Meet Candra Thorton, Early Learners Coordinator

8 04 2013

Candra_croppedIn November 2012, Candra Thornton joined ACM as a gallery manager. Among her responsibilities, Candra oversees the Early Learners programs: Baby Bloomers and Cub Club.

Candra has a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education from The University of Texas at Austin and 20 years of experience working with children. We caught up with Candra to ask her a few questions about herself and the Early Learners programs.

Q: Tell us about your previous experience working with young children.

A: I started as a kindergarten teacher then joined the staff of an Austin preschool working with toddlers while I finished graduate school. I have also worked with children under the age of five in various research projects as a professor of Early Childhood Education.

Q: Why did you choose to work at ACM?

A: My primary professional interest has always been to work with young children. As my career progressed and I developed research interests, I focused my attention on the benefits of play in this age group. At ACM, I’m able to utilize what I love to do, working with young children, with what I believe in,  the power of play.

Q: What new things do you have planned for Baby Bloomers & Cub Club?

A:There will be traditional weekly themes like colors and shapes, but I am introducing new themes such as “Colors of Us” and “Yummy! Yummy!”. I am also bringing in new guests for Sing-a-long as well as increasing the frequency of their visits.

Q: How do you develop ideas for activities?

A: Many ways: some I’ve done with children in the past, some I’ve accumulated over the years and saved for later, and some come from random resources like books and the internet that I put my own twist on to make appropriate for ACM’s youngest visitors. Great ideas are everywhere.

Q: In your opinion, what is one of the most important things to know about early childhood development?

A:Young children experience the world in qualitatively different ways than we do and to accommodate that, they should have as many opportunities to engage in open-ended, hands-on free play as possible.

Q: What’s a fun learning activity parents or caregivers can do at home with young children?

A: Yummy! Yummy! Bunny Sundaes is a wonderful activity for young children. Bunny Sundaes  is a multi-sensory activity that includes questions about sights, smells, sounds and tastes. This activity also involves math. How much yogurt is being measured? How many bunnies are being added on top? Is there more strawberry or banana fruit in the bowl? 

Here’s how to do it at home: 


You’ll need:

  1. Vanilla yogurt (dairy or non-dairy)
  2.  Annie’s Bunny Grahams or something similar
  3.  Two fresh strawberries (cut in ½ or ¼)
  4.  One third of of a banana, peeled.

Instructions: Provide a plastic knife and with supervision, allow children to “cut” (sometimes it comes out more like mashing) the strawberries and banana. Children then place into a bowl ¼ cup yogurt, the cut fruit pieces, and 5 bunnies. There are endless variations on how Bunny Sundaes can be assembled and enjoyed, so allow children freedom to explore and indulge.

Once you’ve made your Bunny Sundae. Dig in and enjoy this tasty treat.

Harness the Heat: Make Your Own Solar Oven!

16 08 2012

How do solar ovens work? Well, as you can tell from your day-to-day observations, the sun not only provides light, but also works as a heat source.  That’s why it’s warmer during the day, when the sun is out, than it is at night, when the moon is up.  With a solar oven, you use reflectors (aluminum foil) to reflect the sun’s light into a closed container and the heat is trapped inside.  With this heat, you can cook some really great snacks!

If you do make a solar oven, remember that the oven can get very hot (just like ovens in kitchens), so you should be very careful when using the oven. Heat-resistant cloths or hand covers are great ways to protect yourself from the heat.

To make your own solar oven, you will need the following materials:

- a pizza box

- aluminum foil

- plastic wrap

- tape

- pen or pencil

- scissors

- ruler

First take your pizza box and draw a square around the lid of the pizza box about two inches from the edges.  Cut along only three edges: the front and sides of the pizza box.  Do not cut the fourth side that runs along the back of the pizza box.


Fold along the uncut line so that you form a flap.  After folding the flap back, wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil and tape it down.  Make sure that the shiny side is facing out and that there are no wrinkles in the foil.


Next, open up the pizza box and cover the insides with foil.  Make sure to cover the bottom and the sides of the pizza box.  Have the shiny side of the foil face up and overlap the pieces to cover any gaps. Tape into place.


While the pizza box is open, we’re going to cover the hole made by the foil-covered flap with plastic wrap.  Before cutting a piece of plastic wrap, you can tape down one side and then unroll the plastic wrap across the hole.  Make sure the plastic wrap is the right size and that it is taped down tightly so that no air can get out.

After these steps, you’ve completed your solar oven!


Click for more to see how to make some yummy food with your new solar oven!

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Be a Secret Scientist: Make Edible, Invisible Ink!

3 08 2012

Have you ever wanted to send a secret message to someone? Have you heard about invisible ink?  Invisible ink is ink that cannot be seen until revealed with a secret trick.  If you want to make your own, edible, and invisible ink, follow the directions below!

To make your invisible ink message, you will need the following:

- a few small containers

- at least one of the following:
lemon, orange or grapefruit juice
sugar solution*
baking soda solution*
*(You can make the sugar and baking soda solution by mixing sugar or baking soda with a little bit of water until the water is saturated with the sugar or baking soda.)

- cotton swabs

- a piece of paper

- a heat source, such as a hair dryer, an electric iron, or an oven (set to a low heat, around 250 degrees, and check your message every few minutes!)

- a plastic tray

First, place your piece of white paper on the plastic tray.  Then, dip a cotton swab into one of your invisible inks, write your secret message on your piece of paper, and wait for the message to dry.  I used lemon juice, a sugar solution, and a baking soda solution for my invisible inks.

My wet inks!

Once the message has dried, put it under your heat source (a hair dryer or iron) and watch your message reveal itself!

After being heated, my messages were revealed!

What is the science behind your invisible ink message?

Well, what do all of the inks have in common? Lemon juice, orange juice, grapefruit juice, milk, sugar, and baking soda are all edible (they are all things that you can eat).  Now,  think about when you bake cookies for too long.  They turn brown or black.  Thus, when we  “bake” our edible inks, they become brown or black also!

My lemon juice became a light yellow and my baking soda solution turned a light brown.  My sugar solution didn’t show up very well, and I think it’s because I didn’t mix enough sugar into the water.  If you use the baking soda or sugar solution, make sure you use enough baking soda or sugar!

Which “ink” did you use? Did you try multiple inks? Which did you prefer?

Easter’s Here!!

8 04 2012

Our favorite part of Easter is decorating eggs with beautiful colors! Paint usually leaves a mess, but we found an easier way to decorate your eggs! After you’re finished, you can then make a bunny basket to carry your eggs in.

All you’ll need is:

  • White Eggs
  • Tongs
  • An empty egg carton
  • Crayons

First, have an adult hard-boil the eggs and remove them from the hot water with tongs. Dry them off, and set the eggs in the carton or on top of a plastic bottle cap to cool.

Next, use the crayons to color the eggs any way you want. You can remove the wrapper or even shave the crayons to add a sprinkle effect.

The eggs can be slippery from the wax, so be careful when picking them up to decorate the other sides.

Finally, let the eggs sit in the carton for about an hour to fully dry.


Now we need to make an easy basket to hold your eggs in, or any that you find while Easter egg hunting!


  • Scissors
  • Half gallon milk or juice carton
  • Stapler
  • Construction paper (pastel colors)
  • Glue or double sided tape
  • Hole punch
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Optional: Cotton ball

1. Have an adult cut a panel from the carton (with the spout) and save it to later make a handle. Staple the open spout closed.

2. Use construction paper to cover the carton (you can use glue or tape).

3. Use the hole punch in the center of the spout ridge to create a spot where the whiskers go. Place the pipe cleaners in the holes, then glue on the googly eyes.

4. Next, the bunny needs ears. Cut ear shapes from the same color construction paper, then cut smaller ear shapes (pink) to glue on to the middle of the ears. Staple the ears on the top of the base so that they stand up.

5. Finally, create the handle by trimming the cut carton side, covering it with construction paper, and stapling it to the basket!

6. Add the finishing touch of gluing a cotton ball to the tail of the bunny basket.

Be my Valentine?

13 02 2012

It’s almost time for Valentine’s Day! What a great way to show those you love how much you care by creating something special!

Here’s one craft that will add a lot of love to your Valentine’s day!

Create a Stained-Glass Heart made out of melted crayons:


  • Crayons (light & bright colors work best: think pinks, purples, and reds)
  • Hand held pencil sharpener or a pair of scissors (be careful, an adult may need to shave the crayons)
  • Waxed Paper
  • Permanent marker to write your own message
  • Optional: glitter to add a little shine!

Step 1: Peel the paper off of the crayons (try soaking in warm water for better results). Use a pencil sharpener or scissors to shave the crayons over a large sheet of waxed paper. Spread the shavings evenly on the paper. The more shavings, the better!

Step 2: This step is for parents–Set oven to 175 degrees and place the cookie sheet into the oven. Time may vary depending on how much shavings you use, but it should take about 5 minutes to completely melt. Keep checking on the progress every few minutes!

Step 3: After the crayon shavings have completely melted, take them out of the oven to let them cool for another 5 minutes.

Step 4: After allowing the crayons to cool, you can draw heart outlines to cut out! Try different sizes to see how many you can make!

Step 5: After you’re done cutting out your hearts, decorate them for your Valentine–add glitter, written messages, or anything you desire!

The hearts really start to shine when you hold them up to a light or place them in a window!

We hope you have a great Valentine’s Day!

How the Grinch Made Cookies

19 12 2011

Every Who

Down in Who-ville

Liked Christmas a lot…

 But the Grinch,

Who lived just North of Who-ville,

Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss

The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with your family, don’t let the never-ending holiday cheer overwhelm you and turn you into a Grinch!

Here at the museum, we like to avoid becoming Grinch-y by making our own Grinch cookies! The recipe is originally from Betty Crocker but we found it on a cool blog called Living the Domestic Life (click on these links for the recipe!)

These gooey, green, mint-flavored, chocolate-chip cookies will subdue the Grinch in all of us. And if you would like a fun coloring activity to do while you wait for your cookies to bake, print out this Mr. Grinch Coloring Page!

Happy Baking!

Parfait/Sinkie Day!

25 11 2011

November 25th is National Parfait Day!

Did you know that the word “parfait” means “perfect” in French? This certainly makes sense because parfaits are a perfect dessert, you can create the perfect combinations of flavors to excite your very own taste buds.

A parfait consists of  layers of ice cream, whipped cream, syrups, fruits, granola, nuts, the combinations are endless!.  I bet this is sounding familiar to you isn’t it? Well parfait is basically a fancy word for a sundae!

While chocolate is my favorite, use your imagination to create a wide range of single and mixed flavors. I bet you have some Thanksgiving leftovers, wouldn’t a Pumpkin Parfait be marvelous?

If the delightful combination of delicious flavors in a parfait is not enough for you, try eating it over a sink. That’s right your kitchen sink! Not only is November 25th National Parfait Day, it’s also Sinkie Day.

Christmas shopping and Thanksgiving leftovers provide the perfect reasons to enjoy a quick meal. It’s the day many people discover the benefits of becoming a SINKIE and go on to many years of dining over the sink.

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by eating a parfait over the sink? Enjoy!

Odd October Observances

27 10 2011

October isn’t just for Halloween. There are all sorts of bizarre holidays you can celebrate before November gets here.  We all know Halloween is October 31st every year, but did you know there is also a Frankenstein Day?

This year Frankenstein Friday falls on the 28th. Celebrate by dressing up as a monster, or honor the writer and creator of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, and write your own monster story. Can you describe a monster scarier than Frankenstein?

October 30th, isn’t just the day before Halloween, it’s also Candy Corn Day. Did you know that candy corn is actually made with corn? These yummy confections are made with a very precise method using a corn starch molding process.

Photo by

And don’t just celebrate Halloween by dressing up. You can also commemorate this day with caramel apples! Caramel apple day falls on Halloween each year, and you can celebrate by making your own caramel apples. Or you can follow our recipe below to make caramel apple cookies!

Have fun with all of these wacky holidays by printing out this neat coloring activity (pictured above): October Holidays Coloring Sheet

Are you still October Obsessed? To get the most out of the end of October, you can also visit the Texas Memorial Museum Oct. 30th for their Fright at the Museum event. You can explore the mysterious side of Texas’ natural history. Feel frightful fish from the ocean depths, be rattled by slithery snakes of Central Texas. Feast your eyes on bizarre bugs while they serve up creepy, crawly critters for your culinary delight.

Have an odd October!

And follow the link below for instructions on how to make your own caramel apple cookies

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Dinosaur Chips and Dip

23 09 2011

We are delighting in all things Dino here at the Museum. Our new exhibit, Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice opens on Saturday, September 24th! We knew that dinosaurs are dazzling, but we’ve even figured out a way to make them delicious too. Stomp into your kitchen like an Edmontosaurus with this recipe for Dino Chips and Dips!

Are you as hungry as a Hadrosaurus? Voracious as a Velociraptor? Learn how to make these delicious dinosaur chips and dip to go with your next meal.

Dinosaur Chips

To make these tasty dino-shaped chips, you’ll need dinosaur shaped cookie cutters.


  •  Large Flour Tortillas (we used some spinach tortillas)
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt


1. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees F.

2. Put a tortilla flat on a large cutting board. Use the sharp side of the cookie cutter to press through the tortilla.

3. Cut out as many dinosaur shapes as will fit on a tortilla (you can save the scraps and make them into “dino bone” chips too!).

4. Lay all your dinos (and bone scraps) flat on a cookie sheet. Lightly spray or brush the tortilla pieces with olive oil and sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt.

5. Bake the chips for 12-15 minutes. Turn off the oven. Let the chips cool on a wire cooling rack and serve with your favorite dinosaur dip!

Guacamole Swamp Dip

After playing in the Bog Walk in the Dinsoaurs: Land of Fire and Ice exhibit, we were starving. We made this tasty swamp inspired dip to go with our Dinosaur Chips – it definitely tastes better than a prehistoric bog, we promise!


  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes (we used some tasty cherry tomatoes)
  • salt
  • pepper


1. Cut open the avocado and scrape all the insides into a bowl. Squeeze in the juice of the lime, and add in the chili powder.

2. Mash the avocado, lime juice, and chili powder with the back of a fork.

3. Stir the chopped tomatoes into the mashed avocado,

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your favorite Dino Chips!

Follow this link for another Dino Dip recipe!

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You scream, I scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM

25 07 2011

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States declared July National Ice Cream Month!! Take a peek at the proclamation that makes this month so creamy and delicious.

Do you want to enjoy ice cream as much as this little guy? There are many delicious ice cream places in Austin that you can try. This week, campers in the Museum’s Home Grown Cooking camp will take a field trip Amy’s Ice Cream and see where the famous Austin establishment makes their ice cream. Stop by Amy’s sometime and try one of their seasonal flavors such as Girl Scout Thin Mint or Fresh Peach (with peaches from Fredricksburg).

If you’d like to be a Creator of Flavor, you can make Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag from this recipe:

What you need:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons rock salt
  • 1 pint-size plastic food storage bag (e.g., Ziploc)
  • 1 gallon-size plastic food storage bag
  • Ice cubes

Tip: A 1/2 cup milk will make about 1 scoop of ice cream, so double the recipe if you want more. But don’t increase the proportions more that that — a large amount might be too big for kids to pick-up because the ice itself is heavy.

Here is a list of fun-to-read books about ice cream you can all read together!

Did you know?

  • It takes an average of 50 licks to polish off a single-scoop ice cream cone. Challenge your family to a Lick-A-Thon, and see who finishes first.
  • The biggest ice cream sundae in history was made in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1988 and weighed over 24 tons.
  • Of all the days of the week, ice cream is mostly bought on Sunday.
  • The United States produces the most ice cream in the world.

We hope you have enjoyed National Ice Cream month and find a smile in a good ice cream cone.

If you give a kid a spatula…

16 06 2011

… they will want a large bowl, some cookie dough and chocolate chips.

Cooking With Math is a half-day camp being held this week at the museum and the kids get the chance to work with food and numbers. Every day the kids get to make two recipes while developing their math skills.

Today they read the book

One of My Favorite Books

and learned all about making Mouse Cookies.

If you’d like to learn how to make these delicious cookies check out our recipe

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You can also see the kids enjoying their Trail Mix Energy Snack where they mixed 5 animal crackers, 6 pretzels, 7 mini marshmallows, 8 goldfish, 9 raisins, and 10 pieces of popcorn into a zip-lock baggie.

At the Museum we like to experiment with food. Vicki Cobb has written a fantastic book called Science Experiments You Can Eat. The book includes recipes along side explanations about the science behind the ingredients and their reactions to each other. One recipe teaches us how to make biscuits out of sour milk and another about how syrups are solutions that don’t crystallize.

Let us know if you make delicious Mouse Cookies or some Trail Mix Energy Snack. If you’d like to spend some time with math and cooking please sign up for our next Cooking With Math camp here!

Peep Battle!

29 04 2011

Before Microwaving

We had quite a few marshmallow chicks hanging around and getting stale, so we named them, armed them with toothpicks, and let them battle in the microwave!

Check out the video below to see what happened.

We wanted to know more about what was going on and found a great explanation from the Exploratorium. Marshmallows are basically made of sugar and water (plus gelatin) that are wrapped around a bunch of air bubbles. When a marshmallow is heated in the microwave, two things happen. First, the heat of the microwaves softens the sugar. At the same time, the heat makes the molecules in the air bubbles move around faster, making them push into the walls (of softened sugar). This pushing makes the gas bubbles expand, and that makes the whole marshmallow expand!

You can try this at home with any type of marshmallow (not just ones shaped like animals). Be sure to place your marshmallows on a plate or paper towel, or you’ll end up with a molten mess in your microwave! Our marshmallows were fully expanded in 45 seconds, but depending on your microwave, it should take between 30 seconds and 1 minute.

Note: This experiment should be done with adult supervision.

A New Way to Dye Eggs

24 04 2011

There are many different ways to dye eggs. One new way to dye your eggs this Easter holiday or for the spring is with crayons!

All you will need are white eggs, tongs, crayons and an empty egg carton. First, you must hard-boil the white eggs. After the eggs are finished boiling, remove them from the pot with the tongs. Dry them off and let them rest in the empty egg carton.

While they are still a little warm, color the eggs with the tips of crayon. To make it easier, remove the paper from the the crayons and color the eggs with the sides of the crayon.

In order to create a speckled effect like the purple egg in the picture, grate the crayon and sprinkle them crayon shavings on top.

These waxy eggs are very slippery, so be careful not to drop them as you are turning them around!

Once you have finished coloring them, let the eggs dry for about an hour.

What is your favorite way to decorate eggs? Be sure to let us know!

Spring Break & Summer Camp at ACM!

7 03 2011

We’re looking forward to hosting camp at the Museum in less than a week and a half for Spring Break! We’ll have two different camps: Home Grown Cooking for ages 7-10 and Crazy for Critters for ages 4-6.

Now that the weather is getting warmer here in Austin, it’s time to plant gardens.  In addition to all the field trips and cooking experiments, we’ll be starting seeds in Home Grown Cooking. While you’re outside, notice what types of wildlife you see. We’ve been spotting lots of different bird species recently, but in Crazy for Critters, you’ll learn about all kinds of animals!

If you already have plans for Spring Break, be sure to join us over the summer!

Gingerbread fun at the Museum and at Home

19 11 2010

Register for one of the Museum’s gingerbread house workshops today! The workshops will be held from Dec 3.-Dec 19.  It cost $30 for members and $35 for nonmembers per house. Three people can work on one gingerbread house and admission to the Museum is included. We hope you enjoy making a tasty creation in our kitchen and exploring the exciting exhibits.

Get into the spirit by making gingerbread man decorations! I used a strip of butcher paper, but you can cut a strip out of a paper grocery bag. Draw an outline of a gingerbread man. Fold the paper over back and forth and cut along the outline. Be careful not to cut the hands along the edge, so all the men will be connected. Decorate your gingerbread men with yawn, so it looks like icing.


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