Category: Science

The Power of Here: Discover Your Local Watershed

By Mariah Bruehl,

The Power of Here: Discover Your Local WatershedPlace-based education has been around for quite some time. However, it is gaining momentum in the public education sector as educators have discovered the high levels of engagement and the inevitable adoption of The Next Generation Science Standards across states. The philosophy behind place-based education is that if children are introduced to various topics in a specific and personal space such as their own community, they can then apply their knowledge later in life to the larger global macrocosm. It is fairly straight forward, and in that simplicity lies the genius.

As the Next Generation Science Standards begin to dictate states’ curriculum, educators are finding themselves scouring resources to make their own science instruction more rigorous, engaging and ultimately rooted in the ideas of citizen science. The NGSS calls for a closer examination of human impact and interaction with the environment across all grade levels. This is both an exciting and daunting task. At least in the elementary years, I would argue that a place-based curriculum is going to give schools the biggest bang for the buck. It does require a lot of planning, coordination with local agencies, and study of content knowledge on the teacher’s part. However, it is within those hours of research, emails and phone calls that the teacher begins to own the lessons. But, what if everyone were to get involved in this process. The best part of teaching is the learning, and this joy should not belong to classroom teachers, alone. Place-based education can be led by anyone who lives in a…place!

Below is an idea for adults with children in the upper elementary grades that elicits learning about the health of local watersheds (click on photo below to download lesson).



And here’s a worksheet to record your findings (click on photo to download):


Outdoor Adventure Kit

By Mariah Bruehl,

Outdoor Adventure Kit

Is it getting warmer in your neck of the woods? It is here and we are so eager to embark on the great outdoors! I thought it would be fun to share this outdoor adventure kit that we’ve enjoyed throughout the years. It’s helpful to keep it all packed and ready-to-go, so we can grab it on a moment’s notice. Having these simple tools handy, can change an ordinary day at the  park into an exciting scientific adventure!

  1. Field Bag – This light and nimble field bag has different compartments that are perfect for keeping supplies organized and easily accessible.
  2. Binoculars – Child sized binoculars are wonderful for discovering birds and nests in trees, and anything else that captures your attention along the way.
  3. Bird Call – This simple bird call is great for getting the attention of local birds. Don’t forget to bring bird food for your feathered friends!
  4. Magnifying Glass – A magnifying glass is definitely a must for those moments when you want to observe that Dandelion a bit more closely, identify the veins on a leaf, or inspect that newly discovered rock.
  5. Child-Friendly Field Guide – Choose a field guide that reflects your local area for learning about the native trees, flowers, birds, insects, etc. in your neighborhood.
  6. BugView Catcher – Best invention ever! I first discovered this bug catcher when I was teaching in the classroom and wanted to be able to gracefully handle the unexpected bug or spider. This bug catcher enables you to collect bugs without harm, observe them through the built in magnifier, and safely return them to their natural habitat. Every home and classroom needs one!
  7. Nature Journal – We love these small, blank notebooks for the spontaneous observational drawing or the impromptu haiku poem.
  8. Nature Fundana – These great Fundanas are available for multiple topics, contain great facts, and offer fun games-on-the-go.
  9. Colored Pencils – To add an inspiring dose of color to your nature journal!


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Author Focus: Keri Smith

By Mariah Bruehl,

Author Focus: Keri SmithFor the past three weeks, my daughters have been asking me “How many more days until spring?” The Midwest winter was long this year, so my girls know that spring means sunshine, warmer weather, bike rides, park play dates and long strolls around the neighborhood.

If your children, or students, are anything like mine, they love to collect things on those lazy day walks. We can’t get down the block without picking up at least a handful of leaves, acorns, rocks, and sticks. Our strollers, bike baskets and pockets become filled to the brim with tiny treasures. So to honor my little collectors, and the first full weekend of spring, we grabbed a few plastic bags, pencils, a notebook, a camera and Keri Smith’s book How to Be an Explorer of the World before we set off in the direction of our nearest park.

Now some of you may be asking, who is Keri Smith? On her website, the Canadian born Smith describes herself as an author/illustrator turned guerrilla artist. My teaching partner introduced me to her a few years ago, and I immediately bought Wreck This Journal (2007), which is arguably her best-known book. In it, Keri plays with the idea that imperfections are merely a part of the creative process. Imperfections are what make each artist’s work unique. She encourages the reader to let go of any inhibitions and do things outside of her comfort zone. The reader is told to tear pages out, color outside of the lines, and scribble wildly.  This book will remind you that creativity is about the journey and not always the end product.

In a November 2014 interview with Time magazine Keri said, “What I’m doing is trying to get kids to pay attention, to look at the physical world more, and to question everything.” On the initial pages of How to Be an Explorer of the World (2008), Keri does just that. She urges us to always be looking and to notice the ground beneath our feet. I love that one simple idea. So as my daughters and I began our walk this afternoon, I told them that we were going to go a bit slower today and look for things that we haven’t noticed before. Of course we would still collect any interesting objects we found during our exploration and then go home and observe them more closely. My six-year-old was looking forward to documenting her findings in a notebook and using her microscope to observe things more carefully.

Author Focus: Keri Smith

Before we reached the park, our collection included natural items such as a piece of bark, several pine cones, and a few different kinds of seedpods. However we also found some man made items like a page off a very small calendar and a curious piece of green string. We probably wouldn’t have picked them up had we not been noticing everything beneath our feet. Both discoveries surely had stories attached to them, and I knew this would be a starting point for another day’s activity.

It took us twice as long to reach the park. We stopped often, looked closer, observed longer, and talked more. Inevitably one of us would say something like, “I never noticed that hole in the tree before” or “Did you see those tiny white flowers growing up from the grass?”

When we returned home, I let my children’s interest level and desires drive what came next. Of course my six-year-old thought we should go around the circle and share what we discovered on our walk. She started by telling us: 1) what she found (and named it if she was able to), 2) described what the object looked like, 3) told us what the object reminded her of, and 4) shared why she liked the object or why she chose it for our collection. This is about the time that my four-year-old decided that she preferred to go inside and play.   The process of collection was enough for her, and I respected her wish to change direction.

Author Focus: Keri Smith

But my older daughter wanted to continue the exploration. She started out by making a list of what we found. Then our conversation was drawn towards discussing similarities and differences between the objects, which then led to sorting things into categories and labeling them. We decided to put everything into a box so that she can observe them again on another day. Tomorrow, I will show her how to carefully draw the objects and notice minute details that she didn’t notice today. I will encourage her to document colors and textures and ask questions. We may use the Experience Documentation Log or the Object Documentation Log at the back of Keri’s book. We might just create our own logs.

As you experiment with How to Be an Explorer of the World, I recommend trying all of the explorations, in any order, but here are the ones my daughters and I have at the top of our list:

  • Exploration #1 – Right Where You Are Sitting
  • Exploration #5 – The First Thing You See
  • Exploration #14 – Sound Map
  • Exploration #46 – Found Patterns
  • Exploration #54 – The Language of Trees

Be sure to check out more of these resources as you explore the ground beneath your feet!

Find Keri Smith’s website here.

More Books by Keri Smith…


Join us for Some Backyard Science Investigations!


Backyard Science Investigations: Buy One. Give One.Offer Expires Monday, March 30.


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Nurturing a Sense of Wonder

By Mariah Bruehl,

Nurturing a Sense of Wonder

Caterpillars turning into butterflies, bean seeds sprouting and growing into nourishing food, the constant, yet ever changing phases of the moon, the sun setting and rising every day, the clouds gracefully floating across the sky…

These are all extraordinarily beautiful events that take place on a daily basis and are there for the taking when we slow down, enjoy, and explore them with the children in our lives.

More than anything we want our children to be captivated by all that the natural world has to offer. For it’s that captivation that will lead to the desire for deeper understanding. The universe holds unlimited lessons for us and is filled with what can seem like magic!

Here are some simple tips on how to nurture that sense of wonder within ourselves and our children…

Notice the Small Things

The art of noticing is a gift that will last a lifetime. It’s powerful when we slow down and take the time to notice the little things that are often overlooked in our busy grown-up lives.

Simple things like the clouds moving, the colors of a sunset, or the squirrel in your front yard can seem enchanting to a young child.

It’s also fun to notice how things in the natural world change over time—look at the same flower everyday, watch the changing leaves on your favorite tree, or track the time that the sun sets. Sharing these small moments with your child encourages them to develop an awareness and appreciation for the world around them.

Learn Side By Side

Many of us feel that we need to be experts or have all the answers before we dive into a new area of learning with our children. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

What children are looking at more closely than anything else is our attitude towards science. Simply by getting outside, showing enthusiasm for new discoveries, asking questions about observations, and modeling ways to research the answers to the questions we don’t know—we are modeling the scientific method in action.

The goal is to model for children that life is not always about having the right answers. In fact, having the right questions can actually prove to be a more important and rewarding skill in life.

Provide Resources for Deeper Explorations

The goal is to encourage outdoor explorations and then to support further inquiry and research at home. In my experience, I have learned that while it helps to have a project or activity planned for outdoor investigations, it is also important to follow your child’s lead if they want to stray from the topic at hand.

As parents we have this luxury because we can always revisit our original goals at another time. When children are outdoors we should encourage them to explore, look, listen, touch, pick apart, compare, collect, sketch, and anything else that comes naturally. This allows for open-ended investigations that are lead by their own curiosity and desire.

It’s when children return home (or to the classroom) that we as parents and teachers can deepen the experience by providing relevant resources for further research. It is helpful to begin with a child’s questions.

I have found that taking the time to look through our collected treasures—sort them, classify them, and create a fun nature display—offers the opportunity to reflect on the day’s experience and good time to record questions that came up.

Setting up a science area, nook, or basket where children can readily have access to child-friendly field guides, books, and other inspirational materials allows them to seek the answers they are looking for.

Make Connections

For children at every age it is beneficial to talk about the connections between things. Many of us learned about science from the two-dimensional world of textbooks. We learned a sequence of facts about a variety of topics in a linear progression. Yet, we do not live in a two-dimensional world and science is filled with multi-dimensional relationships that cannot be fully understood or appreciated through the memorization of disjointed facts.

Parents have a great opportunity for pointing out the connections between all living things and the important role that each one plays in the web of life. Children inherently understand this relatedness and listen to stories about the natural world with the same anticipation as a bedtime tale. You do not need to be an expert and there is a lot that you will learn with your children as you go—in the back of your mind simply remember to look for opportunities to connect your child’s object of interest to a cycle, a season, a food chain, or another living thing.

When children begin to internalize the interconnectedness of all life, they will naturally become more aware of the important role that humans play and hopefully more conscious of the impact they are making within the world.

For Further Exploration…


An Invitation to Learn About Seeds

By Mariah Bruehl,

An Invitation To Learn About Seeds

Despite the deep snow all around us, there is a stirring of spring under our feet. The temperatures are not bitter cold as they were, we can stay outside for longer and linger in the sunshine more and more. As the days begin their slow warming cycle, our thoughts turn here on our homestead to the coming gardening year. Though the soil cannot yet be seen, let alone planted, we are plotting the myriad plants that we hope to grow in our garden this year.

While we can’t get our garden on outside, we can begin to learn a little of the plant life cycle inside. Call it a placebo, but I want to share my enthusiasm about seeds with my boys beyond their practical help in the garden. I want to share with them the mysteries of life beneath the soil.

The first activity we explored was this free activity from Montessori Print Shop .This activity involves matching the names of seeds to their pictures as well as the plants they come from. It encourages children to understand where seeds come from and to notice how many of them are common in our own kitchens. This is a great opportunity to talk about the uses of some of the seeds too. For example fennel is great for tummy aches and sunflower seeds are a common and nutritious food.

Next we moved on to looking at the evolution of the bean seed. I chose this one because it is something we eat often and so familiar. I wanted to look at this common item from a new perspective and learn the science behind the food source.

An Invitation to Learn About Seeds

For my 6 year old I used this great free resource from Twinkl (Bean life cycle worksheet (younger children), it is an sequencing activity to help develop their understanding of the order in which each step appears. The first worksheet works on sequencing, while the second encourages understanding of the cycle of the seed/plant. It is very simple but really effective and a great way to begin learning about life cycles more broadly.

For My older son we used this great resource from Exploring Nature (Bean life cycle worksheet (older children). This activity also involves sequencing but to a higher level and requires identification of more subtle differences as the plant evolves from seed to plant. A great follow on from this would be to actually plant a bean seed and watch it grow, matching it to your sequence to see if it follows the same pattern.

For my younger son I gave him another matching activity (known in the Montessori method as Nomclature) that gives more detailed vocabulary on seed development. This activity (found free on The Helpful Garden website)-introduces scientific terminology is a great way to encourage confidence and curiosity in children. Once they know the terms they can apply them to other types of seeds that they come across.

I also provided an extension activity found on the Montessori Print Shop , that goes into more detail about each life stage, explaining the terminology in more depth. This would be a great accompaniment to some seed observation and dissection!

Along with the information it’s really wonderful to explore real seeds and watch them grow. You can soak beans and use them for dissection and observation, you can grow a seed in a small cup or even germinate seeds on paper towels to watch them sprout. By sheer luck I discovered a cluster of sprouted seeds inside the squash I was cutting up for lunch! Along with a magnifier, these provided a great way to interact with living, sprouting seeds.

Don’t forget to take advantage of Playful Learning’s free lesson this month, Seeds: An Inside Edition!

Seeds: An Inside Edition


 Let’s get outside and explore!

Join us for the Backyard Science Investigations workshop…

Starts, March 30. To register, click here.


Backyard Science Investigations

Investigating Spring: Resources for Young Scientists

By Mariah Bruehl,

Investigating Spring: Resources for Young ScientistsSpringtime sun and rain puddles naturally raise our children’s desire to explore outdoors. Often, we do not need anything but the time and desire to be outdoors to initiate springtime investigations. As soon as we walk outside, observations begin. However, there are a few other tools we can provide children to further their natural curiosities.

Children’s literature is plentiful and rich with books about birds, seeds, flowers, mud and weather. I almost always start with literature in introducing topics to students. There is magic in story and deep connections develop between reader and text. Conversations begin naturally through text and story and often ideas or questions emerge for exploration. When this happens, it is the perfect time to lay down the book and explore with our senses. Maybe take a spring walk bringing along observational tools: sketch book, pencil, watercolor, magnifying glass, and a field guide or two. Or, set out a collection of seeds to sort, classify, and pattern. Or begin planting some seeds in trays and record daily observations.

Children’s Literature

 1. A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long have created such a magical book in A Seed is Sleepy. The illustrations are whimsical yet realistic. When looking through the text with young readers have examples of some of the seeds in the text and see if, while sharing the book with you, they can locate the seeds in the illustrations. Discuss actual size, versus the magnified size presented in the book. Ask your child why the illustrator might have decided to create them magnified. Discuss how to illustrate observations scientifically: realistic with great attention paid to detail such as color, size, and shape. Also, discuss the wording of the text. How is a seed sleepy? How is a seed adventurous?

 2. Spring Walk by Virginia Brimhall Snow

The flower illustrations in Spring Walk jump out at the reader quickly as the flowers are in bright, bold colors as spring flowers naturally are. The illustrator highlights the colors even more with a detailed but colorless background. The flowers jump out because of their prominence. A fun way to use this book may be to teach your child how to take close up photographs (micro) that bring out the details. Or, one may sit with a sketchbook, pencil and watercolor paints to practice detailed, observational sketching.

 3. Flowers are Calling by Rita Gray

Rita Gray has written a springtime rhyming text to share with readers why flowers are an important part of spring and what insects / birds use them as a food sources. Kenard Pak’s illustrations are delicate and detailed. A child may sit for a while with each page to study the arrangements of flowers, insects and birds. This book may be used as a field guide to bring along on a wildflower walk. There are several pages dedicated to simple, yet stunning illustrations of spring flowers which the author names and describes.

 4. Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins.

The study of birds in springtime is perfect to take our students and children outdoors. The book Mama built a little nest by Jennifer Ward and illustrations by Steve Jenkins provides readers with a beautiful story accompanied by detailed facts. Ward introduces us to many different birds and invites us to learn how they create their nests. Jenkins collaged illustrations are colorful and bold. It could be fun to try creating a collage of a birds’ nest found on a spring walk.

Investigating Spring: Resources for Young Scientists

 5. Feathers: Not Just For Flying by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah Brannen

Another bird book to delight young readers is the new book entitled Feathers Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah Brannen. This gorgeous non-fiction book is ideal to refer to when studying the birds of spring. The author focuses on feathers and their many uses. One idea may be to have students study found feathers and create detailed sketches. These sketches could then be written about in poetic form such as Haiku poetry.

 6. Mud by Mary Ray Lyn

This story, by Mary Ray Lyn, is a lovely introduction to the exploration of mud. Lyn uses few words yet the words are perfect and will provide new vocabulary for our younger students. The illustrations by Lauren Stringer have a unique perspective, as though the reader is the one playing in the mud. Read aloud Mud and then explore by taking your child outside to explore in the mud. Let him/her take their shoes off and describe what it feels like to walk through barefoot. What words describe the feeling? What does it smell like? Do you hear any sounds? Or bring some mud inside using a plastic container. Put out some newspaper or plastic and begin exploring with your child. What does it sound like when you mix it up with a stick? Can you paint with it? Does it have a smell?

 7. Laughing Tomatoes And Other Spring Poems / Jitomates Risuenos Y Otros Poemas De Primavera

Let’s add in some poetry and better yet poetry in two languages: English and Spanish. This colorful, poetry book is perfect for ages up to fifth grade. The author brings spring alive with poems about spring and how it makes people feel. Poems range from quite short (3 lines) to many lines. The illustrations are whimsical and light: a real spring feel! Enjoy this book with your child and then play with writing some spring poems together.

8. Spring An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Leslie Evans

This spring acrostic poetry book is perfect for the Kindergarten / First grade classroom. The author uses acrostic poems to tell the story of spring. Follow this book up with students creating their own acrostic poems about what spring means to them.

 9. Lost in the Woods by Carl R. Sames II & Jean Stoick

This beautiful picture book tells the story of a young doe and the first days of its’ life. The photos will captivate young learners and is a perfect accompaniment to discuss spring births.

 10. And then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead

The pictures and words work together to tell a fun story about waiting for spring. Children will relate to waiting for spring to come and the excitement that follows when it finally does. Use this book to discuss personal experiences in waiting for spring.

11. Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Allison Wortche and illustrated by Patrice Barton

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine is a lovely, personal story about growing up and making choices. Children will connect with Rosie and how to tries her best to do the right thing after a mistake. Children may enjoy planting their own bean plant and make observations after listening to this story.

 12. Amazing Plant Powers by Loreen Leedy & Andrew Schuerger

Loreen Leedy has created another fun non-fiction text that will grab young readers attention. In Amazing Plant Powers Leedy provides readers with catchy facts, micro photos and detailed drawing. Try creating catchy brochures with students to display information learned about certain plants. They will love emulating Leedy’s style in publishing.


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Winter Nature Science: What’s Warmer?

By Mariah Bruehl,

Winter Nature Science

In the midst of winter, staying inside by the fire with a blanket certainly seems ideal. People bundle up in layers to brave the cold and blustery temperatures. Animals, however, don’t have furnaces or coats, so what do they use to build shelters to stay warm in the winter? Peak your child’s curiosity with this notion and take advantage of a nice winter day to venture outdoors and conduct a fun, winter, nature science experiment. It will be a great way to get moving and learning outside just when you are feeling a little cabin fever!

For this experiment you only need a few simple items you can find around your home:

  • Clear cups
  • Thermometer
  • Some habitat items (we’ve used dirt, leaves, grass, sticks, and rocks, but you can modify this based on what you have readily available)
  • This printable

First, fill cups with the habitat items you find around your home.

Next, use your thermometer to measure the temperature of the air, and record it on your printable.

Place the thermometer in each cup, measure the temperature, and write those temperatures on the printable.

Now it is time to analyze! Here are some follow up questions to ask your child:

  1. Which natural item kept the warmest temperature? Why do you think this is the warmest?
  2. Which natural item had the coldest temperature? Why do you think this is the coldest?
  3. If you were an animal building a shelter what type of natural items would you use in the winter to keep warm?
  4. Draw a picture of your animal shelter and label your building materials.
  5. What are some other materials we could include in this experiment?
  6. Aside from their homes, what adaptations do animals bodies have to stay warm?

Hopefully a little fresh air and a little curiosity can bring some much needed excitement to your chilly day!

A Winter Solstice Book List

By Mariah Bruehl,

A Winter Solstice Book List

“Why is it still dark when I wake up for school AND right when I finish my homework?”

Don’t you love questions like this, questions your children ask that open up a whole field of study?

Recently, I was asked this by our oldest.  We engaged in a quick discussion about the sun and the length of days in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year and then moved on about our day.  However, a few days later I realized that I had missed an opportunity to help her discover the answer for herself.  I decided to seek out books about the winter solstice and add them to our holiday and winter book collection.

The books that we discovered fit into two different categories, there are those that approach the winter and the solstice, along with the other seasons, from a scientific perspective, and those that explain the cultural traditions, past and present, as related to the shortest day of the year.

A Winter Solstice Book List

Solstice Books with a Cultural Focus:

1. The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson – This book discusses solstice traditions from the British Isles, ancient Rome, Scandinavia, Peru, along with others.  It places an emphasis on how many ancient cultures believed their traditions helped the sun to return.  It also includes a Cherokee creation myth.

2. The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer – A concisely written book, the text gives the background information on the solstice, how it relates to the Earth’s movement in relation to the sun, along with how the solstice has been marked by both ancient civilizations and people today.  The book also includes several learning experiences and a list of further reading.  This book has become a favorite around our house and if you only explore one of these books, this is our recommendation.

3. A Solstice Tree for Jenny by Karen I. Shragg – This narrative tells the story of Jenny and her secular parents.  Jenny is feeling down about the fact that her family is different from others in their neighborhood since they do not take part in celebrating other common December holidays.  After being inspired by a teacher Jenny and her family learn about the solstice and celebrate in their own way.

4. The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards – Appropriate for older readers, or as a family read aloud, this book retells twelve traditional tales from all around the world.  Written by a storyteller the book is filled with rich description.

A Winter Solstice Book List

Solstice Books with a Scientific Focus:

5. Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M Branley – This brightly illustrated text explains the roles the sun and the tilt of the earth play in the seasons.  There are pages of instructions on how children can see for themselves the interplay of these two things using a flashlight, orange, pen, and push pin.

6. I Wonder Why the Sun Rises by Brenda Walpole – Part of the “I Wonder Why” series this book is structured by questions and answers.  It covers many aspects of the seasons but has a two page spread simply explaining the seasons.

7. The Reasons for the Seasons by Gail Gibbons – It is hard to do a non-fiction book round up without Gail Gibbons.  This book features her clear text and enriching illustrations.  It begins with a discussion of how the seasons are made and then has a several page spread on each season.  This book is a good choice for beginning independent readers.

8. Secrets of the Seasons by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld – Featuring speech bubbles, a pair of chickens, and three friends this is certainly no dry non-fiction book.  It nicely blends a narrative with lots of information.  This book makes a nice independent read for older elementary students, or could be shared with younger children in a read aloud.

What solstice texts have you read?  How do you mark this day in your home?

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Now Open for Registration…

Family Writer's Club

Join us for an exciting exploration of what it means to live like a writer. Together we will start writers’ notebooks and share in lots of inspiring writing prompts.

Start: December 29, 2014

End: January 02, 2015

For more information or to register, click here.

S.T.E.M. in a Box

By Mariah Bruehl,

S.T.E.M. in abox

Our 10-year-old daughter loves to tinker. She has always been a builder, loves to discover how things are made, and is happy as can be with a set of instructions, engaging materials, and interesting tools. In fact, she gets giddy every time her Kiwi Crate arrives in the mail. We’ve been subscribers for years… She grabs the package, ventures off to our atelier and comes out an hour later with multiple projects she has completed. So when Kiwi Crate reached out to tell me about their newest products for older kids, I was happy to help spread the word!

They have expanded their offerings to include:

  • Koala Crate for 3 to 4 year olds
  • Doodle Crate for 9 to 16 year olds, which is full of fun DIY projects (I think this will be perfect for my oldest daughter)
  • Tinker Crate for 9 to 14 year olds, which offers hands-on S.T.E.M. experiments

I decided to try the Tinker Crate first, as I thought that it would be the perfect way to nurture my youngest daughter’s inner engineer.



Tinker Crate helps kids gain crucial S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills through hands-on activities that are also seriously fun. Every crate includes all the materials and inspiration for a super-cool project related to a theme such as motors, trebuchets, or slime. Crates are designed to help kids build their problem solving skills and to gain the confidence and curiosity to tackle problems where there’s no one right answer.

As soon as the package arrived, Ella got busy and worked independently for approximately 45 minutes… After coming up against a minor set-back, the 45 minutes turned into 90 minutes of building, experimenting, re-building, and problem solving. An hour and a half of time that this Mom felt great about! Priceless…


I know it sounds odd, but I loved that Ella couldn’t make the motor work on her first try. She stuck with it, re-read the directions, and discovered that they had a great video she could watch to help her trouble shoot. What a great lesson in perseverance!



Tinker Crates really do offer S.T.E.M. in a box—and I don’t have to search all over the hardware store for parts that I’ve never heard of. NICE! Needless to say, it will make the perfect gift for her. She’s ready and eager to take her Kiwi Crate experience to the next level!

Don’t you think this book is the perfect complement?

Things Come Apart


Good news! Kiwi Crate is offering Playful Learning readers $5 off your first crate with a new subscription to Kiwi, Koala, Doodle or Tinker Crate. Use Code: PL5off

* This post is Sponsored by Kiwi Crate. Playful Learning only works with companies whose products we know and love.

Harvest Learning: Pumpkins, Gourds, and Squash

By Mariah Bruehl,

Harvest Learning: Pumpkins, Gourds, and SquashOne of my favorite fall activities is venturing with my daughter to the local farmer’s market to select natural autumn decorations for our porch. Each year, there is an abundance of beautiful produce perfect for our preparations. This year, I wondered if I could spin this plethora of products into a learning opportunity. The farm always seems to have such a wide variety of pumpkins, gourds, and squash, I decided to investigate what exactly makes them different. All of my searches kept coming back to “you carve pumpkins, you look at gourds, and you eat squash”. This did not seem terribly scientific, and as a lover of anything and everything pumpkin, I know I eat them too! Pumpkins, gourds, and squash all fall into the same scientific family (Cucurbitaceae). All of the glorious different plants you see at the farm come from the hundreds of different genus and species in this group. Finally, I was able to come up with an easier differentiation we could use to classify our haul of fall goodies, the stems! Pumpkin stems seem wooden, gourds have ridged stems, and squash stems are spongy. With so many colors, textures, shapes and sizes, pumpkins, gourds, and squash lend themselves easily to wonderful classification exercises, comparison and contrast activities, and descriptive words. Try some of these activities with your children after your next trip to the market!

  • Classify your fall objects as pumpkins, gourds, or squash
  • Make a Venn Diagram comparing pumpkins, gourds, and squash (see printable)
  • Make a chart to compare them. You could even take pictures of the items you purchase and glue them in the right spot! (see printable)
  • Sort the pumpkins, gourds, and squash by color, shape, or size
  • Brainstorm a list of words to describe them and try your hand at creative writing, maybe even a fall poem!
  • And, of course, decorating!

Harvest Learning: Pumpkins, Gourds, and Squash