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A Lesson in Observation with Animal Tracking

By: Beth Werrell

Do your children ever play spy or detective, or maybe veterinarian? Whether your kids have an interest in detective work or animals, or if they just love any excuse to get outside, animal tracking can be a great lesson in observation.

Before you head off on your tracking adventure, download the animal tracking guide below for animal tracking tips, as well as pictures and descriptions of common animal prints across the United States.

Where to Start

Tracks made in softer earth are typically more distinct and easy to identify, so look for spots with:

  • New snow
  • Mud
  • Wet sand

However, if you don't have any land in your area that fits the ideal terrain for animal tracking, remember that there are other signs of animal activity, such as fur and feathers, broken or gnawed branches and tree trunks, scat, and more. Encourage your child to be aware of his or her surroundings and to look for signs of life beyond prints.

When to Start

It's typically easiest to track prints in the early morning or late afternoon, as the sun will cast a shadow inside of the grooves of each print and make them easier to see.

The time of year for print tracking does not matter as much as the weather and environment you and your child will be tracking in. As mentioned above, tracks made in new snow or mud are easier to see and identify, so winter ...

Show Your Support for Computer Science in Schools

By: Beth Werrell
Support Computer Science Education

In honor of the Maryland campaign #GivingCodeDay, which helps fund a quality computer science education, we've put together some resources to help parents across the nation support computing in schools.

Why Computer Science?

By 2020, there will be 1 million more computer-science-related jobs. This is more jobs than graduating students will be qualified to fill. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, only 58 percent of students in grades K–12 attend schools that have classes solely dedicated to computer science.

Computer science helps students develop critical-thinking skills alongside creativity. Teaching students computer fundamentals can create a solid foundation for future education and career paths.

About 91 percent of parents in the same Gallup survey said they would like to see their children learning more computer science in the future. If you consider yourself part of that group of parents, you can help! Take a look at the ideas below to get started in your active support for more computer science learning.

Become a Computer Science Education Advocate
  1. Join an Hour of Code, which offers basic computer science tutorials around the world, during Computer Science Education Week in December. Raise awareness for coding education by organizing an event at your child's school or in your community, signing up to teach a one-hour introduction to computer science, or encouraging your child to participate in an Hour of Code event.

  2. Volunteer for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), which pairs high school teachers with professionals to build a viable ...

Gratitude Journal Prompts and Writing Worksheets for Thanksgiving

By: Beth Werrell

Expressing thankfulness can be hard for young children, but having them write down their thoughts and emotions can allow them time to process and organize ideas. Journaling is a simple way to encourage your child to think about what is important to him or her and what he or she is grateful for. Today we will provide you with some simple tools, namely writing prompts and a printable writing worksheet, to get your kids past the blank page.

First, download and print out our worksheet with simple writing activities, and then use the journal prompts we’ve provided below to get your child thinking about what he or she is thankful for.

Quick Writing Tips for Kids

Now your child can get journaling! Don’t have a journal? If you are feeling crafty, make your own homemade journal together in just a few simple steps. Here are some quick tips for writing journals:

Don’t be afraid to break the rules while journaling. This is your child’s time to learn and express him- or herself.

Write what’s on your mind and don’t silence yourself. Journaling should encourage students to reflect on their feelings without reserve.

Be creative. If your child feels like drawing a picture or writing a poem to accompany his or her journal entry, that’s great!

Accept that you will make mistakes. Have your child focus on expressing his or her feelings. If he or she makes grammar or spelling mistakes, these can ...

7 Quick Astronomy Questions and Answers for Kids

By: Beth Werrell

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects outside of our planet's atmosphere. It can be a great subject to explore with your child and help pique his or her interest in space exploration and science. To help you get the discussion started, ask your child a few questions about our galaxy. We've provided the answers below!

You can use our constellation projector craft as a fun way to illustrate the astronomy lesson.

Download and print the constellation templates, and then click the link below to create your own star projector with your child.

A Constellation Question-and-Answer Session
  1. What is a star?
    Stars are formed from clusters of gas and dust, which give off heat and light.

  2. Why are some stars different colors?
    The different colors of stars indicate how much heat a star gives off.
    • Red stars are the coolest of the stars.
    • Yellow stars, like our sun, are medium-heat stars.
    • White and blue stars are the hottest.
  3. How large is our sun?
    Our sun is referred to as a "dwarf star," which, in comparison to "giants" and "supergiants," is a very small star. It appears larger than the rest because it is so close to our planet.

  4. How many stars can we see?
    On a clear night, and with very good eyesight, a person may only be able to see 2,000 to 2,500 stars at one time, even though it may look like more.

  5. What is a ...

20 Technology Trivia Questions for Tech-Savvy Students

By: Beth Werrell

Growing up in the era of tablets, smartphones, GPS's, and self-parking cars, today's students seem to grasp technology intuitively. In fact, when it comes to technology, many kids are more advanced than their parents! But although they may master the latest gaming device with ease, how much do they know about the origins of modern technology? To find out, challenge your student with this week's Quiz Bowl trivia contest!

Seeing parents join in a spirited trivia competition will reinforce to your student that learning can be fun—and a lifelong pastime. Why not get the whole family involved and make it a team challenge? While your kids are showing off their knowledge of technology and having a blast, they'll also be absorbing new information. Or save the quiz to break up the boredom of a long car trip.

To add trivia to your next journey or family fun night, download the printable version of the Technology Quiz Bowl now.

Quiz Bowl is just one of the wide variety of online clubs and activities that Connections Academy students can enjoy. By participating, students gain opportunities to explore their personal interests and to connect with other students across the country who share those interests. Choices include something for everyone, with clubs for students who are interested in theater, arts, sports, robotics, science, college planning, and much more.

Integrating trivia quizzes and friendly competition into your family activities not only reinforces what your child has learned, ...

Staycation and DIY Summer Camp Ideas

By: Beth Werrell
Staycation and at-Home Summer Camp Ideas

Sending your child to summer camp can be expensive and may cut into his or her summer schedule. Find the right balance with the summer learning pyramid and gather ideas from the list below to create your own "staycation" and at-home summer camp experiences, which can be shaped around your family's agenda.

Summer Camp Activities at Home

It's summer! Take advantage of the weather and get active with outdoor games and activities, like water balloon tosses, tug-of-war competitions, and scavenger hunts. You can also encourage your child to find a sport he or she likes and practice with you in the backyard. Set up a volleyball net, grab a soccer ball, or throw a baseball back and forth.

Get creative with movie nights by hosting a backyard theater. Set up a "drive-in" movie by situating your car to face the garage and projecting a movie on the garage door or on a white sheet on the side of your house. Host a sleepover with your child and his or her friends and have them select a movie. Provide snack ideas, such as "ants on a log" or caramel popcorn, or have each child create his or her own trail mix snack bags.

Keep learning alive this summer with learning activities your child can have fun with. Create a tree guide or an animal guide and take your child to the park so he or she can observe nature. You can also sign the family up for a ...

Summer Weather Experiments for the Family

By: Beth Werrell

Take advantage of the warm weather and teach your child about rain, the sun's rays, rainbows, and weather patterns. Here, we've gathered fun, grade-appropriate experiments based on ease and safety. Pick one or try them all!

Weather Experiments for 6–8 Learners

This decorative wind experiment is perfect for a summer holiday activity, like a birthday, the Fourth of July, or another summer celebration. Teach your child about wind science with the step-by-step pinwheel instructions below.

Bake outside using the heat from the sun. In this activity, you will need a pizza box or other cardboard container, aluminum foil, and common household items. This activity involves a lot of cutting and taping until you have shaped your homemade oven. Make s'mores. If you have more time to wait, then bake cookies! Explain to your child that the oven works by collecting the shorter wavelengths from the sun and trapping them, which is also known as the greenhouse effect.

Make it rain in a jar. Since this experiment involves boiling water and hammering small indentations into a jar lid, make sure you are around to supervise. This activity provides your child with a visual representation of rain on a smaller scale, which is easier to digest. As the cold surface of the lid cools the evaporating water, the vapor collects at the top of the jar and forms back into a liquid.

The old "suck an egg into a bottle" experiment...

Free Printable Pet Trivia Questions for Kids and Parents

By: Beth Werrell

Considering adopting a pet for your family? Put down the pro–con list. Pets can be extremely beneficial to your child's growth and development. Consider some of the advantages of pet ownership listed below, and then download our pet trivia game for a fun way to learn more about animals.

Pets and Physical Activity

Active pets, such as dogs, need physical activity, so your child will likely become more active, or stay active, with a pet. Just make sure that he or she is pitching in. Create an activity calendar, or add activities with your pet to an existing calendar, so that your child knows what is expected each day. Schedule activities like runs, walks, or playtime so that your pet is sure to get the attention it deserves.

Pets and Life Lessons

Owning a pet can be emotionally trying through certain periods, but these are the times when your child may learn some crucial life lessons about death, illness, and mourning. These can be difficult concepts for child to grasp, but learning these lessons early will allow your child to develop coping mechanisms.

Pets and Responsibility

Pets take care and attention. Teach your child responsibility by assigning him or her pet-related chores, such as cleaning the litter box, refilling your pet's water, or taking your pet for a walk. Keep your child on a schedule and show him or her the value of taking care of another living being. The emotional connection to a pet ...

6 Free Father’s Day Gift Ideas for Kids

By: Stephanie Osorno
Father's Day Gift Ideas for Kids

Parents deserve a pat on the back for the countless things that they do for their children on a daily basis. We especially praise the parents amongst the virtual school community for not only being loving moms and dads, but also for serving as supportive Learning Coaches.

A parent holiday, such as the upcoming Father’s Day holiday, is a great opportunity for sons and daughters to show their parents appreciation. Since kids might not be able to purchase a gift on their own, we have some other ways that they can say thank you on Father’s Day!

  1. Write a letter.
    It can be tough for anyone to verbally express their feelings, but it might be even more difficult for children who are still learning about their emotions. Instead, children can express themselves by writing a special letter to Dad. He will be able to keep the letter forever and reread it as much as he would like. And it doesn’t have to be a formal letter. Kids of all ages can list all of the reasons why they love and appreciate their father. Dad will treasure this sweet gesture!

  2. Make a craft.
    You can never go wrong with a homemade craft! Gifts tend to be more meaningful when they’re handmade rather than store-bought. If the student isn’t very crafty, Mom can provide some assistance and reassure the child that the gift doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. Even if it’s a simple drawing, it will ...

Fill a Summer of Fun with Sidewalk Chalk Activities

By: Beth Werrell
Activities with Sidewalk Chalk

As summer approaches, creating a plan to keep your child active and learning is important. As you help to keep your child focused until summer break, start gathering ideas for the warm weather.

One item that can get you and your child through the summer months is sidewalk chalk. It’s a fun, simple solution for summer days when no activities have been planned. With sidewalk chalk, your child can broaden his or her education, push creative boundaries, and keep his or her body moving.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Brainy Sidewalk Chalk Ideas

Print out a constellation chart and have your child pick a few constellations. Then have him or her lay the star pattern on the sidewalk using pennies or other small objects. Connecting the dots with sidewalk chalk creates the full picture.

Draw life-size dinosaurs with real measurements using a dinosaur database and a tape measure. Have your child choose one large dinosaur and one smaller dinosaur, if space allows. Measure out the length and width of each dinosaur on a driveway or parking lot, and mark each measurement point. Then, using a photograph for reference, help your child draw out the dinosaur within your marked measurements.

Build your child’s memory with an updated game of Simon. Start with four different colors of sidewalk chalk. Build out your Simon play area by sectioning out your colors into four sections in a circle. Be sure to leave an uncolored hole in the middle of ...

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