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The Best Backyard Water Games

Jul-14, 2021

A boy sprays a water hose in his backyard.

When the weather gets hot, we need to cool off! For many of us parents, some of our fondest childhood memories are poolside, on the lakefront or at the beach. Were you the type of kid who practically slept in your bathing suit from June to September? Well you're not alone! Kids love the water. And often, it doesn't truly feel like summer until you're cannonballing into some body of water.

While many waterparks and other water-based vacation spots are opening back up, you may be hesitant to gather in such large numbers. We all have to do what's best for our kids without depriving them of one of the essential joys of summer.

As we've discussed before, outdoor play is essential for kids all year long, even in winter. Being outside has been shown to improve everything from our kids reflexes to their mood. The outdoors is an endlessly stimulating environment for curious minds. Ever-changing sights, smells and sounds pull our kids in a hundred different directions for them to explore, investigate and interact. Crucially, outdoor activities are shown to reduce stress in children. We put so much pressure on our kids to make every moment count and make sure every activity has a positive outcome. Unstructured play in nature removes the pressure to perform. There is no end result. Just fresh air and good fun.

So, how can you make a splash in your own backyard? Let's grab our swimsuits and dive in!

Water Balloons

A bucket full of water balloons can create lots of different games! To mix up the basic water balloon fight, try hiding the balloons around the backyard – or the whole neighborhood – for a pre-battle easter egg hunt. You can also use balloons as points in a trivia game or physical contests to make each team in the fight earn their arsenal!

Kiddie Pool

Big or small, an inflatable kiddie pool can host a bunch of fun backyard games. Adding sensory objects is great fun for little kids. Cups, fabric flowers, sponges and more all make for interesting play. You can combine cut-up pool noodles and toothpicks for kids to create floating water sculptures. For older kids, you can grease up hollow plastic balls with vegetable shortening and stage your own version of Hungry, Hungry, Hippos!

Garden Hose

Take it back to the source: the garden hose! You can use the steady stream of water to create a floating limbo bar. Aim the spray to "tag" players in Simon Says or Mother May I. If you feel like going DIY, you can turn a pool noodle into a sprinkler or even create your own water slide!

We hope this list sparks your imagination and makes a splash the next time your kids are looking for some wet and wild outdoor fun!

Tags Activities

The Best Math-Based Games

Apr-05, 2021

A family playing a card game around a table

How many times have you used math today? Math is all around us, we need it for everything from budgeting our expenses to baking cookies! While as adults we use math in all sort of fun and engaging ways, learning math for our kids can be much less exciting.

There are two forms of math: pure math and applied math. Pure math refers to equations, and is the primary way that most kids learn math. Applied math is math put to work, and are most often represented in the classroom as word problems. Children need this kind of math training in build a solid foundation, with the goal being to build a foundation of math literacy and mental math. Through pure math practice, you know that 2+2=4 and 5x5=25 without having to perform any calculation.

But there are many other ways to support this education to keep children engaged in their studies. Non-computational math added to a math program can yield outstanding results by using real world applications of basic math concepts. Skip counting (which is the term for number sequences like can be taught alongside telling time. What is an analog clock but a wheel of skip counting? Studying currency builds strong skills in 2- and 3-digit addition, as well as setting the table for multiplication. If your child knows that 4 quarters is the same as 1 dollar, they also know that 25x4=100. We've discussed before how the kitchen can be a great resource for teaching real world math skills. But while this is great for housekeeping, it's not always the most fun option.

Playing games that heavily involve math have been proven to engage children's interest in math as well as help with retaining knowledge. Let's look at some fun options for incorporating math into your child's play time.

Card Games

Is there any item more versatile than a deck of playing cards? With 13 cards per suit representing the numbers 0-12, a deck of cards can teach kids math skills from the age of 3 all the way into learning their multiplication and division tables. From number identification and matching games, to War, Solitaire, and Go Fish, to using them as flash cards in math-based challenges, the possibilities are endless.

Video Games

As it turns out, video games don't rot your brain after all! Well, at least not all video games. Studies have shown that students who play educational video games see dramatic improvement in their math scores. There are many great resources to help find games, and we always suggest doing your research before sharing a game with your kids, since there are some less-than-reputable sources of children's content out there. While we do want to limit screen time for our kids, we can still provide them with enriching material when we do let them on those devices.

Board Games

No need to mess with the classics! Board games were how most of us engaged with math, from Yahtzee to Uno to Monopoly to Rummikub, these games build math skills and create happy memories for our kids. And there are tons of new games coming out all the time, some specifically designed to be math-based, and others that rely on math skills whether from rolling dice, counting squares, or keeping score. Board games are a time-tested and effective tool when teaching math to kids, with studies showing that the more familiar young children are with board games, the higher math scores they receive.

Now go play!

If you want to build a strong foundation in math for your child, Best Brains teaches computation and non-computation math skills side-by-side with certified teachers to strengthen understanding and retention.

Essential Children's Books for Black History Month 2021

Feb-08, 2021

Two African American kids smiling and reading a picture book under a blanket.

Hi, everyone, it's Practical Pam! We're celebrating Black History Month this year by honoring historical Black Americans of the past and present on our Facebook page. These profiles are meant to inspire our students to engage with the history of the US and Canada through a very important lens.

To help our students in this endeavor, we've compiled a reading list to supplement these profiles. We hope that they will provide education, insight, and spark curiosity to seek out more media from Black artists of all types. A person's culture, heritage, and struggles always inform their art, regardless of the color of their skin. It's important for parents to recognize the value in all art, and the positive impact it can have on children to be exposed to different cultures and experiences.

Let's take a look at our Black History Month 2021 Reading List!

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (Ages 9-12)

At just 6 years old, Ruby Bridges was one of the first African-American children to attend a desegregated school after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1960. She suffered bigotry, threats of violence, and shunning from her peers just because her parents wanted to give her the education she deserved. This book, penned by Ruby herself, is both an account of her experience as well as a call to action to all children to contribute to her legacy by being strong, brave, and kind.

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline Ransome (Ages 9-12)

As a teenager in 1950's Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin made history when she refused to comply with segregation laws which required Black citizens to give up their seats to White passengers when sharing public transportation. Her act of non-violent defiance inspired Rosa Parks, which gave the NAACP the perfect case to begin dismantling segregation nationwide. As part of the "She Persisted" series, this profile of Claudette Colvin is written for a 21st century audience who is socially minded and ready to make a stand for true equality.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington (Ages 4-8)

Mae C. Jemison is a living legend in STEM. Trained as a doctor who served with the Peace Corps, Dr. Jemison decided to honor her childhood love for astronomy by applying for NASA, eventually becoming the first African American astronaut. Mae Among the Stars is a gorgeous picture book which follows her from a child dreaming of the stars to an astronaut floating among them.

Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America's First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree and illustrated by Kathleen Kemly (Ages 4-8)

A New York City legend, Molly Williams is credited with being the first Black firefighter way back in the early 1800's. Molly, by Golly! tells her tale, featuring a time and place in history which is rarely discussed. It is set against a frightful blizzard and a fearsome fire, packing plenty of action for young readers!

Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks and illustrated by Faith Ringgold (Ages 4-8)

A prolific poet and author, Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the definitive American authors of the 20th century, inspiring generations of artists with her honest and electrifying writing. There are several children's books written about Brooks, like We Are Shining and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, we've chosen a collection of poems from the author herself, originally published in 1956. This edition features illustrations by Faith Ringgold, an award-winning artist, author, and teacher.

Explore Black History with Wee Pals by Morrie Turner (Age 6-12)

A trail-blazing artist, Morrie Turner was a self-taught cartoonist who developed the comic strip Wee Kids, the first nationally syndicated, racially integrated comic strip. Unlike the situation young Ruby Bridges had lived through which dominated headlines only a few years before, the Wee Kids lived in an aspirational world, where kids of all races learned and played together. Turner also wanted to use his strip to teach young people about Black History, as well as be a model for racial harmony. Explore Black History with Wee Pals is a collection of strips featuring important figures in Black History and the then-contemporary Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and 70's.

Thurgood by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Bryan Collier (Ages 5-9)

Thurgood Marshall is a titan of Black History, with a historic career which led to his appointment as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Books have been written about the contributions of Justice Marshall for decades, since his list of accomplishments and impact on history and culture is so large. For our list, we've chosen Thurgood, a picture book biography written by the multi-award-winning duo of Winter and Collier.

Shirley Chisholm is a Verb! By Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker (Ages 4-8)

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is probably one of the most recognizable figures we're featuring this month, and for good reason. Her self-assurance and fierce championing of civil rights, women's rights, and income equality created a blueprint for women and minorities to follow as they entered public office. As the first African American elected to US Congress, Shirley was the ideal of a politician, representing her voters in Congress through word and action. The purity of her mission inspires us today, to reclaim the government of the people for her people. This book is a tribute to her inspiring legacy, charging its young readers with the task of carrying on in her name.

Superheroes Are Everywhere by Kamala Harris and illustrated by Mechal Renee Roe (Ages 3-7)

Kamala Harris is the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American Vice President of the United States. From a young age, Kamala and her sister were encouraged by their Indian-American mother to be involved in community activism and work towards progress. Like her mother before her, Vice President Harris uses Superheroes Are Everywhere to empower young readers to feel capable of effecting positive change, contributing to the good of their community, and working together to do incredible things!

I hope your kids enjoy this reading list. Even if you don't get to all these books this month, remember that we should celebrate Black History all year long!

Breakfast Solutions: Overnight Oats

Jan-25, 2021

Three bowls of different flavors of oatmeal.

January is National Oatmeal Month, though we rarely need a reason to celebrate the power of the Oat!

Oats are incredibly beneficial for children's health. Firstly, this grain contains plenty of fiber. Unlike other grains, high-fiber oatmeal is digested slowly, keeping kids fuller for longer. Additionally, oats are full of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

Different Types of Oats

When you look at oats on the shelf, you're likely to see many different varieties. So, what distinguishes one type of oat from another? It's all in how they are processed, or made easier to cook and eat. Let's take a look at the different types of oats.

  • Groats, or whole oats: After the husk is removed, the whole oat is large. It would take a long time to cook to make an oat groat ready to eat, which is why you usually only find them for sale at specialty health food stores. Fun fact: any whole grain is referred to as a groat, and wheat groats in particular are popular in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
  • Steel Cut: Also known as Irish oatmeal, this refers to oatmeal which has been chopped into several pieces. These smaller and regular pieces cook faster than groats and do not require soaking.
  • Stone Ground: Called Scotch or Scottish Oats, these groats are, as their name suggests, ground with a stone. This creates a variety of sizes to the oat pieces, and often results in a creamier oatmeal than steel cut.
  • Rolled Oats: These are the oats most people are familiar with. Old fashioned style are steamed groats which are then flattened to make flakes, while quick or instant oats are steamed and flattened even more, resulting in the fastest cook times.
  • Oat Flour: When completely ground, oat flour can be used as a thickening ingredient in soups or sauces, and is an excellent addition to heartier muffins, cookies, and breads.

While all types of oats contain the same health benefits, which kind of oat you choose will determine how they need to be cooked, as well as the mouthfeel. It can take some experimenting to find your favorite variety!

Overnight Oats

Because oatmeal is so nutritious, delicious, and time consuming, it's no wonder that parents have been trying to find the best solution to include it in their kids breakfasts without completely throwing off their morning schedule. So, what is the solution? A make-ahead recipe for overnight oats.

Not only does this recipe save time in the morning and make versatile, tasty breakfasts for the whole family, the long preparation time makes the oats themselves easier to digest and the easiest on tiny tummies.

Ingredients for Overnight Oats

  • Oats: Start with old fashioned style rolled oats. As you perfect your recipe, you can experiment with other oat types.
  • Milk: Whether you use dairy milk, plant-based milk, or nut milk, this will provide the moisture necessary to prepare the oats, add a creamy texture to your meal, and a rich flavor.
  • Yogurt: Another thick and creamy addition to the recipe, just be careful to control how much sugar you are adding with this ingredient.
  • Chia Seeds: Chia seeds add extra thickening, as well as a boost of nutrition.
  • Sweetener: We advise using maple syrup or honey to add sweetness and flavor, but you can also use agave syrup or brown sugar.
  • Salt: Like most recipes, a pinch of salt is necessary to enhance all flavors and elevate the overall taste.
  • Extras: Now here's where it gets fun! After you mix your base ingredients and put them in their individual containers to soak, you can customize each container with your favorite flavors. Vanilla extract, cut fruit, peanut butter, cocoa powder, or something else to match your taste.

After 2-4 hours in the refrigerator, your oatmeal will be ready to eat. Serve warm or cold, the choice is yours!

Tags Food

Create a Hot Chocolate Bar Your Kids Will Love

Dec-21, 2020

two mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows beside chocolate squares and twisted pastries

Well, the weather outside may be frightful, but the holiday season can be delightful! As the weather gets colder, we enjoy winter activities like sledding, snowball fights, making snowmen, and, of course, warming back up after all these outdoor pastimes with a mug of hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate or cocoa is a traditional winter beverage kids love. It's sweet, chocolate-y, and the inclusion of marshmallows and candy canes make it one of the rare foods you're allowed to play with. What could be better?

Since we're on a quest this year to make the holidays extra-special, let's take a look at a way to make this winter tradition an unforgettable, over-the-top experience: The Hot Chocolate Bar!

Much like a s'mores bar or a charcuterie board, a hot chocolate bar allows the family to make their hot chocolate their way, with toppings, flavors, and snacks to suit anyone's tastes. Let's build the ultimate hot chocolate bar, one element at a time.

Step 1: The Cocoa

Hot cocoa is traditionally made one of two ways, either by adding cocoa powder to hot milk or water, or using chocolate syrup instead. Hot chocolate mixes can also be used rather than cocoa powder alone. While these are all good options for a typical hot cocoa, today we're going a step further, and that means crock pot hot chocolate!

The crock pot, or slow cooker, has many awesome uses in the kitchen. For your hot chocolate bar, it's the vessel that you make and serve the beverage out of, keeping the leftovers at the perfect temperature for a second cup. In the slow cooker, you can combine milk or cream, sugar or sweetened condensed milk, and real chocolate to melt together into a decadent mix. Using the slow cooker also means you can add spices like cinnamon sticks or chili powder. You can make it as spicy, rich, light, or sweet as you want!

Another option is the hot chocolate bomb. These adorable orbs are usually made of chocolate and filled with surprises like marshmallows, edible glitter, and more. When gently placed into heated milk, the chocolate melts, revealing the contents within. Kids love these trendy treats! You can make or purchase a special chocolate bomb for each member of the family based on what they like most. Or, you can set a random assortment that the family must choose off the bar, creating some tension and anticipation to see what comes out when the bomb breaks open!

Step Two: The Toppings

Whether you choose marshmallows or whipped cream, hot chocolate requires some sort of topping that will melt into the steaming liquid. With a hot chocolate bar, you don't have to choose, you can have both! You can whip your own cream with a hand or stand mixer, or surprise your kids with flavored gourmet marshmallows. A little extra effort can have a sweet payoff.

Now, let's get really over the top, literally! Consider adding syrups like caramel, chocolate, or mint to drizzle over your cup. Dust with pumpkin pie spice, toasted sugar, or cocoa powder for a bitter bite. Layers of flavors make those first sips all the more special!

Step Three: Sweet Snacks

You can't have hot chocolate all by itself on a hot chocolate bar. Let's bring on the snacks. Just like with coffee, hard and sweet baked goods like biscotti, gingerbread, or shortbread are perfect for dunking. A little fruit salad can also be both a compliment to the taste of the chocolate while cutting through the creaminess with bright and tart flavors. Or go old school with pound cake, banana bread, or chocolate chip cookies. You can even set your hot chocolate bar up like a fancy tea time with scones and jam, finger sandwiches, and petit fours. Whatever you think would be the most special for your family. The best thing about the bar set up is that you don't have to choose; you can include them all!

Step Four: Get Personal

Maybe your family isn't big on drinking milk, or you need to limit your sugar intake. No problem! You can adjust your hot chocolate bar to reflect your dietary concerns. Use almond or coconut milk in place of regular milk as a delicious substitute. In fact, you might want to do this anyway, as too much lactose can be hard on sensitive stomachs. Consider sugar substitutes like agave nectar or sucralose.

Perhaps hot chocolate itself isn't really a tradition in your family. That's fine, too! Set up a hot chai or tea bar instead, with a sweet and spicy blend you and your kids will enjoy, with sweet snacks reflective of your culture. Bond with your kids as you share your cultural heritage through food.

This season, take a moment to reflect on how you can create special memories for your family. Though we may be going through difficult times, we're doing it together, and that's worth celebrating!

Three Classic Kitchen Science Projects

Oct-12, 2020

kid scientist, child scientist, science experiment, beakers with liquid, science

Due to the social distancing because of COVID-19, families have been finding new and creative ways to turn their homes into everything from a school, to a playground, to a movie theatre. Today, we're going to talk about turning your kitchen into a laboratory. Opportunities for learning are everywhere! So, let's take a look at 3 classic science experiments you can do with ingredients you probably have in the kitchen right now!

Baking Soda Volcano

This is probably the most classic, often made, and iconic kitchen experiment of all time. Made by combining baking soda and vinegar, this experiment uses a chemical reaction to simulate the raw power of an erupting volcano.

Mixing baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, with vinegar, or dilute acetic acid, transforms these two substances. The molecules mix together and create carbon dioxide gas (the same gas we produce in our bodies when we exhale) and liquid water. The gas separating out of the baking soda and vinegar combining is what makes the explosion, much like boiling water when the steam escapes the surface tension of the liquid water.

Kids love this experiment because it gives them permission to be as messy as Mother Nature herself! Baking soda volcanoes are the definition of making learning fun. Of course, a real volcano has a lot more going on than a simple chemical reaction. You can read more about volcanoes in our blog post, Five Facts About Volcanoes.

Invisible Ink

The favorite experiment of aspiring sleuths, creating invisible ink can make any child feel like Enola Holmes or Harriet the Spy. Invisible ink has been made by different cultures for hundreds of years, and there are many recipes. The easiest to try first can be made by mixing lemon juice and water, which dries clear and only appears when heated.

When lemon juice is subjected to heat, like the ambient heat of a lightbulb, a process called oxidization happens to the juice. This causes the juice to turn brown and your secret message becomes visible. Siblings can have tons of fun hiding secret messages to each other around the house, or leaving notes for friends in common spots around the neighborhood. It's a great excuse to get up to some parent-approved mischief!

Oobleck, or Cornstarch Quicksand

Subscribers to our YouTube channel are already familiar with cornstarch quicksand. This fascinating experiment creates a substance which is often called "Oobleck,” named for the strange green substance from the classic Dr. Suess book, "Bartholemew and the Oobleck." Because of this, people traditionally mix a few drops of green food coloring into their cornstarch quicksand to match its literary counterpart.

Cornstarch quicksand is defined as a non-Newtonian fluid, referring to the scientist Isaac Newton. Non-Newtonian fluids behave both as solids and liquids depending on how they're handled. Oobleck can pour like a normal liquid, but when exposed to pressure, it reacts like a solid. Small batches of Oobleck can be hit with a hammer and not move. For a bigger experiment, an entire wading pool can be filled with Oobleck and kids can experience the strange sensation of walking on top of a liquid. There are tons of other fun things that can be done with Oobleck, so whip up a batch and start playing!

We hope your little scientists-in-training have some fun with these cool kitchen experiments!