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Kids Electronics Soldering Project: See Through Calculator!

I purchased two electronics soldering projects for my son, expecting he would do one project a week – taking his time.  The first project was the Useless Machine Kit, which he loved!  Endless giggles come from any kid (or adult) who  flips the switch.   And no one can flip the switch just once!   The second project was this see through calculator.     The SpikenzieLabs Calculator Kit is really cool and gives him more experience with soldering.  My only problem is that I find I am going to have to release his future electronics projects on a schedule, as he finished both of these in less than 2 days!  :-)    So much for keeping him busy this summer!

Here, Ben is soldering the resistors on to the circuit board.    He is using Stahl Tools SSVT Variable Temperature Soldering Station as his soldering tool and Alpha Fry AT-31604 60-40 Rosin Core Solder as his soldering core.


Resistors are done…


Button plates are soldered on…


Soldering job is tested.   It works!!


Button plate covers are on and the the circuit board is installed in the case.  Now he just needs to peel the paper off the buttons.


Now, the calculator is all together and working …

Need some help on soldering? See these resources:


Quick, Healthy Eats: Warm Maple Blueberry Grape Nuts

My kids love this warm breakfast, especially my son Ben.  It is very inviting on a cold winter morning! However, my son asks for it year round, as he did this morning – mid-summer!

Get ya some Grape Nuts in a bowl…



Top with some frosty, frozen blueberries…  YUM!


Add some organic 2% milk.  If you can’t do dairy, just use you favorite milk substitute.


Warm it in the microwave.   I put it on high for 40 seconds, stir it, then 40 seconds more.

The milk turns nice and purplish!!


Then use some good ole maple syrup and sweeten it to taste.    I am lucky to know a wonderful farmer in Ohio’s Amish country that makes his own maple syrup and it is wonderful!

Serve & enjoy!!!


Cooking with Kids: Breakfast Fruit Salad

One of the summer breakfasts that my kids love is my fruit salad, although it can be eaten all year round.  And  kids can make this salad, with very little supervision!!!  I like recipes that kids make because when they  participate in making it, they will usually eat it.

First chop some strawberries.  In a hurry, use strawberries from the produce isle in the store.


Drain a can of mandarin oranges and add to the chopped strawberries…



Grab a beautiful apple…


Chop the apple and add to the strawberries and mandarins…

Starting to salivate yet??  :-)


Add some Greek vanilla yogurt…


I like to use Chobani, but my kids prefer Yoplait because it is sweeter and less tangy (probably less healthy too), but on this one I let them win  …


Toss in some  coconut…


I just use Baker Sweetened Coconut…


Stir.   The mardarins will crush,  mixing with the vanilla yogurt creating a wonderful sauce.


Serve …


and ENJOY!!!


Kids Electronics Soldering Project: Useless Machine

Summertime is project time for my kids! So, before school was out, I was on a quest for electronics soldering projects for my son, who just turned 14.   One of the projects I discovered, which my son loves, is  the Useless Machine – a box with a switch on it.  When the switch is flipped on, the box opens up and turns itself off.  It is a contraption that has resulted in endless giggles from all who flip the switch.  WARNING: No one can flip the switch just once!


Here, Ben is soldering the battery to the circuit board.  The SE MZ101B Helping Hands with Magnifying Glass allows him to do hands free soldering.  He is using Stahl Tools SSVT Variable Temperature Soldering Station as his soldering tool and Alpha Fry AT-31604 60-40 Rosin Core Solder as his soldering core.



Ben is testing the gear that he will mount in the box…


Circuit board mounted in box…


Gear mounted in box…


Here is the box entirely opened.   The box comes in the form of plastic plates which Ben put together with screws and hinges, all included in the Useless Machine Kit.


Need some help on soldering? See these resources:


Paper Architecture

Kids who love origami or architecture will love The Paper Architect: Fold-It-Yourself Buildings and Structures!



I bought The Paper Architect: Fold-It-Yourself Buildings and Structures for my son several years ago because he likes origami and has an interest in being an architect.   He did many of the designs in this book and enjoyed it.   There are structures for all skill levels.   You can reuse the designs  by copying to card stock, and cutting the card stock copies instead of the originals.    Doing this allows you to make extras, if they mess up, as well as allowing your younger kids to enjoy the book when they get older.   I store the originals designs in a large Ziploc inside the book.  My daughter, who loves origami,  is also now enjoying this book!

Simply copy the design to card stock…


Using an X-Acto craft knife, they cut on the solid lines.  Make sure to have a cutting board of some sort underneath their work to protect the work space.



She is halfway there…



Once all the cutting is complete,  they do some origami folding – valley & mountain folds.  Then, wallah…. a 3D bridge from a 2D piece of card stock!  So Cool!



The bridge is one of the simpler designs!  There are so many cool structures to build from easy to complex.  I love this book!

Quick Start Tutorial: Kids Can Use App Inventor to Build Android Apps!

Triag App
Kids can write their own applications for their android devices. How you might ask? With the free App Inventor development environment from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The wonderful thing about App Inventor is that it lets you see the results of each step of coding immediately, so you never get bored. This is especially great for kids! They get immediate feedback! And…  Oh … by the way… App Inventor is not just for kids.  It’s for adults too!!

Here’s is how I got my 10 year old daughter started:

  1. First you will need to create a Google account, if you do not have a Google account already.
  2. Follow Setting up App Inventor 2 to setup your android device for live testing. If you do not have an android device, there are also instructions for setting up an emulator that will simulate an android device.
  3.  On your computer, bring up two separate browser windows.
  4. In the first browser window, bring up App Inventor’s Designer and Block Editor. It will request access to your Google account. This allows App Inventor to use Google’s free cloud space for storage instead of your computer. It will then bring up the App Inventor’s Designer and Block Editor.
  5. The easiest way to start is to follow a video tutorial(s) to write your first few applications. The video I used with the kids, ages 10-13, on my FIRST Lego League team was Build the Paint Pot App.  Those kids went on to write the Triag application in the picture shown above.  The Paint Pot App allows you to draw circles and lines on a picture taken with your device’s camera.
  6. In the second browser window, go to Build the Paint Pot App.
  7. In the second window, step through each of the videos (1-7), pausing as needed to allow time to code the application in the Designer and Block Editor – window one.

When you are finished with the step 7 video, you should have your completed Paint Pot application!!  Pretty Cool!

On that same tutorial page are other video tutorials under the header APPS(AI2). These are for App Inventor version 2. Those under the APPS(Classic) header are for the older version of App Inventor. I suggest Android Mash.

Once you have completed a few video tutorials, you can try some of these written tutorials for App Inventor 2.  These are great tutorials too!


Cool Kids Summer Camps around Newport News, VA

Here is my list of 2013 summer camps for Newport News, VA.   I have heard good things about them all, but the ones I expand on are ones I have personal experience with.

  • Camp Invention (at Christopher Newport University) –  My kids have attended this camp for the last 7 years and have loved it.  My son has aged out, but my daughter will attend.  I love it because it encourages them to think outside the box, while inventing  — and they love it.  They come home wanting to take everything apart and create new things.  For kids who have aged out of Camp Invention, Menchville High School’s award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Triple Helix, holds their Robo Camp  at the same time at Christopher Newport University.  It’s nice to have something for the older and younger children at the same time and same location.
  • Triple Helix Robo Camp (at Christopher Newport University) – is run by Menchville High School’s award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Triple Helix. The funds from this camp support the Triple Helix FRC Team. As a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team coach, I have looked into the costs of running an FRC team and its huge. The Robo Camp uses LEGO Mindstorm robotics.
  • The Governor’s School for Science and Technology Summer Camps – include various computer and science camp offerings.  Last year a new robotics camp was added and it is put on by the NASA Knights FRC team, another award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team.
  • VMASC Summer Camps – are held at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis,  and Simulation Center in Suffolk, VA. They offer a 3DModeling camp, game development camps, and robotics camps.
  • VA Air and Space Museum Summer Camps
  • Chesapeake Experience Kayak Camps – both my kids attended kayak camps last summer and both loved it. My daughter, who was skeptical, only signed up for the 2-day camp and wished she had done the whole week camp. This year they both wanted to do the week long camps. The camps fill up quickly, so hurry if you are interested.
  • Virginia Living Museum Summer Camps
  • Jamestown 4-H Camp – another outdoorsy camp we are considering.  Kids spend the week away from home at the Jamestown 4-H Educational Center.
  • PFAC Summer Art Ventures – Go to the bottom of this PFAC page to see the list of all the Summer Art Ventures camps.   These are 1/2 day camps.   My kids are especially interested in the clay camps.  They have attended other camps here before and really enjoyed them.
  • Starving Artist Studio Art Camp – TBA. My daughter attended this camp last year and really enjoyed it. The summer camp information has yet to be posted.
  • Hampton Roads Academy Summer Programs
  • William and Mary Summer Enrichment Program
  • The folks at Chesapeake Experience Kayak Camps sent me this information about the Seaford Yacht Club Junior Sailing Program. I thought it might be worth mentioning, although I have no experience with this camp.

Extra Help with Math and other STEM Subjects

Is your child having difficulty with a particular math subject at school?  Are you taking a college calculus course and could use some extra explanation of a topic?  Does your child or you need help in other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  subjects?    Check out Khan Academy.   Browse their wonderful math videos, from Singapore Math at grade school level all the way up to Calculus and Trigonometry at College level.   These videos are great for that extra support understanding a new topic.   Khan Academy has over 3,400 free videos on various subjects – math, science, computer science, finance & economics, humanities, etc.

Also, try the free  Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.  Just click on a subject or, if the subject is not listed, type in what you want to learn about into the Wolfram Alpha search box and press enter.  Here are some examples of how to use Wolfram Alpha to get help on algebra problems.   Wolfram Alpha is also working on its Wolfram Educational Portal.  Currently, the educational portal has courses on Algebra, Calculus and Pre-Calculus.

Best of all,  it’s ALL FREE!!!

Sewing Kit For Kids

A year and a half ago, my daughter (almost 9 now)  said she wanted to learn how to sew.  I thought that a sewing kit and, possibly,  a sewing machine would make a good Christmas gift.  So, I started my research on sewing machines (a post soon to come)  and sewing kits for kids.   I quickly realized  that the sewing kits out there for kids were all so cheap, in quality  — but not in price.  For what you paid,  you received very few items and the items were not very good in quality.   I wanted a sewing kit that my daughter could use throughout her life… something that would last…  and that she would have years of wonderful, creative  memories associated with…

Then, I discovered the Creative Options Grab & Go Sewing and Storage Box/Organizer which generally runs around $24.  Sometimes, if you have a Micheal’s coupon, you can get them for less.   I filled the Grab & Go Sewing Box/Organizer with all the items I thought she might use in the near future.   I research lots of sewing books for kids and based the initial content of the sewing kit on items needed for the projects I found in those books.

The top compartment of the box holds larger items that won’t fit in the trays.   It works out nicely.  For the four internal boxes….

One became sewing related items….

One became embroidery related items…

One became knitting related items…

One became crochet related items…

There is lots of space, so items can be added as they are needed for various projects.

I also filled a dollar store drawstring bag with lots of colorful felt and yarn.  Her favorite color felts are long gone — she has used them for making small drawstring bags, small felt animals or practicing embroidery on.    Felt is a wonderful starter material on which  kids can learn to hand sew, machine sew or embroider.

The following is a hand sewing project my daughter embarked on after my son, who is 12 now,  put a sign on his door, which said “No, GIRLS younger than me allowed in MY room without MY permission!”   His sign was paper.  :-)

She stopped working on her sign for a little while (due to school & gymnastics) and is now hard at work on it again, now that it is summer time!!!  CUTE!


Sewing Books For Kids

I purchased several of the following sewing books for kids when I was creating a sewing kit for my daughter at Christmas.  I looked through the projects in the books to figure the initial supplies to put into the sewing kit.    Other books I have added since.   I love all these books.  They have wonderful and fun ideas!

The Cute Book and The Cuter Book have CUTE  :-)  little stuffed animal creatures for kids to sew.  These were the first projects that both my kids and their cousins were drawn to.   I think because the animals are small and the books have step-by-step instructions, kids are not intimidated by them at all.  They jump right in and start sewing these cute little animals…





Sewing for Children: 35 Step-by-step Projects to Help Kids Aged 3 and Up Learn to Sew is my favorite of these two books – but I love them both!  They are filled with real projects that will fascinate your kids.

See and Sew: A Sewing Book for Children covers the very basics of sewing —  with a Norman Rockwell feel.  There is a very nostalgic look and feel to this book.   It includes many basic stitches, sewing on buttons, shanking buttons, making pom poms, etc.