Volunteering with your kids: why you should sign-up today!

While it may be debated that humans are innately compassionate and generous, we choose to believe it to be true. At the same time, we are living in a time when it appears that empathy and kindness are the exception instead of the rule. To help counter the current culture along with the self-centered, egocentric developmental phases that are focused on “me, me, me,” volunteering can be a great tool in helping kids to focus on others. Volunteering will not only help them to build compassion, but it will help them build self-esteem as well as show them that they can make an important impact on the world around them even in small simple ways.

It’s also good for kids to volunteer in a multitude of ways because they learn different things from different opportunities.  Sometimes they learn the value of their time, sometimes it is empathy for those who are different from themselves, and sometimes it is about raising and providing funds that people and organizations need more than they need time. 

Simple ways kids can volunteer and make a difference:

  • Going to a local nursing home is a great way for kids to make a difference in a lonely person’s life. Kids who are shy or who don’t know how to make conversation can simply ask if someone wants to be read to or if they would like to play a game of cards.
  • Host a bake sale for a cause that is local and near to your child’s heart (be sure to check with your Chamber of Commerce to avoid any hassles with tax laws, etc…)
  • Write letters to soldiers who are away from home serving the U.S. Military through Operation Gratitude or Soldiers Angels.
  • If your child is into animals, then by all means find ways for them to get the shelters the many supplies they need. There are many cool ideas out there for making items that animals need out of unwanted used items.
  • Do a drive to collect things that many families might need this time of year including coats, gloves, warm boots, and drop them off at a local homeless shelter.
  • If you can find opportunities for kids to interact with the homeless or the poor, you will teach them to be compassionate and to understand that we are all connected and human–each of us needing love and generosity.
  • Convince your children to give away good quality toys that they no longer play with. 
  • Encourage your kids to volunteer every day at school without anyone knowing. Ask them to go play with someone at recess who always stands alone on the playground. Advise them to find a student who struggles in a subject they are good at and go help that person. Tell them to compliment a teacher. All of these things are simple, easy, and frankly, life-changing for both parties!

If you want to go even further, here are some organizations in Colorado that provide more formal and structured opportunities for kids to volunteer are:

Rocky Mountain STEAMFest – 11+. STEAM Fest is just around the corner (trust us, it’ll be here before you know it!). To pull off these daring feats of magic, creativity and imagination, we need over 150 awesome volunteers – and that could include you! You can help us hang posters, spread the word, recruit exhibitors – and so much more. Jobs include working from home with flexible hours – whatever you can do – from 4 hours to 40 – we’ve got the perfect fit for you.

Children’s Hospital – for ages 13-18 – This is a pretty intense volunteer program that is intended for kids who might be interested in the medical field.  They are required to turn in an application, be interviewed, and pass a health screening.

Volunteers of America – for ages 11-17 – According to the site, “Youth volunteers can work with children in Head Start schools, help the homeless, assist homebound seniors, and much more. Youth volunteers can work with children in Head Start schools, help the homeless, assist homebound seniors, and much more.”

Spark the Change Colorado – for all ages but steered towards elementary age children – The organization’s vision is to help kids develop an understanding of the importance of volunteerism and community engagement. At their sponsored events, there is a theme like Veterans, and then together, families, children, and the organization, develop and plan for “hands-on service learning projects that benefit local non-profit organizations.” Not only do kids help the community, but they get to problem-solve and ideate as well as develop leadership skills.

Also check out, Parent Magazine’s resource of nationwide organizations focused on helping families find opportunities to volunteer.  It is hard to find the time to volunteer and get your kids out to help others, but what you teach them will be priceless—JOY in serving others! 

DIY: Backyard Movie Night

The lazy summer days are over, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to enjoy the beautiful warm weather that is in front of you.  One of the best ways to connect with your kids, take in the warm weather and decompress after a hard week of school and work is an outdoor movie.  Setting up an outdoor movie screen doesn’t have to be a huge project and sure, you could hook up a television outside, but that just doesn’t have the same feel. You can put together a screen in no time, and it will probably be a great investment of time and money.  In fact, your kids will likely enjoy their movie under the stars so much that they will be begging to do it for many weeks to come. 

Materials

You will need a sheet.  Many people think that a white sheet is the way to go, but in reality, a white sheet lets in light that may conflict with the movie on the screen.  By using a dark, opaque sheet, the movie will be much easier to view. 

Frame

You can build the frame out of a number of materials, wood, PVC, your fence.  Create a structure to support all four corners of the sheet. (You can even enlist your kids to help you to engineer your own version of a movie screen.)  There are a number of inspirational sites that can get the creative juices flowing:

Of course, once your kids get this movie night idea in their head, they may be a little impatient for a building project.  No fear, there are inflatable screens for as low as $99.00 that only need an extension cord and some power. SHAZAM, your movie screen is ready!  (And, worst case scenario? Tie or staple a sheet to your existing privacy fence!)  

Projectors

As with any electronic device, there are a plethora of choices based on price, function, quality.  When looking for a projector, you want to consider a number of factors. Of course, you can just buy the $50 one at your local Walmart, but these outdoor movie nights will likely become a regular thing, and if so, you will want a projector that will stand the test of time and provide a good experience.

You will want to consider the following characteristics:

  • Lamp, Laser, or LED – Lamp bulbs will need replaced more often while LED are more expensive but will last longer. 
  • Light Output & Brightness – You will want a projector with a high light output.  A low light output will lead to a fuzzy and unclear image even in a very dark room.  The  Lumens rating will help you determine the just right projector with the right amount of light output.
  • Contrast Ratio – You will need to look at projectors that have a ratio of 1,500:1 minimally and 2,000:1 or higher for good contrast between black and whites in your movie image.
  • Pixel Density – If possible, get a projector with a pixel density of approximately 1920×1080.  You can get by with one that is 1024×768, but the higher you go the better the quality. 
  • Sound quality – This varies by user, but check out the speakers before you buy, or see if it has Bluetooth, and you can connect to your portable speaker.  Also check out the sound of the fan for your projector. Some of the models have loud fans that will compete with movie audio, so do your homework.
  • Type of screen – Share the type of screen (sheet) you have with your sales representative and ask them which projector will work the best.

According to a Tech Guru on Offers.com, the best choice is Vankyo mini project that meets the requirements and costs a whopping $89.99.  Check out his other projector reviews

Input

The projector takes the image from your dvd player, computer, etc… and projects it onto the screen; therefore, you need to determine the compatibility between the projector and your computer, a dvd player, Roku or AppleTV, and/or any other device you plan to use to play the movie.  You may need an additional HDMI cord or something else to connect and project.

Other materials:

Extension cords

Power strip

Flashlight

At last, you have your screen, your projector, your computer, your kids, and now you are ready for family outdoor movie night. Oh wait, don’t forget the popcorn, candy, a big drink, and one more thing, grab those pillows and sleeping bags, and enjoy! You are all in for a fun and memorable experience!

 

Four Ways to Nurture the Love of Nature

Warmer weather is here, so no more excuses from your children on why they can’t get outside. Not only is the weather to be enjoyed but so are the budding trees, flowers, influx of birds, and the arrival of insects are all there to be observed and studied.  

Kids by nature are curious. Unfortunately, in today’s world, kids fill a lot of their natural curiosity with the use of technological devices rather than real experiences.  Likewise, they spend a majority of the time spent on devices inside rooms with recycled (hopefully) air, artificial light, and nothing organic (including experiences).

Most of us who spend time in nature understand the positive effects that it can have on our well-being. Researcher at the University of Utah, David Strayer states, “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally healthier when we are interacting with nature.”  And now, we have the science to go along with the emotion. In Japan, a recent study was conducted with individuals who spent time walking in a forest as well as individuals who were assigned to walk in an urban area. The participants who walked in nature had significantly lower heart rates and a “higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress).”  Stanford University actually used fMRI technology to watch participants brains and after a walk in nature they found an increase in activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (SPC) which contributes to calm and optimism.  On the flipside, inactivity in the SPC contributes to depression, mood swings, and negative thoughts.

So what do you do?  Well, here are a few activities to get those kids outside and moving this summer:

Scavenger Hunt

One of the best ways to get them moving and enjoying all nature has to offer is by creating a scavenger hunt.  Create a list of items for students to collect out in nature along with some tasks (students might even be able to use their technology outside for identification, but books could be found and checked out prior to the scavenger hunt), for example:

  1. An insect –  identify the different parts
  2. A flowing plant –  Identify the parts of the flower
  3. Birds – Identify 3 different kinds.
  4. Bird sounds – Identify the sounds of three different birds
  5. Trees – Identify three different types
  6. Scat – (go somewhere you can find some?)

There are a number of other items you could have children look for.  They can even look for different types of the same items on subsequent hikes.  Encourage students to draw pictures or make their own identification book. ***And, if your kids are like mine, where competition is the order of every day, have your children race and the neighbor kids race to see who can find the items the fastest.

Obstacle Courses

Kids love obstacle courses. You can build one with them out of things in nature and boxes, buckets, 2×4’s, logs, rope, hammocks; you name it.  Have the kids take turns practicing and then timing one another. Have children determine what they could do in order to complete the course at a faster speed.  Next, allow the children to create their own course with their own clever obstacles (and sorry, their course will probably be way cooler than your’s). Another fun challenge would be for them to create obstacles that allow them to cross the area without touching the ground.  Encourage them to try and get across it without touching ground.

Like Ms. Frizzle Advises-Get Messy

Have your kids get in and get dirty. Go to the gardening center and allow the kids to pick out their own seeds, seedlings, or plants to contribute to the family’s yard.  Have them identify what type of climate they live in (region) as well as growing conditions that are needed for the plants they are interested in growing. Then have children plant their finds in your green space. If you don’t have an area, look into the cooperative gardens that are prevalent in a number of areas.  Have them help you garden and get them excited about creating their own green space.

***Go ahead and teach them about pollinators and their importance to the food chain.  Have them pick out some plants that will invite pollinators into your garden.

Research in Action

Have you children start a nature journal before you go outside for a walk.  Ask about their mood, thoughts and feelings and have them write down their answers.  Show them how to take their pulse then have them write it down. Go sit outside for ten minutes and lie under a tree and look at the sky, talk about the clouds, relax in nature.  Then go inside and take their pulse again. Have the kids write about their mood, thoughts, and feelings now. Discuss the results and whether they agree with the research. Do they feel more relaxed?  Is their heart rate slower? Do they feel more at peace?

Take a hike, get dirty, play hide-n-go-seek in a confined safe area of the woods, go for a bike ride on a trail; in other words, get out with your kids and exercise in nature!  Train them to utilize the best medicine out there for their well-being–NATURE!

Kitchen Science – Easy Indoor Fun!

water, conservation, child, activities, science

A little water, ice cubes and some rock salt, and you can watch “instant ice” develop!

Turn Winter Couch Potatoes into Kitchen Wizards

Getting your kids off the couch and into the lab will be the hardest part of these fun and amazing kitchen projects. With some simple ingredients you can turn your child into a mad scientist whose amazement and wonder will make the mess a small price to pay. (FYI: these aren’t even that messy.)  

Instant Ice Experiment

Ask your child if they ever wondered how Frozone was able to make ice instantly.  When he or she yells a resounding, “YES!” Break out a little rock salt (you probably have that handy), ice cubes and a bottle of water.  Check out the video here for directions.

A simple butter sculpture – fun and easy.

 

Everything is Better with Butter

Put some sticks of butter in the freezer and then allow your child to carve fun shapes into them with a butter knife.  Google and Pinterest have a number of easy and more complex ideas that will get your children’s creative juices flowing! You can even have kids make their own butter and show how matter can change states from a liquid to a solid!  And once you have made butter, you might as well make some ice cream.  All it takes are a few ingredients, a couple coffee cans, ice and rock salt combined with some elbow grease and a little patience.

kitchen science, honey, bees

This experiment from Experimental Express will WOW your kitchen science team!

Kitchen Science Question: Is it Really Honey?

This experiment is pretty darn cool.  Take your child on a Bee research project – if the weather is OK, head to a local bee farm and let them see the bees in actions.  Crummy weather? Do a stay-at-home field trip and research on the internet to provide background for this kitchen experiment.  Once children understand how bees turn nectar into honey and where they store the honey, try this supertastic honey experiment from Experimental Express that is cooler than Hollywood special effects!  Can you tell which “honey” is real honey?

Color Explosion

Don’t worry, it isn’t as bad as it sounds!  Fill a cookie sheet with a shallow amount of milk.  Then have kids paint the milk by putting drops of food color into the milk (don’t stir).  Now take a q-tip and dip it in dish soap and then touch the milk then observe the fireworks (no actual fire, just color explosions).

Bounce off the Walls

When you kids are bouncing off the walls, why not make some bouncy balls.  This cool project will have your kids wild about science and kitchen creations as they watch a chemical reaction where liquids turn to solids.

Slime

It’s likely that you and your kids have made slime before, but if you haven’t, you absolutely need to.  If you have, there are so many different kinds to make that you should do it again.  A few ingredients create a mesmerizing substance that will have your kids playing for hours.

lemons, decision making, brainstorm, family, discussion

Turn Lemons into Lemonade – Unusual Inspiration for Family Problem Solving

brainstorm, family, decision making, lemons, lemonade, worst ideasFamily Problem Solving – Upside Down!

Guest post created by Sara Heintzelman from Createdu.org

CreatEdu worked with a high-performing charter school to explore how to foster more independence in their students as they prepared for college. Sometimes we tackle a challenge and we just hit a wall. Good ideas seem to be unattainable and it’s time to try something new. We jumped into a ‘worst-possible idea’ brainstorm to shake things up.

With this new criteria, people worried less about coming up with “good” ideas, and without this pressure, the ideas started flowing. One educator suggested that we have Oprah give every student a car. Another said “Let’s throw kids out of a plane with a parachute to see if they are independent!” Logistically (and from a liability standpoint), taking high school students skydiving was a terrible idea- but then, we dug into this concept further. What training takes place before skydiving? What scaffold for independence is built before you let someone jump out of a plane? (For more about how this program was developed, read the full story here). This “worst-possible idea” ended up inspiring the program that was eventually implemented, and would never have made it onto the table if we’d only focused on coming up with good ideas.

When you shift the way you think and make the process more playful, great ideas can spring from bad ideas. This technique is not about forcing a bad idea to work, rather about using your brain differently and either flipping bad ideas upside down or identifying valuable components in the bad ideas that act as inspiration for great ideas.

Bring it home – Creative Family Problem Solving

At CreatEdu we sometimes bring design thinking into our homes. We can’t help it. The following is a story about how Sara, CreatEdu’s Director of Operations, used the Lemons-to-Lemonade concept to problem solve with her own family:

The Problem

“Despite my own minimalist tendencies, with two grade-school kids, our house is messy and has lots of stuff. So. Many. Toys. After one too many ‘lego vs. barefoot’ incidents, we called a family meeting.”

Me: The toys are a disaster, it looks like a toy bomb went off and we can’t even walk through the house without injury! How can we keep the toys and house cleaner?

All I got was a mumble about mom cleaning them up every day and diverted eyes, but otherwise it was silent. It was time to try something new. It was time for a worst-solution idea brainstorm. Ideas quickly started flowing:

The Worst-Possible Ideas

Kid 1: Lets dump every single toy on the floor and make a toy carpet!

Kid 2: Yeah, and let’s just break all of the toys as we walk over them every day!lemonade, innovation, creativity, brainstorming

Kid 1: Let’s put every toy we own in a garbage bag and throw them out.

Kid 2: Let’s give all of our toys away.

After the ideas slowed down, we looked at all of the crazy, bad, no good, terrible ideas we’d come up with and you know what we saw? Gems, lots of little gems hidden in these bad ideas.

The Creative Family Problem Solving Gems

These worst-possible ideas helped us identify some of the underlying problems with our toys in the first place: we couldn’t find them easily so they get dumped out frequently, they don’t have designated homes so clean up is harder, and there were too many of them (many of which had been outgrown). Once these worst-possible ideas were mined for gems, actual solutions began to evolve and ‘The Toy Capsule System’ was born.

We dumped every toy we owned on the floor (not joking!). Each kid picked 15 toys to keep in the house (art supplies and books were exempt and sets of toys, like legos, counted as 1), everything else went into a donate or storage pile. The storage pile went in clear plastic bins in the garage where toys could be traded (1 toy out, 1 toy in). Toys had homes and were easy to find. There were less of them so clean-up was quick and “shopping” for toys became fun and kept things fresh. This idea would never have been born without a bad case of ‘lego-foot-itis’ that prompted a worst-possible idea brainstorm!”

Try this now!

The next time your family hits a roadblock around a common issue, whether it be:

  • The use of electronics
  • How to get homework done
  • Collaborative decisions about what activities to do together for fun
  • How to get chores done, or something else entirely

Try a worst-possible idea brainstorm. For ideas, download CreatEdu’s ‘CreateEDU’s Lemons to Lemonade Brainstorm Guide’. See if your brainstorm leads to anything exciting. It won’t always, but you might be surprised and it might help diffuse an otherwise challenging family topic (who knows, it could also be fun!).

Still Curious?

Build on your Brainstorm with a Yes, and…

Why Go For the Worst Possible Idea?

Turn Your Ideation Session Upside-down

 

Maker, Escape Room, Tech, Arduino

Rabbit Hole Brings Cool Maker Tech to New Louisville Escape Room

A BOAT to access the outdoors

Written by Micah Leinbach

Hands on Human Interaction – Wilderness classrooms can let kids tinker with society

There’s nothing that can launch you into an internal rant about “kids these days” quite like camping on a Canadian riverbank, swatting mosquitoes while your stomach suffers from a 14 year old’s culinary experimentation with “fried ramen.” But, come morning, with a belly still full of slightly burned, yet undercooked noodles, those same kids will inevitably do something pretty amazing, reminding you that the kids are all right.

As an outdoor educator, I spend most of my time thinking about the “these days” part of the “kids these days” equation. We know experience is a powerful educator. Most kid’s experiences “these days” are defined by certain conditions: routine school schedules, hyperconnectivity, and the social pressures of an age of social media. What if we could change those conditions, just for a while, and let kids write the rules of society?

We want to get more kids into wilderness classrooms in order to do exactly that, so we are launching the Bus for Outdoor Access & Teaching, or “BOAT.” We will use a custom-built school bus (which we are fundraising for right now) to build the most accessible outdoor program in America. With an outdoor program on wheels, we can put a fully-functional wilderness classroom at the front door of any school in the country, then provide the transportation, equipment, and leadership to get them out into the mountains. That means a new set of conditions: schedules the kids control, a chance to disconnect from the outside world, and a chance to play with the social rules that govern a small expedition group.

In outdoor classrooms kids face some pretty fundamental life challenges (where do I sleep? what do I eat?) with creativity, experimentation, and a healthy dose of mistake-making. That also means they learn a ton, especially about working together. After all, just look at…

 

…the kids who built their own government.

Kids in the wilderness don’t see a lot of candy, so it was a big deal when my crew of 20 found a bag of jolly ranchers. Of course there were only 15 pieces, and it’s hard to split a jolly rancher.

What followed was an experiment in civics that rivaled the founding of some nations, with impassioned speeches and pleas for this or that approach to resource allocation. For a moment it looked like the situation would devolve into a dictatorship of a particularly charismatic 11 year old, until she reached for the candy before her case was fully made. She was shouted down and democracy was floated next, with a vote – but a minority insisted on consensus. It took 3 hours, but they came to an agreement – the candy was shunned as “not worth the trouble,” but so was the lengthy consensus process. The group ran elections for every decision from then on.

People often imagine a government of kids turning into a nightmarish Lord of the Flies situation. Just like any invention though, social processes rarely work smoothly the first time. Turns out a government is the same way – but a few decisions in, those kids had built a model of democracy that would make those of us watching today’s national news more than a little jealous.

 

…the kids in the grilled cheese courtroom.

Sean made a beautiful sandwich. The toast was evenly browned, and the cheese bubbled out the edges, but not quite enough to spill. Satisfied, he left it on a plate on a log near the fire, and went to fill his water bottle in the river. When he returned half of it was in the dirt, and half of it was in Joel’s belly.

When kids are running the show, behavior management becomes a question of justice. A gang of 13 year old boys initially leaned towards punitive justice (making Joel clean up the meal) before swiftly moving through retribution (eating Joel’s sandwich), incapacitation (cutting off Joel’s hands), denunciation (simply bad mouthing Joel), before settling on a more restorative approach. Joel would make a new sandwich, and would help develop a system to separate “shared food” from “private food” moving forward. Peace reigned. Speaking of private food…

 

…the wisdom in the peanut butter jar.

At the beginning of a trip group gear is divided up and personal items are stowed away, and the final token of independence is bestowed up each participant. In a world of collectively owned food, one’s “personal peanut butter jar” is sacred. You revel in the knowledge that these precious 16 oz. are yours and yours alone.

You’re likely close to a food source, where control of a peanut butter jar feels small. Not so in a world where every ounce of food is carried on your back. Determining how to use it is a lesson in resource management and a master class in the psychology of gratification. Some squirrel it away – petrified of a mid-trail stomach groan, while others blaze through by the spoonful – not stopping until they hear the scrape of their utensil on the plastic bottom. There are lessons in both strategies, reinforced by satisfied (or empty) stomachs. And peanut butter is far from the only thing that becomes a more powerful teaching tool once the conditions of life become a little more rustic!

 

…the kids who built a fire in the rain.

After a long day of hiking, lounging on the beach during sunset is hard to resist. Despite my best efforts to teach people about the incoming cumulonimbus clouds and what they meant (storms coming!), dinner got pushed further and further back. Soon it was raining, but a fire had to be made. What followed was nothing short of an engineering marvel, as a few tarps, an old poncho, a stick, rope, and a healthy dose of volunteer human columns built a storm-proof cooking fire. The resources were sparse and the weather uncooperative, but we ate our lukewarm soup with pride.

I am a big believer that for kids to succeed in a 21st century economy they will need to tinker, make, and build, as scientists, experimenters and inventors. I’m also a big believer that for the 21st century society to be one worth succeeding in they’ll need to tinker, make, and build better systems of governance, justice, and resource allocation. That means they need practice, and we know just where they can get it – outside.

 

BOAT will make accessing these kinds of programs easier, but we need your help! Once our bus is built, partners in the Denver area can have a fully-functional outdoor program arrive on-site, ready to offer the outdoor experiences while sparing organizations and educators the logistical challenges of pulling them together. In prototypes of the program we were able to offer expeditions of multiple days at 50% the national average cost – we know it can work! Consider supporting BOAT’s campaign campaign for a custom bus, and a model of outdoor education that is easy for anyone to access. If we can raise $2,500 in our Indiegogo by the end of this weekend, we’ll see that amount tripled by a matching program from our board and an anonymous donor. Feel free to reach out to the author, Micah Leinbach, at micah@theBOATbus.com with questions or to get updates when BOAT launches.

 

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Youth Science Education That Comes to You

Have you heard?

There is an exciting new service in the Denver area dedicated to providing hands-on and fun science education for children from preschool to fifth grade.  Science Made Fun brings age appropriate, fun science experiments directly to your school, camp or party – no bus, no fuss!

Try an experiment now

This is the kind of experiment we would do in the field that you can do right in your kitchen, using things that you already have.  Show your kids on a micro level how dish soap works to clean up those dinner dishes.

Exploding Colors Experiment

  • milk experiment, youth science education

    Exploding Colors experiment is FUN science education.

    Items needed: One half cup of milk, a shallow bowl, a cotton swab, dish soap and multiple colors of liquid food coloring (do not use gel, it sinks).

  • Directions: Place the bowl on a stable surface, pour the milk in the bowl and put a drop or two of each color in different areas of the milk.  The food color should remain on the surface of the milk, but if it doesn’t it is either too heavy or the milk’s fat content is too low.  Put a drop of dish soap on the cotton swab and touch the soaped end to any of the colors to see the effect.  Do this with each color to see the lovely “exploding colors”.
  • How to explain it: Milk has fat in it, invisibly bonded together, allowing the food coloring to float on top of the fat.  Think of it like the little bits of fat all holding hands with each other, supporting the color drops. Dish soaps are great on greasy or oily dishes because it breaks the bonds in fats allowing them to separate. When you add the dish soap to the milk, the fat separates and moves, allowing  your colors to expand.

 

Through exciting hands-on experiments Science Made Fun programs are thoughtfully designed to stimulate young minds, activate students’ innate curiosity and nurture each child’s budding imagination.  Alongside our team of professionals, students are guided through the learning process, becoming REAL scientists performing REAL experiments!

Find more experiments to try at home or view our science education programs at ScienceMadeFunKIDS.

crossbeams, building, making, maker

Building Fun with Crossbeams

Crossbeams – Building Made Easy (and Fun!)

We caught up with Charles Sharman, creator of the most-excellent building toy, Crossbeams. His story is exactly what we’re all about at Maker Bolder – seeing an opportunity and making something to meet the need.  Here’s his story.

The Aim of Crossbeams

“Dad, can we make a maglev train?” This question, posed by my five-year-old son, sparked the beginning of Crossbeams.  Whether it’s a spaceship, a skyscraper, an animal, or a maglev train, all of us want to make and create.  It’s in our blood.  But when it comes to actually doing it, the task can be overwhelming.  You may have to know trigonometry, algebra, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, art, drafting, machining, and more.  I designed Crossbeams to simplify the building task.  You dream, and Crossbeams helps you create.

Many creative platforms exist for younger ages.  Yet many younger active creators become passive consumers as they age, immersed in video games, social media, smart phones, and television.  I designed Crossbeams to hold the interest of older and advanced creators.

Dreams to Reality

Making Crossbeams’ a reality wasn’t easy, particularly with a full-time job and family.  First, I had to enhance my knowledge. During late nights and early mornings, I taught myself mechanics, gear design, and machining.  I studied the limitations of current building systems and identified enhancements.  A plethora of piece-types limits some building systems.  According to Mark Changizi and others building system’s creativity is enhanced by minimizing piece-types an maximizing the ways pieces connect.  Delicacy limits some building systems.  I wanted a model car that could crash into the wall without disintegrating.  Finally, straight lines and boxiness limits some building systems.  I wanted to accurately replicate lines and surfaces.

Next, I needed a way to try out pieces in a complete model without blowing the bank on prototyping costs.  I wanted to ensure models
looked appealing and the piece-types were minimal.  I created the Crossbeams Modeller, a software tool to virtually connect Crossbeams pieces.
I started with three core models:

I believed a building toy that could closely replicate these models could closely replicate many more.  Initially, the models took more than 160 piece-types.  After much work, I narrowed it to the 47 piece-types used today.

crossbeams, engineering, maker, making, STEAM, boulder

Crossbeams can be assembled to support great weights and pressures.

Finally, I needed a sturdy joint that locks pieces much more strongly than the joints in children’s building toys.  Children’s building toys use friction-based joints; the force to connect is equal to the force to disconnect.  That causes an inherent trade-off.  If you make it stronger, you make it harder to assemble.  Instead, I based my joint on a cotter pin two-motion joint.  A two-motion joint unrelates the join force and separation force.  I started with a cotter pin, and it evolved into our patented, simple slide-and-twist joint.

The Future of Crossbeams

While Crossbeams has captured much of its original intent, we still have far to go.  Ages 10-12 and 20+ make our largest customer base. We haven’t captured the hearts of young adults, for whom the system was intended.

We designed Crossbeams from the ground up to handle electronics but later tabled electronics to maintain our debt-free principle.  Most of the electronics package is designed and ready.  Once sales grow, we can make my son’s maglev.

Success won’t be judged by money in the bank but by a sampling of society.  Whether it’s Crossbeams, musical compositions, stories, or painting, once young adults are known for their creating instead of their consuming, our work is done.

water, kids activities

Teach Your Children to Conserve Water with Fun Science Activities

Connect kids with Water Conservation

When you get hot and thirsty playing outside, a cold glass water can really cool you down. But your child may not know that kids in other parts of the world don’t always have clean drinking water. This summer, teach your child the importance of conserving precious resources. You can start by learning more about fresh water scarcity. With 97 percent of the world’s supply being salt water, conservation is a great way to make a global impact.

One route to freshwater sustainability is desalination, or removing the salt from salt water. There are more than 16,000 desalination plants(1) across the globe, and that number is growing. To begin learning how desalination occurs, try Connections Academy’s educational activity with your child– and create freshwater from salt water using a few household items!

water, conservation, child, activities, science

Water is essential to life – and is increasingly scarce.

Why is Fresh Water Important?

Fresh water is an essential part of life. Water helps nutrients and oxygen in the bloodstream move around the body. Humans are generally made up of about 50 to 65 percent water.

Fresh water is a key to good health. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it is dehydrated. Dehydration can keep you from doing your best at sports, school, and whatever else the day may throw your way.

Fresh water keeps crops growing. About 70 percent of the available freshwater on earth is used to feed crops, which, in turn, feed us.

How to Conserve Water

Have your child help you check for leaks around the house.

Let the lawn grow a little longer than you normally would. This will promote retention of freshwater (from rain or sprinklers) in the soil.

Help your child plant native plants. Plant species that are native to your area which should thrive with the amount of rainfall your garden will receive and need little additional watering.

plant, garden, water, conservation, kids

Use plants that thrive naturally in your environment and don’t require a lot of additional water.

Encourage your child to cut his or her shower time by two minutes each day. Two minutes every day is 730 minutes per year. That’s a little change that can make a big difference!

Visit the Connections Academy blog to find more fun learning activities.

Colorado Connections Academy is a network of tuition-free online public schools for students in grades K-12.

 

1 David Talbot, “Desalination out of Desperation,” MIT Technology Review (December 2014), accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/533446/desalination-out- of-desperation/.