a picnic!

The books that connect to the activity:

The Picnic, by Ruth Brown

This delightful book narrates a picnic from the perspective of the animals that live both on top of–and under–the ground.

The Bears’ Picnic by Stan and Jan Baranstein

Oh, silly Father Bear! That’s not how you pick a picnic spot! In this bear-errific misadventure, Father Bear leads the family on a quest for the perfect picnic spot…but ends up trying out quite a few subpar spots (train tracks, dumping ground, mosquito swamp) first.

Summertime Activity:

Turning an empty box into a house, or castle, or race car, or ship, or….

The books that connect to the activity:

Christina Katerina and the Box, by Patricia Lee GauchChristina Katerina and the Box

If you can get your hands on a copy, DO IT! This imaginative book was my favorite growing up (and judging from the many reviews on Amazon.com, I wasn’t alone), and now it’s a favorite for my own young readers. Christina likes nothing more than the promise of an empty box. So, when a new fridge arrives at her house one summer day, Christina quickly claims the box. She pulls it into her front yard where it becomes a castle, club house, race car, and ballroom floor. It will inspire countless hours of imaginative play with your own empty boxes!

Other Summertime Activity Books:

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Filed under Academic Success, Critical Thinking, Home Schooling, Parenting, Reading, Summer Learning

Virtual Summer Field Trips {without leaving home!}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box gift card; winners drawn monthly. 

“Van Gogh’s ear got cut off!” This was how my 5-year-old son greeted me after art & museum week at summer camp. “Yeah, it was probably cuz some kids were playing with scissors,” he wisely concluded.

Of course I found this humorous, but then, as he rattled off van Gogh’s bio and described with enthusiasm how he had painted his own Starry Night at camp, I shifted from bemused to downright impressed.

So, what had inspired my rough-and-tumble boy to suddenly declare, “I think I want to be an artist one day, a really good one like van Gogh”? Turns out it was a bevy of virtual museum field trips they’d taken during camp.

His enthusiasm in turn inspired the educator-mom in me. So, I popped open my laptop and collected a list of truly stellar world-class museum sites. No need to book a plane ticket; we can visit the Smithsonian, MET, and Louve without ever leaving our living room.

Here’s a rundown of the best:

The Smithsonian {for kids}: www.si.edu/kids

Meet Smithsonian scientists, watch the LIVE animal cams at the National Zoo, and–best part!–take a virtual interactive tour of the Dinosaur Exhibit. Awesome!

The Louvre: www.louvre.fr

Did you know that The Louvre was originally a fortress built by the French king Philippe Auguste? It was intended to protect Paris from attack via the Seine. Today, visitors can walk around the original perimeter moat and view the piers that supported the drawbridge…and you can take a virtual tour here! Or take a virtual tour of Egyptian Antiquities (mummies!).

The U.S. Mint: www.usmint.gov

Learn the history of our currency with a kid-friendly, interactive timeline where you’ll pick up some intriguing facts. (Like that our currency system was inspired by an idea from John Hancock. Who knew?)

Then, play some money games! Kids can also travel to different parts of the world to learn about their currencies, too, in this fun toon.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: www.metmuseum.org

Almost their entire collection can be viewed online! Simply search for a piece of art, and voila! An image and information about the piece appears.

But the best part of this website is the interactive family and children’s media section. Took some digging to find it, but here are the best spots:

Cezanne’s Astonishing Apples: Learn about Cezanne and view his masterpieces.

Aaron’s Awesome Adventure: An animated read-aloud of the story of a boy who visits the Met.

And check out their TweenCasts, special podcasts produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art specifically for adolescent audiences. Fabulous!

So go tour some cultural wonders of the world. Who knows what you might discover–aside from scissor safety, that is. 


Filed under Art, Parenting, Summer Learning, Teacher Inspiration, Virtual tour

Favorite {FUN} Ways to Keep Learning!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! Winners are drawn each month.  

Don’t let summer turn into a brain bummer! There are a slew of super fun activities out there that keep mental skills sharp. Here are some favorite games, workbooks, and activities that parents can easily pull off all summer–without a lot of hassle. And, best part: kids LOVE them! In fact, the games would even make great birthday presents….

Games {for the whole family to play together}


The “Tetris meets Words Search” puzzle brings the fun of our popular PathWords game to younger players. Players exercise verbal and spatial reasoning as they place the Tetris-stylepuzzle pieces onto the challenge grid so the letters under each piece spell a word. Single player game. Ages 6+, Grades 1-4, $19.99.


Place your magnets down on the board and try to avoid attracting the other pieces already played. The object is to get rid of all your pieces. If they collapse together, those pieces are yours to add to your stack. Includes travel pouch for portable fun! Ages 14+, $16.99.

Workbooks {good interactive ones!}

Summer Bridge

Help children maintain skills while away from school with this award-winning series and original summer learning program! Daily activities in reading, writing, math and language arts with bonus activities in science and geography. Also included are full-color flash cards, incentive contract calendars, a certificate of completion, and more! Grades PreK-8th, 160 pages, $14.99.

Summer Fit

This innovative workbook series integrates online resources with workbook-based learning to help students retain basic skills in reading, writing, math, and language arts while–get this!–keeping them physically active on a daily basis! The daily fitness routines in this series were developed with input from coaches and trainers throughout the country. Grades PreK-8th, $12.95.

Learning on the Go {for swim meets, vacations, car trips and more}

The perfectly portable, totally independent, completely interactive preschool learning system! Cards can be used alone as traditional flash cards, or when used with any Hot Dots or Hot Dots Jr. Pen (sold separately), fun lights and encouraging sounds guide children through the cute, colorful lessons. Each card set features 72 activities on double-sided cards and teaches children all they need for academic success. $14.99
Travel Blurt!
This handy, portable version of best-selling Blurt includes 75 new Blurt definition cards and 450 new Blurt clues. Take turns passing the cards, reading the definitions, and blurting out the answers. Ages 10+. 3-4 players, $12.99.

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Art, Parenting, Summer Learning

10 Ways to Fight the Summer Slide, Part II

This is Part II in a two-part series on keeping skills sharp during the summer. In Part I, Kristen Thompson shared five stellar (and easy to apply!) ideas. Here are five more that are sure to make keep your child happy…and learning. 

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Five More Ways to Fight the Summer Slide

by Kristen Thompson

Tips one through five were shared here. Here are five more ways to keep your student on their toes (and lovin’ it) during the next couple months.

  1. Utilize Summer Programs. Take your children to summer library and bookstore programs. Most will post them online, but you can also request a calendar of events. Many libraries really crank it up a notch during the summer and hold fabulous, free activities and book clubs for students.
  2.  Be Choosy about Summer Camps. Consider registering your child for summer camps that encourage kids to use their minds on science projects, exploration, creative writing, music and art.
  3. Train the Brain. Use the summer to strengthen your student’s cognitive skills through one-on-one brain training to improve memory, visual and auditory processing, attention, and logic and reasoning. A core of strong brain skills will help them head back to school with the tools to succeed at learning in any subject. Unlike tutoring, which focuses on academics, brain-training addresses the root causes of any learning struggles. (For more information on brain training, see www.learningrx.com.)
  4. Get Musical or Lingual. Encourage your child to learn an instrument or another language. Studies have shown a strong correlation between “Arts” and “smarts.”
  5. Pick the Right Books. Learn how to choose age-appropriate books for children and teens. Reading is Fundamental has a great brochure that offers basic tips on what to look for. Your local librarian can also help you select books for your child’s interest and reading level. According to Scholastic Parents Online, reading just six books during the summer break can be enough to keep a struggling reader from falling behind.

A Final Note of Wisdom

Research shows that ALL young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” says Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in your Child (www.unlocktheeinsteininside.com). “Think of it like this: The brain is like the body. If you exercise it, you improve it, but if you let it sit idle, it’s going to lose ability.”

To avoid the summer slide, Gibson recommends brain games and exercises that build cognitive skills, the underlying skills needed to learn.

And don’t assume that your kids will roll their eyes when you suggest ideas to keep their brain skills strong all summer. More than half of students surveyed say they want to be involved in a summer program that helps them keep up with schoolwork or prepare them for the next grade. Besides, unlike abdominal crunches, exercise for your brain is actually FUN!

Kristen Thompson is a parent, former teacher, and also the director at LearningRx Kennesaw, a center that specializes in helping learners of all ages and stages reach their full potential. LearningRx is located at 3420 Acworth Due West Road, Suite B, Kennesaw, GA 30144. 

Parents can request a free five-page Summer Slide Guide from LearningRx that includes dozens of brain-building games and exercises, as well as tips on how to incorporate brain building into daily activities. For the free Summer Slide Guide, simply call the Kennesaw LearningRx center at 770-529-4800 or the Atlanta-Buckhead LearningRx at 404-252-7246.


Filed under Academic Success, Art, Games, Music, Summer Learning

10 Ways to Fight the Summer Slide and Keep Skills Sharp, Part I

by Kristen Thompson

Comment on this post and be entered to win $25 to The School Box! 

Teachers routinely get a shock when they return to their classrooms in the fall and see the first test scores of their new students. The initial reaction is generally, “What in the world did they do last year?”

In reality, it’s not what they spent the previous year doing – it’s what they spent the summer not doing: exercising their brains. It’s a phenomenon so well known it’s often called “the summer slide.”

During the summer, kids lose an average 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math computation skills and 25 percent of their reading skills. That explains why teachers usually spend four to six weeks re-teaching materials in the fall.

So what’s a parent to do?

In this article, we’ll share five ways to fight back against the summer slide. Later this week, we’ll share five more practical tips.

Five Easy Ideas: 

  1. Create a Brainy Toybox. Make a rainy day toybox so kids don’t end up watching TV all day. It can consist of age-appropriate puzzles, Playdoh, circle-the-word booklets, art supplies, craft ideas, board games, playing cards, etc.
  2. Print Brainteasers. Bookmark or print out brainteasers from sites like the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Sites like www.Funbrain.com offer entertaining material on spelling, reading, math and grammar, and http://www.GamesForTheBrain.com has classic strategy games.
  3. Stock the Seats with Car Games. Buy or create a book of games you can play in the car. Even a simple game like “20 Questions” can help improve a child’s logic and reasoning and memory. For more travel game ideas, check out www.schoolbox.com.
  4. Unplug. Limit television, computer and video game time. Invite your child’s friends over frequently to encourage creative play and interaction.
  5. Reward Reading. Have your child create a reward system for the number and level of books he/she reads over the summer. Hang a reward chart somewhere prominent, like on your child’s bedroom wall or the refrigerator, and let your child add a sticker every time they finish a book or chapter. After a certain number of stickers are earned, a tangible reward may be in order…maybe a new book??
Start with those five easy, fun ideas to help bridge the learning gap between May and August. We’ll share five more ideas in Part II of this series.

Kristen Thompson is a parent, former teacher, and also the director atLearningRx Kennesaw, a center that specializes in helping learners of all ages and stages reach their full potential. LearningRx is located at 3420 Acworth Due West Road, Suite B, Kennesaw, GA 30144. 


Filed under Academic Success, Home Schooling, Parenting, Reading, Summer Learning

Summer Reading Blog {how and why to start one with your class}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.

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

We all want our students to stay mentally active over the long summer months, and summer reading is a tried-and-true way to achieve this. But, to banish the negative associations of the dreaded “required summer reading” list, while not create a class blog that shares fun reading options and book recommendations?

Various teachers, the school media specialist, and even older students can all post on the blog, sharing ideas and reading recommendations.

How To Get Started

  1. Set up a blog through a free blog hosting company, like WordPress.com or Blogger.com.
  2. Write your first post. You can upload pictures, book cover images, etc., and free templates are also available for blogs from places like The Cutest Blog on the Block (if you want to get cutesy).
  3. Create a summer schedule of who will post when. For example, assign each participating teacher, student and librarian a specific date to post their entry. Two posts on the blog per week would be ideal, but even one per week would be fine. So, if you have five participating teachers, each could post twice during the summer. That’s not too time consuming! If students post, you could potentially have a new post every day or every-other day, depending on the number of students.

What to Post About

Include blog posts about books students might be interested in, such as books by local authors, and books in a series by authors your students have already read. Be sure to create good tags or descriptions so that your students can look up what type of books they may interest in. Many book stores offer summer book clubs, book signings or other literary events; those would make great posts, as well.

What Students Should Post About

Allow students to post comments on the book summaries, or list how many books they have read themselves over the summer. Encourage them to submit recommendations of books they are loving (or hating!). A little instruction may be necessary to teach students how to write a book review/recommendation without spoiling the ending.

Motivate Participation

Incentives: Of course, you could work with next year’s teachers to require your students to participate with the blog. You (and next year’s teachers) could also incentivize: students who post a thoughtful blog entry could receive an automatic 10 bonus points toward a test or assignment during the upcoming year, or they could earn a special reward on the first day of school (a candybar, privilege, homework pass, etc.).

Polls: Generate more activity on the blog by including polls. Include poll questions like: What genre do you like best? (mystery/suspense, historical fiction, biography, fiction, science fiction, etc.)

Pictures: Liven up the blog with frequent pictures, such as covers of the books you mention in postings, as well as photos taken at the library. Consider adding activities to the blog suggesting fun activities such as a scavenger hunt at the library, or a competition where students submit photos of them dressed like their favorite characters. Allow younger students to draw pictures of their favorite scene from the book, and post the pictures online too.

Security Settings

Make sure you (and a fellow teacher or two) approve all students posts before they go live. And consider using private settings on the blog, too, to ensure that only approved people have access.

Some Interesting Blogs to Check Out
To get inspired, check out these reading blogs:

GreenBeanTeenQueen. A librarian blogger who provides reviews on teen and tween literature.

MotherReader. This mom writes fun and interesting posts mostly featuring picture books.

Happy summer blogging!

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Filed under Academic Success, Home Schooling, Reading, Summer Learning

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

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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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!

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

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

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: http://www.schoolbox.com/Tin-Can-Robot-Kit

  • 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: http://www.schoolbox.com/ProductDetail

  • 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: http://www.schoolbox.com/Big-Bag-Of-Science

  • 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: http://www.schoolbox.com/Solar-Rover-Kit

  • 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: http://www.schoolbox.com/Weird-Slime-Laboratory

For more hands-on science kits, check out these other awesome ideas and kits (erupt a volcano, anyone?): http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx


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