6th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap for Western MA Families

Hilltown Families 6th Annual
Community Handmade Valentine Swap

Hilltown Families 6th Annual Community Handmade Valentine Swap! Free to sign up and open to all. Deadline to sign up: Jan 31st. Join us!

It’s that time of the year again! For the past six years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Making handmade valentines is a great way to push against the commercialization of yet another holiday, while being creative with your family and friends. Sign up below!  It’s free and open to all families in western Massachusetts!

A handmade valentine swap gives local families an opportunity to be creative together while connecting with other families in Western Massachusetts.  Through the swap, participating families mail out handmade valentines to ten assigned addresses, and in return, they receive handmade valentines from ten other participating families.  The cards can be handmade by any combination of child and adult, so if you’re kids aren’t completely up to the task, or if an adult would like to make their own design, there’s flexibility.  All are welcomed!

Deadline to sign up (below) is Friday, January 31st. On Saturday (02/01/14), you will be emailed your assigned names/address of participants to mail your handmade valentines to.  Everyone is kindly requested to mail your valentines off by Feb. 7th.

Here are a few samples of valentines swapped in years past to stir your creative juices:

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If interested in participating, the information below must be filled out and submitted by Friday, January 31st.  If you have multiple children and would like each one to receive their own list of families to swap with, please register each person separately. Click here to sign up!

The Magic of Gingerbread: A Call for Gingerbread House Designs

The Magic of Gingerbread Competition

The Springfield Museums are pleased to announce The Magic of Gingerbread, this year’s annual gingerbread house exhibition and competition. They are inviting families and schools to submit design plans for imaginative gingerbread houses up until November 15, 2013. (Houses must be delivered by November 25.)

What does your fantasy fairy tale castle look like?  Are there turrets?  A moat?  Maybe a drawbridge?  Now, what if it was made not out of stone, but of gingerbread, icing & candy? – Gingerbread houses are a great way to engage in creative-free play with your family, and the Springfield Museums is inviting community members of all ages to be a part of their holiday exhibit, “Gingerbread Fairy Tales.” All entries will be displayed in the museum alongside fairy tale backdrops and holiday trees beginning in mid-November. 

The Springfield Museums are inviting bakeries, schools, individual bakers and young people to submit design plans to create gingerbread houses that will be on view at the Springfield Science Museum as part of the holiday exhibit, “The Magic of Gingerbread.” Entries (due by November 9th) can be created by school classes, businesses, youth groups, etc. – or your family can create one of their own! Participation in the gingerbread contest offers youth a fun and creative way to experiment with architecture and design, as well as kitchen skills & creative-free play! Families with kids of all ages can design an entry together – using careful planning to perfect designs for each wall, window, and courtyard – and can easily incorporate math, problem solving, food science, etc.  It’s also an excellent opportunity to discover and talk about the archetypes present in fairy tales…

Read the rest of this entry »

Families Gather to Make Handmade Valentines in Shelburne Falls

MYO Handmade Valentine Workshop
Brings Families Together

On Friday, January 25th, Hilltown Families and the Art Garden presented a Make Your Own Handmade Valentines Workshop, as part of a 3-part free Friday family workshop series in Shelburne Falls. Families with children of all ages gathered to make Valentines together.

Getting crafty with family, friends and neighbors in a community art space like The Art Garden, builds relationships, affords opportunities to share and connect, and allows the space for creativity that our otherwise busy lives might not offer.

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Join in the Swap!

Hilltown Families 5th Annual Handmade Community Valentine SwapThere’s still time to sign up to participate in the Hilltown Families 5th Annual Community Handmade Valentine Swap! For the past several years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Push back against the commercialization of Valentine’s Day while getting creative with your kids and connecting with your community… sign up to participate! Swapping happens through the mail with 10 other families! It’s free to sign up and open to all in Western MA. Deadline to sign up: Jan. 31, 2013. Western MA (FREE)

5th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap for Western MA Families

Hilltown Families 5th Annual
Community Handmade Valentine Swap

Hilltown Families 5th Annual Community Handmade Valentine Swap! Free to sign up and open to all. Deadline to sign up: Jan 31st.

It’s that time of the year again! For the past several years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Sign up below!  It’s free and open to all families!

A handmade Valentine swap gives local families an opportunity to be creative together while connecting with other families in Western Massachusetts.  Through the swap, participating families mail out handmade Valentines to ten assigned addresses, and in return, they receive handmade Valentines from ten other participating families.  The cards can be handmade by any combination of child and adult, so if you’re kids aren’t completely up to the task, or if an adult would like to make their own design, there’s flexibility.  All are welcomed!

Deadline to sign up (below) is Thursday, January 31st. On Friday (02/01/13)  you will be emailed your assigned names/address of participants to mail your handmade Valentines to.  Everyone is kindly requested to mail your Valentines off by Feb. 7th.

Here are a few samples of Valentines swapped in years past to stir your creative juices.  Click on the thumbnail image to see a larger image:

If interested in participating, the following information must be filled out and submitted by Thursday, January 31st.  If you have multiple children and would like each one to receive their own list of families to swap with, please register each person separately.

SIGN UP:












Be sure to click on the submit button above!  You should receive a personal confirmation within 24 hours.  If you do not receive a confirmation within 24 hours, email us at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com to inquire.

Let’s Play: Simple Play at the Table

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Where did all the play go? Am I the only parent that is mourning its loss?

The new math makes sense to me. I read Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents last winter after a friend with middle school aged children mentioned the math concepts coming my way. I like to be prepared. Current reading readiness makes sense. At first I was a bit surprised by the way letter formation and penmanship is introduced in kindergarten—broken down into simple strokes and marks—no letters. I came from the generation of blue, lined practice paper with dashes mid way to mark the height of lower care letters and teachers that loved red marks. I decided to watch and wait. It worked. So far I am on board and enjoying the elementary school experience with my daughter.

BUT. The new lack of recess time does not make sense to me. I know. I am about to use the “when I was a kid” story opener. In my hometown of 10,000 in rural Michigan, we had recess three times a day. Fresh air, running, swinging, jump rope, four square, tag, climbing tunnels, slides and kickball during sun, drizzle and cold. They even allowed us to run around and play good guys vs. bad guys. Play and social time. We had routines (which many children thrive on) that moved us throughout the day from math to reading to recess to music to lunch to recess to art to science to recess and gym. Concentrated times to focus on classroom tasks and ample time to run and be kids. Recess is down to once a day during the short lunch break. Some classrooms are lucky enough to earn extra outside time with a reward system based on classroom behavior. Generally children have only 15 to 20 minutes of free play during a six hour day.

There are many reasons for the cut backs in recess time. Curriculum requirements seem to be at the top of the list along with those tests every one mumbles about. There are many studies out there that I have yet to read and theories I add to my research pile each year. I have read on the importance of play and its POSITIVE impact on all areas of learning. I have yet to come across an article telling how bad play is for children. Play causes enjoyment while promoting creativity, socialization, storytelling, reasoning, working out solutions in play situations with peers and simple fun. All these things and more enhance day to day learning. There is no need to mention how much easier it can be for children and adults to focus on a set task after a bit of exercise and fun. You can get the wiggles out and then tackle a book with new vocabulary or a complicated word problem.

I am not looking for a set answer. The world has changed. Children have changed. I just think it is important to take notice of our children, their school days and their play.

“… children are not one-dimensional, nor does their development proceed along a well-defined path. Everything we add to the mix along with play further advances learning. Drawing, clay, books, music, games and dance suggest but a few areas of enrichment. However, it is the child’s ability to play in a sustained manner that makes sense to other children, which opens the gates to all other pathways.” —Sara Smilansky, research in academic readiness

We can all add play into our lives at home but our time at home is filling up. Art and music exposure is limited at school as well as other enrichment offerings. Can today’s parent squeeze all this in at home to compensate for things lost during the busy school day and still maintain a calm household? I am trying. Play is important at our house. The trick is making it part of the home routine while avoiding the over scheduled household crazies.

November Collections and Projects

This month our collections are easy for some simple play at the table. Grab the paints, markers, crayons, paper and pencils. If you happen to have feathers and goggle eyes, put those out with the glue. Make hand turkeys. Have the kids sign and date them. We make one each year and save it. Very fun to compare the version from November 2005 when my daughter was just a month old to this year’s version done completely solo. When she was so tiny, I painted each finger a different color with non-toxic tempera paints. Her palm was painted brown and I pressed it into the paper. Turkey print. Clean up was easy with a few baby wipes. After it was dry, I added a beak, eye and legs with a black marker. The waddle was done in red marker.

For those of you that like to play with your food, pick up a few extra apples for apple turkeys. This link was sent to me by a family friend after I sent out a Facebook post encouraging everyone to make hand turkeys this month. An excellent sculpture. She made a similar apple turkey as a child. The supply list might include tooth picks, marshmallows, raisins, cranberries and gum drops in addition to the apple. An updated version might have kale or spinach for tail feathers mixed with carrot or celery sticks, a date for a head and dried blueberry eyes with a carrot waddle. Maybe some popcorn feathers. Admire him a bit, take a photo and then have a healthy snack. A perfect use for those delicious, local Honey Crisp apples.

Two ideas that encourage my favorite kid activities—art making and fun food. Have fun and enjoy your kids.

November Resources:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Alternate Identities

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Alternate Identities: Masks

I know a 7 year old that loves to dress up. She rarely wears her star covered, super hero cape to school these days (peer pressure). She does continue to pop out of her room on a Saturday afternoon dressed in a cobalt blue, sequin covered leotard, felt crown and flower twirl skirt to prance around the house and then heads out to hang from the monkey bars in full frilly attire.

October is the month for her, planning Halloween costumes weeks in advance. Last year’s mummy outfit was drawn and re-drawn many times in the design phase. I was given detailed instructions when it came to my part of sewing and construction. It had to have a pink bow so everyone knew it was a girl mummy. The mask was the key to the entire suit. She loves to conceal her identity. This year’s diagram mapped out a vampire from head to toe. Each part labeled with colors.

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Scary. Funny. Shocking. Disgusting. Evil. Silly. Horrid. It is fun to hide behind a mask. Join in. Dress up. Run around acting out a story. Disguise your voice. Pretend for a bit. Masks can be as simple as an eye patch, a little makeup or an over-sized animal nose. It magically takes very little to alter who we are.

What to Collect

The fun of dressing up and make believe need not end on November 1st. Carry it through the year by keeping a dress up corner or a bin with masks, funny glasses and hats.

  • Paper in all colors and sizes.
  • Paper plates for starter masks.
  • Elastic string for headbands.
  • Colored duct tape by the roll (it also comes in sheets for crafting).
  • Basic craft store eye masks to embellish.
  • Box of feathers.
  • Ribbons and yarns for mask hair.
  • Paints and glue.

Resources

Online

  • Paper Plate Animal Crafts – Some of these are not intended as masks but it is an easy step to cut out holes for eyes. An elastic strap can be added or a wooden paint stir stick as a handle.

Books

Knitting Patterns


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Collages

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Crazy Collage

I have a kid that craves creative time whether it be playing or making things. We added a leisure, table centered art project to our mix this fall. Something to do while dinner finishes up or we are discussing tomorrow’s plans and schedule. A chance to sit and unwind. Simple. Fun. Silly. Crazy collage. (photo credit: Carrie St. John)

Our days have changed. School routines. September is in full swing. Fall is definitely here.

I put a bit of effort into keeping our days calm. Chaos be gone. Life brings enough automatically. Last year at this time I was chatting with another parent at school pick up. I commented on how busy, crazy and rushed days became after my daughter entered kindergarten full time. This is a parent I have know for a few years and she always appears to have it all under control. That afternoon I realized one reason why. Her response to me was, “This is the new normal. The school normal. We just go with it and do what we can but not too much.” These thoughts come back to me when work piles up, school events and volunteering snowball and parties and sleepover requests come at us non-stop—times when we are seeking moments of calm.

Summer is perfect for us. I have the luxury of adjusting my work schedule to enjoy it with my little one. There is time to wander, dinner time is relaxed indoors or out and time to play is abundant. How can we bring our slower summer days into our hectic school days? Some calm into this new normal?

Here are steps I have taken. There is always time to play for 20 minutes after school. We limit the extra curricular activities to one a season at most. We eat diner together at the table to talk about our days. I sit at the table and catch up on my mom things while homework is completed. I aim to only volunteer for what I can do while keeping home sane and/or we work on a school volunteer project together.

I have a kid that craves creative time whether it be playing or making things. We added a leisure, table centered art project to our mix this fall. Something to do while dinner finishes up or we are discussing tomorrow’s plans and schedule. A chance to sit and unwind. Simple. Fun. Silly. Crazy collage. Gather up the junk mail, catalogs and magazines. Grab a scissor and a glue stick. Cut out fun and interesting people, animals and objects. Collage them together to make a story or just a wacky picture of an alien dog with twenty eyes and people shoes. Simple. No prep time. Clean up  just means tossing the paper scraps back in the recycling.

Check out the links below for more ideas. Older kids can make a book mark for a favorite bedtime chapter book or a notebook cover collage to liven up their school supplies. Enjoy.

What to Collection

We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. This month add in collage materials such as junk mail, magazine and catalog images, greeting cards, paper bits, stickers, etc… Pages and sheets can easily be stored in a large zip lock or flat shirt sized box/bin. Glue sticks for the younger set and Mod Podge with a small paint brush for the big kid. This is also a great time of year, as the seasons change, to look for paper shape punches on sale.

I am also going to suggest exactly what many teachers and schools are hoping for with busy school days. Try to make a special spot for your child to have as a work space. Their own space for creative pursuits like drawing and for homework. A place he or she can get to work when they need to without interruption to set up a routine and spread the stuff they need.

Resources


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Special Places

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Clubhouses, Forts, Tents & Hideouts

Two summers ago Forbes Library in Northampton had this incredible wooden house on the front lawn just outside the Children’s Department. The installation was called “Little House to Honor a Request for Poems: A Traveling Writing Hut” and was installed by Plainfield, MA artists/husband/wife team, Gene and Susan Flores. Visitors were encouraged to go in, hide out and write or draw a little something to hang up and share. We made repeat visits over the summer. It was just steps from West Street and the busy intersection at Rt 9 but entering inside transported us to a secret, special place. The size was perfect. The walls were made of horizontal wood slats alternating with branches. Sunlight and shadows made stripes on the floor. You could see out and pedestrians could catch glimpses inside. There was a desk with pencils and paper and a stool facing the entry. Simple furnishings. We talked about that little house for months.

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Visiting that house put us on a search for the perfect playhouse. My daughter is always searching for a space of her own to hide out with friends, play out of adult ear shot, read books or draw secretly. Some days that three foot space at the end of the couch hidden in the corner is just perfect. Other days she hides out under the dining room table she asks to have covered with blankets, or she disappears up onto her bunk bed. Last year we added a fabric tent cover over the bed to make a bed cave. The idea of that wooden house at the library kept coming back. Last winter I called my construction minded older brother (He built his own house 20 years ago.) and we made plans over the phone. We have this 4×4 space in the playroom nestled between 2 closets. My dad and I built a free standing loft for my college dorm. I understood the basics. My brother checked and re-checked for safety. “Make sure she can jump up and down without it moving an inch.” That 4×4 space became our indoor, two-level clubhouse complete with trap door. Finally, her own little wooden house.

Summer came and my daughter was seeking that same secret space in the garden. We had been to the North Amherst Community Farm to take a Compost Worms for Kids class. During the break they encouraged kids to explore their children’s garden. The outdoor teepee covered in flowering vines was everyone’s first stop. I put my thinking cap back on for the prefect outdoor playhouse. This spring I made her a teepee from bamboo poles and twine. She asked to plant peas, green beans and flowers. I added in a clematis vine to fill in a shady area over the next few summers. A neighbor offered a tree stump from the October storm for a seat. We did it. The outdoor clubhouse was complete.

This need for a space of her own is strong at our house. I understand. I had this same feeling as a kid. My brother and I would walk back to the woods behind our house to look for spaces to set up camp. I would climb the giant pine trees behind the house to disappear at times. Kids need their own space to be kids. Why not encourage it? My daughter can disappear into her space after a big day at school and pop out 20 minutes later refreshed and ready to go. She fills her clubhouse with favorite toys, books and drawings. There are imaginary games, elaborate toy setups and simple down time. I only go in when invited or to hand off snacks. Whether a temporary blanket tent or a more permanent structure, it is just HER space to play!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Tactile Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Kid Goop and Tactile Play

Download these Kid Goo Recipes. (Photo credit: Carrie St. John)

Messy. Yes. But icky, goopy, slimey, mucky, slushy, gooey, mushy, sticky, yucky play is so fun.

My favorite part of messy play—it is inexpensive and open ended. We can gather a few simple ingredients, use containers from the recycle bin for storage and work on following a recipe all in the name of fun. There is color mixing, watching what happens when wets are added to drys and experimenting. Kids can make sculptures, build structures, use toy animals with goop and just mush it around. All ages can play. Messy play encourages fine motor skills and uses the senses of sight and touch simultaneously while exploring and discovering different materials. These are educational advantages, but honestly, goopy mess is just great summer fun!  Here are several ideas for tactile play this summer:

  • PLAY DOUGH: Our first homemade messy thing was play dough. I volunteered to make play dough for the Northampton Parents Center when my daughter was little. Swansea (NPC Director) gave us the recipe they use. Great stuff. Soft and smooth. Not the salty, dry stuff I made as a kid. This recipe lasts for weeks. Choosing the color is always fun. Watch out for brown and black. They turn to look quite disgusting after being cooked and cooled. At that age of 2 to 3 years, we played play dough non stop. Cutting it. Rolling it. Squeezing it. Trying to make puppy dogs and snowmen. My daughter was addicted.
  • FACE PAINT: For another event at the parent center we researched non-toxic face paint. My little one has always had sensitive skin so it made sense to make it at home and know all the ingredients. I found a face paint recipe that came off easily. You can make any color you can imagine with a bit of mixing. Though not as stable as the store version, we know what it contains and can wipe it off with no harsh scrubbing.
  • GAK: We acquired our gak recipe at a friend’s 5 year birthday party last spring. They had little puddles of gak out on low tables with chairs for the kids. The kids could not put it down until cake time (Cake always wins!). This was the best gak I had ever used. Great consistency. I had to ask for the recipe. It is easy to make and very kid friendly—no heat required. You can make it and use it within minutes (Thank you to Theo and Karen for the great party and recipe.).
  • BUBBLES: Bubbles. I don’t think I need to explain this any further. Kids like bubbles. They make us all giggle and run to catch them.
  • CHALK AND PAINT: Paints and chalk. I admit store versions are easier. We make them simply because we can. A project to do together on a rainy day or to take outside to work larger than life on the sidewalk and driveway. Watercolors. Finger paints. Liquid tempera paint from the store (A note on tempera paint. It is worth seeking out the good stuff from an art supply store. The colors are bolder and it dries nicer on the paper. But is can be harder to wash out.). — My favorite thing about paint is that you can get a big brush, some paper and go. Nothing needs to be perfect. Make marks. Splatter dots. Thin it down and use paint in a spray bottle. A fun thing to try—draw with chalk on paper first and then paint with watercolors on top. Lay it flat to dry. The chalk repels the paint in some places and mixes in others. Color mixing. Paint is excellent for experimenting with colors.

KID GOO RECIPES

I’ve created a PDF of recipes for readers to download: Kid Goo Recipes. They are set up four, to a page similar to traditional recipe cards. You can print both pages and cut them into a total of 8 separate cards or leave them as 8.5″ x 11″ size and slide them into a protective sleeve. Store the recipes in a craft binder or your play dough bin. Included are gak, slime, play dough, bubbles, various paints and chalk. We have made them all, altered some a touch, and enjoyed the process from recipe to play. Please help your young ones when heating ingredients. Try some recipes. Sit back and watch the fun.

COLLECTIONS

We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Try to keep a few bins of supplies within your child’s reach. Here are some ideas for your play dough bin.

  • cookie cutters—any seasonal cutters at end of season sales, the small ones meant for play dough, and simple shapes—circles, stars, hearts
  • rolling pins—small sizes to fit kid hands, a 6 to 8 inch piece of one inch wooden dowel works great, maybe a scrap of plastic pipe
  • scissors—have a spare scissor or two set aside with the goop recipes, it is fun to cut play dough and gak

RESOURCES

You can also search these sites for more tactile recipes and ideas:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Miniature Playhouses & Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Tiny Playhouses

There are playhouses we imagine and run to gather supplies for. Some are played with for hours and hours. Some made and forgotten by afternoon. Some re-emerge weeks later.

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The Smurf cottage made from an empty oatmeal container and paper bowls gets mixed with horse barns and Rapunzel’s tower. They can all be neighbors. Some we never actually play with like the fairy houses in the woods. Those are left for nature’s creatures and other kids to stumble upon. I have been told that every garden needs a tiny house for gnomes. There are playhouses we dream of having after reading a book. A tiny, tiny house under the floor boards with multiple rooms and all of life’s necessities for the three inch tall people to inhabit it. Chapter books create amazing daydreams. There are miniature playhouses we acquire over the years from wooden castles to a plastic replica of the Hall of Justice.

So much story creation and play comes with these tiny houses. I wonder if my maternal grandfather knew how much my sisters and I used the doll house he made from a spare bookcase. Three girls over a span of ten years. He added room dividers, wallpaper, paint, trims and magazine images cut out for framed pictures on the walls. Fisher Price people, Thumbelina and the Sunshine Family (My mom did not allow Barbies. She was not fond of the enhanced figures.) could all fit. Why didn’t we ever take pictures of that house? Our current version is a bit more modern and simple but I think he would have approved.

A leftover box from a delivery can be just right to get play started. Draw a window, cut a door or string a curtain. Tiny playhouses offer a place to escape. A spot that can instantly be altered. Maybe a familiar house that is comforting with the same tiny animals and people day after day or multiple cereal boxes for houses, barns or castles can become a village, city or town to altered overtime. A small, empty box turned bad guy hideout can be carried along for a summer camping trip. A square of gray print fabric transforms a table top into the moon.

Leave out some supplies. Older kids can make a house to match a current favorite book or movie. Try new materials. Create a paper clay igloo formed over a bowl for an Arctic adventure. Cut triangles of cardboard and tape together for an Egyptian model. Introduce your favorite toddler to playhouses by cutting a door in an empty shoe box and adding a paper roof.

RESOURCES

Web sites like madebyjoel.com and thetoymaker.com have some great readymade templates to just print, cut and tape for instant lodging. Have fun.

WHAT TO COLLECT

  • We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Try to keep a few bins of supplies within your child’s reach.
  • Empty food boxes—cereal, oats, cans that those preformed, salty chips come in, paper or plastic picnic bowls and cups

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Monsters and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Monsters

Here are the results of my very informal pole of 5 kids on the subject of monsters: Monsters bite. They are white. No hair. Teeth. They live in caves. Monsters bite everything. Nice monsters don’t bite. They are small, tiny. Why? Because they are monsters. Monsters are brown, purple and pink. Two eyes. Five feet. Ten arms and hands. As tall as a mom (This mom must have a side I have not seen.). They live in a house but the house hopped away. A monster house. Monsters eat seaweed and water. Red eyes are creepy. They have no toys. The babies are born brown. The interesting contribution by our 10 year old neighbor, “There is a potty monster. If you make a mess in there or have an accident the monster eats you up.” Monsters are cute and fuzzy. Some mean. Some nice. I like the nice. They are weird, hairy creatures that crawl into your brain and make you hallucinate.

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My daughter and I did a bit of brainstorming over breakfast. What monsters could we make? My idea for a bubble monster was shot down. “Mom that is not scary. It would just be cute. All a kid would do is pop it and then no more monster.” My idea was blow away by six year old logic. We worked out that swamp monsters had to be super slimy, green and brown and that they only could be out at night. Cute and fuzzy colorful monsters are not really monsters. They are something else that we could not really label.

Monsters started being of interest with us around age two. The idea comes and goes. We always made it fun, read stories and talked about them being pretend. I like to think this helped us escape the idea of monsters under the bed or in the closet. A fear of monsters never became an issue. We had a crazy phase at age 3 where each night after dinner was spent drawing monster after monster after monster. The idea recently came back so we decided to make a mural and work on it together. We started by taping a long strip of 18 inch wide paper to the bottom of our chalkboard (this is a hollow core door on its side painted with chalkboard paint). I added a few items while my daughter was at school. Just enough to get her thinking. I put out a few monster related books. We went a bit crazy with coloring book cutouts, drawings, paper mountains, a paper city and a cardboard house. We needed the house so we could tackle the idea of monsters under the bed. We found some glow in the dark monster stickers. Lucky find. We went super crazy with making all 50 paper monsters in the book Papertoy Monsters by Castleforte. That was a feat and took far too much time over six days. We had fun but the mom list of to-dos was pushed aside a little too long. A good lesson for me that sometimes play just has to win out over all the other stuff. Along the way many ideas were explored, talked through and played out. Monsters eating dollhouse people. Bloody teeth drawn in. Monsters devouring Northampton at night. Monster teachers that say mean things to kids. Monster food that eats you from the inside out. Today after school a friend joined her and made the monsters eat up my old Jawa action figures from 30 years ago.

We were elaborate. Not necessary. Making a mural at home can be very simple. Big paper, crayons, markers and ideas. On a sunny day, you could head outside with chalk for the driveway. It always amazes me how putting out a few simple supplies and talking out an idea or two can lead to hours of play and making. For younger children it might be fun to just trace them on paper and use markers or paints to turn them into monsters. Maybe some giant eyes, pink claws and yarn hair to add on. Older children could make a monster book with drawings and a short story or they could add comic strip word bubbles to a mural to tell a story. Have fun.

Resources

Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Try to keep a few bins of supplies within your child’s reach.

  • a roll of white paper—this comes in various sizes and can easily be found where they sell kid art easels
  • stickers—all kinds from animals to people to buildings
  • tape—colored tapes, scotch tape, masking tape

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Puppets and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Puppets

Puppets can be very open ended and offer children of all ages the opportunity to re-create favorite stories and often inspire new tales.  They come in all shapes, sizes, materials and complexities. You can purchase them new, or just use odd socks, your hands or paper. You can create a stage, or not. But if you did, stages can be found everywhere, even in the backseat of the car as you head out to visit friends over vacation!

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With the children in my preK family care, our puppet project this month started very simple but keeps morphing. We started with patterns from 10 Minute Puppets by Noel MacNeal. Dancers and butterflies were a quick favorite. This lead us to a desire for puppets that were closer to people we know, so our next step was to use a simple body shape and magazine cutouts for faces, very colorful yarns for hair and popsicle sticks for handles.

Today we need a stage..Using two curtain tension rods, a couple of pillow cases and a few paper cutouts, we had a simple outdoor scene complete with flowers, trees and clouds to match this great spring weather.

No rules about what makes a puppet! We used simple bunnies from a Martha Stewart spring craft idea, and even brought out the store-bought finger puppets we have acquired over the last six years, adding a few toy animals and Playmobil people to the mix.

We also made paper animals from Made to Play by Joel Henriques. Altering our paper animal into new animals, like a green, long neck dinosaur, was both fun and simple…plus a great chance to work out a patterns and create our own versions.

Aside from working with the children in my preK family care, my goal this month as Mom (with organized and labels storage bins for every toy) was to let my daughter keep the puppets out, allow the play to be open ended, and leave things as she did for easy story pick up when inspiration strikes (As I write this, we are hunting for the perfect socks for a woolly mammoth to go with the current read at school.). As a result, the stories I overhear are continued day to day and are very telling of her thoughts, extremely entertaining and I get invited in to PLAY! My favorite part!

Play Bombs

We wanted to share the fun. But how?… Toy bombs! Play bombs!

If you have wandered around downtown Northampton recently, you have seen local yarn bomber’s creations—those busy knitters and crocheters that leave little visual treasures on parking meters and trees…Why not Play Bombs! Northampton? I think we will be leaving some simple puppets at our favorite kid spots this spring.

Resources

Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Keep a few bins within your child’s reach that have:

  • odd socks—outgrown clothing, lost in the wash
  • magazine clippings—a variety with interesting faces, animals, articles of clothing from catalogs
  • glues—fabric glue, white glue, superglue
  • various papers—the local copy shop is also a great place to pick up a few sheets in a range of solid colors and weights

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Books and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Debut Column: This is the first of a new monthly post encouraging all to add more and more creative play into our families’ lives and into the local community. Each month I will present ideas to jump start your creative thinking with variations between family interactions at home and ways to get families playing out in the area to “bomb” the community with fresh ideas for play. I will present a monthly focus around a particular idea such as—books, art, puppets, music, food, etc… with additional resources to spark ideas and options for different ages groups. Enjoy. Play. Unplug.


Going on a Bear Hunt

The book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Micheal Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is a huge hit here with my preK family care. We read this book many, many times each week. The page with the muddy feet always provides giggles, and the anticipation when the family enters the cave never lessens. Each time we read this book, many of our other activities revolve around the story: trying to scare each other and run to hide inside and out; playing with gak as mud for toy animals; and splashing in puddles for the family’s water adventure…

What else could we do inside on a chilly winter’s day that further develops our love of this book? Why not make an indoor obstacle course?!! That’s it!

Over the next few days, with just a bit of adult insight and suggestions, we gathered supplies, talked about materials, planned and even made a few samples to test. It always amazes me how well a 3 year old can plan, develop ideas and have the patience to wait for the results. Even my 7 year old daughter, who was feeling a bit left out being home during school vacation week while we did this, dove right in with ideas to make it even better. A team effort!

Here it is:

My goal was to make it fun, have it up in the playroom for the week as a winter, gray day boredom buster and keep our budget low. (Click to see larger image)

  • We made a plan for each stage in the book. For long wavy grass, we attached 14 inch plastic zip ties to long tube style shipping boxes. It had motion and made noise as we walked through.
  • We gathered up and cut a big pile of yarn, fabric scraps and ribbons for the water. This was great cutting practice for the preK set.
  • A large, brown fluffy pillow in a box became our mud to jump into—soft to land in and this added a bit of physical jumping to our indoor rain day.
  • We attached various plastic wires, zip ties and massive homemade pom poms to tall boxes for the forest trees. There were just tall enough for a 3 year old to walk through. A little short for me.
  • We hung a large white sheet on the wall with a wire suspended in front for our snow storm. Many, many strands of white yarn with smaller bits tied for flakes hung from the wire to make the storm something to run through.
  • We tapes and tied various brown shipping boxes together to make the cave. Inside we hung a brown sheet and hid the tiny bear in the layers to seek out.
  • After his discovery, the kids had to run back through all the stages and land back at home in the comfort of pillows and blankets to hide from the bear.

I lost count of the number of bear hunts we had that week. The play changed a bit each time and turned into games with all sorts of hidden animals, helpers and new adventures. A fun craft-book-physical-group activity!

Ideas for Using Books to Inspire Creative Free Play with Your Family

  • What is the current favorite book at your house? How could it be turned into a rainy day play project?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Older children could make large, paper murals, find music to add, make simple puppets from paper or old socks.
  • Maybe the Sneezy Snowman gets made out of playdough, mushed and rebuilt time and time again with new additions to keep that guy warm on a cold winter’s day.
  • Maybe you could act out a scene of the ninjas climbing and hiding from the Magic Tree House series. Creeping up the stairs at home in costume undetected. Scaling the couch and chairs in search of Jack and Annie?
  • Maybe you get get the older kids chatting in the car about Harry Potter. What would change if Harry was really Henrietta? What would she look like? What if he/she was raised by a kind, caring extended family instead of the infamous aunt and uncle? Make Harry/Henrietta puppets when you get home?
  • Maybe just have drawing time taking turns adding new details to the story.

Resources

  • Amanda Blake Soule: Handmade Home, The Creative Family, The Rhythm of Family — Amanda Blake Soule’s website and books are are a great resource to get your creative family making and playing. You don’t need to be a maker yourself. Knitting, sewing and cooking are not requirements. Her thoughts and ideas will get you thinking up ways to enjoy your family and creative play experiences without being plugged in. www.soulemama.com
  • Forbes Library — A great place to read books, borrow books and hear books. They also have a great craft resource section in the Children’s Department that includes books on play ideas, making things and exploring the out of doors. We love it there. 413-587-1011. 20 West Street. Northampton, MA. www.forbeslibrary.org
  • Broadside Bookshop — A great local source for children’s books, family titles and project ideas. Knowledgeable, friendly and happy to place orders for requested titles. 413-586-4235. 247 Main Street. Northampton, MA. www.broadsidebooks.com

Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Keep a few bins within your child’s reach that have:

  • Fabric — Outgrown clothing, Freecycle finds or yard sale.  Even a 12-inch square of fabric can become a play cloth or mini hero cape for a stuffed animal.
  • Yarn, String or Rope — Who doesn’t need that foot or two of rope to string up a toy swing or hammock or tight rope walk for tiny animals or figures.
  • Empty Boxes & Food Containers — These easily become doll beds, mini houses and places to collect more things.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

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