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Gift Ideas for Brainy Kids | Updated 12/2/19

gift ideas for brainy kids
Roominate: Engineering toys for girls

This is a list of 80+ educational birthday gift ideas and Christmas/holiday gifts for brainy kids for 2020.

If you see something missing from this gift list, please feel free to suggest your own gift ideas for smart kids in the comments below.

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.

You’ll find electronics, geography, physics, math, chemistry, biology, and geology brainy gift ideas below. BTW, if you have a birthday party coming up, here are some suggestions for fun places to have the birthday event!

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. 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: $$
    3. FamZoo.com Financial Literacy Debit Card
      Okay, this one is a standout in this list of gifts because this one is a gift that keeps giving, and can really help families by changing the way you give allowance and rewards. It’s a debit card for each kid in your family. You can transfer money to their cards when they earn it or on a regular basis automatically. Kids can even setup an account for charity. Check out my FamZoo review or go directly to FamZoo.
      Age: 5+
      Cost: $ – $$$
    4. 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: $$$
    5. LED Backpack – PIX Programmable LED Backpack 
      This gift is definitely pricey, and I haven’t actually had a chance to get my hands on one, but I know plenty of kids who would have a great time customizing their backpack digitally with LEDs that can display millions of colors. Sky’s the limit on what could be displayed: Favorite bands, logos, sayings, perhaps even equations for some of the truly math nerdy children I know. It even does animations. It’s roomy, can hold a laptop.
      Age: 8+
      Cost: $$$
  1. 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+
  2. 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
  3. 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: $$
  4. The Zoob Builderz STEM Challenge Kit
    This was better than I thought and my whole family really enjoys it. Basically this is a “build-it kit” with lots of parts that fit together, wheels, rubber bands, and string. They give you challenges, such as build a car with a retractable roof, with little guidance, and you have to figure out your own solution to build the car and the roof with the parts provided. This is a great engineering toy for kids because it’s so flexible.
    Cost: $$
    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.
  5. 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
    1. 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: $$
      Suggested Ages: Ages 3-13
    2. Magic School Bus Science Kit Club
      The Magic School Bus Science kit has lots of great science activity that will keep your child busy and engaged and they will love getting a monthly package with great experiments.
      Cost: $$$
      Suggested Ages: 5-12+
    3. 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
    1. 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
    2. 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
    3. 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
    1. 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
    2. 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+

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+
  1. 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
  2. Analogy Challenges
    This is a great educational gift suggestion. These books come in several levels.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Age: 7-10
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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. 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+
  2. 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+
  3. 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
  4. 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+
  1. 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 12.

    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. Remote controlled airplanes and helicopters can be very educational and lots of fun. There are many levels of price to these…
    For example, the Parrot AR drones are stable and 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
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
Reviews Technology

Review of the Ecovacs Deebot N79 Robotic Vacuum

tldr; The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is a worthy robotic vacuum that may not be as smart as some of its competitors but it definitely has a great feature set and does an excellent job of its primary job–it is a really good vacuum.

My daughter asked for a robotic vacuum cleaner for her 9th birthday. (Looking for better gift ideas for a gifted and talented student? [Opens in a new window]) A strange request, but my wife and I were talking about getting one anyway, and the birthday wish was the push we needed to finally look into it and make a decision as to which robot vacuum to purchase. There are several competitors, and among the competitors there are different price points and features. It was difficult to decide.

We mainly considered the Roomba  and  Ecobots offerings. They seemed to get the most favorable reviews. We were especially interested in the Roomba model that Costco sells (Not a member of Costco? See my review!), but since we weren’t really sure how much use we’d get out of it, we didn’t want to shell out nearly $400 for it. So we decided to look for something cheaper.

As we looked at the various models, we considered whether they would be able to interoperate with our Google Home, whether they had the ability to mop the floor as well as vacuum, and how well other reviewers received the devices. We eventually settled on the Ecobots N79 and purchased it from Amazon. We loved the fact that former Roomba owners endorsed it, and were sold when we read the review from the woman who left  her sliding glass door open and found it outside dutifully cleaning her patio until it got stuck in some lava rocks.

The Deebot N79 was easy to setup and get it going. It comes with a charging station and a tool used to clear hair, etc, from its rotating brush and to clean off the filter intake. The first time we ran it, we were extremely impressed, if not a bit mortified by the amount of cat hair and crud it picked up before heading back to it’s charging station about an hour later.  We don’t keep the tidiest house, but we do vacuum and we didn’t think there would be so much invisible debris. It didn’t stop there though. It’s holding tank was stuffed full the next few times we ran it–I am sure it sucked up an entire cat’s worth of cat hair…and much more. To be fair to us, the robot is able to slip under our sofas and is rather persistent about trying to get into various corners we may often miss.

Certainly, one of the things we like about this model is that it has a low profile so it can get under the sofas.  It also can slip between our dining room chairs which means it does a decent job of cleaning up after dinner. It has side-brushes that stick out and sweep crumbs into its rotating brush path (also a distinguishing feature as many of the competing units don’t use a spinning brush). We also like the fact that it can be programmed to start automatically at a certain time of day either via the included remote control or from a free Android/iOS app which can trigger a vacuuming from anywhere you have an internet connection.

The Deebot N79 seems to be very durable and determined to do it’s job. I really like the fact that it is really easy to change and clean it’s brushes. Even the main roller brush has a compartment that easily snaps open, so it makes it easy to clean off hair that gets wrapped around it etc (and they also include a tool that helps you cut off hair without taking out the brush too. Also, it is no problem to change its air filter–again you just snap open a chamber on the dirt collection box and you can just put in a new one.

The Ecovacs app includes a timer that tells you when to officially change certain parts (like the side brushes or the air filter). The box we got came with 2 extra side brushes and an extra air filter. And when you need additional parts for the vacuum they are readily available on Amazon, and aren’t that expensive.

As you can tell I am genuinely happy with our purchase, however everything isn’t perfect about the vacuum. Unlike some of its competitors this device is rather dumb. It runs in random patterns and redirects itself if it approaches something it can “see” in its path such as something tall like a wall, sofa leg, a person or the top of a staircase. It doesn’t always see things ahead of time but if it runs into something it is a relatively harmless bump that turns it around and sends it in another direction.

While some of it’s more expensive competitors can map your house and know which areas it has done recently, this one is clueless. Still, in an average session, it seems to find its way all over the place. So even though it doesn’t have all the smarts, its cleaning algorithm seems to get it around to enough places so that it is still effective. It handily gets between our hard wood floors, our area rugs, and the shag carpet in our bedrooms–this is something that apparently can’t be said of certain competing robotic vacuums.

This review would be remiss if I didn’t include a sort of warning for new owners. You kind of have to “clean up” for this robot if you want to get the most out of it and/or don’t want to risk certain belongings getting chewed up by it. We’ve had two occasions so far where this became an issue. One time it made it’s way into our bedroom and found a dress that was touching the floor in the closet. It did manage to suck it into it’s brush and apparently tried to get away with it. It didn’t end very well for the dress. The vacuum’s consumable side brush got a bit torn up in that tif as well.

Another time our indoor welcome mat got sucked in and dragged around until the robot stopped and shut itself down. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but our mat had become a bit disheveled. The point is that you have to get certain things out of the robot’s way or it is going to try to “neutralize” it. So before you decide to buy one of these, look around your house and think about what may need to be picked up before vacuuming. If you have chairs whose legs are too close together, that could also be something you’d have to move out of its way if you’d like it to clean in that area.

[Looking for gift ideas for the smart kids in your life? See my hand-picked list of educational toys that make excellent birthday or holiday gifts.]

This should be obvious, but the robot can’t go down stairs by itself. So if you have a multi-level dwelling, you will need to physically move the robot yourself and turn it loose. It won’t be able to find its way back to the charger if you do this, so it will eventually just die someplace and let out a sad beep to make you aware of its failure. Certainly it is worth the effort to move it to another level for a while and let it do its thing while getting a break from the usual scenery.

There is another odd foible about this vacuum that I would like to mention. You can use the app to schedule vacuum sessions ahead of time at different times of day/days of the week, etc. It isn’t that much work, but in an instant, your schedule can potentially disappear. If for some reason you decide to use the robotic vacuum’s On/Off switch to toggle the power–something that there is rarely a valid reason to need to do–your schedule will be toast. That makes absolutely no sense and I hope they will fix the problem at some point.

It seems to me that if the app in your phone knows what the schedule was, it could easily re-download it to the vacuum’s memory at next opportunity. But for now, if you toggle the power on the vacuum, and return to the app, your schedule will also be removed from there…and you’ll have to recreate it. Rather a pain.

In spite of that and the above detractors, I definitely do recommend this vacuum. At the price, you probably won’t have an easy time finding something that is as reliable and capable. Don’t take my word for it, you’ll definitely want to have a read over the other reviews on Amazon.

 

 

Categories
Food Nutrition Recommendations Save Money

Top 6 Places To Buy Fruit, Vegetables & Other Produce For Cheap in Central Maryland


If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  We especially like fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control.

Below are my top 6 recommendations for where to buy produce, plus some bonus tips on how to get great veggies for lower prices in Maryland (This advice applies to anywhere in the United States although you’ll need to follow my links to find cheap produce in your area–read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:

1) You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in it week by week.

This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for the most part for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely that we’d get less attractive fruits if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. Sometimes we do see things in the box that are a bit undersized, but mostly it’s just the normal stuff you’d get in the supermarket. (And some things you wouldn’t find there at all.)

Hungry Harvest has a warehouse in Jessup and they employ local drivers to drop off the boxes in each neighborhood. I spoke to our driver today and she said it’s really exploding in popularity. She said she had 60 deliveries just today in Columbia alone. I know a few people who use this service and also like it. If you’re interested, please use this link to sign up-We will both get a $5 credit on our next order.

Each produce box you get comes with a gel ice pack. So if you decide to order from Hungry Harvest, be sure and save your ice packs and return them…just leave them on your porch on the drop off day and the driver will get them. They prefer them to be thawed out and dry.

vidalia onions at Costco Wholesale Warehouse2) Shop at Costco warehouse stores.  We love shopping at Costco (Read my review and list of organic foods available there).

One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen.  Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach), and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries.

Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk.  I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price.   Find a Costco location near you.

Spring Onions 7 bunches for $1 at Super Best Asian Market
Green Onions
at a
Maryland
Asian
Market

3) Shop at Asian or International markets.  There are many of these in Maryland.  One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best. We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.

There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap.  For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. If you live in Columbia, you may want to visit La Mart.  To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.

3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart.  You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off.  In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go  to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.

That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save.  Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland.  Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.

If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce.  Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale.

It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time.  Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list.  They are located at  8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area.   (410) 799-5000.

PRO TIP
: For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays.  It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.

4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”.  Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals.  This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable.

A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.

5) Shop for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices.  Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets.  Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location).

PRO TIP: 
One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops.  This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.

Bonus Tip: Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own.  Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.

If you’re new to gardening, you might want to have a look at the home gardening programs and information provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension–it is a great resource.  If you live in outside of Maryland, check with your state’s department of agriculture for similar programs.

This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy.

Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!

There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.

Pick your own strawberries - box of strawberries

Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables.  They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.

BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm.  I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems.  It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm.  You can read about how Larriland uses this system here.  There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.

BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:

  • InstantPot – This is a digital pressure cooker/slow cooker/rice maker/yogurt maker and more. We use ours every day. Here is my full review of the Instant Pot.
  • Vitamix or Blendtec blenders – You’ll love making smoothies and vegetable soups in these professional blenders.
  • Spiralizer – This is a three-blade spiral slicer for vegetables. So many fun things you can do with this including zucchini noodles.
  • Julienne peeler – This is a great way to peel veggies.
  • Corn Stripper – Well, the name makes me laugh, but it’s a great way to get the corn off the cob.
  • Produce bags – These bags will help keep your produce fresh much longer.
  • Juicepresso – A great way to juice. Definitely an improvement over our Jack La Lane.
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.
  • Melting Pot (Columbia) – Upscale fondue restaurant. Great for leisurely meals. Kids love cooking for themselves in the fondue pot and the dessert…well, I’m going to tell you that this is probably the best dessert of all…chocolate fondue with lots of different things to dip into it–strawberries, pound cake, marshmallows, and cheesecake to name a few. Some older kids might also like Hot Pot in Ellicott City. It’s kind of like the Melting Pot, but the meal is soup. Everyone gets their own soup and cooker.
  • 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: 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.

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

Categories
Reviews Technology

Google Home for Kids

We recently added a Google Home to our household. We’ve all been having alot of fun with it and I think it’s very useful for families with children. The device is relatively family friendly, and my kids love having it–so do I.

Ways we use Google Home with Kids in our house

  • Timers: I think the timer feature is one of the “killer app” aspects of the Google Home. You simply say something like “Ok Google, set a timer for 30 minutes for Piano,” and it will start running a timer. The cool thing is that you can have as many timers going at the same time as needed. So cooking timers and music practice timers for two kids can all be going together. The time left can be checked by asking “Ok Google, how much time is left on the piano timer.”  The convenience of using this feature, combined with the legitimacy of a computer dutifully timing something means less fudging of practice time. The rule in our house is that if it isn’t timed, the practice didn’t happen.
  • Games and jokes: There are lots of fun games to be played on the Google Home. For example, Mad Libs. The Google Home will walk you through the Mad Libs interview process and then read back your mad lib. We’ve been having a great time playing Mad Libs as a family. There are plenty of other games it can play as well.My favorite is trivia. “Where was Andy Warhol born?” Not exactly a kid’s question, but fun, nonetheless.There are other kinds of games too–including the “Crystal Ball,” the online version of the 8 ball. You ask a question and get blythe answers like “all signs point to yes.”…and the jokes. So many jokes. Just ask Google Home to tell you a joke, and you get one of hundreds of jokes, not so funny sometimes, but others, pretty good. An example just handed down from Google is “Why can’t you trust an Atom?” “Because they make up literally everything.”It will also be happy to sing you a ditty if you ask “Do you know the muffin man?”There are plenty of other games provided by third parties. One of my girls’ favorites is called “Akinator.”

    When you give the command to “talk to Akinator,” Google Home connects you with a service that guesses which literary character you’re thinking of by asking you a series of questions until it is able to narrow it down. There are also plenty of academic games such as mental math and spelling quizzes.

  • Stories. Google Home can tell fiction and non-fiction stories, and recite poems. Some of them are pretty good–occasionally my kids will even listen to them 🙂
  • Controlling Lights – We have two sets of controllable devices for our lights: a few Philips Hue light bulbs and a Wemo dimmer switch from Belkin that controls our basement lights.In both cases, they are a bit expensive, but the cool and convenience factor is worth it. At the basic level, you can control the lights from an app on your mobile phone. You can turn them on and off, slowly bring up the lights over time…if you have a Google Home, you can just ask Google’s assistant to turn them on for you. Commands like “Turn on the light in Mary’s room” or “set the light in the living room to 50%” are fun to use.

    For even more fun, you can connect IFTTT to your Home device to add additional commands. For example, Philips Hue bulbs come in white or colors. The colored bulbs can be any one of thousands of colors that you set via the app or Google Home. You can use IFTTT to flash the colors of your favorite professional sports team when they score a touchdown, run, or goal.

    You can also write your own commands and the responses. So when my daughter whines I say “Ok Google, my daughter is whining!” Google responds with my daughter’s name and says “stop whining. You are 8 years old. I am only a few months old, and I don’t whine…” and then it blinks the lights for added effect.  If you have the colored Philips Hue bulbs you can ask Google to do things such as  “Ok Google, set the living room lights to Christmas colors…”

  • By the way, you can do some really  useful things with IFTTT and Google Home, for instance it can log things into a Google Spreadsheet for you such as keeping track of work hours. By the way again, IFTTT can also control smart outlets such as Wemo. Follow the link to see that it’s just a gadget that plugs into your existing wall outlets, but it can be controlled via your mobile phone, Google Home, and in fact, IFTTT.
  • Controlling a TV. That’s right, it’s great for controlling Netflix and chromecast compatible televisions for that matter. If you have a TV near the Google Home, it’s most useful. You can ask Google Home to put a certain video or photograph on the TV screen for you.
  • Getting facts. Google’s search engine has lots of facts and information. Things come up at dinner. Google knows the answers. “How far away is the moon from Earth?” “What’s the fastest land animal?” “What sound does a horse make?” (It answers that one with a sound!) Its also great for homework help. It can answer questions, but also help kids practice math problems, spelling words, and more.
  • Music. It is fantastic for music. I am amazed at how quickly it can pull up any song or type of music I can think of…and that my kids can think of. We’ve subscribed to YouTube Red (Google Home came with a six month free subscription) and so we’re getting tons of advertisement-free music. You may be wondering if there is any way to restrict the content on the Google Home so that the kids don’t hear anything “adult” on YouTube. In fact, there is a setting in Google Home called “YouTube Restricted Mode” which allows you to “Hide songs and videos that may contain inappropriate content.”
  • Relaxation. Google Home has a library of relaxing sounds such as forest sounds and beaches. We turn this on during dinner or homework sometimes.
  • Recipes. Google Home has access to a huge library of recipes that it will walk you through step-by-step. This is fun for the kids, and sometimes can be quite helpful in general.
  • Alarm Clock. This is the most flexible, easy-to-use alarm clock your kids will will ever have. “Ok Google. Set an alarm for 8:30am with School of Fish on YouTube.”
  • Calendars and reminders. Maybe this isn’t so helpful for kids, especially younger kids who aren’t as concerned with future events, however this feature certainly does help parents. Google Home allows you to set up calendar events and reminders for a future date. Busy parents will appreciate not having to stop what they’re doing to update the family calendar.

Looking for ways to control your kid’s screen time? See my post about parental controls for kid’s devices it includes a small review of the Google WiFi device.

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.

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
Childrens' Birthday Parties Featured Kids Birthday Parties Reviews

Kid’s Birthday Party Place Ideas in Baltimore County

Are you looking for some ideas for places to have your child’s birthday party in Baltimore County? If you need ideas, here is my list of birthday party places around Baltimore County and other areas of Maryland, including nearby in Howard County and Anne Arundel County for toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens.

With each idea I try to include links to Amazon.com for some ideas for party favors and sometimes educational gifts that go along with the party theme.

Looking for some great birthday gift ideas for your girl or boy? See my list!

First, here are some of the more typical birthday party place ideas from around Baltimore County. These are popular and possibly done too often (I am purposely not mentioning bouncy parties–I am so tired of them!), but kids of the right ages will usually have a great time:

  • Laser tag
    laser tag party
    (Ages 6+)
    Red Zone Adventures in Lutherville is a great place for a fun birthday party. Although alot of kids have laser tag birthday parties–there is a good reason. They have a great time every time! This is a good kids party place for older kids and teens.
    Locations: Lutherville/Timonium
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Bumpy Ring, Magnetic drawing tabletsMini LED carabiner Flashlights
  • Bowling
    birthday bowling party
    (Ages 8+)
    Bowling parties are a great idea for older kids. The younger ones who may have trouble handling the ball will enjoy it less, and may get frustrated, even with bumpers in place. I’d definitely, strongly recommend using a duckpin alley because the balls are smaller and lighter so it’s a better venue for birthdays, especially for the younger kids. There is one in Parkville that offers kid’s parties.
    Locations: Parkville
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: ✳LED Rubberband Helicopters ✳(I love these!) or Rocket Copters

[Need a great solution for your child’s allowance? Check out my review of FamZoo.com, a debit card for kids]

  • Movie Parties
    Cinemark movie birthday party towson md
    (Ages 4+)
    Kids love going to the movies. Most people don’t think of it, but you can host a great party at some movie theaters. A great example in Balt. County is Cinemark in Towson. The theater has a party room, and if you have twenty or more guests, you can even do a private movie screening. Pretty cool! With the right movie, this party is a good idea for any age, and it’s definitely a great party place for toddlers.
    Locations: Towson
    ✳Party Favor IdeasKid’s Card GamesMini Uno CardsPuffy Kush Balls
  • Pool Parties (Age Range 1+)
    Indoor and outdoor pool parties are always fun for kids of any age from toddlers to teens. Great for a 1st birthday party.
    If your child likes swimming they’ll probably love the idea of inviting their friends to a swim party. There are lots of options for outdoor parties in the summer, but winter/colder months will require some research.
    As far as I know, your best bet in Baltimore County would be the YMCA, for example I know that the Y in Catonsville offers birthday parties, but I am not able to find a page for this on the website.  They definitely have a great pool for indoor pool parties in Baltimore County.
    Kid’s First Swim School in Perry Hall, Cockeysville, and Dundalk offers parties that would be good for younger kids.  Same with Goldfish Swim School in Owings Mills. These are especially good for toddler birthday parties.
    Otherwise, you may want to consider places like the Columbia Association swimming pools in Howard County.
    Locations: Catonsville, Dundalk, Cockeysville, Owings Mills, Perry Hall
    ✳Party Favor IdeasWater ToysGogglesFlip-Flop KeychainsHawaiian Flower LeisHibiscus Flower Hair Clips
  • Gymnastics Parties (Ages 2+)
    These parties tend to work out great — especially for toddler birthdays and for other younger kids. Everyone has fun running, jumping, and playing on gymnastics equipment, not to mention it’s great exercise. There are lots of gyms that offer birthday parties in Baltimore County. For example Rebounders in Timonium offers great parties as does Gymboree on Rossville Rd.
    ✳Party Favor IdeasRibbon WandsNecklacesJump Ropes
  • Indoor Parkour (Age Range +)
    Kids love to climb. The Alternate Routes gym in White Marsh takes it to the next level with indoor parkour birthday parties. Kids will train in a simulated urban environment to overcome obstacles. In short, they’ll have a great time getting worn out climbing and jumping. Sure to be a great birthday party.
    ✳Parkour Party Favor Ideas: Lego Bricks, Jump Ropes, Create Your Own Bouncy Balls Kit
  • Wonderfly Arena (Ages 3+)
     This is definitely a fun kind of party for even the tiny tots to teenagers. Imagine a party in a hamster ball. Just keep in mind that keeping these giant balls moving is alot of exercise with lots of motion–meaning people who aren’t in the best shape or get dizzy might not have fun. They do have other party options though!
    Locations: Arbutus
    Wonderfly Party Favor IdeasSilly Putty Balls
  • Basketball Party (Ages 5+)
    If you’re child is into basketball, there are a few places around Baltimore County for a themed party. Freestate Sports Arena in White Marsh or Goals in Catonsville can host a basketball party.  Also see Coppermine Fieldhouse locations in Baltimore City for more sports party ideas.
    Locations: Catonsville, White Marsh, Mt. Washington
    Basketball Party Favor Ideas: Atomic Basketballs, Basketball Mini-Stress Foam Balls, Basketball Keychains
  • Chuck E Cheese’s (Ages 3-7)
    I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Catonsville. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get. This is a great party venue for toddlers and younger children.

Looking for some great gift ideas for your girl or boy? See my list!

And here are some more unusual ideas. These parties are possibly more memorable because they are more likely to be “one offs” that none of their classmates or friends have already done:

  • Escape Room Party (Age )
    There are a few escape room locations in the Baltimore area. The one I have experience with is Breakout Games (Timonium and Columbia). They offer several types of games. I am told that the best choice for kids is Museum Heist. They have no party room, and there isn’t really a group rate. You can just visit their website and purchase the number of tickets you need.Please note that you have to have an adult in the party and the maximum number of people is 8. So the most you can have is 7 kids. Still this is a great party, especially for older kids (Younger kids might find it frustrating rather than fun).
  • Fencing (Ages 8+)
    I am not sure if there is a fencing club in Baltimore County, however in Baltimore City there’s Chesapeake Fencing Club and then there’s the Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia in Ellicott City, MD . Both of which have a great facility for unusual birthday parties. Guests learn the basics of fencing and can get a little practice in at the party. If you’re looking a different kind of party location, this is your place.
    Locations: Ellicott City, Baltimore City
  • Pirate Party
    Pirate Birthday Party
    (Ages 7+) on the Urban Pirate boat that sails from Baltimore Harbor.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Gold Pirate CoinsPirate Eye Patches, Bandanas
  • Nature Center Parties (Ages 2+)
    There are several choices around Baltimore County for Nature Center birthday parties. One of the best is Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills. They have an excellent offering at a reasonable price. Fun for children of all ages.
    Location: Owings Mills
  • Craft Parties (Ages 4+)
    There are lots of options for this. One easy one is to have your party at either Michael’s (for example the one in Owings Mills/Reisterstown) or JoAnn Fabrics (stores in Parkville and Cockeysville). You may also want to check out Social Studio in Roland Park/Baltimore.
    Locations: Parkville, Cockeysville, Baltimore
  • Pottery Parties (Ages 6+)
    Paint your own pottery is a great idea for a birthday party. Kids in kindergarten and beyond will enjoy paint parties with their friends. In the Baltimore area, one of the best places is in Catonsville — the Pottery Cove.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tabletsPutty Balls
    Locations: Catonsville
  • iFly (Ages 3+)
    An amazing new venue in White Marsh! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor skydiving would make for a wonderful birthday party place. Your boy or girl will never forget this birthday party! Be warned, this is a bit of a pricey option, at the end, each child will probably only get maybe 2 to 4 minutes of flying time. I would suggest that due to the amount of patience needed while waiting for your turn to fly, this venue is best for kids older than 7 even though toddlers are welcome.
    Locations: White Marsh
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
  • Rock Climbing (Ages 5+)
    Earth Treks has an amazing facility in Timonium that makes a wonderful place to host a bdp. Your kids will also definitely enjoy ClimbZone in White Marsh. Lots of great things to climb there.
    Locations: Timonium, White Marsh
  • Toy Store Party at AmuseToys (Ages 2-6)
    In Pikesville (Baltimore County). Parties in the lab are great fun. This is definitely a different kind of place to hold a birthday party.
    Locations: Pikesville
  • Indoor Playground (Ages 3 – 7)
    Kiddie Crusoe might be a good party place option for younger kids. Large indoor playground & party room.
  • Roller Skating (Ages 8+)
    There are three rinks in Baltimore County that all offer roller skating birthday parties. For example, Hot Skates in Woodlawn and Skateland in Putty Hill offer a party that is currently under $100.
    Locations: Woodlawn, Putty Hill
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Glowing GlovesGlowing Bracelets, Light Up Finger Rings
  • Rent a pavillion at Local Park (Ages 2+)
    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  for a barbeque or just to hang out and do a craft. This is an inexpensive party venue, especially if you want to have lots of children attend. This is a particularly great party location for the warmer months.
    Locations: Catonsville
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Sidewalk Chalk, Bubble Wands, Beach Balls
  • Fire 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 Baltimore County (Pikesville).  I know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…so why not combine the two. It’s fun for the kids, 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 bdp experience. It’s an interesting place for both adults and children. Toddlers are likely to get a thrill seeing all the fire equipment.
    ✳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–but please read my caveats about them in my gift ideas for brainy kids blog post.
    Locations: Towson, Pikesville, and other fire stations around Baltimore County.
  • Zoo Parties (Ages 1+)
    Wherever you are in Baltimore County, the Maryland Zoo isn’t very far. They offer great birthday party packages, and it is sure to be a great time for kids of all ages. Toddlers will really enjoy looking at all the animals, and even 8-year-olds and 9-year olds will have fun. The zoo is relatively small, which is really a plus. They do a great job of highlighting the animals, habitats, and ecology. A great place for a Maryland birthday party.
    Locations: Baltimore City
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Zoo Animal Headbands, Cat Keychains, Magic Snake
  • Maryland Science Center (Ages 6+)
    As you probably know, the Maryland Science Center is in the Inner Harbor. They offer several birthday party options . If you’re near Towson, you may also want to have a look at Snapology’s offerings.
    Location: Inner Harbor/Baltimore City, Towson
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Invisible Ink Pens, Rubik’s CubesAnimal Sticker Sheets
  • Day Spa Parties (Ages 4 – 14)
    Towson is home to SparTea The Pink Door Day Spa For Girls. A great place to have a glamorous spa party for your kid! You may also want to check out Twinkle Twinkle Little Spa also in Towson and Posh & Play Kids Spa (in Nottingham)
  • Aviation Museum Party (Ages 5+)
    This is a bit of a different kind of party. The airplane museum in Middle River offers birthday parties that are interesting, educational, and fun.
    Locations: Middle River, Maryland
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Inflatable Airplanes, foam gliders
  • Port Discovery (Ages 2 – 8)
    (Located in Baltimore City near the Inner Harbor) – Always a popular place to take kids for any reason, Port Discovery makes a great place for a birthday celebration. Depending on the package you get, this can be a rather pricey place to hold your party, and you really need to plan ahead because they need 2 months notice in most cases. Still, this is sure to be a fun, memorable experience for your child and their friends.
  • Granite Rose Tea Parlour (Ages 11+)
    Located in charming Granite, Md in Southwest Baltimore County ) – If you’re thinking of an especially fancy birthday party venue, this might be the place for you. Hosted in an authentic Victorian house, kids will enjoy attending a “real” tea party.
    I think this would be a great party for 11-year olds, and older, but if say you are looking for ideas for 7-year olds…perhaps extra-well-behaved 7-year-olds, they might also find this party interesting.
    Party Favor Ideas: Tea Party Hats, White Formal Gloves, Friendship Bracelets
  • Trampoline Party (Ages 5+)
    (Timonium) – SkyZone is the place to go for a trampoline party. Great atmosphere, lots of options including “sensory” jump hours for quieter time for kids with special needs. I hesitate a bit on this one, because I am concerned about safety issues–people do get hurt at these kind of places and that can really spoil a good time, especially if it is a serious injury. Having said that, SkyZone does a pretty good job of making trampolines as safe as possible.
  • IKEA – (Ages 13+)
    This might sound a little odd, but for some kinds, a party at IKEA may be great for teens and older kids. Friends dine in the cafe, and then have fun checking out the rooms. Photo contest anyone? $5 or less cactus plants for party favors…$1 ice cream cones. What could be better?
    Location: Whitemarsh

Hopefully this list of party ideas helps you out. If you can think of any places I missed, please comment below. Don’t forget to check out my list of gifts for gifted kids.