Creepy, Crawly, and Oh-So Cool! Backyard Bugs That Will Boggle Your Brain!

Mind-blowing bugs!

For every person on the Earth, there are 1.5 billion bugs. Seriously! And some of them are pretty spectacular. We’ve rounded up a few of the wildest ones for you here, along with some fun facts about each of these crazy creatures. If your kids love bugs as much as we do, check out our GeoSafari® Jr Bugnoculars, the perfect way to safely contain and examine backyard bug finds, featuring a built-in 3x magnifier, snap-lock lid with air holes, and water-tight bottom.

The Japanese Giant Hornet

Japanese Giant Hornet

Habitat – Japan, of course.

Height – This bonkers bumble bee is actually about 3 inches long – that’s bigger than your thumb!

Fun Fact – When threatened, the hornet shoots poison – in your eye! And if that wasn’t bad enough, the poison doubles as a rally cry, calling more hornets to help!


The Puss Moth Caterpillar

The Puss Moth Caterpillar

Habitat – Europe, Asia, and North Africa

Height – The caterpillars can be 3 inches or longer; the wingspan of the moth is about 1.5 inches.

Fun Fact – The “face” of this creepy caterpillar is actually a form of mimicry intended to scare off predators. The black eye spots and giant mouth are just a ruse to hide the caterpillar’s real head, which rests inside. Oh, and the horns on its back can spray acid!


The Spiny Flower Mantis

The Spiny Flower Mantis

Habitat – Africa

Height – This itty bitty beauty stands about 1.5 inches tall.

Fun Fact – They may look as sweet as flowers, but the Spiny Flower Mantis is actuallya cannibal – theyeat their own kind, which makes mating particularly difficult!


The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Habitat – North America

Height – These wanna-be hummingbirds have a wingspan of roughly 2 inches.

Fun Fact – This giant moth feeds through its proboscis, which looks a lot like a hummingbird’s beak.


The Planthopper Nymph

The Planthopper Nymph

Habitat – These babies really get around, making their homes all over the globe, including north of the Arctic Circle!

Height – See the swirly wrinkles on your fingertips? Planthopper Nymphs are about the size of the center swirl.

Fun Fact – These baby Planthoppers have a system of gears in their legs that help synchronize all of their legs when jumping! Oh, and that sparkly stuff on their backsides? It’s made of waterproof wax that slows their descent when falling and also scares away predators.


Hot Tips to Make BBQs Sizzle for Your Little Ones


Summer’s right around the corner – time for trips to the shore, poolside play, and, of course, backyard barbecues! Check out these tried-and-true tips backyard barbecue game ideas to make your next BBQ as much fun for your little ones as it is for the grown-ups.

Let’s Race!

Kids love to race! These outdoor summer games for families get kids moving and burn up some excess energy while they wait for their burgers and baked beans!

  • Red Light Green Light – Assign a “Stop Light” to stand a good distance away from the rest of the kids, who are lined up hand to hand facing him. When the Stop Light says “Green Light”, all kids run toward him, until he says “Red Light” and they stop. Wiggle or cheat on a Red Light and you’re out! The first player to reach the Stop Light becomes the Stop Light for the next round.
  • Blob Tag – Great for playing with a variety of ages! One player is “it” and races to tag any of the other players. When she does, both kids race together to tag another player, who joins the blob, until all of the kids have been absorbed into the blob.
  • Pancake Pile-Up- A tasty twist on the traditional relay race! Players form two teams and line up. One player flips a card to show the type and order of a stack of pancakes and yells “Order Up!” The first player in each line races across the yard to the pancake pile, scoops up the correct pancake with her spatula, races back without dropping it, and sets down the first pancake. The next player takes the spatula, races to find the next pancake in the stack, and races back to stack it atop the first. Play continues until one team correctly completes the stack exactly as shown on the card.

Get Artsy!

Provide a place for kids to take a break from the summer sun by setting up an art table and chairs in a shady spot. Be sure to provide:

  • Chalk – Great for art and for drawing hopscotch courts! Add beanbags and help kids draw a bull’s eye.
  • Crayons, markers, water colors and paper – Consider creating a few summer scenes for the kids to copy, like sandcastles at the beach or a park full of green grass and trees.
  • Playfoam- Perfect for outdoor crafting, Playfoam never dries out and doesn’t pick up dirt, even if you drop it! Set a few colors out and challenge the kids to sculpt the sun, flowers, butterflies, or burgers!

Cool It!

Keep kids cool with some wet n wild water games!

  • Balloon Toss – Fill a bucket with water balloons – lots of water balloons! – before the BBQ gets started and bring them out at the height of the heat.
  • Water Guns – From cheap, plastic water guns to serious Super Soakers, water guns are a fantastic way to keep kids happy – and cool! – on a hot day. Just make sure you have enough for everyone!
  • Sprinklers – If you’ve got the space, turn on the sprinklers! If you’re really brave, bust out a Slip n Slide – you can make your own with a tarp and a hose.

Got Game?

As the sun sets and the energy wanes, board games and toys are a great way for kids to stay engaged. Replace your arts & crafts supplies with a few of the following:

  • Checkers or Chess Sets
  • Card and Dice Games – Classics like Go Fish and Old Maid are fun for younger kids – or try Marco’s Polos- a frenetic, match em’, stack ‘em, pack ‘em card game for kids ages 5 and up! Older kids flip for Even Steven’s Odd!™, the fast-paced, dice-rolling race.
  • BBQ Blitz – No BBQ is complete without a rousing round of BBQ Blitz! Players race to flip and find the burgers that match the ones on their cards – and place buns on top – in this frantic, fast-paced, burger-flippin’ game.BBQ Blitz



Keep On Reading! Teachers’ Read-Aloud Recommendations for Elementary School Students

Best Summer Reading For Kids

Story time isn’t just for little kids – older kids love to be read to, too! Elementary school teachers know that reading to their students increases their vocabularies (a proven predictor of academic success), as well as aiding with focus and attention span, and introducing new subjects in a casual, comfortable way.

As summer approaches, consider continuing this teacher tradition by reading aloud to your kids at home.The former-teachers on our team have curated a list just for elementary school students, including some of their favorite read-aloud picks. Check out these best books for middle schoolers and choose the ones your kiddos will love!

Best Books for First Graders

1alexanderAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst – Your kids have seen the movie – now read the story where it all started! From gum in his hair to a missing dessert, Alexander’s day just gets worse and worse. A terrific anecdote to a rough day.


2whinedingillyThe Wingdingdilly by Bill Peet – Scamp the dog is not satisfied with his life… until a witch turns him into a Wingdingdilly and he learns how much worse things could be! A great introduction to gratitude.



The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf – Teach your kids to stay calm and cool, just like peaceful Ferdinand. Despite his forever frolicking friends, Ferdinand would rather stop and smell the flowers.



Hot Dots Interactive Storybooks – Great for those struggling readers, this set of four interactive books features Ace the Dog and Kat the Kitty in a series of outrageous adventures. Ace – the Talking, Teaching Dog® brings the books to life, helping kids master key alphabet readiness and beginning phonics skills.


And a series…


The Arthur Series by Marc Brown – From Arthur’s Underwear to Arthur’s New Puppy and Arthur’s Family Vacation, kids adore Arthur and look forward to every adventure.



Best Books for Second Graders


A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon – “Be yourself” is the moral of this colorful story featuring Camilla Cream, a girl who learns first-hand what can happen when you worry too much about what others think. A great conversation starter!



Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen – This sweet story about breaking the rules features librarian Miss Merriweather and a lovable lion whoenjoys attending story time.




The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – “Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy,” begins this classic tale of generosity, friendship, and love, written in true Shel Silverstein style.




James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – James lives a loathsome life with his terrible aunts until help arrives in the form of an insect brigade living inside a giant peach. Once you’ve told the tale, watch the movie together – it’s just as tasty!



9thekeepingquilt The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco – Anna learns that nothing is stronger than family and love lasts longer than a lifetime as she and her mother craft a quilt that will span generations.




Best Books for Third Graders

10amazingboneThe Amazing Boneby William Stieg – Pearl and her talking bone show considerable courage as they outwit a dangerous fox in this tale full of fun language and imagery.Steig’sSylvester & The Magic Pebble and Amos & Boris are wonderful, too.




Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – A timeless tale of friendship, this classic story of Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig includes humor, kindness, and yes, some tears.




Owl Moon by Jane Yolen – Introduce the solace of nature with this quiet story of a girl and her father on a nighttime owling expedition through the snow.




Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Di Camillo –New in town, lonely Opal befriends a puppy who opens the door to all kinds of new relationships. A heart-warming tale of friendship and community.


And a series…

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner – You may remember the Alden children from your own childhood, on their own but turning their travels into adventures and solving mysteries wherever they go!

Inspire Pre-K and K Readers with Our Read-Aloud Recommendations!

Books for your little one!

Teachers know that reading to children calms restless and fidgety kids, promotes focus, attention, and listening skills, increases vocabulary, introduces cause and effect, logic, and other strategic thinking skills, and promotes a lifelong love of reading. Plus, preschoolers love story time!

As the school year winds down, take a teacher tip and plan to make at-home story time a part of your summer schedule. It’s a wonderful way to spend time with your little one and the benefits are endless. Check out our teacher recommendations for the best books for preschoolers and choose the ones that your child will love!

Best Books for Preschoolers

Clack, Clack, Moo Cows That Type
by Doreen Cronin – The farm animals are making demands – but so is Farmer Brown! Introduce the concepts of compromise and bargaining (if you dare!) with this silly story.



Hot Dots Favorite Fairytales
! Bring books to life for your little one with retellings of four favorite, “must-know” fairy tales, made interactive with Ollie—the Talking, Teaching Owl!™ Set includes The Gingerbread Man, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Ugly Duckling, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

ChickaChicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault – A tells B, and B tells C, meet me at the top of the coconut tree! Go on an alphabet adventure with this timeless, rhyming classic that’s as much fun to read aloud as it is to hear.


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff – A little mouse makes a mighty lot of requests in the first of the beloved If You Give series, perfect for beginning readers. If your little ones love it, there are more in the series.


petethecatPete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin – Move and groove with ultra-mellow Pete the Cat as he takes a stroll in his brand-new shoes, learning colors along the way. Follow the story up with Pete the Cat Preschool Rocks, a preschool learning set featuring an interactive Pete the Cat® pen and two spiral bound activity card sets featuring 200+ math, science, social studies, and other grade-appropriate lessons.

Best Books for Kindergartners

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – Let the wild rumpus begin! Sent to bed without his supper, naughty Max dons his wolf suit and sets off in pursuit of mischief. Inspire imagination with this not-so-scary story.


Guess Again by Mac Barnett – Things aren’t always what they seem, especially in this rhyming story featuring surprises hidden behind sneaky silhouettes, lift-the-flaps, and fold-out pages.


The Elephant and PiggieSeries by Mo Willems – Hilarious back-and-forth read aloud stories, this series features a stressed-out Elephant, Gerald, and his excitable friend Piggie in a series of silly stories you and your child can read together.


Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats – Follow Peter, star of the classic Snowy Day, as he works through the ins and outs of growing up and accepting a new family member. Perfect for soon-to-be sisters and brothers.


Stella Luna by Janell Cannon – Look out! Here comes Stella Luna! Separated from her family, Stella is taken in by a family of birds and the baby bat begins to adapt to their bird-like ways.

It’s World Baking Day! Celebrate with the Sweetest Story Around and Some Great Indoor Activity Ideas!

Happy World Baking Day!

Gingerbread Man Treats

Gingerbread Man TreatsThe tasty tale of The Gingerbread Man is a timeless classic dating back to 1875! It’s also the perfect prop to help you and your little ones celebrate National Baking Day – the literary way! Check out the story from your local library and then try out these great indoor activity ideas to add some hands-on fun to storytime.

Turn The Gingerbread Man into a tasty treat to enjoy during story time by baking your own gingerbread cookies! Whether you use a mix or start from scratch, baking introduces key concepts like measurement and temperature while decorating with icing, raisins, and candies helps develop fine motor skills.

Cookie Cutter Printing

Cookie CuttersGet inspired by this cookie cutter cutie and make your own patterns and prints! Just pour a thin layer of paint in the bottom of a shallow container, like a clean, foam meat tray and set out several simple cookie cutters. Then show your child how to dip the cutters into the paint and press onto a clean, white sheet to create their own patterns and prints. Added bonus – save the artwork and re-use as wrapping paper!

Story Sparkers

Everyone’s got a tale to tell and creative writing is a great indoor activity! Use one or more of the following questions to spark storytelling, write your child’s response on a piece of paper, and have him or her illustrate it.

  • What could you do to keep the gingerbread man from running away?
  • How would you catch the gingerbread man if he ran away from you?
  • What could you do with a gingerbread man if you didn’t want to eat him?
  • Where do you think the gingerbread man came from?
  • Where do you think the gingerbread man was going?

Gingerbread Man Science Experiment

At the end of the story, the gingerbread man jumps on the fox’s back to cross the river. Challenge your child to hypothesize what might have happened to this baked buddy if he tried to swim across the river by himself. Write your child’s answer down and then test the hypothesis with this simple experiment:

  1. Buy or make a gingerbread man cookie. (See recipe)
  2. Place the cookie in a bowl of water.
  3. Check on your cookie after a few minutes – have your child draw a picture of what he or she sees and discuss ways the cookie’s appearance has changed.
  4. Repeat step number 4 at 5-minute intervals until the cookie has crumbled into the water.
  5. Talk about other ways the gingerbread man could have escaped, given the results of the experiment and the danger of riding with the fox.