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.

5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break Boredom

Everyone loves winter break, right? Um, yeah, right. Love it. Definitely. Winner. The most wonderful time of the year.


So you sense some sarcasm? Here’s the thing: My kids are home. It’s cold out (at least where I live) so outdoor activities are difficult. Friends are away so arranging playtime with other kids is difficult. And I need to get at least a minimum of work done each day.


Oh, and we have a strict limit on the amount of screen time they can have each day, and yes, that includes winter break.


As I’m sure you know, enforcing the limits on screen time is really difficult at any time of the year, but at times when there is the triple whammy of no school, no outdoor play time, and no friends around, it becomes a daily struggle. But it is also really important for us to stick to it. And so, with Cricket Media’s award-winning and child-centered content and some help from the folks at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, I hereby present 5 Easy (and fun) Winter Break Activities for your family to try. These are meant to get everyone (including you, parents) away from the screens, so please join in. Remember, kids learn from what you do, not just what you say, so turning off your own screen, even if it is just for a few hours sends a powerful message about being present AND helps everyone concentrate on the activity at hand.


5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break BoredomYou know all those different types of building blocks and materials you have around your house: Legos, K’Nex, Zoob, Lincoln Logs, Magformers, blocks of various sizes, etc.? Get ‘em out. Yes, all of them. Even the ones your child hasn’t played with in a while and you’ve been meaning to give away. Now create a city using all the different types. Discover how the different types of building materials work together to make new contraptions and buildings types you never considered before. After you’ve had a blast with this one, cleaning up might qualify as another screen-free activity, especially if you take this chance to sort through and get rid of all the types of building materials your child no longer uses.


5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break BoredomHave each member of your family make a scavenger hunt list and go on a search for each item. You can do this inside or outside or a combination of the two. Go ahead and be sneaky and add missing items to your list. Haven’t seen your son’s shoe for two days? Add it to his list. Someone left a shovel outside on the deck and it’s been bugging you for a week? Add it to the list. Who says clean up and scavenger hunt can’t be the same thing?


5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break BoredomCreate your very own board game. My family has done this and it is awesome. Our foray into board game create started because my daughter loved The Ladybug Game, which was created by a kid. She wanted to create her own game and off she went to do it, with just a little help from me. The best part is that this activity involves so many great skills: planning and logic to make sure the rules work, writing directions, designing a game board, etc. And once the game is all done, your whole family will enjoy playing it.


5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break BoredomTake a trip. This is an obvious way to spend a few hours as a family screen-free, but if you are going to do it, make sure you keep to the screen-free part. It will make the entire activity more of an adventure. Plus, you’ll get to say stuff like, “when I was a kid we didn’t have GPS or the internet to help us. We had to figure it out for ourselves.” A few months ago, my daughter and I took a trip as part of a screen free activity and I was really strict about it. In fact, I didn’t even bring my cell phone with me. This made for some really interesting moments when we got lost and had to figure out how to get home. But it was actually the most memorable part of the trip. One thing I learned though: my cellphone, like yours probably, is my camera, so without it we couldn’t take any pictures. If possible, grab a disposable camera for this trip so you can still document the fun you had.


5 Screen Free Family Activities to Beat Winter Break Boredom

Cook, bake, and eat your favorite foods. Imitate Chopped Jr. and give your kids ingredients and see what they can create. Or drag out your old family recipes (written on old-fashioned recipe cards, I’m sure) and make some of your childhood favorites. Most kids love to cook and even those that prefer to eat will like the result of this activity.


For even more screen-free activities, check out And for some activities perfect for those moments when you don’t have time to really get your hands (or your house) dirty but still want to keep the kids occupied without screens, download the activities below.


Activities to Download


Meet the Winners of the 3rd Annual Global Folklorist Challenge

The winners in the 3rd annual Global Folklorist Challenge were announced this week and they are an impressive bunch. If you don’t know, the Folklorist Challenge, sponsored by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, asks students to identify a form of folklore in their community and document it by interviewing a tradition bearer who is willing to share his or her knowledge with the world. This year our 6 winners (3 individuals and 3 teams) hail from 5 different countries and their topics are as diverse as their counties of origin.


More than 130 students from ages 8 to 21 participated in the Challenge this year. The kids came from Turkey, India, the US, Armenia, Sweden, Mexico, the Republic of Georgia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. They documented traditions as diverse as Ukrainian Guardian Dolls, how green leaves become green tea, and Dombyra. There were entries looking into the traditions of Irish Dancing, Sweden’s Lucia Celebration, and Mariachi and interviews with experts in customs such as crabbing, casting, and cooking.  We encourage you to check out the submission gallery and watch all the wonderful videos submitted by these talented students. You are bound to discover a tradition you never heard of before and meet some tradition bearers whose knowledge of their craft is beyond compare.


Choose the ePals Choice Award


While you are there, you can also vote for the entry you like best to win the ePals Choice award. There is already a fierce competition going on among a few of these winners. If you have a favorite, show them some support and vote for them.


Finally, check out the interactive map with videos from all of the Folklore Challenge’s entrants for the past three years. It is fascinating to see the many traditions and countries represented.


If you get inspired, sign up to be notified when next year’s Challenge starts so your favorite student(s) can get in on the fun. Can’t wait that long? No problem! Our next Challenge, the 2017 Invent It Challenge will start in January. Be sure to check back here for more information and to sign up.

Girl, You Need to Beehive Yourself

This is my daughter’s third year of First Lego League. If you tuned in last year, you’ll know her team made the state finals. This year, they came close – they are the alternate team for states. For those of you unfamiliar with First Lego League, it’s not just building with block toys—there are three parts.


  • Part I: Build and program a robot to run around a board, completing tasks and obstacles.
  • Part II: Solve an unprepared problem as a team while demonstrating the virtues of First Lego League.
  • Part III: Solve a prepared problem with technology and innovation and provide a presentation about your product or solution.

The adults involved with the team couldn’t be prouder of our team’s performance, having spent the season wrestling with a very challenging board and an extremely finicky bot. It had a wonderful habit of working just fine UNTIL SOMEONE WAS WATCHING. Sigh.


Personally, I’m also extremely proud of my daughter.


Parts II and III of the competition are usually where my daughter shines. She likes the Lego building and programming okay, but more than that, she loves a good challenge. This year, the theme was animal-based and my animal-loving, 4-H attending, farm-volunteering daughter was in project heaven. She outlined about a dozen animal problems and solutions, primarily around her favorite animal – dogs. She had some pretty ingenious concepts including a Roomba-style device that would automatically pick up the dog waste in your back yard, mix it with ash, and redistribute it in your garden as fertilizer, and a device modeled after existing ultra-wideband technology to help you recognize and understand a dog’s emotional state, so you know when a dog is agitated and potentially dangerous.


Unfortunately, she was the only girl on the team and the boys, having just been on a field trip to see a beehive, were obsessed with bees. Bees are important to our environment, and they are disappearing, which is a huge issue. And my daughter was not opposed to doing a project about bees, but she felt outnumbered and ignored when she tried to present her ideas, and wondered if it was because she was a girl. This made her wonder if maybe she shouldn’t be on the team anymore.


We talked about it and I was torn. I wanted her to stand up for herself, but I didn’t want the boys to give into her just because she played the “girl” card. Especially since I suspected the boys’ lack of interest stemmed more from the excitement of being at the beehive and saving an endangered creature than because she was a girl and they were ganging up against her.


In the end, rather than whine, or cry, or complain, or quit, she decided to ask the coach if the boys could come to visit an office to see a live demonstration of how ultra-wideband technology is being developed for veterinarians to help the health of dogs. This way they weren’t basing the decision solely on having just been to a beehive. It wasn’t too surprising that the boys were equally taken with the UWB technology (and the dogs).


In the end, they compromised. They used the ultra-wideband technology from the dog product to create a smart beehive that helps monitor the health of bees without disrupting their processes. For this project, and for their ability to work together, the team also received a special Judge Award. For keeping a level head, proposing a logical solution and compromise, and not giving into the inclination to take it personally, my daughter also received a special Fudge Award, which came from me in the form of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream.


Editor’s Note: Kids who love challenges, Lego League, science, technology, engineering, bees, or dogs (so pretty much every kid) will love MUSE Magazine: MUSE isn’t serious. It’s brainy fun for kids who need to know.  Try out this FREE article about honeybees and the hive mind for a sample of the kind of storytelling you can expect from this award-winning magazine.


The Hive Mind
The Hive Mind


Cricket Media Mama asks moms and dads everywhere to be vigilant about helping girls find ways to be heard without making it personal.

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.


Perusing the Perseid Meteor Shower With Your Kids

Every year about this time, we residents of the planet Earth get a visit from the Perseid Meteor Shower, a light up the sky event caused when the pieces of comet debris from a comet named Swift-Tuttle heat up and burn out (at a rate of 37 miles per second!) as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.


This year, however, the sky show is predicted to be better than ever with double the amount of meteors visible in the night sky. That’s why science geeks everywhere are encouraging people of all ages to get outside in the predawn hours and discover the wonderful world of space. To help you prepare for your late-night excursion, here is a roundup of articles from around the web about how and where to get the best view.


  • com: staff writer Sarah Lewin suggests getting away from the light to a place where you can take in as much sky as possible. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust fully to the dark so make sure you leave plenty of time for your late night excursion.
  • gov: Too lazy to go outside in the middle of the night? Or maybe your sky is overcast tonight? No worries, NASA will be providing a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower overnight on August 11-12 and August 12-13, beginning at 10pm EDT.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy: Want a plain-spoken way to get a background of what you are looking at when you gaze up to the sky? Bill Nye is here to help. Check out his video about comets and meteors before you head out to your viewing site.
  • Finally, since it is also Throwback Thursday, I’m going to throw you back 17 years with the article below, which originally appeared in the October 1999 issue of Odyssey magazine. This article will give your emerging space enthusiasts some history of how comets and meteors were discovered as well as some kid-friendly language about what comets and meteors are. If your child enjoys this article, you can support his/her love of science by subscribing to one of Cricket Media’s discovery magazines, including MUSE, the science and arts magazine for kids 9 to 14 that’s spot on with the facts and off the wall with the jokes or ASK, the perfect choice for curious kids ages 6 to 9.

November 17, 1966: Night of Meteors
by William Sheehan

Night of Meteors - Odyssey 2009

If you do head outside and take some pictures, we’d love to see them. Be sure to use the hashtag #cricketmedia to share photos of your sky watching party. We won’t even laugh at how messy everyone’s hair is.

Enter the 3rd Annual Global Folklorist Challenge

Cricket Media and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage are pleased to cosponsor the 3rd Annual Global Folklorist Challenge. This contest connects kids from 8 to 18 with tradition bearers in in their communities,  providing young people with opportunities to tap into knowledge and skills that have been passed down from generation to generation, and giving the tradition bearers themselves a chance to tell their own personal stories.


Why enter the Challenge?


For thousands of years, the stories people tell, and the cultural traditions they preserve, have helped all of us share and celebrate what we value, and show how we bring meaning to our lives. This Challenge provides an extraordinary opportunity for students to explore the rich stories surrounding cultural traditions, as well as to build bridges between communities and generations. The result: a better understanding of other people, places, and times.


Both individuals and teams may submit entries to the Folklorist Challenge. Cultural traditions students might explore include dance, games, handicrafts, cooking, storytelling, customs, distinctive jobs, and more. To help the students get the most out of the activity, the official Folklorist Challenge website includes comprehensive supporting materials that  define terms; provide examples, tips, and organizational tools; and offer guidelines describing the interview and story-shaping processes. As they work on their projects, participants can also get advice directly from folklorist experts at the Smithsonian, as well as from past winners of the Challenge itself.


Check out last year’s winners.


Find all the rules and other information here.


We can’t wait to see  what traditions YOU will share!

The Olympics: A Look Back

When we—the editors of DIG, COBBLESTONE, FACES, and MUSE—met to discuss a theme for a 2016 issue that would work well across all four magazines, the Olympics came to mind almost immediately. Rio de Janeiro had already been chosen as the site, and the topic was one that could be approached from many angles. I loved it! With my Classics background, it always feels like “going home” when a DIG issue focuses on a topic related to the ancient Mediterranean world, especially Greece and Rome. There was just one little wrinkle: DIG had already focused an issue on the Olympics and also on sports. So, what other angles could I take? Well, the answers came quickly: The Olympics—A Look Back.


Let’s Go Digging!


I decided to start with the Let’s Go Digging (LGD) section of the magazine. One topic was a no-brainer: what was found in Rio as the site managers cleared the areas for the various Olympic venues. But then I wondered why we should limit this investigation to Rio. I decided to include what was found in Beijing and in London as well. Next, we needed an article on what remains in Olympia today. It’s still a very popular tourist site and continues to play an integral part in every Olympic Games.  A third article became a visual essay that features the paintings on four Greek vases, each depicting an athlete in motion. For the Artifacts object, I decided to leave Olympia and involve another “Games” site—Nemea, site of the large bath complex where the athletes went to wash themselves.


The Olympics—A Look Back


Basins at Nemea - Dig Into History

It was my issue title (The Olympics—A Look Back) that influenced how I developed the outline for the rest of the issue. The first article had to focus on an athlete and his experiences before, during, and after the games. I knew just the person to write this—Anthony Hollingsworth. He is a Classics professor and always chooses a great angle to approach whatever article he is writing.  Next we needed an article that told about female athletes! While it is true that the ancients did not allow female participants at the Olympics, females could still be winners! But I will let your suspense build as you wonder about how this was possible. Then I started thinking about superheroes. We have them today, but what about in ancient Greece? This was too good not to include in the issue—as is the art for this section. But here, too, I don’t want to spoil the suspense.


What do you think?


As I write my thoughts about each issue, I wonder what you, the readers, think. I would love to hear what ideas and suggestions you may have for themes. Someone once asked me, “What will you do when you run out of themes? Aren’t you afraid of that?” Personally, I cannot imagine every doing that. There is just so much to cover, so much to learn—and it is so much fun doing both.

Discover Summer: Benefits of Getting Outside to Play

Did you know that there are a ton of science backed health benefits of kids playing outside?  Here are a few you may not be aware of…


  • Kids See Better: According to the Journal of Optometry and Vision Science, kids who spend more time outside during the day tend to have better distance vision than those children who spend more time indoors.
  • Kids are Nicer: The more time a kid spends outside in nature, the more generous they tend to be and the better their social interactions become.
  • Kids Improve Critical Thinking Skills: Studies have shown that kids who spend more time outside do better on tests.

Head to the Beach


Many families spend many hours during the summer outdoors and at the beach as they soak in the rays and enjoy their unscheduled days of relaxation.  In addition to just enjoying the beach, it also creates many opportunities for children to ask questions and learn. Seeing sea creatures, collecting shells, jumping over and under waves, high and low tides, rough and calm seas – they are all examples of the Earth at work. And, as they play among the waves and in the sand, all outdoors, they can learn to appreciate the amazing natural world happening all around them.


Discover Summer Reading


To help your kids learn a bit more about the natural world happening at beaches near and far, here are two stories from our magazine archives about sea turtles for you and your child to read …


Week Five: Sea Turtles


On Sea Turtle Patrol
by Nancy Dawson
art by Denise Ortakales
Cricket Magazine: May 2015

On Sea Turtle Patrol

A Sea Turtle’s Journey
by Laurence Pringle
illustrated by Diane Blasius
Click Magazine: October 2010


A Sea Turtle's Journey - Cricket Media Inc


Want more free stories from our summer reading program? Discover Summer Reading Program

Pokemon Go and Theory Behind Game Theory

If your children have been spending a lot of time playing games this summer (Pokemon Go, anyone?), they aren’t alone. Playing a game (video, board, puzzle, or otherwise) is probably the most popular choice of activities for kids with a bit of free time on their hands and the explosion of Pokemon fever is reminding everyone of just how the right game at the right time can take the world by storm.


Introduction to Game Theory


Help your child up his or her game—whatever it is—by giving them an introduction to Game Theory, which is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” It can be used to model economics and business, politics and elections (read this article about how game theory affects the presidential election), and even multi-player interactions that aren’t usually thought of as games.


To start your child’s education about game theory, have them read Let’s Play, from Muse Magazine. It features a basic game tree that will help your child easily visualize how a dominant strategy can be mapped for a particular game as well as thoughts on how a player can improve their chances of winning, no matter what game they like to play.


However, if Pokemon Go is your child’s obsession right now, no worries, game theory can be applied there as well. Have your child check out the Smogon Forums to discover exactly how they can use game theory to their advantage during a Pokemon battle. No matter what battle results your child ends up with, after reading the articles mentioned here, they will have achieved something important: the goal of learning about game theory.