July 04, 2019

Dimitra Neonakis

Keeping Brains Active in the Summer

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEM

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There are many articles that give dire predictions about how much learning kids lose over the summer months. There are others that claim these statistics are exaggerated. A quick Google search turns up a multitude of articles with lots of common sense ideas like joining library summer reading programs and educational camps or limiting screen time. No matter what, it is probably safe to say that keeping kids brains engaged over the summer can be beneficial. But summer should be FUN! So how can we gamify learning activities to keep young minds active while they have a good time? What follows are some fun logic activities parents can take with them on the go. The materials are simple: toothpicks and coins. It's easy to throw a roll of coins or some round game tokens and a box of toothpicks in a beach bag or “car kit.” You can play these games while waiting at restaurants or with a little “lap desk” in the car. Included below are some numbered photographs of puzzles which I hope you and your kiddos will enjoy. Numbered solutions are shown at the end of the article.


There are two puzzles using this pyramid as a starting position. Each move must end touching two pennies already in position. Move only one penny at a time.

active brains 11. Turn the pyramid upside down in two moves

2. Create a hexagon in four moves from the bottom row on the right.

The first move will be to slide the top coin below.

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The second move will be to slide the middle left coin to the top right.


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The first move is to slide the top coin to the second row on the right.

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Second move would be to slide the second row coin to the top.

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Third move would be to slide the center coin one space out.

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Fourth move is to slide the lower left coin to the upper left.

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Find more coin puzzles here.


Now let's try some toothpick puzzles that all start with this configuration. 

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Here's are the rules:

1. Remove two toothpicks to create two squares of different sizes.

2. Move three toothpicks to create three touching squares.

3. Move four toothpicks to create three touching squares.


This is solution one:

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Step one:

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Step two:

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Step three:

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Here's another challenge to test out!


Step one:

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Step two:

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Step three:

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Step four:

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Find more toothpick puzzles here.


Challenge your kids to create their own puzzles with coins and toothpicks. You could even think about creating a a puzzle that uses both. Have a happy and thoughtful summer vacation solving puzzles like this! This makes for a great summer time activity and there are so many options to choose from. In the meantime, have fun keeping your brains sharp!


Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.28.31 AMDimitra Neonakis always had a love for science and nature, but came late in life to formal science education. With degrees in visual and performing arts and an environmental monitoring certificate, Dimitra brings her A game to STEAM education. Dimitra has designed and classroom-tested science activities for formal and informal k-12 and collegiate science education since 2005. She works both with at risk and neurodiverse populations as well as typical students. Students fondly refer to her as Ms. Dee and Ms. Frizzle and they all agree that science is fun!



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