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5 Ways to Get Kids Into Tinkering

It's the middle of summer and, if you are like most parents with school-aged kids, you're probably hearing dreary refrains of "I'm bored" and "There's nothing to do" followed by demands that you entertain your offspring in a variety of ways (that's in addition to your regular day -to-day existence). On top of all that, there is the dreaded "summer slide" to contend with—the annual risk of educational loss that can happen during the months kids are out of school.

Sure, day camps, sleep away camps and hours of playdates can bring fun to the summer months and keep kids engaged and entertained. But for some, that's not an option. They're stuck at home by choice or circumstance.

If you are in the "My kids need to do something creative STAT" boat, we've got five ways to get idle hands busy.

1. Maker Camp

Maker Media, the people who brought us Make magazine and the Maker Faire, have created an inspiring virtual summer camp, aptly named Maker Camp, for kids ages 8 to12. It's online, free and totally awesome. Each week has a different theme, from Fantasy to Fun and Games to Flight, and there are daily videos hosted by a pair of lively and kooky camp counselors. Throughout the week your kids are given instructions on various crafts and projects, often hosted by professional artists and makers (from the likes of Pixar and Double Fine), as well as virtual field trips. There's still time to participate since camp runs until August 14.

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2. Camp Google
Khan Academy, National Geographic, National Parks and NASA: you've heard of them right? These four amazing organizations have partnered with Google to create Camp Google, a free online camp for kids 7 to 10. Each of the four camp weeks has its own theme: ocean, space, nature and music. They'll tackle big questions like, "How do you live in space?" a chance to explore (virtually) a volcano with a National Park Ranger and discover how it was created and, during music week, kids will "rock out with Zendaya and learn why music makes us want to bust a move."

3. Tinker Crate

You know what's cool about the Tinker Crate? You don't have to come up with a project for your kids, and you don't even have to leave the house to acquire all the elements for it. Everything is included and delivered right to your door. Tinker Crate (which is all about STEM learning for kids 9 to 14) is one of those subscription boxes, where kids are provided everything they need to create a new object. We tried Tinker Box, and my girl created and played with circuits, built little LED lamps and made LED robots figures. They also do Koala Crate (ages 3 to 4), Kiwi Crate (ages 4 to 8), and Doodle Crate (ages 9 to 16).

4. Maker toys

LEGOs are, by far, the No. 1 tinkering toy out there. They really are the predominant building toy in the field, with the little plastic bricks that can transform into castles, jet fighters and Death Stars. Plus they have that whole girly-girl Friends line, which, despite kvetching that LEGOs shouldn't be divided by gender, is still popular with the girl set. My own daughter, who loves the standard issue LEGO sets as much as the next kid (regardless of gender) seems to appreciate the addition of pinks, purples and girl characters. That's why the tinkering sets, such as Roominate, GoldieBlox and the K'nex Mighty Makers have such an appeal to girls who like to build. Mighty Makers is the newest building set on the market with houses, planes and a spinning ferris wheel in their collection.

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5. Maker books
Then there are books with pages and pages of inspirational projects and ideas to keep your kids busy and learning. There are oodles of options out there but a few that come highly recommended include: "Make: Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff" by Maker Media, "Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors" by Rachelle Doorley, "The Art of Tinkering," put together by the Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio, and "Dad's Book of Awesome Projects" by Mike Adamick.

The best solution to keep the kids busy and engaged? Do it all!

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Photo source: Maker Camp, Camp Google, Kiwi Crate, K'nex, designthefuturenow/Flickr

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