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).

An Invitation – Free Writing & Reading Printables

Years ago – in the blink of an eye and with a gentle whisper to myself – I started homeschooling. I collected curriculum resources like some women collect shoes. I also started my own personal collection of files and PDFs, creating my own miniature lessons (especially for reading and writing). In an effort to purge my files and track my paper trail of personal resources, I developed A Powerful Pen. Consider it my tiny corner of the homeschool world where I share the resources I developed for my own kids. Some of them you may have already seen here at Happy Medium Homeschooling – scattered in the blog posts. A Powerful Pen takes them and devotes some space just for printables.

So – you’re invited. I’ve just started uploading the files, adding in notes about how to use the printables when necessary. Print what you need. Take what you will. Grab what might help your child learn to love words and language and everything amazing about communication. And if you want me to share your resources, send me a note with the link.

Children who learn how to absorb words, communicate their thoughts, and use language to its fullest are steps ahead in life. I believe in the power of the pen. 

powerful pen

Easy Activities that Bring Gratitude to the Table

Thanksgiving Activities that Bring Gratitude to the Table
Thanksgiving Activities that Bring Gratitude to the Table

Printable Activities to Put the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

Great food, amazing family, and fun & games – three keys to a Happy Thanksgiving for our family. Each year I anticipate Thanksgiving through the eyes of my children, and try to draw them in to the spirit of the holiday with an attitude of gratitude and an abundance of fun. For we know that once Thanksgiving is over, we are in a tumble, rumble, roll towards Christmas with our children. So put the brakes on for a bit and plan some fun and meaningful activities for you and your entire family this Thanksgiving season!

Printable Activities for Attitudes of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is the kick-off to a wonderful holiday season, but it can be so easy for our families to get wrapped up in the chaos and commercialism of the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Help keep your kids grounded and form a little perspective this Thanksgiving (and Christmas) season with a few fun and easy printable activities you can do right at your Thanksgiving table.

I Am Thankful! – Print this form for an acrostic poem (you can do one for the family, work in groups, or print one for each person). It just takes a few minutes to complete, and it helps bring everyone together to share in some gratitude.

Blessings in a Box – Make these table decorations that also serve as reminders to have attitudes of gratitude and thankfulness. The instructions are on the printable sheets, and you can print as many tags as you need.

Our Thanksgiving Feast – This is a holiday twist on traditional mad libs that gets your kids using their grammar skills (shh – don’t tell them while they’re on school break). Play it the traditional way, having one person as the “caller” who asks the others around your Thanksgiving table for the various parts of speech to fill in the blanks (without revealing the story). When the caller has written in all of the blanks, he or she reads the story aloud. Even though it brings a bit of silliness to the table, it can remind your kids to think about why they are thankful.

Extending the Gratitude

Before we know it the pies will be eaten and the day of thanks will come to a close. If you are heading out for Black Friday shopping and jumping right into the next phase of this season, keep a sense of gratitude with you. (I’m as eager as the next person for a great bargain, but it is also my time to hang out with my daughter and make great memories.)

  • Make the first item you buy for someone in need.
  • Take your kids to the craft stores to buy supplies to make homemade gifts.
  • Make the last stop of the day to do a good deed for someone else – grab the kids and take dinner to an elderly neighbor, encourage the kids to do a chore for a family member or friend (walk the dog, help clean the garage, etc.).

Keep the spirit of thankfulness in your hearts – and keep looking for ways to bring it more to life each day with your kids. I am thankful for the family and friends who surround me, the faith that guides me, and the opportunity to look forward to each day doing things I love to do.

The printable PDFs I created are yours to share and use this holiday season, but not to be sold or redistributed for commercial purposes. Thanks!

[I originally shared some of these ideas at BetterParenting.com :)]

Easy 4th of July Family Fun

4th of July Family Fun
Tips for Celebrating the 4th with Family

There is nothing quite like the thundering celebration of the 4th of July, perhaps because families are able to take a break in the middle of the summer season for another excuse to have fun in the sun with friends and family. Whether you are campers around the a fire or suburban families who gather at the city park for fireworks, there are many ways for you and your family to celebrate the 4th of July – and teach your kids about the reason for the holiday in the first place.

Start Early

Did you know that John Adams firmly believed the holiday tradition should be celebrated on the 2nd of July? Gather for a special “pre-celebration” with your kids and make a new tradition in your family. Your kids will love to have an extra special holiday built into the summer and they will probably be more likely to remember this nontraditional gathering. July 2nd was the day that the actual votes were cast in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence, and the 4th of July was when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Ironically, Adams and Jefferson (the main author of the Declaration) were divided on the issue of when to celebrate the occasion, but both died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing.

Make It Red, White & Blue

Tips for Celebrating the 4th with Family

 

For whatever reason, the clothing, decorations, and food just seem a little more festive when there are patriotic colors. Use these colors in your picnic-ware, serve colorful berries together with a little whipped cream, or even plant flowers with these colors. Share a little fact with your family about the colors of the country. White symbolizes purity, red hardiness and valor, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

March in a Parade

If you won’t be near a parade route or don’t want to fight the crowds to have your toddler frightened by the noise of 37 fire engines roaring by, gather the kids and let them form their own parade. They can decorate wagons and pull them through the neighborhood, or even the campground. Older kids can turn their bikes into patriotic floats, complete with streamers, balloons, and maybe a basket of treats to throw out along the way.

Make a Birthday Cake

Help younger kids understand the significance of the holiday by baking a birthday cake with them to celebrate the birth of the country. Use 13 candles to signify the 13 colonies that fought for and won their independence. Play some patriotic music, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or even use sparklers instead of candles.

Read The Declaration of Independence with Your Kids

While it is not likely that young children will understand the historical significance of the document, reading it aloud helps to put that language into their minds, and helps adults remember that celebrating the 4th is about more than grilling and swimming. It might not be the easiest read, but even taking a moment to look at the signatures will help imprint the document on the growing minds of young kids.

Play Trivia Games

Enlist older kids to go on an information hunt to gather facts about the history of the 4th of July. You could have them do this before the big day, or set aside some books and a laptop for investigating early in the day. Turn their information into trivia question cards for a game to be played while waiting for the burgers to grill or the fireworks to begin. Hand out small prizes, such as sparklers or water balloons.

Set Up a Scavenger Hunt

Forever the teacher in me, I like to make clues for the kids that teach them more about the event. Even young kids can play along by finding small items throughout the house or yard that have been “stamped” but small flag stickers. Older kids can be challenged with a map of 13 clues representing the 13 colonies, or perhaps information about the authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

Use everyday items to make a course that even Mom and Dad have to navigate. Include everything from hula-hoop stations, to bean bag toss, to a three-legged race.

Boat Races

Have the kids create their own special boats (again, use it as a teaching moment on the role of the English Navy during the Revolutionary War or maritime science concepts). Use items such as milk or egg cartons, newspaper, plastic bottles, or Popsicle sticks. Encourage the kids to decorate them with red, white, and blue, and give them colored tape and stickers to complete their projects. Have a boat race on a lake or even in the backyard pool.

Birthday parties are favorites of children, and the 4th of July lets adults remember the childhood joys of summer festivities. Use a few simple household items and a little imagination to create a 4th of July celebration that you and the kids will be talking about for weeks, and looking forward to again next year.

I originally posted these ideas at BetterParenting.com 🙂

Are You Lapbook Illiterate?

No More!lego

Lapbooks, project packs, and file folder books – they are all referring to the same basic idea of creating a miniature book to reinforce a learning adventure. Becoming popular in the homeschooling world over the past 10 years or so, these options are also being used in classrooms and even daycare centers. The above fun LEGO lapbook was shared at Joy in the Journey.

What is a Lapbook?

Lapbooks are easy tools you can use to build around central themes and turn basic topics into unit studies. In some ways lapbooks are scrapbooks meet learning journals. But don’t be frightened, you don’t need to be a scrapbooking queen in order to master the art of lapbooking. In fact, you can be scrapbooking challenged like I am and still have success with lapbooks!

Most lapbooks are created using the following supplies:

  • manila folders
  • printed worksheets (on regular paper or cardstock)
    • There are tons of free resources – check out homeschoolshare.com, eduhelper.com, and more.
    • You can make your own worksheets or even use parts of worksheets from inexpensive workbooks.
  • glue sticks
  • color crayons/markers
  • scissors
  • staples/stapler

filesWhat Does a Lapbook Look Like?

The best way to really understand what a lapbook is all about is to see one, so check out these great examples that moms and dads, teachers and caregivers have used with kids of all ages, about all kinds of topics.

How Do I Make a Lapbook?

Depending upon how much information you want to include in your child’s lapbook, you can use anywhere from 1 to 6 (any more than that and it gets to be too much) manila folders. If you are a visual learner like I am, there are some great tutorial videos that show you how you can create different styles of lapbooks.

If you’ve been looking for something that will hold your child’s attention or reinforce boring information, lapbooks can be the answer – and they are extremely inexpensive and versatile. I’ve used them to supplement books we’ve read such as the Magic Tree House series, to add extra information to a wildlife unit study, and we always incorporate them into our holiday studies.

I originally published much of this at BetterParenting.com 🙂

5 Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day

Any Time of the Yearfather&child

Father’s Day, an American holiday, was born from the love of a daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, in 1909. Sonora’s father raised her and her 5 siblings when her mother died in childbirth and Sonora sought a way to honor and recognize the sacrifices and strengths of fathers everywhere. While Father’s Day for some is a commercial excuse to sell cards and gimmick gifts, like all things in life, it is what you make of it. Go out and celebrate Father’s Day on the 3rd Sunday in June or any other day, whether you have a father to honor or another man who embodies the sacrifices and strengths that Sonora recognized so many years ago.

  1. Teach your kids, and yourself, about the history of the holiday. Help them choose someone to honor, whether it is their own Daddy, Papa, favorite uncle, or neighbor who always goes the extra mile for them. Make a list with the kids of the honorable, funny, endearing things that make him their special person for the day and come up with a creative way to present it to him. Maybe he could wake up to sidewalk chalk words of appreciation, a letter hidden in his morning newspaper, or the list attached to the collar of the family dog.
  2. Share a tradition with the man of the hour. It can even be as simple as a pajama party breakfast watching Dad’s favorite old movie. My father’s only request every year is the same – a homemade card for him. Decades later, I still oblige and pull out my markers, create something on the computer, or even put together a video card. This tradition is something we both cherish because it is a special time when I can dedicate something so pure and thankful from my heart and he can accept it with open arms and know that his little girl will always be just that.
  3. Honor families without fathers at home. Growing up I had a dear friend whose father died when she was just a child. Father’s Day was always bittersweet for her, and I sometimes felt guilty about my own homemade card preparations. I learned from her that those of us with fathers in our lives can be support for those without. Check with your local veterans association and see if there is a list of families in the area whose fathers are serving in military duty or who have been lost. Your kids can make cards for the family, telling them that they appreciate their fathers for the service they provide the country. Perhaps there are chores that can be done by your family such as yard work or painting.
  4. Don’t buy him the tie! Even if he wears one to work every day and seems to love every last one, it is time to dare to be different. Give him the gift of time, or more specifically, your time. Clean his car, do a chore for him, or just sit and hang out with him while he regales you with his weekly adventures.
  5. Let the kids pick out their dad’s gift, even the young ones. The things they think of are always more creative, and usually more meaningful, to their fathers. Years ago our kids found a t-shirt for their father that read, “Where’s the remote?” and they HAD to get it for him. Ever since they look forward to choosing his next wardrobe addition, and he proudly is known as the guy with the funny shirts.

Father’s Day is what you make of it. Go make it a time to honor someone who makes your day a little easier, fulfilled, and blessed. You don’t even have to wait for the 3rd Sunday of June.

I originally posted this at BetterParenting.com 🙂