Have some family fun with an American Adventure

August is American Adventures month and Family Fun Month, it’s the perfect excuse to take your family on a sightseeing road trip! Before children head back to school, a road trip is a cheap, fun adventure to do as a family. It can be both educational and enjoyable to hit the great American highways and see the sites that will fill your child’s textbooks during the school year. With so many beautiful cities, national parks and landmarks, it can be overwhelming to decide what to see and what to skip out on. To help you map out a plan, we’ve come up with a list of can’t-miss-sites to help you narrow down your choices. In no particular order, we have the fifteen American sites you absolutely need to take your family to.


1. Mount Rushmore

Mt Rushmore.png

Where: Keystone, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore is an impressive edifice on a huge mountainside that many school-aged children have seen pictures of. But seeing it in person is an entirely different feeling. This impressive feat of work should be on everyone’s list to see.


2. Big Sur

Big Sur.png

Where: California

Big Sur is a stretch of coastline unlike any other, with unending wildflowers, thousands of Condors and sunbathing sea otters. The vistas are unforgettable and can be enjoyed on the coastal Highway—which has some of the most beautiful views in the world– or you can pull over and explore as a family on foot.

3. Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon.png

Where: Arizona

The Grand Canyon is an iconic American landmark, complete with rugged larger-than-life volcanic features and soaring peaks, there are unlimited beautiful panoramic vistas. Soak in the sites or take the family on a hike down to the Colorado River.

4. National Mall

National Mall.png

Where: Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. is filled with so many famous sites, it can be kind of difficult to pick which ones to visit. The best place to start is the National Mall, the free Smithsonian museums line the green strip and you can see the Washington monument. Start off there and then explore the Potomac River and the rest of the monuments. Between the monuments and the museums it’s the perfect hands-on way to learn about the United States.


5. Millenium Park

Millenium Park.png

Where: Chicago, Illinois

Home to way more than the Bean, Millenium Park—and nearby Grant Park—is a refreshing plot of greenery and art that span from Michigan Avenue to Lake Michigan. Get lost in the beautiful sculptures and art, grab a bite to eat and walk to the Lake all in one afternoon. This is perfect for young children who need a lot of space to run around, there is even a fountain area perfect to splash around in on a hot summer day.

6. Space Center Houston

Space Center.png

Where: Houston, Texas

Relive the golden era of America’s space age with your little astronaut at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. You can see the spacecrafts and equipment that helped the U.S. dominate the Space Race. This is the perfect place for young children who are fascinated by science or space. With a country as broad and expansive as the United States, it can be hard to determine where to go first. As a family you have to pool together each others interests and go from there.

Wherever you end up, have a fun and safe Family Fun Month and American Adventure Month!

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A Magnetic Moon Day Activity

ThinkstockPhotos-468930291As a child one of the best things to do on a warm summer night is to stare up at the moon and stars that brighten the vast night sky. For most children the moon is a mystery, where did it come from? Why does it change shape sometimes? Does it stay in the same place? As a parent or teacher it can be overwhelming to answer all of their lunar-based questions.

The magnetic pull between the earth and the moon is especially difficult to explain, but the magnet activity listed below will make an abstract concept more concrete. In honor of Moon Day, use this magnet activity from Ooey Gooey Tooey by Lisa Murphy to help explain some of the moon’s wonder. No matter what age group you’re teaching, Murphy’s Ooey Gooey books provide educational—and fun—hands on activities for children.

Before beginning the activity, quickly review how magnets work and what they are attracted to. Then talk about how the earth is one big magnet that pulls the moon close enough for us to see it every night. For the activity, have the child hypothesize on which objects will be attracted to the magnet and which won’t. Consider the magnet to represent the earth and the magnetic objects to be the moon.

If you like getting your hands dirty for the sake of science, then check out Murphy’s other Ooey Gooey books here.


Source: Murphy, Lisa. “Sensory Tub Activities.” Ooey Gooey Tooey:. Rochester, NY: Ooey Gooey, 2009. 76. Print.

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Remembering Marlyn James

Marlyn James

Marlyn James

Marlyn James, my coauthor, collaborator, and dear friend passed away peacefully on June 25, 2016 from complications following brain surgery.

Marlyn was the chair of the Early Childhood Education Department at Flathead Community College in Kalispell, Montana. She was beloved by her students, inspiring them to continue working with children implementing the best practices that she made so clear and understandable in her teachings, presentations, and writings.

She was nationally recognized as an author, presenter, and consultant working to make a difference in the lives of young children and the field of early childhood education. She and I presented at many NAEYC National Conferences and Professional Development Institutes as well as at various state conferences. We wrote three books together (all published by Redleaf Press):

In addition, we produced a DVD and CD-ROM of video clips of young children in action so that early childhood professionals could practice observation and documentation and further refine their skills.

Marlyn was an outdoors woman. She loved to hike. She loved flowers. She loved to pick the greens, herbs and fresh vegetables from her gardens. She loved animals—her cats and dogs were family members, too.

Marlyn was incredibly gifted as a friend. Her wicked eyes, ready laugh, her what you see is what you get, her listening ear, her wise counsel, her fierce commitment to being our friend, to loving those of us lucky enough to have been in that circle. We are all better people because of her.

Marlyn was an incredibly loving woman. She spent her life caring for three boys, Patrick, Kevin, and Scott, shepherding them into manhood and ferociously loving her grandchildren, Kyle, Ian, and Emilee. She made the choice of a lifetime to end one marriage and follow her heart for love with Chuck, a tall young man who only wanted her. The two of them built a partnership based on the intimacy of souls and the courage to move to the mountains of Montana where they lived in a log house in the woods.

I will miss my dear friend, Marlyn, terribly. The field of early childhood education has lost one of its greatest champions. Hopefully, we all will try to live up to her legacy and continue to do what’s right in the world, for young children, for our families, and for the planet.

With deep sadness,

Gaye Gronlund

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Picture Science: Cameras and inquiry based learning

s.t.e.m.ICONChildren love nature and they love photos so why not combine the two to celebrate Nature Photography Day. Of course, the other thing kids love is asking questions so why not throw a little science inquiry into the mix?

Let some of those questions guide the group to explore a topic in nature and use the camera as part of the data collection process.



The Process of Inquiry

the process of inquiry

Why the camera?

Even though young children may not be able to read yet, they can gather a lot of information from photos. This makes digital photography a “very effective teaching tool for enriching and enhancing children’s visual learning.”

Just a few more reasons:

  • Photographs make concepts visible and can make abstract themes more concrete
  • Photography expands children’s sense of time by making a prior experience otherwise forgotten available to them again.
  • Photography supports language development by encouraging children to articulate what they are seeing.
  • Photography can support the overall curriculum and be used in any subject.
  • Skill with photography can last children a lifetime.

Here is a sample activity to get you going . . .

Source: Picture Science, Redleaf Press, 2007

Source: Picture Science, Redleaf Press, 2007

Find out more about using digital photography for science inquiry in Picture Science: Using Digital Photography to Teach Young Children

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Take the kids on an outdoor treasure hunt

It is that time of year when we are all itching to get outdoors. Spring is upon us, summer is just around the corner, and it is the perfect time to take your lessons into nature – Great Outdoors Month!

Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? Here is a great activity to get hands-on with nature

Treasure Hunt

Source: Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth by Patty Born Selly, Redleaf Press, 2012

We also recommend checking out the Great Outdoors Month website and your local park district site to find other local opportunities to get outdoors for some fun and learning.

Check out our full list of outdoor exploration resources at www.redleafpress.org


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How To Make the Most of Museum Field Trips

Field trips, while being a large undertaking, are in important part of the learning process. Getting children out of the classroom and face-to-face with a topic can bring engagement to a whole new level.

field museumIn honor of International Museum Day we recently asked our Facebook fans about their favorite museums to take children to. We got some great ideas including Discovery Cube in Los Angeles, CA; City Museum in St. Louis, MO; and the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, IL. Regardless of where you favorite museum is, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your visit.


  • Check if the educational staff at the museum is knowledgeable about young children. Unlike groups of older children, which they may be more familiar with, they will want to keep explanations short and keep the group moving. If they aren’t prepared to lead a young group it might be better if you lead the group yourself.


  • Visit the museum on your own ahead of time to become familiar with the layout – where are the bathrooms, snack areas, ticket booth, and other details that will make the day run smoothly.


  • If visiting a museum that specializes in a specific topic, choose curriculum activities and children’s books that will help prepare children for what they will encounter. This is also a great time to come up with a list of questions that the children will be able to ponder as you visit the museum.

Day of visit

  • Encourage children to bring paper and a pencil to record their observations and if allowed bring a camera to take visual reminders of the class’s visit.


  • Consider including one or two short video presentations when available and include hands-on experiences when possible. Many children’s museums have added interactive exhibits specifically for the youngest visitors that prefer to engage all of their senses to learn.

After the visit

  • The follow-up discussion can be an important part of the learning process. The children observed and absorbed so much during their visit that the class discussion can be a great way to answer questions that came up after they left the museum and help children learn from each other.

dino museum

  • If the children found a specific topic or exhibit interesting this is a great opportunity to find even more materials on it. Read children’s books and ask children to find out more about the topic to share with each other.

Resource: Open the Door Let’s Explore More! Field Trips of Discovery for Young Children by Rhoda Redleaf

Share your favorite museums and tips in the comments below!

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Teaching healthy habits to young children: A joint effort

Children learn healthy habits early and they pick them up by seeing adults in their lives model healthy behavior and by being encouraged to do it themselves. So who are they picking these habits up from? Those they spend the most time with — you, their teacher, and their families at home.

That is why giving families the knowledge they need for a healthy home life is an important way to ensure the healthiest start for the children in your care. It is also a great way to get involved with the families in your community.

Here are few ideas of activities and small events to offer to the families you work with in honor of Family Wellness Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports month.

Nutrition Education

Have you considered hosting a potluck where every family brings their favorite healthy dish and you share information on nutrition for young children? Or perhaps have families come together to prepare a meal. Below are a few recipe ideas that you can use for this or simply share with families to enjoy at home:

zucchini oatmeal cookies

Zucchini Oatmeal Cookies

Fruit Burritos 

Zucchini-Tomato Casserole 

Hawaiian Pops


We share lots of other healthy recipes on our blog so be sure to search the Redleaf Kitchen category for more ideas!

Not sure what to teach about nutrition? Here are a few resource that might help

Rethinking Nutrition

5 minute Nutrition Activities for Preschoolers

American Academy of Pediatrics healthychildren.org

USDA choosemyplate.gov

Physical Fitness Education

Do you have a gym or large outdoor space? Perhaps you can host active family nights where you invite families to come enjoy activities one night a month. This would get the families active and give them an opportunity to build relationships with staff and other families.

Some of our favorites for getting families moving:


Simon Says

Check out two more activities with 3 fun ways to get moving with children

Other resources for ideas and information on getting physically active:

Move Bingo for Kids

The Moving and Learning series

American Academy of Pediatrics healthychildren.org

USDA Encouraging Active Play 

There are so many fun ways to help children and families get active and healthy. What will you be doing? We would love to hear your ideas!


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