LightUp! Their Minds!

Lightup3link to buy LightUp! from Amazon.


To start, I had a “mini” nervous pre-Christmas breakdown over the bevvy of electronics/coding options for educational presents – the sneaky learning opportunities we slide under the tree ‘guised as gifts.  Holy cow… there are at least 100!  I am neither rich or want electronics all over the house.  I do want to find something to enhance their interest and engagement in coding and electronics.  They love to breadboard, soder circuits,  and use blockly coding to create on code.org.  I wanted something to help them synthesize some of that interest and give it a direction.

After almost going into debt at Barnes and Noble and out of frustration buying every choice at their STEM Day, many messages to all the companies, and endless Googling and reading, I chose LightUp!  Now, to be honest, I did get 50% off the set, which allowed me to upgrade to the Bluetooth Tesla set.  We paid $53 for the set.  I ordered it through the main site to use the discount.

Click here to go to LightUp!’s main site.

I have decided that there are two ways kids mainly build.  1.  Follow the directions exactly or 2.  Go “free form” on their own.  Now this is not representative of the myriad of other alternatives out there.  It is likely you have the Jackson Pollack builder.  I will pray for you 😉  … LOL.  This is just in my house.   One of my sweeties is a 1.  My other kids are hardcore 2’s.  Hubby is a 2.

So, for the free-builders, I went with the electronics kit without the pre-made libraries.  That didn’t have many directions for projects.  That allowed them to create their own projects once they tried a few provided.  I wanted a project that used coding and electronics… and fit into the budget.  Oh, and if the dog eats it I will not need a stiff drink because of the cost.  Enter LightUp!


This is how it works.  Box comes.  No directions.  You email the help desk Christmas night – yes I appear to be that crazed mother – and the OWNER emails and helps you in 2 minutes!  Live!  Tell Taran I said, “Hi!”  After my minor tech issues were overcome, I downloaded the app to our iPad… it runs on an iOS… no Android app, yet.

1. Install app for free.

2. Daughter builds following the directions – here is the build for a SOS machine.

3.She takes the iPad and clicks a photo of her work.  LightUp! comes back with problem areas and ideas of how to fix it.  Not answers!  I love that! 

LightUp! fosters her ability to problem-solve and free build later.  She is like me, though.  She needs directions.  Once she ran thru the pre-builds, she was done.

Then JJ and LB got their hands on it.  They have not put the box down for two days!  Honestly – nothing else!  They even went into code.org to see how to create a piece of code they wanted.  Trial and error.  They are trying to make an electronic heat sensor… I think.  Another great plus is that it has a USB that plugs into the battery piece to recharge quickly.

In conclusion, if you have truly creative free-build kids that are comfortable creating without much schema or background knowledge, LightUp! is fabulous.  Stop and go watch your kids build with Legos.  Who do they create?  That would be most Lego free-form, free-build kids like two of mine with self-builds all over the house.  Umm.. and in the bathroom.  Not kidding.

The only CON for me was that now we need the cheaper model (HINT, HINT TARAN) – The Edison – for more pieces and projects to build our knowledge base.  Remember that it shows them how to code the pieces.  It does not come and click-clack done.  The libraries are not pre-made with code and the site does not have 10k sample ideas.  This is to foster independence and play and learning.  Mistake and learn.

Win – win ’cause the last time I checked I DID NOT have a build manual for life, parenting, homeschooling, marriage outside of sacred scripture.  I LOVE that my kids are learning free form design, code, and build … my prayer is that it leads to their understanding further abstract, self-thought… and being proud of their trials and misses!

Let me know what electronics Santa brought your sweet “babies.”


PS.  Now I am frantically thinking, what do I get the 1. “needs directions” builder in the house???


Boom! Candy Experiments 2

Scroll over the mosaic for more info … look at the destroyed tooth and what diet soda does to cotton candy!  It smokes!  Each has a caption to explain the action.  My kids were enthralled.

SPOILER ALERT! Yes.. we like dessert (spoilers… the end of books) first.

Final thought:  I think that Candy Experiments 2 is a excellent addition to any science curriculum or just for fun.  I would actually say that this COULD BE YOUR science for a year of homeschooling in early elementary (PRK to 4th).  I pull the book and mark one or two things to do each week to tie into science, history, and even art and color theory.  From 14 to 8, they love it and retain both what we do together with the candy and what their focus lessons for the week.  Win-win!

Ok.  Now that I’ve shared the “spoiler…” stop!  Put the coffee down!  Drop Facebook!  Run to your Amazon cart or the book store and buy Loralee Leavitt’s, Candy Experiments and Candy Experiments 2!  You will not regret it!


In the sugar-induced daze of too many Christmas cookies, egg nog, hot toddys, and candy, JJ and I decided to use our day together blowing-up all of the candy we have yet to inhale.  Mother -son time at it’s best.  My son sees candy and likely thinks of eating it.  I see the cotton candy turned to slime – and one less cavity to pay to fill.  We all have an agenda.  Sometimes we keep the anti-cavity, educational agendas to ourselves.

We received Candy Experiments 2 a month ago.  Ok, two months ago.  Bad reviewer.  We were just letting our candy hoard become stale(r), but we have been stockpiling and tagging pages to do for weeks.  We pulled our copy of Candy Experiments (the first book) and correlated candy and experiments.  Gathered all of the candy we collected, and “borrowed” DD’s new gumball machine stuffed with two LARGE bags of Skittles together.  What could she say?  She was on a play date.  She’ll never notice… right?

Candy Experiments is a series of two books by Loralee Leavitt.  She has a FANTASTIC website and blog at http://www.candyexperiments.com/experiments.html where she has a wealth of free experiments to start your candy chemistry investigations. We have been using the site and first book for years.  Now we have the second book to “play” with.

I’ve embedded a pH graph of candy between water and a car battery.  Think about that sour ball again.  My son just needed $1k in fillings in 1 tooth.  He adores sour candy.  Now we do sour sugar free gum, but still.


Here are pictures, candy we learned from (destroyed), and the experiments we did.

Pop Rocks:  After watching a Myth Busters where they blew-up a pig stomach with these suckers, we were in.  We did:  “Popcorn Pop Rocks,” “Pop Rocks Bubble Trap,” “Unbubbling Pop Rocks,” and, “Puffy Pop Rocks.”

Cotton Candy:  Please don’t imagine the warm sugary crispy, whispy-scented cotton candy of the fair.  Imagine old cotton candy packed into a can at the Dollar Store and made to taste like Christmas cookies.  We focused on:  “Cotton Candy Stained Glass,” and, “Cotton Candy Worms.”

Skittles:  Ah.  If you make something so obviously disgusting by floating the “S” and turning it into an array of dyes, even my kids won’t eat it.  Hee hee… very smart Loralee!   This was by far my fav!  “Candy Ice Tunnels.”  Who knew?

Life Savers:  The book says to be sure to buy the loose bag of Life Savers.  We did this and it did work better the cylinder of them.  We tagged two experiments to do with these after finding them at the Dollar Store – a bag of Christmas flavors.  Really?  I have to kill the cherry ones?  Mint… no problem.  “Dissolve Test,” and, “The Saltwater Test.”  We also went back to the first book and melted them in the microwave and analyzed the colors with coffee filters.

Spice Drops:  “Yuck.”  My kids fervently believe these are only for STEM/STEAM science building.  Marshmallows are not thick enough.  Dots are too heavy – we crashed a Native American longhouse with those things.. oh and one kiddo needed a rapid throat clear after nearly choking to death.  I kid you not.  Remember to CHEW your candy.  So, we decided to use spice drops since no one lies to eat them.  And guess what?  You can sub them out for Peeps! when making “Dueling Peeps!”  It was a spice drop duel!  “Spice Drop Duel.” We also did the acid and saltwater tests.

Hard Candy:  In all honesty, I had no idea what we would do to rid our house of this stuff.  My kids think it all tastes like “cat.”  Not sure what that means, but as we are not cat folks, therefore it can’t be good… and they refuse to eat it.  Another sure sign.  Loralee didn’t have any experiments for this, but we thought we could abstract from other experiments in her book.  “The Acid Dissolve Test,” and, “The Saltwater Test.”  And… yep micro melt and eventually a hammer to see the sugar crystals under a slide.

And one final experiment:  “Acid Dissolve Test.”  We took all the left-over candy (minus what I inhaled) and tested for changes when in an acid base. We are lucky the dog didn’t go into the pot.  Yesterday (on a rainy day), he rolled in horse/pig/ or cow poop and wanted to come into the nice snug house.  Nope.  Acid dissolve or freezing cold bath.  He chose the bath.  He’s lucky my eldest didn’t decide for him.  Or my hubby.  The discussion ended after, “What would Our Lord do?”

In the end, I have come to this conclusion.  Blow-up candy in the name of learning with your kids at every turn.  Finish read-aloud each day and announce that it’s time to blow-up candy.  They will NEVER know that you are teaching them about chemistry.  They will never mourn the loss of their hoard of candy.  They will laugh, oh, and ah.  And in the same way daily read-aloud is immeasurably beneficial to our kiddos, so too is daily science.  Loralee Leavitt’s, Candy Experiments 2 will aid you in this.  I saw dendrites firing.  I saw chemistry extensions all over the house for the rest of the day.  I woke up today to, “Mom, did you know you could also use candy to play with states of matter?”  “Mommy, I just looked at the cotton candy under the microscope on a high setting.  It’s crystals!  They aren’t moving, so they aren’t alive, but what if we heat them a little?  Will they move or slide?  Candy: Zero.  Mom:  Googleplex.  Kids:  A life-time of scaffolded learning about and interest in chemistry.  “Mom, maybe we could use the candy to make a periodic table of candy … like they made for Minecraft.”  Need I say more?  Off I go to find materials for my quasi-unschoolers after Epiphany.

Maybe I will toss some questions in about the colonists and Native Americans and candy.  Or why early candies were made with natural dyes and real sugars, etc.  Easy link to Mystery Science’s “Why are toys made of plastic now not wood?”  Why are candy full of bleached sugar and dyes… and whatever those “S’s” and “M’s” are made from.  It’s all there.  And it is so much fun!  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.  I pull it each week when I see what each kiddo is studying in science and mark one or two to tie-in.  It truly enhances what they are learning.

Thanks, Loralee for saving my kids’ teeth in the name of learning and science!  Please reference the picture up top of the tooth prior to a sour War Head soak and a post pic.  BLACK.  My son even stopped at that… and that would be all he ate if allowed.  You have to see it to believe it.  Order the books… CE1 and CE2 now!  The experiments and explanations are easy for both stupifyingly dumb unscientific parents and kids.  My kids like to tag things and do them together without me in the afternoon or early morning.  So far, our house is still standing.  🙂


PS. And if you look on page 139, you will see the best use for Peeps! that was ever created… ok, jousting Peeps! was fun… but smashing them like the bottle pops you hit with a hammer… SOOOO much fun. And quite relaxing. Think yoga/workout or nursing endorphins. SO much fun! Who doesn’t want to hear Mom say, “Hey kids, swing those hammers and kill those Peeps! It’s science today!” Just saying….





A-Maze-ing Learning Resources


I have gushed over Learning Resources and Educational Insights many times.  We love them.  They are having an 80% sale right now.  Stop and go to https://www.learningresources.com/.  These are learning/toys that you can drop.  Wash.  Heat.  Feed to the dog.  They last.  Maybe a little more pricey than toy store stuff, but well vetted by teachers and worth every penny.  They always come loaded with learning activities and usually a download for additional activities.

Enter “Create-A-Maze.”  Every family has the kid that likes to build without instructions or “rules.”  They usually have one or more that NEED the instructions.  And sometimes there is a combo or that kiddo that just takes it and makes it into something totally different… like a WWE Bomb Shelter… ’cause we all know that the Undertaker is coming for us… sorry… I digress.IMG_0988

I gave this game to my kids after receiving it from Learning Resources to review.  We reviewed the Candy Gears… yep… they too were part of the WWE Bomb Shelter… when did they start using weapons?  Actually… don’t tell me.  I would rather stay in my marshmallow homeschool mom world bliss.

JJ grabbed the big box and hit the bricks.  He put it together quickly and it is very sturdy.  Immediately lost one ball.  Tears.  Thank you Learning Resources for giving us TWO balls… knowing kids.  Some teacher worked on this… I’m telling you.  He started with the cards.  Then he put the cards together and tried his maze creations.  Lastly, he tossed the cards and used the pieces to make his own designs.  He actually started drafting on paper first.  Wow!

IMG_0991 (1) Yep…excuse my poor photography, BUT the cards are laminated and one side is in English, one side is in Spanish.  How great is that for all the ELL learners or dual lingo kids homeschooling?

And finally, he took the board and took off the roller piece.  He searched for differing thickness items around the house and tested how his mazes worked.  Hours of fun that led to discussions of gravity, friction, structure, shape, velocity… all without me.  I heard JJ and his sisters talking about it all in the other room.  Love that.  Delight and child-centered independent learning.  Hands-on learning.  A great extension for physics and science.


Did I mention the 2 balls!!!!

Learning Resources has great sales!  Head over to their site and sign-up for their discounts.  I bought a ton of stuff with their 25% discount.  Love it!


AND there is an 80% discount right now on a TON of items!  Stop.  Drop the phone.  Hold the potty run.  Go… now!  https://www.learningresources.com/







Well, I (begged) asked politely if we could review some of the Learning Resources games.  We’ve used them for years, at home and in classrooms.  They are durable.  They are colorful.  They are spot-on when it comes to age ranges.  They invariably come with additional printables.  The First Science Kit has been thru volcanos and melting Skittles.  It takes a lickin’ and… you know the rest.  Still perfect shape.  I even toss it in the dishwasher.  No melting.  Great activity cards.  Kids grab a tray.  Grab a card.  Grab some dye.  Pop on their goggles.  Off they go.

Our box came today.  We opened the Sweet Shoppe Gears first.  Even Ace got in on the learning.  IMG_0973

Please ignore all cluttery Advent stuff.  It makes my kids and hubby happy.  Breathe mommy, breathe.   It makes me twitchy.  SO, as you can see… they ripped into the box and got to learning.  Then I noticed my kids weren’t sure about gears – ratios, different configurations for machines, cogs, teeth… so… enter BrainPop for a quick scaffolding.  IMG_0976

Uh.  Yeah.  Ignore the ugly feet and I don’t do mani/pedi’s.  Sorry.  Journey… not destination fancy feet here for this girl.  I’d use that $ for a good latte.  😉  Just keeping it real.  So they watched a video they found on BP… took the quiz (not my idea) and my son who as you can tell was playing actually got them all correct.  Did you know that a fan has a set of three circle gears?  Stuff they don’t tell you in college, graduate school, post grad…

Back to work.  Please know that this is there process, not my agenda.  I might toss a book out or an iPad, but this is there learning.  Ehm.  And I learn, too.

And back to “work” they go.  Hours!  They did stop for their “quiet read and snuggle” time.  Even my eldest got into this.  She watched the video and played… then went and drew a gear system to catch “Pennywise and any other clown that messes with me.”  She read, It.  Perhaps not my best parenting decision.  She is Confirmed.  Regardless, it was extremely complex… think Bose invention.

So we had a lovely afternoon of simple machines, candy gears, cogs, and 1:3 ratios.  Watch the video.

In conclusion, Learning Resources makes the BEST learning stuff.  The colors grab the kid.  They must be sneaky that way when researching HOT kid colors.  They don’t break.  There are a ton to share .. no fighting.  LOVE IT!  And stealthily my kids learned a TON… on their own path.  Shhh !

Final analysis:  those folks at LR are stealthy.  Fun learning games and activities that are in fact RESOURCES … worth every bloody penny and FAR less expensive than the junk we get at the toy store or other educational companies.  AND 14 to 8… all engaged.  WOW!  Do you get the spy, mission impossible, sneaky music now.  That is what I was thinking the entire time.  Hmm… or was it about lattes?  Or gear systems and the internal gears on electric windows.  Ok… going James Joycian on ya’.  Stream of consciousness.

Go on Facebook.  Get one of their discounts.  A lot right now.  Go to their site.  Order the catalog and your Christmas list is done.  Subscribe to their sales/email server.  I got 30% off the science kit.  You will not regret it.  And lastly, if ANYTHING goes wrong… and I mean years later … with their items… missing piece… lost piece… call them and they will ship it to you.  AND I DIDN’T GET CHARGED!  My son “lost” a card for one of their math games.  It was in the stock room.  Great company that loves and THINKS about kids when creating educational products.  Huh!  Wish you saw that in all kids’ products.  I also saw a bunch of their products in the learning section of Toys ‘R Us this year.  It is also available on Amazon.


Love it!  Next post on their awesome maze game I fought the kids away from today.





It’s NOT Science, Mommy… It’s CANDY SCIENCE!

Candy Experiments 2 511x9cmuqll-_sx35_

We have long been in “love” with Loralee Leavitt’s, Candy Experiments book.  We have used it to blow-up Peeps, float “s”‘s off of Skittles – you will never look at one again with the same ardor – study color, chemical bonds, saturation, breaking and making molecules, etc.  WELL… Loralee sent me her second book, Candy Experiments 2.  It does not fail.  There is bashing.  There is rock salt.  There is sugar.  There is heat.  There are oooohhh’s and ahhhh’s.  And there is the end of the dreaded…. dah dah dah…. (yes – cue music)… PEEP!  Prior to her books, we used her website http://www.candyexperiments.com for free ideas for candy fun.  I often used it to reinforce something or make it more fun, connected, and tangible.  Extensions rock.  Contrived extensions.  Not so much.  Loralee has TONS of experiments broken down for the “non-science” mom by topic.  Afterschool, homeschool, or just kid/parent or kid/kid fun.  Oh, I’m the blow-it-up, eewie gooey science mom.  Yep… bring on the frog guts and chemical explosions.  Rid us of the PEEPS!

Sidenote:  Do I seem to have Peep-ish issues?  Hmm.  Why doth Laffy Taffy not bring out the guttural rage that Peeps do?  I think it has something to do with the crunch of the sugar, the list of unreadable ingredients, the commercialism… not t.v., but in the store.  Really?  Does everything have to be “cutsie” Peeps?  “Mommy, look at the cute little Minion peeps.”  “Oh, Mommy they made the Peep a new color of pink…” (that doesn’t exist in nature).  Or, “Oh me, oh my.  Peeps super-sized dipped in chocolate!”  I’m just saying.  Perhaps I’ve tied it to McD’s french fries never degrading.  You find those buggers under seats and they NEVER mold.  Well, the same is true with Peeps.  Put them away.  Pull them out.  Same as ever.  And the tee shirts with the Peeps and the sweet eyes.  Kill me now!


So, the idea to DESTROY, force jousting, shatter, force to dance, and KILL PEEPS makes me giddy with joy!  There is one up.  If we load them into St. Nicholas shoes or Christmas stockings, I am guaranteed NEVER to eat the candy.  I’ll take that.  Hmm.  I might post that on THM.  Good sugar avoidance strategy.


“Candy is more than a sugary snack.  With candy, you can become a scientific detective.  You can test candy for secret ingredients (PEEEEPS), peel the skin off candy corn, or float an “M” from M&M’s.”  That is on the first Candy Experiments book, and boy is it an understatement!  We decided to focus on one candy… cotton candy.  My hopes:  the children will not want a cotton candy maker for Christmas.  Ha!  As if!  We took two experiments – one from each book.  One focusing on chemistry and polymers.  The other focusing on viscosity and sugar crystals.  Oh, and JJ just yelled that we have to buy every sticky candy so he can make candy art.  Loralee… your next idea.  We are doing sticky candy science experiment – which is the most sticky.  It’s art, too.  I pray no one plans on ingesting that, but now we have my “toss out food” hang-up.  More to come….

Off to the Dollar Store to find cotton candy and every sticky candy.  Field trips are fun!


No go and kill those Peeps… sorry Lord.  St. Michael, the Archangel… I’m praying…





When I Dropped the “Reins” and Let Learning Flourish

IMG_0816 (1)

Left-brained, right-brained…. paths to learning… modalities… learning styles.  We are so many of all of these.  Do we actually know what our kids will do when we drop the controls and let them go?  I learned the other day and it was LIBERATING.

Several weeks ago (uhhemm… I say to my “bad blogger” self), we received a huge box of SWAG!  See all that color and art?  See the learning launchpads spilling all over my counter?  See the shrieking and jumping children?  Oh, no… that would be hearing and you can’t blog that.  Well.  Trust me.  They were shrieking.

Immediately dividing us said “swag,” my kids began to tear into spelling, field trip plans, journals… and we were off to the library at 7 pm for “Nine books for each of us MOM!”  And I was under strict orders to zip-it.  I have no problem zipping it.  We reached the library and every child took off like a swirling dervish, which actually makes me a little anxious.  Books are precious things, People.  My children ingest them.  Two hours and 9 x 3 (plus an additional 23) books later, we were loading up the roller cart – you must have one of those in the car for trips to the library, too.  We’ve broken 3.  Home, again, home, again… jiggity jig.

9:30 until I fell asleep and Rocky came home – we have a MILD Rocky thing going on in my marriage -Yo, Adrianne!  Love that man!  Anywhoo… kids, books, pencils, pens, paint, tape, stuff… everywhere.  Hmm… lack of sleep was going to effect our “official lesson plans for the next day involving soil and American history.”  Quick prayer.  Oh well.  I awoke at 8 AM to 3 sleeping bodies amidst a vast array of creative debris.  Yes, debris makes me anxious, too.  I drank some kombucha and started the day.

As I looked around my AM house, the kids were RIGHT BACK AT IT.  And now, somehow Snap Circuits, Legos, oil pastels (eek), books, kids, everywhere.  I just remembered to breathe and let go.  Somewhere my frontal lobe was shouting… hmm… more learning going on here.  Child and delight directed.  Schemas.  Scaffolding.  Meaningful.  Purposeful.  “Mom – kinetic energy is a lit match.  Potential is when you are just holding it.”  “Mommy, did you know that SLAVES built the White House?  Twice?  For free?”  “Mom – when I join the photojournalists, I am going to need a good writing book.  Do you know what I can use to check myself?  Book not Internet.  Remember… Google is a company not a verb!”

WHAM.  Ok.  Let them go, says my frontal lobe.  Let them create.  Let them put it all together with tape and it may look ugly but it’s true and uncontrived learning.  I didn’t print a math game, contrive to complete a objective.  It was ALL THEIRS… and in the end … who owns it?

I never really held the “reins” on my kids’ learning.  That was just a fantasy… but I sure did have the amazing grace to watch it flourish!  Thank you, The Thinking Tree (Dyslexia Games).  I have another journal for mom and son on my Santa list!  “6 to 9 Fun Schooling!”  That is a topper on JJ’s list!  The mom one looks good, too!



Thank you, Sarah Janisse Brown!  You have given us a true gift.  And we are all the better for it.



Where Did Erosion GO?

OK. Circa 1971 to 2000 – imagine the Star Wars words falling back into the distance – In a galaxy far, far away… a third year old child learned about erosion and the earth’s surface. Rocks wore down. Erosion. Water, wind, ice. Yadda. NOW – the Empire is in DIRE straits. Three young learners are studying earth science. Mom has no idea what to do with all of the concepts she didn’t learn while she WAS learning to sit in a desk, eat quietly, and run quickly at recess. Oh, and to walk in a line silently. AHHH!

SO – she pulls out Brain Pop, Ed Tube, Teacher Tube…… AND MYSTERY SCIENCE! If you have not been there… go there. NOW! A teacher life-saver. Fast, succinct, engaging, in no way contrived. And the experiments are easy and cheap… oh and make sense. So do the worksheets. Completely purposeful… and we detest worksheets and workbooks.

Oh… and discussion… and brainstorming with sticky’s. No bad ideas. All ideas are a spark!

We EVEN had tons of time to extend – read I was yelled at to keep going by my kids in unison – to landslides, Luray and Skyline Drive – which is right near us… FIELD TRIP. Rock falls, Mayan temples, and on and on. The extensions are rich and well-thought thru. The age ranges are spot on.

Here’s a peek: http://mysteryscience.com/animals/habitats-heredity-change-over-time

Depending on your homeschooling method of teaching science, a family could easily use this as a core science or they could add it to another program like Nancy Larson. Mystery_Science-Stacked-Small

Tell them Sam at Homeschooling The Journey Not the Destination sent you!