What to Play? Make Your Own Toys!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Getting back to creative basics, and making your own toys!

DIY toys stimulates creative free play. Make this cup & ball with materials you have at home! (Photo credit: Carrie St. John)

While looking for some DIY toys and games for my summer campers to make or design and to inspire play, I found a great book at Gabriel Books in Northampton, MA. John has amazing finds in his $1 box on the sidewalk. I am guessing these are the books he considers duds. Not his best sellers. They take up valuable shelf space. I frequently find good things in that box. I have never had it in me to be a tag sale person or thrift shop hunter but I love to stop and check on old books. This find, Easy-to-Make Old-Fashioned Toys by Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr., is dated in style and illustrations. It was published in 1979. I was 8 years old. I am dated, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Hand Clapping Games: Summer & Schoolyard Creative Free Play that Supports Learning

Hand Clapping Games Spur Learning

In schoolyards all around the world, hand-clapping games have been a staple activity of childhood for generations. Pairing silly songs and rhymes with quick claps, slaps, snaps, and other movements, hand-clapping games can provide endless hours of entertainment and friendship building.

In addition to the recreational benefits of hand-clapping games, studies have shown that hand-clapping games support children in developing many essential skills. Researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev studied children in grades 1-3 and found that children who participated in spontaneous clapping games during their free time had stronger spelling skills than peers who didn’t. Additionally, the same students had neater handwriting and better writing and drawing skills than students who didn’t participate in clapping games. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play? Summer is Time to Absorb the World

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories and Reading and Writing and Drawing

The flood of articles is out for the end of the school year. Summer reading. The percentage of material lost over the school vacation. Summer classes. Summer learning activities. Educational trips. I ask, “Is there a play solution to all these things we, as parents, are told to worry about during July and August?” Absolutely.

I believe summer vacation is vacation. A break from the routine of school. Time to be a kid. Time to explore your favorite things.

I have an avid reader. Books are the favorite free time activity at our house. The trick is to keep up with her. Library visits. Bookstore finds. Recommendations from friends.  Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play? Creative-Free Music Making!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Make Some Noise

This month is dedicated to the younger set. All the big kids we know have baseball or track or bike rides with friends keeping them active in this warm weather. The toddlers and preK set are looking for things to explore and play with. How about some music/noise? Noise is always attractive to make when you are three. Noise brought outside however, is more attractive to the adults in the house!

Here is a plan for loud bead shakers:

Materials:

  • empty and dry small plastic water bottle from the recycling bin
  • various plastic and wooden beads
  • colored duct tape
  • 6 inch wooden dowel that fits snug in the open end of water bottle (sand the ends smooth)

Add a handful of various beads to the bottle. A funnel will help little ones get the beads in the small opening. We have found a mix of pony beads, wooden beads and fun decorator beads make the best noise. If needed, wrap a length of duct tape around one end of the dowel to secure a tight fit. Place the dowel completely into the opening of the bottle. If you push the dowel into the bottle an inch or two beyond the opening, that is okay. The dowel helps the beads rattle around and prevents beads from getting stuck in the opening. The final step is to cut a 6-8 inch length of duct tape and secure the dowel to the exterior of the bottle opening. SHAKE! This shaker is loud. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Creative-Free Play in the Spring

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

April Showers

Spring. The peas are planted. The bulb flowers are starting to emerge. The kids are running out of school seeking the sun and fresh air. Mud. Worms. Puddles. Bugs. Green grass.

One of the best things my mom did for us was providing hours of unstructured free play. She gave us the gift of just being kids.

With this fresh, new season I am challenging you to head outside with the kids, but take nothing from inside. No toys. No sports equipment. Nothing. Snack before you go. At least for an hour or two, forget all the ideas that today’s kids need classes and team sports and organized fun and electronics. It is okay to get bored to the point that you need to hunt around and investigate your surroundings to occupy yourself. Some of the best memories from my childhood are wandering about with my brother exploring the creatures living in the creek, poking at things with sticks and sending leaves floating in the puddles after a heavy rain. We had a lot of free play time growing up in the countryside in the 70s. My mom never had to be reminded that kids need exercise and fresh air. Read the rest of this entry »

Edible Books Connect Culinary Arts & Literature

The Edible Book: A Benefit for the Friends of the Forbes & Lilly Libraries

The Forbes and Lilly Libraries are holding their Edible Book event on Sunday, April 6th this year, an annual event that crosses culinary arts and language arts with creative free play!

If you could make a piece of art that describes your favorite book, what would it look like? If you created a food whose flavor matches your family’s favorite story, what would it taste like? And what do you think would happen if you combined your art piece with the book’s perfect flavor match? Create a real-life edible artistic masterpiece – just like you’ve imagined! – by participating in Forbes Library’s event, Edible Book Northampton!

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Let’s Play: Mix and Match Creatures

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Mix and Match Creatures

Mix & Match Creatures inspires creative free play while supporting quality family time!

We were spoiled over our February stay-cation. The end of a relaxed week brought 50+ temperatures and SUN. With books and beverages in hand we sat outside in February enjoying a warm-ish afternoon. Spring appeared to be on its way. We were fooled. The frigid, icy mornings returned with the restart of school. This put me over the edge. I am joining the throngs of other whiny voices waiting for warm breezes and lighter jackets. We were hibernating as much as possible.

The little one has also retreated to avoid going out. She is reading and drawing around the clock. Small breaks are only taken for food and to carry the cat around the house. He has convinced her he needs private transportation from her bed to his lounging spot in the living room. It is exactly like the Olivia Trains Her Cat book! I had no idea cats had this power over kids until now.

I love that she reads and draws but I would like to interact with my girl. What can I set up at the table to entice her into a little family time?  Mix and match creature drawings…

Let’s Play: Winter Flashlight Tag

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Tag in the Snowy Darkness

Looking for something to spark play and get you moving in the middle of a long, cold winter? How about flashlight tag… in the snow!

My daughter and I are finding it hard to get ourselves outside to play this month. The initial, “Yeah! It’s a snow day!” thrill is disappearing as the winter goes on. Sunny days and more hours of early daylight are fooling us into thinking we can try to head out minus the necessary hats, mittens and scarves. She has grown tired of the gear and bundling time needed to enjoy the cold and snow.

“Mom, we could just stay in to snuggle up to read or make something inside.”

“Kiddo, we should get a bit of fresh air. Let’s at least go for a walk or sled ride. I’ll pull you.”

The moans and groans commence.

So here I go. Time to add spark to a long, cold winter and get us moving. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Four Steps to Support Toddler Art

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Art Under Three

Creating art with children under three years old can be challenging if you don’t remember that it is not about the artwork itself. For a toddler there is no end result in sight. Rather it’s the process; it’s the doing. Art with this age group is the art of creating and mushing and mixing and smearing. It is the art of identifying colors and textures. It’s a depth of imagination that many of us have forgotten about.

Art with the under three crowd is messy and scattered. Projects at this age are never finished – well, until they are crumpled, ripped into pieces and thrown at the walls. That’s why when we introduce art to children in this group it is important to have age appropriate expectations and to be prepared… Read the rest of this entry »

Put Some STE(A)M into Your Valentines!

Put Some STE(A)M into Your Valentines!

This Valentine’s Day, spread friendship and kindness throughout your community by participating in Hilltown Families’ 6th annual Handmade Valentine Swap! Participation is easy – all you have to do is sign up, make ten handmade valentines and drop them in the mail, and you’ll receive ten handmade cards in return. Not only is the event an opportunity for families to connect with others in their community, participation allows families the opportunity to be creative together – an activity that can lead not only to creative-free play, but can also offer hands-on learning in fields like physics, chemistry, geometry and cultural studies!  Read on…

Let’s Play: Favorite Reads Inspiring Creative-Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Favorite Books

I am currently working with a small and energetic group of 2 and 3 year-olds. Our daily routine involves lots of food, group activities and free play with the usual suspects—cars, babies, trains, play food and building toys. We have art time with play dough, paints and simple projects. And, of course, we all (including the 2 adults) need outside time to run and breathe in some fresh air before lunch and nap. The cold, cold days mean less time to run outside. There is only so longthose short legs can trudge through the snow piles and those tiny fingers can keep warm and dry. Everyone loves a snowy day but the frigid temps often take over.

We are constantly seeking new activities to spark play and imagination. We need to keep those minds and bodies engaged through the winter cold. I turn to favorite books to add surprise games. During the fall a train book slowly became a pre-nap favorite—The Goodnight Train by June Sobel. One little one insists upon it before a final heads down, blankets on and “Have a good sleep, everybody.” Like many children with favorite books, they have it memorized. If I skip a word or say the “Choo, Choo, Sleeeeep, Sleeeep” line with different emphasis they catch me. I like to change things up for my interest but not the kids…

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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!

Let Them Grow: Fresh Ways to Engage Toddler’s in Creative Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Bringing the Outside In: Activities for Toddlers

It is important to recognize that at around the age of 18 months, toddlers begin to use their imagination in play. An outdoor themed bin for an older toddler should support this imaginative play and can consist of a variety of outdoor elements….

With the cold weather upon us, it is tough for a toddler to spend long bouts of time outside at the park or walking in the woods. Even with good gear, a toddler’s span outside in the cold weather is limited, so be creative and bring the outside in with the help of a “busy bin.”

The concept of a busy bin is not something I created, but one that I use regularly to keep toddlers engaged, inspired and imagining. Create several bins with your toddler and rotate their use to keep your child engaged. By helping your toddler assemble child friendly busy bins, you are encouraging imagination and innovation. Collecting the busy bin contents and putting them together with your toddler will give them a sense of ownership, as well as teach them the benefits of following through. When a bin begins to lose its appeal, simply store it away, switching it out with a different one!

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Let’s Play: Indoor Forts Inspiring Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Pop-Up Forts

We celebrate Christmas with our extended family which means we pack suitcases, ship gifts and fly off to Grandma’s in Michigan the morning after school is out for winter break. This also means the break offers little down time for us, so I declare the weeks of December as our free time. We limit holiday gatherings and play dates to one a week. We say, “No way!” to the mall crowd. We carve out more time at home. We make time to sled, if the snow falls. There is definitely time to make a batch or two of our favorite holiday cookies. We have time to just be. We make sure to wander through downtown after dark to enjoy the people, lights and an ice cream at Herrell’s on a cold night. No rushing about… Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Drawing Pen Pals

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

More Free Drawing

My 74 year-old mother, who lives in Michigan, went through a very long hospital stay because of a hip replacement gone awry. She is too active to be confined for 3 months. My daughter and I thought about what we could do to keep grandma upbeat during her spring spent indoors. She came up with a brilliant idea one morning during breakfast while looking at a painting my mom made in high school. It hangs near the table. She zoomed off to her room and came back with a small blank notebook and a pencil. She started drawing and asked if I could mail it off to grandma with an envelope and postage for grandma to return it to us. Drawing pen pals. This started a very interesting exchange of images. I have just been the delivery person making post office runs until last week when the little purple notebook arrived once again from Michigan. For the first time in months, I looked inside. They have quite a visual conversation going. My mom draws what she see from her favorite chair or just doodles. It was fun to see that she still traces coins to get perfect circles. She did this when I was little. She still uses the v shape for birds flying in the distance. She draws things that she sees. She observes. My daughter just draws. A bit of everything and anything. Partial jokes coming from mustaches. Love for grandma. Her ant farm. Characters she imagines. I am more than happy to be the post office messenger for this drawing conversation going on between downtown Northampton and rural Michigan… Read the rest of this entry »

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…

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Let’s Play: Nature Based Play & Art in Autumn

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Searching for Fall

Scavenger hunts appear to be popular right now. They are being used for local fundraisers. They are mentioned on many television programs this fall. Local college groups are joining in. So we went on a nature scavenger hunt of sorts.

Head outside with the kids to hunt down the visual signs of fall with a mental list of outdoor things specific to the season. Brilliant red leaves. Acorn tops. Pine needles. Helicopter seed pods. Colorful fall flowers. After all your collecting, stop in the woods and make a nature collage on the ground. This took a bit of convincing at our house because this will not be permanent. There was a bit of concern about leaving our project behind…

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Berkshire Cardboard Challenge Supports Creative Free Play

Cardboard Challenge in the Berkshires

The Berkshire Cardboard Challenge, is inspired by the International Day of Play, an annual event sponsored by the Imagination Foundation and inspired by “Caine’s Arcade” that invites kids around the world to design and build awesome creations using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Artists will be on hand as facilitators as kids of all ages play with cardboard – families are particularly encouraged to attend.

What more can a box be than a corrugated cube of cardboard? Explore the possibilities at the Berkshire Cardboard Challenge! IS183, Art School of the Berkshires, offers an opportunity for kids and families of all ages to exercise their creativity in celebration of the International Day of Play! Held from 11am-2pm on Sunday, October 5th at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Williamstown, the event invites families to experiment with recycled materials to create fascinating feats of engineering and imagination!

Inspired by Caine’s Arcade, a elaborate all-cardboard arcade created by an elementary school student, the Berkshire Cardboard Challenge helps to promote creative free play amongst kids of all ages. A box can become anything in the world (or out of this world!), allowing for endless hours of play influenced by little more than a child’s imagination and experiences. Participating in free play can help children’s creativity grow, and can strengthen their confidence in their own imagination. Play can help children explore new ideas, develop characters, and find solutions to problems that, though they are invented, may teach them useful lessons for real life…

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Let’s Play: Creative Ways to School & Back

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Silly Walks

We are in the routine now. School drop off. After school play dates. Homework. Dinner. Reading. Bedtime. That means we need to add a little silly play to our day.

The morning walks to school can be quiet. Northampton is just waking up. Shop owners are unlocking doors and unrolling awnings. We cross paths with the BID crew. We wave to the family and dog biking to their school. There is only light traffic on the streets. I added in a little play so my 8 year old walking partner can expel energy before arriving at school to focus on the day ahead. If I do something out of the blue, she will usually join in because I am being silly. Some mornings I start skipping up the hill to Main Street. Sometimes I close my eyes, grab her hand and say, “Lead me to the crosswalk.” She loves the days we bring the Razor and take turns riding. Mom on the scooter is entertaining. Last week we took giant steps to try for the fewest steps possible in one block.

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This started as morning play but gradually the walk home caught the sillies…

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Let’s Play: Water Paints

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Water Paints

Heat advisories. Pop-up thunderstorms. Summer vacations and summer stay-cations. We have been seeking projects and play that are low key and relaxing on a hot summer day;  projects that involve family interactions while being indoors near a fan, out of the summer sun and downpours!

In my search for projects for a summer art program, I came across a water color paint recipe. We have tried to concoct our own from a stack of recipes. Many are just not quiet right. The recipe found at the link above solves many of the problems we have encountered…

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Journal-Making: Inspiration for Writing & Drawing

Making Journals with Kids Can Encourage & Support Language & Visual Art Skills

On Sunday, July 21, 2013, at 1pm, children’s illustrator Pamela Zagarenski will lead a drawing and booklet binding workshop in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s studio in Amherst. Kids of all ages can come play a drawing-based game and learn how to bind their drawings into a booklet. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield – Handmade journals at the Hilltown Spring Festival Kids’ Made Craft Bazaar)

It’s no secret of parenting that kids have a lot to say. Just as our own adult brains are constantly stirring through ideas, memories, and observations, children’s brains are working just as hard. They make note of interesting things that they see in their surroundings, develop characters and stories inspired by their experiences, and they may even craft clever illustrations to their thoughts inside the confines of their neural connections. Giving kids an outlet isn’t difficult – younger children can often satisfy their creative urges with a basket of crayons and some recycled paper, while older children create more sophisticated drawings, diagrams, stories, or logs when they’ve got something to record.

A great summer project to do as a family to encourage kids’ writing and drawing skills is journal-making…

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Let’s Play: Simple Games & Storytelling

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Simple Games

A favorite game, Guess Which Hand, can be used to help tell stories, promoting childhood literacy! Choose a tiny object that has a special family memory or something fun to start a story about your day as a parent…

We recently attended literacy night at our school. My little one enjoys any and all extra free time with friends on school grounds. Whatever the activity, she loves to go. She asks to go to PTO meetings. It means time being silly in school running about and connecting with friends from other grades. Literacy night was perfect for her. Many friends from class, a storyteller/musician and to make it perfect—the parents were ushered into another room to hear from a literacy expert. Parent free silly time.

While the kids heard fantastic tales and played instruments in a very interactive experience (we could hear them across the school), the parents were reminded of early literacy basics such as daily reading with our children and practicing language skills at home. The imagination and ideas that result from reading stories together help in so many areas of early learning. We were given a bit of parent homework on literacy at various stages. I’ll add it to my summer reading and research stack. I try to leave events like this with one item to work on. One thing is manageable. More can be too much during the crazy end of school year rush. One extra on top of culture night, science fair and field day. The facilitator’s point that resonated with me this night—the average child only experiences 3 minutes of one on one, eye to eye conversations each day. The reminders to empty backpacks and put dirty clothes in the hamper do not count. She was talking about real one on one conversations about your day, friends or the playground happenings. Time where you both sit and truly listen to each other. I can top 3 minutes.

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Hindsight Parenting: Pretend Play vs. Violence

Let’s Pretend: A Discussion on Violence

Let’s go back to Fisher Price amusement parks with Weebles that don’t fall down, to plastic farms where a cow moos when you open the barn door and to kick ball out in the middle of the road using the cracks in the street as bases.

“Ok daddy. Let’s go in my tent and you get to kill me.” These were the words uttered by my VERY sheltered three-year-old daughter just last night. I was shocked. Daddy was shocked. He immediately responded, “I will play with you Ila, but I won’t ever play ‘killing’. That just isn’t a nice thing to play.” To distract her, he pretended to see a dragon in the clouds and they went chasing off in that direction determined to introduce themselves. While that seem to be the end of it for Ila, it wasn’t for me. How on Earth did she come up with THAT one?

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Let’s Play: Sunflower & Popcorn Houses

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Families in the Dirt

This summer we are taking a break from the usual planting and growing of beans, pumpkins,  squash and salad greens.  This year we’re making plans to grow a Popcorn House! (Photo credit: Carrie St. John)

Snow pants, boots and mittens be gone! It’s time for sunny afternoons and mud pies after a spring rain. Outdoor clean up. Digging. Rakes. Water. Hoses. Sticks. Rocks. Shovels. Mud. Now that the younger ones are completely engrossed in dirt play, encourage the older kids to put down their devices and join you for fresh air and sunshine. Their play job this month is to help you design and plant a sunflower house.

The Story of the Sunflower House

Wondering what a sunflower house is? Here is an excerpt from Inspiration from the Garden: Sunflower Houses, a Book for Children and Their Grown-ups by Sharon Lovejoy that shares the story:

In early summer, my mother would wake us up with ‘Get up you sleepyheads, today’s the day!’ and we would get out of bed and pull on our clothes. We didn’t even want to eat breakfast, but she would make us sit down and take our time. It all served to heighten the excitement. We couldn’t wait to get outside. Chores done, watering can and stick in tow, we would head outside and take time choosing the best, flattest, sunniest spot in our garden. Then the work would begin. Mother would use the stick to trace out a large rectangle, usually about 6 by 9 feet, leaving a small opening for a doorway. She would drag the stick along the ground and gouge out a trench a couple of inches deep. My little sister and brother would trail behind and drop in seeds. John would drop in a big, fat sunflower seed; daintily, my sister would tuck in a ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory seed. I would trudge along behind them lugging the huge tin watering can. I’d use my foot to knock the earth back over the seeds and then I’d give them a small drink of water. Every day one of us would have the chore of walking that rectangle of land and giving a drink of water to the sleeping seeds. We all hoped to be the one to discover the first awakening green heads that poked through the soil. Once the green of the sunflowers peeked through the earth, we became even more interested in our growing playhouse. Usually, we would each water the plot once a day. Soon flowers were climbing skyward and the ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories were wrapping their tendrils around the stalk and heading upward too. I’ll tell you there was nothing like crawling through the door of that playhouse and lying on the ground looking up through the incredible lacework of vines and flowers. I guess you could say I spent the best days of my childhood playing, dreaming and sleeping in that little shelter.

The Story of the Popcorn House

My daughter and I planned a slightly different version for our garden—a Popcorn House. Japanese Hulless Popcorn. This year we are taking a break from the usual beans, pie pumpkins, summer squash and salad greens. We have loofah seedlings, hibiscus tea sprouts, wine cap mushroom spawn in our fridge and various flower seeds waiting for warmer days. So why not plant our own popcorn? We saved a space 10 by 20 feet for the Popcorn House.

The entrance will be slightly hidden by a verbena and sunflower border. Verbena has gorgeous, delicate purple flowers with brilliant, green stems and attracts many varieties of butterflies. A mix of ornamental sunflowers (sun samba), giant sunflowers (sunzilla) and a summer mix of bright yellow, red and orange sunflowers will help create the outer wall with the rows of popcorn.

My daughter requested a secret space in the center where she can dig, collect outdoor things and have tree stump seats. Her inner space will also have a carpet of fresh straw to keep the weeds down. The process involves a lot of patience waiting for everything to grow. Hopefully the excitement of warmer weather, planting and planning will help with the waiting for warm summer days playing in the popcorn house while mom weeds and waters the veggies.

April Collections

  • Seeds of choice
  • Outdoor buckets
  • Shovels
  • Water & Dirt

April Book Resources

April Web 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 continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

Edible Books: Creative Free Play in the Kitchen Meets Literature

What Happens When Creative Free Play in the Kitchen Meets Literature? EDIBLE BOOKS!

If you devour books, does that make you a bookworm?  Does your family sometimes seem to subsist on the sustenance of words alone, rather than actual food?  Creative book lovers rejoice, for the ultimate opportunity to show your love for books has arrived!

The Forbes and Lilly Libraries in Northampton & Florence are again holding The Edible Book, an annual fundraiser for the libraries that requests that rather than turn books into food (for brain cells!), library patrons turn food into books!  Just imagine – a pile of phyllo dough pages filled with grape jelly renderings of Harold and his purple crayon, or a caterpillar (who is very hungry) made out of lime peels munching his way through an array of snacks.  The possibilities are endless… and also delicious!

Check out this Edible Books Pinterest Board with images of edible books, and this video shot by Northampton TV from last year’s event and get inspired!

Edible Book is not unique to the Pioneer Valley - it celebrates the birthday of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste, an early 19th century meditation on food and taste.  In the style of Brillat-Savarin, spend some time meditating on food as a family in order to find creative ways to use it to represent your favorite reads!

This year’s Edible Book event will take place on Saturday, April 21st, 2013 at the Florence Community Center on Pine Street.  Between 2 and 4pm, entrants and spectators can view the many submissions.  Families who don’t create an edible book can stop by to see what others have created – they will be beautiful, wacky, and displays of creative free play in the kitchen!  Prizes will be awarded in many original categories (“sugar overload,” for example), and fun will be had by all!

 For more information, visit www.facebook.com/EdibleBookNorthampton, or contact Bonnie Burnham (413-584-7482, bonnieburnham@comcast.net).

Let’s Play: Keeping the Childhood Love of Drawing Alive!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Free Draw for Free Play

For a few years I was experimenting with effective drawing projects and trying to spread a love and excitement for art with college freshman. I asked each new group of students why they came to art school and why they thought friends stopped drawing and making things. Some had never thought about it. It was just what they did. They assumed others felt the same way whether they majored in art or biology or English. It just happened. Once or twice a semester there would be an 18 year old that honestly sought out art. They lived it. They grew up surrounded by art. They went to museums with their families. They read art theory books. They could not imagine life without it in some way. Those were the challenging ones. I had to be ready for them each class. They were beyond the basics of learning perspective and balance. I had to amaze and inspire them. These few were also the most thoughtful about the path that brought them to art school. They remembered a moment or time from childhood that making things became a part of their everyday. Usually at a young age—by third or fourth grade, adults or peers went out of the way to praise their drawing efforts. The book Drawing With Children also mentions this and goes deeper into the how and why. The children without that encouragement stopped and focused on other pursuits. This saddens me that the childhood love of making can easily disappear without peer approval. I am a true believer that anyone can learn to draw with practice. Not everyone will have a solo show in NYC but you can learn to observe and draw a tree in your yard or love to create just for the sake of creating.

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This month I challenge you to keep the childhood love of drawing alive at your house. Get big paper. Tape it down to that end of the table where the papers of life and random toys usually stack up by the end of the week. Clean those off first. Leave the paper there for at least a week. Put out a box of pencils and markers. Make a mark or two if the kids at your house need a jump start. Draw anything. Paste down a photo of grandma’s head and draw her a new crazy body. Give her a lion’s tail or bunny ears. Watch to see what happens. Eliminate judgements on others’ creations. Don’t go crazy with praise or comparisons. Make drawing something you just do at your house—a part of every day. Hopefully with a tiny bit of effort on your part the kids will make it past the third grade wall where many stop the making.

March Collections

  • Big sheets of paper (at least 30×40 inches). Check your local art supply for the good quality heavier weights or pick up a roll of kid easel paper.
  • pencils, crayons, markers, & color pencils.
  • A big, flat surface to leave work out on, such as a spot on the floor or the dining room table.

March Book Resources

The following children’s books by Peter H. Reynolds are some of our favorites. They will bring a new light to your idea of what drawing and painting are about.

March Web 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 continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Guerrilla Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play it Forward

This month we need to spread the play. It’s cold out. People are looking for signs of spring. I think families can brighten a little corner of our world with kindness and have great fun doing it.

Many people are helping neighbors near and far. Knitters have made blanket squares for victims of Super Storm Sandy (Knit Sandy). Many observed the National Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King (Spreading Kindness). Small gestures are made numerous times a day that can brighten an afternoon such as holding a door for a delivery man loaded high with packages, helping your child’s teacher with a special project or shoveling the neighbor’s walk. We decided to spread play in our community.

I mentioned yarn bombing in my column last year. Those wacky knitters provide the public with visual interest and color in unexpected places. Knitted items pop up over night. Yarn bombers spread creativity, art, beauty and ideas. Technically yarn bombing is an act of graffiti. Northampton frequently removes it from the main areas downtown. We decided to start making Play Bombs! Can play bombs be illegal? I hope not. We have been leaving finger puppets, tiny toys and bouncing balls around Northampton on and off for months now. Have you found a paper puppet in your stroller? Or a tiny purple spider on the jungle gym? Maybe a felt bunny on the chair at a local coffee shop? We try to be subtle and act as if we accidentally left an item behind, as subtle as you can be with a 7 year old excited about leaving surprises for other children to discover. Each has a little note so people know there is no need to look for the owner. You can brighten the faces of kids in an after school program by dropping off something as simple as a box of paper airplanes. Are the neighbor kids home with the flu? Leave a box of hearts to cut out with scissors and glue on the front steps. It’s easy and can quickly bring a smile. Just don’t get caught. Play bombing is much more fun, if it is secret.

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Help us spread some play this month. I have links below for more ideas and examples of random acts of kindness.

February 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 continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

Let’s Play: Great Day for Snow Play!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Go Out in the Snow a Bit Each Day!

It’s a great day to get out into the snow!  Just add kids and go!  But before you head out, prepare so as to optimize the fun! Set up a healthy snack for the kids to energize and hydrate, then have them take a bathroom break BEFORE getting dressed in their winter gear. While they eat, gather up the warm clothes by the door. Layers. No cotton. Wool and other fibers are warmer. Long underwear. Turtlenecks. Sweaters. Snow pants. Snow jacket. Warm socks. Waterproof boots. Winter hats. Warm mittens you can tuck up into the jacket sleeves. And extra mittens to swap out when the first pair gets wet. When its really cold, add a neck warmer and leg warmers. Cover all the skin you can in layers. Then open the door and let ‘em out… and the kids will just play!

Snow has a magic effect. There are the traditional snowy day activities. Sledding. Slipping and sliding on patches of ice. Climbing snow hills. Building a snow person. Walking through the drifts. A snowball fight. Constructing a snow fort or igloo. Making snow angels. For variety, as the winter lingers on, present some other options.

  • Paint Snow: Fill spray or squirt bottles with water and food coloring to paint in the snow (Avoid spraying each other as food coloring can stain.).
  • Build Winter Fairy Houses: Build mini houses with icicles for walls. They can be houses for snow fairies similar to summer time fairy stick houses.
  • Make Mini Snow People: Use snowballs and tiny foods like raisins and nuts for faces and toothpicks for arms for mini snow people.
  • Blow Bubbles: Blow bubbles on a cold, cold day. They freeze.
  • Hula Hoop: Have a hula hoop contest dressed in all those layers.
  • Flashlight Tag: It gets dark early, so consider a game of flashlight tag before dinner.
  • Box Sled: Use a cardboard box or trash can lid for a sled.
  • Tracking: Go on a hunt for animal tracks in the snow.
  • Indoor Snow Bin: IF it gets too cold outside, bring a plastic bin of snow inside to play. Add a few action figures, toy trees and some ice cubes or sugar cubes for building and pretend to have a tiny winter landscape inside.

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Enjoy the season!

January Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins and on shelves for creative projects. This month add a few things to enhance snow play:

  • spray or squirt bottles
  • food coloring
  • flattened cardboard boxes and large trash can lids make great sleds
  • traditional summer playthings like bubbles or a hula hoop
  • large plastic bin to bring snow inside

Related Post: 9 Resources for Surviving & Thriving the Winter in Western Massachusetts


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: Stories from Family Holidays to Inspire Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories To Inspire Creative Free Play

I was a bit of a geek as a teen so homework was completed right after school, part time job on weekends and just a handful of close friends. I spent a fair amount of free time at my older siblings’ houses playing with their kids. It was a blessing to be a part of their childhoods. I had part time, little siblings that were really my niece and nephews.

I learned a great parenting lesson from my oldest sister, Penny, nearly 25 years ago. She dives right into the winter holidays the day after Thanksgiving. She has an incredible collection including a wall of elves, a near life size snowman, a shelf of angels and a cabinet filled with Rudolph, Frosty, Grinch and Little Cindy Lou Who and all the other television characters we grew up with in the 70s and the Nativity. She makes the tree a family showcase with ornaments made over 20 years ago my her children. Holiday fills their home. When my nephew, now a college graduate and police officer, was 3 or 4 years old, she started a grand tradition that fed perfectly into his love of stories, play and imagination. A mysterious elf visited the house. The elf made tiny foot prints, ate cookies and left surprises. This was well before the current Elf on the Shelf craze. My sister created the fantasy he craved. Stories were told. Questions asked and answers often came on the fly to continue the magic of the elf for a very curious little boy. No one ever saw this elf. He came and went under the dark of night. Andrew never needed to actually see him. The stories alone kept the elf active and alive through December.

The excitement and mystery my sister created for my nephew is something I try to add to our house now. Plant a seed. Put a mind to work on the possibilities. Watch the love of a good story. Create fantasy. Give childhood a bit of magic.

What a great time of year to tell stories! Share family stories. What was this time of year like when you were little? What holidays did you celebrate? What special activities did you do? Boost family memories by telling stories about a special day spent together. Create new mysteries and adventures. What if Jack Frost did paint the windows with snowflakes? What does he look like? How does he get around the earth? Spark ideas to get your little ones telling stories and playing fantasy games. Storytelling improves vocabulary, writing and spelling. It’s fun. Stories can lead to hours of pretend play with parents, siblings, friends and visiting cousins using dress up, toy people, construction toys and tiny animals. Stories encourage children to create images in their minds bringing the story to life. Make illustrations! All ages can create stories with spoken words, drawings or detailed written tales.

December Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins and on shelves for creative projects. This month maybe games or a book or two related to story telling and a game to spark an idea:

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December 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.

Build a Gingerbread Home to Benefit Habitat for Humanity

Build a House Out of Gingerbread for Habitat for Humanity

On December 8th, from 2-4:30, at the Eastworks Building in Easthampton, teams of families, children, and professionals will build gingerbread homes to raise money for Habitat. River Valley Market Co-op is donating the gingerbread home pieces and the frosting “glue.” Every team is asked to raise at least $100 for their build. After the Build, teams have the option to donate their houses to Habitat, which auction them to raise additional funds. Register your team(s) by November 21st by emailing jean@pvhabitat.org. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity (PVHH) is hosting a gingerbread house competition on Dec. 8th in Easthampton, MA.  Teams of gingerbread architects are asked to raise $100 for PVHH from their community in order to participate in the event, and will be provided with gingerbread pieces and frosting donated by River Valley Market Co-op with which to create their gingerbread homes or historical building!

Each team should bring their own edible decorations (the more unique, the better!) with which to dress their gingerbread structure.  Youth teams can be formed too with at least one adult team member, practicing basic principles of architecture and explorations of spatial relations… all while being creative!  Teams can pick a theme in which to decorate their house, or pick a home or historic building to model their gingerbread structures after.

Pastry arts is a fun creative medium!  Families can compete together as a team, making the event part of their holiday celebrations – spend time discussing the role that Habitat for Humanity plays in the community, and discuss how the money raised in order to participate will benefit the organization.  Kids will enjoy participating even more once they understand the true value of the event!

The gingerbread build will take place at 2pm on December 8th at the Eastworks Building in Easthampton.  Community members not participating are invited to stop by at 4pm to view the creations and bid on a house to take home!  Teams can register before the event via phone (413-586-5430) or e-mail (jean@pvhabitat.org) – groups with members under the age of 12 must include at least one adult.

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