Tag Archives: STEM

STEM Toys: Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Range

Living next door to a nature reserve we often find we have unexpected visitors in our garden. We try to do our bit to encourage and support wildlife and we’re always on the lookout for interesting birds or insects to learn more about. Brainstorm Toys have recently launched an Outdoor Adventure range designed especially for junior explorers. We put a few of them to the test.

Toy Review: Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Range

The Outdoor Adventure Magnifier is a handheld 2x-3x-4x magnifier which is ideal for on-the-go explorations, field trips and outdoor adventures. We put it to the test in our garden, taking a closer look at some plants and flowers and having a good look at some tiny aphids we found feasting on my rose bush. The magnifying glass is a pretty essential bit of kit and has so many uses. It costs around £12.99 and although that may seem a little pricey, it’s much better quality than cheaper kids magnifying glasses.

STEM Toys: Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Range

The Outdoor Adventure Binoculars were a real hit. They are pocket-sized and light weight and have 4x magnification; 30mm glass lenses and they have a break-away lanyard for safety. We especially liked the built-in compass on the top, which helped us to talk in greater depth about navigation skills and North – South – East – West (or Never Eat Shredded Wheat as we’ve been teaching him).

He sat for some time in the garden listening out for birds and looking to see them in the trees. We will definitely be taking these on holiday with us, he will really enjoy nature hunts in the woods! These Outdoor Adventure Binoculars are an ideal first pair of binoculars for children and cost around £9.99. A solid investment for nature loving kids!

STEM Toys: Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Range

Lastly we tried the Outdoor Adventure Night Vision Torch. The night vision torch has a bright red LED light which works with your natural adapted night vision to help you see more easily in the dark. It’s perfect for night hikes and map reading and would be great for taking on camping trips.

Unfortunately once we’d set it up and put batteries in it, it got dropped and we can’t get it to work again. So it remains untested, which is a shame because my son was super-excited to take it camping with us in a few weeks.

Despite dropping the night vision torch, we’ve had lots of fun with the Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure range. We will definitely be packing the magnifier and binoculars to take camping in the woods with us later this year. If you’ve got nature loving little ones, these Outdoor Adventure products are well worth a try.

For more information about the Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure range, visit their website.

Disclosure: We were sent some items from the Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Range for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own. This post contains affiliate links.

Children’s Books: Five Roarsome Books about Dinosaurs!

I write about our love of dinosaurs quite a lot on this blog. We have toys, games, dino figurines, DVDs and stacks and stacks of books about dinosaurs. We have a good selection of non-fiction books about dinosaurs, but we also have a couple of fiction books about them too, like Dinosaurs love Underpants. For this round-up we’ve chosen five of our favourite non-fiction books about dinosaurs; because if there’s one thing we love, it’s a big book of dinosaur facts!

Children's Books: Five Roarsome Books about Dinosaurs!

Five Roarsome Books about Dinosaurs!

Lift-the-flap Questions and Answers about Dinosaurs by Katie Daynes has been one of our favourite dino books for a year or so now. It’s beautifully illustrated and wonderfully engaging. This interactive flap book will answer all kinds of questions. It’s great for young readers, my son sits for hours reading and lifting the flaps. It’s a real favourite!

Dinosaur Number Crunch! by Kevin Pettman is a snappily written, fact-packed overview of the world of dinosaurs. It’s jam-packed full of colourful, well-illustrated facts. It contains all the essential info that dinosaur fans need to know; such as where they lived, what they ate, how big they were, how fast they could run, how many teeth they had and their key weapons. You can read our full review of this book here, but it’s one of our favourites!

National Geographic Kids: Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs by Catherine D. Hughes is for children aged 4- to 8-years-old who LOVE dinos! This fact packed book brings the prehistoric world to life with dinosaurs small, big, giant, and gigantic. The book is easy to read and contains lots of age appropriate information, better still, there’s an interactive element, so if you want to find out more, you can do!

The Complete Book of Dinosaurs by Dougal Dixon is the ultimate guide to 355 dinosaurs from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. It includes more than 900 illustrations, maps, timelines and photographs. It is the ultimate dinosaur guide for children who want to take their knowledge to the next level.

Usborne Pop-Up Dinosaurs by Fiona Watt is perfect for littler ones. This adorably illustrated book is ideal for mini dino fans. The book features all kinds of dinosaurs which pop up and move. Learn a little more about each dinosaur, from the long-necked Brachiosaurus, the triceratops with sharp horns, and the most famous dinosaur of them all, Tyrannosaurus Rex! It’s simply written and a delightful book to share with small children.

We are always looking for new books about dinosaurs to read at home. Have we missed any that we absolutely must get? Please let us know in the comments.

Children's Books: Five Roarsome Books about Dinosaurs!

This post contains affiliate links.

5 places to take Science mad kids in the North West

As the parent of a science mad child, we seem to spend a lot of our free time in science museums and visitors centres getting hands on with the sciences. As a result we’ve had some brilliant days out in our hometown of Manchester and across the North West. Today I’m sharing with you five of our favourite places to visit in the North West for science mad kids.

Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

I can’t even contemplate writing about science in the north without mentioning the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a huge and iconic site, you can pop in for a quick hour or very easily spend a whole day exploring, learning and getting hands on. They have a wide range of permanent and temporary exhibits as well as lots of hands on things to do.

Tim Peake science

As I write this they have Tim Peak’s Spacecraft on display as a temporary exhibit as well as the vast number of permanent displays including the Power Hall, Air and Space Hall, Textiles Gallery, Revolution Manchester and explore some artifacts from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Take a ride on one on the working steam trains along the track at the museum.

It’s such a great day out, slap-bang in the heart of Manchester City Centre. Find out what’s on at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry on their website.

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, Widness

The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is the only museum in the UK which explores the science and technology behind the chemical industry. Packed with lots of hands-on exhibits, activities and demonstrations it’s one of our favourite places to visit with our son. They have an ever-changing programme of hands on exhibits as well as a fabulous observatory, a “Scientrific” Gallery and the Alchemy Theatre & Catalytic Discovery Lab.

It’s a brilliant science-packed place to visit, we love it there! For more information about the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, visit their website.

Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire

Most people will recognise the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire as the place where Stargazing Live is filmed. Jodrell Bank is owned and run by the University of Manchester and it is the home of the Lovell Telescope, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It is open to the public and has a lovely new visitors centre as well as fantastic hands-on exhibits and gardens to explore, as well as the chance to have a look at the Lovell Telescope up close and personal.

You can read about our visit to Jodrell Bank Observatory here. For more information about Jodrell Bank Observatory visit their website.

Jodrell Bank science

Spaceport Planetarium, Wallasey

Spaceport is small, but well worth a visit if you’re in the area. With its focus on space and space travel, this attraction is suited to visitors aged 7+. Visitors learn about space as they walk through different themed galleries, which all have a variety of interactive and audio-visual exhibits, the highlight of which is a visit to the brilliant Spacedome planetarium itself.

Read this review of Spaceport Planetarium from Mini Travellers.

For more information, visit the Spacedome Planetarium website.

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum is such an iconic place to visit for Mancunian children. It has so many interesting things to explore and is packed full of science exhibits. There are lots of natural history exhibits, plus geology, archaeology, botany and Earth sciences to go and see. The big draws for us are Stan the reproduction cast of a fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex and upstairs the frog filled Vivarium, home to a large collection of endangered Costa Rican Frogs.

We visit Manchester Museum with almost alarming regularity. It’s a brilliant place to spend a few hours exploring and learning about all kinds of things.

For more information about Manchester Museum, visit their website.

There are so many fantastic places to visit in the North West. Where are your favourite places to take the kids to learn about science?

5 places to take Science mad kids in the North West

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Tasked with coming up with some interesting crafts and things to do with three children during the half term, I thought we’d start our week by making some egg and cress heads. I thought it would be interesting to watch them grow over the week. They’re easy to put together and all three had great fun making them and watching them grow over the week.

This activity is perfect for my 7 year old who is in Year 2. Cress grows incredibly quickly, and almost before your eyes. This fast growing crop was really exciting for the children to watch growing. Each day they found a new thing to be excited about. The best day was when they got to try eating the peppery cress, it’s a rare sight watching three children delightedly eating their greens!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Growing egg and cress heads is a great opportunity for children to talk about their observations about how the seed grows into a plant and guessing what will happen next. It can also help to promote scientific thinking and helps with linking science to real life experiences.

Growing Egg and Cress Heads

You will need:
A hard boiled egg each
Cotton wool
Cress seeds
Felt tips to decorate your egg

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

How to make your egg and cress heads:
Hard boil your eggs and get a grown up to carefully take the top off and scoop out the egg inside.

Gently decorate your egg however you want. We drew pictures of cats and dogs on ours, but you could do almost anything.

Fluff up some cotton wool and put it inside the egg. Then pour some water over the cotton wool. Sprinkle some cress seeds on the top of the cotton wool and put on a windowsill in an egg cup.

Check the progress of your seeds every day, sprinkle more water on the seeds every so often. Within a week all of your seeds should have sprouted and your egg head should have a thick crop of cress hair!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this Jelly Bean STEM Architecture

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Learning: Take the Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge

We are getting quite into STEM crafts and activities at home now. We’ve been busy with jellybean architecture, made a sponge house to grow cress on and this week we’ve been using the Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards from Mrs Mactivity and seeing what we could create.

Lego play is well known for having all kinds of great developmental benefits, these include –

  • Promoting fine motor skills
  • Encouraging team work
  • Improving creativity
  • Developing problem solving and mathematical thinking
  • Improving communication skills
  • Developing lateral thinking and planning skills

Crafts: Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards

Developing STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Maths) skills and encouraging an interest in these areas is so important for all children. I’m lucky that my son is very keen on science and engineering; not so much maths, but we’re working on that. He absolutely loves playing with Lego too, so these Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards were absolutely perfect for him.

We printed out the Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards and gathered a few boxes of Lego together. We each chose a challenge and got to work. I made the heart, the present and spelled out the word LOVE. He did an arrow, a heart and he also wrote the word LOVE in Lego.

Learning: Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards

It was really interesting for us to do something a bit different with our Lego and nice to build something which wasn’t a Lego City or Ninjago set. I can see how it worked his problem solving muscles, trying to find the right piece to go in the right place, picking and choosing colours and carefully following the visual instructions on the cards.

I think it’s also helped to show him that he doesn’t just have to build the sets, that he can be a little more creative with his Lego. He especially enjoyed writing with it and went on the write his name and mine. This is definitely something we can build on together at home.

Learning: Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards

This was most definitely a fun thing to do together and the learning is obvious to me, but it’s just fun for him!

The Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards are available to download on the Mrs Mactivity website. You can also find a good selection of other activity sheets there – all designed to be fun and educational too!

 

Learning: Valentine’s Lego STEM Challenge Cards

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

If you want to keep my 7 year old son entertained for an hour; give him a bowl of jelly beans, a packet of cocktails sticks, show him the rudiments and watch him build all kinds of wonderful things. Welcome to the wonderful world of jelly bean architecture.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

I confess, jelly bean architecture is not an invention of mine. When we went to the Just So Festival last year, my son spent a happy hour or so building with jelly beans. It’s something that we’ve revisited at home a few times since and it’s great fun; not to mention wonderfully educational and developmental!

You need two things to start building – lots of jelly beans (we get cheap bags of them from the petrol station, there’s no need to go gourmet with these) and lots of cocktail sticks. You will also need the knack. The first few times you try to spear a jelly bean onto a cocktail stick, chances are you will stab your finger instead. The trick is to hold the jelly bean on a flat surface and carefully press down, piercing the hard sugary coating.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

You should think of each jelly bean as a corner piece. You can probably fit up to four cocktail sticks into a single jelly bean. Whatever kind of structure you’re building, the only limit is your imagination.

We find it best to warm up by building some simple 3D shapes, pyramids and cubes are great. How many cubes can you stack on top of each other? Can you fit a pyramid on the top? Who will eat the last jelly bean? You can then move on to more complex structures. In the picture here Ben has built a fire station.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

Jelly bean architecture is perfect for budding architects and structural engineers. Anyone who is interested in building and construction, 3D shapes, maths, anything like that, plus it’s tremendous fun! It’s probably the most enjoyable STEM craft we’ve done together.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Christmas is a time for crafting and creating with the kids. We love doing Christmas crafts and we were excited when we heard that ex Blue Peter presenter and craft queen Konnie Huq, had partnered with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to create a selection of homemade STEM toys for Christmas.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Konnie Huq has put her Blue Peter powers to practice for a good cause, making Britain’s most popular Christmas toys at home for a fraction of the cost. The Christmas STEM toys she has created include –

  • Dissolving egg
  • Magnetic slime
  • Icosahedron bauble
  • Marble run
  • Balloon boat
  • Bouncy balls
  • Smartphone projector
  • Living gingerbread house
  • Kaleidoscope

Konnie has put together a set of free to download how-to instructions for all of the above crafts.

Konnie, who spent over ten years craft-making on Blue Peter, is supporting a campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology to inspire more children to consider careers in engineering. The toys are designed to make learning about science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more accessible and affordable. These handmade STEM toys – which include a dissolving egg, magnetic slime, a kaleidoscope and even a smartphone projector – are educational, as well as fun.

Making your own slime is so popular right now, but we thought we would try something a little different. We really liked the idea of building our own living gingerbread house.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Make your own living gingerbread house

You will need:
A number of plain sponges
Scissors
Toothpicks
Small plate
Seeds
Spray bottle (clean)

How to make a living gingerbread house
Choose one or two sponges to be your base. Fix them together with a cocktail stick, remember these are sharp so be careful of your fingers.

Choose more sponges to be the walls. Cut one sponge in half across the longest
side (i.e. make two regular rectangles, not two long strips) and fix those onto the shorter sides of your base with cocktail sticks. Fix two sponges onto the longer sides of the base.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Take two sponges and cut them down their long side on an angle so that they fit together to form the apex of a roof. Fix them together with cocktail sticks, put on the top of your structure and fix into place with more cocktail sticks. You should now have a house shape made of sponges. Put your house onto a plate.

If your house is a bit wobbly, you can secure it using a glue gun or some craft glue. If you have used glue, allow time for the glue to dry and set before you move on to the next stage.

Next, you need to cover the house with seeds. You can use mustard or cress but
there are many fast sprouting seeds, so the choice is yours. We chose cress.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Dab some water onto the roof of your house and spread the seeds onto the roof.
Pour a little water onto the plate so the sponge base can soak it up. Check the
sponge is nice and moist. Then sprinkle the seeds onto the base.

Leave your house in a warm, bright spot for the seeds to germinate. Spray the house with water using a spray bottle each day, and pour a little water over the house if it feels dry. In a few days the seeds should start to sprout, in a week they should be thriving.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

It’s so easy and lots of fun to make too!

 Disclosure: We were sent a shopping voucher to buy the materials for this craft.

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

Interactive toys are starting to become really popular these days. We were sent the new Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur to try out. Given that the boy loves dinosaurs in all forms, we thought we’d be onto a winner. But what did we really think?

First of all, if you’ve ordered one of these from Father Christmas I suggest you carefully open the box, put the batteries in (you’ll need a small screwdriver) and then have a read of the instructions. You’ll need to download a free app to get your dino up and running. It’s probably better to do all this before you’re sat in a room with an impatient child who wants to play with their toy now, this instant, immediately!

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

The Cognitoys Dino is really easy to set up. The batteries (4AA’s if you need spares) just slot into the battery compartment underneath. You download the app and connect the dino to your Wi-Fi  and then he’s good to go.

The mouth of your Cognitoys Dino will change colour to indicate what he is doing. If it’s blue he’s talking, if it’s yellow he’s listening etc. You press down the button on his tummy to talk to him and let go of the button when you’ve finished.

The Cognitoys Dino is meant to be an educational toy which helps to develop and improve problem solving skills; creative reasoning, social interaction and active play. He’s fun and funny; so when he asks you a question or asks you to solve a problem, it doesn’t feel overtly educational. The dino is aimed at children aged 5+. It’s designed to adapt to your child’s development and educationally ‘grow’ with your child.

My son who has recently turned 7 was pretty excited to be playing with the Cognitoys Dino. Style wise it’s quite a soft and cartoony looking dinosaur and I did wonder if he’d reject it for being too babyish, but he didn’t. He liked the look of it and gave it lots of cuddles.

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

The Cognitoys Dino is easy to activate, just press its button and say “hello”. The dino then randomly starts playing games with you, or tells you a story you have to interact with, and tells jokes or answers questions. He’s really quite good fun. I did like the storytelling, he stops every few minutes to ask you questions and check you understand tricky words. It’s all good age-appropriate stuff.

The app which you download to set it up and activate it also acts as a parent portal, meaning you can keep an eye on what your child has been doing with the dino.

I thought the Cognitoys Dino was an excellent tool to help a child’s development. I do have a couple of slight niggles I want to talk about. You may have noticed I’ve referred to the dino as a he, that’s because he speaks with a gruff male dino voice. I think it would be good to have different voice options to choose from. Helpfully, there are three volume settings underneath, so if your dino is a bit loud you can always turn him down a little.

My other slight concern is that many children have speech issues and I wonder how well the dino is able to process what the child is saying. It didn’t always pick up on what my son was saying. He tends to speak quite fast and sometimes blurs his words into each other. This did force him to speak a bit clearer, which is probably no bad thing.

I’m not that keen that it uses batteries, I think in this day and age it should probably have a USB charging option or a charging stand you can put it on to power it up. Batteries seem such an analogue way to power this interactive toy.

The other thing is manners; something we’ve relentlessly drummed into my son. When the Cognitoys Dino asked him if he wanted to play a game Ben replied “Yes please”, but the dino didn’t really understand what he’d said. I know this is a personal niggle, but manners are everything and it would be nice if the dino could recognise and reward good manners to help reinforce what we do at home.

The Cognitoys Dino currently costs around £104 from Amazon UK. It’s a clever piece of kit. We found it really simple to set up and my son found it easy and really enjoyable to use. It’s not perfect, but it is very clever, engaging and hopefully a tool we can use to encourage some good developmental activity at home.

To find out more about the Cognitoys Dino, visit their website.

We were sent the Cognitoys Dino for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

This week the small-ish boy got very excited about a special delivery of Aqua Dragons. These were pretty special Aqua Dragons, they’d been up in space and even had a certificate to prove it! What with my son’s burgeoning interest in science, he was super-pleased when this new STEM set arrived, and so was I, it’s a pet I wouldn’t need to clean up after!

What are Aqua Dragons? They are live, aquatic pets which hatch out of their eggs once you’ve created the right environment for them. They grow, swim, eat and they can even reproduce. The dragons are very similar to triops or sea monkeys.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

The Aqua Dragons in Space: Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit contains –

  • Asteroid shaped tank with LED Light up and glow in the dark base
  • Magnifying lid
  • Thermometer to monitor water temperature
  • Bubbler for oxygenating the water
  • Aqua Dragons Eggs that have been sent to space
  • Aqua Dragons Food
  • Glow in the dark feeding spoon
  • Set up and care instructions
  • Collector’s edition Authenticity Certificate with the space flight specifications
  • Aqua Dragons APP: including games, fun facts and your 360º space flight video

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

The set up is pretty straightforward and the instructions are clear. If you’re buying this as a gift for someone who will want to set it up straight away, it’s worth making sure you have a room temperature bottle of mineral water and two AAA batteries. Everything else is supplied.

Smaller children might need the help of a grown up when setting it up. The tank needs the batteries inserting (it lights up and illuminates the dragons as they swim about). Top the tank up with bottled water and add the sachet of eggs, giving them a little stir. Put the dragons in a light, warm-ish place (the ideal temperature is around 20-27 degrees and you get a little thermometer with the kit) and leave them to hatch. The life cycle of the Aqua Dragons is approximately 45-60 days long.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

It was at this point we packed our bags and went on holiday for five days, leaving Dad in charge of feeding and caring for the Aqua Dragons. After a couple of days we received word that the eggs had hatched and teeny-tiny dragons were swimming about in the tank. When we got home we raced upstairs to see them for ourselves.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

We discovered that Dad had done a pretty good job of looking after them. The tank had lots of little dragons swimming about and it was all very exciting!

Our Verdict on Aqua Dragons in Space:

The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit was very simple to set up. It’s suitable for aged 6+ and my 6 year old had no problems setting it up (other than Dad putting the batteries in the tank for him). We also liked how low maintenance they were.

The Aqua Dragons are both interesting and educational. They’re definitely something which prompts discussions about life cycles and what the dragons actually are (they’re actually brine shrimp, or artemia). I think having these weird and wonderful creatures is almost a rite of passage and it’s certainly one my son is enjoying right now.

He was especially excited that the eggs had been into space, just like his hero Tim Peake. I really like that they come with a certificate to prove that they’ve been in space, something you can see in the video below –

The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit is available to buy and costs £29.95. It’s suitable for ages 6+ and would be a great gift for science loving kids who are also pestering for a pet!

Note: We were sent the Aqua Dragons in Space for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.