Easing Back to School Stress – Tips for Parents

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

The stress of back to school usually starts in our house as the end of July nears, and school supply lists arrive with registration packets. My kids start worrying about losing the later bedtimes, non-stop play dates and extra free time. Over the next three weeks, we will be sharing some tips and advice for easing the anxiety surrounding returning to the classroom.

Tips for parents to ease back to school stress & anxiety | Steve Spangler Science

  • Shop for school supplies early. In my children’s early school years, I’d procrastinate and wait until the first day of school started creeping up on us before I’d shop. I thought this would ease mine and my children’s anxiety by not acknowledging its inevitability until summer was almost over. Simple supplies like pencils, erasers, etc. were still available, but harder to find items like primary composition books were non-existant. I ended up running all over town and searching the Internet for those last few supplies. This caused more stress for all of us, as we spent additional time on search missions. Now, we shop in mid-to-late July and then stack it up in a corner until it’s needed in late August.

Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science

  • Get the teacher contact information early and utilize it. Don’t wait until school starts or even those first conferences to express your concerns and challenges to the teacher. Send the teacher an email before school starts. Teachers must jump in with both feet and learn 20-30 kids’ names, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and skill levels. When meeting with my school’s principal last year, she encouraged me to reach out to my child’s new teacher right away and share my concerns with her. Talking with the teacher before the insanity begins, gives the teacher a head start getting to know their students. Kristen Mason from Busy Kids = Happy Mom also agrees and shares her tips for connecting early…Easing back to school fears & anxiety - write to your child's teacher. | Steve Spangler Science
  • Set all family/homework rules and plans a week before school starts. Charts or posters that list when homework will be focused on, how much time screen time is allowed on school days, bedtimes, wake times and chores. Give your children the expectations in advance so they know what is expected during the week.

Tips for Parents in Easing Back to School Stress | Steve Spangler Science

  • Use a family calendar. Use whatever works best for you – wipe boards, planners, or apps like Cozi are all great ways to display a family calendar and keep everyone notified of the week by week schedule. Again, it is all about setting expectations and keeping everyone organized.Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science
  • Take a practice run. If your child rides the bus, walk with your child to the bus stop and talk about what is acceptable and against the rules while waiting for and riding the bus. If your child will walk or ride a bike, take the route on a day before school. Discuss which routes are good to take and which ones aren’t. If you have friends’ homes along the way or “safe” houses, point them out so you child knows where to go if they need help along the way. Go over rules for getting to and from school – can they stop at a friend’s house or go straight home?
    Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science
  • Visit the school. Many preschools, elementary schools, middle and high schools all offer visit days before the first day of school. Walk around, meet the teachers and get familiar with the new school to eliminate as many unknowns as possible. Blogger Laura Hutchinson also adds, “If a face-to-face visit with the teacher or school isn’t possible, photos of the school and/or teacher, a Skype interview, phone call, or even just an email or letter can be helpful.”

Tips for Parents in Easing Back to School Stress | Steve Spangler Science

  • Create a worry board. Kim Vij from The Educator’s Spin On It has her children write out their worries on a wipe board and categorize them by big worries and little worries. She also has them list their fears by Likely to Happen and Less Likely to Happen. After the fears are written down, she discusses them and helps the kids find strategies for working through them.
    Big Worries vs. Little Worries - Tips for Easing Back to School Fears from Educators' Spin On ItBig Worries vs. Little Worries - Tips for Easing Back to School Fears from Educators' Spin On It
  • Read books that take your child through the new grade and experience. Here’s a grade-specific reading list from Nyla’s Crafty Teaching. When my girls were in the younger grades, we always read “The Night Before…” books during the week before school started.

The Night Before First Grade - Books to read to ease Back to School fears

  • A visit from the Back to School Fairy. Twas the night before the first day of school and all through the house everyone is sleeping…..or maybe not!  If your child is is a little anxious or dreading the return of school, have the fairy visit them over night. Busy Kids = Happy Mom has a fun printable and explains this activity on her blog. What a great idea. I needed this a few years ago.

Easing back to school fears & anxiety - the Back to School Fairy from Busy Kids = Happy Mom

What are your family traditions or tips to help get your kids back to school while easing the stress?

Easing the Fears and Anxieties Through Team Building Activities During the First Days of School

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

As the back to school season starts, what types of feelings are stirred up? For me, it was always a mixture of excitement and joy over new clothes and school supplies and a knot in my stomach knowing I was headed into a new class with a new teacher. There were so many unknowns and stresses placed in that first day of school.

Activities to make the first day of school go smoothly. | Steve Spangler Science

While some kids are ready and eager to return to school, many face a plethora of fears and aren’t ready to say goodbye to the freedom of summer.

Our Steve Spangler Science First Days of School Kit not only contains activities to turn students into friends, but also engages the kids and gets them excited about learning.

If you are a teacher, you know how difficult it is to enthrall a new classroom of students who have spent long lazy days dulling their minds in the sunshine. How do you grab their minds, shake some oohs, ahhs and laughter out of them, and become the coolest teacher in the school?

The First Days of School kit is packed with several Steve Spangler experiments and science toys.

First Days of School Kit - Activities to Team Build, Ease Anxiety and Welcome Them Back to School | Steve Spangler Science

If it makes it to the dinner table, you win!

Windbag Wonders Team Building Activity
Give each student a Windbag and ask them to blow it up as fast as they can. How many breaths will it take to inflate the 8-foot-long bag? The kids will blow and blow and blow and swear that it’s impossible. It may seem that way, until you share a little secret called Bernoulli’s Principle. Inflate the bag in front of them with one breath. Now divide the students into groups of three to five and have them inflate the Windbags. Ask the students to create a free standing structure. The highest structure wins the challenge. As a chorus of laughter and chatter erupts, the students will be so engaged, they will forget all about missing mom or dad. They may even meet a new friend or two.


Team building and engaging activities for back to school and throughout the year with Wind Bags | Steve Spangler Science

Do You Trust Me? 
Before the students arrive in the classroom, set up by adding 1/2 a teaspoon of Water Gel in a styrofoam cup. Fill a pitcher of water and set it aside. When the students come into the classroom, choose a volunteer. Have the volunteer hold the cup above eye level while you fill it. Don’t let them see inside. The Water Gel is a special powder that is similar to the polymer found in baby diapers. When you pour the water in the cup, the powder will absorb it.

Do you trust me? Water Gel trick to build connections and teach the science of polymers. | Steve Spangler Science

Talk about the idea of trust and say “If you give me your trust this year, I promise to teach you things that will change your life forever!”

Now hold the cup over the student’s head and poke pencils through the cup. Have the student promise not to runaway, and warn, “you may get wet, but I really need my pencils back.”

Pull the pencils out of the cup. The water will appear to have vanished and the room will fill with shouts of “how did you DO that??”

Before you give yourself away, have the students make guesses as to what happened to the water. Get them asking questions and making predictions. Now that’s the science of leadership!

Rainbow Friendship Bead Bracelets
Give each student five or so Color Changing UV Beads and a pipe cleaner. Ask them to string the white beads and make a bracelet with the pipe cleaner around their wrist. The beads will remain white until exposed to ultra-violet light, like sunlight. The secret is a pigment in the beads that responds to UV light waves. Remove them from sunlight, and they return to their white color. You may want to “forget” to tell them that the beads have this special power and instead send them home or out to recess with the bracelets to discover on their own. Fuel their curiosity by asking the students how and why they change color.

UV Color Changing Beads - A Metaphor for a Person's True Colors. Give Students on first day of school to engage learning | Steve Spangler Science

Then use the beads for one or more of these great metaphors and life lessons –

  • B.E.A.D.S = Becoming Enthusiastic and Dedicated Students
  • The beads are a celebration of diversity – diversity is often hidden in the brightest source of light.
  • The beads are a metaphor for a person’s true colors. True colors are a person’s inner strengths, willingness to help out, a giving heart, compassion for others or being truthful. A person’s true colors may not be visible at first, but character traits may come out in life situations.

The First Days of School Kit comes complete with an Activity Guide packed with science experiments, connections to life lessons and scientific principles. The kit is aimed at making those first days of school energetic and unforgettable by using teamwork, sharing, goal setting, reasoning and creative thinking.

  • 30 Windbags
  • Approximately 250 Energy Beads (Assorted Colors)
  • 100g jar of Water Gel™
  • 50g jar of Jelly Marbles
  • 3 styrofoam cups
  • 30 pipe cleaners
  • First Days of School Activity Guide



Squishy, Squeezy, Messy, Color Mixing Kitchen Science

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Some of our most popular kitchen science experiments at Steve Spangler Science involve color mixing and oil and water blobs in Lava Lamps. We came across this fun twist that involves color mixing and oil and water blobs, so I had to try it with my kids…

Color Mixing with Colored Water & Oil - A Rainbow of Color | Steve Spangler Science


Color Mixing with Colored Water & Oil - A Rainbow of Color | Steve Spangler Science

We started with Giant Test Tubes filled 3/4 full with vegetable oil. I filled small cups with water and let my daughter drop Color Fizzer Tablets into the water to mix her original colors. She then used Pipettes to transfer the water from the cups into the Test Tubes. We watched different color blobs of water fall from the top of the oil down to the bottom. It was a rainbow of colors. As they reached the bottom, some combined with others, while some sat on top of the big blobs.

Color Mixing with Colored Water & Oil - A Rainbow of Color | Steve Spangler Science

When the tube was full, we capped it off and she shook it. We watched as the colors mixed and the blob grew. It was fascinating to watch the different colors form a wave inside the tube.

My daughter wasn’t done yet, so I filled some pie pans with enough oil to cover the bottom. She dropped blobs of colored water into the pans and watched them mix. She was busy for a long time pushing the water blobs around the pan with her finger. When the water blobs meet, they combine and create new and different colors.

Color Mixing with Colored Water & Oil - A Rainbow of Color | Steve Spangler Science


Thank you to Growing a Jeweled Rose for sharing this great idea.

New Electric Car is Cool, Sleek and a Little Bit TRON

Renault is the first car manufacturer to sell a zero-emission vehicle. They have an entire line of electric cars to suit every need and motorhead.

Their newest and smallest car, the Twizy Electric Car, uses the same tires as Renault’s Formula 2.0 car and a Forumla One-styled steering wheel. The car also has LED headlights, two electric motors, and a screen with real-time vehicle data. The Twizy is a double–person commuter car that looks like something out of the movie TRON, or maybe Mario Cart. Add a little plastic steering wheel and Mario is ready to race!

The Renault Twizy Electric Car looks like something out of the movie Tron or maybe Mario will drive it | Steve Spangler Science

The Twizy also incorporates an intelligent alternator. This high-tech device captures the kinetic energy used while braking and uses it to boost power, instead of just losing it as heat.

The driver and passenger sit tantum-style. One style will top out at about 45 kph and can be driven without a license. The faster version can go about 80kph and requires a license. This is a car that is open-air but doesn’t require a helmet like a motorcycle.

Renault cars contain at least 7% recycled plastic and are 95% recyclable themselves. The electric cars are quiet while idling (the engine turns off) and then start right up when the light turns green.

The downside? The cars are only available in Europe but will hopefully travel across the pond someday to buzz along America’s highways.

How to Tackle Common Core and Squeeze Science into the Classroom

Love it or hate it, if you live in the 45 states that have adopted it, Common Core is coming to a classroom near you by 2014. Common Core State Standards are a state-led effort by state governors and leaders. They were written by educators and standards experts. They give teachers, parents and students a clear understanding of what they need to know at each grade level. It isn’t a curriculum but a guideline for educators. While teachers must incorporate the lessons and standards into their lesson plans, they have the flexibility to decide how they will use them.

How to Integrate and Squeeze Science Into the Classroom | Steve Spangler Science

The Difference Between Good Teachers and Great Teachers

Good teachers hold a teaching degree and want to play a part in the education of children. They love their students and look forward to coming to work. They’ve laminated their lesson plans and reuse them every year with some fun activities. Good teachers show up right before the bell and leave right after and usually don’t attend conferences. They teach their students how to solve problems and memorize facts for the test.

Great teachers engage their students and encourage them to discover the answers on their own instead of force feeding the facts. They also have activities, but they tie them to real world connections and demonstrate the passion behind the why. They are always looking for the new ways to present ideas and excite their students. Great teachers know how to turn the lessons into unforgettable learning experiences that get home to the dinner table.

They instill a lifetime of memories in their students that always start with “I’ll never forget the day that…”

Tell Me and I May Forget - Teachers Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences | Steve Spangler Science

Common Core Subjects

Common Core does not address science and only contains standards for Reading, Writing and Math. Next Generation Science Standards are coming down the pike, but with such an emphasis on high-stakes testing on reading and math, even the great teachers run out of time to teach science.

At Steve Spangler Science, our busy season is usually April and May when testing is over and teachers are ready to teach science. Science is not an extra curricular activity. Science is found everywhere – in sports, in cooking, in the products we use, in technology and advancements and so much more. If we are not spending the time to educate our future scientists, our future is dim.

Today’s teachers must squeeze a lot from tiny budgets, to birthday cupcakes to science social studies and music. Funding shouldn’t go to a program, it should be put into our students. How do you fit it all into a six-hour day and still produce well-rounded, fully educated children ready to enter college and eventually the job market? Squeeze it.

Teachers Do Not Want to Teach to the Test - Squeezing Science into the Classroom | Steve Spangler Science

The secret to teaching is integration.

Pack a lot of information into a tiny space, a tiny budget and a tiny timeframe. Stop thinking of the school subjects as separate pieces…everything touches. Nothing is separate.

Sports coaches use math and analyzing skills, financial planners must read, and software developers must write. Scientists read, write and calculate in their labs. Just because you feel weak in a subject, doesn’t mean you can avoid it throughout your life and career.

Squeeze Science into the classroom. 

School vs Life - Mix Up the Subjects | Integrating Science into Common Core Lessons

Lisa is a 2nd grade teacher in Denver, Colorado who knows how to integrate. She shared her five top tricks to squeeze science into her classroom using Steve Spangler Science materials.

1. Lisa did away with sharing treats on birthdays. Instead, her students get to be the lab assistant for the day and help her perform and science demonstration. The kids don’t miss the sugar and get really excited to be a mad scientist for a day.

Mad Scientist for a Day on Their Birthday - Squeezing Science into the Classroom | Steve Spangler Science

2. Lisa also integrates a lot of science into story time. She reads The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. After the class works on retelling the story while also determining the moral in the book. The class then uses UV Beads in place of the colorful Rainbow Fish scales to make their own bracelets. The beads can also be used for counting and sorting activities.

Rainbow Fish and UV Beads Activity Kit - Squeezing Science into the Classroom

3. Axle Annie by Robin Pulver is another read aloud book she uses to teach vocabulary and plays-on-words. The students also compare and contrast how the two main characters respond to the main events in the story and determine the lesson. Then Lisa makes it snow indoors with Insta-Snow. The kids love it when she makes snow in their hands, a memorable experience.

Axle Annie and Insta-Snow | Squeezing Science into the Classroom | Steve Spangler Science

4. About five days before Halloween, Lisa takes out her Mad Scientist Growing Body Parts Jar and fills it with water. The students take turns measuring the brain, ear, hand and nose to compare how much they’ve grown each day. She also fills a jar with salty water and asks the kids to make predictions about what will happen.

Growing Body Parts Jar - Integrating Science into the Classroom | Steve Spangler Science

5. Lisa gives each student a Baby Soda Bottle Test Tube. They must conduct an inquiry-based activity to explore and hypothesize about the true use of the test tube. After they learn the real use, she then asks them to find a new and innovative use that solves a real world problem. She extends the activity by having the students create an advertisement or persuasive writing piece to sell the product.

Baby Soda Bottle Lava Lamps - Integrating Science into the Classroom

Don’t forget that integration is key. Everything is connected. Include a quick science activity with your read aloud. Or make math connections within science experiments. Inspire your students and create unforgettable learning experiences in your classroom.

What are your tips for integrating more science, music, art, social studies or any of the forgotten subjects into your lesson plans?