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How Kids Can Help Animals on Earth Day

By: Beth Werrell
how kids can help animals on Earth Day

On Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22nd, many kids try Earth Day activities such as volunteering in the community, finding new ways to recycle, or planting trees or other types of vegetation. But don’t forget about helping animals, which is another great way to give back to the environment.

Helping animals, whether wild or domestic, is a fun way for your child to build his or her “nature smarts,” or understanding of the natural world. Take a look at the Earth Day animal activities listed below to find some ideas.

Help Animals in the Wild

There are many hands-on opportunities for children to help wildlife in your community. Do the following activities with your child to make a difference in your own backyard.

  • Volunteer to clean up litter that could harm wildlife.
  • Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides in your yard.
  • Work with your child to create some green household cleaners that are safe for kids as well as wildlife. Safe ingredients include lemons, vinegar, water, baking soda, and salt.
  • Plant a garden that helps animals by providing food or shelter.
  • Help your child make a bird feeder to hang in the yard.
How Pets Can Help Your Child

Children can spend time helping animals on Earth Day, but animals can also help children. Here are some of the ways that children can benefit from spending time with pets or other animals.

No rhyme? No problem: Using Poetry During the School Day

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
use poetry during the school day

April is National Poetry Month—a time to celebrate language, literal and figurative, and the mental images a good poem can suggest. Some poems are in verse, with rhyme, rhythm, and meter. These rhyming poems are almost musical in nature. Poetry can sing without rhyme, too.

Haiku and Tanka Poems

Poetry without rhyme, known as free verse, can take many structures. One rhymeless structure is haiku. Haiku is a poem form that originated in Japan and usually features nature in some way. Each haiku has three lines, and each line has a set number of syllables—five, then seven, then five again. A tanka poem uses a similar structure, extending the poem to five lines, with seven syllables each.

Winter Haiku

Simply crisp and cold

The ground is covered with white

It’s winter at last.


Room with a View: Tanka

Looking through the glass

Past offices and a church

The lonely rooftops

Neighborhoods empty of folk

Gone to work or school all day.

Free verse can cross curricular lines, too. Integrating poetry into what your student is currently learning can be as motivating as using a brainteaser to get your school day started. Try this!

Acrostic Poems

In an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line spells out a word or a message. Your student might already be familiar with this form of constrained writing using acronyms or short memorable phrases, known as mnemonics—a learning technique to aid memory retrieval. For example, you can explain U.S. history with an acrostic ...

The Surprising Story Behind Daylight Saving Time

By: Dan Reiner
Daylight Saving Time's Surprising History

Did you know that “daylight savings time” is officially known as daylight saving time (DST)? There’s a lot more to DST than setting the clock back or ahead twice a year to save daylight. Here is a brief look at the history of DST and how it is used today.

Candle Wax and Coal: The Origins of Saving Daylight

Benjamin Franklin was the first person to propose the practice of maximizing the daylight hours in his essay “An Economical Project,” which he wrote in Paris in 1784. In the essay, he argues that waking up at daylight and going to bed soon after sundown would save Parisians a substantial amount of candle wax.

But Franklin wasn’t serious about saving daylight. The essay was meant to be satirical, suggesting that those who “have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon” should wake up earlier. Some of his cunning suggestions to enforce daylight saving time included:

  • Limiting the amount of candles each family can buy
  • Using guards to prevent people from walking on the streets after sundown
  • Taxing citizens who kept shutters on their windows to prevent them from blocking the sun out and sleeping in

Franklin also never recommended changing the time to take advantage of daylight. This idea didn’t appear until years later, when George Vernon Hudson proposed it in 1895 and William Willett developed a similar plan in 1905.

No one implemented DST, however, until World War I. Daylight saving was adopted by many European countries ...

Create an Edible Heart Model for American Heart Month

By: Dan Reiner

Nutrition has a big impact on heart health. A few of the things the American Heart Association recommends for lowering your risk of heart disease are to eat better, control your cholesterol, and reduce your blood sugar. So, finish off February, American Heart Month, by doing something good for your heart. You can start by creating an edible heart model using beneficial ingredients such as fruit and yogurt.

The types of heart-healthy fruit you can use in this activity include blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, which:

  • Promote circulation by widening arteries (anthocyanins)
  • Remove damaging free radicals and strengthening blood vessels (antioxidants)
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease (polyphenols)
  • Lower cholesterol (fiber)

Yogurt is also great for the heart. It has been shown to reduce plaque buildup in the carotid arteries which supply blood to the brain.

Once you’ve assembled these ingredients, it’s time to get started! Click on the graphic below for step-by-step instructions on how to create your own edible heart model.

Heart Trivia
  • The system of blood vessels in your body is over 60,000 miles long, which means that it could wrap around the world twice!
  • Blood circulates throughout your whole body in 20 seconds.
  • The energy produced by the heart in an average day could power a truck for 20 miles.
  • Ancient Greeks believed that the heart was the body’s source of heat.
  • Ancient Egyptians thought that the heart and other organs could move around inside the body. ...

Let the Games Begin: 2014 Winter Olympics Trivia Game

By: Dan Reiner
Winter Olympics Trivia Game

Athletes from around the world have already started competing in the first events yesterday, but today’s opening ceremony marks the official start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

While some of our student athletes take advantage of the flexibility of virtual school to receive a quality education and work toward their dream of competing in the Olympic Games, you have a chance right now to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal in our Winter Olympics edition of Connections Academy’s Quiz Bowl Trivia Challenge.

Test your Winter Olympics knowledge with 20 trivia questions that celebrate and help build enthusiasm for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Students of all ages—and their parents—can play and then challenge their friends. We invite everyone to take the new Trivia Challenge, which is inspired by Connections Academy’s yearlong Quiz Bowl Challenge—a popular activity designed to educate and recognize students during the school year and one of the many clubs and activities students at our online schools enjoy.

The quiz also serves as a resource and discussion-starter for teachers and homeschool families looking to incorporate the Winter Olympics into their own lessons. Students and their families can “play” online, or download a printable version for use in the car, at parties, or over dinner.

Is gold in your future? Good luck!

Finding the Right Words: Helping Kids Build Vocabulary

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Multiple-meaning words on color stickers

When a student knows the correct answer but cannot show it, sometimes it’s the formal language of academic vocabulary that gets in the way. Sometimes the problem is a word that has multiple meanings, as the following true stories show.

  • A child was confused by a test with the following direction: “Ring the correct answer.” She didn’t recognize that her teacher was using “ring” as another word for “circle,” so she didn’t know what to do.
  • A middle school student saw “Name the polygon” on his math assignment. Not understanding that this meant to identify the term for the shape—and lacking any better idea—he named his polygon “Tim.”
  • An emerging reader came across the phrase “a house of straw” in the story The Three Little Pigs. She pictured a house built with plastic drinking straws. No wonder the wolf blew it down, she thought.

There are many words in the English language that sound, look, or are spelled the same—yet that have very different meanings. To succeed, students need to grasp these sometimes confusing complexities of our language early on. Throughout school, they must also continue expanding their academic vocabulary with words and terms commonly used in education. Parents can help support this vocabulary growth by being aware of some of the pitfalls of learning language and by giving students opportunities to practice using words.

Understanding Multiple-Meaning Words

For young elementary school students, it’s important to learn that a pear is a piece of fruit and that ...

Fun Activities to Keep Kids Learning All Winter Long

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Knitting, Just One of Several Fun Winter Learning Activity Ideas

Winter weather brings with it storms, changes, and dynamite learning opportunities. My family in Wisconsin loves to retell the story of a visitor from a warmer climate who looked at our thermometer in panic, saying, “The thermometer’s broken! It says zero! There’s no temperature!” Learning that zero degrees Fahrenheit was indeed possible was a new experience for our guest. As you enjoy your winter break, I hope you’ll use my family’s story as inspiration to keep your children involved in learning. Here are some fun winter learning activity ideas to keep your students’ minds active until the new semester begins!

Explore the science of weather.

”Weather” or not winter brings below-freezing temperatures in your part of the country, the season holds many opportunities to explore the science behind our climate. Here are some questions to spark your family’s curiosity about the changes in our temperature and atmosphere that occur in winter weather:

  • What are the differences between Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin? How do these temperature scales differ from one another? Who named them, and why? Look into freezing points and boiling points to expand practical chemistry knowledge.
  • What is meant by the terms Saskatchewan Screamer, Alberta Clipper, and Chinook? What do these types of winter storms have in common? How are they different?
  • Why do large bodies of water like the Great Lakes change temperature more slowly than the nearby land?
  • What is lake effect snow?
  • What is windchill, and how is it calculated? How is windchill related to ...

Build Your Birding Skills with Our Bird Feeder Experiment

By: Dan Reiner

Millions of Americans have bird feeders in their backyards, and many of them enjoy the simple pleasure of watching neighborhood birds from their windows. Feeders make it easy to observe and appreciate nature. They can also provide a variety of learning opportunities. Building a bird feeder can help your child practice the scientific method, explore nature during winter, and learn more about birds. Just try our bird feeder experiment, which shows elementary and middle school students how to construct three bird feeders and test their effectiveness.

Click on the graphic to view the full instructions for our bird feeder craft. Don’t forget to supplement the experiment with the bird-watching tips and resources below.

Bird-Watching Tips for Beginners

While you observe how your bird feeders perform, start to develop your bird-watching skills. When you see a bird, watch it as closely as possible and ask yourself these questions:

  • How does it move? What does it look like when it flies?
  • What does it eat?
  • What are its colors?
  • Does it have a call or song?
  • What is the bird’s size?
  • What is the size and shape of its face, bill, tail, and legs?

After you get a long look at the bird, start recording your observations. Here are some different methods to try:

  • Draw a picture.
  • Take a photo.
  • Record a video.
  • Write your observations in a journal.
  • Create a graph or Venn diagram comparing it to another bird.
  • Track the types of birds you ...

4 Facts and Activities to Celebrate the Wright Brothers’ Flight

By: Dan Reiner
4 Wright Brothers Facts and Activities for Kids

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history by flying the first manned, motorized, heavier-than-air “flying machine” at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Through imagination, hard work, and years of research and experimentation, they achieved the centuries-old dream of human flight. Today, you’re invited to let your imagination fly with a few Wright-related facts and activities.

Four Wright Brothers Facts
  1. A Toy Inspired Their Interest in Aviation. Did you know that a toy helicopter inspired the Wright brothers’ lifelong interest in flight? In 1878, the boys’ father gave them a rubber-band-powered helicopter made of paper, bamboo, and cork. Fascinated by the toy, the brothers began building their own paper helicopters, improving on the original design and learning some basic concepts about aeronautics in the process.

  2. Wright’s Style of Problem Solving. The brothers’ experience with manufacturing and riding bicycles helped them solve a critical problem in early flight. They were the first inventors to understand that, like a bike, the airplane’s movement must be constantly controlled on three axes—horizontal, vertical, and lateral.

  3. Their First Patent. Experimenting with biplane box kites, reading everything about flight that was available to them, and observing birds in flight, the Wright brothers discovered that twisting or warping a kite’s wings would allow them to make the kite dip and turn as a bird dips one wing to turn. After a lot of trial and error, they developed a system of cables and pulleys to control “wing warping” and lateral movement; a hinged rudder to aim ...

Rethinking Fables and Fairy Tales: A Story Retelling Activity

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
King Frog and How to Rewrite a Favorite Fairy Tale

By the time your child is in virtual elementary school, he or she is likely to know who Little Red Riding Hood is and what happened to Goldilocks when she invaded the home of the Three Bears. These are just a few examples of storytelling standards that have entertained and inspired generations of young minds.

Now encourage your child to rethink his or her favorite bedtime stories in this simple story retelling activity. Just ask your child to think “What if…?” and then to change the story based on the new premise.

Choosing a Tale to Retell

Because this storytelling activity is so versatile, you can easily customize it to your child’s interests or learning needs. It can be written in a paper, illustrated in a homemade book, shared orally, acted out on stage, and more.

This activity is also a great way to help your child think like a writer and exercise his or her verbal-linguistic intelligence. In addition, your child will be practicing a reading strategy by self-questioning. All your child has to do is start by asking, “What if?”

Here are a few ideas to get your child thinking.

  • “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”: What would happen if the third bowl of porridge wasn’t “just right”?
  • “The Three Little Pigs”: What would happen if the wolf felt remorseful after blowing down the first two houses? What would happen if a fourth little pig appeared in the story?
  • “The Tortoise and the Hare”: What if the hare had paced himself ...

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