How Do I Do It All?

 

I don’t know how often some well meaning friend or acquaintance will say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all!”

How do I write, homeschool three kids- two with special medical needs, one with autism, take care of my home, and cook from scratch for allergies, all while living with chronic illness?

The answer is simple.

I DON’T!! 

I don’t “do it all” every day.

Some days, my house is a mess.

Sometimes, I go a week without writing anything.

Sometimes, my kids don’t get the world’s healthiest dinner.

Sometimes I look at my 5 year old and wonder when he last had a bath.

I can’t do it all. 

I can’t do everything well all the time.

I pick what’s most important at the moment. Usually, my kids win. But sometimes, the house has to get cleaned and I know that they’ll learn plenty if I send them outside with a magnifying glass and a jar and tell them to look for bugs.

Sometimes, the pain from my autoimmune disorder is just too much and we lay in bed and watch Bill Nye the Science Guy together.

But, I think when I leave this world, my headstone will read, “Mama Tried.”

And that’s really all any of us can do.

I am not perfect.

I drink too much coffee.

Sometimes, I swear.

Sometimes, I yell at my sweet kids.

Sometimes, I forget to call a friend back for a month.

But I’m trying.

And I know that all my mama friends are trying just as hard.

I know that we live in a picture perfect Instagram/Facebook/Twitter world, but let’s be real. My life doesn’t look exactly like my Instagram feed. I don’t take pictures of the pile of dishes that needs to be washed and add a pretty filter and put it on the internet. I don’t blog about when my ten year old acts entitled or my five year old hits his siblings.

Maybe I should, though. Maybe we should all be more honest with one another.

So here I am, telling you honestly: I can’t do everything. I am not Wonder Woman or Super Mom. I have laundry that needs washing and boxes in my garage from when I moved. In March. I have so many projects I want to work on, but I can’t, because there isn’t enough time in a day. And that’s okay.

I’m trying.

10 Ways to Keep Little Brains Active All Summer


Most kids want to spend their summer playing in the sunshine and having fun.  I can’t blame them! When the weather is beautiful, I want to play outside too! I know that many parents worry about too much TV and video game time over the summer and about trying keep kids’ brains active so that when school or homeschool starts up again, their kids haven’t forgotten what they spent all school year learning.

I’ve assembled this list of fun activities to engage kids over the summer. I hope you are able to use it and that you and your little ones have fun learning together this summer.

1.Science Experiments

Oh, how I love science experiments. And my kids love them, too!  There are so many fun experiments available online.  I especially love Steve Spanger Science.  There’s enough on that site alone to keep you and your kids busy all summer! If you want to take it a step further, you can download these free lab sheets and have your kiddos document their findings.

    2. Art Projects

I know, I know. Art  is messy, but so is life. And your kids will learn so much while creating. There are so many wonderful resources online and at your local library for art.  I love The Artful Parent.  I also love The Usborne Art Treasury. It’s a great resource to learn about some amazing artists while making a mess. I mean art.

3. Music

Whether you sign your kiddos up for piano lessons for the summer,  try free lessons online, pick up a recorder and a tambourine,  introduce them to Mozart and Beethoven, or let them dance around the house to They Might Be Giants, music is an amazing way to help promote brain development and happy kids.

 4. Libraries

Check out  your local library! Our local library system has so many amazing summer programs.  From magic shows to story time to animal presentations, there’s something exciting going on every week. A lot of libraries have great summer reading programs with incentives to keep your kiddos reading all summer.

5. Documentaries

My kids love documentaries. If they are going to watch TV, at least they can learn something. Netflix has a lot of great options for kids.  Here’s a great list of nature documentaries by Raising Lifelong Learners.

6. Museum Trips

This is a great way to learn and get your kids out of the house at the same time. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are great at turning a clean house into a giant disaster area in mere seconds, so sometimes it’s nice to kick them out of the house for the day and learn somewhere new.  I am blessed to live in an area with several free museums and we take advantage of them frequently.

 7. Day Trips

Maybe the  idea of getting the kids out of the house was really appealing to you. I don’t blame you. It’s good for moms and kids alike to get a change in scenery  from time to time.  Where can you drive within an hour or so from your house? The beach? The mountains? A state park? Maybe a battlefield or other historic site? Take advantage of  your surroundings. If you head into the wild, take nature journals and let your kids draw and write about their experiences. If you find something historic, do some research on it before you go and discuss it with your kids before, during, and after the trip. This is another great time for the kids to journal. Depending on the significance of the historic site, you may be able to find books or movies to expand upon what you learned. I’ve lived with kids in three states in three very different parts of the USA and I’ve never had trouble finding places like these nearby.

8. Math Games

You can make math fun and help your kids stay sharp. There are lots of games online for free. Depending on their age and ability, there are also some really fun board games out there. My kids love any kind of learning games.

9. Audiobooks

I love audiobooks. Your local library probably has a ton.  Best of all, they can keep your kids happy on long road trips! Driving six hours to see Grandma? Get an audiobook! Heading to the beach for a week away? Get an audiobook! I love audiobooks because it’s a wonderful way to introduce kids to literature they can appreciate but maybe not quite read on their own yet.

10 . Creative Writing

Check out these writing prompts I wrote. Or write a story together. Take turns and create a silly story. Another great idea is to get a blank book and let your child illustrate it as he or she writes. Try buying your child a cool notebook and asking them to write a little every day. Just keep them writing because it will serve them well their whole lives.

I hope these ideas helped! Let me know what you do to keep your kiddos engaged in the summer in the comments.

If You Take a Homeschool Mom to the Library

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If you take a homeschool mom to the library,

she’ll pick out an audiobook for her kids.

When she goes home, she’ll scour the internet for resources to go with the book.

When she finds a really fantastic unit study for only $5.00, she’ll have to get it.

As she looks over the unit study, she will realize how detailed it is.

She’ll wonder if the kids might just need a copy of the book so they can reread it.

You will find her on amazon.com before you know it, downloading a copy of the book she got for free at the library.

“But it’s only $6.99!”

After she downloads the audiobook, she realizes she is out of ink and can not print the unit study.

So she goes to Target, just for some ink, of course.

After she finds the ink, she remembers she needs paper.

She walks to the office supply section to get the paper.

She grabs it, but then she sees file folders.

And of course she needs file folders.

Near the file folders, she sees markers.

The markers are on sale. She can always use markers.

By the time she leaves Target, she’s spent $54.

Her kids LOVE the book and the unit study, so of course she has to plan a corresponding a field trip.

On the field trip, her kids notice the gift shop, filled with educational toys.

She just can’t resist.

Once, home, she realizes that she has to take the audiobook back to the library.

And chances are, if you take a homeschool mom to the library,

she’s going to want an audiobook for her kids.

 

*Inspired by If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff 

5 Reasons I Embrace Video Games in my Homeschool

 

 

 

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I know that this is not a popular opinion in some homeschool circles, but I think video games can be magnificent educational tools. Now, as the wife of a video game FX artist, I might be a bit biased, but I really think that people are too quick to brush off games as a waste of time. Can they be a gigantic time suck? Absolutely! Are there some games out there that I would not let my kids play? Of course! But there are so many great games out there these days and I think our kids can learn a lot from them.

So, in honor of National Video Game Day, here’s a list of 5 reasons my family loves to use games in our homeschool.

Reaon One: Games Can Bring Learning to Life

My husband recently brought home an Oculus VR headset. It’s amazing! Oculus has partnered with Discovery to provide some amazing 3D experiences. I may not be able (or willing) to take my kids on an underwater field trip with sharks, but thanks to Oculus and Discovery, they feel like they’ve had amazing undersea adventures. Their 3D shark experience inspired a lot of questions and further learning.

There are plenty of games on PC, tablets, and consoles that also provide ways to bring learning to life in a variety of ways. My kids love the Dragonbox apps for math. It’s a great way to make math real for visual learners. Scribblenauts is a great vocabulary based puzzle game. There are examples in just about any area of study. For a lot of kids, games are a fun way to make learning real.

 

Reason Two: Games Can be Great for Critical Thinking and Spatial Reasoning Skills 

Even when a game is not outwardly educational, it can help improve critical thinking skills. Studies have shown as much. While I am not advocating for kids to skip math lessons so that they can play games all day, some time playing age-appropriate games could actually be good for them!

“Visual-spatial skills are viewed by psychologists and educators as the ‘training wheels’ of later skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and there is little question that we will need more and more workers with skills in these areas.” (Linda Jackson, lead researcher of a study from Michigan State on kids playing video games.) 

 

Reason Three: Games Can Inspire Creativity 

If you know more than a handful of kids over the age of five, you’ve probably heard of Minecraft. In Minecraft, you can build the world around you. My son has used it to build historic sites we’ve studied- or just his own made up worlds Studies have shown that kids who play games are more creative, and it’s easy to see why.

 

Reason Four: Teamwork 

When my kids play a game together, they have to get along. It’s a great way for them to learn to work together towards a common goal.

 

Reason Five: It Makes My Life Easier

This reason may be selfish, but let’s face it, life is hard for moms who homeschool kids of multiple ages. It can be very hard to get one on one time with one of my kids when they need my help.  I can keep a kid busy with an educational game and it frees me up to work with their sibling. That’s a win-win in my book.

 

We don’t spend all day every day playing games, and I am very picky about what I let my kids play, but video games are a tool I am happy to have in my homeschool. What about you? How do you feel about video games?

Back to Awkward

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Back to school time can feel a bit awkward for homeschoolers. Personally, I love seeing all the pictures my friends are posting online of their sweet children on the first day of school and the excited posts from my school teacher friends about the anticipation of a new year. The start of a new school year is a big milestone for many.

Though we homeschool year round, I usually make a point of recognizing a new beginning this time of year. We’ve gone to “not back to school” picnics. We’ve taken special field trips. We always take a picture on the first day of public school. It’s always good to mark milestones as they come.

But to be honest, sometimes it feels wrong to share our excitement. It feels like I am saying “What we’re doing is better than what you’re doing.” But that’s not it.  What I  want to express is this: What we’re doing works for us. We enjoy it. We want to celebrate it.  

I  am blessed to know several school teachers. My kids would be lucky to learn from any of them. I am so glad that there are people like them in schools across the world teaching our youth. I know that sometimes, people feel like homeschoolers are anti-teacher. I am not. I don’t actually know any homeschoolers who are. There are good and bad teachers, just like any other profession, but I feel like most teachers are in it for all the right reasons. What they do is admirable.

And I know so many moms who would love to homeschool, but can’t for whatever reason. Or parents who just do not want to homeschool, ever. It does not matter  to me. All I care about is that kids are getting the best education they can in whatever form works for their families. If your kid loves public school or you found an amazing arts charter or you’ve found a way to pay for a great private school for your child – whatever your choice is, if it is working for you, I am happy for you.

 

BACK TO

I am not against schools. I don’t look down on other parents for doing what is right for their own family. I support whatever choice you make for your kids.

I just ask for the same support.  It gets old feeling like I have qualify our educational choices all the time. “Well we homeschool because….” Because if I give a reason that can’t apply to you, maybe I won’t offend you. But in the end, we’re doing what works for us. I can list of dozens of reasons why it works for us, but that’s really not the point. My kids are thriving in a way I don’t think they would in another educational setting.

I am going to keep celebrating their education. I hope you do the same, no matter where your kids learn.

 

15 Summer Writing Prompts for Kids

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It can be hard to motivate kids to write. It can be even harder in summer when it’s sunny out and there are so many fun distractions. I put together this list of writing prompts to help motivate kids to keep  writing all summer long.

1.  You return home to find a package on your bed. Your parents don’t know how it got there. You open it to find…

2. You are on vacation at a cabin on a lake with your family. One day, you get up early to go swim by yourself in the lake. As you approach the shore you see what appears to be a sea monster come to the surface of the water across the lake. You gasp and then…

3.The familiar sound of the ice cream truck rises to your ears. You run outside to buy ice cream and find that this truck does not sell ice cream. This driver is selling…

4. Your dad takes you to the pool on a hot day. When you get there, instead of water, it is filled with Jello. What do you do?

5.You are off to Camp Flaming Arrow! You are excited for your first overnight camp, but when you get there, you begin to suspect that all of your camp councilors are actually ware wolves. What do you do?

6. A postcard arrives in the mail, addressed to you. On the front is a picture of a sunny beach. On the back, is a note, signed by you. You’ve never been to the beach. What do you do?

7. One day, you are swimming in the river with your friend, Dave. Dave sees something in the forest nearby. He says it’s a gnome and runs off into the woods. Do you follow him? What do you find?

8. It’s 100 degrees out. You are hot and sweaty and your air conditioner broke.  Your mom brings you a popsicle to help cool down. Your dog looks at you and says “Hey! What about me? I’ve got a fur coat! Don’t you think I’d like a cool treat?!” What do you do?

9. One evening, you are  catching fireflies in  jar in your backyard. You take them inside to observe them. You realize that one of the glowing creatures is not a firefly, but a fairy! What do you do?

10. Your best friend calls and asks if you can come to a sleepover at her house. When you get there, she says she has a special guest. The guest is an alien from outer space! What happens next?

11. A large, white owl flies up to your house. It has a package in its talons. It drops it on your lap and perches in a nearby tree. What do you find when you open the package?

12. You take a trip to the museum with your family. Somehow, you lose sight of them. You walk down a long hallway and see a door that seems to be glowing. A sign on in says “Keep Out,” but you can’t resist. What do you find when you open the  door?

13. You return home from a day at  camp to find a “For Sale” sign on your house. Your parents tell you that you are moving to China. What do you do?

14. On a bike ride to the park, you something moving in the bushes off the side of the road. You stop to investigate and find…

15. It’s the 4th of July! Your family takes you to a fireworks show. It’s the most amazing display of fireworks you’ve ever seen. You decide you want to get closer to see the fireworks being set off and you find that there are no fireworks at all. It’s actually a group of wizards sending beautiful designs into the sky with their wands! What do you do?

My Texas Book Tour. Alone. With THREE Kids- or- The Diary of a Crazed Author

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It’s been awhile since I posted last.

Because I have been in recovery, y’all.

My tour to Texas was amazing. I met so many wonderful people, saw old friends, made connections and met sweet young fans. I loved it.

But.

I went alone. With my three kids.

I knew this going into it.

I’ve traveled alone with my kids before. But this was hard. This made me question my sanity.

The first day of travel from NC to TX went fairly well. The kids were excited. They were happy. They joked. They laughed. They happily listened to their audio books. The older two journaled about what they saw. We hit no traffic. We flew from state to state.

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They absolutely loved stopping at each state line to pose for a picture.

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In all honesty, it was fun. We were all truly enjoying ourselves.

We stopped for dinner that night in Birmingham, Alabama. The kids were chomping down their food when I heard thunder. I wasn’t worried. I spent six years living in Texas. I’ve been through storms. I was sure we’d be back on the road soon. Then the rain came down in sheets. I still didn’t worry. Surely, the storm would pass and we’d get back on the road soon. Then I checked the weather app on my phone. I found out that we were in the center of a severe thunder storm with a tornado watch and it would be moving towards Louisiana along the same path we would be taking. The storm worsened as we ate and when we finished eating, I found a hotel nearby and we called it a night. Slightly defeated, I went to bed vowing to get up early to make up for lost time.

Which of course didn’t happen. The kids were not looking forward to another day on the road and my oldest kind of lost it. He wanted to stay in bed. Then he did not want to eat breakfast. Then he didn’t want to leave the hotel dining area to get in the car. When all the tears and tantrums stopped, we were about an hour behind schedule.

Determined not to let it upset me, I sang silly songs with the kids. I played a new audio book. I pointed out interesting landmarks as we drove. We entered Mississippi early in the day.

Soon we were closing in on the Mississippi River and the Louisiana border. The kids were gleefully trying to spell Mississippi in the back seat. A sign indicated we would be to the border in about 20 minutes.

Then it happened. 

My map app chirped at me that my ETA was four hours later than before. Confused, I thought I had missed a turn. Just then, the traffic stopped. Not slowed. Stopped. We were stopped on the freeway. I checked the app and saw that the traffic was stopped for about five miles.

We stopped behind a truck load of livestock. Very stinky livestock.

We waited. The kids started to get fussy. My daughter cried about the smell.

(I wanted to cry about the smell, but I am a grown-up and I am not supposed to cry about such things.) 

After about an hour my three year old began to scream,

I…have…to…POOP!!!”

Over and over again.

He’s well potty trained. I did not bring diapers.

I looked around me, cursing the landscape for not providing trees to poop behind.

More screaming. For another TWO HOURS.

My map app chirped that I could save time if I got off the highway.

The exit was ahead about 1000 feet. Maybe more. I am a terrible at judging distance. I’m a writer, okay? It’s not my thing.

I drove on the freaking shoulder, desperate to get off the highway and to a a toilet.

I don’t do that normally. Usually, I silently curse the people who think they can create their own lane on the road by driving on grass. But I did it. And I am not sorry.

So I get off the highway and realize that there’s not a toilet in sight. There’s nothing in sight. In fact, I start to worry that my map app has tricked me into a slow death in backwoods Mississippi, because this is the road it took me on:

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For three miles, I drove down this dirt road, fearfully wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

After what felt like hours, the dirt road intersected with a real road and took me back to the highway. And a gas station. With a toilet.

And you know what happened?

My son refused to poop.

He “didn’t like” the toilet, so he would not go.

After bashing my head into a wall repeatedly,(*not really*), I got gas, got back on the road, and soon found myself in Louisiana.

We didn’t stop for a picture.

We made it to the Texas border before sunset and made it to Dallas before bedtime.

My eye may or may not have been twitching when we got there.

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(Yes, we stopped at the TX border. My three year old still had to poop. He didn’t like the toilet in TX either.) 

We had a great time in Texas. The tour was wonderful, really. I had so much fun meeting young fans and hearing what they had to say about my book. One sweet little girl came up to me, hugging her copy of my book and told me it was her favorite book ever. It made my day week year.

I loved the actual tour part of the trip. I can’t express fully how much I love these speaking engagements.

We also saw so many great friends and got to visit some of our favorite parts of Dallas.

 

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The drive back was filled with more storms, but otherwise went okay.

Plus, we got to stop in Bucksnort, TN. Don’t be too jealous.

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(In all seriousness, Bucksnort seemed like a nice little town, but what is with that name?!) 

We made it safely back home to North Carolina and we were all relieved.

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And here’s the part that makes me question my sanity:

I can’t wait to do it again.

 

15 Fantasy Writing Prompts For Kids

After yesterday’s post, I thought it would be fun to share more writing prompts. If you have a reluctant writer who loves fantasy, check these out! I hope you enjoy them!

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1. You wake up one morning and find that unicorns have taken residence in your backyard. What do you do?

2. You follow a rainbow to the end. What do you find?

3. Your cat speaks one morning and tells you that she is really a girl who had a spell put on her by an evil witch. What do you do? How do you help your cat?

4. On a trip to the beach, you meet a young mermaid named Coral. She invites you to visit her undersea home. Do you go with her? If you go, what do you see. If not, why not?

5. You’re given a magic paintbrush. Anything you paint will come to life! What do you paint? What happens?

6. On a hike with your two best friends, you decide to explore a cave. Inside the cave, you find a dragon! What do you do?

7. Your Great Aunt Matilda has a large collection of garden gnomes. You begin to suspect that they are actually alive when one throws a pebble at your little brother. What happens next?

8. A huge storm hits your town. Thunder and lighting rage for hours. A bolt of lightning hits your local library and inexplicably brings your favorite literary character to life. Who is it and what do you do together?

9. You think that your piano teacher is actually a wizard. Your suspicions are confirmed when he puts a spell on you for not practicing! He shrinks you to the size of an ant for two hours. What do you do?

10. One day, you wake up to find that you have wings! Where do you fly?

11. At a birthday party, the hired magician accidentally turns the birthday boy (your best friend!!) into a toad! What do you do?

12. You little sister tells you that she thinks your father is a ware wolf. What do you do?

13. You hear beautiful music coming from your garage every night at midnight. What do you find when you get brave enough to explore?

14. One day, the fish in your fish tank start talking to you. What do they tell you?

15. While playing in the forest behind your home, you find a village of fairies. Do you approach them? What do you learn about these tiny creatures?

15 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts for Kids

My oldest child is a reluctant writer. As a homeschooling mom and an author, that’s really hard for me. I want him to share my passion! He is the kind of kid who needs a little push to get started when it comes to writing. I know a lot of kids have similar struggles when it comes to creative writing. Sci-Fi can be a great way to pull in some kids who may not usually want to engage in creative writing. With that in mind, I compiled this list of fun Sci-Fi writing prompts. I hope you and the little ones in your life enjoy them.

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  1. Imagine you wake up on a strange planet. What might you find there? How would you get home?
  2. A strange creature followed you home from the park. It’s green, has three heads, twelve eyes, and scales. It seems to be friendly. What do you do?
  3. You found an alien spacecraft in the woods behind your house. Would you fly it? If so, where would you take it?
  4. There is a portal to another dimension in your laundry room. What adventures do you have in this new land?
  5. A 45 foot tall flamingo has moved into your neighborhood. What do you do?
  6. One day, you build several alien creatures with Lego. You begin to think that they come alive when you are not looking. What might they do when you turn your back?
  7. You father brings home a robot butler. At first, it seems great. It cleans the house, makes you snacks, and helps with your schoolwork. Then, something goes terribly wrong…
  8. You’re an astronaut on a mission to Mars. What do you see on your long journey?
  9. Your dog speaks to you one day and tells you that he’s come from the future to prevent you from making a mistake. Do you listen to him?
  10. You have a dream about a strange land where everything is yellow, there is little gravity, and everyone speaks in riddles.  When you wake up, your house has turned yellow. What do you do?
  11. You keep hearing a strange noise in your closet. You get brave and check inside. What do you find?
  12. You find out that if driven in reverse, your mom’s minivan can take your to the past. What time do you visit?
  13. For your birthday, you godfather gives you a jetpack! What do you do with it?
  14. While playing in the park, you find a green egg the size of your head. What hatches from it?
  15. You begin to suspect that your karate instructor is actually a cyborg. What do you do?

STEM-Inspiring Gifts Under $20 for your Little Valentine

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With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, why not skip all the candy and stuffed animals and foster a love of science in your little Valentine? I’ve included a list of products under $20 as I know most parents are always looking to save a bit of money.

This post include affiliate links. 

Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit

All three of my kids love Snap Circuits. They are a great way to encourage STEM play and enjoyed by a wide age range.

Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit

Lego and STEM- need I say more? My oldest got this for Christmas and we’ve been LOVING it.

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set

Why not give them science tools made for their little hands?

ScienceWiz DNA Experiment Kit

Extract DNA from fruit! Build a double Helix! Help your kids to learn the basics of molecular biology in a fun, easy to understand way.

4M Eco Science Toys

I love eco-friendly toys! The kit can make up to seven different toys, including a race car, a gravity-powered walking robot and a tornado inside a bottle. All for under $10!

Nellie Nova Takes Flight

Ok, you knew I had to throw it in the mix, right? If you don’t know about my book yet, here’s the premise:

Nellie appears to be a normal nine year old girl. But Nellie is not normal. Nellie is an amazingly gifted scientist who lives in a family of amazingly gifted scientists. One day, her brother, Niles, who is eleven, teases her (as all respectable big brothers do). This time, however, Niles goes too far when he tells Nellie that girls are silly and no woman has ever changed the world. This sets off a spark of an idea in Nellie’s most amazing mind and sends her down the path to create a time machine and meet wonderful women who made a mark on the world. First stop, Amelia Earhart! With a few bumps along the way and a government agency out to steal her technology, Nellie and Niles are in for an incredible adventure!

If you don’t have a copy yet, it is a great way to encourage kids, especially girls, to love science.

STEAM: Preschool Activities for STEM Enrichment

This book looks great for the five and under crowd!

KEVA Brain Builders Game

This looks great for little engineers over the age of seven!