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.

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.

Muse: A Science Magazine that Will Excite Your Tween Girl

Tween girls are a breed unto themselves. They are little girls one minute, still playing with dolls, and sophisticated young adults the next, talking about fashion and boys and the latest sensational YouTube videos. In the middle of these two extremes are the authentic young women that they will become.


Science Magazine for Tween GirlsRecently there was an internet article making the rounds that showed the difference between how the media portrays the interests of boys and girls of this age group. Boys are routinely shown how to “explore their future” while girls are told how to be pretty. This disparity has not gone unnoticed by parents and girl-power advocates who decried this issue (apparently Girls Life often does take a more well-rounded approach to their audience, and this particular issue was an outlier) and called for our girls to be treated to the same forward-thinking, future-building, you-can-be-whatever-you-want-to be respect as boys.


Luckily there are magazines for both girls and boys that understand the wants and needs of this particular age group and works to provide kids with the tools they need to be successful in whatever the future holds for them. Go ahead and do a google search for “Science Magazines for Girls” or “Science magazines for tweens” and you will come up with a few options. One such magazine is Cricket Media’s own MUSE, which is billed as the science and arts magazine for kids that’s spot on with the facts and off the wall with the jokes. Inside Muse you’ll find articles that include profiles of working scientists (many of them women), in-depth profiles of science topics written in a voice that kids can relate to, and plenty of brainy fun, including a new comic series called Parallel U that is quickly gaining a dedicated audience.


Kids who can’t help wondering whether video games really kill their brain cells, or what a gentleman ladybug is called, will find the answers in Muse, in articles written by award-winning authors and accompanied by high-quality illustration and photography. But don’t take our word for it. Try a free digital issue yourself.

Talking to Teens Gabriela and Milan about Autism

By Carollyne Hutter


I have interviewed top scientists, the White House’s executive chef, and even a Disney star, but one of my most eye opening experiences was interviewing two teenagers with autism: Gabriela Alvarez and Milan Wolff. Conversing with Milan and Gabriela changed the way I view autism. You can read my interview of Gabriela and Milan in the September 2016 issue of Muse: Thinking Different.


What did Milan and Gabriela say about autism that is so eye-opening?  I was amazed that Gabriela challenges the whole way autism is seen. People with autism are labeled by how they function: low, moderate, and high.  The system is seen as a line or bar and puts people along the bar.


Spectrum Bar


Gabriela has a radically different way to view autistic people. She prefers a color diagram that uses the basic primary colors of red, yellow, and blue to present a more complex view of autism.  “A purple may have more red, or green more yellow, but they both have blue in them. Some autistic people have social anxiety, but can tolerate noise. Someone who is low functioning could be okay in certain social functions and not in other,” said Gabriela.


Then she said something truly unusual. “People with high and low functioning autism have more in common than someone who is non-autistic.” Generally high functioning autistic people are seen as being close in abilities to non-autistic people.


Muse Magazine -Cricket Media - Autism

17-year-old Milan gives autism credit for some of the amazing things he has been able to learn.

Milan also said something quite enlightening. He spoke about the benefits of autism. Most of the time society views autism as a hindrance. However, Milan pointed out: “I can learn almost anything if sufficiently dedicated.” Milan’s mother, Barbara Pitkin, discussed some of the amazing stuff Milan is learning and how he goes deep into a topic.


“Milan’s greatest strength is that his interests run deep.  When he engages on a topic, he researches it thoroughly, and takes it to new levels.   For example, Milan has dived deep into organic farming.  Every spring, the house is turned into a greenhouse, where scores of unusual varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs are grown.  Milan regularly volunteers at the Accokeek Foundation’s organic farm.  Milan takes the lessons learned from the farm and applies them in growing his own produce.  Milan has conducted research on the hundreds of varieties of produce possible, and then keeps detailed records on his success with specific varieties in his greenhouse.”


Wow, that is quite impressive, isn’t it?


Gabriela echoed Milan’s idea that people should see the positive side of autism. She wants autistic children to speak for themselves.


Cricket Media -Muse Magazine - About Autism

Gabriella enjoys spending time with her brother, Pierre.

“Autistic children want to speak for themselves. We want people to see the positive sides of us. I don’t want to be treated like a burden: my autism is in my brain and I am my brain,” Gabriela said. I know two excellent spokespeople for autism: Gabriela and Milan. I hope they both continue to talk about autism.


What didn’t surprise me was how both Milan and Gabriela prefer to write someone, versus directly talk to them. Social interactions can be confusing for autistic people. After talking to Gabriela and Milan, I thought how technology (particularly the Internet, social media, and texting) have made it easier for autistic people to communicate. This technology allows them to communicate directly in real time with others without the stress of social signals. Also the Internet and social media have provided people with autism with a community of others. The Autism Wiki is one such site.


One thing that was not discussed in the article is that Gabriela is proud of her Nicaraguan heritage. Gabriela’s mother Rose Alvarez has told me that more needs to be done to reach out to the Latino community about autism. I hope that having this blog post in Spanish will be a step toward expanding the conversation on autism to the Latino community.


Use the following link to download the Spanish version of this blog post: Talking to Teens Gabriela and Milan about Autism


Carollyne Hutter,, enjoys writing for children and adults. Often her work focuses on environmental, scientific, health, and international development issues.

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.

Toddler Tech

When I was pregnant and took a tour of my daughter’s future daycare, I wasn’t surprised to see a computer lab called “Tech Town.” I assumed Tech Town was for the older kids, since the school went up to kindergarten, so I was surprised to find out that weekly trips to the computer lab began at age two.




That seemed nuts. Was that safe? Healthy? Could it hurt their eyes? What could a two-year-old possibly get out of a computer? What if the kids stumbled upon something inappropriate or gross or scary?


It was like I suddenly turned into my grandmother, fearful about children and the unknown dangers of (shudder) WATCHING THOSE NEW FANGLED TELEVISION SETS.


So I did what all good parents do when it comes to questions about how to raise their kids: I turned to the Internet. There, unsurprisingly, I found an enormous amount of conflicting theories.


There are advocates who say introducing children to computers at an early age will give them an intellectual advantage by teaching problem-solving skills, increase hand-eye coordination, and stimulating their young, hungry minds. A UK site study found that children who had five years of experience using computers by the time they entered elementary school were more likely to excel in mathematics.


Proponents believe two is an ideal age to start because toddlers have the attention span and hand-eye coordination necessary to understand the mouse and its relation to the arrow on screen. Kids at this age can grasp concepts being introduced by simple computer games and graphics. They enjoy the visual and audio stimulation provided by brightly colored images and the clicking of the mouse. Many games and activities are aimed at the two-year-old age range with the intent of not only providing entertainment, but also giving them a jump-start on early skills like colors, the alphabet, vocabulary, and even second languages.


Critics, on the other hand, point out that you don’t have to use a computer to teach children the same skills. A major concern, and one folks still have with the (now) old fashioned-television set, is that children might develop an over-reliance on the computer, which can lead to long-term problems such as impaired social skills or physical effects like obesity. A more global concern is the limited sensory stimulation experienced by young children using computers.


Children’s brains are designed to develop best when stimulation comes through movement, touch, smell, and even taste, as well as vision and hearing.


Here’s my take: As with television, it sounds like the solution lies with moderation. If your toddler seems interested, let him or her play around on a computer or tablet with supervision. There are lots of really fun and excellent sites out there geared for younger kids. Make sure you set limits from an early age so kids don’t feel like the computer is a toy they are entitled to use whenever they want or rely on it as a fallback option just because they are bored. Just like you might set television watching limits, start implementing computer rules such as what sites they can visit, who needs to be there when they go online, and a daily time limit for computer use.


If you need help defining these limits, experts at the UCLA Health System and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend an upper limit of one to two hours per day total use of TV and computers together for young children. Sites like also provide recommendations for both TV viewing and Internet use.


And as you introduce them to the computer, encourage a healthy balance with traditional learning toys to give them the hands-on, sensory experience the computer lacks. For example, after your child plays a few games of Ant Parade, which helps kids learn to count using animated brightly colored animated insects, take him outside and have him count real ants.


When your child reads or listens to a story on the television or the computer, make sure you spend the same amount of time (or more!) reading aloud to him so that he gets the stimulation of being able to ask questions, to point out the parts that interest him, and understand that reading is enjoyable and important. (For more about the benefits of reading to young children, read our blog post.) Babybug, Ladybug, and Click magazines are written specifically for young children and are a perfect foil to the electronics that invade our lives every day.


Cricket Media Mama has ordered her entire family to turn off their electronics in an attempt to go back in time 10 years. Wish her luck.

Meet the Winners of the Invent It Challenge

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of writing about the Global Invent It Challenge, our annual contest that invites kids and young adults from ages 5 to 21 to think about a real world problem and find a solution for it. This year, our challenge was specifically to identify a real world health problem and come up with a way to make it better. Hundreds of kids took us up on the challenge and boy are we glad they did. The problems they identified and the solutions they proposed are ingenious and many of them have a good chance of being put to use in real-world situations.


2016 Invent It Challenge

Allie – a young inventor from the Invent It 2016 Challenge

To meet our individual and team winners head over to the official Invent It winners page.  There you will find the original entries submitted by these forward-thinking young people. You’ll meet the team responsible for the development of the “Massage Rope”, the winner of the ePals Choice Award, find out more about 6-year-old Lillian’s invention “The Blanket Friend”, and find out how Allie, a young inventor we profiled earlier this year did with her invention the “Frost Stopper Warning System.”


Oh, and while you are there, don’t forget to sign up to be notified when the 2017 Invent It Challenge Begins. Next year could be your child’s year to identify and solve a real world problem.


Subscribe to Muse


Muse Magazine for KidsWant to inspire your kids to think creatively, develop new inventions, and generally think outside the box? Subscribe to our award-winning MUSE magazine, the science and arts magazine for kids that’s spot on with the facts and off the wall with the jokes. Kids who can’t help wondering whether video games really kill their brain cells, or what a gentleman ladybug is called, will find the answers here, in articles written by award-winning authors and accompanied by high-quality illustration and photography.

Remembering the “Queen of the Curve” Zaha Hadid

Some of the world’s most eye-catching buildings were designed by Zaha Hadid, an architect known for fluid shapes that allow her designs to appear to flow effortlessly into their building sites. Ms. Hadid has designed buildings and structures as diverse as the aquatics center used for the 2012 Olympics in London, the Bergisel Ski Jump in Austria, the BMW Central Building in Germany, and the State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2004, she was awarded architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker, becoming the first woman and the youngest architect to receive this honor.


Sadly, Ms. Hadid died suddenly last week  at the age of 65. Read more about her ground-breaking architectural design:


Person to Discover: Contemporary architecture star Zaha Hadid


Zaha Hadid _ Architecturezahahadid2

Remembering the “Queen of the Curve” Zaha Hadid  Remembering the “Queen of the Curve” Zaha Hadid


For more articles like this one, be sure to subscribe to Muse magazine, the science and arts magazine for kids ages 9 to 14 that’s spot on with the facts and off the wall with the jokes.


Want to see more of Ms. Hadid’s amazing buildings? Check out this gallery of her most amazing works.

Invent It Challenge: Mission Accomplished!

Today marks the final day young inventors can submit their inventions to the 2016 Invent It Challenge. We are excited to see all the innovative ideas and concepts rolling in and the judges are ready to start evaluating each project’s merits based on how well the inventor followed the 7-step invention process outlined by Spark Labs.


Many times after a person hands in a project they have worked so hard on, they experience a myriad of emotions that range from happiness that they completed the project to utter sadness that it is over. This is normal. You might also find that your inventor starts to second-guess their work. They may regret adding or deleting something. They may feel like they didn’t show enough of their work. Again, this is normal. Instead of dwelling on these feelings, why not encourage them to make something new. All around them are problems of all sizes waiting to be solved and new products waiting to be created. And no matter what they make, the 7-step invention process is a perfect template to help them clearly think the project through and achieve optimal results.


Good luck to everyone who entered the Invent Challenge this year. Our judges will announce the winners on April 15th. If your child decided to sit this one out, we hope they will join us next year. In the meantime, remind them to keep their thinking caps on. You never know where or when a good idea will come looking for you.

When Einstein Developed His Theory of Space, It Was About Time

Happy birthday Albert Einstein. And also…Happy Pi Day! By some crazy, random happenstance, Einstein’s birthday is March 14, also known as Pi Day (get it? 3.14?)


We celebrate Pi Day at my office with a plethora of pies and bad math puns. But I hadn’t realized until this year that it was also the birthdate of one of our more relatively famous mathematicians. What are the odds that Albert Einstein would be born on Pi Day? Well… I guess Albert Einstein probably would have been able to tell you that. However, to me, it’s seemingly impossible so I feel like we should take this crazy, random happenstance a step further and name it National Math Day. Think about it. We recognize Literacy Days, Science Weeks, History Months; heck, we even have National Watermelon Day (Aug 3, in case you were wondering) … Poor math gets left behind.


(Does quick internet search to ensure is not sticking foot in mouth due to ignorance. Shew! No National Math Day already exist in the annuals of the interwebs)


It appears India had decreed Dec 22 to be National Mathematics Day, but I didn’t find any official American holiday for Math, so by the powers vested in me as a mom, a math aficionado (‘ish… well, a math encouragist), and as a proponent for fun, new ways to learn and become invested in every facet of education, I hereby declare that March 14 henceforth be known as Math Day!


What are the odds that Albert Einstein would be born on Pi Day? Well… I guess Albert Einstein probably would have been able to tell you that.

National-Pi-DayHow do we celebrate this newly inaugurated day of mathematical love? This joint recognition of both a Nobel-prize winner and a quirky never-ending number. You know me… I’m always a lover of fun facts, and what better way to celebrate than to share some.


  • Einstein was a late talker, leading his parents to have concerns about his developmental abilities. He also disliked school but loved the study of music.
  • In a Star Trek episode from 1967 Spock foils the evil computer by commanding it to “compute to last digit the value of pi.”
  • Einstein supported the Civil Rights movement in America. He was a member of the NAACP and considered racism to be the “worst disease” in the country.
  • In 1995, Hiroyoki Gotu memorized 42,195 places of pi and is considered the current pi champion.
  • Einstein was offered the position of President of Israel but declined.
  • Pi has been studied by the human race for almost 4,000 years. By 2000 B.C., Babylonians established the constant circle ratio as 3-1/8 or 3.125. The ancient Egyptians arrived at a slightly different value of 3-1/7 or 3.143.
  • Einstein didn’t wear socks and owned the same two suits in different colors to reduce the number of decisions he had to make each day.
  • Since there are 360 degrees in a circle and pi is intimately connected with the circle, some mathematicians were delighted to discover that the number 360 is at the 359th digit position of pi.
  • Someone once stole Einstein’s brain. At his autopsy, the pathologist took his brain without permission, keeping it for more than 40 years. He eventually obtained permission from Einstein’s son, but he was fired regardless.
  • If you consider sweet and savory varieties, there are at least a million varieties of pies in the world.

If nothing else, celebrate today with pies and bad math puns. And read a story about Einstein from Cricket Media such as “Einstein’s Final Project”, which you will find below.


Einsteins Final Project - Cricket Media

Cricket Media Mama would like to submit the following for your consideration:


I was kicked out of math class for one too many infractions.
I didn’t understand the math, so the teacher summed it up for me.
I used to hate math but then I realized decimals have a point
I’m bad at math, so the equation 2n+2n is 4n to me
We’ll never run out of math teachers because they always multiply.
Math teachers have lots of problems, but watching their figures isn’t one of them.