Thursday, August 27, 2020

😷Ways to Unplug in the Time of Pandemic

Have your kids been on screens too much since the pandemic began and school was held remotely? Here are some suggestions for unplugging and having some challenging fun at the same time.

Build A Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun
illustrated by Paul Farrell
Rizzoli, 2020, 64 cards

Build a Castle isn't a book. It is a box with 64 printed cards that can slot into each other. The cards are printed with typical parts of a castle - arched doorways and windows, turrets, bricks, ramparts, flags, and the box does come with instructions for making a castle or kids can use their imaginations and be creative. Build a Castle, it turns out, is more like a 3-D puzzle and can help kids develop and understand spacial concepts. When the box arrived in the mail, my young neighbor, who lives across the hall from me and is 6-years-old, wanted to know what it was. So, after I checked it out, I gave it to him to try out. And he did - over and over and over. His mom said he had such a good time trying out different configurations, making up stories to go with his castles, including adding a toy dragon and even a dinosaur. The cards are brightly colored and made of thick, sturdy cardboard (similar to the cardboard that a board book is made from). After being used enthusiastically a lot, they are still in pretty good shape. Below are two views of the castle I tried making to test the cards out and I have to admit, I had a lot of fun doing it. Build A Castle is a nice imaginative activity kit that will keep kids unplugged and thinking creatively. 

You can pair Build A Castle with Build a Skyscraper (available September 8, 2020) for even more building fun:
My Green Day: 10 Green Things I Can Do Today
written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages

This is a great book for introducing young readers to the kinds of things they can do to make everyday a green day. Suggestions range from helping to hang the laundry out to dry to recycling castoffs that can be made into new gifts to give to loved ones to baking their own snacks with the help of a parent. While this isn't an activity book per se, the simple suggestions can expanded and added to a child's everyday activities as needed. Walsh used a palette of bright colors and simple illustrations so that the straightforward message on each page isn't lost. When we first got this book, we made a book of our own based on it. We took construction paper, punched holes in the long side of each sheet, and tied them together with an old laundered shoelace. Then each time we can up with a new idea, the child who came up with the idea added to our Green Book. I wish I could show it to you, but it is sitting in an empty classroom right now.  

Pair My Green Day with 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World, also by Melanie Walsh, for even more ideas and suggestions for making earth a greener place to live:
Where's Waldo? The Boredom Buster Book!
written and illustrated by Martin Handford
Candlewick Press, 2020, 220 pages

I love a good Wimmelbuch and the Where's Waldo? books are some of the best. But The Boredom Buster is so much more than simply finding Waldo in a crowd on each page. Instead, each page has a new challenge and only 5 minutes in which to find the solution. For example, challengers might have to find their way out of a maze, solve word problems, play games, connect some dots, color pictures, test their memory, and of course, search. The book is divided into five sections, each with its own theme. And there are a variety of different places to go to all through the book, from outer space to under the sea, from the past to the present to the future, and to everywhere and time in between, with a little magic thrown into the mix. And as if all that isn't enough, at the end of each section are suggestions for going back through the pages and spotting new things. It's is used a lot at home, but we also took this book on a car trip and for once there was no whining about "are we there yet?' or "I'm bored." And a big bonus was that it even promoted some teamwork when the kids worked on the challenges together. One kid timed while the others worked on a challenge and the job of timer rotated so everyone had a turn. 

Where's Waldo? has enjoy enduring popularity. You might be interested in discovering 14 fun facts about Waldo and his creator HERE
Pair Where's Waldo? The Boredom Buster Book! with one that has become a favorite of ours this spring and summer Where's Waldo? The Totally Essential Travel Collection for more challenging fun:
The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs:
100+ Recipes That You'll Love to Cook and Eat!
America's Test Kitchen, 2018, 208 pages

Get the kids away from their screens and into the kitchen with this cookbook perfect for young home chefs. Whether they are beginners or more advanced, this book will introduce them to kitchen vocabulary, kitchen tools, kitchen safety, including how to use a knife, as well as all the other tools of the trade. There's everything they will  need to know to make delicious meals and snacks. And there is nothing so rewarding as cooking a new favorite meal for the family. I gave this book to one of my nieces when she came to stay with me for the summer, and as we worked our way through it, we really got to know each other some much better while working in the kitchen. So much so, that I think my Kiddo got a little jealous. The solution - I put her and my niece in the kitchen together. The talking, the laughing, the delicious food was well-worth it. And the bonus is that cooking can help kids with their math thanks to the measuring they have to do. I loved it when the light went on my niece's eyes the day the measuring cups and spoons made fractions more understandable (she was only 8 at the time and not a math fan). Our favorite recipes: monkey bread, pesto flatbread pizza, beef and bean chili, among others.   

Pair The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs with its companion book The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs, because what's a great meal without a great dessert?

Can You Crack the Code? A Fascinating History of Ciphers 
and Cryptography
written by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams
Bloomsbury, 2019, 128 pages

I love ciphers, codes and puzzles and have ever since I was a young girl. What I didn't know was the history of coding, and it is a fascinating one. Ella Schwartz has put it all together in this book along with some fun and challenging examples that kids can solve and use in their lives. Coded messages are known to have been used over two thousand years ago when the Roman emperor Julius Caesar used the Caesar cipher, which simply substituted one letter for another. Of course, with any code or cipher, the recipient must know the key in order to understand the message. This is a well-written history by an expert in the field of cybersecurity. Today's kids will be interested in what she has to say about computer coding. When I was a classroom teacher, I always taught my kids a few coding basics and we would make a cipher wheel like this one (I've included the template we used below with instructions). 

Pair Can You Crack the Code? with Explorer Academy Codebreaking Activity Adventure. Even if your kids aren't into the Explorer Academy series, this is a fun scavenger hunt based on different codes, ciphers, and puzzles.

To Make a Cipher Wheel:
Enlarge and print the template below. I use card stock. Cut each circle out and fill in the spaces with the complete alphabet. Put them together, punch a hole in the center, and attach them to each other with a prong fastener. I like to put reinforcements around the holes to strengthen them. If your kids decide they like coding with a cipher wheel, it will get a lot of use.

To send a coded message:
1- First, agree with the recipient of your message what the key will be for each message. FYI: the outside wheel is called the plaintext while the smaller, inside wheel is called the cipher text. Then pick a letter on the outside wheel to be your key. For my example A = C.

2- Turn the inner wheel so that the letter C is directly under the letter A on the outside wheel.

3- Without moving the wheels, so the A always remains above C, find each letter of your message on the inner wheel and write the corresponding letter from the outer wheel. My coded message looks like this:
agnjgpq ypc dsl
To decode a message:
1- Turn the inner wheel so that the letter C is directly under the letter A on the outside wheel.

2- Without moving the wheels, so that the A remains above the C, find each letter of your message on the outer wheel and write the corresponding letter from the inner wheel. The message should say 
ciphers are fun

You can print this template out or make your own circles using a protractor. Click to open and enlarge, the print or save:
Have fun, everyone, but remember to Mask Up when you go outside.

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