# Adventures

Orange County Fair Imaginology – Full S.T.E.A.M Ahead

OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Shhhh, a few weeks ago, I pulled Finn out of school a bit early on day to attend the Orange County Fair Imaginology. They made a fuss about it in the school office too. School administrators, sheesh.

Imaginology takes place at the Orange County fairgrounds, and involves activities and booths set up by schools, organizations and companies to teach kids about STEAM topics. The kids had so much fun, were asking some really intelligent questions, and were learning a lot.

I wanted to share some of the fun toys we got to play with, and some other fun things they had there.

LEGO robots at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got to play with some robots built with LEGO robotics parts. The robot shown above was a golfing robot and we got to control it to hit the ball into a hole.

LEGO robots, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Another robot could pick up a cup and set it down in another location.

Snap Circuits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids Build your own circuit with Snap Circuits at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finn spent some time building with Snap Circuits, which he has at home, but there more parts there. Snap Circuits are electrical components that snap onto a board and to each other to create fun little circuits. It comes with an instruction book with a whole bunch of projects. My favorite is one where you run a little motor in reverse. The motor powers a fan, so when it is in reverse the wind generated by the fan is blowing downward. If you give the fan a little touch upward it flies up into the air a few feet.

EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Meanwhile, Jules, Malena and Leto could not be pried away from this awesome kid microscope. It was called an EyeClops. You put the hand-held piece up to your specimen, and it will magnify it 200 times and display the image on any TV, using A/V jacks (RCA cable). I was searching online to see if they had one with a USB or something for a computer screen, but sadly I couldn’t find one. They do have some other fun stuff, though. Night vision goggles, anyone?

Image displayed on your TV from EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto was entranced by magnifying a cockroach. Jules and Malena liked seeing all the details of a piece of wood.

Little Bits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got see some displays of LittleBits, which after reading this review, I really want to try. They seem one step more advanced than snap circuits.

Imagination Playground blocks, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto got some little boy wiggles out with some Imagination Playground blocks. (Okay, the bigger kids really like these too.) An apartment we once lived in had these in a common play room. They were fabulous to play with during the winter when we couldn’t go outside.

There were some local entrepreneurs and their fun products too.

Fine motor skills development for kids on the autism spectrum, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
One guy built this toy (called Z Occupational Therapy ToolZ or ZOTTZ) for his autistic son to encourage him in his fine motor skills. When you use the scissors, mini clamp, button, or key a song would play (different one for each object). My kids played for a half an hour, and really I had to pry them away from it to go see more stuff.

Another guy sold kits that he put together himself from electronic components. On display was a robot car that would drive 20-or-so feet, make a U-turn and come back.

Keep them learning at mealtime with a Math Tablecloth, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

One local teacher created a tablecloth full of math problems. You could write on it with washable marker and it would wipe right off with water. My kids wanted to stay and solve all the math problems on the whole thing. I dragged them away, and later regretted not buying one.

Digging for fossils, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
Finally, we found a few other fun things to play with.

We dug fossil shark teeth out of a rock similar to GeoCentral fossil or Dr. Cool ocean fossil. The group that bought them actually made the little fossil-containing rocks themselves. I think they must have bought a bag of shark teeth (did you know you can buy a bag of shark teeth?) and plaster of paris, and used plastic cups as molds…or maybe cupcake pans. It’d probably pop out of the silicone ones link, right?

clay teapot - TheEngineersKids
We played with clay and made some cute figurines.

clay seal - TheEngineersKids

It was me that really made Malena’s seal. She sometimes prefers to manage the projects rather than do them herself, so she gave me step-by-step instructions. I used to get annoyed when she refused to do the work herself, but then I realized that she has the vision and is using the resourses available (not always me, she gets the other kids to work for her) to accomplish that vision. Although, I do think she does it because she is also a little scared to mess up.

clay elephant - TheEngineersKids

Jules made this elephant all by herself, and frankly I think it is a lot better than my seal. It has more personality.

Carrot music, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finally, there was this really fun circuit and display that you could play music on a computer by touching carrots. Each carrot completed a different circuit, so a different note would play. The electricity (of which there was obviously a very small amount) would travel through your body. You could even hold hands with a few kids and still complete the circuits. I don’t have any links for you on this one, so you’re on your own to google electronic carrot music and buy the parts yourself. Update: I tried this and learned all about people who make musical instruments out of carrots and other vegetables. People come up with the craziest ideas, I tell you.

Whew, that was a long post. Kudos to you if you made it through. It was a really fun day though, and so worth missing a few hours of school. We didn’t even get to see everything. Next year, anyone local to Orange County should check out the awesome OC Fair Imaginology. We will be there for sure!

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# Adventures

A Lesson on “The Man”

Lesson on the man - TheEngineersKids Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotosdotnet

The kids and I had a goal last summer to have more “adventure days” when we go explore some new part of Orange County that we had never been to before. We found a park called the Coastkeeper Natural Play Garden where the kids ran around, slid in the dirt, and climbed trees (only in Orange County do you have to have a dedicated park to run around on tree stumps and rocks), and had a ton of fun and they learned about drought tolerant plants!

The next week we checked our “50 Free Things for Kids to do in Orange County” article from the local newspaper, and decided to check out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden. The article went on about how you should take unimaginative kids there, so they can play and be impressed with the sculptures, etc., etc.

Let me make a quick aside to mention that the kids were watching School of Rock a few days before.

We found ourselves driving around a business area of Costa Mesa trying to find this cool secret garden, but it was raining…drizzling really, but it wasn’t stopping, so we opted to go to Ikea for a bit. After Ikea the rain had stopped, so we thought since we were in Costa Mesa, we should try to find the secret garden. Finally, I figured out where to park, which was by a favorite cookie store, so we picked up some cookies. At this point I was realizing that our destination was less of a park and more of a courtyard between some office buildings. You know the kind of place where the office employees can take their lunch break and eat and enjoy the sculptures and *cough*pretend*cough, cough* nature.

Still the newspaper article had said it was for kids, and they were excited by the stream and rocks, so I sent them off to explore while I sat and fed Eva and enjoyed a cookie. Not five minutes had passed when a man in a suit came up to me saying, “Ma’am, are those you kids? They aren’t allowed to play on that. Could you tell them to get off?” I should have told him to tell them, instead I yelled, “Hey guys! Come here!” across his pristine courtyard. I told the kids about not climbing on anything and they were up. in. arms. Choruses of “it’s not fair” and “why are there so many rules” and “I’m going to poke him in the eye” rang out. And Jules said, “The people who make all the rules, that’s called ‘the man’.”

I almost died laughing. She said she had learned it from School of Rock. Then the kids all explained about how “the man” means there are too many rules and not enough fun and how it’s all just mean. Inside I was cracking up; outside I was sympathetic to their frustrations. After we all enjoyed some cookies, I walked them around the rest of the garden telling them not to climb on anything. The sat down on the edge of the rock river you see above.

Next, Agent Smith from The Matrix came up behind me. Honestly, he even had glasses and the white thing in his ear. He said (in that tone where people are using kind words, but really they don’t mean them at all), “Um, unfortunately, they can’t put their feet in the water. Unfortunately. Sorry. They can’t. It’s a liability issue.” The kids didn’t actually have their feet in the water, but nothing was fun about that place, so we were leaving anyway.

As part of some schoolwork we were doing that summer, I was trying to get Finn to write a few sentences about what we do on “adventure day,” and the girls to draw a picture and give it a title or write one sentence. They hadn’t been too enthusiastic about it, but Finn immediately said he was going to write all about how mean the security was and how they shouldn’t have so many rules. I told them I could send their letter to the security people of those office buildings, and they went off  thinking up ideas to include in their letter. Finn even busted out a paper and pen while we were still in the car. He wrote,

“Security, you have no choice. You have to put me in charge and I will say that there are no rules, and that the only rule is that there is no security and the security guys just have to stand there and do nothing.”

(I would include the misspellings, but I don’t have the original in front of me.) Jules said she would write about how it is not nice to make kids not do things they want to do, and Malena said they should be allowed to do whatever they want at a park, and Leto said “Yeah” and “that so mean” a bunch of times.

I thought the whole thing was just so, so funny, and goodness it was such an amazingly well-taught life lesson. I called Scott as soon as we got home and I was just in tears laughing retelling the whole story.

Jules: “that’s called ‘the man’” So. hilarious. The kids were so awesome in their rebelliousness and they were so motivated to write and take action.

So, don’t go searching out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden (at least not with kids), and here’s to sticking it to the man!

Update: Isamu Noguchi is mentioned in this article about the politics of playgrounds, noting his visionary playground designs that allowed children to really interact and use imagination. Also, this article (also linked above) mentions a similar experience to mine, but points out that the sculpture garden is an abstract representation of the state of California.

 

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Kids Learn to Save Marine Mammals - TheEngineersKids
# Adventures

Kids Learn How Marine Mammals Are Saved

The way our schedule works right now, it just happens that on Wednesdays no one has any homework or activities, and Little Eva is taking one early-ish nap. Therefore, Wednesday Adventure Day!

I’m not actually starting a series of Wednesday blog posts, I just wanted to mention how we capitalize on the circumstances given us, and for the time being we get to explore more. Sometimes, you just have to take the school and activities schedule you get, and do the best you can with it…at least until summer.

A lot of the time we just hang out at the park or visit a favorite spot like the Coastkeeper Nature Park , but this Wednesday we drove out to Laguna Beach to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. There, they rescue seals and sea lions that are injured or malnourished, feed them vats of Karo syrup and Pedialyte, and when they are strong and fat they release them back into the wild.

I had Malena in mind when I planned the outing, because she shows so much compassion and enthusiasm for all things small that need help. I think the kids were a little underwhelmed at first. It’s kind of like going to a zoo with only one animal, so they were like, “that’s it.”

Later though, they started asking the volunteers about the injuries they could see on the animals and other things they noticed. They are actually quite articulate and not shy about asking questions of those in charge. They also follow up with more-detailed questions after they get an initial answer. I love to set them loose on the volunteers or tour guides of places (maybe, because gives me a break from fielding all the “why” questions myself).

I made the mistake of going into the gift shop…and we left with three stuffed seals and a small plastic sea turtle. They bought them with their own money though, and I try really hard not to dictate their choices about their money. They insisted on the seals, even after I reminded them of the cowgirl dress-up clothes and rollerblades they were considering buying, so Shiny, Arrt-Arrt, and Sealy came home with us. That night Jules was already wanting to take her seal back, which led to a discussion about store return policies that we will have to save for a later post (teaser: the kids were convinced that the store would be stealing our money if it didn’t take back an item, regardless of how used it was).

Wednesday Adventure Day ended as I kissed her goodnight and assured her that we would review her finances in the morning and come up with a plan for her to earn enough money to get her cowgirl outfit.

Chime in friends. How do you squeeze some adventure into your schedule? Or what would you do with one homework free day in the middle of the week? How you ever made it safely out of a gift shop without purchasing anything?

Visit a nature park - TheEngineersKids
# Adventures

Get Your Kids Into Nature – Coastkeeper Nature Garden

In Orange County it’s a little difficult to find places in nature to go exploring. Honestly, a few school assignments to bring a rock to class have proven rather difficult. The landscapers remove all the rocks…it’s a little weird, but anyway. There are a lot of hiking trails, but sometimes I don’t want to go hiking by myself with all the kids.

On those occasions we love going to the Coastkeeper Nature Garden. It’s half drought-tolerant demonstration gardens, to teach people how to plant drought-tolerant plants in different design styles (traditional, mediteranian, craftsman); and half free-play area for the kids. I actually love the demonstration gardens, and dream of planting all drought-tolerant plants when we someday buy a house. The kids have learned a great deal about different plants and it is a great place to answer a thousand why questions.

Get Your Kids Into Nature - TheEngineersKids

The kids area is really fun too. Lately, I’ve been on toddler-following duty, while the kids run around on the tree stumps, through the tunnels, up the rocks, and all around the paths. They find new picnic spots each time we go. There’s a small adobe structure, which brought up a conversation about when I lived in a rural part of Argentina where they lived in houses like those, and how while there some friends of mine built an adobe house for a woman who had no home. I take any chance I have to give them an inkling about how others live, the needs they have, and how to show charity.

All in all, we love the nature park. It’s dusty, and sometimes hot, and lets kids get their energy out.

Get Your Kids Into Nature - TheEngineersKids

For anyone in Orange County, or for anyone planning a visit, you should check out the Fun Orange County Parks website. We find so much good information about which parks to explore from that website. Here’s their review of the Coastkeeper Garden.

Anyone care to share fun nature parks in their area? You know, in case I want to go on vacation and check them out.