Experiments, Inexpensive and Versatile, Nature, STEM Resources

Make your own Explorer Packs for Nature Exploration with the Kids

DISCLAIMER: I am an Amazon Associate and may earn from qualifying purchases made from the links in this post at no additional cost to you. Many of the items we selected for sample collection had fallen to the ground. I do not recommend teaching your children to collect live plants from the parks that you visit, especially if they cross state lines, as this many not be allowed or could cause disease outbreaks or infestations.

We packed an backpack for the kids full of ‘explorer gear’ and made our way to the woods nearby. We told the kids that we were going to go and explore nature. They were beyond excited!

Inside the ‘explorer pack’ was a couple blank notebooks (found in the Target bins), crayons, an empty peanut butter jar for sample collection, shovel, ruler, magnifying glass, two guidebooks to Ohio wildflowers and a camera (we have this pink one and here’s a similar one in blue).

(If you purchase the camera, don’t forget get the case – in pink or blue – and memory card too.)

We allowed the kids to explore whatever they wished. We looked for bugs, plants, seeds, flowers, leaves, sticks, etc. My youngest loved looking at several items with the magnifying glasses and making ‘notes’ in her notebook. My oldest drew items to find for a scavenger hunt in her notebook which included an orange flower, 5 trees, a stick, a lily pad and a piece of grass. She loved taking photos of the items that she found.

My husband and I pointed out interesting items along the way and facts that we knew from nature. We found interesting plants, pine cones, beautiful flowers and plankton, just to name a few. We also saw many bees, dragon flies, butterflies and birds. We also heard bull frogs.

When we returned home, we looked at each of the items that we had in our sample jar under our portable microscope. Take a look at the images below! We actually saw a bug climbing out of one of them!

This was such a fun family day and we all learned so much about nature. This is an activity that could be easily done in your own backyard.

What outdoor places do you love to explore with your kids? What other items can you think of that you would pack for your little explorer?

Art Crafting, Inexpensive and Versatile, Math and Numbers, STEM Resources, Tips and Tricks

Finger Counting Math Sheets

My preschooler LOVES math.  She is learning and understanding simple addition and subtraction.  I found this simple math project years ago and I loved it because it also incorporates a little bit of art and crafting, which my child also LOVES.  I do not know the official name for this project because I no longer have the source (it was stored to my memory for years), but I am calling them “Finger Counting Math Sheets”.


These Finger Counting Math Sheets can be used for practicing addition and subtraction with simple numbers.  As you can see above, both my preschooler and I made one.  Mine was used as a model when making the hands and gluing them and also for how to write the numbers / equations correctly since she is just learning how to write them herself.  I did not write the solution to the problems until after my child solved them.

For simplicity, we focused on numbers that add up to 10 using numbers 1 through 9.  I wanted my child to recognize patterns in the equations I selected, which she did end up finding.

In our project, there were two patterns, (a) the same numbers added together, regardless of their order have the same result (for example, 9+1 = 10 and 1+9 = 10) and (b) many different numbers when added together can give the same result (all of the equations equaled 10).

Here’s the step by step on how we made one, if you are interested in making one yourself below are the supplies required and the steps we followed:


Two different colors of paper (1 large enough to trace hands on & 1 large enough to glue hands and write math equations on), a glue stick and a writing instrument (we used a marker).


  1. Trace your hands and cut them out.  (For a preschooler, this is a great task for improving hand-eye coordination and motor skills.  My child chose to color the fingers.)
  2. Glue the palm of the hands near the top of the second piece of paper.  It’s okay if the fingers and thumbs hang off the paper.
  3. Fold the fingers and thumbs down at the lowest joint.  (Technically speaking, this would be the joint between the metacarpals and phalanges on your hand.)
  4. Write down the addition or subtraction problems on paper. (Or you can let your child do this, like I did.  You will notice that the 9 was written backwards on my child’s sheet.  This is normal for a young child.  I still recommend encouraging your child to try on their own even if they don’t get it exactly right.) 
  5. Work with your child using the paper fingers on each hand to solve the problems.  For example, if the problem is 9+1, first have your child lift 9 fingers, then have your child add 1 more finger and count all the fingers that are opened  After your child gets the right answer, have your child write down the answer on the sheet.
  6. Continue with each math problem until completed or if your child loses interest.

Most importantly, remember that this is meant to be a fun activity.  If your child seems uninterested or frustrated, praise them for what they accomplished, take a break and try again another time. Some children are not ready for certain concepts or may need more breaks in between.

If you try this out with your young child, send me a note on how it went on my social media pages, at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com or comment below.

Disclaimer: This project was not my original idea.  Unfortunately, I can not re-locate the source of this idea.  If I do come across it in the future, I will add it to this post.  


Inexpensive and Versatile, Math and Numbers, STEM Resources, STEM toys

Learning numbers and early math…

When I think of STEM fundamentals, counting and number recognition tops the list!  Think about all the times you use numbers during the day.  I can think of plenty – telling time, date, year, counting money, when cooking to measure ingredients or turn on my oven, while driving (i.e. speed limits), etc.

With two young kids, we’ve tried to find some creative ways and tools for our kids to recognize numbers and learn some basic math.  Here’s a small sampling that you might be able to incorporate into your home:

20181103_144255Counting to 10 daily with our fingers:  When my older child was a baby, I had her in a local “babynastics” class.  During that class, the instructor had everyone count to 10 with their fingers.  I thought this was important for fine motor development, listening skill development as well as number and counting basics so I adopted this at home.  Every morning, my older child and I make it a habit to count to 10 with our fingers in front of my 1 year old.  My older child loves this because she is able to do this easily and she is “teaching” her sister and it literally takes 10 seconds to do it!

20181103_150715Food Math:  This has been especially fun with leftover Halloween candy like M&M’s and skittles.  We count the number in each color from the bag, we count the total number, we use the colors to do simple addition and subtraction.  It’s a lot of fun!  I also let my kids select and count the food at the grocery store (for example, putting apples into the bag).

Stained Glass Made Easy by Melissa & Doug Princess

Melissa & Doug Stained Glass Made Easy Activity Kit: Princess – 100+ Stickers, Wooden Frame:  Someone in our family gifted this to my daughter for her birthday.  Not only was it fun for her, it caused her to do some critical thinking, problem solving and learn to recognize numbers all the way up to 102!   

Reading the Calendar: We found a princess calendar at the beginning of the year in the discount bins at Target.  It hangs in my daughters room and part of our bedtime routine is to talk about the date on the calendar for the next day.  I know that this concept is used in many preschool classes as well.

20181014_162536Drawing and writing the numbers:  There are tons of dry erase books and pads out there to practice with but this Kid O 0-9 Learn Your Numbers Magnatab has been one of my favorites.  Children use a magnetic pen and draw over the board which brings up the metal pegs to create the numbers. 

Clock 1
Teach how to tell time from “Smart School House”

Reading the clock:  During the day, my children like to know when to expect various things – like snack or nap or TV time or time to leave for school, etc.  We have a traditional wall clock hanging in several areas of our home.  My older child isn’t old enough to understand multiplication yet but she is able to recognize which is the small hand and which is the big hand.  So I tell her, for example, when the big hand is at “3”, we will have our snack.  When my child gets a little older, I plan to use an idea I found on Pinterest from “SmartSchoolHouse“.

Watching Sesame Street: My children love Sesame Street.  We actually watch the reruns on the Roku PBS App often.  They have so many counting related clips in each episode.

This is just a small sampling of things we have found helpful.  What types of things do you do or what tools do you use at your house to help with number recognition or to improve math skills with your child?  Let me know in the comments or at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: I am an Amazon Associate.  As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases made using some of the links above.



Experiments, Halloween, Inexpensive and Versatile

Leftover Halloween Candy Experiments

Happy Halloween!!! 

I love Halloween.  Seeing the smiles on my children’s faces when they finally pick out the PERFECT costume, watching them go door to door and then the excitement they have when they get home and check out all the candy that they received.  I remember trick or treating with my brother and some cousins when I was younger.  We used to dump all of our candy on the floor, sort through it and trade pieces.   It was the BEST!

Now that I’m a parent, I think about… how do I regulate this candy intake for my child’s health AND how do I keep myself from eating it and gaining 5-10 pounds (haha)!?!?!?

Well… why not take some of that leftover candy and do some STEM experimenting???  So, that’s what we did!!!  I researched a few experiments on-line and we got started.

We did a few simple experiments to study dissolution and weighing.  Then my 3 year old completely surprised me with her own design!  It taught experimentation, observation and provided her practice in verbalizing what we observed.  The supplies are so simple and are typical items I think most parents have in their house at all times.


Experiment 1:


I used 9 clear plastic cups, about a half cup each of vinegar, water, and vegetable oil, and leftover Halloween candy (we used Skittles, M&M’s and Smarties, do not use chocolate candies because it will not dissolve).



My toddler is just learning to read but can’t quite read yet, so I knew I needed to make the instructions visual for her.  I drew out our plans on a sheet of paper.

Our plans for Experiment 1

We walked through the plans step by step.  I filled the cups with the liquids (oil, water and vinegar) and she dropped each candy in.


Right away she noticed that the water and the vinegar had removed the color coating on the Skittle and the M&M.  We let them sit for a while… maybe 30 minutes then relooked at them.  She was able to identify that the vinegar and water solutions were better for dissolving the candy than the oil.

Top (left to right): Smartie in vinegar, water and oil; Middle (left to right): M&M in vinegar, water and oil; Botttom (left to right): vinegar, water and oil

After about an hour, the Skittle in vinegar was completely dissolved and almost dissolved in the water.  She recognized that the chocolate from the M & M did not dissolve and the Smartie did not dissolve at all but if shaken slightly, it broke apart a little bit in the vinegar and water.

Experiment 2:


Gather three tablespoons of water in a shallow dish, a spoonful of baking soda, and candy NERDS.


Add water to the shallow dish.  Dump in the candy NERDS and then a spoonful of baking soda.


Wait a few minutes and you will start to see bubbles forming.  The bubbles form due to a chemical reaction that creates a gas.  The baking soda is very basic, the nerds are acidic and the water, which is neutral, helps the reaction along.  If you let it sit for a really long time, the NERDS will completely dissolve.

Experiment 3: 

GATHERING SUPPLIES: You need one SMARTIE and a half a cup of vinegar and a plate.

SETTING UP THE EXPERIMENT: Place the SMARTIE on a plate and pour vinegar over the top of it.


You will see bubbles forming on the surface of the SMARTIE and eventually (this literally takes FOREVER), some candy will break off the edges.  This experiment could give an example of how erosion works but Experiment 2 with the candy NERDS would accomplish the same thing – it’s a bit quicker and more exciting.


GATHERING SUPPLIES:  We used a coat hanger, 4 total cupcake cups, yarn, a hole punch and some M&M’s.

20181031_091540.jpgSETTING UP THE EXPERIMENT: I layered two cupcake cups together, then punched holes on each side of the cups.  I strung some yarn through (I recommend making your string longer than mine to create a more dramatic effect when one cup is filled with candy).  I then tied the yard with cups to each end of the coat hanger and hung the coat hanger on a handle.

RESULTS:  My three year old chose a side to pour the M&M’s into and I made her guess what would happen (develop a hypothesis), the she poured the M&M’s into the side she selected.  We watched as the hanging moved to that side.  I asked her what she thought that meant.  She said, “there are ‘too many’ M&M’s on that side”.  Basically, she was right but I helped her understand it wasn’t that their were ‘too many’, but that one side was heavier than the other side.  Then my one year old knocked them out of the cups and the M&M’s were eaten… so our experiment ended (HAHA!).

Side Note:  During the experiments, we had several candy spills.  My toddler surprised me and completely gathered her own supplies, designed and made her own pulley system to help bring the candy up from the floor.  I was in complete and utter awe of her thinking and creativity.  It made me feel like I was doing something right as a ‘Momgineer’.

If you do a web search for “Halloween candy STEM experiments”, tons will pop up!  I personally LOVED this website and wished we could have done the Pop Rocks experiment – but we didn’t have Pop Rocks. 

Let me know if you try any other experiments or have a piece of candy you’d like to test but don’t know how!!!  If you’d like to write a feature article on your experiments for my page, please don’t hesitate to contact me at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com.


Fairy Garden, Inexpensive and Versatile, Nature

Building Fairy Bridges…

London bridge is falling down… falling down… falling down… London bridge is falling down, my fair lady! 

My toddler started to sing this as I shared the first piece we would make for our fairy garden – a BRIDGE!  My hope, though, is that we don’t end up with a ‘London bridge‘!

Since my toddler is only 3 years old and attention span is limited, I decided to focus on teaching and introducing just two (simple) parts to this project – measuring with a ruler and some simple elements of structural support for our bridge.

Branch Selection:

My toddler was very anxious to get started, so I made the decision on which branches to use.  A great discussion point with an older child or one with a longer attention span would be looking at the diameter, the surface and shapes of the branches and deciding which branches would be best for building.  I personally selected branches that were relatively straight (did not have knots or bends) and close to the same diameter.  In our yard, those branches came from what we believe is a sugar maple tree.

If you wanted to use materials that are exact dimensions, you could also purchase wooden dowels from your local hardware store.  These are relatively in expensive to purchase.


My toddler marking our first branch. (Of course we had to use a pink tape measure and a pink marker so that they were “pretty marks”. Haha!)

I determined that a two inch width would be wide enough for our fairies.  We started off with finding the two inch mark on the ruler together and then measuring two inches down the first branch by marking them.

She lost interest after two branches but this was not a failure!  Not only was this one of her first introductions to a ruler and measurement, she now pretends to measure all kinds of things around the house with my sewing tape measure.

After she lost interest in our measurement activity, I abandoned measuring and just went straight to cutting and approximating the sizes to cut.  This made the bridge look more “natural”.

To cut, I had my toddler start off with using a miter box and saw.  Unfortunately our small saw was too dull so we changed plans and instead, I ended up using outdoor cutting shears.  Her grip strength was not enough to use the shears herself so I did it.


Since our bridge would be arched, we talked briefly during construction about how the bridge would need to be supported on the ends (this would be considered a type of ‘abutment‘) and also underneath (acting as beams).

We ended up using a hot glue gun for attachment.  The reason for this was to keep the attention span of my toddler, since hot glue (especially high temperature hot glue) is great for use on wood but more importantly, it cures within 2 minutes.  If I had an older child, I would go more in depth in material selection – researching glue strength, cure time, melting temperatures, etc.  And we would also talk about other ways to attach the sticks together – perhaps using twine or rope. 

I am curious if the glue we used will be able to with stand warmer temperature in our area next summer.  If not, it will be a great talking point if the bridge fails next summer.

I held the bridge and she put the glue where I instructed.  She loved using the hot glue gun herself.

We used a couple thinner arched twigs as the beams, which also helped form the shape of the arch.  We also added sticks to the ends, underneath each arched twig as the abutments.

Our abutments were not exactly the same diameter on each end so the bridge was tilting to one side.  In order to help it stand straight and not tilted, we added some vertical beams.  These vertical beams  ended up being very cute visually.  My daughter decided that we needed a railing for the fairies safety.  For the railing, I cut off pieces of vine from my honeysuckle.  See below.


We were able to make a total of two bridges.  One shorter one and one longer one.  I am excited to see how they hold up over the summer next year.  My toddler is equally excited to play with these!


What do you think of our bridges?  Can you think of other ways to build these bridges or other fun educational aspects to building that I didn’t?  Do you have an idea for a fun element to include in the fairy garden?  Let me know in the comments or at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com.


Great Things about Space, Inexpensive and Versatile

The $3 Solar System

You don’t need to spend tons of money on toys to integrate a STEM mindset into your child.  In fact, my favorite “toys” have either been free or extremely affordable.  So let’s talk about just one of my inexpensive and versatile STEM finds, where I found it and how we use it!

Solar System Paper Shapes

I always check out the Target discount bins.  These bins are located in the front of the store and most items are $5, $3 or $1.  Back to school season is the best time to check them out for STEM item steals!  That’s where I found these incredible solar system paper shapes for $3!

We use them at least once a week!  Included inside were satellite images of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

My toddler and I place them orbiting the Sun (she memorized the order from the sun earlier this year from space books).  While they are orbiting, we pretend we are astronauts that launched into space and work on the International Space Station (ISS).  Most of the time, she teaches me facts about the stars and planets in the solar system.  In a recent conversation, we discussed the weather on planet Earth with the National Weather Station.  I pointed out a hurricane on the paper Earth then I found some YouTube clips to help her understand hurricanes.  Now, she happily points out the hurricane “from space” while playing.  Playing pretend has been a great way to introduce new science topics and professions to her.  Playing is learning!

We also observe the other planets, like Jupiter and its “Great Red Spot”.  This usually leads to other questions, which we look up in books or use the internet together.  This is my subtle way of teaching that when you don’t know the answer, you should research it.

Recently, I gave her a challenge for problem solving and critical thinking development.  I asked her to put the planets in order – largest on the bottom and smallest on the top.

She looked at me a bit perplexed, so we “broke down” the problem into smaller pieces. This was an excellent teaching point that when the problem just seems too big, we break it down into smaller pieces.

“Sizing up” the planets!

To break it down, I had her pick the two largest first and tell me which was bigger, then the next two largest, and so on, until they were all in four stacks of two.

Then we compared the planet “stacks” to each other and placed them in one stack in the correct order.

Four stacks of two.

After they were back in orbit circling the sun, I asked which one was the biggest and which one was the smallest again and surprisingly, she remembered!

In the future, I could see us introducing a ruler to measure their size instead of stacking them, scale out how far away they actually are from the Sun (this one would be challenging), investigate why the rings appear different between some planets, perhaps use them to make a solar system mobile, etc.

So, the next time you’re in Target, don’t pass up those bins!

Many of the ways I fostered my child’s interest in space could be mirrored depending on your child’s interests – we played pretend, did research and problem solved together.  As parents, it just takes some research, creativity and being on the look out for the versatile “toys” out there.

If you find a STEM “toy” that is inexpensive and versatile that you’d like to share or highlight, let me know at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com!

Did you like this article?  Can you think of other uses for our paper solar system?  Would you like to see more like it?  Leave me a note in the comments.

I have no personal relationship with Target other than I am an avid shopper.  All ideas and opinions shared above are my own.