Category Archives: Science and Exploration

Educational Activities for the Summer

educational activities for summer

No more pencils no more books!! Remember that old song. We’re deep into summer, but I’m already thinking about how to keep their brains sharp and free from any brain drain. I’m all for a super fun summer but I know we have to fit in some educational activities so the kids don’t forget everything they’ve learned this far.

With a good list of summer learning activities to lean on you’ll never be at a loss for finding something fun but instructive for the kids to do when there have been maybe too many popsicles.

Assign a book report. This may sound utterly cruel but a book report doesn’t have to be a 5 page summary of a boring story. Choose any age appropriate book or section of chapters and then chose 3-4 questions that your child about the plot, characters or even the emotion that characters are feeling. It doesn’t have to be difficult but it should be enough to get them thinking about the story as they read it.

Play online games. Rusty and Rosy Reading has been a part of our home for more than 2 years. It grows with our youngest child so she is never at a loss for games that match her ability. Set a timer and let your child explore their favorite educational software. Find one that gives you scores or a review of your child’s progress.

Visit with nature. We’ll enjoy lots of visits to our parks to enjoy the playground, ride bikes or have a picnic. What about arming yourselves with binoculars, notebook & pen and a smartphone. Look for birds, bugs, plants and flowers and see if you can identify them by looking up characteristics. This is a great time to learn the “Leaves of Three, Let Them Be” rhyme.leaves of three let it be rhyme

Leaves of three, let it be!
Leaves of five, let it thrive!
Hairy vine? No friend of mine!
Berries white, danger in sight!
Red leaflets in spring are a dangerous thing.
Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens!
Berries of red will soon be dead!
White and yellow, kill a fellow.
Plants get too thick, run away quick!
Berries of blue will do harm to you!

Host a lemonade stand. Give the kids a lesson in math by helping them run a lemonade stand. Let them know that it doesn’t just take the sale of a cup of lemonade to make a profit. What about the cost of making the lemonade, creating signs and buying supplies.

Take a field trip. Museums of all kinds are found in cities big and small. Research what can be found in your neck of the woods and see if the kids will learn something new. Don’t dismiss the obscure finds, they can often be the most fun.

Learn the history.  With just a few clicks on a computer you can find a history lesson in your own backyard. Find out about the first settlers in your area or your states leading agricultural producer or who your highway is named after.

Keeping the summer productive with educational activities doesn’t have to be boring. Look at things in a different way to hold your kid’s attention and keep them happy.

Poison Ivy image provided via Flickr from Carterse

Exploring Our Hands!

Activities for children to explore their hands

As  my baby is now turning into a very curious toddler, I thought it would be fun to do some activities exploring our hands. My older kids loved it as much as the youngest, so it was a hit. It ended up being a great way to explore all our senses, too!

If you want to repeat our exploration, you can do it all in one afternoon or you can spread it out over the week. Here is what we did:

What You Need:

  • Cookie Mix – we bought the sugar cookie and gingerbread mix from the store to make it easier
  • Bowl
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Baking sheet
  • Rolling Pin
  • Butter knife
  • Touch and feel type books
  • (optional) Cookie decorating toppings – frosting, sprinkles, fruit snacks, candy, etc

Time To Explore:

Before we started we had a fun conversation talking about our hands and pointing out to my youngest our “hand”, “fingers”, “thumb”. She’s just old enough to copy us, so it was fun!

Then we made our cookie mix and made sure to use our hands to mix it for at least a little bit. We made sure to talk about the texture and actions like “soft”, “sticky”, “squeezing”.Activities for children to explore their hands

And in honor of our hands, we created hand cookies! We rolled out the dough and had one of the kiddos lay their hand on the dough while I cut/trace their hand with a butter knife. Then we pulled away the excess dough and had a replication of a cute little dough hand.Activities for children to explore their hands

Next we baked them in the oven and even turned the oven light on so they could see them bake. Activities for children to explore their hands

While the cookies were baking we pulled out some of our books that have different texture and the older kiddos read to the youngest and helped talk to her about the different textures they were touching. (They each had to have their own book!)Activities for children to explore their hands

The kids loved the Hand Cookies and loved eating them even more. If you want to add extra fun to the cookie making process, you can have your kiddos decorate their hand with frosting, sprinkles, fruit snacks, etc.

Other Hand Activities

Another fun hand focused activity was putting yogurt into a sealable type baggy and letting my kids squish it. We added a little Kool Aid for coloring to encourage more squishing. And since it was cold, it was an awesome activity for a hot afternoon…excuse her sweaty baby hair!Activities for children to explore their hands

We had a lot of fun with textures as we walked through stores throughout the week. Her favorite? It had to be the bin of bumpy balls!Activities for children to explore their hands

What are your children’s favorite hand activities?

7 Free Educational Activities to Do With Kids This Summer

Free Educational Activities to Do in Summer Justice Jonesie

Summer break is near and many parents are considering summer camp or creating their own activity schedule. But as many teachers will tell us, incorporating educational learning opportunities is important to avoid learning losses that happen often when there are no educational opportunities over the summer.

Some parents may invest a lot of money into creating learning opportunities but finding affordable or free activities over the summer is possible with the help of websites like Rusty and Rosy.

Rather than run through the summer budget, try some of these free or almost free educational activities to do with kids that won’t break the bank. Try to start each activity with a mini-lesson beforehand and to keep kids writing, have the kids keep a journal full of all the fun they had learning.

Seven Free or Almost Free Educational Activities to Do With Kids

1) Free Zoos.  Some communities have a free day at the zoo or the zoo is completely free. For example, the Smithsonian National Zoo is always free. There is so much to learn at the zoo about animals, wildlife, the ecosystem and more. Check your zoo’s schedule for planned activities.

2) Trip to the library & story hour. The old saying is true, books are fun. Browsing through books, playing on the games on library computers, and visiting the kids corner can give your kids a couple hours of fun reading time. Your local library probably has story time play or arts and crafts so check their summer schedules.  You can also check with your local book store to see if they host a story time.

3) Vacation Bible School. This is my favorite of the bunch.  VBSs are not just great experiences for the kids but also cheap! The cost will run you between free to maybe $20.00 per child for an entire week for a typical 9am-12pm program.

4) Lemonade stands offer multiple learning opportunities for children. Counting money, planning, writing and art. Kids will have to design their signs, set a budget to buy their supplies, and of course, calculate their profits.

5) Visit a Farmers Market. Have a mini lesson on healthy eating and giving our bodies the nutrients it needs. Then visit a farmers’ market and let children buy fresh fruits and veggies.  Bonus, you can usually find an inexpensive lunch at the market.

6) Gardening. There is a lot of fun science involved in gardening and growing plants. Planting seeds, watering your plants, taking care of them- what a great way to teach your kids how to care for something and stay involved outside. Teach children about the growing process from seeds to seedlings to blooming flowers.

7) Museums. My kids never get tired of the museums. Sometimes entry is free or the cost is nominal. Call your museum to find out what opportunities they provide for families on a budget.


Answering: Where does food come from?

Curiosity is the foundation of education. As a child becomes interested in a subject, he desires to discover more.  When you stumble upon a child’s curiosity, try to find ways to ignite this hungry and feed it with knew facts.

Cooking with children is an excellent way to introduce learning of all sorts: math, nutrition, science.  Take that one step father next time you are in the kitchen with your child. Challenge them and ask, “do you know where this egg came from?”

There are many ways to introduce your children to the answer to this question. I am a fan of hands on learning. I think it sticks in their head better and they remember it more. So here are a few tips for hands-on learning.

Visit a Farm

A fabulous place to inquire about farm visits is your local farm bureau office. Also search online for your state’s farming associations. Some examples include “Beef Association,” “Pork Association.” And of course a visit with the vendors at your farmer’s market is another way to make the connection.

Invite a few other families to join you and make it a fun field trip of sorts. Not only will the children be able to see the animals, they might be able to walk the fields and see the equipment used to plant, water and harvest the food.

All this eye-opening experience will create more questions and curiosity in your children. Perhaps it will give them fresh ideas for science experiments at home.

Plant Your Own Seeds

Planting your own herb garden is a fantastic way to explore the science of how things grow. So encourage your child to keep a detailed journal – like scientists do – of every thing they do to the plant. That way, if it doesn’t grow strong and healthy, they can go back and problem solve and try to figure out why and what they can do differently with the next one.

If your little gardener is wanting more of a challenge, give them a tiny plot in the ground. Weeds, bugs and weather are all forces that give opportunity for more exploration and creative problem solving techniques.

Explore Your Library

Go on a quest to find as many books about farming and gardening as possible. Create a list of questions you hope the books answer – this will help you find the books that meet your needs best.

Then, let your child use the computer to search for the books and help your child find them in the shelf.

When you create the list of questions first, make it like a BINGO Game of sorts. See how many questions you can find answers to in the books!

Above all, keep the learning fun and their curiosity always engaged! That is the foundation of science in young minds.

Skills taught: science, exploration, botany, animal science

Earth Day activities and lessons for young children

earth day activity water bottle recycle piggy bank preschool kindergarten

In honor of Earth Day (April 22), we’re sharing quick, easy lessons to use with young children to tie-in to your day. These lessons are suitable for children in grades pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Introduction to Litter for Young Children with The Wartville Wizard

Prior to reading about litter, I was surprised to learn that not all of the four year olds I was working with knew the word “litter.” Together, we defined the word and think of other words that may also mean litter. (Kids will likely list garbage, trash, mess, and junk.)

teaching kids litter earth day

One of our favorite stories, The Wartville Wizard, features an old man who is tired of tidying up the Earth to keep it clean. But when Mother Nature provides him with a special power, he learns he has what it takes to keep the Earth clean. This is a great read-aloud to engage children and begin a conversation about litter and picking up after yourself.

Discuss litter

Next, discuss what we think of litter. Ask the kids why litter is bad and what we can do to stop littering. We created charts with the kids’ responses.

Create Earth Day Posters

trash litter earth day activity kids

Collectively, take the information you shared and create ideas for slogans, posters and poems with the kids. Older kids can work independently or in small groups.  Younger kids can color pictures and get help from teachers and parents to write their thoughts on the paper.

litter earth day poster kids

Go on a Picnic

earth day picnic science littering

What better way to enjoy and appreciate our Earth than to spend time with it? Before Earth Day, plan a picnic with the kids. Create a list of everything you’ll need (include an extra trash bag). Older kids may be prompted to discuss the merits of plastic vs paper.

When you arrive at your picnic spot, take time to look around and identify the nearest garbage cans, reminding the children that it’s their job to clean up after themselves. The “leave no trace” campaign, reminding everyone that when you leave, there should be no trace that you were ever there. For resources, activities and more information, visit the Leave No Trace webpage.

Picnics are always a great time for games and activities, but while there, take a break and have quiet time. Let the children spread out and observe with their senses. What do they hear? See? Smell? Touch? After a few minutes of observing, gather together to discuss the kids’ observations.

Next, ask the kids to look around at the animals in nature. Who else enjoys the Earth when you do? (Look for answers such as other people, babies, birds, dogs, and squirrels.) Discuss why taking care of the Earth is important for everyone in nature and how we can help to take care of the Earth.

Before leaving, play a clean up game and make sure that you Leave No Trace of your picnic and learning time.

Art and Science Activity Using Don’t Throw That Away

recycling earth day kids preschool kindergarten first grade second

Another favorite story, Don’t Throw That Away!: A Lift-the-Flap Book about Recycling and Reusing (Little Green Books), gives us great ideas of what we can do with products that are often thrown away, and helps little minds brainstorm many recycling activities. A few days before Earth Day, ask families to collect reusable products such as cardboard boxes, egg cartons, plastic bottles, jars and containers, as well as old buttons, hair clips and nearly anything they’d usually throw away or recycle that’s clean. (Request that families clean out the bottles and jars before sending them to school.)

egg carton art preschool kindergarten elementary crafts

Just two of the cute creations made with recycled egg cartons.

Gather supplies into a box or on a table and read the book, Don’t Throw that Away! with the kids. After reading, discuss what the kids learned about recycling. Ask them about items they throw into the garbage that could be reused, then share the collection of recycled materials and allow the kids to create freely.

earth day activity water bottle recycle piggy bank preschool kindergarten

This piggy bank was created from a recycled water bottle and scraps of tissue paper.

7 More Earth Day Books for Children

Picnic image used with permission from Hillary Chybinski, My Scraps. Book cover images are publisher images. All other images from Rusty & Rosy contributor Julie Meyers Pron, Julieverse. This post contains affiliate links.

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow

Snowflake Fun Facts

We are working through our holiday advent right now like so many others and today we are making snowflakes.  I decided to add a little education to our activity this Christmas and we looked up facts about snow and snowflakes.  The kids had a blast with this since in sunny Arizona we don’t get to see much snow.

Here are our 15 favorite facts:

 Snow Facts

  1.  Each snowflake is six-sided and made of as many as 200 ice crystals.
  2. The ice crystals form around tiny bits of dirt that has been carried up into the atmosphere by the wind.
  3. As the snow crystals grow, they become heavier and fall toward the ground.
  4. To snow the temperature must be below 32 degrees.
  5. The size of a snowflake depends on how many ice crystals connect together.
  6. Close to 80% of the worlds fresh water supply comes from snow and ice.
  7. Snow is not actually white but clear.  Snow looks white because of the way the light reflects off of the ice crystals.
  8. Snow forms in a variety of shapes.
  9. Heavy snowfalls are called snowstorms.
  10. Heavy snowfalls with high winds over 35 miles per hour with limited visibility are called blizzards.
  11. When the weatherman predicts a blizzard is coming, people buy more cake, candy and cookies than any other food.
  12. The most snowfall over a year was in Mount Rainier in the state of Washington.  It snowed 1,224 inches from February 19th 1971- February 19th 1972.
  13. The most snow to fall in a 24 hour period was 76 inches in Silver Lake Colorado in 1921.
  14. The largest snowman was 122 feet tall.  It was built-in Maine in 2008.
  15. The snowiest place in the US is Stampede Pass in Washington State. On average it snows 430 inches a year.

Tricks and tips for snowflake making:

  • Use coffee filters.  They are much easier to cut than paper for little ones.
  • Use a pencil and trace the pattern on the folded paper for little ones that tend to just cut up the paper. My kindergartener loved this and was so excited when it turned out.

  • Staple them on white yarn or tulle and hang them up in an arch way so your kids can enjoy them all winter long.


Exploring The UndergroundC

While we were in Virginia recently we had the opportunity to visit Dixie Caverns in Western Virginia. Dixie Caverns was first discovered when a dog wandered off from his owners back in 1920. The cavern opened three years later to the public and has been a tourist spot to thousands of visitors since then.

The cavern is an underground cave full of science and exploration for children. If you are lucky to come across one, I definitely recommend taking the kids for a guided tour. During our 40 minute tour, we learned so much and I was thrilled to see the kids were full of questions. We were hesitant at first thinking they would lose interest,but boy were we wrong!

The experience was fun and the kids were able to bring to life what they have been exploring in science class.  We learned that there were several different types of caves in the U.S. but this particular cave was a solutional cave that was filled with limestone stalactites and a stalagmites.  The kids learned the difference between the two and that they are formed by water dripping from the ceiling of the cave then creating mounds on the ground. (For my sixth grader, it was a nice review of what he already knew.)

There were also very cool puddles of water that looked very deep but were only two or three inches deep. And the reflections it created with the light really gave us an opportunity to see how amazing science really is!

The water was only two inches deep in this puddle- super cool!

Another important lesson we learned was how to preserve the caves. It took thousands of years for the cave to form, but if we’re not careful, we could destroy the caves very easily. We weren’t allowed to touch several parts of the cave and we had to be very careful with leaving any trash behind.

Finally, we learned about the ecosystem of caves. The types of animals commonly found in caves which includes bats. Lots of them! And bears. Thankfully, we didn’t run into either of those on our tour!

Cave exploration was a lot of fun and learning and a great time for the kids. Definitely give it a try!

Owl Study with Children

owl study

I have always been fascinated by owls. For a few years we lived in northern California and there was an owl living in a tree outside our bedroom. It would ‘hoot’ throughout the night. This might bother some people, but to me I found it very relaxing. I’ve missed that sound  since moving to San Diego.

Here are some fun and educational activities to teach children about these magnificent birds.


Paper Plate Owl

What you need:

  • 2 paper plates of different sizes (perfect if you have leftovers from a party)
  • scrapbook paper
  • glue stick
  • 2 brads

Using a fun piece of patterned scrapbook paper cut out part of a circle to fit into the bottom section of the large paper plate and glue it down.

Cut out eyes, feet and a beak from scraps of plain paper. Cookie cutters in various sizes are perfect for tracing around to get the shape of the eyes. Glue all pieces onto the large paper plate.

Cut the small paper plate in half and attach it to the large paper plate using brads so that the wings move.

Cardboard Owl Ornament

For instructions on how to make these please visit my owl ornament blog post.

Paper Roll Owls

For instructions on how to make these please visit The Centsible Life.


Teach children about owls with these books:

  • The Barn Owls, by Tony Johnston
  • Owly, by Mike Thaler
  • Owls, by Adrienne Mason and Nancy Gray Ogle
  • Owls, by Sarah Courtould
  • Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell
  • Owls, by Gail Gibbons
  • Barn Owl, by Bert Kitchen
  • Owl Puke, by Jane Hammerslough


Here are even more ways you can teach children all about owls:

  • Visit a local Nature Center, State or National Park, or Wildlife Park to learn all about the owls that live in the area.
  • Dissect owl pellets to find out what owls eat.
  • Head outside after dark. Can you hear any owls?

Learning in Nature

20 nature themed activities to do with kids at national parks

Did you know that National Public Lands Day is on September 28, 2013?

What does this mean for you?

It means free admission to the 401 national parks.

Visiting national parks is a wonderful way for children to explore and learn more about animals, plants and the planet.

20 Nature Activities with Kids

  1. Bark and leaf rubbings: Place a leaf or piece of bark under a piece of paper and rub over the top of it with a crayon.
  2. Nature hunt: Print out a sheet of wildlife, flowers, or other items children might find in the national park you are visiting and have them mark each off as they find them.
  3. Become a Jr Ranger: Here is a list of national parks with Jr Ranger programs.
  4. Animal Tracks: Look for signs of animals. Find tracks, poop, trails, and holes in leaves.
  5. Color journal: On a piece of paper make circles of colors (ie blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, white, black, brown, purple). Write down, or draw a picture of everything you see in the different colors including flowers, birds, leaves, and insects.
  6. Get up close: Take a magnifying glass with you to get a closer look at insects and inside flowers.
  7. Map it: Have kids draw a map of the area you will be visiting and mark things they saw along the way, such as a really big tree, animal, bird, flowers, or signs.
  8. Hiking: Get out and breathe the fresh air and get some exercise too. Choose a hiking trail, just make sure you pick one suitable for your child. You don’t want to get halfway and then have to carry them the back to the start. Don’t forget water and snacks.
  9. Tic-Tac-Toe: Using sticks, rocks and leaves take a break, sit down and play a few rounds of tic-tac-toe.
  10. Geocaching: Visit and look for geocaching locations. Don’t forget to take a few little trinkets with you to leave if you find any caches.
  11. Picnic: Enjoy a picnic out in nature. Just please don’t feed the animals and birds, and remember to throw your trash away.
  12. Visit a Nature Center: Speak to a ranger or volunteer at a nature center or visitor center and learn more about the national park you are visiting. They may even have animals, birds and plants that you can see up close.
  13. I spy: “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with …”. What did you spy?
  14. Insect Safari: Make a chart and graph all of the insects you find. You may want to skip ants though for this project.
  15. Birding: Print pictures of birds you may find at the national park. As you find each bird draw a picture of where you found it and listen to the sounds it makes, can you make those sounds too?
  16. Alphabet walk: Make a chart of the alphabet. How many things can you find in nature for each letter?
  17. Cloud observation: Lay down and study the clouds overhead. What kind of clouds are they? Do they form anything fun?
  18. Play a game: What is that? Blindfold each of the children and hand them a different item ie. feather, rock, leaf, stick. Have them identify each object. What did it come from? Can they identify different flowers by their scent and shape? How many did they get correct?
  19. Sun prints: You will need a shallow dish, water, and special sun print or nature print paper. Place nature items such as leaves, feathers and berries on the paper in the sun, wait the desired amount of time, submerge the paper in water, and then set aside to dry.
  20. Nature Journal: If you return to the same national park throughout different seasons, keep a journal and document how things change with the weather.

Did you know that 268 of the 401 national parks never charge an entrance fee? Not only that but there are other free days throughout the year for admission to national parks who do normally charge a fee. If you are military, just show your military identification at your national park visitor center for a year pass.

Source: National Park Service

Education at the Zoo and Aquarium and Jellyfish Craft for Kids

learning from zoos and aquariums

Visiting zoos and aquariums are more than just wholesome family fun. These visits can be beneficial to many aspects of education both in and out of the classroom.

The first step is to find programs and exhibits that promote conservation and research. Teaching your children that zoos are more than just cages of animals for us to look at but are facilities that rehabilitate abandoned and injured animals and places where we can study animal behavior is a great starting point for conversations about animal extinction or rain forest depletion.

Many zoos & aquariums provide first hand experiences with wildlife that their audiences would never get the chance to view in normal circumstances. Seeing animals up close and personal can impact your child’s imagination and thought process when incorporating animals in play and school time.

Learning about animals that may be struggling to survive could give your children new insight on how to better care for our environment and their community. Knowing that they can make steps to keep waterways clear and the streets less polluted can give them a goal to strive for, or even a career idea!

Animal safety is a topic that isn’t always discussed at home. Having pets in our home is often taken for granted. Animals both domesticated and wild need to be approached with proper care and attention. Encountering wildlife or even a stray dog in nature can quickly turn to tragedy if boundaries aren’t respected.

A visit to the aquarium or zoo most definitely should be a fun time with lots of smiles and laughs but keeping the dialogue going about an animal’s origin or eating habits will add some education to the experience also. Taking that knowledge home and creating some fun from it will only make you realize that what they’ve experienced will stick with them.

Jellyfish Craft for Kids 
(This craft can be modified to be simpler for younger children)

Jellyfish Craft for Kids


  • Paper bowls
  • Ribbon/string/yarn of all varieties, fabrics and colors
  • Kid safe paint & brushes
  • Glue or tape
  • Fishing line for hanging
  • Googly eye, sequins, glitter (optional)


Always start off by protecting your work surface from paints or adhesives.

Flip one paper bowl upside down and punch 2 small holes in the top for hanging. Let your child paint the top of this bowl and the bottom of a second bowl however they wish. This part can be done to replicate something seen in an aquarium or just because they enjoy the colors chosen.

Jellyfish Craft for kids

While letting your bowls dry select the ribbons and string your child will be using and cut them to desired lengths, depending on where this will be hanging. A starting point of 12-18″ makes for a more dramatic look.

Once the painted bowls have dried loop your fishing line or string through the tiny holes and tie at the top in case the hanging length needs to be adjusted.

Go ahead start adhering your ribbons to the underside of your top bowl.

Tape is a quick solution but glue is more fun. I helped apply a layer inside the entire bowl so the ribbons could just sit on top of the glue. Once your ribbons are in place, add a bit more tape or glue and press your other bowl into place. You should now see the painted bottom of one bowl and the painted top of the other bowl and the ribbon ends tucked neatly inside them both.

Add googly eyes or other decorations that appeal to your child, let dry and hang.

*If you find the bowls separating simply staple them together along the edges for a quick fix.