10 Reasons You Need to Drop Everything and Build a Fort… Right Now

One time, as a child, I built a fantastic fort that withstood four New England winters.

I was so proud of it! I would spend entire afternoons holed up in that sacred place. I’d get lost in an imaginary world, or while away the hours lost in a favorite book. I’d love to know how many books were read in that space!

Of course, my brothers and I built many forts over the years, both indoors and outdoors, but the outdoor forts reigned supreme. Continue reading 10 Reasons You Need to Drop Everything and Build a Fort… Right Now

50 Ways to Fight Nature Deficit Disorder This Fall and Winter

You can’t go very far these days without hearing about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but have you heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder?

In his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit DisorderRichard Louv explores research linking children’s health and well-being to direct exposure to nature.

The reality is, nowadays, our children are better able to identify jungle and zoo animals than the animals that reside in their own backyard.

In this age of screens, our nation’s children are not getting out there and this has a direct impact on their health and happiness. And, lest you think nature only benefits children, Louv shares the benefits for adults in his book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.

After reading Louv’s books, you won’t want to come inside. Louv uses research to show the many benefits of time spent in nature, including: Continue reading 50 Ways to Fight Nature Deficit Disorder This Fall and Winter

My Favorite Drug Commercial Ever

When you live in the mountains of Colorado, the views outside the window tend to keep life in perspective. But we’ve lived in many other amazing locations, following my husband’s job across the country. We’ve found breathtaking parks and outdoor areas in every single state we’ve lived in. With an archaeologist for a husband, and four kids to raise, I’ve found myself outside a lot.

That may be why I instantly fell in love with this parody of a drug commercial. I’m sure you’re like me, and practically need a medication to make it through those long, depressing commercials for the latest pharmaceuticals. But I guarantee this is one ‘drug’ commercial you’ll not only enjoy, you may find yourself replaying it over and over. Warning: It may lead you to walk away from your desk and head outside.


This inspirational video is brought to you by a group called Nature Rx. What is Nature Rx? Let their website explain: “Nature Rx is a grassroots movement dedicated to entertaining and informing people about the healing and humorous aspects of nature.”

Now that’s one prescription I would love to add to my medical history. I think I’ll have to sign up the husband and kids too.

Live Every Week Like It’s Shark Week With ‘Wild Kratts’

© PBS Kids
“Speaking Dolphinese” © PBS Kids

The Wild Kratts are back with more creature adventures, this time submerging beneath the waves to discover the secrets of great white sharks, giant octopi, sea turtles, and dolphins. Pair the new DVD, Wild Kratts: Shark-tastic! with the early reader book Wild Sea Creatures: Sharks, Whales, and Dolphins, and you’ve got your mini marine biologist (or future Sharknado fan) ready to dive in for some wild adventures with the Kratt brothers.

Shark-tasticChris and Martin Kratt blend real life looks at animals of all types with fantastic escapades out in the wild in their animated form. When they don their creature power suits created by their friend Aviva, the brothers can utilize many of the amazing abilities of the animals they’re investigating.

In the new collection, out today from PBS Kids, there are four aquatic adventures for kids to enjoy. “Octopus Wildkratticus” is more of an outlandish story than usual for the Kratt brothers, as a Pacific octopus mistakenly uses the creature power suits to take on a shark, but it is educational nonetheless. “Tortuga Tune Up” features enthusiastic engineer Aviva hard at work on the team’s HQ. “Speaking Dolphinese” and “Stuck on Sharks” both take Chris and Martin into the deep sea where they encounter—you guessed it–sharks in their natural habitats.

Every episode of Wild Kratts is full of excitement and humor, and I’m a fan of the diverse team that always works together to keep creatures “free and in the wild.” Kids of almost every age will get a kick out of the Kratt brothers and learn something new in each episode.

The Step Into Reading book Wild Sea Creatures: Sharks, Whales, and Dolphins! from Random House is more information than narrative, but young fans of the show will enjoy seeing it presented in typical fashion by Chris and Martin. Parents reading along will probably even learn a thing or two about creatures that dwell on the ocean floor. (Yeti crab, who knew that was a real animal?)

If your child is already a big fan of animals, chances are they’re already fans of the Wild Kratts. If not, this 60 minute collection and science reader are a great way to teach them about the natural world around us.

GeekMom received promotional copies for review purposes.

What It’s Like to Die in a Black Hole

NASA rendering of a black hole. Image: Nasa.gov.
NASA rendering of a black hole. Image: Nasa.gov.

Just in case you sit around pondering questions such as this…in this month’s issue of Nature, Zeeya Merali discusses the latest in a debate on how black hole death might be: in one corner is “spaghettification” (being ripped apart), the other corner is “the wall of fire” (getting burned alive at the event horizon). Click through to read more about the two theories.

I may or may not have been part of such debates at 3am at a meteorology student’s house party in college.

What It’s Like to Die in a Black Hole.

Review: Disney's Secret of the Wings

Courtesy: Disney

Let’s just kick this off by saying: Diana Prince and Leia Organa aside, I am not too keen on the prospect of bringing the whole princess thing into my house. But I am down with the Disney Fairies. Why? Because they’re all friends, they have specific jobs that they’re good at, and they have to work together to make the seasons, or the world tumbles into chaos. To me, they’re similar to the X-Men, in that each one of them has a very specific power, or “talent,” that they use in very particular ways. Plus, Tinker Bell is spunky, curious, makes mistakes, and learns from them.

Vivi is three now, and so we were new to the first three Tinker Bell movies. Which is like being new to reading Game of Thrones. You just plow through them, and don’t have the agonizing wait of several years in between installments. Ah! The benefits of being a late adopter! But then you catch up, and suddenly you’re forced into an agonizing wait for the next one to come out.

Using this analogy, you could say that Tinker Bell: The Great Fairy Rescue was our A Dance With Dragons. We. Have. Been. Waiting. For. Secret of the Wings.

The DVD came out this week. October 23rd, if you’re looking at my white board, or any of my other calendars that I marked, YES MARKED. But as denizens of Los Angeles, we are lucky to have the El Capitan – the Disney movie theater, which does spectacular events surrounding Disney films, and makes going to the movies an incredible experience. To wit: They ran Secret of the Wings for two weeks in early September, and before each showing of the film, Tinker Bell and Periwinkle (the new fairy) came out on stage and danced a little number – and then they MADE IT SNOW IN THE THEATRE. (Pro Tip: Cover your popcorn.)

Continue reading Review: Disney's Secret of the Wings

Smart Summer Fun: 30 Ideas For Your Geeklets

smart fun for kids, brain-building activities for kids,
Seeing more than ever before. (Image CC by 2.0 by jurvetson)

1. Make a marble run out of junk.

2. Mail yourselves postcards when you go somewhere for the day, even around town. It’s a hoot when kids get snail mail. Later in the week they’ll be glad to get a card reading, Hi Me. I had a great time today riding a paddle-boat with Grandpa. We both got wet. Bye self!

3. Learn to play a free instrument you already have. (Really, it’s in your kitchen.)

4. Learn chemistry using pennies.

5. Let yeast blow up a balloon. Have kids write their names on balloons with a permanent marker. Using a funnel, let them fill each balloon with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon dry yeast. Add a little warm water to each balloon, tie shut, and shake to mix. Then put them outside on a hot sunny day. Check to see how big the balloons have gotten every ten minutes or so. Guess what might happen to balloons that get too big.

6. Subversively advance geographic knowledge using a wall map.

7. Designate your yard as a nature area.

Continue reading Smart Summer Fun: 30 Ideas For Your Geeklets

Raising a Gamer: Nurture or Nature?


Image: Sarah Pinault circa May 2010

When my son was first born, we were determined to get him on an appropriate sleep schedule. So after the first month or so of getting everyone adjusted to some kind of “normal,” we began. We had no guide for this until he was about four months old, until then we just wanted him to adjust to what was play time, and what was not. So at 8-8.30 every night, into his swing he would go and onto the computer one of us would go. We played a game called World of Goo while Toby drifted in and out of sleep. He liked the music and it kept us entertained long enough to not pass out. No interaction meant that he knew very early on that this was down time, it was very hard not to play with my baby. Usually between 11.30 and 12.30 he would take a bottle and then go to his crib for about five or six hours. It worked really well for us and by the time he was four months old he was in his crib by eight every night, with a bottle at 10 and 5.30. Now he sleeps from seven at night, to six every morning. This game saved our sanity, and this tactic has set us up well.

Recently, he has become obsessed with “Mommy’s Smurf.” This is what he calls my character on Glitch. He has very little interest in watching me play for more than three minutes, but anytime one of us sits down at the computer he asks for either “Mommy’s Smurf” or Nanny/Grandad (we Skype with my parents a lot).

This weekend saw a turn of events that has my husband reaching for my netbook as if it were merely a toddler’s laptop. Having won the battle of the mid-day nap, he had settled in for a few hours of Portal 2. After about two hours, he got stuck. After twenty minutes of staring at the screen, our son woke up. Naturally inquisitive, he wanted to know what Daddy was doing, so he walked over and crawled into his lap. My husband started pointing things out to him, explaining what he was trying to do and what the problem was. Toby sat, watching intentionally, occasionally sucking on his juice cup. When the problem had been fully explained to him, Toby set down his cup, pointed at something on the screen, and said “What’s this?” Well, sixty seconds later the problem was a thing of the past, Toby had moved on to his toy cars and my husband was staring at him, dreaming of a three year old’s Lan party. So there you go, if you get stuck, ask a toddler. They see things differently.

The Wild Life Of Our Bodies


Our bodies, minds, and societies are haunted by the nature we left behind, according to The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today. In this the finely researched and eloquent book, biologist Rob Dunn explains,

We often view ourselves as separate from nature, but here is the rub: Our cultures have changes. Our behaviors have changed. Our diets have changed. Our medicine has changed. But our bodies are the same, essentially unaltered from 6,000 generations ago, when going for a run meant chasing after a wounded animal or fleeing a healthy one, water was drank out of cupped hands, and the sky still cracked wide open to reveal millions of stars, white dots as unexplainable as existence itself. Our bodies remember who we are.

Whether writing about villages terrorized by man-eating tigers or people so wracked by illness they dose themselves with parasites, Dunn’s work is a page-turner. A few facts gleaned from this enticing book to tantalize potential readers.

*Amylase, one of the enzymes in our saliva, aids in the breakdown of starches. Some people have up to 16 times more amylase than others, and may extract more energy from the same amount of dietary starches. As Dunn writes, “One man’s survival gene is another’s belly roll.”

*Disgust has a biological basis. Simply viewing a photo of diseased individuals can ramp up our immune response. And people living in areas where pathogens are more prevalent tend to be less culturally and individually open, perhaps to protect against illness.

*Our appendix, long thought to be vestigial, contains immune tissue and antibodies. It may be an incubator of beneficial bacteria, necessary to replenish the gut after a challenge by pathogens.

Check out Dunn’s blog. Science writing this good will whet your appetite for this book as well as his first, Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys.


Fibonacci: It’s Not Pasta

Count the petals! (Photo by Alexandra Siy)

Did you count thirteen petals on the Black-Eyed-Susan? It’s fun for kids to count petals on blooming flowers “springing” out of the ground. It’s also a lesson in higher math.

Last week I attended the NSTA Conference in San Francisco where I met Sarah C. Campbell, author of the picture book Growing Patterns. Sarah presented her book to an audience of teachers, librarians, and authors in an engaging  talk–which she began by saying Fibonacci is not a brand of of pasta, but the name of a 13th century Italian mathematician. She pointed out that the sequence of numbers named for Fibonacci were known to scholars in India long before his time.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…

The pattern is easy to spot, even for elementary school children. Just add the two preceding numbers in the sequence to get the next number. Growing Patterns shows how the Fibonacci sequence is revealed in nature. Colorful photographs of flowers, pineapples, and pinecones help readers discover the pattern.

Sarah has also developed the  Fibonacci Folding Book  Project, a hands-on multidisciplinary activity  that combines math, science, language arts, and art. Sarah’s website features a video tutorial and detailed instructions for downloading and printing instructions. This a fun and rewarding springtime project for students of all ages.

Crocus Sighting: Happy Vernal Equinox

photo of crocus
Crocus spotted on the University of Chicago campus.

The calendar and the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun mark the official start to the season. There are other signs, too. When the ice melts, the last spit of snow comes and goes, and the garden center opens, it’s impossible to ignore the first stirrings of spring.

Sometime last week I saw a friend’s Facebook status: “crocus sighting!” What a thrill to read. So, of course, I started looking for mine. We used to have a few purple crocus near our front door, but I haven’t seen them this year. ACK! I’m guessing that when we built a new limestone garden wall the crocus bulbs got trampled beyond recovery.

photo of uprooted iris
Oops. One young iris bulb got uprooted by accident while one of my kids dutifully raked winter debris away from the garden wall.

Thankfully, other flowers are on their way. Here in Zone 5 the hyacinth and iris are making some effort, and I expect a show of color from them in the next couple of weeks.

Last week Patricia Vollmer made me envious, in a good way, with her gardening post, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”. She and her family put together a fairly ambitious container garden and made it look fun and easy.

Not everyone lives in a climate zone where we can put in vegetables now, but it’s certainly time to dream and plan. So far, most of my planning has been structural: build a cold frame and lay out loose pavers between beds.  We’ll see how far I get this weekend.

Even if you are an urban dweller, have less than ideal space, or feel like you have a black thumb, there are gardening strategies that are completely doable. Gentle inspiration can be found at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail forced a beautiful iris danfordiae to bloom a few weeks early by potting bulbs in a south-facing window. You Grow Girl also has useful resources, like seed germination guidelines.

I can already taste the tomatoes. Here’s to new beginnings. Happy vernal equinox!

GeekMom Secret Origins: Jenn Hansen

Jenn in real life.

Beneath the tree called Grandfather, standing tall in a small copse of trees amid the sweet grass of the eastern plains of Colorado, I listened to leafy tales. Hiding in a lilac hedge along the fence-line in my backyard, I made my home with faeries and many insects, closely observing the natural world. More often than not, I could be found lounging in the branches of a tree with either a book or a pencil and notebook, vehicles for my imagination. Climbing a hill, I once saw the moon, full and sitting low on the horizon. It was orange and I could see nothing else. I hunt for that moon in every evening sky, amid the constellations and their epics.

I cannot remember feeling like I fit in with other kids my age, but it wasn’t until junior high school that I was labeled a geek (nerd, dork, etc.).  However uncomfortable the term was in those adolescent days, I eventually embraced the term. Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien, griffins and unicorns, faeries and elves, aliens, talking animals, Lego, He-Man and She-ra; I’m a geek and I’m proud!

I’m not particularly gadgety; I leave the high-tech to my husband. (I can, however, rock NES Tetris and SNES Killer Instinct.) I am decidedly low-tech. I geek-out over old school crafts like ink- and paper-making, foraging for food in the backyard, calligraphy, hand-crafted books, instruments, cooking and spinning. Classical music (especially early music and opera), medieval literature (Caedmon to Chaucer, and Shakespeare too), history, astronomy, nature and Celtic and Norse culture–I love it!

I’m a newborn mom, determined to raise my son to walk in the world without the fear of labels, with pride for whatever he chooses to geek-out about.