26+ High Quality, “Don’t Miss This”, Great Summer Camps
Summer 2022 is approaching, and so is summer vacation–so I have made a list of summer camps in Howard County (as well as near me in adjoining counties). The list of camps includes academic sessions for the many Howard County GT students, sports, drama, arts, crafts, and music.
As a former teacher, I can tell you that summer break can do some damage to your child’s academic skills. Every year there are too many kids who come back to school with lower reading and math abilities than they left with the previous school year.
The reason this happens will be obvious to most parents who have spent their childhood summers watching TV, hanging out with friends, and avoiding anything remotely academic. Some of this is great, but not too much it seems.
Of course, there were always a few kids who did not suffer from the summer effect and still had time to relax and be kids during summer. These were the children whose parents were on top of making sure that some of the kids’ summer experiences would actually add to what they learned in the previous school year.
With that in mind, my friends and I have been discussing all of the fun and interesting summer camp options that are available these days around Howard County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore Maryland.
Please drop me a comment if you know of any camps that I missed. BTW, I am only listing camps that I have first-hand knowledge of–these aren’t paid listings, but just interesting summer camps that I think kids will actually benefit from attending–some are learning camps for gifted and talented (GT / TAG) kids, and others are just general fun camps.
Idea Lab Kids – A friendly place with loads of options. Great STEM Camps in Ellicott City. Here is their camp schedule. They also have a great aftercare program.
Thrifty Teacher – Every session includes a guided painting class, a snack, a guided craft, and independent crafting time. In Laurel on All Saints Road.
Launch Business Camp – This one is standout for its unusual nature. There are two locations for the camp, one of them in Columbia, Md. Kids aged 8 – 17 will learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and running a business.
Glenelg Country School – In Ellicott City, this school has some amazing choices for summer learning fun including theater, GT math, dance, chess, robotics, and sports. I highly recommend checking out their offerings. The school has a wonderful campus in the forest in a rural part of Ellicott City. Camps run until the end of July.
Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Great offerings for gifted and talented kids around Maryland including classes in Baltimore and Sandy Spring Friends School. Students must be specially admitted to the program before they can attend the summer camps, and that won’t be possible for kids who aren’t advanced in academics. CTY camps are renowned in the USA and we’re lucky to have them right in our backyard. BTW, if you’re looking for an alternative to the CTY camps, there is also SIG Day Program at the Woods Academy in Bethesda.
Camp Invention – This is a really cool idea for kids in grades 1 to 6. There currently aren’t any schools hosting this camp in Howard County, but they may be worth some travel time or could be close to mom or dad’s office. The one that I have linked is in nearby Catonsville, at Westchester Elementary.
Howard Community College – These are very popular summer GT camps and summer classes–popular like a rock concert–the registration begins and ten minutes later it’s “sold out”…Check out the options. Many of them are very good! For 2020 registration opens on January 30, 2020. Don’t miss your chance–review the options and get ready to sign up in time!
Terrapin STEM Camp – Located in Laurel at St. Marys of the Mills Elementary School, this camp offers all day long programs for grades K-5 with before and after care. Kid’s learn about several aspects of STEM each day through fun and hands on experimentation. Activities include Zome Tools (I am a fan of these!), Lego robotics, 3-D printing, and coding,
MICA in Baltimore – Great camps for kids and teens interested in art and design. They take place on the campus of MICA in Baltimore and at the St. Paul’s Schools.
Imagination Stage – This Bethesda, MD venue is a promising place for fun and creative learning. This is definitely not in Howard County or even Baltimore, but if you happen to work out that way in Montgomery County, definitely consider sending your kids there for a week or two. Registration for 2020 now open.
Howard County Art’s Council Center for the Arts IN PERSON –they have all sorts of art camps, including acting. There is very limited space for these summer camps that go late June until Mid August. If your child is interested in the arts, this is definitely a “don’t miss” summer camp!
Club SciKidz – Space explorer, science chef, and other great days of fun await your child at this camp in Ellicott City. Deep space robotics? 3-D Printing? Minecraft? Emergency Vet? YES! My kids have really enjoyed their camps. Registration is now open!
Camp IO– Yoga and science camp in Columbia, MD for kids ages 6-11. This camp looks great for boys and girls who love science and need more balance in their lives-mandalas and model rockets, a brilliant combination! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps).
Howard County Conservancy has some great camps. They are nature-themed and take place in Woodstock, MD, and Elkridge, MD. Conquer the trails of the Patapsco Valley, learn about some of the amazing beasts in our forests and streams, go green! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps).
Circle D Farm – Day camp comes highly recommended. In Woodbine, Md.
Walters Art Gallery – Not sure if this is happening in 2022…The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore has summer camps! Sold by the week, these camps are very interesting for kids in first grade and older. This looks like a wonderful experience!
Terrapin Adventures – If you’ve never been to Terrapin Adventures in Savage (near Savage Mill), you’re in for a high-flying treat. Their camps are full of outdoor fun, exercise, science, and more. This looks really cool. Very limited space.
Important note, April 9, 2022: Below is my review and comparison of Google Fi and Republic Wireless. I was with both companies for many years, and both have positive aspects.
Currently, my whole family is enjoying the Google Fi “Simply Unlimited” plan which is $80/month for 4 lines. This means I am paying $20/month each for a generous unlimited data, text, and talk plan. I am pretty sure this is unbeatable with the usual carriers and MVNOs, including Republic Wireless. This is particularly true because of some of the attractive features that Google Fi includes.
If you’re tired of the big U.S. mobile phone companies (aka AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile), you may want to consider two very strong contenders: Google Fi and Republic Wireless 3.0.
In general, I am a fan of both Google Fi and Republic Wireless mobile phone companies, however, at this time, I feel that Google Fi is easily worth it, and the better value – especially for groups and families. Get a $20 credit here.
Read my Republic Wireless / Google Fi review below to find out about the ups and downs of both discount mobile phone companies, information about Republic Wireless and Fi compatible phones, and more.
If you decide to go with Google Fi, please use my “refer a friend” code. After you’ve been on the service for 30 days, you’ll get a credit for $20, and so will I! The Google Fi coupon code/promo code is WKN59C or you can just follow this link. You should see something like this at the top of your screen if successful:
What Do Google Fi and Republic Wireless Have in Common, and What’s Different?
Google Fi supports more phones (Android and iPhone) and has additional connectivity options, particularly when calling or traveling internationally (with certain plans, there are no “roaming” fees in 120 countries – including China, India, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean). And depending on which plan you chose, calls to these countries may be included for free.
Android Phone Support: Both companies offer service on GSM Android-based phones. In general, Google Fi works with most Android phones, while Republic Wireless supports a more limited list. Having said that, you’ll want to use a good quality phone with these services. There is a list of recommended compatible phones that include Google’s Pixel phones, Galaxy S, and Motorola phones. There are frequently special rebates on various phones that change throughout the year.
Google Fi has built-in security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re accessing the service via WiFi. This is important because it will give you more confidence that your data isn’t being stolen when using public WiFi hotspots (eg – at the airport).
Service coverage generally isn’t an issue for U.S. customers of either carrier.
Google Fi (by way of the Google Store) will take trade-ins for certain phones and give you credit for it to use for your Google Fi bill. Credits range from around $25 to $165. I will say that it is very convenient to purchase your phone from the Google store if you’re in the market for a new phone. This is a great way to get “device protection” insurance (see below). BTW, if you just need a SIM card, you can also get that directly from the store.
Google Fi (by way of the Google Store) offers something called a “Pixel Pass” which comes with a new Pixel phone, YouTube Premium, extra storage, and more. Starting at $45/mo. You can think of this as a subscription to the phone and might be a good way to good for some folks.
Both companies allow you to make calls and send text messages over WiFi. Both try to save data by connecting you via WiFi when possible. As mentioned before, Google Fi has the added advantage of built-in VPN security over WiFi. This means there’s less worry about hackers snooping on your data when you’re using WiFi in public places because it will be encrypted.
Both companies are month-to-month, no contracts. Stop service at any time.
Google Fi service automatically routes your calls and data on one of two networks (Sprint/T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular) including 5G where available, depending on which has the best connection when you place a call or use data. Republic Wireless is only on T-Mobile’s network. The service coverage maps for both companies are therefore pretty strong.
Both companies offer very competitively priced unlimited data plans. At the moment, Google Fi’s best-unlimited plan would cost $50/month for one line, but it gets progressively cheaper with up to 4 lines. Republic Wireless’ best single unlimited plan is currently $40/month.
Both Republic Wireless and Google Fi have superb call quality most of the time. Since Google Fi has the ability to switch networks, some people are more likely to find more bars on their network. If you are placing calls on a decent WiFi network, either provider works great.
Both companies offer the option of monthly payments/financing on the phones they sell.
Both companies also offer a la cart data plans–if you’d rather try to save on data by using WiFi more often, you can safely go with one of these options.
If you do not choose unlimited data, the data on Republic Wireless is cheaper than on Google Fi, however, Google Fi’s “flexible plan” billing model is much more, well, flexible since you only pay for the data you use–and you only pay to the penny. In other words, although they quote $10/gig, they only charge you for any fraction you actually use when you select this plan–you don’t have to pay for an entire gig.
Again when we’re talking about a la carte plans (not unlimited): With Republic Wireless, you will know exactly how much you will be billed at the end of the month based on which plan you select. With Google Fi, you will know the base costs, and then the actual bill depends entirely on how much data you use. Google’s “Bill Protection” feature puts a cap on the monthly charge and amounts to an unlimited plan.
Google Fi has two “unlimited plans.” These are a great deal if you use lots of data. An individual on the “simply unlimited” plan will get 35 gigs per month of high-speed data without throttling and without paying anything more. The more expensive “unlimited plus” plan lets you have up to 50gigs of data before throttling and allows you to roam for free in most countries-data is free, but calls on the network outside the USA/Canada may incur a per minute charge.
With the “simply unlimited” plan, you can call Mexico, USA, and Canada for free. With the “unlimited plus” plan, you also get free calling to over 50 countries included in the unlimited plan.
If you’re on an a la carte plan, Republic Wireless requires you to upgrade your plan when you hit your data limit. You can upgrade and downgrade your plan up to two times per month. This is a bit of a pain. You also must pay for the entirety of the amount of data in the plan you select no matter what portion of the data you use.
Republic Wireless plans get cheaper when two or more people sign on to an account, however, the “bulk” pricing only improves for two people, and after that everyone pays the same.
Google Fi has a “group plan’ with very competitive rates which decrease incrementally with up to 4 or more people, convenient “bill splitting” features if you’re sharing with friends, and data plan sharing. This can be an especially great deal for members of your family who don’t use alot of data…and the bill splitting is very innovative. Google Fi will let you pause a member of your group’s data usage or pause their service completely. There is also a way to limit the amount of paid data on a group member’s account. (They will still have access to “slow” data for free.) On Republic Wireless, you can downgrade a user’s plan to not have data, but you can’t really pause their account yourself (although you may be able to do this by contacting customer service).
If you purchase your phone from Google Fi, you can enroll in their “Device Protection” insurance plan for about $7/month. I highly recommend this, as it has been hassle-free help for me on three occasions including one where a $300 phone was dropped in water. In the event something goes wrong with your phone it will be replaced with a refurb for around $60 – $90. If your screen is broken, you can take it to a local retail shop and have it fixed for around $20.
What’s So Special About These Two Mobile Phone Carriers?
They have some great selling points and great phones in common. As mentioned earlier, I have been a customer of both of these services, so I wanted to share some insights for people trying to figure out if Fi or RW is right for them and whether or not they should dump the usual suspect mobile carriers and save money. (The answer is probably YES!)
Below is a review of some of the feature differences between the two mobile phone service companies:
What are the Compatible Phone Options for Google Fi and Republic Wireless
Republic Wireless and Google Fi get the best performance with certain pre-selected phones that work on their network.
When you sign up for either of these companies, you’ll either have to bring your own phone (which, in the case of Republic Wireless, will need to on their list of approved phones) or purchase one from the company.
The phones they recommend are generally among the higher-end phones. If you purchase a phone from either company, it will come “unlocked” — it will be yours to take with you should you ever decide to move to a different phone company. This is good to know as it is often not the case when you buy a phone from other carriers.
Likewise, if you buy your own phone (or if you already had one that’s compatible), it will need to be “unlocked” for it to work. If you are purchasing a new phone, just be sure that not only is it a compatible model, but that it is an unlocked phone.
If you have a compatible phone that you purchased on a plan through AT&T, for example, it may not be unlocked. You may or may not be able to get AT&T to unlock it for you, depending on your contract. You’ll have to call and ask to be sure.
Both Republic Wireless or Google Project Fi will provide you with a SIM card that you’ll need to install to use their service.
Google Project Fi Phone Options
At the moment, Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 6 / Pixel 3a, Pixel 4a, Pixel 5a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus, certain Samsung Galaxy phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are all venerable phones with different price points and selling points.
If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the cheaper “a” versions of the Google Pixel phones (Google’s flagship): the Pixel 3a, Pixel 4a, and Pixel 5a. These two phones are a bit slower than the “regular” versions of the phones (without the “a”), and have a plastic body that is NOT waterproof but also has an excellent camera.
Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 4 – 6, you’ll get a monthly software update from Google–You will always have the latest release of Android–a truly a nice feature, rather than waiting and hoping that your phone will get an update…a chronic problem due to a combination of phones and phone companies.
The Moto X4 and Moto G7, and the newer Moto G phones are also well regarded and certainly have a lower price point than the Pixel phones. Although having said that, you may want to look at the refurbished Pixel phones on Amazon.
Along those same lines, you can purchase these phones from Google when you sign up for service, but you should double-check the price on Amazon just to make sure you can’t get a better deal — here are some links to refurbished older Pixel phones which are fairly inexpensive but still good: Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 2.
You can finance the phones when purchased on Google or Amazon. Having said that, a compelling reason to purchase the phone from Google is their trade-in program that is applicable to certain phone models and includes a Google Fi credit of varying amounts depending on the age and condition of the trade.
I have bought several phones through Google Fi’s store and have had good luck that way. It definitely does make it a little bit easier than bringing your own phone.
A Word About Google Fi Device Protection
The Google Fi device protection will cost you about $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions, and in some cases even theft.
Here is an overview of the device protection rates for some devices. To see the whole list, and to learn more, visit Google Fi’s website.
If something goes wrong they will replace your phone with a new or refurbished similar phone. I have used the service once when the battery was failing on my Nexus 5x.
It was quickly replaced with a refurbished identically configured phone. There is a deductible to consider. See the table above for example costs for device protection and the deductible you’ll have to pay if you get your phone replaced using this service. Note that you can only sign up for device protection if you buy your phone from Google.
Bring an Additional Data Only Device to Google Fi
Google Fi will allow you to add a free additional “data only” SIM card to your account. This will let you share your data plan with another device (without any additional monthly fees!) So for example, you could have your main SIM card in your Google Pixel phone, and then put the data-only SIM in an iPad. Whatever the device, so long as it’s able to use a compatible SIM card, and it is “radio compatible” with T-Mobile. You would not be able to use the phone’s dialer with this option and there is no tethering. Here is a list of devices they have verified are compatible with the free data-only SIM card:
Android tablets running 7.0 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
iPads running iOS 10 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
Samsung Galaxy Tabs S2 or newer (US versions)
Nexus 9 LTE (US versions)
Sony Xperia Z4 (US version)
Other devices not on the list could work, if they are unlocked and radio-compatible with T-Mobile (GSM Radio) and they have the right sized SIM slot. For example, I have heard of people using it with their iPhone 6. You can just order one and try (it’s totally free! You don’t even have to pay for shipping.) if you think you have an unlocked device that will work. Just remember there will be no calls or texts through the normal channels (although you can certainly replace the regular dialer and text messenger with some other app for example, What’s App, Viber, or Skype…). Note that you might potentially need a “nano SIM to Micro SIM adaptor” for some devices.
Multiple Mobile Networks and WiFi in Use
One very cool feature of both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi is the way they can move seamlessly between wireless networks, and they can also place calls/send text on WiFi networks. Google Fi has the upper hand here, as it can make use of 3 major US mobile phone networks: Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Whichever network is providing the strongest signal is the one that your call will be routed on. It does this in real-time, so if you should move to an area where one of the three providers is giving you a better signal your call will switch networks and you’ll be “none the wiser.” Republic Wireless utilizes just one network–T-Mobile (actually, they don’t tell you, but they hint that it’s the one that has the best 4G LTE network.)
The Seamless Handover Between Phone and WiFi
Both Republic Wireless and Project Fi will allow you to seamlessly switch over to and away from a WiFi connection. This is REALLY handy. Especially if you live in a place where there just isn’t really any strong cellular signal (or if, for example, you work in a basement that has WiFi, but no mobile signals get through). If you’re connected to a WiFi hot spot, you don’t incur any data charges and you can use voice, data, and texting as you would on the mobile network. Did I mention how great this is? 🙂 If you place a call, and then move away from your WiFi network, your phone is going to seamlessly jump on to the wireless network, assuming one is available. Google Fi also keeps a database of hundreds of open WiFi networks that it can automatically connect to. When it does, it always uses an encrypted connection to protect your calls and data. It seems to work very well and saves you money.
The Flexible Plan on Google Fi
Here is some information about the cost of the a la carte pricing for Google Fi – in case you decide not to get the unlimited plans. The formula for pricing is something like: Google Fi Monthly Payment = Base Cost of $20/month + data used & international calls + phone insurance (optional) + taxes, fees (in my case $3.62 in October 2016 for a single line to be exact–see sample bill below). Google’s FAQs state “Taxes and government surcharges vary by service address, but are normally between 10-20%.
For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.” If you’re paying for your phone on a monthly basis, that fee would also be charged on your monthly bill along with device protection fees if you are enrolled. Google Fi “Flexible Plan” is really a pay-as-you-go offering. They do give you benchmark “data plans” but really, at the end of the month you’re only going to pay for what you actually used as far as data (down to the megabyte). This is a bit hard to grasp, because we’re so used to phone companies that charge you the minimum of your chosen data plan and then charge you for additional data as you go, but in specific large blocks of data.
This is not the case with Project Fi. When you sign up for Google Fi on the Flexible Plan, you will “choose a data billing plan,” but really it’s just to give you the idea of what you will be spending each month. That might sound scary, but it works–especially with their bill protection feature. Even though you signed up for a plan, they charge you by the megabyte.
To put this more specifically, Google currently charges a base of $20/month to keep the service activated for voice and texting, then they charge $10/gig of data used (plus a monthly fee). In reality though, if you only used 350 megabytes in a month, you would be charge $3.50 for data, not the whole $10. So you are always charged for just what you used, no matter which plan you select. Project Fi’s help explains signing up for a data plan on their network this way “You’ll always pay for what you use, so changing your data budget is like setting a goal. We’ll send you alerts as you get close to your budget.” They go on to explain that “With Project Fi, you’re charged $10 per GB for data. If you use more data than your budget, you’ll be charged for the exact difference–at the exact same rate. If you use less, you’ll get credited for what you don’t use. “
If you really need to have no more than an exact amount of data used, you can use your phone’s “set mobile data limit” features to set a hard limit. This way, when your phone notices you’ve reached a certain data threshold it will shut off its mobile data usage. Pro Tip: I’d recommend the Datally app made by Google to control your data usage in any case.
Traveling and International Calls on a Google Fi Plan
An important, and notable feature of Google Fi is that if you travel to any of 135+ other countries, your data plan will still be in effect with certain service levels (eg -Unlimited Plus). You won’t be charged any extra (beyond the regular $10/gig if you’re on the Flexible Plan and nothing additional on the Unlimited Plan), and you’ll be able to consume data, just as you did in the USA.
I recently traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Germany with my Fi phone and had success with calls, text messages, and data. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry with purchasing a local SIM card or anything like that.
Once I got to a new country, it took a few minutes, but I’d get a message from Google Fi confirming my phone had been registered in the given country, and then I could make calls, send texts, and use data. For more details and to see the list of countries that are in Project Fi’s plan, click here.
Note that although your data costs will be the same as they are in the USA, expect to pay 20 cents per minute for calls. Assuming you have a US phone number, WiFi calls within the USA and abroad would be free, and beyond that, if you’re calling another country, the same international calling rates would apply. Of course, you can make calls to friends on Whatsapp or Google Duo, for example using the data plan for free rather than “regular” calling which incurs per minute charges.
If you are wondering, yes, you can send text messages to other countries from Google Fi phones–I have texted to Germany and Ukraine without problems.
A Word About Groups and Families on Google Fi
Google Fi offers a group plan/family plan. Each additional line above the initial primary line is $15/month, and then the data is shared at the same rates mentioned above. If you have younger kids and want to be able to control their data usage, you’ll want to use Google Family link app. It lets you set limits on the child’s phone including which content they’re viewing but you can also create settings and alerts for data usage that the youngster can’t tamper with. One great feature of this group/family plan is the bill splitting/”repay” feature. “Fi plan members can repay group plan owners for their share of the monthly bill directly through the Google Fi app. No need to pull out your calculator—Project Fi will handle the math. Reminders, payments, and tracking are all just as simple.” That means it’s a bit easier if you’re sharing an account with friends or roommates, everyone can easily pay their share of the wireless bill.
I would note that Google Fi is mainly “pre-paid.” Meaning that you’ll pay for the plan at the beginning of the month, and then you may get billed for “extras” at the end of the month. For example, an extra might be if you make an off-plan international call. But this is an important point because you don’t want to be caught by surprise if money is tight and you get billed right after you sign up rather than 30 days later.
A Word About Using Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids
If you have children and those children have a phone, you’ll probably have concerns about their data plan usage. The question will be: how can I restrict my child or teen’s data usage so that they don’t cause the parents to go bankrupt. Here are a few thoughts on this:
With Republic Wireless, it’s a simple matter – you just select the amount of data you’re okay with and that’s what you’ll be charged — provided that your kid doesn’t upgrade their plan themselves–a possibility, but definitely a deliberate action, and one you may be able to restrict (see Family Link bullet below)
On Google Fi, there is no “hard stop” on data usage. It will let you keep going, and you’ll be charged until you hit your plan’s threshold for unlimited data. After that there will be no further charges. So if you have a kid who uses lots of data, there is no line where the data will be “gone.”
Having said that, they do have two features that are useful in cases where you need to control your family member’s data usage. First, you can set a data usage “alert” at whatever amount you think is appropriate. So for example, if you think you’re child should only use 1 gig per month, you can choose that amount, and you and your child will receive an alert when they hit that benchmark. Second, you, as the account owner can sign in to Google Fi and pause the data for your child’s account. So if you’re on the ball, you can sort of control how much data is used. Depending on your child, the alert itself might be enough for them to curb their data usage.
On Android devices, you can setup the “Family Link app.” Family Link is a free Google app that allows you to control all aspects of your kid’s phone usage. Family Link doesn’t specifically let you control they amount of data they can utilize, but it would allow you to restrict their ability to access certain apps. So this may be a way for you to stop them from adjusting the phone’s settings. It definitely lets you restrict the amount of time kids can spend using specific apps. I don’t know much about it, but there are similar apps for iPhone/iOS.
I think it is worth mentioning again that both Google Fi and Republic Wireless are built on the idea that you’ll use WiFi as much as possible — including for sending text messages and making phone calls. Therefore, in many situations that other mobile phone companies would have you using data from the data plan, these two companies stand out since they save you from this where possible.
Comparing the Cost of Republic Wireless vs Google Fi
In short, although there are some nuances to this, Google Project Fi is slightly more expensive than Republic Wireless. It really depends on how you intend to use the service which of the two would be better.
Base Plan (No data) cost
Republic Wireless: $15/month (no group/family plan at this time) Google Project Fi: $20/month first line, $15/month additional group plan lines
Republic Wireless: Depends on the amount of data. All plans already include unlimited voice & texting: 1 gig $20; 2 gigs $25; 3 gigs $30, etc. (as of 8/6/2016). You DO have to pay for unused data. Google Project Fi: Base Cost of $20 PLUS the data costs (but only for the exact amount of data you use): $10/gig. So a one gig plan would be $30/month; 2 gig plan would $40/month, etc. +taxes, fees, etc. I am in Maryland, and I paid $3.62 in taxes and fees on my October bill (see below).
Google Fi Sample Bill
Here is a sample bill from Google’s Project Fi for one line in October 2016… and if you’re wondering about Google Fi taxes and fees, there is a breakout (again for October 2016 in Maryland! It might be somewhat different in other states):
You can’t go wrong with either of these phone companies. Both offer great service and operate with very decent phones. Google Fi has the power of additional phone networks, encrypted WiFi, international data, phone replacement insurance/device protection, etc, but Republic Wireless gets the job done at slightly lower costs. Since there are no contracts with either company, you can leave and take your phone with you at any time — you just have to finish paying for the current month and you’re done. You can certainly try Project Fi and if you don’t like it, you could switch to Republic Wireless (assuming you are using one of the compatible phones that work on both mobile services!). The hardest part would be changing out the SIM card in your phone (which isn’t that hard, but can be kind of a pain if you’re a bit ham fisted like me.) Like what you read? See my review of the Vitamix 5200 blender and my list of gift ideas for Brainy / Gifted kids.
Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids and Teens
If you’re in a position where you need to be able to control your kid’s phone use, you’re not alone. This is something that I have been trying to figure out for a long time. Here are a few tips and ideas:
For Android phones, you’ll want to use “Family Link.” This will give you some general control over your family member’s phone, including being able to control the amount of time particular apps are available per day, and you can (mostly) pause the phone completely. The one flaw (as of this writing) is that kids can still turn their phone into a wireless hotspot to power other devices unfettered. You can hope they don’t figure that out. Mine did. iPhones have some built-in parental controls.
If you opt for Republic Wireless, you can control the amount of data your child uses in a very rudimentary, but effective way: As I stated earlier, you must pre-purchase data in blocks of 1 gig at a time. So if your child’s phone only has one gig, it is gone when it’s gone. Each phone in your account can have its own data limit. Again, there is no real group plan for RW. So if they run out, then they have to wait until next month. That is unless you buy them another gig. The one drawback of this is that if you’d like to be able to track their location and they are out of data…well, you’re out of luck.
Google Fi is a bit more advanced on this. You can setup a specific limit to the amount of data your child can use. After that cap is hit, the data is still available, but it’s very slow. So this is great if you’re worried about your child running out of data when they’re not near wifi for safety reasons (for instance if you want to track their location), this takes that worry away. On the other hand, it may be slow, so it’s not totally unusable so if you’re trying to use data as a reward/punishment, it’s definitely not a perfect setup.
This is a list of 90+ educational gift ideas for brainy kids for any occasion, including birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays updated for 2022.
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.
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.
My “Gifts for Gifted Kids” Top Toy Picks of the Month
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: $
Mini Drone This is really fun, and easy to fly. It’s an indoor mini drone for beginners that will teach your child the thinking and basics needed to move on to more advanced drones. I have found it to be pretty indestructible…And the price is right too! BTW, if you’re looking for something more advanced, try a programable drone. Ages: 7+ Cost: $
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. 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
Laptop Stand Desk While clearly not a fun gift, this one is practical, and inexpensive for what it is. With virtual learning becoming so prevalent, kids, especially older kids may want something a little more “adult” to keep their laptop on while they work on schoolwork. We purchased one of these, and it’s pretty good for the price. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages: 12+
24 Game This is a low-cost card game that is excellent for improving the automatic math skills of kids (and adults). Practice math facts while having fun. In short, you have to find. away to make 24 out of the numbers on the cards with addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. There is a single-digit version and a double-digit version of the game. Cost: $ Suggested Ages: 8+ (Or younger)
FamZoo.com Financial Literacy Debit Card Okay, this one is a standout in this list of gifts because this one is a gift that keeps giving, and can really help families by changing the way you give allowance and rewards. It’s a Visa debit card for each kid in your family. You can transfer money to their cards when they earn it or on a regular basis automatically. Kids can even setup an account for charity. My kids have really benefitted from making their own purchases and getting a handle on how much they have to spend. Check out my FamZoo review or go directly to FamZoo. Age: 5+ Cost: $ – $$$
Lego Boost Creative Toolbox 601 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: $$$
Terrarium Kit Inexpensive terrarium kit that glows in the dark. It is also a bit of a craft. Fun to assemble and a great STEM experience. Cost: $ Ages: 4 – 7
Three SticksGeometry Game Great game for sharpening geometry skills and creativity while having fun. Award winning. Cost: $$ Ages: 8+
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: $$
The Zoob Builderz STEM Challenge Kit This was better than I thought and my whole family really enjoys it. Basically this is a “build-it kit” with lots of parts that fit together, wheels, rubber bands, and string. They give you challenges, such as build a car with a retractable roof, with little guidance, and you have to figure out your own solution to build the car and the roof with the parts provided. This is a great engineering toy for kids because it’s so flexible. Cost: $$ 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.
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 aged 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.
Tinkering Labs Robotics Engineering Kit DIY robotics engineering kit for children age 7 to 11 years old. Kit includes 10 electronics challenges that let kids use their imaginations. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages: 7 – 11
MEL’s monthly STEM kit for kids This looks like a great idea, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Amazon will send your child a STEM toy each month for $19.99. You can select their age range (3-4, 5-7, 8-13 years old) and the rest will happen automatically. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages: Ages 3-13
Magic School Bus Chemistry Kit The Magic School Bus Science kit has lots of great science activity that will keep your child busy and engaged. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages: 5-12+
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
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
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
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+
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: $$$
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.
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
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. Older kids (13+) might like “The Master Theorem – A Book of Puzzles, Intrigue and Wit” — these are definitely “next level.” See more logic puzzles below. Cost: $ Suggested Age: 8-10 (and 13+)
Analogy Challenges This is a great educational gift suggestion. These books come in several levels. Cost: $ Suggested Age: 7-10
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
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
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: $$ Suggested Ages: 5-8
Best Gifts For Smart Toddlers
Here are a few gift ideas for the youngest children. Given a chance, and some encouragement, kids can learn quite a bit from some of these.
Busy Board – For the youngest toddlers, the busy board is a time tested idea. This one has plenty of gadgets to keep your child busy. Cost: $$ Suggested ages 1+
Gears Building Toys – This will keep the busy smart kids in your life busy. Understanding the physics of gears is a great brain-building activity that reinforces dexterity, creative thinking, and motor skills. Cost: $$ Suggested ages 3+
LeapFrog DVD series These are great for teaching kids to read, and they really like to watch them. There is a whole series to meet kids where they are at on the road to learning to read (and math too!). BTW, if you’re interested in teaching your kids to read early, consider Hooked on Phonics. BTW, you may also want to have a look at my list of educational kid’s TV shows for other worthwhile entertainment. Cost: $ Suggested Ages: 1-5+
Pengoloo This game is great for memory skill development, color recognition and more. A fun, very good gift for toddlers. It’s really a game that people of any age can enjoy, but of course the best part is seeing your kids enjoying the game, especially when they beat the adults! I recommend this a top game for toddlers. Cost: $ Suggested Ages 3-6+
Periodic Table Building Blocks Well made, non-toxic blocks with periodic table of elements on them. You may need a chemist to go with these for maximum educational value, but they’re cool, nerdy, and probably will result in someone learning something about the elements.Cost: $$ Suggested ages: 2 years+
Gift Ideas for Gifted Older Kids
Microscopes 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.
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
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:
Celestron 5 megapixel Infinaview Another great microscope is the -I LOVE THIS MICROSCOPE! It has a great LCD screen so your kids can see what the magnifications are easily. We have this microscope and I can tell you it is super fun. I got it for my daughter when she was 6. She still uses it sometimes — now she’s 13.Once you have something on the scope you can snap an image of it with the press of a button. I really love this microscope, but note that it is meant to look “at” things–this wouldn’t be good for looking at cells–more for examining bugs, coins, fabrics, foods, etc…”close up.” It comes with a rechargeable battery which makes it great to carry around to various places for microscope fun. I know this is a bit pricey, but it is very good. This is a such a great science toy for boys and girls of all ages. I am recommending this for gifted children age 4 and up. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 4-17
Climate Science, Astronomy and Telescopes
Telescopes A relatively pricey venture for a good, worthwhile telescope. Also, if you live in an urban/suburban area, it may be difficult to get the most from a telescope due to light pollution. Expect to spend more than $100 for a good one. For example, here is a well rated telescope in that price range: Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope – any budding astronomer will prize such a fantastic gift. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 5-17
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+
Anatomy Skeleton Floor Puzzle, Squishy Human Anatomy and 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: $
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
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.
Architectural Engineering Kit Science experiment & model building kit. Twenty models of structural elements and real-world buildings! Learn architectural design with this Thames and Kosmos award-winning gift.
Remote Control/Motor for paper airplanes-I wish they had this when I was a kid. The PowerUp 4.0 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: $$ Suggested Ages: 8-10 years
OWI Air Powered Car This is an interesting educational toy car that runs on compressed air. Note that there is alot of assembly required and some of it is a little bit complicated, but nevertheless, very worthwhile. Cost: $ Suggested Ages 10*-99 (Ten year-olds will probably need some help with assembly)
Geomag 110 Piece Color Construction Set This looks like a very fun magnetic building kit. The pieces are larger than older kids, so they should be a bit safer for smaller kids. I’d still use caution to purchase this for kids under 5 (or if you have kids under 5 in the house). Looks like a fantastic kit. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 3+
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
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: $ – $$ Suggested Ages 4-7
Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kits This is a relatively expensive birthday, Hanukkah or Christmas gift but the payoffs are huge if your child takes to this. Your brainy child will learn programming, physics and many more things that are going to be very important to the economy in their lifetimes. There are several different kits you can buy, for example the EV3 kit and the lower cost Robot Inventor Kit, Lego Mindstorms kits are the de facto standard robotics kids used in teaching at K-12 schools. I strongly recommend this as a gift. This is the ultimate STEM teaching toy for girls and boys of all ages. Cost: $$$$ Suggested Ages 7-16+
KANO Kit If the price for Lego Mindstorms is out of the question, there are various other robotics kits that can be great fun for kids. You might also consider a KANO kit that teaches kids all about building computers using the Raspberry PI. I’d recommend this kit strongly for those super intelligent kids who’ve shown an interest in technology and engineering. Definitely a great present for the gifted who really want to know how computers work. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 7-16+
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: $$ Suggested Ages: 10-15+
This one is the ultimate set This is an even more serious chemistry set for teenagers / older kids who are ready to work through high school preparations for chemistry. This would be an amazing science gift for a kid who has a deep interest. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 12-15
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
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.
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+
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: $$ Suggested ages 8+
Fractiles 7 Award winning fun. This is somewhere between a math activity, a creative jaunt and meditation. Kids will enjoy creating fractal patterns with diamond and square magnetic tiles. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 8+
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: $$ Suggested Ages 10+
Fun Math Books For younger kids who are just starting to learn math concepts, there are some great books by Greg Tang. For example, “Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food” and “The Grapes of Math” provide simple, but helpful math riddles for kids to do. These are fun, interesting books and I definitely recommend them.Cost: $ Suggested Ages 5-8
Three SticksGeometry Game Great game for sharpening geometry skills and creativity while having fun. Award winning. Cost: $$ Ages: 8+
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+
Chaos Machine A fun and interesting way to learn a bit about chaos theory Suggested Ages 12+
Chaos Tower This kit offers some great Rube Goldberg fun + great physics learning from this kit. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 10+
Car Engine Model This is a great brainy gift for kids who like building models, and especially if they are interested in cars and engines. This is a “working” model of an internal combustion engine (it runs on an electric motor). It’s meant for older kids, but could be a project a parent and younger kid could work together on. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 12+
Plasma Ball This is somewhere between science and fun. Plasma balls are the staple of any smart mad scientist. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 8-11+
Spherio Ball This is another toy that may be a stretch for educational, but it sure looks fun and could have some educational value in physics. It’s basically a remote controlled ball–kids can build mazes and use ramps to get it to do some really fun tricks. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 7+
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
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: $$ Suggested Ages 5-9
Floating Globe This is basically a 6 inch globe that spins for quite a long time. Another cool but simple item kids of all ages would love. Here’s a video to give you the idea of what this miracle of physics actually is. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 8-11
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.
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+
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: $
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: $$ Suggest Ages 6-14
Crystal Growing Kits – These are always fun and interesting. There are several levels to these kits. This one is a bit more on the pricey side, but is more complete. Cost: $$ Suggest Ages 10+
Levitation Globe This is not the greatest political globe, but still really cool because it floats magnetically. Cost: $$
Maps and Geography A great book by Ken Jennings – Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings offers his insights about maps in this excellent book. Cost: $
Snap Circuits – These are good for kids of all ages…Snap circuits makes various kits for several age groups, for instance the Snap Jr. kit is for younger children. If your super-smart kid takes to these kits, they’ll have an advantage for the rest of their lives. Cost: $ Suggested Ages 6-16+ These are invaluable at any age for the budding engineer
The Raspberry Pi learning computer – This credit card sized, $35 device is an excellent tool for teaching a child how computers and electronics work. Here is an article that explains the device better. This is probably something a parent would want to work on together with their son or daughter–at least a first. Having said that, I am sure there are plenty of genius kids out there who will know what to do with it. There’s plenty of information on the internet about this device and it has really become a standard. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 7-16+
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: $$ Suggested Ages 7+
The Kano Kit – This is a very interesting kit for kids 6-12. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Also based on the Raspberry Pi, it seems like a great way to get your genius child on the path to computer programming and becoming a “maker”. Definitely consider this gift if it’s in the budget Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages 6-12+
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the idea of getting your favorite brilliant kid some sort of computer of their own.
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: $$ Suggested Ages 5-16+
Google Chromebook I am a huge fan of the Google Chromebook because it is so simple and malware/virus free. They are currently priced from about $150, most of the best values in Chromebooks are in the $200-300 range. ) for these. Recently some Chromebooks have been enabled for the Google Android App Store, greatly improving their usefulness. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is slated to have this enabled later this year. Cost: $$$ 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.
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+
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+
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+
Quardillions – Great strategy puzzle meant for one player. Cost: $ Ages 7+
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-olds both really loved this (back when they were that age) and it is truly educational. I frequently give this gift for children’s birthdays. Cost: $ Suggested Ages 6+
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+
ThinkFun Tilt This interesting logic game is loads of fun and a bit challenging. Cost: $ Suggested Ages 8-15+
<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+
Mini Drone This is really fun, and easy to fly. It’s an indoor mini drone for beginners that will teach your child the thinking and basics needed to move on to more advanced drones. I have found it to be pretty indestructible…And the price is right too! Ages: 7+ Cost: $
Remote controlled airplanes and helicopters can be very educational and lots of fun. There are many levels of price to these… For example, the Holy Stone drones are easy to fly but the cheaper remote controlled drones, helicopters and planes can be just as great. Adult supervision is probably required, especially for younger kids. Try to find one with a video camera built in. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 6-16+
The 3D printer is the ultimate gift. Probably best for your older brainiac or with help from an able adult.
MakerBob Replicator Mini+ The MakerBot is a popular 3D printer that has lots of support from the community. You can print some amazingly cool things. Kids who learn a little 3D design software can create whatever they can imagine (and that fits on the small format printer). Expect to spend $750-$2500+ for entry-level models (which can do quite a bit). Cost: $$$$ Suggested Ages: 7-16+ (younger children will need the help of an adult, at least to get started with this)
Da Vinci Nano 3D Printer White 3D Printer The da Vinci mini is an affordable 3D printer. It uses non-toxic PLA filaments to print on a 5″x 5″ stage. This would be a good introductory 3D printer, it’s relatively cheap, and it’s compact enough to put right next to your computer. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages: 8+ (with adult help) or 14+
FLASHFORGE 3D Printer Adventurer 3C Great all-around 3D printer with 150mm x 150mm x 150mm output. Reputed to be very easy to set up and use. Cost: $$$ Suggested Ages: 8+ with adult supervision/help.
Creatures, Fungi and Plants
Butterfly gardens and Lady Bug Land or if you’re a little more daring, you could go for a pet hissing cockroach. We have never given our kids a hissing cockroach, but both of our daughters loved the butterflies and lady bugs. Cost: $$ Suggested Ages 3-10+
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+
Rolly Polly Farms – This is a great idea. Comes with a voucher for rolly pollies. Cost: $ Suggest Ages: 5+
Shrimp Bubble Ecosystem Kit This is a maintenance-free shrimp habitat. No daily feeding, No filtration, No frequent water changes. The kit comes with 3 or 4 marine shrimp. Cost: $$ Suggested ages: 8+
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+
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
Worm Farm – This is a little different. Your favorite intelligent kid can observe earthworms 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+
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+
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Update July 2020: This page has become more popular lately with virtual learning announcements for Howard County Schools. Most of the schools haven’t said whether or not they will be open for in-person learning in Fall 2020. Glenelg Country School (listed below may be one of the main exceptions). You’ll have to check with each school to see what their plans are.
Living in Howard County Maryland means that the bar is set relatively high for public schools–not to mention private schools in Howard County.
By many standards, Maryland has some of the best public schools in the USA. And within Maryland Counties, the two top contenders are Montgomery County Public Schools and Howard County Public Schools. So this is to say that Howard County’s schools are among the best in the country.
Still, to many parents there are a multitude of issues about both Howard County and Montgomery County Public Schools that drive them to look for alternatives.
For some there’s just general dissatisfaction with public school education. This usually includes the feeling that the Common Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top programs have taken the creativity and real learning out of schools, and substituted it with test preparation.
For others, they worry about the quality of teaching or they believe there is a lack of individualized attention for every kid due to large class sizes, and in the various other forms that might take. Finally, there are people who realize that although the aggregate of Howard County education is relatively high quality in comparison to other jurisdictions in the state and country, individual public schools and classes fail to meet important standards or simply ignore the individuality of each student.
So what are the private school options if you’re in Howard County?
Here are the elementary, middle, and high school private school options I know of. This list of private schools is not meant to contain every private school in the county, but I am happy to add a school if your favorite is missing–just message me below. By the way, if your child is younger than age 5, see my list of private preschools in Howard County.
Unaffiliated Independent Private Schools in Howard County
Maryland International School This is a STEM-focused, Montessori school in Elkridge, Md for grades 1-12. This is the only school in the region to offer 3 International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and the only school in the USA to do so as part of a STEM curriculum. This is great news because IB programs are known for their rigor and tend to be well designed.
At the elementary school levels, they are offering a Montessori-style education. At the middle school and high school level, it’s more of a traditional-style teaching program.
This school is definitely worth checking out, and tuition is reasonable. Younger grades can attend the affiliated Children’s Magnet Montessori School which is housed in the same building.
The school is expanding and plans to break ground on a multi-million dollar athletic center with a pool and basketball court soon.
Bus transportation is be provided for an extra fee and runs in Anne Arundel and Howard County.
Glenelg Country School Independent college prep school founded in 1954 offering preschool, lower school, middle school and High School. They have small class sizes and very nice campus on 87 acres of wooded land in Ellicott City. Glenelg is the largest independent school in Howard County, and definitely one of the larger private schools in Maryland.
Both of my girls attended this school for a few years. A very diverse group of kids come from all over the area including Silver Spring and Washington DC to attend this school. Bus transportation has stops in 6 Counties including places like Laurel, Catonsville, Ellicott City, and Olney and as far away as Mount Airy, New Market, Brookeville, Gaithersburg, and Odenton (Map of bus stops for 2017-2018 school year).
If you are considering a private school in Howard County, definitely see this one. Also, have a look at their high quality summer camps.
Columbia Academy My own child went to this school for a year and we were very happy with it overall. Class sizes are very small and there were some very dedicated teachers who were willing to differentiate for my daughter because she was ahead of the class in many aspects. As the name suggests, the main campus is in Columbia although they have several other preschool centers around Howard County.
Tuition is reasonable in the $10,000 dollar range and includes before care from 6:30am (after care until 6:30pm is around $2,000 extra). They offer preschool through 8th grade.
There is bus service available and the school goes up to 8th grade.
Fusion Academy – I honestly don’t know much about this school beyond a few comments from other parents and what their website says, but the model is definitely interesting, particularly for students who aren’t making it in traditional public schools or private school. The classes are ALL ONE-ON-ONE: One teacher to one student. That could be really great for certain students. Definitely check out their website.
McDonogh School (in Baltimore County) Very awesome school founded in 1873.
Bus transportation is available–they have buses that come to Howard County to pick kids up. Great academics, huge pool, stables…wow! I know some families with children here who are very happy.
Boarding is available for high school level students. Here is a link to their tuition page.
There are several Montessori schools of varying quality in our area, I found it hard to tell the good ones from the not so good ones. The schools listed here have students in at least the lower grades of elementary school. Montessori generally doesn’t go past sixth grade.
Columbia Montessori – Looks like it has some very good programs. This school has stood the test of time, having been open for 40+ years.
Mater Amoris – This school is in Olney, but not far from Howard County. Looks like its programs are very good–I have heard positive things and seems like it may be worth the trip for some parents. Goes up to sixth grade.
Sandy Spring Friends School – The Friends know how to teach. If you’re comfortable in a Quaker atmosphere, this place is definitely great, and it certainly attracts a nice bunch of people. Even though it isn’t in Howard County, it isn’t that far out of the way either. I have heard very good things about this school and it has a beautiful campus. BTW, they do offer boarding for high school level students. Here is the Sandy Spring Friends school tuition information page. Some bus transportation is available and they also offer boarding for older students. (There is another Friends School in College Park)
St. Louis School – Catholic K-8 education- Blue Ribbon school. I have heard good things about it. Here is their tuition information, the rates are significantly cheaper than the independent schools listed above.
Trinity School – K-8 Catholic School in Ellicott City, Howard County. This school is a bit unusual in that it is an independent Catholic school. That gives them some flexibility with the curriculum. If you are interested in Catholic education, this place is worth a look and has come highly recommended by some parents. No bus service provided. Here is their tuition and fee schedule.
Bethel Christian Academy– pre-K3-8th grade in Savage / Jessup. I don’t know anyone who goes to this school but I do know one of the teachers and she speaks highly of it. Class sizes vary. Here is their tuition information.
High Road Academy – In North Laurel, this is a school for kids with specific types of learning disabilities. In order to attend, students must be referred by the public school system Grades 3-12.
Phillips School – In North Laurel, (Howard Co.) this school is for various special needs kids. Grades 3-12.
Legacy School – In nearby Sykesville, in Carroll County, this school is especially for children with Dyslexia. Maintains a 3 to 1 student ratio.
Finding Out More About These Private Schools
All of these schools offer days when you can visit and see how classes are run. You may also want to see if they have any public activities or summer camps that you can take part in to see how you like the school.
What’s your opinion? Is there a school that I missed here? Please let me know in the comments section below!
Below is a list of some worthwhile educational shows for kids that I would recommend for parents looking to avoid all the terrible, worthless, and even damaging fluff that is on children’s TV these days. The kids shows in my list are selected because they are both educational and entertaining.
In the first part of this post, I will do my best to let you know which educational kids shows you can see on Netflix Streaming, Netflix DVD, HuluPlus,YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Amazon DVD.
Keep in mind that Amazon, Hulu and Netflix often stop carrying shows without much notice, so apologies if a link is broken or a show is no longer available.
In the second part, I tell you what you can find that’s worthwhile for children to watch for free on YouTube–mostly educational PBS shows that make the most sense for older kids. Certainly, there are a wide variety of YouTube kids’ shows, I am only naming the ones I am familiar with.
These educational and kid’s science TV shows have various themes, so there should be something to catch any child’s attention. I feel I must add the caveat that too much TV is too much TV, no matter what the value of the material.
I am dividing the educational kids shows up by age group, but really I think all of them are appropriate for a younger kid who is willing to watch them–in other words, my experience has been that the ideal age for these shows really depends on the children who are watching them, so a show may be meant for four year olds or seven year olds, but that doesn’t mean a ten year old or a two year old can’t enjoy it.
I note one or two exceptions to this, where the language or topics might not be appropriate for younger kids (for example “The White Rabbit Project” on Netflix isn’t really appropriate for young kids due to language and violence.)
The educational and show quality rating scale is my own. Again, alot depends on the child, where her/his interests lie, and what their capabilities are. I rate each show on a scale of 1-5 for educational value and overall quality. (I don’t bother to list anything that’s below a 3.5):
Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime TV learning shows for younger toddlers:
Little Einsteins (Amazon Prime) – Introduces children to art, musical instruments and composition. Highly recommended for all kids, but kids who want to play an instrument will particularly enjoy this classic show from Disney Channel. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Super Why (Amazon Prime) – Spelling and literacy for toddlers (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Wonder Pets (Amazon Prime) – Teaches about animals and geography. Several years later my girls are still quoting this show! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Reading Rainbow (Amazon Prime) – Old, but beloved reading series.
Sesame Street (Online, Amazon Prime / Hulu) – Alot of segments are available online on the SeseameStreet.org website. This is a great show for young kids. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Leapfrog (Amazon Instant Video) Leapfrog has several educational shows that include math, reading and getting ready for preschool. For example Math Adventure To The Moon teaches basic counting skills. Note that some of the one’s that are on DVD aren’t available on demand. If you’re looking for educational shows for kids about math, don’t miss this series! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Peep and the Big Wide World (Amazon Prime) – Basic science lessons for younger kids. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
Zoo Clues (TubiTV) – Facts and information about animals for younger kids [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
Charlie and the Numbers (Hulu) – Charlie learns numbers while he goes on adventures. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
Peg + Cat (Amazon Prime) – Great show for learning numbers. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime Educational TV Shows for older toddlers and five year olds:
Martha Speaks (Amazon Prime) – Martha Speaks builds toddlers’ vocabulary. About a dog who swallowed alphabet soup and started talking (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Word Girl (Amazon Prime) – Builds vocabulary for young kids (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
WordWorld (Amazon Prime/Netflix DVD/Hulu) – PBS show that helps kids learn to read. Very good and highly recommended to help kids understand how reading works. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
Dinosaur Train (Amazon Prime) – Educational, teaches scientific method and quite a bit about dinosaurs (Animation). The show is fun and well done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
The Electric Company (Amazon Prime) A redo of the 1970s classic show. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Zaboomafoo (Amazon Prime)- Teaches kids about animals and science in general. Nicely done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Zeek’s Animal World (Amazon Prime) – Fun show filled with animal facts. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
Guess With Jess (YouTube) – This show would be pretty good for younger kids, but for one problem–since the show is British, the accent makes it hard for some kids to understand. Give it a try. Jess is a cat who tries to help answer science questions. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Little Pim Language Series (Hulu) – Your kids can learn Spanish, Korean, Italian, German, and even Chinese. Great Hulu kids’ show.
Curious George (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime) – This show is relatively well done. It isn’t entirely educational but always has some informational content and kids definitely enjoy it. The “monkey chatter” gets kind of annoying after a while for parents though. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Look Around You (Hulu) – Explore nature with this animated series. [Educational/Quality Rating 3.5]
Postcards From Buster(Amazon Prime)- This is a pretty good show for kid’s to learn about the world via Buster from the show Arthur. Some episodes are on YouTube. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Popular Mechanics For Kids (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime/Hulu) – Very good science show that covers a wide variety of science topics in news magazine format. My four year old finds it entertaining and does learn from it. As far as educational tv shows, this is one of the best — especially in the realm of science. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego (Netflix DVD/Amazon DVD) Not my favorite show in this list, but it does offer some social studies education and is an okay show in general–kind of a classic show. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3]
Wild Kratts (Amazon Prime/Hulu) – PBS Kids show: Science, animals, Kratt brothers…what could be more fun? (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Beakman’s World (Amazon DVD) – This show is full of scientific experiments and facts, but my kids don’t like this show because it is full of weird fluff and strange characters that make it difficult to watch. You be the judge. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
Bill Nye The Science Guy (Netflix/Amazon) – Excellent, although somewhat older information about science presented in a fun, entertaining way. My five and seven year-old love this show. Also on YouTube.[Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
Myth Busters (Amazon DVD/Amazon Instant Video)- This is a fun, interesting show. It is entertaining and includes all aspects of science, engineering and math. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Modern Marvels (Amazon) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5] This is a fantastic show that teaches about how innovations are made and outlines the stories of various amazing feats of engineering.
How the States Got Their Shapes (Amazon Instant Video) This is a great lesson in American history presented in an entertaining way. Better for older kids, but my 8 year old really liked it.[Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Liberty Kids (Amazon Instant Video) – Great show for kids about the American Revolutionary War. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Biz Kid$ (Amazon Instant Video) – This is a great show from the makers of Bill Nye the science guy–I wish all kids would watch this show. It teaches about entrepreneurship. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.5]
Adina’s Deck (Amazon Instant Video) – This is aimed more towards middle schoolers, and is a great conversation starter about cyber-bullying, plagiarism and more. Unfortunately there are only a few episodes. It’s less that it’s educational and more that it’s just important for kids to see this!
Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman (Amazon Instant Video) – Great, fun tv series with science challenges…a little more fluff than I’d like to see, but my kids enjoy it for the entertainment value… and there are some very important learning aspects to the show. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.0]
Awesome Adventures (Amazon Instant Video) – The show visits cities around the world and acquaints kids with local culture.
Discover Science (Amazon Prime) – Loads of interesting science experiments. “Spectacular experiments to sharpen your sense of science”
Annedroids (Amazon Prime) – This show is mildly educational, but I do like it for it’s “niceness.”
Science Court (YouTube) This is an animated series that goes over science concepts. Pretty good quality, the Squigglevision animation is a bit annoying. [Educational Quality Rating 5]
White Rabbit Project (Netflix) -This show is probably best for kids older than 12. The opening scene of the series involves guns and there is definitely some questionable language throughout the series.
It’s a Netflix original with some of the cast from Myth Busters. They do experiments and test the boundaries of technology to prove, compare, and discuss the “top 6” of all sorts of things–from scams and robberies to g-force. Overall a fun and definitely a very informative show. [Educational Quality Rating: 4.5]
Educational Videos on YouTube for older kids (8 years old+)
Finding worthwhile shows for older elementary and middle school kids on Netflix isn’t easy. Recently, YouTube published YouTube Learn at Home, which is a fantastic list of great educational videos.
Luckily, YouTube has lots of full episodes of shows that you can’t get on the other streaming services–for instance for older kids if you Google Bill Nye The Science Guy full episodes or SciGirls Full Episodes, you’ll find quite a few very worthwhile shows.
You tube also has some other fun things like “Its Okay To Be Smart“. We watch YouTube shows while driving on our smartphone and on our television via our Roku box. Show suggestions on YouTube:
Design Squad (More episodes on Amazon Prime) -This is a great show to learn engineering and math from PBS. It is definitely a very worthwhile show for “makers” as the mindset of the show is to work out the best ways to build things including kayaks, peanut butter machines, and musical instruments. This is a mainly meant for older kids, but younger ones can still benefit from watching it.
Season 1 is included with Amazon Prime (Recommended, but look for a sale!). Season 2 is available one episode at a time or by subscribing to the show. There are more than a few episodes on YouTube.
[Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
SciGirls (Amazon Prime) – Great science shows for girls (and boys). Covers a wide range of science topics and presented in an interesting/straightforward way. My two girls really love this show, and it is full of educational material that gives them a leg-up in school. There have been many instances where my kids have background knowledge of a science topic at school because of watching this show. I highly recommend it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
DragonFly TV There aren’t any full episodes on YouTube that I could find at the moment, but lots of interesting short segments from the show. If you can find more of it, definitely worth watching. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
It’s Okay To Be Smart (YouTube) – Lots of great science and general knowledge facts in this YouTube show, put together in an engaging way. My girls love watching episodes of this show in the morning with breakfast. Fun. Interesting. Science-friendly. Better for older kids. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
Mr. Wizard’s World (YouTube/More episodes on Amazon Prime) – Circa 1985, Mr. Wizard is a bit old school, but still quite a bit to learn from his show. Engineering, Chemistry, Zoology, Geology and Physics are all topics covered on this show…they even do some actual math on the show! If your kids can get past the dated equipment and computers they will definitely like it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
More Tips for Parents on TV, Reading, and Gifts
Have a kid with Autism? You must watch Autism Channel. Excellent programming for kids and parents of kids who are living with autism.
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. Thank you for supporting my site. Please leave feedback with any comments or ideas for other shows.
IMPORTANT: Sandy Point is currently open (Spring 2021), but no life guards are on duty. Please follow social distancing and no groups larger than 10! Swimming and boat ramps are open. * Sandy Point Entrance admission fees are listed below *(4/17/21)
Central Marylanders are often faced with a choice during the summer–trek out to Ocean City or the Delaware shore or go to one of the closer in Chesapeake Bay Beaches. If you don’t have time or money to head all the way over to the Eastern shore, there are definitely a few popular beaches in Anne Arundel and Calvert County.
I’d say that among the most popular Chesapeake destinations are North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Point and the one everyone knows – Sandy Point State Park.
The park is open year round. As of this writing, it is only closed on Christmas Day.
The street address for the park to put into your navigator is:
1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD 21409 1-800-830-3974 / 410-974-2149 (Office) General Information Hours of Operation are 7am to sunset. Fishermen and boaters may have 24 hour access.
There are entrance fees (see below) that are paid either using coins (quarters or dollars) or credit cards (Visa/Mastercard).
See below for park entry costs (Updated for Spring 2021).
Sandy Point, which opened in the 1950’s, is located just to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which looms over the beach. In fact, one drawback of the Sandy Point beach is that you may encounter some of the beach traffic you’re hoping to avoid by not going to Ocean City.
To get to Sandy Point, you head down Route 50 towards the bridge but exit (exit 32) shortly before you reach it to get to College Parkway.
Just plan your visit with the potential for traffic in mind and most days you’ll be able to get there without much of a delay. In case you were wondering, a section of the beach is supervised by lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day.
As a state park, there is an admission fee which as of April 17, 2021, Sandy Point State Park entry for Maryland Residents is:
Summer Rates (May 1 – September 30th):
$4 per person admission fee on weekdays.
$5 per person admission fee on weekends and holidays.
Off Season Rates (October 1 – April 30th):
$3/Vehicle (As opposed to PER PERSON during the summer!)
More information about costs and discounts:
Children buckled in a child safety seat (infant and small children in a car seat or booster seat) are free.
Costs are a few dollars more for non-Maryland residents. Rates may increase for holidays or special events.
Military and their dependents as well as disabled people get in for free–you have to present proper ID to get these free passes to Sandy Point.
You can also buy a season pass or buy a Golden Age Pass for around $10 if you’re older than 61. Here are a few more details: If you plan to go often, you probably want to consider getting a season pass. Golden Age Passes are available for purchase for people age 62+ –with it, you’ll get free admission (and unfortunately, the National Park Service Eagle Passes aren’t accepted).
The costs for out-of-state residents to enter the park is slightly more. I don’t have the exact amount right now, but it’s maybe a dollar or two above the in-state cost.
As mentioned above, those with a Maryland Park Service Disability Pass get in for free. BTW, when you get a season pass, they give you a magnetic card to get you into the park, as the entry gates typically aren’t staffed. By the way, aside from those passes, these automatic toll machines accept exact change only in the form of $1 coins and quarters. Alternately, you can use a credit card: MasterCard and VISA are accepted.
Be aware that sometimes, especially on certain holidays, the park can fill to capacity and they simply stop letting people in. That can really be disappointing because there aren’t really any comparable nearby beaches. If that happens to you, I can only suggest taking a ride to downtown Annapolis and taking in the sites, or if you a heart-set on the beach, take about a 1-hour ride down to North Beach and hope for the best.
The beach itself isn’t perfect, but it is a nice way to spend the day with kids. As mentioned earlier, there are life guards on the beach during the summer months from 10am to 6pm. Snacks and concessions are available for sale at the beach. They also have showers and restrooms available.
Aside from going in the water or hanging out on the beach there are also opportunities for crabbing and fishing (for licensed fisherman and people age 16 or under). There are rock jetties you can stand on for fishing or you can rent a 16 foot motor boat/bring your own small craft. Fisherman enjoy 24 hour access to the park during certain times of year.
Jigging and chumming seem to be effective ways of catching striped bass at Sandy Point–especially if you’re there in the early morning hours. If you like hiking there is are several nice trails that take you through marsh land and a planted pine forest. It is a great way to see wildlife such as birds and turtles.
Pets are allowed in the park only during the off-season times of year. Dogs must be leashed.
Sandy Point might be a place to consider for group outings or parties. For large parties they have shelters available for rental that can hold up to 300 people. Note that even if you rent a shelter, your guests will still have to pay to enter the park. You can pre-pay for each person, but you’ll also need to give them their entry tickets prior to their arrival at the park.
Note that this is the only place alcohol is allowed in the park, and you MUST get a permit if you intend to serve drinks. Also, you are NOT allowed to have amplified music at Sandy Point. Another important consideration for groups is that everyone entering the park must pay separately. Youth and scouting groups can also reserve a campground area.
Another important thing to note is that Sandy Point is a “trash free” park. What that really means is that it is up to the visitors to collect their trash and take it with them.
There aren’t any trashcans in the park. Related point–you can bring your dogs to the park during the off season, but you are expected to clean up after them.
People ask me what I don’t like about Sandy Point. Well, we’re lucky to have a close-in, convenient option, but well, it isn’t the same as Ocean City. The sand is different, the bottom of the bay feels different to walk on and there seem to be more creatures that bite and sting (Both flying creatures and lots of jellyfish some years–especially when the water starts getting warmer).
Another issues is that the beach itself can get kind of dirty sometimes. Anyway, I do like it, but sometimes it makes me wish for O.C. — also, on most days, given the choice, I would rather trek out to North Beach which tends to be better maintained for sunbathers and swimmers.
Time to get a little more creative on how to celebrate your child’s birthday in the time of quarantine. After the birthday party parade is over, here are some suggestions to help you host a virtual, online birthday party. Since virtual doesn’t require “local” the people mentioned below are from all over the USA including California, New York, and Massachusetts.
Apart Party – They hit the spot with this offering: Games, laughs, and magic fun.
Bubble Dad – Bubbles and birthdays, what else do I need to say. Bubble Dad will host a virtual bubble show with magic and more.
Circus Science Zoom Show – Greg May has been entertaining people for years, particularly in Howard County, Maryland. This former Ringling Brothers Clown has brought some science to his act and perfected it online for virtual kids Zoom parties. Greg is great. Sure to be fun.
Scott Dietrich Magic Show – Scott Dietrich offers to bring his award winning magic to your child’s birthday party virtually. Magic, animals, and even balloon sculpting.
Tricky Tim Magic Show – Tricky Tim’s magic offering looks like a load of fun. Save the birthday party and invite Tim!
Jumpin’ Jams – Virtual music birthday. This is a fantastic way to have some fun and bring music to your guests.
CyberJams – A rockin’ 45 minute virtual birthday party, sure to get kids’ attention. The birthday boy or girl will take part in a musical performance.
The Pit – Since you can’t really “go” anywhere to celebrate your kid’s birthday, why not go somewhere you wouldn’t probably go “virtually.” The Pit is one of those opportunities. A Broadway impromptu performance. How cool!
Guardian Adventures – Take an online interactive journey with your birthday hero at the center of the story. Fight monsters and save the world along the way. Possible themes include: Medieval, Warrior Princess, Superheroes, and Zombies.
Virtual Game Truck Party – Let the gaming experts from Game Truck handle the fun. Gaming party with kids together online.
The Art Farm – Consider streaming a live, virtual class from New York City’s famous “Art Farm.” Choose from arts, cooking, music, and more.
IMAG Museum – This world-famous museum in Florida can help you with a fun and educational birthday party for the cost of a $25 (or more) donation. Host a STEM-wars party.
Mad Science – Entertaining virtual kids parties with science.
Science Guys of Baltimore – Live stream birthday parties that consist of a 35-40 minute show with experiments, bubbling potions, and explosions.
Sky Zone – Sky Zone is offering FREE virtual birthday parties. See their video so you’ll know what the party is like. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for the parties at this time–but why not sign up, heck, have two parties.
By now, most people have probably figured out a video chat platform that works for them. But in case you want to host your own party, I might suggest Google Meet or Houseparty. Both are great choices for easy setup and universal access.
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 CountyMontgomery County, and Anne Arundel County for toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens.
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:
(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
(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 Ideas: Kid’s Card Games, Mini Uno Cards, Puffy Kush Balls
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 Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces, Jump Ropes
The National Aquarium – This is a great opportunity to take a group to the aquarium. There are a couple of ways I would suggest doing this. You can officially book a party at the aquarium, and that makes sense if you want to have a reserved space, etc. But depending on how many people you wish to bring, you may be able to work it out by purchasing a membership. Memberships are a great value, for instance at the $250 “Ocean Ambassador” level you can bring in 4 adults and 6 kids (age 21 or younger) for a year. And you can come at any time – no timed entries like regular tickets. For bigger groups, you can get a group rate. (At this time, due to Covid, hosted birthday parties may not be available)
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 Ideas: Silly Putty Balls
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.
Urban Air – Lots of fun attractions for a birthday party here. Located in Towson, this is a good option and kids are definitely going to have fun.
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
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 ✳Party Favor Ideas: Animal noses
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 tablets, Putty 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.
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
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.
Educational video classes and other learning fun learning opportunities
This break in school is definitely an opportunity for parents to get to know their kids’ academic strengths and weaknesses, in case they don’t already.
The good news is that there are loads of fantastic educational websites — many of which are normally for pay, but are free for now. Some include video lessons and classes, distance learning, others are paid courses.
Here are a few popular sites. I have selected them by hand, so I hope you’ll find something that will engage your child in the list below:
Khan Academy – This is very helpful, free website with loads of educational videos on all sorts of topics. It’s “gamified” so your child can earn points and badges as they progress through lessons.
The videos are broken down into very specific how-to’s so you can zero right in on what you want to learn, or just follow along a given course. I very highly recommend this site. Here is a daily schedule for various grade levels using Khan resources. Grades Pre-K and above.
Khan Academy (again!) – This is a special mention because I really like this activity – Imagineering in a box. “Designed to pull back the curtain to show you how artists, designers and engineers work together to create theme parks.”
Outschool – For a VERY limited time FREE $100 credit for classes (Sign up here) I think this is a great opportunity for kids to learn. They have classes that are prerecorded, and others that have a live teacher that teaches your child along with classmates via video lessons. One of my children is currently taking a language class from this site and it’s really working well. I just signed the other up for an American Sign Language class. Grades Pre-K and above.
Varsity Tutors – Free live online classes for K-12. Wide variety of courses.
Coding schools – Ok, now would be a good idea for kids who may have some interest in learning computer programming to take some courses or improve their skills with practice. There are some wonderful options for kids of all ages to get started. Here are three popular choices:
The classes are on just about any imaginable topic. Some are self-guided, others are “live” in that if you pay a fee, you can submit work for grading and you have to complete work in a given time frame. Grades 8 and above.
Linked In Learning/Lynda.com – Lynda offers a huge collection of online classes, mostly aimed at adults, but older kids/teens would benefit from many of them. For example, they have courses in Photoshop and other digital art tools that kids could benefit from. (Moms or dads would probably also find a worthwhile topic) Howard County Library offers it for free to their patrons, but if your library system doesn’t, the cost to join Lynda is not very expensive and is month to month. Grades 6 and above.
Instructables – I love this website. Loads of crafts, and other how-to’s on a wide variety of topics. Most kids are likely to find something that interests them–these would be good for parents and children to do together. (Thanks to Milanjali for the suggestion to add this one!)
CommonLit – Reading and writing program. Free. Parents have to go through a verification process, but this is a worthwhile platform with guides for teachers and parents. Grades 3 to 12.
Learn a language with Duolingo. This is a fun, easy way for your child to learn a language or learn more of a language they already know. You may also check with your local library to see if they have any other online language learning resources. For example, Howard County Library offers Rosetta Stone for free. I like Rosetta Stone for a few reasons, but top among them is the fact that it can listen to your pronunciation and tell you if you have it right.
I would also mention that one of my kids is taking live online language lessons on Outschool.com. It’s working great even though the teachers and all of the students are in different states. Grades 4 and above.
Delta Math – My kids are using this now. Lots of great activities. Create a free account as a teacher to get started.
First in Math– This is a great math resource with entertaining games and world-wide competitions. Paid subscription ($20 for 6 months).
iCivics.org – Great stuff on this site — this is a link to some excellent social studies games…including a game where you have to get the votes in a run for president.
Get out your library card and check to see what kind of electronic learning resources your local library has. (Note that in many places, you can get a access to libraries anywhere in your state and beyond).
Do a project. This is one of the best ways to learn. Here is an article about project based learning–at the end of it are 15 ideas for projects including things like redesigning your city’s public transport system and solve your parents’ problem of being too busy.
StarFall – This is a venerable, popular website for younger kids. Great fun. Grades Pre-K – 3.
Whizzimo.com – Free until July. Help for different learners including Orton-Gillingham.
This Way Up – Great mental health resource. This is a link to their Covid page, but be sure and look at all of their offerings.
Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Very well reputed online courses. This one is here because it’s a great option for some kids. The courses definitely aren’t free (quite the opposite), and you have to get accepted into the program.
This could be a problem under quarantine since you have to test into the program.
MobyMax and ListenWise – These two are suggestions for schools and school districts rather than individual families: MobyMax helps your child catch up to grade level. This is great for different learners or learners struggling with school. It’s free for the rest of the school year. Call 888-793-8331 to get started. Listenwise offers articles and podcasts about a variety of subjects, and can be effective for different learners.
There are also social story sharing websites where kids could share their writing with others. I’d recommend adult supervision, but for example, Wattpad is very popular and Underlined is also a good option for teen writers.
Slime is banned from my house, but if it’s not banned from yours (or you are desperate for a fun activity and have the ingredients) here is a video tutorial. (Also see the “Do Science” section below!) Grades 1 and above.
Go on a scavenger hunt outside. There are loads of suggest lists of things to find on various sites (eg – Find something that starts with “M”, find something purple…)
Hold a photo contest. This could be between family members or friends. Pick a theme. If you want to have judges (not necessarily recommended), upload the photos to Facebook without credit or explanation and see which one gets the most likes. If a contest is too much or you don’t have enough people to compete, just do a funny photo shoot and take the silliest photos of each other possible.
Write a play – You and your child can work together to create a script for a skit or play. How about working with a friend via video call to brainstorm the plot together? Some kids will need some help getting started. Check out these writing prompts for ideas.
Read. Here is a reading list if your child or teen isn’t sure what to read. If we’re lucky, those of us who aren’t quarantined could still go to the local library. But if not, your local library probably has a great collection of electronic books that you can access online or download to your Kindle/e-Reader. The Howard County Library has a few options including “Overdrive.”
In the worst case, you could purchase Kindle books from Amazon (If you have Amazon Prime, you may get free books to borrow.)
Games and online fun
Here are some ideas for some ideas for fun, some of the suggestions may even be educational.
One of my kid’s teachers suggested the Plague Incorporated simulation game. It’s actually really good, and you can consider it topical, if not possibly touchy. The goal is to create a super-virus to decimate the Earth’s population. Rather than directly link to the game, I am linking to the Common Sense Media reviews of it, so you, the parent can decide if this is a good idea. They recently added a mode that let’s players try to prevent the spread of a disease!
This might also be a good time to go back to SimCity. See other science games in my list below under “Do science.”
Although I am not the biggest fan of worksheets, these free downloads will be helpful for parents who need something quick and easy for their kids to do. Worksheets have their place, but parents who have additional time may want to consider the idea of working on a project with their student instead (or in addition).
Have a family sing along or a home karaoke session. Use YouTube for karaoke or try one of the a cappella apps to create your own cool arrangements. Look up rounds on the internet and try singing them together. (Thanks Debra T)
Take turns playing your favorite songs for each other – the things you used to listen to as a young person, and the things they like to listen to now. Notice similarities and differences in style and production. Then check out a style you don’t usually listen to and try to figure out what people enjoy about it.(Thanks Debra T)
Have an iPad or iPhone? Now would be a great time to learn how to use Garage Band. So much fun. Why not have your child come up with a new ring tone for you to use when they call you or a family theme song! Garage Band is free from Apple. Here’s an introduction on YouTube…bonus: the presenter sounds like Shrek.
Planet Fitness – “Starting Monday, tune in to Facebook Live for FREE at-home workouts for anyone and everyone. Get moving with our trainers and even some surprise celebrity guests for a 20 minute workout to relieve stress and stay healthy.” (Thank you Kathy H)
Get out that old bread maker. Everyone loves fresh bread, and your kids will enjoy helping to make something the whole family will enjoy. Of course you’ll need to have yeast on hand, but there’s a good chance you have the rest of the needed ingredients. There are loads of great recipes out there…Our challenge this break will be to make rolls that are most similar to Subway Italian bread. TIP: If you don’t have a bread maker, just visit your local thrift shop, there’s a strong chance of finding one there.
Cooking contests. If you have more than one child, hold a cooking contest. Think Kids Baking Championship or Cutthroat Kitchen. Or see who can come up with the lowest cost recipe using staple items from your pantry. Grades Pre-K and up.
I know this suggestion will not be possible for most people, but if you’re one of the lucky people with access to any type of high-end or low-end virtual reality gear, there are some really cool virtual field trips that really make you feel like you’re “there.”
For an over-the-top, absolutely amazing experience, I’ve heard great things about the Oculus Quest and Oculus Go (which is the cheaper of the two). That’s the higher-end, but you and your kids can definitely get a feel for this with much cheaper options. For example, Google Cardboard or items like this from Amazon that use your smartphone to power the experience.
Bowling parties can be fun for kids. The key is to go to an alley that has duckpins rather then standard balls. This is because duckpin smaller balls are much easier for toddlers/younger kids to handle. There are obviously a few bowling alleys in Montgomery County, but I only know of one with duckpins: White Oak (near Silver Spring). Locations: White Oak ✳Bowling Party Favor Ideas: ✳LED Rubberband Helicopters ✳(I love these!) or Rocket Copters
With the right movie, a movie theater birthday party can be a fantastic choice. This can take a bit of planning and luck to be sure an appropriate movie is going to be playing when it’s time for your child’s birthday. One option would be the Arclight Theaters in Montgomery Mall. The party goers could enjoy the movie and then a party in the mall at the Food Court. Locations: Bethesda ✳Movie Party Favor Ideas: Kid’s Card Games, Mini Uno Cards, Puffy Kush Balls
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 Rockville and Takoma Park. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get. This is a great party venue for toddlers. Locations: Rockville, Takoma Park
Here are some other ideas that aren’t as popular. This will give your kid the chance to do something more unusual:
Escape Room Party(Age 11+) There is an escape room in Rockville – A Game of Rooms. They offer several types of games. There is a conference room available for rent for parties, but there isn’t really a group rate. You can just visit their website and purchase the number of tickets you need. You need to be 11 or older to enjoy this birthday place. Keep in mind that the puzzles are very challenging and some might find it frustrating instead of fun. Location: Rockville ✳Escape Room Party Favor Ideas: Mini Magnetic Board Games, Mini Rubics Cubes, Mini Teaser Puzzles, Snake Twist Cube Toy
iFly(Ages 3+) An amazing venue in Gaithersburg! 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: Gaithersburg ✳iFly Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
Rock Climbing(Ages 5+) Earth Treks is a fantastic place to host a birthday party. The location in Rockville on Gude Drive is convenient for all of Montgomery County. Locations: Rockville
Day Spa Parties(Ages 4 – 14) There are some great spas in Potomac, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Silver Spring that can host children’s birthday parties. One option would be Cutesy Celebrations in Kentlands/Gaithersburg. They offer spa parties and tea party theme packages for kids. Locations: Around Montgomery County, Kentlands
Imagination Stage(Ages 2 – 8) Why not have a dramatic birthday party with a show or class at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. This is sure to be great fun and it’s a one of a kind kids party venue. Location: Downtown Bethesda ✳Theater Party Favor Ideas:Tea Party Hats,White Formal Gloves
Indoor Miniature Golf (Ages 8+) Monster Mini-Golf is an interesting place to have a birthday party for older kids. The place is dark, flashy, and rather loud in my experience, and I realize that for many kids this will be a plus. Since it’s also coupled with “monsters” it might be a little bit too creepy for younger kids, so I’d steer you away from this place for kids 7 or younger. Location: Gaithersburg ✳Miniature Golf Party Favor Ideas:Colorful Mechanical Pencils, Noise Putty, Active Flyers
Music Birthday Parties(Ages 4+) There are some options for music-related birthday party fun. One venue suggestion is Bach to Rock in Gaithersburg featuring a two hour jam session for 7 year olds and older kids. They also have programs for kids 4 and older as well.
✳Bonus Idea:For any birthday party, consider getting a photo booth. These can be great fun and provide lasting memories. Choose your photo booth provider carefully. I’ve had great luck with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth (410) 961-2983. ✳
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.