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Childrens' Birthday Parties kids activities Party Ideas

Host a Virtual Birthday Party for Kids

Time to get a little more creative on how to celebrate your child’s birthday in the time of quarantine. After the birthday party parade is over, here are some suggestions to help you host a virtual, online birthday party. Since virtual doesn’t require “local” the people mentioned below are from all over the USA including California, New York, and Massachusetts.

Birthday Party Performers

Apart Party – They hit the spot with this offering: Games, laughs, and magic fun.

Bubble Dad – Bubbles and birthdays, what else do I need to say. Bubble Dad will host a virtual bubble show with magic and more.

Circus Science Zoom Show – Greg May has been entertaining people for years, particularly in Howard County, Maryland. This former Ringling Brothers Clown has brought some science to his act and perfected it online for virtual kids Zoom parties. Greg is great. Sure to be fun.

Scott Dietrich Magic Show – Scott Dietrich offers to bring his award winning magic to your child’s birthday party virtually. Magic, animals, and even balloon sculpting.

Tricky Tim Magic Show – Tricky Tim’s magic offering looks like a load of fun. Save the birthday party and invite Tim!

Jumpin’ Jams – Virtual music birthday. This is a fantastic way to have some fun and bring music to your guests.

CyberJams – A rockin’ 45 minute virtual birthday party, sure to get kids’ attention. The birthday boy or girl will take part in a musical performance.

Chris Palmieri Puppeteer – How about a puppet show for some great fun. A memorable show from a world-class performer.

The Pit – Since you can’t really “go” anywhere to celebrate your kid’s birthday, why not go somewhere you wouldn’t probably go “virtually.” The Pit is one of those opportunities. A Broadway impromptu performance. How cool!

Robert the Guitar Guy – Add some live, personalized music to your child’s online birthday party.

Guardian Adventures – Take an online interactive journey with your birthday hero at the center of the story. Fight monsters and save the world along the way. Possible themes include: Medieval, Warrior Princess, Superheros, and Zombies.

Games

Virtual Game Truck Party – Let the gaming experts from Game Truck handle the fun. Gaming party with kids together online.

Classes

The Art Farm – Consider streaming a live, virtual class from New York City’s famous “Art Farm.” Choose from arts, cooking, music, and more.

STEM

IMAG Museum – This world-famous museum in Florida can help you with a fun and educational birthday party for the cost of a $25 (or more) donation. Host a STEM-wars party.

Mad Science – Entertaining virtual kids parties with science.

Science Guys of Baltimore – Live stream birthday parties that consist of a 35-40 minute show with experiments, bubbling potions, and explosions.

Other Great Live Online Parties

Sky Zone – Sky Zone is offering FREE virtual birthday parties. See their video so you’ll know what the party is like. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for the parties at this time–but why not sign up, heck, have two parties.

By now, most people have probably figured out a video chat platform that works for them. But in case you want to host your own party, I might suggest Google Meet or Houseparty. Both are great choices for easy setup and universal access.

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Childrens' Birthday Parties Education Featured gifted and talented kids activities

Gift Ideas for Brainy Kids

Updated 5/04/20

This is a list of 80+ educational gift ideas for brainy kids for any occasion, including birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays updated for 2020.

There are plenty of great birthday gifts and Christmas presents out there to help smart kids of all ages get smarter…and lots of presents that will be a waste of your kid’s time and your money. I hope this list of educational math, engineering, and science gift ideas will help you find better options. Below are my suggestions for the best gifts for smart kids.

Each educational present idea includes a link to the item on Amazon.com, suggested age levels, and dollar signs to indicate the relative expense of each gift.

I have highlighted the costs of the gifts as follows:

  • $ – One $ sign indicates an inexpensive present of less than $30.
  • $$ Two $$ signs indicate a moderately expensive present of $30-100 dollars.
  • $$$- Three $$$ signs indicates gifts costing $100 or more.

Quick Gift Index By Child’s Interest:

All of the present ideas on this list have been handpicked because they are good for kids’ brains, develop smarts, creativity, and are at least to some extent educational and good learning toys.

I have direct experience with many, if not most of the items on this list, others have come highly recommended. If you have any ideas to add to this list of presents for smart kids, please send me your comments below.

[BTW, if you have a birthday party coming up, here are some suggestions for fun places to have the birthday event and some ideas for virtual birthday parties!]

Gift Ideas

My “Gifts for Gifted Kids” Top Toy Picks of the Month

  1. Augmented Reality Anatomy T-Shirt
    Might not quite be great for the squeamish, but this is a really cool idea and a great implementation. Point a smartphone at this t-shirt and get a human anatomy lesson like none-other. Great science gift!
    Cost: $
  2. Mini Drone
    This is really fun, and easy to fly. It’s an indoor mini drone for beginners that will teach your child the thinking and basics needed to move on to more advanced drones. I have found it to be pretty indestructible…And the price is right too!
    Ages: 7+
    Cost: $
  3. Ken Jennings Books
    Ken Jennings has a great series of books call the Junior Genius Guides. There are currently six books. They are great. Titles include Outer Space, Ancient Egypt, U.S. Presidents, Greek Mythology, Human Body and Maps and Geography. These books are witty, memorable and entertaining.Gifted kids who don’t always enjoy non-fiction books will still enjoy these while learning all sorts of useful facts to impress their friends, parents and teachers. Several years later my kids still occasionally quote information from these books. Available as a box set. Also, check out Ken’s other books such as “Because I Said So.” I would recommend this as a gift for gifted 6 year olds.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6-10
  4. Sphero Mini
    Programmable robotic ball that helps kids learn to code while playing games. Also check out the larger sized Bolt version of this excellent, fun toy.
    Age: 5+
    Cost: $$
  5. FamZoo.com Financial Literacy Debit Card
    Okay, this one is a standout in this list of gifts because this one is a gift that keeps giving, and can really help families by changing the way you give allowance and rewards. It’s a debit card for each kid in your family. You can transfer money to their cards when they earn it or on a regular basis automatically. Kids can even setup an account for charity. Check out my FamZoo review or go directly to FamZoo.
    Age: 5+
    Cost: $ – $$$
  6. Lego Boost Creative Toolbox 840 piece lego kit. Robotics. Need I say more? If your super-smart kid is interested in engineering, coding, and/or legos, than this could be a perfect gift.
    Cost: $$$
  7. Riddles and Trick Questions for Kids and Family
    This book is fun and really gets everyone thinking with great brain teasers and puzzles. Great low-cost gift that any brainy kid and their family would enjoy. When my girls were 7 & 8 they loved this book. We got alot of mileage from it and others like it such as “Difficult Riddles for Smart Kids.”
    Cost: $
    Ages: 7+
  8. Moody Goat Terrarium Kit
    Inexpensive terrarium kit that glows in the dark. It is also a bit of  a craft. Fun to assemble and a great STEM experience.
    Cost: $
    Ages: 4 – 7
  9. Rocketbook Everlast Fusion
    This is a great birthday or back to school gift for gifted 11 year olds and older kids (High School or even adults who have lots of meetings or anyone who takes lots of notes). Much more than just a notebook: this is an erasable notebook that is supported by an app that is used to take photos of the notes and send them to the cloud for permanent storage and organization. For a lower cost option, look at the original Rocketbook Everlast or Read my full review.
    Cost: $$
  10. The Zoob Builderz STEM Challenge Kit
    This was better than I thought and my whole family really enjoys it. Basically this is a “build-it kit” with lots of parts that fit together, wheels, rubber bands, and string. They give you challenges, such as build a car with a retractable roof, with little guidance, and you have to figure out your own solution to build the car and the roof with the parts provided. This is a great engineering toy for kids because it’s so flexible.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: The ages for this kit are 6+, but don’t be put off by that if you have an older kid. I’d say up to 9-11 years old (or possibly beyond) would like to have this as a gift.
  11. Aerogarden Hydroponic Garden
    Kids love to grow plants, especially when the results are edible. Aerogarden has some great options for kids or the whole family to learn about plants and enjoy some fresh herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, or flowers.There are several levels/options that are available. Gardeners age 6 and up might enjoy the Herbie pizza activity kit.

    There is also a nice 3-pod solution or 6 pod solution available. You may also be interested in the more advanced ultra kit.

    Cost: $$- $$$

    Suggested Ages: The ages for this kit are 6+. The Herbie kit is specially made for kids, but the other kits are great gifts for kids 10 and up.

General Gift Ideas for Smart Kids

  1. Walkie Talkies
    This is a great gift, that can be relatively practical. There are loads of different walkie talkies on the market. Just know that most of them DO NOT have the reach that they advertise–not even close unless it’s line of sight, mountain-top to mountain-top. Even so, these are relatively inexpensive and great fun, even if it is just local fun. This set is pretty durable.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6-12
  2. Amazon.com’s monthly STEM kit for kids
    This looks like a great idea, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Amazon will send your child a STEM toy each month for $19.99. You can select their age range (3-4, 5-7, 8-13 years old) and the rest will happen automatically.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: Ages 3-13
  3. Magic School Bus Science Kit Club
    The Magic School Bus Science kit has lots of great science activity that will keep your child busy and engaged and they will love getting a monthly package with great experiments.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages: 5-12+
  4. Globes
    Globes and maps of the earth are a must have for any smart kid. Here is a decent globe… If a good globe is out of the budget, consider getting a Painless Learning World Map Placemat which is guaranteed to spark interesting mealtime conversations.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 3-7
  5. Ravensberger Secret codes
    Project kit to learn the basics of cryptography. They learn to crack codes and the secrets of basic secret messaging. A cool activity set, for less than $13. When you follow the Amazon.com link, you’ll see other Ravensberger gifts in the “people also bought” carosel area–many of those are worthwhile gifts as well.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8-13
  6. Lab Coat
    Who doesn’t look smart wearing a lab coat. And they offer special insignias for doctors, vets, STEM, and Rocket Scientist… Basic coats cost about $16 on Amazon, but you can go up from there. My girls had fun with these, and used them for Halloween costumes more than once.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6-10
  7. A custom made puzzle
    Take a photo of the boy or girl doing a puzzle, then have a puzzle made on Amazon based on that photo. For a few years, I had a tradition going where I had a photo of my girls doing a puzzle in which they were doing a puzzle, doing a puzzle…kind of fun but it got too difficult to work out the detail in the photos because they canvas is a bit small. Nevertheless, a fun and unusual gift!
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 5-9
  8. Educational Placemats
    Let the super-smart kid in your life squeeze in some extra learning while they eat. It is surprisingly effective and I have to say that some of these mats are true works of art. There are a large variety of these with maps, presidents, periodic table of elements, bugs, planets, weather, types of butterflies, rocks/geology, astronomy, multiplication tables. My kids learned alot from having these placemats around. Still today, even though my daughter is 12 years old now, she still remembers facts she learned when she was a toddler of 3 or 4.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 1 – 7
  9. Classic Games
    These two classic games allow for some family fun and keep your child thinking: Chinese Checkers and Scrabble. You may also want to check out TwixT.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 8+
  10. LED Backpack – PIX Programmable LED Backpack 
    This gift is definitely pricey, and I haven’t actually had a chance to get my hands on one, but I know plenty of kids who would have a great time customizing their backpack digitally with LEDs that can display millions of colors. Sky’s the limit on what could be displayed: Favorite bands, logos, sayings, perhaps even equations for some of the truly math nerdy children I know. It even does animations. It’s roomy, can hold a laptop.
    Age: 8+
    Cost: $$$

Non-Fiction Books

There is no shortage of great books for advanced kids.Here are some book ideas for kids of various ages. Depending how advanced they are they may benefit from any of these.

  1. Ken Jennings Books
    Ken Jennings has a great series of books call the Junior Genius Guides. There are currently six books. They are great. Titles include Outer Space, Ancient Egypt, U.S. Presidents, Greek Mythology, Human Body and Maps and Geography. These books are witty, memorable and entertaining.Gifted kids who don’t always enjoy non-fiction books will still enjoy these while learning all sorts of useful facts to impress their friends, parents and teachers. Several years later my kids still occasionally quote information from these books. Available as a box set. Also, check out Ken’s other books such as “Because I Said So.” I would recommend this as a gift for gifted 6 year olds.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6-10
  2. Almanacs
    Another one of my favorite choices are Kid’s Almanacs. ❇ National Geographic Kids Almanac and National Geographic Kid’s Infopedia are both are great for kids who read starting from 5 or 6 years old. My girls found these very engaging. One of them picked up the almanac periodically to learn a fact or two, the other read it several times cover to cover, and even got her friends reading them too. An inexpensive and worthwhile birthday, Christmas/Holiday gift!You may also want to look for other similar books from National Geographic such as “National Geographic Kids Why?: Over 1,111 Answers to Everything,” I haven’t actually read this one, but it looks very interesting. I think my kids would probably like it alot. You may also want to look at “National Geographic Brain Games” and the “National Geographic Weird But True Collector’s Set.”
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6-10
  3. Chess Book and Chess Set
    There are some great chess books for kids. It’s never too early for any kid to learn how to play this classic brain game. You might consider pairing this book with a new chess set such as this decent quality wooden chess set. If your child is already a chess fan, and you want to get something fancier, there are giant chess sets that use pieces like these for outdoor chess ($$$).
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6+
  4. Logic Puzzle books

    Your young genius may also enjoy the Perplexors series of logic puzzle books. They recommend ages 8-10 for this book, but they have several levels. These are fun, interesting and inexpensive. See more logic puzzles below.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Age: 8-10
  5. Analogy Challenges
    This is a great educational gift suggestion. These books come in several levels.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Age: 7-10
  6. Greg Tang Math Books
    For younger kids who are just starting to learn math concepts, there are some great books by Greg Tang. For example, “Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food” and “The Grapes of Math” provide simple, but helpful math riddles for kids to do. These are fun, interesting books and as a former elementary school math teacher, I definitely recommend them–they surely help kids think about math in a different way, and many kids will find them really enjoyable.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 5-9
  7. Drawing Books
    There are some very good books that teach drawing skills–very important for the future inventor. I especially like this one, that teaches you how to draw in 3-D / Perspective drawing.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 7-13
  8. Make Your Own books
    If your child is a literary genius who would rather write than read, they may like to get started with these short blank books. They make a nice keepsake too. My kids had a great time with them. I will say that it got to be a bit expensive to keep ordering more.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 5-8

Best Gifts For Smart Toddlers

Here are a few gift ideas for the youngest children. Given a chance, and some encouragement, kids can learn quite a bit from some of these.

  1. Busy Board – For the youngest toddlers, the busy board is a time tested idea. This one has plenty of gadgets to keep your child busy.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested ages 1+
  2. LeapFrog DVD series
    These are great for teaching kids to read, and they really like to watch them. There is a whole series to meet kids where they are at on the road to learning to read (and math too!). BTW, if you’re interested in teaching your kids to read early, consider Hooked on Phonics. BTW, you may also want to have a look at my list of educational kid’s TV shows for other worthwhile entertainment.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 1-5+
  3. Pengoloo
    This game is great for memory skill development, color recognition and more. A fun, very good gift for toddlers. It’s really a game that people of any age can enjoy, but of course the best part is seeing your kids enjoying the game, especially when they beat the adults! I recommend this a top game for toddlers.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-6+
  4. Educational placemats
    As mentioned above, there are some wonderful educational placemats that make learning while eating fun. For example, this ABC placemat or this one on bugs and insects.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 1-8
  5. Periodic Table Building Blocks
    Well made, non-toxic blocks with periodic table of elements on them. You may need a chemist to go with these for maximum educational value, but they’re cool, nerdy, and probably will result in someone learning something about the elements.Cost: $$
    Suggested ages: 2 years+

Gift Ideas for Gifted Older Kids

Microscopes

Microscopes are a staple of brainydom. Try to get a decent one though–in my opinion, there is nothing worthwhile under the $75 range, as far as I know. The very cheap microscopes are just frustrating and fall short. They all have issues with lighting and don’t do well with magnification–that means they’ll be abandoned after a few uses.

  1. Carson BugLoupe 5x Magnifier (HU-55)
    My only exception is for younger kids: there is something called a “bug microscope” which lets kids magnify a bug from the top and bottom as it walks around in a small container, these are only $10-15, and are great fun for some kids.Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 3-6
  2. Mobile Phone (Android & iPhone) Microscope Attachments
    This clever device is definitely cool and practical and giftworthy. You can attach it your mobile phone camera so you can view objects and take a photo. Gets pretty good reviews. Another example is a quick attach microscope that you can add to your iPhone. It gets good reviews, but I really don’t know if this works that well.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6+

Otherwise, if you’re on a budget, please read the reviews on Amazon and find the best microscope you can for your price range–you AND your smart child will benefit. Here are some of my favorite general science microscopes:

  1. AmScope B100B-MS Microscope
    I know this one is a bit pricey at about $200 but it is a reliable, good scope that can really do some very good magnification – AmScope B100B-MS 40X-2000X Biological Binocular Compound Microscope with Mechanical Stage
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-15+
  2. Celestron 5 megapixel Infinaview
    Another great microscope is the -I LOVE THIS MICROSCOPE! It has a great LCD screen so your kids can see what the magnifications are easily. We have this microscope and I can tell you it is super fun. I got it for my daughter when she was 6. She still uses it sometimes — now she’s 13.

    Once you have something on the scope you can snap an image of it with the press of a button. I really love this microscope, but note that it is meant to look “at” things–this wouldn’t be good for looking at cells–more for examining bugs, coins, fabrics, foods, etc…”close up.”  It comes with a rechargeable battery which makes it great to carry around to various places for microscope fun. I know this is a bit pricey, but it is very good. This is a such a great science toy for boys and girls of all ages. I am recommending this for gifted children age 4 and up.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 4-17

Climate Science, Astronomy and Telescopes

  1. Telescopes
    A relatively pricey venture for a good, worthwhile telescope. Also, if you live in an urban/suburban area, it may be difficult to get the most from a telescope due to light pollution. Expect to spend more than $100 for a good one. For example, here is a well rated telescope in that price range: Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope – any budding astronomer will prize such a fantastic gift.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-17
  2. Weather Forecasting and Climate Science
    There are a few interesting kits to be had in this category. For example, Weather Station Science Kit seems like a great gift for a kid who’s interested in meteorology.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8+

Biology Science Gifts

  1. Thames & Kosmos DNA Experiment Kit
    Educational kit that teaches quite a bit about DNA, including building a DNA model.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10-15
  2. Anatomy
    Skeleton Floor Puzzle, Squishy Human Anatomy and visible man/human body model These are great learning toys. My kids love the squishy human toy. I didn’t figure they would keep using it, but actually they return to it now and then and it makes a cool display toy too. Really “adds some science” to their room.
    Suggested Ages 7-10] Cost: $
  3. Anatomy placemats
    These are also good, but some people might not like having an anatomy lesson at the dinner table–I think it’s a great opportunity for a child to learn about the human body.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-12

Building, Engineering and Robotics Gifts

  1. Meccano Robot Kit
    This is really fun and a great introduction to robotics. It does require some assembly but my 9 year old really loves it so that could be worth it and part of the educational value. You program this robot by training it’s limbs and also get it to move and record your voice via an app. The robot recognizes thousands of phrases through it’s voice recognition software.Cost: There are two versions, the MeccaNoid G15 2.0 2nd Edition (Cost: $$) and the four foot tall Meccano MeccaNoid G15 KS Cost: $$$. There is also an expansion kit that looks like even more fun.
    Suggested Ages Boys and girls 8-10+ years.
  2. Remote Control/Motor for paper airplanes-I wish they had this when I was a kid. The PowerUp 3.0 is basically a rechargeable, remote control motor that you can attach to any paper airplane. This means you can experiment and tweak the design, try different papers, etc to see what flies the best and is easiest to control. You need a bluetooth enabled smartphone or tablet in order to control the device. Gets great reviews.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 8-10 years
  3. OWI Air Powered Car
    This is an interesting educational toy car that runs on compressed air. Note that there is alot of assembly required and some of it is a little bit complicated, but nevertheless, very worthwhile.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10*-99 (Ten year-olds will probably need some help with assembly)
  4. Geomag 120 Piece Color Construction Set
    This looks like a very fun magnetic building kit. The pieces are larger than older kids, so they should be a bit safer for smaller kids. I’d still use caution to purchase this for kids under 5 (or if you have kids under 5 in the house). Looks like a fantastic kit.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 3+
  5. OWI Solar Powered Robot
    Two levels of building so beginners and more advanced kids can be engaged. It has 14 modes.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 8-15
  6. Engineering Toy
    Roominate and GoldieBlox are two excellent choices for girls (and boys). I highly recommend both of these engineering toys for kids ages 4-5 (or even 6-7) –my girls definitely enjoyed them. There are several great kits for both of them, so definitely search on Roominate and GoldieBlox on Amazon to see the variety and different price points for these gifts. They will pay dividends.
    Cost: $ – $$
    Suggested Ages 4-7
  7. Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kits
    This is a relatively expensive birthday, Hanukkah or Christmas gift but the payoffs are huge if your child takes to this. You’re brainy child will learn programming, physics and many more things that are going to be very important to the economy in their lifetimes. There are several different kits you can buy, for example the EV3 kit and the Boost kit, Lego Mindstorms kits are the de facto standard robotics kids used in teaching at K-12 schools. I strongly recommend this as a gift. This is the ultimate STEM teaching toy for girls and boys of all ages.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  8. KANO Kit 2018 Edition
    If the price for Lego Mindstorms is out of the question, there are various other robotics kits that can be great fun for kids. You might also consider a KANO kit 2018 Edition that teaches kids all about building computers using the Raspberry PI. I’d recommend this kit strongly for those super intelligent kids who’ve shown an interest in technology and engineering. Definitely a great present for the gifted who really want to know how computers work.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  9. Little Bits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
    Your kids might also enjoy Little Bits kits.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 8-11+

Chemistry Gifts

Chemistry Sets

Chemistry experiments are all kinds of fun for boys and girls…and a great way for parents to work with their children to learn chemistry.

There are varying levels of these kits:

  1. Magic School Bus kid’s chemistry kit.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-7 years
  2. Amazon sells more serious (and more expensive) chemistry sets
    The Thames and Kosmos set is a great set to get started with chemistry. Any curious kid will enjoy these classic experiments.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested ages 10-12+ years
  3. This a great middle of the road chemistry set
    Also from Thames and Kosmos, this is a more in depth chemistry set than the previous one. I would get this one for a more serious science-loving kid.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 10-15+
  4. This one is the ultimate set
    This is an even more serious chemistry set for teenagers / older kids who are ready to work through high school preparations for chemistry. This would be an amazing science gift for a kid who has a deep interest.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 12-15
  5. Happy Atoms set
    This is another great gift from Thames and Kosmos. It is a magnetic molecular modeling set, and is a rather serious gift for the serious chemistry brainiac. There is also a larger atom modeling set available ($$$)
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10-17

Other Chemistry Brainy Gifts

  1. Beaker Mug
    This could be a fun gift for older kids who love Chemistry. It’s a mug that looks like a beaker–it even has a caffeine molecule on it.
  2. Hand Boiler
    Fun, novel gift. This is just a fun, nerdy present. Kills will love watching the liquid boil by the heat of their hands. They can learn about atmospheric pressure and liquids/gas.
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 9+
  3. MudWatt – Grow your own living fuel cell – Clean energy from mud. This is a living fuel cell that feeds on mud (and other stuff your budding scientist may decide to put into it). This has on multiple awards and definitely has some great STEM lessons. Great smart gift for smart kids.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested ages 8+

Math Gifts

  1. Fractiles 7
    Award winning fun. This is somewhere between a math activity, a creative jaunt and meditation. Kids will enjoy creating fractal patterns with diamond and square magnetic tiles.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8+
  2. Prime Climb
    An award winning math game. 2-4 person game uses multiplication and division. Manufacturer recommends it for ages 10+, but it should be okay for younger kids who are good at math.Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10+
  3. Equate – The Equations Thinking Game
    Kind of like Scrabble for simple equations.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8+
  4. Fun Math Books
    For younger kids who are just starting to learn math concepts, there are some great books by Greg Tang. For example, “Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food” and “The Grapes of Math” provide simple, but helpful math riddles for kids to do. These are fun, interesting books and I definitely recommend them.Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-8

Physics Gifts

  1. Physics experiment kit
    This looks like a very good physics kit with lots of interesting experiments.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10+
  2. Bubble tools from Zome Tool…there are all sorts of interesting things you can learn from bubble kits…plus they’re just fun. Some of the zometool kits let the kids build geometric shapes and then the bubbles are framed by those shapes. Here is one example kit for about . The zometools are also great for just creating stuff. Check out the more advanced kits for intelligent 12 year olds and up and here is a more advanced kit for kids ages 6 and up.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-9
  3. Sick Science Fast Physics Kit
    A fun way to learn about inertia and some other physics concepts. Smart kids will enjoy the activities in this kit.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10+
  4. Chaos Machine
    A fun and interesting way to learn a bit about chaos theory
    Suggested Ages 12+
  5. Chaos Tower
    This kit offers some great Rube Goldberg fun + great physics learning from this kit.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  6. Car Engine Model
    This is a great brainy gift for kids who like building models, and especially if they are interested in cars and engines. This is a “working” model of an internal combustion engine (it runs on an electric motor). It’s meant for older kids, but could be a project a parent and younger kid could work together on.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 12+
  7. Plasma Ball
    This is somewhere between science and fun. Plasma balls are the staple of any smart mad scientist.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8-11+
  8. Spherio Ball
    This is another toy that may be a stretch for educational, but it sure looks fun and could have some educational value in physics. It’s basically a remote controlled ball–kids can build mazes and use ramps to get it to do some really fun tricks.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  9. Kinetic Art Science Kit
    This is a great kit for kids interested in art, science, physics, or/and astronomy.
    Cost $
    Suggested Ages: 8-15 Year Olds

Magnetic games and toys

  1. Magnetic Toys
    Please be careful due to safety issues if you have young children in the house. Here is an example of a safe kit from Magformorers. Here is another one. Gearation Refrigerator Magnets also looks very cool and so does wall coaster.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-8
  2. Magentic Levitation base
    This is something an older kid might like. It basically “levitates” lighter metal objects (you provide those). It is pretty cool.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-9
  3. Floating Globe
    This is basically a 6 inch globe that spins for quite a long time. Another cool but simple item kids of all ages would love. Here’s a video to give you the idea of what this miracle of physics actually is.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 8-11
  4. Magic Penny Toy – This is a bit unusual. Make sculptures and do activities using British pennies (US Pennies don’t work because of their composition). Teaches kids math, science, creativity…just fun.

Geology Gifts

  1. Geodes
    This brainy gift is great for any budding geologist. You get unopened geodes — kids can break them open themselves.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-9+
  2. Rock and Mineral Collection
    Kids who collect rocks will like this. Note that the packaging is not fancy, but the actual rocks you get are very cool and numerous.
    Cost: $
  3. Rock Tumbler
    There are a few of these on the market. The professional one from National Geographic is very well liked and they also offer a lower-end kit, this one is also rated well and somewhat lower cost. With patience, rocks can be polished exposing some real beauty…remember, it takes about a month to polish rocks and glass! This is especially good gift for brainy kids who are patient…
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 6-15
  4. Metal Detector
    Great for beachcombing. There are a a variety of metal detectors kids might like–some of the ones that are meant for kids, just aren’t that good. This is a good compromise, but if it’s too pricey have a look at some of the other choices.
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 6-14
  5. Crystal Growing Kits – These are always fun and interesting. There are several levels to these kits. This one is a bit more on the pricey side, but is more complete.
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 10+

Geography Gifts

  1. Geography jigsaw puzzle.
    Learn about geography by doing puzzles. Other puzzles: World Map with Animals, 100 Piece World Map Puzzle, Magnetic Map of the USA (Ages 4+).
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-9+
  2. Geo-Cards
    This a great card game.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6+
  3. Globe
    Here’s a great globe that kids interested in geography will definitely like. Bonus idea: Inflatable, color-in/label globe.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5 – 14
  4. Levitation Globe
    This is not the greatest political globe, but still really cool because it floats magnetically.
    Cost: $$
  5. Maps and Geography
    A great book by Ken Jennings – Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings offers his insights about maps in this excellent book.
    Cost: $

Electronics Kits

  1. Snap Circuits – These are good for kids of all ages…Snap circuits makes various kits for several age groups, for instance the Snap Jr. kit is for younger children. If your super-smart kid takes to these kits, they’ll have an advantage for the rest of their lives. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6-16+ These are invaluable at any age for the budding engineer
  2. The Raspberry Pi learning computer – This credit card sized, $35 device is an excellent tool for teaching a child how computers and electronics work. Here is an article that explains the device better. This is probably something a parent would want to work on together with their son or daughter–at least a first. Having said that, I am sure there are plenty of genius kids out there who will know what to do with it. There’s plenty of information on the internet about this device and it has really become a standard.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  3. Makey Makey Kit
    This is sold as “an invention kit for everyone”, and it definitely is fun and cool. No wonder it’s an Amazon best-seller. Turn anything into a keypad for your computer (Mac or PC). For example, you could make a few bananas into a music keyboard.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  4. The Kano Kit – This is a very interesting kit for kids 6-12. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Also based on the Raspberry Pi, it seems like a great way to get your genius child on the path to computer programming and becoming a “maker”. Definitely consider this gift if it’s in the budget Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 6-12+

Computers

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the idea of getting your favorite brilliant kid some sort of computer of their own.

  1. Tablet ComputersTablet computers are a good gift option — consider going with a cheaper Android tablet such as the surprisingly very low cost Amazon Kindle Fire.My girls both have one and they absolutely love it. My wife also has one and she loves hers too. It’s great for reading books, playing educational games (see my list of Amazon Fire Educational Games) and watching videos. Ours have lasted a few years.Many public libraries now offer free, downloadable e-books that will work with the Amazon Fire. Note that the Amazon Fire tablets do not allow you access to the Google Play Store–you have to use the apps that are on the Amazon App Store. There is a special “kids” version of the tablet that costs a bit more and has a few additional software features, plus it comes with a durable case…You may not need that though– the regular Fire does have the “Kids’ Free Time” app on it that lets you set limits for time and which apps they can use.We just have the regular 7″ Kindle Fire and it works great.Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-16+
  2. Google Chromebook
    I am a huge fan of the Google Chromebook because it is so simple and malware/virus free. They are currently priced from about $150, most of the best values in Chromebooks are in the $200-300 range. ) for these. Recently some Chromebooks have been enabled for the Google Android App Store, greatly improving their usefulness. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is slated to have this enabled later this year.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-16+

Games and puzzles for smart kids

There are of course the usual suspects such as Chess Sets…but there are some other games for various ages.

  1. Perplexus line of mazes
    For example, there is the Perplexus line of mazes that come in various levels of difficulty. My seven year old loves the Perplexus Rookie and has spent hours working on solving it by getting the ball all the way to the end of the maze. Someone who enjoys puzzles like this might also like these Japanese puzzles.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-16+

There are other games I can recommend:

  1. Chess is always great for the developing genius mind. Aside from general Chess Sets for kids who already know how to play, there are some great learn chess kits and books that teach chess for kids as well. Your brainiac might also enjoy Chess Solitaire. Kids of all ages can learn to play chess. Very young kids learn to play chess, but I would say a learning set would be good for a kids who are 5-year-olds and above.
    Cost $$
    Suggested Ages 7-10+
  2. Othello and Scrabble Junior also make pretty decent gifts as well.
    Cost $
    Suggested Ages 5-10+
  3. Cool Circuits by Sciencewiz
    This is a cool looking puzzle game. Complete the circuit to light up the board. 2013 Puzzle of the Year. The game is marked as 8+, but I think some seven-year-olds could enjoy it too.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8+
  4. Melissa and Doug Suspend
    This balance game is even cooler than it looks. I know you don’t usually think of Melissa and Doug gifts for older kids, but you can make an exception here.
    Cost: $
    Ages 8+
  5. Pengoloo – This is a great memory game for people of all ages, but works fine for toddlers and up. Helps with memory and color recognition. Nice wooden pieces.
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 4+
  6. Quardillions – Great strategy puzzle meant for one player.
    Cost: $
    Ages 7+
  7. LONPOS 3 Dimensional 505 Brain Intelligence Game – 505 challenging, fun 2d and 3d puzzles in a compact form.
    Cost: $
    Ages 5+

Logic Puzzles

  1. Marble Maze – One of my favorites. Learn about gravity and logic with this addictive and challenging gravity game. I strongly recommend this-my 6 and 7 year old both really love this and it is truly educational. I frequently give this gift for children’s birthdays. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6+
  2. Quoridor is another good one. It’s meant for kids who are six and up…and definitely something a brainy kid would enjoy.
    Suggested Ages 6-10+
  3. ThinkFun Tilt This interesting logic game is loads of fun and a bit challenging.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8-15+
  4. <Laser Maze – This is a logic game that uses a real laser. It’s got some things in common with the marble maze above. This is a fun single player game. The same manufacturer makes a two player laser game (ThinkFun Laser Chess).
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 8+

Drones

  1. Mini Drone
    This is really fun, and easy to fly. It’s an indoor mini drone for beginners that will teach your child the thinking and basics needed to move on to more advanced drones. I have found it to be pretty indestructible…And the price is right too!
    Ages: 7+
    Cost: $
  2. Remote controlled airplanes and helicopters can be very educational and lots of fun. There are many levels of price to these…
    For example, the Holy Stone drones are easy to fly but the cheaper remote controlled drones, helicopters and planes can be just as great. Adult supervision is probably required, especially for younger kids. Try to find one with a video camera built in.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 6-16+

3D Printers

The 3D printer is the ultimate gift. Probably best for your older brainiac or with help from an able adult.

  1. MakerBob Replicator Mini+
    The MakerBot is a popular 3D printer that has lots of support from the community. You can print some amazingly cool things. Kids who learn a little 3D design software can create whatever they can imagine (and that fits on the small format printer). Expect to spend $750-$2500+ for entry level models (which can do quite a bit).
    Cost: $$$$
    Suggested Ages: 7-16+ (younger children will need the help of an adult, at least to get started with this)
  2. Da Vinci Nano 3D Printer White 3D Printer
    The da Vinci mini is an affordable 3D printer. It uses non-toxic PLA filaments to print on a 5″x 5″ stage. This would be a good introductory 3D printer, it’s relatively cheap, and it’s compact enough to put right next to your computer.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages: 8+ (with adult help) or 14+

Creatures, Fungi and Plants

Live insects:

  1. Butterfly gardens and Lady Bug Land or if you’re a little more daring, you could go for a pet hissing cockroach. We have never given our kids a hissing cockroach, but both of our daughters loved the butterflies and lady bugs.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 3-10+
  2. Ant farms from Uncle Milton or other manufacturers…there are some great ones out now that use gel instead of sand…and have lights built into them. Very educational and fun! Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-10+
  1. Rolly Polly Farms – This is a great idea. Comes with a voucher for rolly pollies.
    Cost: $
    Suggest Ages: 5+
  2. Live praying mantis – Chinese praying mantis. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8-12+

Other Animals and Plants, etc:

  1. Frog hatchery – Your child will receive a tadpole in the mail and watch it grow into an adult frog. Beware this is really a long term commitment–frogs can live many years. The frogs in this kit are aquatic which makes them a bit easier to take care of.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-10+
  2. Sea Monkeys or Triops This are cool, easy to care for pets. My kids loved having sea monkeys. Consider getting a wrist watch aquarium to transport a few of them to show friends. Fun, educational and interesting. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-10
  3. Worm Farm – This is a little different. Your favorite intelligent kid can observe earth worms in action and learn about their important place in our ecosystem by helping things decompose/compost. If worms are a bit much for you, you could just get this composting observation system…it’s a simple way to watch how things get broken down in nature. I’d say even younger kids, maybe even three and four year-olds can get something out of this, and if it is maintained, the worms can last for years. We’ve had ours going on six years. Sounds strange to some people, but worms are kind of amazing! Cost: $
    Suggested ages 5+

  4. Grow Mushrooms: A grow your own Oyster Mushrooms kit and a grow your own shitake mushroom kit. This is cool and unusual. Some of the kits use organic bases for the mushrooms…great news for your dinner table. It’s definitely fun and interesting for kids to see how mushrooms grow–a sort of different experience from some of the seed/plant kits you can get. I recommend this as a gift for kids of any age, but probably for most kids, the ones who are older than six or seven years old will get the most out of it.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-10+
  5. Grow plants: Amazon offers a Hydrodome where you hydroponically grow lettuce . There are also other kits which allow you to grow carnivorous plants, or cacti. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-9

Do you have a suggestion for this list? Feedback on one of the items? Please email me to let me know. I only want to feature gift ideas that are safe, educational, interesting, unusual, and fun!

Don’t forget to visit my ideas for birthday party places.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Categories
Education kids activities

Educational activities and fun things to do with your kids when schools are closed under quarantine

Since schools in our district (Howard County, MD) are closed, I put together a list of online learning / distance education resources, plus other ideas for things to do during the break/quarantine.

If anyone has any additional ideas for activities or other resources, please send them my way and I will add to this list – comment below!

The list is divided into eight topic areas:

I hope all of us who are well, but home, can all use this unexpected time together wisely! If you’re sick, get well soon.

[Looking for virtual birthday party ideas?]

Educational video classes and other learning fun learning opportunities

This break in school is definitely an opportunity for parents to get to know their kids’ academic strengths and weaknesses, in case they don’t already.

The good news is that there are loads of fantastic educational websites — many of which are normally for pay, but are free for now. Some include video lessons and classes, distance learning, others are paid courses.

Here are a few popular sites. I have selected them by hand, so I hope you’ll find something that will engage your child in the list below:

  • Khan Academy – This is very helpful, free website with loads of educational videos on all sorts of topics. It’s “gamified” so your child can earn points and badges as they progress through lessons.

    The videos are broken down into very specific how-to’s so you can zero right in on what you want to learn, or just follow along a given course. I very highly recommend this site. Here is a daily schedule for various grade levels using Khan resources.
    Grades Pre-K and above.
  • Khan Academy (again!) – This is a special mention because I really like this activity – Imagineering in a box. “Designed to pull back the curtain to show you how artists, designers and engineers work together to create theme parks.”
  • Outschool – For a VERY limited time FREE $100 credit for classes (Sign up here) I think this is a great opportunity for kids to learn. They have classes that are prerecorded, and others that have a live teacher that teaches your child along with classmates via video lessons. One of my children is currently taking a language class from this site and it’s really working well. I just signed the other up for an American Sign Language class.
    Grades Pre-K and above.

    You may also want to have a look at Unschool.School because it also offers a wide range of resources for different ways for kids to learn.
  • Varsity Tutors – Free live online classes for K-12. Wide variety of courses.
  • Learn At Home with YouTube – Great list of educational channels on YouTube. I like Crash Courses and It’s Okay to Be Smart.
  • Kids Discover – This website is normally a paid resource, but they’re offering free access to families with kids in districts that have closed schools. Click here to request a free account. Here is a list a librarian created with some other resources.
    Grades 1 and above.
  • Coding schools – Ok, now would be a good idea for kids who may have some interest in learning computer programming to take some courses or improve their skills with practice. There are some wonderful options for kids of all ages to get started. Here are three popular choices:
    • Code Kingdoms – Very good choice to get started coding!
    • HourofCode is a great example, and it is very well done. Honestly, great for any age.
      Grades Pre-K and above.
    • Scratch very good for kids age 6 to 12. Fun, entertaining.
      Grades 1 and above.
    • Code.org also a great option for learning to code.
      Grades 3 and above.
    • CodeAcademy – another great resource with free and paid lessons.

  • Scholastic – This resource goes up to 6th grade. Lots of great materials to keep kids learning.
  • National Geographic Explorer Classroom has some excellent webinars. Definitely check it out.
  • EdX, Coursera, and MIT OpenCourseWare – This could be an option for older kids – free online courses from major universities including Harvard, Yale, MIT, and probably most of the colleges you can think of. (There is even a course about cat and dog behavior from the University of Edinburgh)

    The classes are on just about any imaginable topic. Some are self-guided, others are “live” in that if you pay a fee, you can submit work for grading and you have to complete work in a given time frame.
    Grades 8 and above.
  • Linked In Learning/Lynda.com – Lynda offers a huge collection of online classes, mostly aimed at adults, but older kids/teens would benefit from many of them. For example, they have courses in Photoshop and other digital art tools that kids could benefit from. (Moms or dads would probably also find a worthwhile topic) Howard County Library offers it for free to their patrons, but if your library system doesn’t, the cost to join Lynda is not very expensive and is month to month.
    Grades 6 and above.
  • Instructables – I love this website. Loads of crafts, and other how-to’s on a wide variety of topics. Most kids are likely to find something that interests them–these would be good for parents and children to do together. (Thanks to Milanjali for the suggestion to add this one!)
  • Acheive3000’s Actively Learn Platform – I really like Achieve 3000’s ELA current events platform. I have used it with students for two years when I taught school and thought it was excellent. They are offering their Actively Learn remote learning platform for free for the time being.
  • CommonLit – Reading and writing program. Free. Parents have to go through a verification process, but this is a worthwhile platform with guides for teachers and parents.
    Grades 3 to 12.
  • Learn a language with Duolingo. This is a fun, easy way for your child to learn a language or learn more of a language they already know. You may also check with your local library to see if they have any other online language learning resources. For example, Howard County Library offers Rosetta Stone for free. I like Rosetta Stone for a few reasons, but top among them is the fact that it can listen to your pronunciation and tell you if you have it right.

    I would also mention that one of my kids is taking live online language lessons on Outschool.com. It’s working great even though the teachers and all of the students are in different states.
    Grades 4 and above.
  • Prodigy Math – Math activities for grades 1 – 8.
    Grades 1 – 8.
  • Delta Math – My kids are using this now. Lots of great activities. Create a free account as a teacher to get started.
  • First in Math – This is a great math resource with entertaining games and world-wide competitions. Paid subscription ($20 for 6 months).
  • iCivics.org – Great stuff on this site — this is a link to some excellent social studies games…including a game where you have to get the votes in a run for president.
  • Get out your library card and check to see what kind of electronic learning resources your local library has. (Note that in many places, you can get a access to libraries anywhere in your state and beyond).

    Here are some examples from the Howard County, Maryland library system (click to see them all – You need to go back to the library website and start there to login with your library card and Pin! Forgot your PIN? Reset it here):
    • Kids Infobits Grades Pre-K and above.
    • LearningExpress – Practice tests for AP exams and the SATs. Library card needed to register.
    • Muzzy
    • ScienceFlix
    • Tons of electronic books for all ages to download to your phone, Kindle, or tablet.
    • Bookflix


  • Do a project. This is one of the best ways to learn. Here is an article about project based learning–at the end of it are 15 ideas for projects including things like redesigning your city’s public transport system and solve your parents’ problem of being too busy.
  • Watch and compare/contrast movie versions of Romeo & Juliet and Westside Story. Take it deeper by adding in Rent (The Musical) and La Boheme (Thanks Debra T)

  • StarFall – This is a venerable, popular website for younger kids. Great fun.
    Grades Pre-K – 3.
  • Whizzimo.com – Free until July. Help for different learners including Orton-Gillingham.
  • This Way Up – Great mental health resource. This is a link to their Covid page, but be sure and look at all of their offerings.
  • Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Very well reputed online courses. This one is here because it’s a great option for some kids. The courses definitely aren’t free (quite the opposite), and you have to get accepted into the program.

    This could be a problem under quarantine since you have to test into the program.
  • MobyMax and ListenWise – These two are suggestions for schools and school districts rather than individual families: MobyMax helps your child catch up to grade level. This is great for different learners or learners struggling with school. It’s free for the rest of the school year. Call 888-793-8331 to get started. Listenwise offers articles and podcasts about a variety of subjects, and can be effective for different learners.

Random fun

Games and online fun

Here are some ideas for some ideas for fun, some of the suggestions may even be educational.

Worksheets and Learning Packets

Although I am not the biggest fan of worksheets, these free downloads will be helpful for parents who need something quick and easy for their kids to do. Worksheets have their place, but parents who have additional time may want to consider the idea of working on a project with their student instead (or in addition).

Preschool letter tracing worksheets
Phonics worksheets

Handwriting worksheets
Math worksheets

General packets for grades K – 5
General packets for middle school
Middle school math packets
Reading packets for grades 1 – 9

Easter Seals School Closure Toolkit for young students with autism

More advanced kids might take advantage of these algebra, geometry, and calculus worksheet packets with answer sheets.

More worksheets on this Google Drive from KES, and more from education.com and Curriculum Associates.

Do science

Music activities

  • Have a family sing along or a home karaoke session. Use YouTube for karaoke or try one of the a cappella apps to create your own cool arrangements. Look up rounds on the internet and try singing them together. (Thanks Debra T)
  • Take turns playing your favorite songs for each other – the things you used to listen to as a young person, and the things they like to listen to now. Notice similarities and differences in style and production. Then check out a style you don’t usually listen to and try to figure out what people enjoy about it.(Thanks Debra T)
  • Learn to play the Ukulele – Great lessons on YouTube for how to play the uke. Don’t have a ukulele handy? You can get one that’s decent at a low cost on Amazon.
  • Have an iPad or iPhone? Now would be a great time to learn how to use Garage Band. So much fun. Why not have your child come up with a new ring tone for you to use when they call you or a family theme song! Garage Band is free from Apple. Here’s an introduction on YouTube…bonus: the presenter sounds like Shrek.

Physical activities

Baking and cooking ideas

  • Get out that old bread maker. Everyone loves fresh bread, and your kids will enjoy helping to make something the whole family will enjoy. Of course you’ll need to have yeast on hand, but there’s a good chance you have the rest of the needed ingredients. There are loads of great recipes out there…Our challenge this break will be to make rolls that are most similar to Subway Italian bread. TIP: If you don’t have a bread maker, just visit your local thrift shop, there’s a strong chance of finding one there.
  • Make ice cream in a bag
  • Cooking contests. If you have more than one child, hold a cooking contest. Think Kids Baking Championship or Cutthroat Kitchen. Or see who can come up with the lowest cost recipe using staple items from your pantry. Grades Pre-K and up.
  • Make a pizza…from scratch. Here is a link to my daughter’s favorite recipe. It’s Rosanna Pansino making an “Avengers Pizza” but you can just make it “regular.” You’re going to need yeast.
  • Make cookies. Have the kids help you adjust the recipe by doubling or tripling.

Arts and crafts

Virtual field trips

Go on a virtual field trip. For example, this Madden Football by the Numbers field trip is great. Here are some others:

Didn’t find any activities you liked? Here is another list that someone posted on Facebook with more quarantine activities for kids. Definitely has some great ideas for things to do!

Categories
kids activities Parenting

Five Ideas to Keep a Digital Record of Your Child’s Growth and Best Memories

I love the idea of keeping track of my kid’s best memories, growth, and accomplishments with a digital record. Below are some ideas I use in hopes of creating future-proof records for family and friends to enjoy.

  1. Conduct a yearly video interview with your child. We do ours every New Year’s eve. Sometimes it can be difficult to think of questions to ask. I always ask about how school was going, their favorite teachers and classes, but I like to include more philosophical questions as well. This year, I asked my friends on Facebook for help. I got some great ideas:

“Do you feel the movie Wonder Woman empowers girls & young women to be smart & strong?”
(Jeff)

“Do you think Mariah Carey nails her New Years singing after last years debacle ??”
(Tom)

“2017 was the year of the fidget cube, fidget spinner, slime, and squishies.
Which was your favorite, and why? What do you predict will be the next kid craze?”
(Jennifer S)

Heather:
* What advice would you give your parents?

* What do you think you will be doing 10 years from now?

* Why do you like being your age?

* What is your happiest memory?

* Who do you like to hang out with the most?

* What is your favorite thing to wear?

“What traits do you value in your friends? What do you like about yourself?”
(Mary Anne)

“If you could meet one person who would it be?” (Leigh De)

“What is your favorite meal, including beverage and dessert? “(Melissa)

“Are there any accomplishments that you will be striving for this year? “(Svetlana)

“What are your favorite words? Least favorite words this year?”

2) Like the other ideas, this isn’t original, but it’s a great way to keep track of your kid’s accomplishments–set up an email address on Gmail when they are born (may improve the chances of them getting something remotely close to their name. And whenever you have a thought about them, or they’ve reached a milestone, accomplishment, etc, you can email accolades and artifacts to that address. When they reach the right age, give them the username/password to the account. If you’re going to do this with Gmail, you need to use the Family Link feature. Otherwise, you’ll have an issue when you put in their birthday–you need to be 13 to have a full Gmail account!

3) Tag them in their Facebook photos. Eventually they’ll have an account and they can go through and see.

Photo Wall of Childhood Pictures4) Take a yearly photo for a photo wall. The secret to this idea is to purchase a whole bunch of matching picture frames that you’ll store until they’re needed. Each year, take a photo of your child for the wall. This could be done by taking “the same” photo every year as they age, or by just selecting one or two of the best photos from every year to put on the wall.

5) Use Google Photos to Back Up Photos of Events and Great Times. Google photos is an excellent way to backup all of the photos you take, especially those taken with your mobile phone. Aside from being free, several other things make it great:

  1. Any photo you take with your phone can automatically be backed up to the cloud.
  2. Google has done an amazing job of making the photos searchable–you can search for things that are IN the images (that you haven’t tagged with text)…want to find photos of people on the beach? Just search for beach. Want to find photos of people on the beach wearing sunglasses? You can search for that too.
  3. Google’s photo assistant will automatically gift you with animations and videos. It will even find similar photos of when your kids were younger and create a new photo that shows the old picture and new picture side-by-side. It also makes videos about my kids…since it knows their faces, it finds pictures of them and puts them together in a video with music and transitions (it also recognizes family pets–I get an occasional “meow movie”).

6) Use Google Photos to Back Up Art and Writing – Google Photos is also a great way to backup your child’s artwork, writing and other school projects.

If you’re like most parents, it can be difficult to part with the various schoolwork projects your child brings home. On the other hand, after you have accumulated boxes and boxes of art, it becomes a bit of a space issue, and perhaps in some cases a fire hazard.

Snap a photo or two using your phone’s camera or using Google’s special app just for taking photos of documents. If it happens that the item in question was created digitally, just make a folder in your Google Drive to house it.  Eventually, you’ll want to just share that Google Drive directory or photo album with your child’s Gmail account (when they finally have their own.)

Categories
Columbia Maryland Education kids activities

School’s Out and Spring Break Camps in Howard County Maryland 2019 – 2020 School Year

Looking for ideas for what to do with your kids when schools are closed for special days off in Howard County during the 2019 – 2020 school year?

Here are a few of the organizations that I know of that can provide care and learning during days off such as spring break, fall break, teacher in-service days, and other days off during the school year.

  1. Idea Lab Kids – Kids take STEM classes including 3D printing, coding, cooking, chemistry, and more. Located in Columbia near Red Branch Road on Route 108.
  2. Howard County Conservancy – Great camps my kids really enjoy these. Beautiful locations in Elkridge and Woodstock.  For example, this year, on the break for September 30, 2019, they have a reasonably priced called “Gardens Galore” that seems like loads of fun!.
  3. Club Science Kids – I love these camps and so do my kids. Great organization. Your child is going to have a great time and they will learn some STEM! Camps are located in various places including the Maryland International School in Elkridge. Check their calendar. Looks like they have some great options for October 9, 2019 when school is closed…but they also have opportunities during winter and spring break.
  4. Camp IO – Yoga, art & science. Great combination. Great camps.
  5. Active Kids Camp – They have a variety of sports camps. You may need to look around their site for this year’s camps.
  6. Howard County Recreation and Parks – Always a good choice. They have many choices, from sports to science.
  7. Columbia Association – CA is offering a few camps over school breaks. These vary. Please check their page for a list of upcoming “school’s out” camps. Options at several locations.[Upcoming Birthday Party? See my huge list of places to hold a birthday party in Howard County, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County]
  8. Columbia Horse Center – Spring Break is a great time to learn to ride horses.
  9. Terrapin Adventures – Check with Terrapin Adventures to see if they are holding Spring Break camp this year.[Looking for birthday party ideas for your kids? See my curated list of ideas!]
  10. Lifetime Fitness – Lifetime Fitness in Columbia offers some worthwhile camps for days off and for summer break.
  11. Hwarang Martial Arts – Karate day camps on days off.
  12. Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County (SAC) – Full and half day sessions with before/after care. Day off sports clinics $70/day and Spring break camp is $250 for full day (price may change)
  13. Kid Museum – Outside of Howard County in Bethesda, Md, but possibly worth the trip, especially if you happen to work in Montgomery County. Kid Museum has some great offerings for camps.
  14. Brickz for Kids – Lego camp held at the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City. These look like great fun at reasonable prices!
  15. Howard County Youth Program Basketball Camp – Boys and girls camps held at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.
  16. Drama Learning Center – Drama camps – Located on  Red Branch Rd near Route 108.
  17. Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts – Located on Dobbin Road, this venue has after school programs and camps for middle and elementary schoolers.
  18. Howard County Schools – Howard County Schools may offer sports camps on days school is closed. Check their website for schedules and locations.
  19. Silver Knights Chess and Programming Camps – They offer camps during Spring Break only in Howard County (last year at the Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City). Check the link above to see if they have added any local day off camp programs as they have them in some locations.

Looking for Summer Camps? See my list of great summer camps in Howard County Md. Alot of these camps would also be great ideas for birthday party ideas. See my complete list of Howard County party ideas for kids.

I also maintain a list of party ideas for Baltimore County and birthdays for Anne Arundel County. I also have a list of restaurants that are great for kids in Howard County.

Help me build this list of schools out day camps. If you know of other places that offer camp during school vacations, days schools are closed, or breaks, let me know!

Categories
kids activities Parenting Phone Bills Technology

Parental Control Apps to Monitor and Control Your Child’s Screen Time

As a parent, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Screens have invaded the minds of my two girls, and I needed to get control over it. Since my kids switch between a few devices and types, I needed to use a combination of things to reign this in. Here is what I was up against:

  1. Mobile Phones – My kids both have mobile phone devices from Republic Wireless. That means they can use either mobile data plans or WiFi to access the internet. I needed to be able to control the apps they use, the time of day they can use them, the websites they visit, and be able to update the time they can use these devices as needed, such as when the schedule changes temporarily or to reward good behavior.
  2. Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets – The cost of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets is so low (especially on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday or if you get a refurbished unit) that we got one for each of them. They also got Amazon Freetime Unlimited for Kids so they do lots of reading on the devices. But they also spend time doing other things including using some educational apps that I recommend anytime, and some not-so-educational things, like watching Rhett and Link videos on YouTube.
  3. Chromebooks-I LOVE chromebooks in case you were wondering. They are quick, virus-free, and reliably do what they are designed to do–run a chrome web browser and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the parental control options are quite limited, so this required some thought.

The parental control that works for us

Given the mix of devices above, there isn’t one complete solution. Especially because of the mobile data on the kids’ phones, I needed to come up with something extra for that, but here is what works in our household:

Google WiFi – I have to say I am very pleased with Google’s WiFi product. It was easy to setup and depending on the size of your home, you can add additional “nodes” around the house to get full coverage–it sets up a mesh network around your home very easily.  You can purchase either one node at a time or buy them in sets of three. Three will do quite well for most medium and larger homes. Once you’ve setup your Google WiFi, you control it through an app on your phone. Among other things, that app allows you to easily pick out devices on your network and schedule the time they are able to access Wifi. For most of the things my girls do on their Chomebooks, Phones, no WiFi means things aren’t going to work. They definitely won’t be watching videos on YouTube for example if they have no WiFi. This takes care of alot of the issue, but not all of it.

Parental Time Limit App for iPhone and Screen Time – I really like this kid-supervision app. It is installed on the mobile phones and works on Android and iOS devices. It allows us to set a limit for the total amount of time the kids can spend on their phone using apps. You can restrict app installs, and set limits for specific apps. You can also use this app to schedule the time the phones can be used.

There is an easy “pause” button that allows you to turn off access on the kids’ phones–great for dinnertime. When you click it, you can set the amount of time the phone will be in pause mode. You can also add time if you like. In fact, one great feature is that you can setup tasks that. The app costs about $4/month with discounts for multi-month purchases.

There is a limited free version of the app that will let you get the hang of the app, and is potentially all you need.

Kid’s FreeTime App – This is specific to the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets. It is more difficult to use than the ScreenTime app mentioned above, however the basic version is free and included with the Kindle Fire Tablets. It limits time in apps, and also prevents kids from installing their own apps or books. The Kid’s FreeTime Unlimited add-on allows kids to choose their own books and movies based on Amazon’s pre-selected titles that it feels are okay for children.

Categories
Columbia Maryland Food kids activities Nutrition

Great Restaurants in Howard County for Kids

My family is always working on finding the restaurants in Howard County that offer the best experience and best quality food for our family lunch and dinner outings.

[Looking for summer camps and school’s out camp ideas?]

It’s easy to go to the usual suspect restaurants such as Friday’s and Red Robin, but there are other great restaurants that you and your kids may enjoy. Below find a few of the favorites my family enjoys.

  • Cava Grill (Columbia) – This is currently my favorite fast-casual restaurant. They offer Greek food Chipotle-style. You and your family get a healthy meal and they have great beverages such as cucumber mint or rosemary blackberry.

    If the line is long, don’t worry, it moves fairly quickly and even if you have to wait 10 minutes or so, it’s worth the wait. Kid’s meals are available. It may be a small stretch for some kids to enjoy the food here, but it’s fresh, delicious, and high quality. 

    Check out the menu and location. There are several other options in that shopping center just in case (Noodles and Company, Chipotle, Modern Market, and Jimmy Johns).

  • Chipotle (Columbia) – I always enjoy a meal at Chipotle. If your kids like Mexican food, especially burritos or quesadillas, they’ll like it here. Conveniently located right next door to Cava Grill off of Dobbin Road in Columbia.
  • Clyde’s (Columbia) – A little upscale, but a nice place to take kids. Time it right and you can do some paddle boating around the lake or go for a walk on the trail before or after your meal. If you’re there on the right nights, you may see a concert in the amphitheater. As a bonus, you can walk over to Whole Foods.

[Looking for great birthday party ideas? See my list of over 35 great places to hold a kid’s party in or near Howard County]

  • Cheesecake Factory (Columbia) – Aside from the obvious desserts, there are some healthy options here. Kids enjoy the atmosphere and love checking out the cheesecake case and whip cream dispenser behind the counter.
  • Noodles and Company (Columbia) – If you’re feeling like pasta, this is a great choice. Also in the same shopping center as Cava Grill and Chipotle.
  • Jason’s Deli (Columbia)- I like the menu at this restaurant in Columbia. There is plenty of good quality food and even a salad bar. I always enjoy going here and my kids do too. The fact that they offer free soft-serve ice cream cones is a fantastic bonus.
  • Uma Uma (Ellicott City) – We enjoy Ramen Noodle Night at home, and certainly do like to go out to a restaurant that adds an authentic experience. Really the only thing on the menu here is variations of Ramen Noodle soup, and there isn’t really a kid’s menu, AND you won’t find much in the way of your typical dessert items either, but still a great experience.

    Having said that, I’d have to warn you that this could be a bit risky with some kids. The food here is different, and your child at least needs to like soup with noodles to like this place!

  • Eggspectation  (Ellicott City) – Lots of great food here including healthy smoothies and foods. Definitely more than just breakfast though. Open for dinner. Check for a Groupon.
  • Great Sage (Clarksville) – Get your vegan on. Nice atmosphere for kids and families. Great menu. Nice staff.
  • Seasons 52 (Columbia) – Upscale. Great food quality in a cosy atmosphere. Good for older kids. Might be “too much” for younger kids. The dessert’s here are terrific. I recommend the pecan pie glass.
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy (Columbia) – Upscale Italian. Nice atmosphere, decent kids menu (provided your kids like pasta). Sometimes they even have classes for kids on Saturday mornings.
  • Silver Diner (Columbia or Greenbelt) – Silver Diner has been around the Maryland-DC-VA area for decades. And lucky for us, they finally have a Columbia, MD location near the Costco and Lowe’s. Silver Dinner offers a great farm-fresh menu and has some more unusual options for kid’s meals. In my opinion, they have one of the best kid’s menus of all… and it is a fun, traditional diner atmosphere.
  • Bonus 1: Toby’s Dinner Theatre – This can be a great experience for kids, depending what’s playing. They change the offering regularly, so if the show isn’t specifically a kid’s show, your best bet would be to “Google” it to see what other parents are saying. The food at Toby’s is “okay” buffet food. It’s underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never felt the urge to go back for 2nds. That said, this can be fun and enriching.
  • Bonus 2: The Meadows Custard – This is a well kept secret in Hickory Ridge. Amazing custard and Italian Ice. Better than competitors. Highly recommended.

Looking for great educational gifts for kids? See my list of over 70 handpicked gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah.

Categories
Childrens' Birthday Parties kids activities Kids Birthday Parties Party Ideas

Kids Birthday Party Ideas in Howard County MD

Kids Birthday Party Ideas in Maryland.

SEE MY LIST OF 53+ IDEAS FOR KID’S BIRTHDAY PARTIES AROUND HOWARD COUNTY BELOW – UPDATED March 27, 2020.

Wondering what to do for a birthday party during quarantine? Consider an iparty. For example, Idea Lab has STEM iparties.

There are so many great location options for indoor and outdoor birthday parties for kids in Howard County. I have compiled a list of birthday party ideas–some of the party places are popular, but others more unusual, creative, and even a few unique ideas.

Please note that these are not paid listings–this is simply my own list of birthday party places. I have added the birthday venues here because I have used them for my own kids, been to a party there, or have it on authority from other parents.

There are few “negative” recommendations in the list below too–places that might be popular go-tos, but like the bouncy birthday parties mentioned above, they should be avoided.

Again, all of the recommendations are my own, and I am not paid by the venues listed.  This post does contain sponsored links to party favors Amazon.com. Hopefully you’ll find the party favor ideas helpful, but they aren’t related to why I chose each location.

(Please also see my post about what to give out as party favors and if you’re looking for some great gift ideas, see my post Gift Ideas for Brainy Kids!)

Since I live in Howard County Maryland, this list of indoor and outdoor places to have children’s birthday parties pertains specifically to this area, but many of the things in the list would apply to anywhere USA–you just have to look around for a similar venue in your area.

Let me know what you think of this party list–since this is one of the busiest posts on my blog, idea contributions are very welcomed!

I also have created a similar birthday place list for Anne Arundel County and party places for kids in Baltimore County as well.

List of places to have kids birthday parties:

  1. Nature Centers (Ages 2-10)
    Howard County Conservancy birthday parties are great

    Offers some great birthday party options that aren’t overdone.  Great for toddlers and older kids alike. Not many people have their parties at a nature center, but they’re really quite nice…and educational.In Howard County, we have two nature centers that offer parties:  Robinson Nature Center and Howard County Conservancy.
    There are lots of party options to enjoy. For example, a great fall birthday party idea would be a campfire party at the Howard County Conservancy.  A naturalist leads the kids through activities and making s’mores.Robinson Nature Center offers several different kinds of parties at different price points mostly for ages 2 and up.

    For instance they have a nature puppet theater party, a butterfly party, a nature hike party, or even a full-dome movie party in the planetarium which looks like it would be a blast!

    All of this means that these nature centers are a wonderful place for a 5th birthday party all the way up to maybe 10th or 11th birthday. Parties range in price from $325 to $400 at this writing and party rooms are available.

    ✳Nature Center Party Favor Ideas: Bamboo PlantsMiracle Grow Seed Pods, Tickle Plant SeedsBinoculars

  2. Farm Birthday Parties  (Ages 2-8)
    Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City is very popular. In the fall, you could consider an apple or berry harvest party at Larriland farm (Ages 2-12)–check the harvest calendar to see what is ripe.  Educational and fun–plus the pickings are the party favor. Clark’s Elioak Farm is definitely a great standby party venue for toddlers.

    Breezy Hill Farm (Ages 2-8) – Breezy Hill’s biggest draw is its alpaca herd, although they also have rabbits, goats, sheep and chickens. Take a tour of this working farm with your group.This will be especially fun for a toddler party, but certainly 8-year-olds and younger will have a great time…really this should be enjoyable for anyone. Alpacas are gentle, graceful animals and you may be able to get one to pose with your party group.
    Party Favor Ideas: Straw HatsTickle Plant Seeds, Succulent Plants

Need unusual gift ideas for the birthday boy or girl? See my list of educational present ideas for kids. (Opens in a new tab)

  1. Zip Lining and Tree Adventures (Ages 8 and older)
    Birthday Party Places in Maryland - Zip Line Party

    Sandy Spring Adventure Park and Terrapin Adventures. Outdoor adventure parties in the trees are very cool.  Kids must be at least 8 to be able to participate in a treetop party at Sandy Spring Adventure Park, but if you’re looking for a place that will keep older kids busy, this is for you.

    These are great parties for 13 year olds, even sweet sixteens…Sandy Spring Adventure Park is just outside Howard County, while Terrapin Adventures is in Savage, Md near Savage Mill.

    Kids will enjoy being challenged at both venues, however I think Sandy Spring Adventure Park has a more extensive course. Definitely recommended. Party packages at Sandy Spring Adventure Park may include party favors.
    Party Favor Ideas: Carabiners

  2. Craft and Painting Parties (Ages 4-13)
    Pottery painting birthday party

    Michael’s craft store parties (price depends on craft chosen) and Joann Fabrics Parties are relatively popular and their stores all seem to have some sort of party room.  There are also several pottery painting businesses around.The parties center on the kids creating and/or painting a piece of pottery. Another great option is the Columbia Art Center. They have preset parties that look like great fun in a nice atmosphere. They have a variety of available party themes (even Minecraft!) and parties can be on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.

    In Ellicott City, there is the Pottery Stop which is a combination coffee shop and ceramics studio–they have a small party room.If you are bringing a small group of kids (maybe 5 or less), you may be able to just “drop in” to the store and make your own party there.

    You are allowed to bring in outside food although they do offer a few snacks and a full coffee/hot chocolate menu. There is a Qdoba restaurant next door to the Pottery Stop, so you can get quesadillas or tacos there and bring them into the Pottery Stop.Unless you setup a birthday party package, there are no reservations, so you have to be careful to pick a day and time when they aren’t likely to be so busy that you won’t find a table for your party. You may want to call and ask what the most strategic times to set your party, but probably the safest time is right at opening time.For example, we had a party there the weekend before Valentine’s Day in the mid-afternoon and it was quite busy, we were lucky to get a table for 4. Still, the children had a really good time.

    The added bonus is that the item the kids paint is also the party favor. Note that it takes a week for them to fire the kids’ creations in the kiln, so plan to come back and pick up the items and then distribute them back to their owners.

    If you’re in Laurel or Maple Lawn, or in the Northern side of Montgomery County, you might find Burning Down the House in Fulton a more convenient place for a pottery party. I’ve driven past it enough on Scaggsville Road, but I have never been there.Yet another option is Pinot’s Pallet in Elliott City. This is a great place to hold a painting party for kids (or adults!).

    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tabletsPutty Balls

  1. Race Car Driving (Ages 5+)
    go-cart-birthday-party
    Autobahn Indoor Go Cart Speedway
      in Jessup Maryland. Looks like a blast with exclusive track time for your party.  Kids five and up will love this place.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Racers
  2. Indoor Pool Parties (Ages 2+)
    indoor pool birthday partiesKid’s First Swim School, Columbia Association, Lifetime Fitness, or Goldfish Swim School. About $250 for an hour of swimming and an hour of party room use.  There are also other venues that offer kid’s pool parties.

    If you’re a member of Lifetime Fitness, they also do a good job (see below) and offer a competitive package.  Kids love pools and especially if you have a winter birthday, an indoor pool party is a welcome reminder of summer fun.  Party favors might include swim goggles or water toys.  One tip would be to have one parent stay dry while the other gets in the pool with the kids–this way you have your bases covered.

    The Columbia Association has pool parties and I generally do NOT recommend parties there because of crowding at the Columbia Swim Center indoor pool. Although there are some fun aspects to the splashdown attraction, they do not control the number of kids, which can be no fun. I would only recommend this party for older kids on off hours.

    If you’re in Ellicott City, you may want to consider having your pool party at the Roger Carter Center. They offer reasonably priced party packages.

    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Water Toys, Goggles, Flip-Flop Keychains, Hawaiian Flower Leis, Hibiscus Flower Hair Clips

[Need an kid’s allowance and chore reward solution? Check out my review of FamZoo Debit Cards for Kids]

      1. Indoor Playground Party (Ages 2-7)
        Play Date Junction (Elkridge, Md) and Hyperkids (Snowden River Parkway in Columbia) Play Date Junction is part gym, part indoor playground, part learning kitchen. Hyperkids in Columbia is similar. These are both great places to host a birthday party for younger children.
      2. ballet BDPBallet and Dance Parties (Ages 2-10).
        This is a no-brainer for young girls, but boys can have fun at dance parties too.  Most of the time, the gyms will give you a choice as to the style of dance you’d like the kids to learn as part of the celebration so instead of ballet you might do a jazz or even hip hop birthday. For ballet parties, girls will enjoy dressing up like prima ballerinas. Pricing varies about $130 at Joyful Motion Dance Studio in Savage Mill. Also, check with Turning Point Dance Academy in Elkridge, Md.
        ✳Ballet Party Favor Ideas: Flashlights, Jump Ropes, Streamer Wands, Lucky Bamboo Plants
      3. Gymnastics Parties (Ages 2-8)
        Gymnastics BDP Places
        There are plenty of places to hold gymnastics parties.  One of the best experiences I’ve had was at My Gym in Columbia, MD.  The staff was attentive and the kids had a great time–unfortunately their prices are kind of high.
        You may also want to check out Top Flight Gymnastics on Redland Road in Ellicott City or KidsTime.Live in Laurel. These are great party locations for toddlers and younger kids.
        Locations: Columbia, Ellicott City, Laurel, other locations around Howard County
        ✳Gymnastics Party Favor Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces, Jump Ropes

            •  Build-A-Bear (Ages 2-7)
              build a bear annapolis mall
              This will cost you about $20/kid and they have a six kid minimum. Very good experience  with four and five year olds.  There is a build-a-bear location in Columbia Mall.  When we had our party there, we had birthday cake first in the food court.  We got to the mall early enough to reserve some tables for the party guests…and it worked out fine.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Bubbles, Squishies
            • Lifetime Fitness Parties (Ages 4+)
              They offer parties with a rock wall, swimming, basketball etc… – Cost is about $275 for 2 hours including pizza and drinks.  The fee covers 12 guests.  Additional kids are $20/each extra. (Prices can vary by gym location!)  Extra pizzas for adults are $10/each. Two party coordinators are included and they do a great job of making sure everything is going well…they even set up your decorations for you (you have to provide decorations, plates, napkins, party favor bags, etc). If you are a Lifetime Fitness member, I would recommend the parties there.  (Read my review of lifetime fitness). Here is the information sheet Lifetime Fitness gives you when you want to book a party. The parties here would be appropriate for kids as old as 10-12 years old, even older teenagers.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Glowstick eyeglasses, Sports Scope Games, EOS lip balm.
            • Idea Lab Parties (Ages: 4+)
              Birthday Party Place - STEM Ellicott City - Route 108
              Have a STEM-related birthday party in Columbia at the Idea Lab. This is so nerdy. Lots of possible party themes for kids to have a great time: Jedi training, video production, minecraft, slime, cooking/baking…and much more.

              This is the place to have a nerdfest of a party. Located off Red Branch Road/Route 108 (near Shadowland).
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: Puzzle Cube Set

            • Bowling Parties (Ages 5+)
              birthday bowling party

              Duck pins are better for younger kids if there is a duck pin alley nearby.  Those are rare.  Around here I know there are duck pins in Silver Spring and Mt. Airy.

              You can always go for the larger pin bowling allies but I think it is less fun with the kids even with the lighter 6 pound balls and gutter bumpers the kids still have alot of trouble.I especially don’t recommend the Normandy bowling alley that’s off of Snowden River in Columbia.  Although it is a relatively nice alley, all the above problems apply, but then as part of the package they give the kids tokens for the game room.  That leads to huge frustration as there aren’t really any games young kids can even play! New: MainEvent in Columbia mall. The place looks like fun.
              ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Rubberband Helicopters or Rocket Copters

            • Rock Climbing Age Range (6+)
              ClimbZone (301-317-1970) in Laurel or Earth Treks (Ages 5+)

              Indoor climbing wall birthday party - climb zone
              The bookcase climbing wall at
              Climbzone

              ClimbZone (301-317-1970)

              Compared to Earth Treks, the atmosphere at ClimbZone is less serious and more fun. They have done a fantastic job of making it less serious but making the climbing walls into interesting sculptures and objects, rather than the same old walls. For example, they have a wall that looks like Mount Rushmore and another one that’s a replica of a gigantic bookcase. Kids love it.

              All of their walls have auto-belay so you don’t have to worry about having someone paying attention and belaying the kids. This is a huge advantage, especially because kids 6 and up will likely be able to hook themselves in to any wall and start climbing! They also have some bouncy houses and slides for younger kids. There are party rooms available in this very new facility.

              Earth Treks (Columbia Location – 410-872-0060)

              Earth Trek’s rock climbing facility offers kids birthday parties — locations in Rockville, Columbia and Timonium.  Pricing as of this writing is $225 for 1-10 participants and $325 for 11-15 participants at the Columbia, MD location.  (Lifetime fitness also offers rock climbing parties but you have to be a member)  Earth Treks has a few “party rooms” that have their own climbing walls.  I’ve been to a party here for five year olds and it worked very well–the kids had a great time.  They provided four climbing instructors who put the harnesses on the kids and belayed them.  Very nice.

    Need unusual gift ideas for the birthday boy or girl? See my list of educational present ideas for kids. (Opens in a new tab)
              1. Roller Skating  (Ages 5+)
                roller skating party
                The Laurel Roller Rink (Laurel on Route 1 in Howard County – 301-725-8070) and the Supreme Sports Club Skating Arena (Columbia off Snowden River- 410-381-5355)  both offer great kids birthday parties.Laurel Skating rink offers parties that start at $110 for 11 skaters (additional skaters $11/each). This is a bargain and includes ice cream cups, plates, napkins and spoons. Plus skate rental for all of the party skaters, and a free pass to skate next time for the birthday girl or boy.  You can bring cake, but outside food isn’t permitted, so you may need to make arrangements for other food with the rink.
              2. Roller skating birthday party prices
                Laurel Roller Skating Center Birthday Party Prices as of March 2017

                Private parties are available as well, but at a much higher price point. A 2-hour session on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for up to 50 skaters/2 hours is $450+.

                Supreme Sports Club offers private skating parties for $600.  Regular parties held during a public session are more like $250 and include pizza and cake for 10 kids. They often have several parties going on at the same time and they don’t have a separate party room–they just spread the parties out over various areas of the roller skating rink.
                If you’ve got a girl between the ages of 10-13, they also offer a sleepover party. See below.
                Locations: Laurel, Columbia
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Fishnet Gloves, Personalized Thank You Stickers, Glow Sticks

              3. Indoor Obstacle Course (Ages 6+)
                Ninjabe Birthday party review

                NOT RECOMMENDED because of safety concerns. This is a relative newcomer in Columbia. Ninjabe recently opened. It provides an indoor warrior obstacle course (think “American Gladiator”), inflatable obstacle course, small climbing walls, and there’s even a mechanical bull. Kids seem to find this place to be quite a bit of fun.
                They provide a welcomed place for parents to watch (or ignore) the goings ons- the “parent zen room.” It’s a party that includes a cardio workout. Party rooms and party hosts are provided. I thought the place was pretty good overall, but I couldn’t escape the “birthday party factory” feel.I don’t recommend NinjaBe because kids get hurt there. I recently requested information from Howard County Fire and Rescue and was told that from 10/10/2018 – 10/11/2019, they were called there 13 times. That’s just the ambulance calls — injuries that were bad enough to require paramedics. I know 2 people who have been hurt here–one required surgery for a broken ankle.

                There are definitely many more people who make their way to the emergency room without an ambulance. Just something to keep in mind when you sign the waiver for your child here or invite other people’s children.
                Location: Columbia, Maryland
                ✳Party Favor IdeasLED Bumpy Ring, Mini LED carabiner Flashlights

              4. Ice Skating (Ages 5+)
                There are ice rinks around the county, but two in particular stand out.  The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, MD and the Columbia Association Ice Rink in Columbia MD both offer a birthday party package.
                Locations: Laurel, Columbia
                ✳Ice Skating Party Favor Ideas: Squirmels, Friendship Bracelets
              5. Laser Tag (Ages 5+)
                laser tag party
                Shadowland in Ellicott City (410-740-9100) and LaserXP in Laurel (410) 833-6611).   Laser tag parties are always a favorite with kids of any age. Shadowland in Ellicott City/Columbia is located on Red Branch Road just off Route 108. They have four party rooms and do a good job of making the party easy for parents. The parties consist of two laser tag games that take about 20 minutes each, and the rest of the time in the party room for a total of two hours. There’s also a very nice arcade at this location.

                At LaserXP, you can actually buyout the whole place for your birthday party–expensive option, but one that isn’t available at Shadowland. They will typically have another birthday party going on a the same time as yours, and you will probably end up battling the other party in a game of tag.
                Locations: Laurel, Ellicott City/Columbia
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Bumpy Ring, Mini LED carabiner Flashlights

              6. Lush Handmade Cosmetics Party  (Ages 7+)
                Who knew that Lush offered private parties? They look like loads of fun…lots of options including “Beauty School” and make a bath bomb. I am not actually sure what the minimum age would be, but I think probably seven year olds or older would enjoy this party.
                Location: The Mall in Columbia
              7. Indoor Miniature Golf (Ages 7+)
                minature golf
                Monster Mini Golf in Jessup.  Pretty loud and kind of scary for a young kid in there, so check it out and see if it is appropriate for your child first.
                Party Favor Ideas: Frisbees, For older kids: Drink Bags that Look Like IV bags
              8. Sports Center Parties (Ages 5+)
                There are a variety of venues where you could have an indoor or outdoor soccer, lacrosse or basketball party.  For example, in Jessup in Howard County, MD there is the Soccerdome which allows you to rent a field and let the kids play soccer for an hour and then has an area for pizza and cake.  There is also the Columbia Association SportsPark. If your boy or girl is a baseball fan, they may like to have a baseball party at Professional Baseball Training in Ellicott City, Extra Innings in Elkridge.
                Human Soccer Ball Birthday Party in Columbia, Md
                For soccer fans looking for something a little different, there’s “bubble ball” at the Soccer Stop in Columbia, Md. What could be more fun for a birthday? The kids get inside giant inflatable balls and roll around the soccer field.
                Party Favor Ideas: Bouncy Soccer Balls, Soccer Whistles, Soccer Stress Balls, Soccer Birthday Candles, Soccer Key Chains, Soccer Pinata
              9. Karate Birthday Parties (Ages 6+)
                Harraday’s Karate & Fitness offers martial arts instruction birthday parties in Columbia near Home Depot.
              10. Pirate Party  (Ages 7+)
                Pirate Birthday Party
                Take a trip on the Urban Pirate boat that sails from Baltimore.
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Gold Pirate CoinsPirate Eye Patches, Bandanas
              11. Tea Party (Ages 7+)
                Tea Parties at home are always fun, but for something more sophisticated, you could try Tea on the Tiber Victorian Tea Room in Ellicott City. (An interesting experience for a regular visit as well–try out  high tea one afternoon.)
                Locations: Historic Ellicott City
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Decorate Your Own Teacups
              12. Indoor Playground Party (Ages 2-7)
                You can book a party at the Play -n- Learn playground equipment show room in Columbia.  I have never been to a party there, but  it sounds really fun. Weekday parties are $219 for two hours of playtime on the indoor playground. Weekend parties are $269. You can also book a party after hours for $369 on weekends. If you don’t mind traveling, there is a great indoor playspace in Rockville called Badlands.
              13. trampoline party
                A SkyZone jump “room”–each child gets their own square of
                Trampoline.

                Trampoline Parties (Ages 5+)
                SkyZone  and Launch
                Indoor trampoline parks in Columbia MD.  This venue has some similarities to the overdone JumpZone inflatable parties, but this is a bit different since they have actual trampolines.

                SkyZone has created a very slick venue which looks engaging and fun.   Cost for a party on weekdays is $21/jumper. On weekends is $24/jumper.  There are packages starting at $240/party.

                They have party rooms for each birthday party.  Be sure and check the reviews as there seem to be a high proportion of unhappy customers.  So far I have been to two parties and I thought it was okay overall.  My main reservations are safety issues and the fact that in both cases I got the feeling that the party itself was kind of like a production line–by the way, I always got the same feeling at JumpZone! and Pump It Up.  They are setup so that each kid basically gets their own trampoline to make things a bit safer, but even so, someone was taken away in an ambulance during the first party I attended there.

                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Helicopters

              14. Escape Room Party at Breakout Games (Ages 10+)
                This is an unusual kind of birthday party. Your party must follow clues and solve mysteries to figure out how to “break out” of a specially designed room. Billed as a life-sized game of twists and turns, it’s sure to be a fun time!It’s possible to bring younger kids, but it may not be as enjoyable for them because they may not have the background knowledge needed to solve the puzzles. Contact Breakout Games to discuss possibilities for 9-year olds and younger.We tried the “Museum Heist” game with a group of 10-11 year olds.

                Solving the puzzles was definitely difficult and may even prove frustrating for some kids.Luckily, an employee watches over your progress and is able to give the group hints. Our group definitely needed more than a few, but even so we didn’t “break out.”
                You only get an hour, so when the time runs out, you’re done no matter how far you’ve progressed. I think if I took the same group back to play a second time (which I think they’d all be up for), they would do better on a different puzzle, now that they have the hang of the mindset needed to solve the riddles. BTW, an employee recommended we try “Kidnapping” next time we play as he felt that it is a solid game and may be more relatable for kids LOL.
                There is no party room, and there is a maximum of 8 guests–and one of those guests must be a responsible adult.If you decide to have a party there, keep in mind that other people can purchase tickets for the same game at the same time–so if you don’t want strangers, most likely adults, to join in your kid’s birthday party, you need to buy out the whole game.Ticket prices are about $28/each (There are no discounts for a large group, so a party of 8 will cost around $240 with taxes). You may be able to solve a puzzle to get a coupon code. By the way if you’re looking for food nearby, there is a Bertucci’s Pizza near the Columbia location.
                ✳Escape Room Party Favor IdeasMini Magnetic Board Games, Mini Rubics Cubes, Mini Teaser Puzzles, Snake Twist Cube Toy

              15. Airsoft Paintball (Ages 11+)
                Airsoft indoor paintball course is loads of fun.  Located in Rockville, it is a bit of a trek from Howard County, but might be worth the trip.  Rumor has it that there is also an airsoft location in Beltsville, but I can’t find any information about it.
                ✳Paintball Party Favor Ideas: Compasses, Paracord Bracelets
              16. Museum Parties outside of Howard County (Ages 5+)
                Okay, these museum birthday parties aren’t in Howard County but what cool places for a birthday celebration. The Maryland Science Center, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, The B&O Railroad MuseumCollege Park Aviation Museum–if your child loves airplanes, this is the place to go!

                college park aviation museum for birthday fun
              17. Movie Theater Birthdays (Ages 3+)
                Kids love going to the movies–especially 3D movies that really bring in all the senses.  Some area theaters have party packages and even party rooms.

                A very good example of a movie theater with a party room is the Arundel Mills Cinemark Egyptian theater.  You could even roll an Egyptian theme into the party if you wanted.  Even if you decide not to use the group rates or party rooms, you may need to contact the theater when planning so you’ll know what choices will be available on the date of your party.  The movie itself can also become the theme of your party (ie-Transformers or Disney Princesses).
                Party Favor Ideas: Kid’s Card Games, Mini Uno CardsPuffy Kush Balls

              18. Whole Foods Cooking Party (Ages 5+)
                Some Whole Foods stores such as the one in Annapolis have culinary centers  which can be rented out for kids birthday parties.  They provide a host who will help the kids through making a pizza and pretzels.  Unfortunately, the Columbia, MD Whole Foods is one of the stores that doesn’t have a culinary center, however they do have a private cafe space that can seat 12 kids plus their parents.  For a party there you can pre-order party foods and cake.  If you have an event there (or anywhere else), take advantage of the healthy options that are available at Whole Foods and also consider alternatives to the standard party favors/gift bags. Chocolate Dessert Class party (Ages ?) I am still getting some details on the possibility of having a party in either Savage Mill or Ellicott City at a place called “Sweet Cascades Chocolatier.” They offer classes for kids and they are about $35/each child. It would definitely be a “sweet” party, especially if your child is into cooking.
              19. American Girl Doll Party  (Ages 4-9)
                Okay, not in Maryland and possibly not even very convenient for most Marylanders, but in Tysons Corner Mall in Northern Virginia, they have an American Girl doll store and you can have a birthday party there.  I don’t have any suggestions on the logistics of getting classmates and friends to the party, but I have heard good things about parties there.
                Location: Tyson’s Corner, VA
              20. Main Event or Dave and Busters (Ages 4+)
                like a carnival
                These two places are really busy with lots of things for kids to do. Main Event is very new to Howard County, and has quickly become very popular. Dave and Busters is fun, the Arundel Mills location has bowling and lots of games.
                Locations: Columbia, Md or Hanover, Md
                ✳Party Favor Ideas: Uno Mini Card GameFrisbees
          1. Six Flags America (Ages 8+)
            Not in Howard County, but close enough that it might make a great birthday party. Definitely on the pricier side of birthdays, but if the guest list is just two or three close friends, it probably would be a wash.
          2. Hot Pot Restaurants (Ages 13+)
            Possibly a bit expensive, but a great experience for a few friends to get together and cook/eat lunch. You might want to check it out ahead of time to make sure it would appeal to your teen.

            There are several options in Howard County, including Urban HotPot which just opened at Columbia Mall, and HotPot and Roll next to Lotte in Ellicott City. This location has a fun conveyor belt with various items you can add to your pot.

            Party Favor Ideas: Chinese Takeout Boxes, Sun Glasses

          3. Tire Playground Baltimore CountyRent a Pavilion at Centennial Park (Ages 2+) During the warmer months, there is always a great time to be had at Centennial Park.   The cost is about $150-180 dollars. Even cheaper: The tire park at the Hilton area of Patapsco State Park. This is a two acre playground made from recycled tires. Loads of fun and the nearby pavilions go relatively cheap (in Baltimore County).
            Party Favor Ideas: Sidewalk Chalk, Bubble Wands, Beach Balls
          4. Have a Lego Birthday Party (Ages 5-10)
            Bricks for Kids specializes in mobile lego parties in Howard County.  Seems like a very great idea if you’re having a home party or if you’re having a party at some other venue and need something to do (see below for party venue ideas).
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Lego Favors
          5. Fire Museum Towson Birthday Party IdeaFire Station Birthdays (Ages 3-7)
            Many people don’t even know that you can host a birthday party at some of the fire stations in Howard County.  You can learn how to make an inquiry about it here. I know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…and they get some fire safety tips too! My only caveat would be that an emergency could potentially cut the party short. As an alternative, there is a Fire Museum in Towson that provides a pretty good experience. A great gift to go with this birthday party would be a pair of walkie talkies. Here is one suggestion for a pretty good pair.
          6. AmuseToys ( In Pikesville (Baltimore County) (Ages 2-6)
            Parties in the lab are great fun.
          7. Music Birthday Parties (Ages 2-7)
            There are several music schools in the area that host birthday parties. A great option is Oleynka School of Music in Columbia. They work with several age groups. Parties include high-energy music activities and games including songs, dance, activities using instruments, hula hoops, balls, parachutes, followed by a one hour celebration in their Party Room.
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Maracas, Egg Shakers, Echo Microphones
          8. Drama and Comedy Workshop Parties (Ages 5+)
            There are some great opportunities around for drama and comedy related parties. Guest can take part in drama or comedy workshops at places like Drama Learning Center in Columbia or Improv Comedy in Baltimore.
          9. theater medieval times partyLive Theater Parties (Ages 3+) There is some great children’s theater in the area. Check with Toby’s Dinner Theater to see if they have appropriate shows.  You may also want to consider a party at Medieval Times in Arundel Mills.  If you can travel further, you will definitely like Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Any of the above will surely provide a memorable birthday! BTW, see my article on children’s theater in Maryland.
          10. iFly (Ages 3+)
            Okay, this isn’t nearby (in Whitemarsh), but it’s amazing! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor sky-diving would make for a wonderful birthday party. Your boy or girl will never forget this party!
            Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
          11. Bowie Baysox Baseball Party (Ages 6+)
            If your daughter or son loves baseball, they’ll love having a birthday party at Baysox Stadium. Another possibility is getting tickets to a Baysox, Nationals or Orioles game and making a party out of that (the Washington Nationals have a birthday party package, I am not sure that the Orioles do, but they do have group ticket rates and party suites)
          12. Fencing (Ages 8+) – The Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia on Rumsey Road has a great facility for unusual birthday parties. Guests learn the basics of fencing and can get a little practice in at the party.
          13. Supreme Sports Club Girls Only Sleepover (Ages 10-13)
            This party is for girls only and involves spending the night at the Columbia Association Supreme Sports Club. It seems to include alot of fun, but the cost is about $420 for members and $480 for non members. I can’t find a direct link to information about this party, but if you’re interested, just call.
          14. Table Tennis (Ages 9-14)
            This is would be a great party for older kids. You can rent the facility although there are restrictions on food and drink near the tables.
          15. Youth Teen Center
            Rent the Youth Teen Center for parties for teens at the Barn in Columbia.
          16. IKEA Ages: Teens 13+ – Yeah, that’s going to sound strange, but it works for older kids. Start with lunch in the cafe, then the kids can go through the store taking photos of themselves in the various demonstration areas. Photo contest anyone?I recently did this with my 13 year-old and 6 of her friends and they had a good time. Party favors were cactus plants on sale for less than $5. They also got $1 soft serve ice cream cones.
          17. Horse Back Riding
            Horse Back Riding Birthday Party
            Misty Manor Riding Stables can do trail ride birthday parties.
            ✳Party Favor Ideas: Horse ears headbands

    Suggestions based on age:

    Party PlaceAge 1-4Age 5-7Age 8-9Age 9-10Age 11-13Age 14+
    Pool PartyYesYesYesYesYesYes
    FarmsYesYesNoNoNoNo
    Craft PartiesYesYesYesYesNoNo
    Pottery StopNoYesYesYesYesYes
    Autobahn RacingNoNoYesYesYesYes
    Baseball BirthdaysNoYesYesYesYesYes
    iFly3+YesYesYesYesYes
    Live TheaterYesYesYesYesYesYes
    Firehouse Parties3+YesNoNoNoNo
    Fencing PartiesNoNoYesYesYesYes
    Roller Skating PartiesNoNoYesYesYesYes

  1. Home Birthday Party Ideas

    If you have room at home (or a relative’s home or decide to rent a party room such as at the North Laurel Community Center, The Meeting Room in Clarksville, Occasions Banquet Hall in North Laurel, or Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City) there are lots of great ideas for home-hosted parties.  For example hiring a magician, having a princess tea party or having someone bring in farm animals, etc.

  2. ✳Tip: For any birthday party consider getting a photo booth. These can be great fun and provide lasting memories. Choose your provider carefully. I’ve had great luck with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth (410) 961-2983.

    Here are some entertainers that I have seen that do a good job with home parties. For more ideas, see my other post about birthday party themes:

              • Science Themed Parties- There are a few performers you can get. One great choice is Mad Science–they have several performers that can come to your child’s party. I’ve seen Damu perform, he’s was fantastic. Request him if he’s available. I have also seen several shows by Eric Energy.  Eric did a pretty good job with “science-tainment”–he gets the kid’s involved in several science experiments that they are sure to love…a great party favor to go with this would a 10-pack of safety goggles.
              • You might also try doing a science party yourself if you’re ambitious–see Bird’s Party blog’s Mad Scientist Party how-to. If you like animals, you could have Reptile Wonders/Nature Center On The Go bring all sorts of interesting animals to your home.  Reptile wonders has huge turtles, a Burmese python, bearded dragon and various skinks for your party guests to see and handle.
              • Magic show for a Maryland Birthday PartyD’s Magic – Great magic show complete with rabbit and balloon sculpture.  Very entertaining.
              • Another idea is to have a Lego robotics birthday party–the crew from The Great Adventure Lab will bring lego robots to your party and spend time teaching the kids how to program them.  Sounds like a great experience and an unusual party.
              • Have an art-themed party. A colleague and friend of mine bought canvases and paints for the party attendees. She put nails in her fence and attached the canvases so each child would have an easel.
              • Petting Zoo party – If it’s in the budget, get Leesburg Animal Park to bring their petting zoo to your home. Kids will get to learn about and pet llamas, turtles, chickens, snakes, goats, and more
              • Kids all love a face-painters. Try Pirate Girl.
              • hire a caricature artist for birthday partiesConsider a caricature artist. George Edwards charges around $200 for 3 hours of art.
              • For a special flair of sophistication, and to perhaps make your job as host a little bit easier, consider hiring on a little bit of light catering. For example, the Omelette Guys provide omelette and Belgian waffle stations as well as pasta stations.

Do you have any ideas to share?  Don’t be shy about letting me know.  Also, be sure and browse my blog for birthday gift ideas and take a look at my comments about party favors–please choose a healthy option, choose to do something different. Also, here is my list of birthday party places in Anne Arundel County.

Categories
Education kids activities

Children’s Theater and Dance Companies in Maryland

There are some amazing and unusual dance and kid’s theater companies in Maryland and Washington D.C. We have some excellent places for kids to see performing arts as well as great places for them to take classes. Below is my list of some of the dance and theater places that I am aware of:

Places for Kid’s To See Performing Arts in Maryland

  • Candlelight Kids – The Candlelight Concert Society of Maryland offers a series of dance and musical performances that kids of all ages will surely enjoy. This year they are at Howard County Community College.
  • Children’s Theater of Annapolis – Wonderful venue in Annapolis / Cape St. Claire. They offer professional productions as well as classes for kids.
  • Imagination Stage – This is an amazing venue in downtown Bethesda, Md. They have professional performances in their theaters that kids love.
  • Footworks – Check the Footworks schedule to see when and where they are performing in Md.
  • Shenyun Chinese Dance – A fixture in the Washington DC – Baltimore area. Beautiful professional Chinese dance performances.
  • The Maryland Renaissance Festival – This festival occurs every year in Crownsville, Maryland (Near Annapolis) from August to October. There are usually more than a few family friendly performances, as well as wandering minstrels and dancers.

Dance and Performing Arts Classes in Maryland

Annapolis Musical Theater – Offers musical theater classes and camps for kids at Maryland Hall for the Arts.

Chinese Dance – The Madison Chinese Dance Academy teaches authentic forms of traditional Chinese dance. Classes are in Montgomery County. They are based in Rockville, Maryland.

Theater Classes at Imagination Stage – Imagination stage offers great classes and camps in Bethesda, Maryland.

Theater Classes at Children’s Theater of Annapolis – Offering workshops, master classes, and behind the scenes looks at current productions.

Classes Closely Related to Children’s Theater

  • Kangaroo Kids – Precision jump rope team. Classes for kids and competitive team.
  • Fencing Classes – Classes and competitions in fencing.

Does your child have an upcoming birthday? See my list of party places in Howard County and a similar list of venues in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County. You may also be interested in my list of birthday gift ideas.

Categories
Education kids activities Recommendations Review

Before and After Care in Howard County

after care in howard county MD

We’re definitely going to need before and after care for our children this school year (2018-2019).

We’ve started looking into what the standard options are, and we’re a little worried.

As a former teacher,  I have seen what before and after care can be (a waste of children’s time, with some fun mixed in) and hope to find something better.

Idea Lab After School Program

Idea Lab is located in Ellicott City/Columbia on Route 108 near Red Branch Road. It specializes in STEM programs for kids, and it is one of the few places that will pick kids up from school and transport them. They pick up a schools that are within 5 miles (elementary and middle schools).

I’d note that you may not find it easy to navigate their website to determine the pickup options, but just give them a call — they definitely do offer this service.

They have some great options for STEM classes and activities after school. They offer classes in coding, 3D printing, cooking/baking, and more.

They also have great summer camps and school’s out camps.

It’s a great option to consider. Here is a sample of their offering for Spring 2020. Howard County Schools After Care Columbia Ellicott City Schedule

Martial Arts Centers After School Programs

Another possibility is a martial arts program at one of a few locations around Howard County. The deal is that for about $450 dollars/month, a member of the martial art’s schools staff picks up your child up after school (walking or typically with a van) your child may get a snack, and then they take martial arts classes and have some free time to do homework.

The local Howard County martial arts schools with after-school programs that I know of are:

  1. Wilde Lake Karate After Care $450/month
  2. World Champion Martial Arts Laurel, Md
  3. Hwarang Martial Arts $89/week after school only – Serves schools near 21045 zip code.
  4. Nam’s Kicks  Ellicott City, serves Illchester, Waterloo, Phelps Luck, Bonnie Branch, and Thunder Hill Elementary.
  5. Harraday’s Karate & Fitness Columbia, Md – Not sure which schools they serve with their after-school program.

In-School Before and After Care

The public schools in Howard County all have on-site before and after care. Some of the programs are run by Howard County Parks and Recreation, and some are primarily run by the Columbia Association. This means you won’t have a choice–it’s either one or the other.

At our local elementary for example, before and after care is run by Columbia Association. It turns out, however, that there are “special programs” that are added on by the Howard County Parks and Rec. For example, they have a 12-session before school chess club running this fall from Silver Knights Chess.

Checking out the Recreation and Parks after care page, it definitely looks as if they have some good programs, but recently, we  heard some parents complaining about this program one day while my girls were taking a ballet lesson–exactly what I am afraid of, basically frequent disorganization, and more of a babysitting service than anything else.  I hope that’s not what I will find.

The following elementary schools have before and after care provided by Recreation and Parks:

  • Bellows Spring Elem
  • Bollman Bridge Elem
  • Bushy Park Elem
  • Dayton Oaks Elem
  • Deep Run Elem
  • Ducketts Lane Elem
  • Elkridge Elem
  • Forest Ridge Elem
  • Fulton Elem
  • Gorman Crossing Elem
  • Hollifield Station Elem
  • Ilchester Elem
  • Laurel Woods Elem
  • Lisbon Elem
  • Manor Woods Elem
  • Pointers Run Elem
  • Rockburn Elem
  • St. John’s Lane Elem
  • Triadelphia Ridge Elem
  • Veterans Elem
  • Waverly Elem
  • West Friendship Elem

As mentioned many of the local schools have programs offered by Columbia Association. There is an application on the website. You may find that your school has a waiting list for the before and after care. You can call them on 410-715-3000 to check on the waiting list.  The following elementary schools have Columbia Association before and after care:

  • Atholton
  • Bryant Woods
  • Centennial
  • Clarksville
  • Clemens Crossing
  • Cradlerock
  • Guilford
  • Hammond
  • Jeffers Hill
  • Longfellow
  • Northfield
  • Phelps Luck
  • Running Brook
  • Stevens Forest
  • Swansfield
  • Talbott Springs
  • Thunder Hill
  • Waterloo
  • Worthington

The Columbia Association programs are convenient, but certainly aren’t what I’d call cheap-basically you’re going to pay $183/month for before care starting at 7am, and $260 for aftercare until 6pm or both for $493/month (These are 2018 prices, subject to change! Financial aid is available) for before and aftercare. (They also offer a full-day program for days when school is closed for $55/day. See my list of other options for schools out camps)

So for that kind of money, and for spending so much of your child’s time, you can only hope for well-run, worthwhile offerings.  The website states that the ratio of students to staff in this program are no more than 15 to 1. Also, worth mentioning is that they provide snacks (I hope they’re healthy snacks!)

So that’s one option, easy if you don’t get waitlisted, but what are the other options?

As mentioned earlier, some of the elementary schools also have special add-on aftercare programs that are available through Howard County Parks and Recreation or Columbia Association from local businesses. (ie-Chess, music lessons, yoga, sports, Girls on the Run, scouting–see my post about after school activities in Howard County!)   You have to check with your school or browse through the online catalog to see what’s available and the additional costs.

If your student is a middle schooler, there are also programs at some schools run by Howard County Parks and Recreation called Can-Teen ($299/month). Details about the program and the registration forms are here. It is available at the following schools:

  • Bonnie Branch
  • Elkridge Landing
  • Folly Quarter
  • Lime Kiln
  • Mayfield Woods
  • Thomas Viaduct

Does anyone have any additional suggestions?

What have you found about before and after care at schools in Howard county?  Also, check out this post if you’re looking for other worth-while activities to do with your kids in central Maryland and if you’re looking for gift ideas for your child, see my post about birthday and holiday gift ideas for smart kids. (Also see my birthday party ideas for kids in Howard County)