7 Family Activities for Fall

scarecrow (2)Fall is a busy time of year with back to school schedules, Friday night football games, and evenings that offer less sunlight. However, families can take advantage of these changes in the season with a few easy, inexpensive fall activities.

1. Add a Family Member (or at least a Homemade Scarecrow)

Build a scarecrow to stand and welcome your friends and family to your garden or yard, and make sure you get your kids in on the action. Years ago I gathered the kids with my limited construction ability and we built a lovable scarecrow who visits our garden every fall.

Materials

  • 2 sections of narrow – at least 2” inch wide – wood (1 for the arms and 1 for the body). You can even use scrap sections of baseboard trim or curtain rods you find at the local lumber yard. The length of the wood can be determined by the shirt and pants you plan to dress on your scarecrow.
  • Screws and drill or nails and hammer
  • Circle of wood or other material for the head. My husband cut the head for me out of scrap plywood, but you can also use the bottom tray from a plastic flower pot, a circular picture frame, or the plastic lid to a 5 gallon pail.
  • Spare clothing – pants, shirt, garden or canvas gloves, an old floppy hat, scarf, or anything else you can rummage from the back of the closet or the sale at the thrift store.

Let the kids paint the face or you can even use some sharpies on the plastic lid. Assemble as a family and don’t forget to give your new scarecrow friend a name!

2. Apple prints

Take flour sack dish towels or plain cotton napkins (you can even make your own square napkins from a yard of white or off-white cotton cloth), then take an apple that has been cut in half. Pat dry the juice from the inside meat part and have the kids paint the cut side in red, orange, or yellow fabric paint, then press the apple onto the corner or along the edge of the cloth. Let the print dry and present these as a special Thanksgiving or Christmas gift.

3. Painted Gourds

Give the kids gourds or miniature pumpkins they can decorate. Let them use markers, googly-eyes, glitter glue, or even foam stickers to decorate unique fall decorations. You can even tie colorful ribbons to the stems and create a trail of Gourd Friends.

4. Make a Mummy for Mom

This one is especially for dads… help your kids plant a mum plant in a plastic pot for Mom. The catch is that the kids first decorate the pot with a face, either painting it or adding it with markers. The mum flowers (think yellow, deep golden red/brown) become the hair and you’ve got your own little mini mummy for Mom to thank her for all of her hard work – and it’s not even Mother’s Day!

5. Caramel Apples with a Twist

Prepare caramel apples with a caramel wrap or coating, but before the caramel sets have the kids roll the caramel apple in a saucer filled with their choice of “extra” topping: chopped nuts, raisins, cookie sprinkles, chocolate chips, broken bits of candy corn, etc.

6. Sock Seed Exploration

Take a pair of old socks – the fuzzier the better – and have your kids put them on their feet and pull them up as high as they can. Then hike (without shoes) through the yard and woods. Carefully remove the socks, keeping the outside on the outside. Place the sock in a shallow plastic or aluminum dish (old pie tins work well), and have your kids sprinkle them with water and put the kids in charge of keeping the socks moist every morning with a watering can. Place the dish in the sunlight and watch for the next few weeks as your old socks start to sprout tiny plants from the fallen fall seeds that were collected – a great conversation starter for the topic of the plant life cycle!

7. Pressed Leaf Bookmarks

Have the kids fill a bag with colorful fall leaves, then take those and press them between the pages of large books (use waxed paper to protect the pages). After a few weeks, remove the pressed leaves and have the kids either glue them onto tag-board to make bookmarks, or send the leaves through a laminator to create unique 2-sided bookmarks. Hole punch the tops and have the kids tie ribbon through them or create special name tags. These make great Christmas gifts from the kids, and you’re months ahead of schedule!

Don’t forget to make homemade pumpkin pies (and stick them in the freezer for the holidays), apple cider, and stock up on cocoa for these cool weeks ahead. When you take a few minutes each week to create special memories with your kids, you are building the platforms for their identities, dreams, and hopes for the future. I hope this fall is kind and full of warm family fun for all of you!

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LEGO Chompy from Skylanders – Directions for Kids (written by a kid)

019If you have young boys in your home like I do, then chances are that at least a few LEGOs are strewn somewhere. And if your kids also like Skylanders, then you probably have an idea of what my house looks like. LEGOs, action figures, Skylanders… all creeping out from under the beds and waiting like ninja knives for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

This time around, instead of me sharing my own ideas about ways to engage kids with creative learning, my LEGO loving son is taking a turn and he is sharing his own directions for making a LEGO Chompy character from Skylanders.

After all, if we’re going to lose our toes in the middle of the night because of these razor-like toys, we might as well make sure the kids are at least learning from and enjoying them during the daylight hours!

So, from Ethan’s inspiration – share with your own LEGO and Skylander fans the legochompy (he even took pictures to help).

Making Room for Memories

“Right-Sizing” – What does that mean to you?

An amazing friend, whirlwind of an entrepreneur, and superb organizer (Yep – she’s really a Certified Professional Organizer) uses this term, right-sizing. In essence it means making decisions about the “stuff” in our lives – not necessarily down-sizing in massive amounts. These decisions allow us to flourish in our lives and not drown in our things. After learning more from Tammy about right-sizing, I realized that this is precisely what my grandmother did a few years ago. Today I’m sharing that story of Making Room for Memories in a guest post – so stop by Tammy’s site at We Love Messes to read more!

Below is a sneak peak…

Making Room for Memories
Making Room for Memories

Right-Sizing and Our Grandparents
At first I honestly thought it was morbid and creepy – doling out personal belongings as if a loved one has passed while he or she is still alive. But now I’ve realized the benefits are about more than an organized home before dying – they’re about living a calmer, more fulfilled life. I guess Tammy would call this “right-sizing”!

Read more at We Love Messes!

I’ll Bring the Jelly Beans

easter eggs

Easter Lost

That first year Shari missed our Easter celebration was hard, but we knew that she needed to rest and keep fighting the monster of cancer. Her children still came– and together the cousins celebrated as they had since they were babes. They couldn’t remember an Easter apart.

The following year she was gone from this Earth. I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare the Easter celebration without her. For more than a decade she and I plotted, planned, and prepared as we brought our kids together for this special weekend. Our children, cousins by birth and close friends by gift, spent years of Easter weekends together coloring eggs and helping prepare special Easter treats. They readied their baskets cushioned with that cling-to-your-pants plastic grass.

Then it was our turn. Shari and I giggled as we collected those baskets and carried them away for our mission. Glasses of wine in hand we filled each with sugared treats, special trinkets, and memories. Then we devised hiding places – based on age and ability of each child – combined with just how mischievous we were feeling ourselves. Each Easter built upon the previous. No hiding spot was duplicated. No basket looked the same. Each tradition we shared with the kids solidified year after year.

Early in the morning the kids flung themselves out of bed and scrambled through the house to find their hidden baskets of treasures. After limiting the chocolate intake, we readied for church and the celebration of Easter service. My heart always lifted on these days, celebrating Easter together.

That first year with without her sagged my heart with the weight of grief. I was as empty as a plastic egg. I desperately still wanted to provide the kids – hers and mine – with their traditions. But I was without my traditions. There was no celebratory glass of wine. No stealing jelly beans for ourselves. No giggling. No laughing over devious hiding places. No wrangling kids with Shari the next morning to hurry to church and Grandma’s.

Easter Found

Here were these kids, though. They needed this tradition. I needed to do this for them – and for me. As Easter nears again, my 4th year without Shari here for Easter, I’ll be buying way too many jelly beans, watching cousins color eggs, and thinking of devious hiding spots for baskets. These cousins – some in college and all probably past the age of typical childhood holiday anticipation – will still celebrate together with one ginormous, loud, amazing sleepover. They will still search for baskets (and still eat chocolate for breakfast). In fact, last year I heard one cousin tell the other that when I no longer do this they will sneak into each other’s homes and hide Easter surprises. I looked up to the Heavens and smiled. It is our tradition. It is our Easter. Death does not take Easter from us. Easter reminds us that death does not remove our joys. Easter gives us the opportunity to see the light in the dark and feel the joy through the pain.

Shari is still here. Her life lives on. She is in the smiles of my niece and nephew, the beaded ornaments she made that hang year-round in my kitchen, and in the memories and traditions we shared. I count on the day that Shari and I will again rejoice together. I also count on my hope that she’ll have a glass of wine waiting for me. I’ll bring the jelly beans.

Explosions in the Kitchen – AKA Science for Homeschoolers

Homeschool Science

You know you’ve made a lasting impression when the furnace guy who makes the yearly maintenance checks wants to know what science experiment we have planned for the day. Turns out he vividly remembers the first time he showed up right in the middle of a volcanic eruption in the garage.

Explosions, messes, and gooey-gadgets are mainstays in homeschool science lessons (at least they are if we’re having fun). Below is a list of some of our favorite resources for science of all types.

Online Science Resources

There are some fabulous YouTube channels that provide great short videos for free about a wide variety of topics. Just search on YouTube for these names:

  • MakeMeGenius
  • Adventures in Learning
  • The Spangler Effect
  • Minute Physics

Free Printable Science Worksheets

I’ve also put together Steps to Good Science for kids – a free PDF you can print and use – as they conduct their science experiments, based on the scientific basics of:

  • Observations
  • Questions
  • Hypothesis
  • Testing and experiments
  • Drawing conclusions.

Books

There are tons at the library but these are three we’ve kept on our shelves over the years.

Hands-On Gadgets

We just can’t get enough of hands-on experiments, and these are some of the staples we like to have around for science.

  • Snap Circuits sets
  • Wild Goose science experiment sets
  • Magnets – the bigger the better

I’ve been there – watching the horror as green goo rose up and walked all over my kitchen counter with a life of its own. And while these kinds of moments call for extra paper towels, they also give amazing memories and lessons well-learned.

 

 

Halloween Party Printables

Halloween Party Printables
Halloween Party Printables

A Goblin Good Time – Fun and Free Halloween Printable Activities and Games

Goblins, ghouls, and sticky candy – what else could your little ones want? It’s hard to believe that we’ve been carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples with the kids around here for more than 15 years! We usually start our Halloween adventures with some games, printable activities, and anything else to have some fall fun. (And shhh, don’t tell the kids, but they are learning along the way, too!) If you’re planning a Halloween party, or you just want to have some extra fun with your kids this year, try some of these spooktacular Halloween party game ideas and printable pages that I’ve developed to use with my own monsters over the years.

Games and Printable Activities

Start by printing these Pumpkin Points – instead of handing out individual prizes for games played, your kids can earn Pumpkin Points to go towards “purchasing” their prize at the end. I like to have non-candy prizes, such as headlamps or glow-sticks for them to wear trick-or-treating, Halloween tattoos or stickers, mini-flashlights, or fun Halloween books. Why not make a full week of fun and have them earn points for a fun movie night or adventure?

Goblin Good Games

Halloween Word Bingo

This version of Bingo is great for early readers (but anyone can play). Take a look at the instruction sheet for how to use this at your Halloween party, then print cards for each player.

Pumpkin in the Dark

Print one template for every player. Take turns blindfolding one child at a time (it is fun for the others to watch each turn) and place the pumpkin template in front of the child and hand him or her a crayon or marker. Have the player design the jack-o-lantern face blindfolded – and then you can use these creative pictures for placemats. Run them through a laminator for extra durability.

Who Am I?

This game is great for all ages. You can print these easy Halloween themed words or come up with your own for older kids and adults. Each player should have one name card taped to his or her back (but they shouldn’t see which one they get). Then set the timer for 2-5 minutes and let everyone go around asking Yes/No questions. At the end, see if anyone could figure out who their Halloween character is.

Happy Halloween Word Creation

Print either one page for each player, or split the group into teams and have one page for each team. The goal is to come up with as many new words with the letters in Happy Halloween – you can give bonus points for Halloween related words. Set the timer for 3 minutes or so – depending on the age of your group.

 

Calm Down, Women Everywhere

War Between Women
War Between Women

Time to Stop the War Between Women – There is Room for Us All

Last night I found myself telling my daughter – who is a senior in college and planning on attending veterinary medical school – that being a woman with choices isn’t always all it is cracked up to be. In fact, it is hard. And what makes it even harder isn’t this glass ceiling. It is other women. We place expectations on each other and at times are the last ones to offer support. We make it harder for ourselves and other women.

Women have bountiful education and career choices, for which I am so thankful. However, those choices come with frustrations and judgments, and most often from other women. Just as women 50 years ago were criticized if they purposefully decided to work outside the home full time, women today are shunned by many for choosing to put their careers on hold while they stay home to raise their children. At a party not long ago I kept overhearing conversations floating between a group of women – all commiserating with each other about how “boring” it would be to “just be” a stay-at-home mom. These women all work full-time outside of the home and all were agreeing that stay-at-home moms have too much time on their hands, not enough challenges, and just can’t be fulfilled.

Stay-at-Home Moms Under Attack

This attitude that women who choose to stay home are inferior has been reflected again and again, in the media, politics, and among women across the United States. Deborah Jacobs, in an article published at Forbes.com, attempts in a backwards way to defend moms who work at home by extolling the virtue of not judging by appearance. As a mom who works outside of the home, Jacobs repeatedly remarks in her article about how she fantasizes about the lives of stay-at-home moms who wear elegant yoga attire – but then goes on to say that,

“A lot of those moms may wish they were employed outside the home but can’t find a job, or can’t find one that would pay more than the childcare they would inevitably have to compensate someone else to perform. Or maybe they are in an abusive marriage with someone who controls them, won’t let them work, and belittles them if their body fat gets higher than that of a supermodel.”

Insert my eye rolling here. Her reasoning for why we should not judge stay-at-home moms is because they might not be able to get any other type of job that pays enough for a babysitter or because their husbands are abusive and controlling. That’s the kind of defense stay-at-home moms can do without.

Why Moms Choose to Stay Home

I know I don’t live in a bubble. I’m just too claustrophobic for that. Of the many friends I have who stay home with their kids, I don’t know any who do so because they can’t get a better job or because their husbands won’t let them leave the cocoon of the home. Stay-at-home moms choose their job because:

  • They want to raise their children without outside help.
  • They are fulfilled staying home with their children and thoroughly enjoy actively planning and participating in every day.
  • They consider the care of the home and family to be of significant value.
  • They can’t imagine missing out on moments they can’t get back – 1st steps, words, etc.
  • They plan to pursue an outside career when their children are older and more independent.
  • They want to homeschool their kids.
  • It is their dream job.

This is my dream job. Staying at home, making the choice to raise my four children by being present every day in their lives, homeschooling them, making the choice to put my career on hold and meet whatever those consequences may be, these are all a part of my choice. These are all a part of my dream job. There are challenges and there are worries and there are downright agonizing moments. But I am guessing that is true for women all over the world, no matter how they spend their days.

In yet another article that devalues the choice a woman makes to be a stay-at-home mom, Judith Warner claims that when women choose to stay at home,

“Their position of equality with their husbands is by necessity somewhat eroded. They lose the sense of strength that comes from knowing that, come what may, they can keep themselves and their children afloat economically. They lose intellectual stimulation (assuming that they were lucky enough to have it in their jobs anyway), the easy companionship and structure of the workplace, and recognition from the outside world. And if they don’t have the money to outsource domestic jobs, their freedom from paid work comes at the cost of repetitive thankless tasks — laundry, cleaning and the like — that test their patience and can chip away at their self-worth. The pleasure in this life of course is time with the children, but school-age kids leave a void that many find hard to meaningfully fill.”

When women reflect like this on other women who make different choices, it creates an atmosphere of judgment, resentment, and worse. Let’s calm down a bit and ask ourselves two questions:

1. Am *I* happy with my choice for me, regardless of how the group of sneering women at the party feels?

2. Am *I* thankful for the women around me who have made their own choices, no matter if they are different from mine?

I am not just happy with my choice. I am a woman with no regrets who gets her dream job. 

I am thankful for women who choose not to stay home.

Yes. You read that right. I am thankful for women who are working outside of the home. She is the doctor who cares for my children and who I trust with their health. She is the Autism resource provider who gives me support and resources for my child. She is the health aide who lovingly cared for my grandmother during her final days. She is the dance instructor who gives her enthusiasm to my child in the studio. She is the woman who works at church, developing community resources for those in need. She is the boss where my daughter works and who provides leadership and mentoring as my daughter pursues her own dreams. She is my sister who volunteers every weekend after working full-time during the week. She is my mother who was a teacher and who helped to influence the lives of her students. I am thankful for all of these women, and so many more, who give their time, talents, and dedication to entities beyond themselves in their unique ways.

And I hope out there exists a group of women who are thankful for the stay-at-home moms. These are the women who step into the classrooms as teacher-helpers. These are the women who volunteer during the day for community services, teaching the next generation how to do the same. These are the women who keep extra eyes on the kids in the neighborhood and have open arms for them when needed. These are the women you call when you need a babysitter at the last minute, a ride for Billy, or a place for Suzie on a snow day from school. These are the women who provide foster care. These are the women who stop for coffee with the elderly neighbor after time at the park – the only visit this neighbor will receive each week. These are the women who nurture, educate, and provide hands on learning experiences for the children who will eventually inherit the world.

Women – for all of their love, compassion, and strength – are also the harshest judges, the coldest critics, and the cruelest when it comes to other women. I’ve tried on many hats as a woman. Stay-at-home mom, work-at-home mom, and working mom. I know where I am happiest and where I believe I contribute most to the world. I won’t tell you what is best for your family if you don’t proceed to assume I’m bored, unfulfilled, lazy, or unhappy with mine as a work-at-home homeschool mom. It’s time to calm down, women everywhere. There is room for us all. There is need for us all. Let’s calm down, women everywhere, and take a moment to thank the women in our world, no matter what paths they choose.