The 6th Annual Global Invent It Challenge

Go ahead and get your kids thinking about a real world environmental issue because the Invent It! Challenge is back and better than ever! This 6th annual challenge, a partnership between Cricket Media and the Smithsonian Institution’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation is launching on January 17, 2017 and kids from ages 5 to 21 are invited to participate.


To enter the Invent It! Challenge, kids can work individually or in groups to identify a real-world environmental issue and come up with a planet-friendly solution to the problem. Each invention must demonstrate all seven of the Smithsonian’s Spark!Lab Key Steps of the Invention Process. Have your child review the steps below to get a sense for exactly what goes into a successful invention.


Step One: Think it

Invention is all about solving problems, so your first step is to identify an environmental problem you want to work on. Look around you – what environmental problems do you see in your community? Ask friends, teachers, and family members about environmental issues that are important to them. Make a list, and choose the one that you want to help solve.


Step Two: Explore it

Whatever problem you identify, you should know you’re probably not the first inventor to try to solve it! Do some research to learn how others have addressed the problem. What do you like about their solutions, and what do you think you can improve? Think about what your invention will do, who it will be for, and how it will be different from any of the other inventions you read about.”


Step Three: Sketch it

Once you have a basic plan for your invention, make some simple sketches of your idea to show how it might work. Sketching helps you get the idea out of your head and onto paper where you can really see it.


Step Four: Create it

For many inventors, this is the most fun part of the invention process! This is where you create a prototype, or model, of your invention. Using your sketches as a guide, build a prototype. Creating your prototype will help make your ideas visible to others.


Step Five: Try it

Once your prototype is finished, ask friends, teachers, parents, and neighbors to try it or review it. What suggestions do they have for making your invention better?


Step Six: Tweak it

Tweak it Using the feedback you got in the Try It step, identify ways you can improve your invention. Keep working on your idea!


Step Seven: Sell it

Once you’ve created your invention, you want people to start using it! How will you convince others to try your invention? Think about your target audience. Then create a “fact sheet” or a video or a written pitch about your invention. What health problem does it solve? Who should actually use it? How does it work? How is it different from other inventions? Answer these questions to explain how your invention will lead to a healthier environmental future!


Parents, you should also have your child check out the videos submitted by  previous winners to get a good idea of how other kids took on the Invent It! Challenge. And be sure to look for more blog posts here featuring tips, inspiration, and information that might make the process even more enjoyable and productive.


Also, be sure to check out the Invent It! Challenge homepage on January 17, 2016 to view the Scoring Guide for this contest and the Official Rules which set forth entry details, deadlines, and eligibility requirements.


The 6th Annual Global Invent It Challenge


We can’t wait to see the real environmental challenges our young inventors solve this year. We know we’ve got some of the world’s best minds on the case.

Ice, Ice, Baby: Frosted Window Craft with Your Kids

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. As I do every year. I heard much of the Midwest got slammed with snow recently, and they probably don’t understand my desire for it. In truth, I don’t love snow, but having a white Christmas is so rare where I live that you’ll have better luck spotting a white elephant. Last year, I hung my decorations up wearing a t-shirt. Thanks global warming!


For those of us who live in the mid-Atlantic and below, and rarely (if ever) get to experience the stuff songs are made of, Christmas decorating can be a bit of a let-down. No icicles to frame roof, no snow-covered lawns to reflect the lights, no icy windows to suggest a warm, cozy inside.


[insert ‘as seen on TV’ advertisement voice here]


Oh, but wait! You can!


Thanks to this handy craft, you can create the illusion of icy widows even in 100 degree weather. It will last until you take it down (don’t worry, it’s easy to remove) and your kids will have a great time painting the ice on. And the type A parents out there will appreciate the fact that you literally can’t make it look bad, so you don’t have to “fix it” once they’re in bed.


Here’s how you do it:


  • Boil 2 cups water and bring it a boil.
  • Slowly add a cup of Epsom salt until it is dissolved completely.
  • Then add 3tbsp liquid dish soap and allow the solution to cool.
  • Find a clean window and paint away! Using a paint brush or tissue, paint the solution on the window using a sweeping or stippling motion. Thicker layers will look like bigger icicles.
  • When the holiday season is over, you can wipe it clean with a towel or cloth.

Ice, Ice, Baby: Try this Easy Frosted Window Craft with Your Kids

Whether you string your lights up in a palm tree or a pine tree, I hope you enjoy the holidays, the decorating, and the weather!


Cricket Media Mama heard a rumor you can also create this ice-frosted window craft using beer, but she’s never managed to make the beer last long enough to find out if that version works.


What Do Origami and Elephants Have in Common?

The Story Behind the Origami


Originally, the folks at the Bronx Zoo set out to collect 35,000 elephants representing the heartbreaking number of 35,000 elephants (96 per day) killed each year for their ivory tusks. The overall goal of the initiative is to help gain a wider awareness of the elephant ivory trafficking crisis and encourage global advocacy and support. When the call went out to make and send origami elephants, the organizers of the campaign were overwhelmed. Origami elephants came in to the zoo from an incredibly diverse array of folders including a 109-year-old woman, students from a school for the deaf, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, libraries, and from participants in countries such as Kazakhstan and Egypt. While it isn’t possible for the zoo to show all 78,564 origami elephants, the current display will showcase a large portion of these works of art throughout the zoo’s regular holiday exhibit.


Are You Ready to Join the Fold?


To learn more about why the Bronx Zoo took on this project and to find out more about the 96 Elephants Campaign, visit or go to A New Guinness World Record For Elephants. Visiting the zoo is also a great way to support wildlife conservation. And in this season of giving, don’t forget to keep the elephants on your list of places to make a charitable donation.


CRICKET Magazine Loves Elephants


In honor of the new world record, we thought you might want to see a few of the CRICKET covers over the years that have featured elephants. It’s just a quick snapshot into how important these beautiful animals are to us a worldwide society and how we must work together to make sure our children and our children’s children have the opportunity to live in the same world as these magnificent creatures.


April 2009, Art by Jenny Reynish “Elephant Journey” Oil

April 2009, Art by Jenny Reynish “Elephant Journey” Oil


February 2003, Art by Chad Cameron Veld Amour Collage and acrylics and love

February 2003, Art by Chad Cameron “Veld Amour” Collage and acrylics and love


May/June 2016, Art by Poonam Mistry “The Drought is Over” Pen, paper, and Photoshop

May/June 2016, Art by Poonam Mistry “The Drought is Over”
Pen, paper, and Photoshop


April 2006, Art by Laini Taylor “Parade” Oil and collage

April 2006, Art by Laini Taylor “Parade” Oil and collage

Happily Ever Heifer

Every year we get one holiday catalog that trumps all others. You might think it’s the latest phonebook-sized toy catalog, but you’d be wrong. Our household anxiously awaits for the annual Heifer International catalog, because each holiday, my daughters pour over it deciding between cows, goats, sheep, donkeys rabbits, fish, and more.


If you follow my blog, you’ll know that while we do a lot of work at the local farm through 4H, we don’t actually live on a farm. So where does all this livestock we buy every year go? We send these animals to communities in impoverished areas who can use it.


My mother started my daughters on Heifers International when they were very young. She loved the idea of incorporating a donation in their name as part of their Christmas gift each year, and knowing what an animal lover my older daughter was (and still is), she picked this one as a good way to introduce the concept of charity. She allows my daughters to pick which animal they want to donate, and then as a Christmas gift to the girls, she buys them a stuffed animal of whatever they donated, so they can remember the good they did.


Empowering kids to provide input into donations is a wonderful way to turn them on to the concept of charity. And Heifer International outlines exactly how your donation will change a community. Do you donate chickens, which can provide an ongoing source of food by laying eggs? Do you help a community build a foundation of income with a donation of llamas to provide wool that can be sold? Do you invest in bees, which not only provide honey and beeswax to sell, but can also improve fruit and vegetable yields?


To me, this type of program teaches so many good lessons. You’re not just giving, you’re empowering a family or community. And your gift is sustainable. In addition to providing a variety of resources to eat or sell, most animals are donated sets, so the animals create more animals. Further, thanks to the way the Heifer International catalog relays personal stories, you learn about how dramatically one donation can make an impact. Much like FACES Magazine, you get an inside look at an international family or community and how they live. It’s amazing to understand the difference a set of ducks can make to a family in Bangladesh. My daughters have gone from choosing the “cutest” animals to donate, to reading each story and picking the donation made to the profiled family they like best, to really considering the long-lasting impact of the gift, and choosing the donation that does the greatest and most enduring good (wipes tear).


Editor’s Note: Another way to help your children do good for others is through Cricket Media’s Double the Giving program. Just have them pick out the subscription they want for themselves and Cricket Media will donate another subscription to one of two worthy organizations, Libraries Without Borders (LWB) or Parent-Child Home Program, who will get it to a child in an underserved community. Find out more at


Cricket Media Mama also loves the idea of donating and wonders where she can donate 11+ years of stuffed animals in the shape of cows, bees, guinea pigs, geese, ducks, fish, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, llamas, rabbits, and tons of others.

Getting in the Spirit of #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is upon us, and all of us at Cricket Media are thankful to YOU, our customers, for giving your children the gift of reading. Of all the gifts you can bestow on your children, this truly is one that will last a lifetime. With the knowledge that this gift belongs in the hands (and mailboxes!) of as many children as possible, we would like to ask you to include our Double the Giving campaign in your #GivingTuesday generosity.


With your purchase of BABYBUG, LADYBUG, SPIDER, or CRICKET for a child in your life, Double the Giving allows you to donate a year-long subscription to one of these magazines to one of two award-winning charities of your choice: Libraries without Borders or Parent-Home Child Program. These Library of Congress literacy award winners will share these magazines with the most deserving children in the communities they serve.

Getting in the Spirit of #GivingTuesday

Your subscription will allow under-served children the chance to discover and explore the world around them while experiencing tolerance, compassion, empathy, confidence, and creativity through our stories and articles. Your support will help us inspire joy and spark curiosity in children to carry forward in their lives. If you haven’t participated, now’s your chance!


In this season of giving, please consider giving what you can to support this program. If you’ve already participated in our campaign, THANK YOU. Thank you for giving the gift of reading to the children in your lives and for helping us get to those who don’t always have the support they need.


Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season from everyone here at Cricket Media.

Double the Joy, Double the Reading, Double the Giving

Corporate social responsibility…you know the kind where Toms will donate a pair of shoes to someone who needs it or where Smile Squared will give a toothbrush to a child for every one you buy…has become a “thing” in the past few years. In fact, it is now not at all uncommon to have a company ask their shoppers if they want to make a donation or help fund a “giving” program whenever they buy something.


While corporate social responsibility (also known as CSR) may be a relatively new phenomenon to many corporations, here at Cricket Media, CSR has been part of our corporate philosophy for a long time. “Since its founding, Cricket Media has had charity and community woven into its DNA,” said our CEO Stephanie Sharis.  “This year, we’re thrilled to put that into action with an incredible campaign that everyone can feel good about called Double the Giving.”


To take part in Cricket Media’s Double the Giving Campaign, generous gift-givers seeking to give the life-long gift of reading are invited to visit  There, they’ll have the opportunity to join a movement guaranteed to spark a lifetime love of reading through Cricket’s “Double the Giving” Campaign. When a consumer purchases a specially-discounted subscription bundle to BABYBUG (ages 6 mos.-3), LADYBUG (ages 3-6), SPIDER (ages 6-9) or CRICKET (ages 9-14) for $29.95 (regularly priced at $33.95), gift-givers can select between two charitable organizations to receive another 9-issue annual print subscription that will be passed along directly to a child. With the help of our generous customers, it is Cricket Media’s goal to reach 10,000 new kids in under-served communities across the country, making for a very bright holiday season for all.


Libraries without Borders

Our two award-winning charity partners for this year are Libraries Without Borders and the Parent-Child Home Program. Libraries Without Borders supports
community development in 20 countries around the world through the promotion of literacy.  And, since 1965, the Parent-Child Home Program has been providing under-resourced families with the necessary skills and tools to help their children Parent Child Home Programthrive in school and in life, developing school readiness in children with disadvantages by combining intensive home visits with weekly gifts of books and educational materials.


So don’t miss your chance to “Double the Giving.” With your help, as many as 10,000 children will receive the gift of reading in their mailbox all year long. It is CSR at its finest and truly a gift that will last a lifetime.

Back to School Supplies for Louisiana

Today is my daughter’s first day back to school. Like millions of other kids around the country, she gathered her new school supplies, stuffed them in her new backpack, crammed in her spotless lunchbox (complete with an adorable lunchbox note, natch) and staggered out the door, totally weighed down by the sheer amount of stuff the school requested.


As we were shopping for this basket load of school supplies last week, the television in the Target electronics department was showing the devastation in Louisiana. I had to stop and watch (and cry for all the families impacted by this event) and then I had to go back and grab extra school supplies to send to the schools that have lost everything.


If you also want to donate, I’ve collected a few sources that will be helpful. Some places are looking for school supplies, some places could use books for libraries that have been destroyed in the floods, and some would prefer monetary donations. Of course there are also kids in our own communities that could use some new school supplies, so please also check with your local schools to see how you can help.


Help Louisiana:


Help Kids Everywhere:


Could your family benefit from free school supplies?  Here’s how to get them:


Earth Day Lessons: A Trashion Show

Earlier this year, my daughter participated in her school’s fourth annual Trashion show, where students were invited to create some sort of wearable ensemble made from reclaimed and/or recyclable materials to promote recycling and sustainable lifestyles.  Students who participated in the school’s annual event were not only able to showcase their creative talents, but were challenged to find creative uses for the many things we regularly throw away, while exposing them to just how much waste comes through our daily lives.


The students’ outfits were judged in four categories: appearance, creativity, functionality and use of materials. This year’s wearable creations were innovative, interesting and fun and just like in year’s past, did not disappoint.


Take a look at a few of the entries and see if you can figure out what materials they used…


Trashion Show 12990873_10153611857041089_8082798901248129252_n

13007360_10153611857416089_1014839863585449341_n Trashion Show

13055576_10153611857091089_8867499977125501001_n Trashion Show

(Answers at the end of the post!)


Fun Ways to Celebrate Earth Day 2016


While putting on a school-wide Trashion show to promote awareness of waste and pollution is quite an undertaking, there are simpler ways to celebrate Earth Day and foster a generation of mindful consumers and creators who can change the way the world sees waste in your own home.


Visit our Earth Day Pinterest board, pinned with lots of activities and crafts related to Earth Day. Here are a few that caught my eye:


Finding ways to celebrate Earth Day is important – even if you aren’t the crafty type. Take advantage of this day to learn about how we can all  do our part to ensure Mother Earth continues to prosper for years and years to come.


Materials used:

  • Image 1: First Place Winner:  Lavender ball gown made from pillow stuffing, dryer sheets and milk bottle seals.
  • Image 2: Dress made from white recycled garbage bags. Belt made with cereal boxes and an old gift ribbon.
  • Image 3: Top made with grocery bags. Skirt made with plastic from detergent bottles.
  • Image 4: Dress and purse made with used Juice Boxes
  • Image 5: Dress made with pages from old books
  • Image 6: Dress made with reused plastic grocery bags & newspaper.

Meet Grandfather Gandhi

By Elizabeth Huyuk


“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader who worked to free India from British rule in the 1930s. Gandhi taught a new way of fighting— without violence. He and his followers simply refused to obey unjust laws. If they were arrested or beaten, they did not strike back or attack British people. They stood firm, but were always peaceful. This helped convince everyone, even the British, the laws had to change. India finally won its independence in 1947. Gandhi’s success inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights movements around the world to use nonviolent protest to change unfair laws. Gandhi believed in simplicity and self-reliance. He even spun his own cloth.


In honor of Mahatma Gandhi’s quest to spread peace and kindness and Random Acts of Kindness Day, we are pleased to present this true story of one summer when his grandson Arun came to visit that appeared in a previous issue of Ask magazine.


Grandfather Gandhi
By Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Art by Evan Turk


When we arrived at Sevagram in India, Grandfather Gandhi gathered us to him in a big hug. He smelled of peanut oil.


“Arun walked the entire way from the train station,” Father said.


Grandfather stood and smiled his toothless grin. “That walk is a test of character. I am impressed.” My heart swelled as big as a balloon. I had made Grandfather proud.


Sevagram was filled with people. That evening I ate spoonful after spoonful of boiled pumpkin. It was mushy and bland, but what I liked less was sharing Grandfather with the 350 other people who lived there.


The air was so thick and hot, we slept under the stars to keep cool. I tossed and turned, wondering what the next day would bring. The next day, everyone awoke at 4 a.m. With the dark of early morning wrapped around us, we prayed. Silence filled the air. Everyone was still, but I was fidgety. The peace of prayer felt far away.


I was glad when the sky turned the deep orange of a tangerine. It was time for chores. My sister Ela headed off with Mother to wash vegetables. Father went with his team to clean the toilet buckets that needed to be emptied, washed, and put back for use. My cousin Kanu and I went off to weed the garden. And Grandfather, he worked too, sweeping the floors of the mud huts.


Ghandi After chores it was time for lessons. I met Bhanasalika, my tutor. “We have much work to do” he said. I stared at my sandaled feet.


At home I spent my time playing cowboys, like in the movies. But here at Sevagram, there would be no movies. There wasn’t even electricity.


I tried to get the other kids to play bank robbers and sheriff, but the only game anyone was interested in was soccer, which ended up being OK. I was good at soccer, better than I was at lessons.


For most of the day, Grandfather worked in his hut. I’d run a stick along the fence post outside, waiting for some time with him, but I was always shooed away. Idleness was not allowed.


Gandhi Then one day Grandfather came to find me. “Will you walk with me?” he asked. This morning there was no one else along. Lucky me!


I set off after Grandfather. His stride was quick, and each time he raised his walking stick, he asked me a question. He asked how my sister Ela was behaving, and about life in South Africa, where I lived, and the cruelty that came with blacks and whites being separated by race.


Eventually Grandfather asked about me. “How are you finding life here at Sevagram?”


“The other kids tease me, and my tutor thinks I am useless,” I blurted out. “I try hard, but it is not enough.”


I stopped short of saying that I didn’t feel like a Gandhi, that peace and stillness did not come easily to me.


Grandfather listened, and when I finished, he wiped his spectacles, put them back on, and looked me in the eye. “Give it time, Arun. You will adjust and go on to good things. I have faith.”


He said no more. We walked on. It wasn’t long before someone came to find Grandfather.


I should have known—there were more important things than me.


The rest of the day was just as disappointing. My pencil nub shrank to almost nothing, but we weren’t supposed to waste, so I couldn’t throw it away. I held it, squishing my fingers. My hand cramped. Stupid pencil!


After lessons, with the sun high overhead, I was glad to head to the soccer field. We played hard, as if the match really mattered. I was about to make a goal when Suman, an older boy, shoved me. His feet stole the ball as I lurched forward and fell face down in the dirt. Blood trickled from my lip. It tasted like tin.


I snatched a rock and leaped up. “You did that on purpose!” I shouted. “Didn’t you?”


Gandhi Kanu stepped forward. “It was an accident, Arun,” my cousin said. “Calm down.”


But I didn’t want to calm down. I wanted to throw the rock, to hit Suman, like he hit me. Everyone stared—I dropped the rock and ran . . . straight to Grandfather’s hut. “Bapuji,” I cried.


“What is it, Arun?”


Grandfather set down his pen and pushed aside his many papers. It was wrong to come here. Grandfather had work to do, important work. I backed up to leave, and Grandfather bowed. “Namaste,” he said—not to me, but to the aide, politely dismissing him. And then we were alone.


“Tell me what has you so upset,” he said. I did. Out came what had happened on the soccer field, getting pushed, the rock, everything.


When I was done, my head throbbed. Grandfather didn’t need to say it. I’d never live up to the Mahatma. I’d never be at peace.


“Do you think Suman and Kanu never get angry? Or that they never think injustices happen solely to them?” Grandfather wiped my tears. “Do not be ashamed, we all feel anger.”


But that wasn’t possible. Suman and Kanu, maybe, but not Grandfather.


“Even you?” I asked.


“Even me,” said Grandfather.


But Grandfather taught peace. I’d never seen him angry, not even now when I told him what I’d almost done.



“Let us spin,” he said, and he sat before one of two spindles.


Grandfather wasn’t one for riddles, Father had often told me, but he was one for stories. One was coming, I was sure of it. I held the thin cotton thread between my thumb and forefinger, not moving, as Grandfather’s fingers went to work.


“Have I not told you how anger is like electricity?”


I shook my head.


gandhi“It is. Anger can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two,” he said.


I saw myself on the soccer field, rock in hand, ready to strike.


I saw the movie cowboys and their guns.


“Or it can be channeled, transformed. A switch can be flipped, and it can shed a light like a lamp.”


I saw Grandfather, speaking before thousands. When Grandfather was angry, he didn’t lash out. He worked to make changes, lasting changes, for all—not just for himself.


“Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light,” Grandfather said.


“That’s what you do,” I said quietly, sure I couldn’t do the same.


“Arun, we can all work to use our anger, instead of letting it use us.”


Grandfather slowly stood. He beckoned me to him and together we stood at the doorway of his hut looking out—at everyone working as one. He hadn’t told me I was foolish. He hadn’t told me I was wrong and he was right. He hadn’t even forced me to choose: lightning or lamp.


But I did choose, and would choose, over and over, from that moment on, like Grandfather . . . I did my best to live my life as light.



Reducing the Word Gap

Did you know that “the single-best predictor of a child’s academic success is not parental education or socioeconomic status, but rather the quality and quantity of the words that a baby hears during his or her first three years?”


According to Why Boosting Poor Children’s Vocabulary Is Important for Public Health, by age three, “85 per­cent of neur­al con­nec­tions are formed, mean­ing it’s difficult for a child who has heard few words to catch up to his peers once he enters the school sys­tem.”


This is a Health Issue


Chil­dren with more words do bet­ter in school. Adults who were good stu­dents and earned a col­lege de­gree have longer life ex­pect­an­cies. They are at a lower risk for hy­per­ten­sion, de­pres­sion, and sleep prob­lems. They are less likely to be smokers and to be obese.


Currently, Geor­gia is the only state to implement programs to combat what they call “the word gap“. Through varied state programs, low income parents living in Georgia are being encouraged to talk, interact and read with their babies more.


Thank You


At the end of last year, we asked our readers to join our campaign to ensure every child has a Cricket magazine in their classroom for a whole year. Through our collective efforts, Give a year of Cricket and spark a lifetime of learning campaign, benefiting children in need through our non-profit partner, First Book, was able to raise funds to give 52 classrooms (more than 500 children!), a year of inspiring, award-winning Cricket magazines.


Cricket magazines spark curiosity, they inspire creativity and they throw open windows of possibility. Thank you for helping us create a lifetime foundation of literacy and learning.