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Archive for October, 2013

What Was Your Best Halloween Costume?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Everyone who has ever suited up on October 31st has a favorite Halloween costume, or at least one that makes for a good story. Wondering what the big kids at Education.com wore on Halloweens past? Here’s a look at the staff’s best Halloween costumes from their childhoods.

Power Ranger
jody-croppedIn third grade, I was a Power Ranger. My mom was one of, like, 1% of moms at my school who knew how to sew, and she usually made my costumes. She found a pattern for the Power Rangers suit at the fabric store and made it for me … out of felt. I don’t begrudge her being sensible by buying cheap fabric, but man … felt does not breathe. At all. And this was a full, head-to-ankle suit. I wore that thing all day. I also brought a toy dagger with me and it got taken away at after-school care because it too closely resembled a real weapon. –Jody

Rubik’s Cube
The Rubik’s Cube came out when I was in elementary school. I must have been about 9 years old. It became my obsession and I decided it would be my Halloween costume. My mother and I found a cardboard box. We cut a hole in it for my head and cut colored construction paper into perfect squares and pasted them on the box. The paper was pasted on randomly to resemble a Rubik’s Cube in the process of being solved. I was proud of our creation and walked to school with my head high, full of confidence. That pride quickly dissipated when I got to school and realized another kid had the same idea, but his Rubik’s Cube was store-bought. Suddenly, my beautiful creation became a messy collection of muted colored squares slapped onto a floppy brown box. His Cube was vibrant, colorful and it may have even worked. –Todd

Johanna-croppedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame
See the dark form with the faux-dirty face and black skull cap, smack dab between the teal fairy and the poodle skirt? That’s me playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame in third grade. I guess none of my girlfriends knew that Halloween costumes are supposed to be SCARY! –Johanna

Robot
My best Halloween costume as a kid was a robot costume my dad made me out of tin foil-covered cardboard boxes, some kind of collapsible tubing (for the arms and legs) and leftover electronics parts for facial features and buttons and knobs. It looked so cool! –Kat

Minnie Mouse
A lot of my Halloween costumes when I was a kid were princess outfits. This was before Disney started telling stories about Pocahontas, Mulan and girls of the Scottish Highlands, so they were pretty typical frilly, sparkly princess dresses. But my fave costume was probably Minnie Mouse. I went through a phase as a kid where I was all about her. She wore polka dots, she liked the color red, she laughed a lot — we had a lot in common. It was a store-bought costume with mouse ears and hair bow. Quintessentially cute and perfectly Minnie. Candice

Ashlee-croppedCinderella
My sister and I were Cinderellas for Halloween, and our triplet siblings were pumpkins. My dad pushed the two Cinderellas in a buggy that served as our carriage. I loved being pushed in the carriage even though I was well beyond the age of needing a stroller. –Ashley

Skunk
As soon as autumn descended, and when she wasn’t otherwise occupied, you’d find my mom hunched over her sewing machine, carefully constructing elaborate costumes for me and my sisters. In third grade I decided to be a skunk. The finished product, thanks to Mom’s mad skills, was a masterpiece. And the best part, by far, was the ridiculously poofy tail. My friends were dumbfounded and I was laughed at all day long. As they haughtily paraded around in fairy wings and South Park masks, I was mentally spraying all over their unwarranted contempt. –Katherine

Belle
When I was in first grade, Disney’s most fantastic movie ever, Beauty and the Beast, had been out for almost a year by the time Halloween rolled around. So I, like every other elementary-age girl at the time, was Belle for Halloween. But my Belle was by far the best Belle of all Halloween Belles because my awesome grandma, who could sew a perfectly tailored grown man’s three-piece suit out of three tufts of sheep shavings because she was of a generation where that was part of every grandma’s Rolodex of skills, made my Belle costume. My grandma sewed the bejeezus out of that dress. It fit me to a T, moved like the water, draped and gathered intricately and in all the right places, and sparkled and glowed a gilded yellow that seemed to radiate even when I was completely still. I was on Cloud 9 when I was wearing that dress (and believe me, I did not just wear it for Halloween), and at school, I put all those other dress-in-a-bag imposter Belles to SHAME. And they knew it, too. To top it off, I had a pair of matching gloves, my mom did my hair just like Belle’s (I had the curls already down pat), and the best part was that my Gram let me wear one of her prized pieces of costume jewelry from her younger days — a crystal-encrusted necklace that made me feel like a real princess. –Carlee

Pumpkin
In first grade I was a pumpkin. It was impossible to use the restroom. –Andrea

Fireman
I didn’t care much about Halloween as a kid. So, naturally, my best costume was one I had no hand in choosing. In kindergarten, my mom had me wear a simple fireman’s outfit with shiny rain boots and a gigantic red plastic hat. People went crazy for it while I acted like it was just any other day. –David

Authors We Like: Ransom Riggs

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Education.com’s introduction to Ransom Riggs was kind of an accident. During our last year of Summer Reading roundups, we found ourselves with a complete list for high school…until weRansom Riggs noticed that one of our picks wasn’t going to be released until November. With only about a week to go before we the list went live, we summarily dispatched an editor (i.e., me) to the nearest Barnes and Noble, armed with Amazon’s top-ten for teens that year. The book I came back with? Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

At Education.com, we strive to make our content friendly and inviting for all kinds of kids, so we try to stick to happy stuff. However, there’s a small contingent of kids out there who actually like to be scared, and go largely underserved every month of the year that isn’t October. I was definitely one of those kids – I always loved the thrill and suspense of ghost stories; of creeping mysteries and tales of the supernatural. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Miss P as it’s often abbreviated, helped me reconnect with the kid in me that loved listening to scary stories under a blanket at sleepovers; that slightly woozy sensation of suspense that I still chase to this day. Honestly, I often wonder if Riggs even wrote Miss P with kids in mind: I likely would have never known it was intended for tweens if I hadn’t first seen that eerie cover in the children’s section of my local used bookstore. Still, the fact that it is strictly known as a children’s book is what made Miss P that much more refreshing: It’s scary, but not insulting. It doesn’t assault kids with horrific imagery, but it doesn’t attempt to shield them from scenarios that others might automatically proclaim “too scary” for kids’ delicate sensibilities.

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13 Days of Halloween

Friday, October 25th, 2013

We’ve been working on something very special this Halloween season! Last week, we kicked off the 13 Days of Halloween, a spooktacular roundup of our favorite Halloween activities for ghosts and ghouls of all ages.

13 Days of Halloween Blog Post Image

Each day leading up to All Hallow’s Eve, we’ve been revealing a mystery activity for Halloween enthusiasts. The collection includes the best Education.com Halloween crafts, recipes, and games for kids. We’ve handpicked the activities that we come back to year after year as well as some new craft favorites, and we even designed a special Day 1 activity especially for the 13 Days of Halloween. So far, we’ve constructed haunted houses, baked zombie cupcakes, crafted some cute owls, put together a few fuzzy spiders, and more!

Blogger Christine from Blooming Brilliant has been following along with our 13 spooky activities with her daughter. Christine told us about her experience with the 13 Days of Halloween this far: “The Haunted House calendar was a lot of fun, and my daughter, Isabella really enjoys it. She looks at it everyday and tells me we have to do an activity!” Isabella’s progress with our special Day 1 haunted house calendar is documented in this post on Blooming Brilliant.

If you’re interested in following along with us, check out our 13 Days of Halloween slideshow each day for the rest of October to download our 13 Days of Halloween haunted house calendar and to see our mystery activities revealed. Want more? Here’s a hint for tomorrow’s activity:

I’ll sit and stare on the porch all night,

You’ll bask in my glow of internal light.

Halloween Movies for Kids

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

The Halloween season is one of our favorite times of year! We love the anticipation of trick-or-treating, perfecting our costumes, grazing on fun-sized candy, and scaring ourselves silly. One of the best ways to get into the fun or spooky spirit is to watch a great Halloween movie! There are a ton of options out there for adults and teenagers, but sometimes it’s hard to find an appropriate Halloween movie for kids. To help you through those cozy October nights, we’ve hand-picked some of the best age-appropriate Halloween movies for kids.

 

Halloween Movies for Little Kids (Ages 3 to 9)

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

This classic holiday special features the Peanuts gang celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with some peculiar traditions. The story revolves around young Linus, who is waiting for the fabled Great Pumpkin, a Santa Claus-like character whom he believes appears each Halloween night. Meanwhile, the rest of the children participate in some Halloween traditions, such as bobbing for apples and trick-or-treating. Each activity ends with a silly twist that kids will love: Lucy accidentally kisses Snoopy while trying to retrieve an apple and Charlie Brown gets a rock instead of candy at each stop on their trick-or-treating route. In the style of Beckett, the Great Pumpkin never does show up, but Linus remains hopeful. Mark the beginning of the Halloween season with a family viewing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and feel inspired by the promise of Halloween traditions!

Monsters, Inc.

This is a great movie for kids who can be intimidated by the scary factors of Halloween. Monsters, Inc. tells the story of best friends James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and Mike Wazowski. These friends take scaring very seriously—they are professional closet monsters—but they are so smart, funny, and caring that they just might make your kids reconsider their fear of things that go ‘bump’ in the night. Kids will see that even monsters get frightened sometimes, when Boo, a little girl from the human world, sneaks through the closet door into Monstropolis and terrifies Sulley, Mike, and anyone she comes into contact with. While this Pixar insta-classic is not strictly a Halloween film, it does teach kids some great lessons for the holiday. Mainly, that everyone is afraid sometimes, and that behind each spooky thing, there’s usually a core that’s not scary at all.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Break out The Nightmare Before Christmas at the end of the October to get your kids excited for the fun of both Halloween and upcoming winter holidays. The iconic Jack Skellington is the leader of the spooky yearly festivities in Halloween Town, a city populated by monsters, ghosts, vampires, and witches. Jack has always loved Halloween, but he begins to grow tired of doing the same thing from year to year. Jack accidentally falls into Christmas Town, where he’s overcome by the beauty of Christmas. Jack returns to Halloween Town to attempt to bring Christmas to his friends, but most of the traditions are lost in translation. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a good movie all around—it has beautiful stop-motion animation, catchy songs, and complex characters—but it is an especially great film to watch in the fall and winter, as it reminds the viewer to appreciate each holiday for the things that make it special.

 

Halloween Movies for Big Kids (Ages 10 and up)

Monster House

If you were the type to judge a Halloween film by its title, we bet that Monster House wouldn’t rank as one of your must-see holiday movies. But the assumption that this movie is an ordinary, semi-scary flick for kids about a combination house-slash-monster belies the true amazingness of the film. Monster House tells the story of DJ, Chowder and Jenny, three twelve-year-olds who get entangled in the mystery of their disgruntled neighbor, Mr. Nebbercracker. While this plot of this movie could go in a very obvious direction, the viewer is thrown several unexpected and emotional twists that give the film more complexity. This movie is great for big kids, but it’s even compelling enough for adults to watch with or without children. Fun fact: Monster House was nominated for an Academy Award.

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus combines fantasy, comedy, mild horror and even a little history into one Halloween movie! Directed by Kenny Ortega, of High School Musical fame, this film follows teenager Max as he faces young love, his embarrassing little sister, and the Sanderson sisters: Three witches who have risen from the dead and are fixated on destruction. Hocus Pocus is a little predictable, but it neatly fits the outline of a traditional Halloween movie for kids, with slapstick jokes, random musical numbers, abundant optimism, and talking cats. Turning 20 years old this year, we bet that this movie will bring some fuzzy nostalgic feelings to parents and babysitters, but won’t feel too dated for today’s kids. This movie also has some educational value, as kids will learn a little about the Salem witch trials.

Coraline

Coraline is a dark and fantastical movie based on the children’s novel by Neil Gaiman. Coraline and her parents have recently moved to a new town, and Coraline is feeling glum about the whole thing. In addition to despising her location, Coraline also feels like she’s being ignored by her work-centric parents and she doesn’t see herself becoming friends with her neighbors. Coraline finds a mysterious miniature door in her house, which leads to a new dimension with attentive parents, neighbors who perform spectacular shows, and a silent friend whom she gets along with well. After a few visits to this other world, Coraline starts to get a bad feeling about her new friends and family, and things start to unravel to show that the alternate universe is not what it seems. This is a great movie overall, and one of the standout features is the animation. Creepy and inviting at the same time, this movie paints a beautiful picture of Coraline’s story. If you have access to a compatible television, rent the film in 3D to see the visuals really shine.

Jokes for Kids

Friday, October 18th, 2013

jokes for kidsIllustration by Corey Fields

At a recent staff meeting, a few of us class clowns started telling our favorite jokes for kids. We wanted to share the best ones, because let’s face it: laughter is a learning power tool. It staves off boredom, helps calm test anxiety, and can be a great ice-breaker when kids get frustrated. So next time you need “a good one”, rattle off one of one of these jokes for kids from your friends at Education.com:

Do trains have teeth?
No.
Well, then, how do they choo?

What did Sushi A say to Sushi B?
Wa-sa-bi?

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Owls.
Owls who?

What’s brown and sticky?
A stick.

How many apples grow on a tree?
All of them.

Two atoms are walking down the street together. The first atom turns and says, “Hey! You just stole an electron from me!”
“Are you sure?” asks the second atom.
The first atom replies, “Yeah, I’m positive!”

What did one snowman say to the other?
“Do you smell carrots?”

What building has the most stories?
A library!

What’s a pirate’s girlfriend’s name?
Peg.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Lettuce.
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in! It’s cold out here!

Will you remember me in a year?
Yes.
Will you remember me in a month?
Yes.
Will you remember me in a week?
Yes.
Will you remember me in a minute?
Yes.
Will you remember me in a second?
Yes.
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
YOU ALREADY FORGOT ME?

What’s a cow’s favorite date?
The moo-vies.

Why did the ghost go to the opera house?
He loved classical boo-sic.

Where does a king keep his armies?
In his sleevies!

How much do pirates pay for their earrings?
A buccaneer!

What did the magician say when he lost his rabbit?
Hare today, gone tomorrow.

Freelancer Spotlight: Corey Fields, Illustrator

Friday, October 11th, 2013

While the Redwood City office is our official HQ, Education.com also employs a large team of freelance writers, designers, artists and photographers from all over the country. In our Freelancer Spotlight series, we pay tribute to our many beloved freelancers. 

Halloween starts early at Education.com. While most people are figuring out where they’re going to watch fireworks for the 4th, we’re over here at our Redwood City HQ, helping Corey FieldsHalloween spider decorations and werewolf masks happen in time for All Hallow’s Eve.

Our go-to illustrator for all things spooky is Corey Fields. Corey came to us about a year ago and quickly impressed us with his ability to create cute illustrations that burst at the seams with kid-appeal, but still retain a cool, stylish vibe. Once we found out about his love of monsters and science fiction, we couldn’t help handing over the bulk of our Halloween worksheet needs to him.

Though scary is his specialty, Corey is a versatile illustrator who can do it all: He’s amazing with faces, which helps him handle a lot of social studies content, and has a firm grasp on pop culture, which was most evident in the smash-hit Spy Math workbook. Since Halloween is fast approaching, we talked to Corey about his experiences at Education.com and his life as an illustrator.

Name: Corey Fields

I’m an: Illustrator

I live in: Lexington, Kentucky

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a (fill in the blank) when I grew up. Animator. I was obsessed with cartoons. I watched them every minute that I could. Saturday mornings were the best. I loved the hour-long block of Looney Tunes. Watching these shows made me fall in love with the idea of creating characters and bringing them to life through animation, but really, deep down, it all came back to creating the characters through drawing. Once I started drawing, I couldn’t stop.

How I became interested in illustration: There were a lot of factors. Some of the biggest influences in my life were my mom and dad. My dad would sketch from time to time when I was a kid and I was in awe of it all — I wanted so badly to draw as well as him. There was also my mom, who would always tell my pictures were amazing (even when they really weren’t). Another big factor was my kindergarten art teacher, Mrs. Scott. She loved art and helped ignite a passion for it in me as well. It’s stuck with me my entire life and eventually led to me going to art school and studying illustration.

My favorite thing to illustrate is: Creepy characters. Not necessarily always scary, but I love creating odd and funny characters that have, well, a great deal of character to them. I love starting off with an odd shape and seeing what kind of character I can create out of it. Scary ones are also fun to create. I always try to throw a little humor in there as well. I also love the other side of the spectrum and creating cute and funny little characters. Animals are always a blast to create.

My favorite children’s book: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. That was the first book I checked out of the school library in elementary school and I would return it, only to check it out again that very same day. The fact that Harold was drawing everything made me want to draw even more. I also liked that Harold was using his imagination to create the world around him, and the simple, clean art style was also very appealing to me. All of those things really stuck with me and still influence my art today.

My favorite thing about working for Education.com is: My favorite things about working for Education.com are the editors and the freedom they give us to really see our visions through. They also know when to pull us in a little and get things back on track. The fact that there is actually a relationship besides just telling us what to draw and where is really refreshing for an artist.

Why I love illustration: I love illustration because it allows me to use my imagination. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. You have a million ideas in your head and you get to create those ideas as a job. What’s not to love about that?

See more of Corey’s work for Education.com and some personal samples below, and see more of his own work at Corey Fields Art. Corey also has a Kickstarter for a card game that’s currently running — check it out here.

Best Preschool Books

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

We know we’ve mentioned this before, but we at Education.com love, love, love children’s books! We’ve all got our own childhood favorites that have been classics for decades, but there are also a ton of great new titles in children’s literature. In this post, we’ve assembled our list of the best preschool books from the past ten years. Check out these titles at your local library or bookstore, and share with a child or read to yourself!

Preschool Books 1.jpg

Press Here by Hervé Tullet

We like this interactive preschool book so much that we’re reviewing it twice! Press Here, based off of Tullet’s French book Un Livre (“A Book”), is a story without a protagonist or scenes. Instead, the book creates an environment in which the reader is a character, actively manipulating the images in the book with the press of a finger, snapping, and blowing on the pages. This preschool book is great for children growing up in the age of tablets, apps, and video games, as it lives up to children’s expectations that their actions on an entertainment medium will affect change. Though the digital world has its place, Press Here is a great way to get children excited about the magic of literature.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

Based on a true story, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale tells the story of a toddler named Trixie who loses her toy Knuffle Bunny when running errands with her dad in New York. The pre-verbal Trixie throws several public temper tantrums to alert her parents that Knuffle Bunny is missing. When they realize what’s wrong, the family looks all over Brooklyn to find KB. While the story is cute (and totally relatable for almost any parent) on its own, Knuffle Bunny’s stand-out trait is its illustrations, which feature black and white photographs of Brooklyn with the colorful characters drawn in the foreground.

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

This picture book is a new classic, and meditates on the theme of reaching for your dreams, even if you have some failures. The title Kitten is sitting outside when he sees his first full moon. Thinking it’s a big bowl of milk, Kitten chases the moon through the night, jumping through fields, climbing up trees, and even falling in a lake. Kitten is not easily discouraged, and in the end, he is awarded for his perseverance. Told with simple text and black-and-white illustrations, Kitten’s First Full Moon is a great preschool book because it encourages readers to dream big and pursue their passions.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean

Pete has four groovy buttons and boy, does he like to sing about them!  Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons has all the makings of a classic children’s book, with a memorable main character, a refrain about buttons, and surprising and hilarious twists that kids will love. PTC&H4GB is a great learning tool too; not only does it teach children the word “groovy,” but it also contains an ever-present lesson in counting and subtraction.

Olivia and the Missing Toy by Ian Falconer

The Olivia character is featured in several amazing books by Falconer, and Olivia and the Missing Toy is one of the best. Olivia loses her very favorite doll, and looks all over the house to find it. With the character’s active imagination and Falconer’s surreal illustrations, Olivia turns a seemingly normal toy hunt into an all-out mystery, in the style of a suspenseful horror movie. While this is a fun and slightly spooky book year-round, Olivia and the Missing Toy is a particularly good Halloween preschool book.

What Was Your Favorite Field Trip?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

field tripIllustration by Lisa Nguyen

The school year isn’t complete without a quality field trip. Getting out of the classroom and into the world is an experience full of educational potential and lifelong memories. Read on for some of the most precious field trip memories from the Education.com editors.

Stick a fork in it
To make history a little more tangible, my fifth grade class voyaged to Angel Island for a Civil War-era reenactment sleepover of sorts. For me, the highlight of the trip was the night watch. My allotted time was 0200-0400. While the other kids were melting chocolate, I was roasting plastic forks, one at a time, over an open flame. It was fascinating to watch the tines curl up, recoiling from the heat. Out of all the forks I melted, only once did the tines spiral just right, creating what resembled a tiny, thumbless fist. Thus my love of crafting was born. –Katherine

Bog on our brain
Favorite field trip: the town bog. Weeks of lecturing from our seventh grade science teacher about this fragile ecosystem (“Don’t touch ANYTHING!”) culminated when my buddy Pat performed a running cannonball straight into the bog. It remains the most valiant affront to authority I have ever seen. –Johanna

Sneaky
I was lucky enough to go on lots of great class trips organized by my school; I can’t emphasize that enough. But for this post I’m sticking with Mom. Once every year or two my mom made it a point to take me and my siblings out from school for a day to go to a museum or out in nature. “Ditching” school to go to a museum? It was one way to instill a love of learning. Pretty sneaky, Mom. –Candice

Where the elephant seals play
When I was in the fourth grade, my class went on a field trip to see our local elephant seals during mating season at Año Nuevo State Park. We spent a rainy day at the beach walking along paths and watching elephant seal males fight. On the bus ride home, we sang “The Elephant Seal Song”: How would it feel/To be an elephant seal/With a great big blubbery body?/How would you feel/If an elephant seal/Asked you to be its blubber buddy? –Blythe

About the journey
In first grade, my class went to the San Francisco Symphony. The music didn’t do much for me, but I’ll never forget leaving the subway and ascending onto windy, bustling Market Street for the first time. In the midst of downtown mayhem, the trenchcoated business folk dashing by the blanketed street people, the chaotic mix of sounds echoing off imposing brick buildings, was a single-file line of enthralled children from a different world. –David

Modelesque
I don’t know about the best, but I remember the worst: the San Francisco Bay Model. The Bay Model is a working model of the San Francisco Bay that was used by scientists to study its tidal patterns. While it has the potential to be really cool, I remember it as being in a poorly lit, uninviting warehouse, with some very dry docents who didn’t really know how to talk to kids. I also remember being disappointed that, even though the model is huge and bright blue and covered in miniature bridges that are just begging to have toy cars driven over them, we weren’t allowed to touch it. –Jody

Got a good field trip story? Tell us about it by commenting below!