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Curious Minds: 40 Hands on Activities to Inspire a Love of Learning Review by Jennifer King

Ty Kolstedt & Dr. Azeem Z. Vasi
Zephyr Press
(312) 337-0747
814 North Franklin Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610

In our home we are very hands on. We believe in the value of keeping learning something that is tangible and real for our children, who are 10, 6, 4 and 1. So we really liked the idea of reviewing this book, Curious Minds: 40 Hands on Activities to Inspire a Love of Learning. This book is full of real world projects to help inspire and encourage children when it comes to learning math, science, language arts, and social studies.

This resource is written for ages 9-12, and is full of amazing do it yourself type projects for kids. Of course the very first thing my oldest son noticed when the book arrived was that it was written “for Cora” and that being his sister’s name, it kind of endeared him to this book a bit more in the very beginning. There are six parts within this book. These cover topics ranging from math and physics, to earth science, biology, social studies, chemistry, and language arts. Each project begins with a Mission Objective as well as Learning the Lingo; there is a list of materials needed and then the Plan of Attack. Finally, we Take it to the Max! This is basically where we prove what we learned. Whether it is determining how a wingsuit works or calculating the difference in body weight between the Earth and the moon.

One of our favorite activities in this book was probably, Taking off! The Science of Flight.  My boys (ages 6 and 10) really enjoyed learning all about the basics of flight. We gained a greater understanding of aerodynamics and learned all about Bernoulli’s principle, we also studied pressure and thrust. In this activity my boys learned how to make a paper airplane (our house is now full of them) and then had the opportunity to explore various ways of folding and throwing to see how far they fly, and how high or long they travel. This was a great way for them to learn about angles and experience for themselves the beauty of flight.

In another project we explored Are You A Mosquito Magnet? To Learn and Protect. In this project we were learning about chemistry and also learning how to make our own mosquito repellant. Because this did require the use of the stove and boiling water, this was one project which did require adult assistance and supervision. But it was a great opportunity to explore measurement, and learn all about mosquitos. I had no idea that repellant could be so simple to make and that mosquitos were so sensitive when it comes to finding their food. We ended this project by researching the ways and places that these little buggers live in. And we also gained a greater appreciation for mosquitos, I admit.

Within the Language Arts part of this book there were some very fun and creative opportunities for children to explore storytelling, writing and various languages even. In one such project, How to Sign What’s on Your Mind, we learned about the history of deaf communication around the world. We also learned how to sign our name and the full alphabet. We also learned in this project about “click” sounds as a part of one of the languages in the world. Do you know which one? This encouraged my oldest (who loves languages and is learning Chinese and French right now) to explore more about click consonants.

For anyone with a sweet tooth (what kid doesn’t love candy) there is the opportunity to learn more about sugar crystals. In More than Just a Pretty Taste: Crystals we explore the chemistry of crystals and watch how they form. This is such a fun way for our kids to explore skills like measuring and observing as they set up the jar and together we watch as the days progress to see the crystals form. In the end, we have a yummy, sugary treat, perfect little bites for all of the kids to enjoy. And we end this one by exploring the many uses of diamonds. This one really encouraged my oldest son to explore more of the various gemstones that are out there.

In the Social Studies part of the book we explored things like the American Pioneer; we learned about The Songs of the Wind: Native American Religious Tradition and The Fabric of America: Immigration. This was such a great way to encourage my son to explore maps more as we reviewed our own map following the Oregon Trail, the Trail of Tears and Daniel Boone. We learned a bit about the various areas of our own state (Wisconsin) where Native Americans settled long ago. This also brought about exploration of the tribes such as the Oneida, and lots of discussion about the differences between life on the tribal land. There were so many great lessons to learn within this part of the book! There were just so many lessons for us to learn ranging from globalization to manufacturing of goods around the world.

The last part had some fun projects for our kids focusing on biology. Some of these activities help our children to learn about things like adaptation, echolocation (this inspired my younger son to want to build a bat house -- something we will be doing in the very near future). We also learned about How Gills Get Their Fill: Absorbing Oxygen as a Fish. And this one requires a real fish too! For my little fisher men this one was a bit too much for them. I don’t know that they will be eating fish again anytime soon. But this was a great way to explore the anatomy of a fish and my little ones were so excited to find that fish have nostrils too!

My kids really had so much fun with this book! We are still completing a number of the projects within these pages and in some cases this has really led us to a deeper study of things. Whether you complete the projects in order, or use the hand list in the back that has projects organized by skill focus, this is well worth the investment. The projects within are all very simple and are explained clearly and concisely. In some of them adult supervision is required, especially if you children are on the younger side, but every project is just so exciting and fun! This is such a wonderful way to encourage our kids to explore and go beyond.  If you are looking for something that will inspire and encourage that spark of curiosity in your children, this is it!

-Product review by Jennifer King, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April, 2016