Groovy Lab in a Box Review + Giveaway

If you have been following along here, you know that we are diving into the world of homeschool. While it took a couple weeks to get our heads to stop spinning and our feet back on the ground, we’re thinking we made a good choice. I have no idea how long we will choose to homeschool, but the learning never stops (homeschool or not!)

We also happen to like learning that’s easy for me. While I have 20,000 ideas floating around in my head, getting them executed is sometimes a completely different issue. Therefore, learning that comes in a box is preferred. I’ll take full advantage of the timing and adding some extra lessons to what you offer – but appreciate someone telling me what to do. J’s homeschool curriculum is thanks to (which I enrich as needed/desired). Everything comes to me all ready to go. I like it that way.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.14.03 PMOver the past couple of years, we have checked out a few different box subscriptions. Some have been great, others we could have easily just done it ourselves. Today I am pleased to introduce you to Groovy Lab in a Box – which just happens to blow all other box subscriptions I have seen out of the water.  Intended for kids aged 8-12+, Each Groovy Lab in a Box comes with everything you need (except for a few items like water or scissors) to do the hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experiments.  J is 5 and while I can see how older kids would get even more out of it, he definitely stayed engaged and interested.

Groovy Lab in a Box Review + Giveaway

This is NOT your basic craft box with everything in it for a few projects – it is well thought-out opportunities to dive deep into the world of science.  The lab notebook for this box was 22 pages long. It’s full of information for learning, questions for thinking and making connections, directions for each investigation (with pictures for clarification) and space to write your own observations and “brainstorms”. And I love that it doesn’t give you all the answers either – kids (and you) really have to try things out and discover on your own. Once you finish all the experiments in the box, there are still lots of opportunities to go “beyond the box” on their website.


We created Groovy Lab in a Box to encourage children to channel their inner STEMist. Our purpose is to provide children with an opportunity to focus his or her imagination, determination, and innately inquisitive nature with a way to complete a monthly STEM project using the Engineering Design Process.  By utilizing the Engineering Design Process, students are held to a variety of standards for their finished product. Most importantly, they are provided the opportunity to engage their imaginations and apply critical thinking to supply their own desired outcome.”

Our core belief is that we want to bring this generation back to the NASA Apollo era when children wanted to be scientists and engineers and science was at the forefront of the media.  Hence our “retro, 50’s” brand and logo design.  We believe science should be more “Pop-Culture” in our society. We believe a strong STEM education is the future for our children to be competitive in the 21st century.  Science and art go hand in hand and children are encouraged to draw, journal, and “think” about their engineering design challenges. 

We are firm believers in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and we wanted to give the next generation STEMists their own starting point.


The included activities alone take some time. It’s not something you can whip through in an hour (or even) two and call it good. In fact, the intention is for the learning to last for weeks, and hopefully even the entire month. They also are outside-friendly so you can take your classroom beyond the walls of your home, which is something we obviously promote big time here. Even better? Many of the investigations get kids exercising their brain AND their body.

Groovy Lab in a Box Review + Giveaway Groovy Lab in a Box Review + Giveaway Groovy Lab in a Box Review + GiveawayGroovy Lab in a Box Review + Giveaway

Going Beyond the Box:

The online-enrichment that comes with each box (which truthfully is a science unit in itself) is incredible. The actual box is only a small part of the whole package. What’s included in the “Here Comes the Sun” beyond-the-box:

  • more investigations
  • extension activities (which come with a downloadable PDF printable)
  • a list of recommended books for enrichment
  • some fun solar-inspired fashions
  • tons of learning videos

To be honest, most of the enrichment was over J’s head (again, 5 years old.)  But, the cool thing is that we can go back and revisit it all in a couple years even when he’s more ready. In the meantime, we went through it all and he asked a ton of questions and we got the gears turning. He’s a kid that needs to be challenged and this finally provided that. The neat thing is that it will challenge ALL kids. Groovy Lab in a Box gets tons of feedback about how the big Engineering Design Challenge at the end is really hard. And it’s supposed to be hard! It requires thinking and planning and problem-solving and possibly some great collaboration with parents or peers too. As an educator,  I love that.


What we love:

  • Everything is included
  • Instructions are clear and “readable” by even non-readers (because the pictures are that good)
  • Included extra learning tidbits (in our box – who developed the first solar oven and what solar balloons are, etc.)
  • Questions asked to encourage investigation and continuous learning (not just finish up and off you go to something else)
  • Impressive Lab Notebook
  • Reaches a wide range of ages (recommended 8+, but we think a 5 year old can handle a lot of it)
  • Reusable materials so you can repeat the experiments
  • An impressive and active blog with more resources
  • Ability to go beyond the box through password-protected resources on their site (which is a HUGE add-on)


What we aren’t so crazy about:

Nothing. Really, nothing. We almost never say that in our reviews. But, we mean it. This is top notch and worth every penny for learning. Whether you are homeschooling or just looking for some great enrichment for your kids, this is it.


One more perk: I LOVE that this company  partner with Eggleston Services who provide employment opportunities for the individuals with disabilities. Monica, one of the co-founders of Groovy Lab in a Box has a background in special education and was thrilled to tie together so many of the things she loves in this project. She mentioned that the adults who are employed by Eggleston Services take great pride in their work (which shows, in my opinion!)


Subscribe or Gift It:

There are a few options for getting Groovy Lab in a Box. As you buy more months upfront, the monthly cost does go down.  For a subscription:

  • pay monthly: $26.95
  • 3 months: $25.95/month
  • 6 months: $24.95/month
  • 12 months: $23.05/month

There’s also the option to gift a box (and it won’t renew automatically) <– Grandparents, this is for you!:

  • single boxes: $28.95 + $5 shipping
  • 3 months: $25.95/month
  • 6 months: $24.95/month
  • 12 months: $23.05/month


Bottom Line:

I couldn’t recommend this company enough. Their product is thorough, complete and top of the line. And for all you get, ridiculously cheap. I love that they have a 3 month program that is just the right length for summer learning (though the benefits are definitely not limited to summer.)


Coupon Code

Use code “GROOVYNOW20″ which is good for 20% off of the first month of the Monthly Subscription.


Win a chance to try it out!

Groovy Lab in a Box wants to send one of you a box to try out! As usual, please use the Rafflecopter Widget below to enter to win. The winner will be emailed and announced on this post in the Rafflecopter Widget. Have questions? Please don’t hesitate to contact me at mountainmamatales(at)gmail(dot)com so I can help!  This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

© 2014, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

Burley MyKick Giveaway

In case you missed it, we published a post yesterday all about why you should Just Say NO to Training Wheels.  We always appreciate a friendly discussion – feel free to chime in on the comments!

Today we’re very excited to be able to give away one of our favorite balance bikes – the Burley MyKick.

“The MyKick is a fairly simple balance bike with no hand-brakes or foot platform, but maybe that is what drew us to it in the first place. It’s solid, but still fairly lightweight which is key to smaller riders.  While this is NOT the bike you would give your 18 month old, it’s great for kids aged 2.5+ (recommended age – 3+).  In fact, it’s our top pick for balance bikes for kids in this age range.”

Head on over to our review (linked in the image below too) to see what we are raving about and then come back here to enter to win!


As usual, please use the Rafflecopter Widget below to enter to win. The winner will be emailed and announced on this post in the Rafflecopter Widget. Have questions? Please don’t hesitate to contact me at mountainmamatales(at)gmail(dot)com so I can help!  Sorry, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

© 2014, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

Just Say No to Training Wheels

Just Say No to Training Wheels

Photo Credit: Melissa Avery

When our oldest was just a year old, we were in a local bike shop and discovered our first “balance bike”.  We honestly had no idea what to think of it and assumed it was just for tricks or some sort of sport that we had yet to be introduced to.  We left the shop (over an hour later) with a full understanding of what a balance bike was and the conviction that they were the perfect way to start all kids on bikes.

Before J turned two, we bought him a Haro balance bike (and a horn to make it more fun) and were more excited than him to see what he could do.  He started out slowly, but took to it eventually.  By 2.5 he was cruising on it.  By 4 he was successfully riding a pedal bike. As parents we questioned if he would ever get the hang of it (we were definitely more excited about it than he was), but it happened on his own time.

P had the advantage of watching his brother on bikes literally from the time he was born.  However, he is small for his age and was inhibited by the fact that he couldn’t fit on even the smallest of balance bikes.  When he was finally old enough, his start was slower, but when he figured it out he flew.  And then he was on pedals before he was three and completely independent on pedals (starting himself, going up hills, etc.) just a couple months after his third birthday.  These kids are knocking our socks off with their biking skills, but they are not anything unique – they’ve just been given the tools from an early age.

We’ve seen the benefits of using balance bikes translate into many other areas of their lives.  As young children, both boys have developed excellent balance for skiing, hiking, and Stand up Paddleboarding.  Biking immensely boosted J’s confidence in himself and helped change his personality from a timid toddler to a confident and self-motivated preschooler.


Mtn Papa and I both learned to ride bikes with the help of training wheels, as did most of our generation.  However, training wheels actually do little to build the skills necessary to ride.

Here’s the facts about training wheels:

  • They teach kids to balance on training wheels, not on their own two wheels
  • They are slow and inhibiting (even for the best of riders – and I’ve seen some VERY proficient training-wheel riders.)
  • They don’t do corners well
  • They become an unnecessary crutch that prolongs a movement towards riding without training wheels at all.


Since most of us learned to ride with training wheels, teaching our own children a completely different method can be a bit intimidating.  It was definitely a learn-as-we-go process.  Looking back on it now, though, it really wasn’t difficult.

Here’s some good things to remember when using balance bikes:

  1. The balance that children learn by riding a balance bike is all they need for eventually riding a pedal bike.  Training wheels only provide an unnecessary crutch during transition stages.  In fact, training wheels only teach children how to ride a bike with training wheels!
  2. It’s ok for kids to ride a balance bike until they are comfortable with pedals.  They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate all ages of kids.  If your child is not ready for pedals for 3 years, it is perfectly ok and normal.  Strider bikes even makes a 16″ and a 20″ balance bike for kids aged 6+ and 12+ respectfully.  They are for learning, for doing tricks, and for helping with balance and coordination for bigger kids and adults.
  3. Kids can start as young as they can fit on a bike and walk well (usually around 18 months).  The progression is them walking while on the bike, then sitting down on the seat and walking, then running and balancing.  There is no “right age” that it happens.
  4. Relax and let your child have fun. Any sort of pressure usually has adverse effects. The main goal is to help them love biking.
  5. Once they get the hang of it, children ride much faster on a balance bike than they can with training wheels. It provides them freedom of movement, an opportunity for independence, and continuing practice on their balance.  The emotional benefits go much further than the bike.
  6. Skills learned while biking are not restricted to JUST biking.  The balance training and strength transfers to skiing, climbing and stand up paddle boarding just to name a few.
  7.  As a parent, there is much freedom for you too in the fact that they can keep up at a younger age while you walk/bike/run with them – you get out, they burn off some energy.


But, how do they learn how to pedal? 

Many times the argument for training wheels or a tricycle is learning how to make the pedaling movement and strengthen their muscles.  While there is some validity to that, both of our kids (and most of the others I know who learned in the same way) did not ever ride either.  When you can put your child on a balance bike before they are two, there is no need for a tricycle.  Remember that when they are walking/running on the balance bikes they are building muscles to do the pedaling.  The balance is the hard part – pedaling comes when they’re ready and is much less of an obstacle than most people think.


My kid just will NOT ride a balance bike!

I have some very good friends with kids that were offered a balance bike, but just refuse to do it. They have no interest nor motivation.  Here’s the reality – some kids will be crazy about biking, others will not. However, it’s important to not give up too early (again – those larger balance bikes are a great tool!)

Here’s some tips to help your child:

  1. Get on a bike too. If they don’t see YOU biking, why would they want to?
  2. Monkey see, monkey do (AKA “Peer Pressure is a Beautiful Thing”): Get them around other kids on balance bikes. P picked it up much faster because he saw his brother and friends doing it. It’s great for them to see other kids riding pedal bikes too, but they’ll follow quicker when everyone is doing the same thing.
  3. Get out there a little bit every day.  Even just 5 minutes.
  4. Making your biking time special family time or one-on-one with a parent time.
  5. Bring the bling – a fun horn or some streamers makes a huge (HUGE) difference sometimes.  Silly, but true!
  6. Relax – they’ll do it when they’re good and ready.
  7. Help them foster a love of bikes (and therefore a desire to learn) any way you can.  Using Trail-a-bikes or a WeeHoo is a great way to help the family continue to get out there.


Finally, remember to model good biking behavior and enthusiasm.  Wear your helmet every time (and be sure they have theirs on too from the very beginning.)  Teach them traffic rules as you go (stopping at stop signs, etc.) by modeling and talking them through it.


Balance bikes come in different sizes

Not all balance bikes are the same size or shape.  They come in many different materials too (wood, metal, pneumatic tires, polymer tires, etc.)  Some have hand brakes, some do not.  I always say the best option is to see them in person.  However, in this day and age, that isn’t always possible.  It’s usually just making your best guess on sizing and purchasing online. Here’s a rough outline on the sizing of some of the bikes we have used:

*this list just mentions a few that we have tried – there are MANY options out there now*

You can also just take the pedals off a normal bike for learning. It works, but spending ~$100 or so on a lighter, smaller balance bike is a worthwhile investment in our opinion. In fact, we think that it’s some of the best money you can spend on a toddler.

Recommended by us: Check out the Axel Project. For every bike purchased through their site, they donate another to a kid in need. Win, win!



Feel free to leave them in the comments.  We’ll answer them (and feel free to chine in too!)

The Best Camping Gear You Didn't Know You Needed

The Best Camping Gear You Didn’t Know You Needed

Camping season is NOT over, so don’t put away that gear yet.  In fact, some of the best camping happens after the bugs are gone and the crowds have diminished.  Here’s some great products we didn’t want to miss out on telling you about, especially for camping families.  Highly recommended by us! Note: Many of […]

Discovering Music and Rhythm in Nature

Discovering Music and Rhythm in Nature

My boys are finally at the age now when they can both absorb some tactile lessons in nature.  Since we are just getting started with kindergarten homeschool, I am looking for more intentional learning in nature.  While we will have to be spending some time on a computer for the curriculum we chose, getting outside […]

Ahnu Brand Spotlight and Giveaway

Ahnu Brand Spotlight and Giveaway

Rarely is there a brand of footwear that Mtn Papa and I can agree on and love.  His feet are long and narrow, mine more “duck like” (short and wide).  What works for him rarely works for me and vice-versa.  However, I think we may have found a new favorite brand that we can both […]