New Years Throughout History and Cultures

28 12 2011

The year is about to end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations for 2012 will take place across the country. How do you celebrate the start of the new year? Have you ever thought about how we know when the New Year actually is? This day is marked by our calendar, and that calendar was created by tracking the moon, sun, and earth!

Since the dawn of civilization man has kept track of time by use of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Man noticed that time could be broken up into units of the day (the time taken for the earth to rotate once on its axis), the month (the time taken for the moon to orbit the earth) and the year (the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun).

Ancient civilizations, were able to create calendars by keeping track of the moon and the sun. The ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At the right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The pyramid was used as a calendar! Four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year!

At the end of the year, these ancient civilizations also celebrated the New Year, just like we do, with feasts, dancing and festivities. Today, most New Year festivities take place on December 31, but in other cultures they take place on different dates.

  • The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. In Babylonia the New Year began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, usually mid-March.
  • In Assyria it was near the autumnal equinox in September.
  • For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the day was celebrated on the autumnal equinox, which now falls on about September 23.
  • For the Greeks it was the winter solstice, which now falls on about December 21 or 22.
  • In early Rome, March 1 began a new year, but after 153 BC the date was January 1.
  • The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, is sometimes called the “feast of the trumpets.” It starts on the first day of the month of Tishri, which may begin any time from September 6 to October 5. The celebration lasts for 48 hours but ushers in a ten-day period of penitence.
  • In Japan the New Year festivities take place on January 1 to 3. The house entrance is hung with a rope made of rice straw to keep out evil spirits. Decorations of ferns, bitter orange, and lobster promise good fortune, prosperity, and long life.
  • The Chinese New Year is celebrated for one whole month!. The official celebration begins in late January or early February. There are outdoor parades and fireworks to mark the occasion. Check out the cool dragon costume they dance with:

Finally, the American celebration of the New Year marks the end of the Christmas holiday period. Many people go to church on New Year’s Eve, and many attend parties. Now that you know the history of New Years, you can celebrate this holiday with the knowledge of the past.

You can have fun with a costume like the Chinese do, and download this neat New Year’s Mask, look through it so you can see what the coming year has ahead!

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!

Make a Paper Gingerbread House

30 11 2011

Burrrr… It’s going to get really cold, really soon. Christmas is just around the corner. When the temperature drops we like to be inside where it’s nice and cozy. If you don’t want to brave the cold weather just yet, stay inside like us and make a paper gingerbread house!

This neat activity, is half the mess of a real gingerbread house, and it’s free! You can practice all your candy decorating skills so that when you get that real cookie house, you’ll be a pro.

You can check out the Museum Dec 1st-23rd during Gingerbread House Workshops, where we’ll provide enough candy and gingerbread to make a mansion! Registration just opened,  so sign up all you gingerbread architects!

Download our at-home gingerbread activity here: Paper Gingerbread House and tell us how your gingerbread homes turn out!

Car Trip Boredom Buster

17 11 2011

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How ’bout now?”

If you’ve been on a car trip, chances are you’ve heard that statement a million times in a row. You’ve probably even said it yourself! Car trips can be fun, the excitement of loading up the car and packing. The landscapes blurring across your windows. The weird radio station Dad won’t turn off. But once all that newness and anticipation wears off, the boredom sets in.

At ACM we don’t believe in boredom! You can use this opportunity to get crafty and have some road trip fun. So to help you with your road trip blues, we’ve created this neat bingo game.

We got the idea from MomsMinivan, which has a bunch more road trip games you can check out. We made our own bingo card with a Texas theme. So while the holiday season is here, you’ll have a fun game while you drive through this huge state of ours.

Once you download and print out as many bingo cards as you need, all you have to do to play is mark off the picture once you see it. The first to get 4 in a row wins!

Click the links below to print it out. Keep your eyes wide, and good luck!

Road Trip Bingo 1, 234 , 5

Practice Pointillism

2 11 2011

So many dots!

Pointillism is a neat way of painting. The word itself: Point (dots) and ism (stlye) is exactly what it means, the style of dots. French artist George Seurat invented this time-consuming painting technique. Look at Seurat’s painting above from far away, it looks like a normal landscape painting doesn’t it? But once you get close to it you can see that the image is actually made out of lots and lots of tiny dots. Can you imagine how long that took?

When you view from a distance your eye blends the dots together, this is called optical blending. You can see this in Seurat’s painting The Eiffel Tower (pictured on the right). When you look at it, it looks orange, but really he only used tiny dots of red and yellow which your eyes blend to make the color orange. Instead of mixing the paint himself, he is making your eye do all the work!

This technique of optical blending, dividing the colors instead of blending them, was also called divisionism. Divisionism included pointillism, but an artist could create this optical illusion with more than the use of dots. For example, Vincent van Gogh used divisionism in his famous painting The Starry Night, instead of using dots he used lines. If you look closely you can see the lines from his brush everywhere, it makes it seem like the sky is moving.

If you want to practice pointillism and divisionism yourself, just print this coloring activity and use markers for the dots and lines: Artist Activity

Look how ours turned out:

Hang them up when you’re done and marvel at your masterpieces!

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

Read the rest of this entry »


10 10 2011

Dinosaur Diets...

Some dinosaurs were carnivores (meat-eaters) but most were herbivores (plant-eaters).

About 65% of the dinosaurs were plant eaters and 35% percent were meat-eaters. We know this because there are way more fossils found of herbivores than carnivores. For example, over a hundred Protoceratops fossils have been discovered, but only about a dozen T. Rex fossils have been found.

Within the dinosaur food chain it may have taken hundreds of acres of plants to feed a small group of Triceratops, but these Triceratops could supply a single T. rex with enough food to survive over its lifetime!

If you want to make your own herbivorous Triceratops and carnivorous T-Rex at home, you can demonstrate the dino-diet yourself, just download these neat activities: Dino-Bite Triceratops and Dino-Bite Tyrannosaurus Rex (all you need is a clothespin, glue, and something to color with!) Check out how ours turned out:

Share your clothespin creatures with us and let us know how your Dino’s Bite!

Fall Facts and Fun!

19 09 2011

Here at The Austin Children’s Museum we’re excited that Summer is leaving and the weather is starting to cool, which means autumn is just around the corner.

Autumn is one of the four seasons and it typically falls between September 21st and December 21st. Why is autumn sometimes called Fall then? Because leaves fall off of deciduous trees during the season. Here are some cool facts about fall leaves from LoveToKnow.  You should learn this before autumn starts and summer leaves!

  • Leaves require sunlight, water, chlorophyll and carbon dioxide to make food for themselves.
  • As winter approaches, leaves make a coating for themselves which blocks their water source; in the absence of water, the leaves no longer produce chlorophyll (chlorophyll is what makes leaves green).
  • When the leaves turn colors in the fall, they actually are returning to their normal colors. During the summer months, the chlorophyll in the leaves causes them to turn green, blocking the leaves’ actual colors.
  • Along with chlorophyll, leaves contain two other chemicals that cause coloring. The first is called xanthophyll, which is yellow in color. The other is carotene, which is orange in color.
  • Red and purple leaves are actually caused by the presence of sugars from sap that is trapped inside of the leaves.
  • Once the leaves have turned brown, they are dead and no longer receive any nutrients.

Leaves are pretty interesting right? They can even be used for art! Check out how we used leaves creatively in these activities:

Color one yourself: Leaf Man and Butterfly Leaf

And send us your leaf art!

Celebrate Family!: Make a Family Tree

7 09 2011

It’s just starting to cool off, and we all know summer is coming to an end. Heading back to school means less time with the family. So let’s celebrate family one last time before we get back into the daily grind

Here at The Austin Children’s Museum we celebrate family and demonstrate its importance in our exhibit En Mi Familia. En Mi Familia centers around the children’s book of the same name, written and illustrated by Carmen Lomas Garza. Check out the exhibit online: En Mi Familia and the book which inspired the exhibit

En Mi Familia teaches us to love our roots. And what better way to prepare us for our upcoming adventures in school than to remember our roots with our very own family tree!

To make your own at home, print out this cool activity: Family Tree

  • Fill in your family’s name at the bottom and the names of your brothers and sisters next to the empty leaves
  • Use ink to fingerprint your spot and have your family get involved by inking their own leaves too
  • Don’t have ink? Try using a washable marker: color directly onto your finger, then voila! instant ink
  • Use crayons, pencils or markers to color in the rest of the activity to add some fun
  • Hang in a spot you can see everyday, so you remember the importance of your roots

Be sure to visit The Austin Children’s Museum before En Mi Familia leaves September 18th, and send us your finished family trees!

One Giant Leap: Moon Landing Anniversary

20 07 2011

On July 20th, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Inside the Lunar Lander were astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. On this day in 1969, they landed in the Sea of Tranquility, a lunar basin. On July 21st, Neil and Buzz became the first humans to walk on the Moon!

NASA would go on to land a total of six missions on the Moon, the last of which took place on December 7th, 1972. Only 12 people have ever walked on the moon.

Earth only has one moon (some planets have many!). The Moon orbits the Earth in a synchronous rotation, which means we always see the same side of the Moon.  The side we can see is called the “near side” and the side we can’t see is called the “far side”. It takes about 28 days for the Moon to orbit the Earth.

The Moon may looks different from Earth depending on its relative position to the Earth and the Sun. As the Moon orbits the Earth, the Sun illuminates one half of the Moon. Depending on Earth’s position related to the Moon and the Sun, we see some of the sunlit Moon and some of the shadowed Moon.

Depending on what day you look at the Moon, you might see a Full Moon (totally round and bright), a Crescent Moon, a Quarter Moon, a Gibbous Moon, or the New Moon (when the Moon is totally dark from Earth).

Download and print your own copies of these Lunar Phase cards to play Moon Phase Memory!

To learn your Lunar Phases, download and print our Moon Phase Memory Game. Click on this link to download the pdf: Moon Phase Memory Cards

Then print two copies of the sheets (you should print 4 pages total – so that you have 2 of each Lunar Phase card). Cut out the cards. If you can see the shape of the Moon through the back of the paper, glue the cards to a thicker paper (like cardstock).

Once all of your cards are made, find a friend (or two or three!) to play Memory with. Shuffle all of the cards and flip them upside down on the floor in front of you. Take turns turning over 2 cards per turn. Try to remember which card is where. When you find a match, you get to keep those cards, and take another turn. Once all of the cards are paired up, the person with the most pairs wins!

Make Your Own Friendly Insect Collection!

18 04 2011

Insects are everywhere – and they are more noticeable than ever in Austin as the weather warms up. We’ve been seeing big, yellow, Swallowtail Butterflies flapping their wings downtown near the Children’s Museum. We’ve always loved insect collections, but we’d rather leave nature like we found it (and not kill any insects) so we made a friendly insect collection using paper and craft supplies.

If you’d like to make your own, you can download our Insects of Texas Coloring Page here:


Color in the insects using crayons, colored pencils, or markers.

You can keep the insects on the coloring page, but if you’d like to cut them out and put them in a box to look more like an insect collection, gather some scissors, a lid from a shoe box, and some glue.

Cut carefully around the outside of each insect. Place a small dot of glue on the back of each insect and place them into the box lid. Fold the butterflies in half along their bodies so that their wings will bend upwards.

Have you seen any interesting insects in your backyard recently? Draw your own insect and add it to your collection!

Writing Poetry with Math

2 04 2011

The month of April is commonly known as National Poetry Month and  Mathematics Awareness Month.

While poetry and math seem to be very different, they actually have a deep connection.

In most poetry, math helps to create the poem just as much as language does. Mathematical concepts create the shape of the poem, the length of the lines and the pattern of the poem’s rhythm and rhymes.

You can see how math helps the rhythm and rhyme of poems by looking at the patterns of a limerick. A limerick is a short, funny poem with a specific rhythm and rhyme scheme (a-a-b-b-a). You can hear the rhythm of a limerick when you say it out loud.

Here is an example from an anonymous poet:

A circus performer named Brian
Once smiled as he rode on a lion.
They came back from the ride,
But with Brian inside,
And the smile on the face of the lion.

Can you hear the rhythm? Do you recognize the rhyme scheme?

To celebrate this month, try making your own limerick or finding the patterns in rhythm and rhyme in other poems.

You can also download an April calendar with fun math and poetry tasks here: Poetry and Math in April.

April Fool’s Day Prank

31 03 2011

April Fool’s Day is only a day away!

The prank letter from Kaboose.

Here is one easy way to trick your parents. Print off a fake letter from your school about a project you need to work on. When you get get home from school, hand the letter to your parents. Tell your parents that you’re very excited about the project. Then, tell them they need to buy as many of the supplies on the list as possible.

Then, watch their face as they read the letter, laugh, and tell them “April Fools!”

Download the letter in this PDF from Kaboose : April Fool’s Day Letter.

For more April Fool’s pranks, check out what we did last year.

Spring is Here: Nature Scavenger Hunt

21 03 2011

It’s hard not to love spring in Austin. The warming weather brings flowers, birds, butterflies, and bats back to the city. Here at the Museum, spring means Spring Break Camp which just wrapped up last week. The 4 to 6 year old kids in Half Day Camp spent the week learning about animals in Crazy for Critters camp. They got to visit with some reptiles, make marsupial pouches, learn about amphibians, and much more. We were inspired by the beautiful weather and all the animal action and put together a Nature Scavenger Hunt.

Download the pdf here: Nature Scavenger Hunt

Print out as many copies as you need (one per person or small group) and set out on a nature exploration. Place a check mark next to the items you spot or bring along small stickers to mark off each thing you see. Can you find a grackle, a squirrel, and a compound leaf?

Did you spot any other interesting animals, plants, or natural items on your scavenger hunt? Let us know what you found by leaving us a message in the comment section.

Boo-tiful Bingo Boards!

31 10 2008

We found a fun activity to help the time fly by while kids anxiously anticipate trick-or-treating tonight! Go here to create your own printable halloween bingo boards! Choose the Halloween images that you want and the Tools for Educators site will create up to sixteen different bingo layouts for you. Keep a list of the images that you pick so that you will have a call out sheet. Need some markers for your bingo boards? Use coins or buttons if you want the cards to be reusable!

I love that unlike most Halloween activities, this one doesn’t require you to buy any special supplies and it isn’t messy. Tools for Educators has tons of different bingo themes to pick from covering a variety of different subjects. Have a frightfully good time!


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