Invent It Challenge: Take a Page From Fellow Young Inventors

The 2017 Invent It Challenge launched 10 days ago and we hope your child is among those thinking about projects to enter. This year’s challenge invites kids ages 5 to 21 to think about a real-world environmental challenge and come up with a planet friendly solution. Often we hear from kids that the most difficult part is coming up with an idea that they can really sink their teeth into; an idea that inspires them and makes them excited about discovering a solution. While we can’t help as much as we’d like with that part, we can provide a bit of inspiration for our young inventors by profiling a few kid inventors who developed products that have the potential to make a huge impact in the health of the environment.


The Invent It Challenge: Take a Page from Paige and Daniel and Max and ElizabethWater Quality Improvement by Paige

Seventeen-year-old Paige Brown studied the water quality of seven local streams, six of which had been declared environmentally impaired by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection. Paige is now developing a cost effective device that uses a common algae-derived gelling agent and other compounds to remove the phosphorous from water within storm water systems in her city and beyond.


The Invent It Challenge: Take a Page from Paige and Daniel and Max and ElizabethDisposing of Plastic Bags by Daniel

Daniel Burd found a way to use microbes to degrade plastic bags in as little as three months. According to the 16-year-old, “almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me. One day, I got tired of it and I wanted to know what other people are doing with these plastic bags.”


The Invent It Challenge: Take a Page from Paige and Daniel and Max and ElizabethMeasuring Water Usage by Elizabeth

When Elizabeth Rintels was 12 she created a smart device that measures and monitors water use in the shower. Elizabeth’s gadget, which can be attached to any faucet, lights up and beeps with every half-gallon of water that gushes forth helping people keep track of their water usage.


The Invent It Challenge: Take a Page from Paige and Daniel and Max and ElizabethNew Homes by Max

Max Wallack was also 12 when he invented the “Home Dome”. Composed of plastic bags filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts, the yurt-shaped structure was designed to offer temporary shelter for homeless people and disaster victims, while relieving landfills of non-biodegradable waste.


Does your child have an idea of a project for the 6th Annual Invent It Challenge?

Check out our Invent It Challenge webpage for a wealth of information that will help your child complete and submit their project. And check back here for additional blogs with inspiration and advice designed to help make inventing it as fun and easy as possible.

Bring the Outdoors In With Nature Magazines for Kids

It’s not always easy to get outside with your kids. Hot weather, cold weather, bugs, homework, activities, screen time, travel time, work time…there are a myriad of obstacles to really getting out there and introducing children to the wonders and beauty of the natural world. Personally, I’ve found that sometimes just the thought of how much planning it takes to get my family to go on a “simple” hiking trip is enough to keep us confined to a walk in our neighborhood.


But even though we don’t always make it to our closest National Parks, nature is still important to my family. We love to identify the trees, animals, and flowers we see around us. Deer are plentiful where we live, but that doesn’t mean we take them for granted. Watching a mother deer and her fawn cross the hiking path recently was an event my daughter talked about for days. The foxes, gophers, and chipmunks are like local celebrities. We don’t even mind the squirrels who chatter at us (and sometimes drop acorns on our heads). And when we once almost ran over a giant snapping turtle (check out the picture below!) crossing the road near us, we all spent some time researching these amazing creatures.


Nature: Cranky Turtle

This rather large and cranky snapping turtle was blocking the road near as I attempted to drive my daughter to school one day. It would not have done either of us any good to get any closer. Talk about a close call with nature!


Nature magazines for kids are a monthly infusion of just the sort of nature photos and information my family enjoys. A recent issue of MUSE Magazine, aimed at kids 9 to 14, was all about venomous animals. While these are not the type of animals you’d want to get too close to (did you know that there is a poison bird? Watch out for the hooded pitohuis if you ever go to the rain forest in Papua New Guinea), we enjoyed viewing these beautiful creatures and plant from afar. Kids ages 6 to 9 should check out ASK Magazine, which recently dedicated an entire issue to how animals stay healthy. We particularly enjoyed the article called “Wild Medicine” which discusses what wild animals do to keep themselves healthy. And preschoolers will love CLICK Magazine, which is constantly bringing nature from around the world directly to kids ages 3 to 6. Recent issues of CLICK have taken deep dives into topics such as the desert and why animals need sleep.


If your family is as difficult to get out the door and into nature as mine is, don’t despair. You can still discover plants, trees, animals, flowers, fish, clouds, rocks, and more in your mailbox every month. And on those glorious days when you do manage to make it out onto the hiking trails, the information your family learned from nature magazines for kids will help you enjoy your trip even more.


How to Recycle: Ride Your Bike To and From School

This year, on May 4th, my oldest daughter’s school celebrated bike to school day. My husband and I got voluntold we were running this event. “Join the PTA!” they said. “You get to do fun things!” they said. Fun things apparently means waking up at 5:00 am to set up a table in the still cold morning and giving kids who show up on bikes treat bags that we spent all night making. (Disclaimer: Seriously, the PTA does great things! Support yours!)


All sarcasm aside, my husband and I were actually quite excited to be in charge of this day, and we tied Star Wars Day into it (as it was on May the Fourth …. Be with you), giving an extra treat to all the kids who came wearing or bearing Star Wars propaganda.


We had over 1/3 of the school participate, even though it was a bit rainy and not warm. But more importantly the kids really got into the spirit. Here are some quotes I was able to capture from the kids as they pulled in:


“Biking is exercise, but it’s FUN exercise.”


“It took less time to bike here than it did to ride the bus because we didn’t have to stop on every corner!”


“I like bike to school day ‘cause I got to get a new helmet ‘cause I’d outgrowed mine and it has a cat on it.”  (This comment was made by a kindergartener who apparently kept her helmet on all day. Safety first, especially when safety comes in cute cat helmet form).


“I forgot how much fun bike riding is since it has been winter for so long. I want to take my bike back out after school today.”


“My dad rides his bike to work. I want to do that too.”


These comments, especially the last one, made the early, cold morning totally worthwhile. Getting kids to appreciate biking at a young age will help reinforce the benefits that will last a lifetime.


If your family has bikes, use them as a family. Anytime you need go anyplace within five miles of your house, bike there. Bike to popular public events, where you’d end up parking a mile away anyway. Bike to dinner or ice cream. Bike to a park and have a picnic. Bike just for fun, with no end goal. Get your kids to realize the practical, personal, and environmental impact so hopping on a bike becomes second nature. I’m not just pedaling.


Do you have a kid who loves to bike at your house? Why not share this sweet story about Poppy the bike and how he helps kids learn to ride which appeared in Ladybug, our literary magazine aimed at kids ages 3 to 6 and their families. Perhaps it will inspire everyone in your family to get outside and take a ride.


Cricket Media - How to Recycle


Cricket Media Mama just rode six miles, uphill both ways. She’d like to think of a witty send off for this blog, but just like her bicycle, she is two-tired. 


Do Something Nice for a Turtle Today

Today is World Turtle Day, a day to celebrate turtles large and small. I’m not going to bombard you with facts about why turtles are so cool and why you should get to know more about them. You can check out the American Tortoise Rescue for that. Instead, I’m just going to share a few stories from Cricket Media magazines about turtles, sea turtles specifically.


Here’s one thing you should be aware of if you are heading to the beaches in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia this summer: sea turtles lay their eggs on the shore, cover them up, and leave. It’s important for the new baby turtles to find their own way to back to the water after they hatch. This helps them orient themselves and remember where they were born. That way, they can come back someday and lay their own eggs. So one of the most important things you should know about turtle you run into on the beach, is to leave it alone and let it make its way home.


You’ll find out even more about these amazing creatures (did you know they can live more than 150 years?) when you download and read the three articles below.


For more stories about sea turtles and other equally fascinating creatures, be sure to subscribe to your favorite Cricket Media magazine.


On Sea Turtle Patrol 

On Sea Turtle Patrol

The Homecoming

Homecoming - Cricket Media

Hawksbill’s Secret

Hawksbill's Secret - Cricket Media

Invent It Challenge Week 1: Think It!

The 2016 Spark!Lab Invent It Challenge is finally off and running. This year, kids ages 5 to 21 need to identify a real-world health problem and come up with a solution to the problem. Each entry must follow the seven step invention process spelled out by our partner, the Smithsonian’s Spark!Lab . For the next 7 weeks or so, we are going to be highlighting each step in the Spark!Lab’s seven-step process with the goal of helping parents help their children make the most of this learning opportunity and achieve optimum results.


Think It!

Taking the first step in solving any problem—from the big problems like curing a disease to the small problems like figuring out the best way to help people to remember to take their medicine—involves the same “a-ha moment”. This is the moment when the inventor realizes that there is a problem out there that needs to be solved.


Reaching this a-ha moment can be the most challenging part of the entire invention process. You know that expression, “even the longest journey begins with the first step”? Well, this is that big first step and it can be a daunting one. In the hope of helping you help your child take this first big step, this blog will aim to get his or her creative juices flowing. Your child may want to take notes in their very own Spark!Lab Inventor’s Notebook as he/she thinks about health problems to solve!


InventIt! 2016Talk

This may sound obvious, but often young inventors want to look only within their own experience for a problem to solve when a problem crying out for a solution is just a conversation away. Encourage your child to talk to friends, relatives, even his or her doctors about what problems they’ve encountered in their lives or careers. These conversations may spark a great idea. Remember to have your child write down his or her ideas as they have them. Otherwise an amazing idea may be forgotten during the course of a great conversation.


Invent It! 2016Read

From biographies of great inventors to blogs that proclaim “5 ways to Cultivate Inspiration and Ideas” there is no shortage of reading materials about inventors and the invention process. The website “A Mighty Girl” has a listing of 13 great books about inventions, including my current favorite book about the inventing process, “The Most Wonderful Thing.” Read it with the young inventor in your life.  It might help jump-start the invention process, but even if it doesn’t, I bet you’ll enjoy the book.


Invent It 2016Do

This would be like a mini-internship. Have your child follow around either a health professional or someone with a health problem for a few hours. Let your child see what challenges come up during this time. Chances are, your child will get some sort of inspiration from this type of experience that will lead to a germ of an idea that will eventually lead to something they can get excited about.


Still stumped for the perfect idea? Watch the Invent It Challenge Inspiration Video with your child. Discuss the health issues you see and determine what issue interests your child the most. This will give you a great starting point for your child’s investigation.


With that giant first step behind them, your young inventor will be ready to tackle Step 2: Exploration.


Invent It 2016


Stay tuned right here for more insight, tips, and special guests designed to help your child throughout the entire Invent It Challenge process.