Let Them Grow: Bringing A Taste of Winter Indoors!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Chipping Away at Winter

As winter begins to wind down and we are left to unbury ourselves from the squishy sugar snow, I would like stir in a few more weeks of winter themed activities.

Recreating a frozen world is easy and by bringing a piece of winter to the table, you can create a fine motor and sensory adventure for your little one! All of these winter themed activities are variations of the same basic idea, freeze things inside ice and challenging your child to get them out. You can freeze the objects in ice cube trays, small plastic bowls or in giant trays. Add food-grade dye to match the theme, use sparkles or sand for texture- Have fun creating a mini frozen world. Then, offer tools such as squirt bottles of warm water, eye droppers, toothpicks, forks, child knives, tweezers, mini hammers, chop sticks… or whatever you can dream up to help excavate the ice.

Here are just a few suggestions. I like to do these at the table, in trays to hold the mess. These activities also work great in a water table, in the bathtub, or outside on the ground: Read the rest of this entry »

Lenox Peeps Show Diorama Contest Presents Creative History Learning Opportunity

Let Your Puns Run Wild!

Peep through a history book or two in order to get ready for what might be the punniest contest of the year – the Lenox Peeps Show Diorama Contest calls for entrants to create dioramas featuring Peeps of any species as miniature mannequins in important moments in history. The most creative of dioramas not only dramatically display a piece of history, but use puns either in their title or within the diorama itself (think Declaration of Indepeepdence or the Leaning Tower of Peepsa). Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Being Creative With Your Old Books

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Playing with Books

Books support literacy and learning. And when you have too many books in duplicate and falling part, they can even support creative-free play!

We might have a book problem at our house. Some are read over and over. Some are just collected such as the various printings of Moby Dick. Some gather dust. I am not sure where that yellowed copy of How to Use a Microscope came from but we have never opened it. Books are everywhere. All of my art history, theory, design and teaching manuals line one wall of the bedroom. The fiction and garden books are packed into the bookcase turned headboard. Sewing, knitting and books on art for kids fill the shelf under the bench. Current reads by both of us are scattered about the living room. Cookbooks belong to the pantry. And my daughter has arranged her library by subject and book series. She is a series reader and collector. How many versions of Harry Potter does one need? We might be book hoarders. Or maybe we aren’t because we recognize a problem developing.

Books just find their way into our house. We love to browse the local book shop and our neighborhood used bookstore. Book fundraisers are always good for a bargain. We often check the book share-and-take corner in the school lobby. Grandma feeds the addiction. Books are everywhere and hard to pass by without at least a peek.

Brainstorming here on what to do with the extras. There are the ones we start and a chapter or two in realize there is no interest. And there are old ones aged and crumbling. Those 20 year old copies of college textbooks are not needed. There must be some way to use these for play purposes. So here are some ideas! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Setting Up the Toddler Who Wants to Get To Work!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Industrious Toddler

I have found that young toddlers thrive on exploring the world around them. Finding new ways to create and explore can mean the difference between a boring day and a day filled with the emergence of new skills. Lately with the snow over the babes heads, finding new ways to master skills such as cutting, grasping, gluing, sorting and creating has taking up the bulk of our art time.

Toddlers love repetition, as you may have noticed. They love the predictability of repeated motions, motions that will soon be a mastered skill. They thrive in a child-centered environment. A place where all the tools on the table are for them to explore, there is no one telling them “please don’t touch” instead all the supplies are screaming “touch me” and “ figure me out.”

The industrious art projects that can help you through this winter are just as much educational as they are fun. Help your toddler master fine motors skills such as scissors, tweezers, knives, forks, spoons by giving them the opportunity to uses such tools on a toddler friendly forum! Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Building the Free Play Common Core

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play: Every Child’s Common Core

Play encourages creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, social skills…and so much more. Then there is the common core which promotes college preparation. “Free Play” Vs. “Common Core”…both in 2 corners ready to duke it out for the future of child development? Not necessarily! Create a Free Play Common Core to support creative-free play at home!

Free Play and Common Core are not two phrases usually seen together. The basic shared goal, in its simplistic form, of the Common Core State Standards is to give students knowledge and skills so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career and life. As a kid, play is a vital part of learning from the first peek-a-boo with a much loved adult to fort building with sofa cushions to running with the neighborhood kids making up games while socializing. Play encourages imagination, social interaction and play can teach self entertainment and more. All important skills to have for success on whatever path you choose. Play is your shared common core as a kid. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Days of Play: A Multi-Sensory Experience To Energize The Mind

The Science of Play Opens Up Creative & Critical Thinking

Play comes in many forms, but whatever it looks like, it’s great for your brain! The Berkshire Museum celebrates the importance of play during their annual event, 10 Days of Play. Held now through February 22nd, 10 Days of Play celebrates the recreational and educational value of play amongst community members of any age. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting To the Heart of Valentine’s Day

Beyond The Hallmark Lies An Interesting History Rooted in Western Mass

In addition to exchanging valentines, families can celebrate and explore the cultural traditions that make up Valentine’s Day by attending exciting and engaging community events happening on Saturday, February 14th across Western MA.

Every year, Americans exchange an average of 142 million Valentine’s Day cards – making the holiday near the top of the list of card-exchanging holidays (second only to Christmas). Valentines come in many different shapes and sizes, and can be handmade or store bought, clever and creative, or very traditional. Whatever form they come in, the valentines that we exchange each year have their roots right here in western Massachusetts, and are symbolic of the love, caring, and appreciation that we have for the important people around us. Read the rest of this entry »

Handmade Valentines: Connecting & Expanding a Community Tradition

Handmade Valentines: Connecting & Expanding a
Community Tradition

February 2015
Hawks-Hayden Room Gallery, Meekins Library
Williamsburg, MA

Featuring handmade Valentines by Hilltown Families’ Annual Handmade Valentine Swap participants, 2009-2015

For the past seven years, Hilltown Families has organized an intergenerational, community-based, handmade Valentine swap. Spearheaded by Hilltown Families founder, Sienna Wildfield, this community tradition has grown from an intimate group of families to an extensive roster of participants living across western Massachusetts, from Williamstown to Monson.

This year, 1,550 handmade valentines are being prepared for swapping through the mail by families, individuals, and even youth groups, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

For the month of February, in the Hawks-Hayden Room Gallery at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, over 100 handmade Valentines sent to Hilltown Families by swap participants over the years will be on display in an exhibit, Handmade Valentines: Connecting & Expanding a Community Tradition. New handmade Valentines received this year as part of the swap will be added to the display throughout the month.

These handmade tokens of friendship and community push back against the commercialization of Valentine’s Day while connecting and expanding an age-old tradition. The act of creating handmade Valentines supports creative-free play, while receiving them generates excitement to make community connections and eliminates loneliness. Having them on display at the Meekins Library chronicles the growth of what has become a delightful community tradition in western Massachusetts, open to all and free to participate. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Nice With Ice & Snow

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Frozen

No, this piece is not about a Disney movie that I am sure in part I have not seen because A: Oh Please No! and B: My daughter is only 4 months old- Instead this is about being literally frozen. Frozen, so cold that even 36 would be warm. Frozen so hard that the play yard and bike tires seem a solar system away. This inaccessibility is only intensified by the constant fear of the hum of boredom coming around the corner.

Toddlers and preschoolers can really spend a lot of time outdoors in the proper clothing. But there is a limit. This recent winter weather has been far from “kid friendly.” Snow is one thing, soft and fun once you shovel out, but ice is a whole different beast. Here are a few great ways to grab that beast by the horns and let the kiddos blow off some steam… Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play?: Build Your Own Entertainment

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

User Designed & Constructed

It is cold outside. Infrequent snow fall downtown has left little snow for sledding this season or to properly build snow people. What to do outside? During a recent play date I bundled up my children and said, “Outside. We all need some fresh air.” A short walk around the neighborhood would get the bodies moving for a few minutes. It happened again. Just a few minutes of “what to do?” stares and mumbles had them thinking and planning.
Read the rest of this entry »

7th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap for Western MA Families

Hilltown Families 7th Annual
Community Handmade Valentine Swap

Hilltown Families 7th Annual Community Handmade Valentine Swap! Free to sign up and open to all in Western MA. Deadline to sign up: Jan 29th. Join us!

It’s that time of the year again! For the past seven 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 to sign up 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 Thursday, January 29th. On Friday (1/30/15), 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 Thursday, January 29th.  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!

Unwrapping Screen-time & Finding Childhood

Back to the Basics of Allowing Children to Enjoy Healthy Play

The job of young children is to play, move, talk, and interact with people and things so as to build basic skills

Development during early childhood shapes what becomes the foundation for development throughout a person’s life. Language, motor, interpersonal, and many other skill sets have their roots in the earliest parts of childhood and, as such, this time period is incredibly important. The job of young children is to play, move, talk, and interact with people and things so as to build basic skills – and it’s just as important for this to happen as it is for an adult to do their own job every day. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Empowering Children to Support their Wellness

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Sick- Ok

Children love creating in the kitchen and by allowing them to help create herbal remedies; it can open the discussion on wellness and how food and plants can keep us healthy in the winter months. – To discover more folk remedies for colds and flu, check out this post from the Hilltown Families archives: 25 Western MA Folk Remedies for Colds & Flus

Having a sick child is the only thing worse than being sick yourself and ‘tis the season. In our Family Child Care, we are very particular in paying attention to the cleanliness of the children and ourselves. As the frequently used adage goes around here, “hand washing first.” When the children arrive from home they are first asked to wash their hands. They also wash after toileting and before eating. The children love washing their hands, we make it fun by singing, making lots of bubbles and discussing the importance of those clean little paws. They are also beginning to understand the importance of it without us, as adults bombarding them with too big words like “contagious” and “spread of infection”; words that can only scare a child without fully understanding them. Often in their private little circle they can be overheard pretending to wash at the play sink, or wiping their sneezes away with a tissue– this is when you know you have done a great job!

Children around the age of two begin to learn about germs. They do not really have any real sense of the huge impact this imaginative creature can have on them but they begin to follow along with the social cues we are teaching them; “cover your mouth” and “ wash both hands”. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play? T’is the Season of…Silly Walks!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Silly December Walks

monkeys, dogs, cats, snakes, alligators, hawks, chickens, bunnies, ninjas, marshmallows, horses, giraffes, elephants, sharks, butterflies, otters, ants, spiders, gorillas, bumble bees, lions, octopi, snails, bugs, reindeer, pigs, fairies, dinosaurs, snowmen, penguins.

Another busy month is here with a school vacation that provides hours and hours for free play. Pick three animals. Air, land or water. Now walk, fly or crawl like that animal in the snow, down the grocery isles or while picking up the living room before holiday guests arrive. No talking. No giggling. Not even a whisper. Simple. Easy. December family free-play.  Read the rest of this entry »

Parenting Green: Eco-Craft Ideas for Holiday Gift Giving

Family Creative Free Play Pays Big Dividends in Crafting Memories for the Holidays

Carving out time to craft has proven to be an essential activity for me. It allows for creative free-form time amongst the schedules, the routine, and the prescribed. I love it when I get into a project alongside the kids. Sometimes it’s baking. Sometimes it’s seed saving and sorting. Sometimes it’s specific materials that inspire a project. I found myself enamored by this beautifully dyed wool roving at the Hartsbrook School holiday fair in Hadley, MA, last weekend and spoke with the vendor about all the ways we could work with the material as a family. I was inspired to try something new. I had never needle felted before and thought that it would be something at least my 10 year old could get into. What I didn’t realize was she was already doing this craft at her school. It’s true the material sat in our fabric closet for exactly a year before I actually put it to use, but I was reignited to the idea when a neighbor showed me some of the needle felting she was doing alongside her billowing basket of cookie cutters, and I jumped in. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Finding Ways to Allow Little Kids to Express Big Emotions

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Thanks Tangible

These ARE big feelings for little people. How do you get your child to express a clear emotion?

As everyone knows children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, can have a hard time expressing their emotions in socially acceptable ways. Young children love their parents, love their bothers and sisters and their families and friends more than they have the words to express. They cannot spend hours contemplating the complex feelings and compiling a love letter to mommy. They often don’t know that pushing and hitting and jumping on aren’t the only ways to show their friends how much they really appreciate them. With Thanksgiving coming, I thought this would be a great time to offer a few suggestions on how young children can acknowledge their feelings for the people that are so important to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Creative-Free Play Keeps Spaces Shifting

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Empty Rooms

Empty rooms are great catalysts for energizing creative-free play!

I live with a re-arranger. Every three to four months she requests assistance moving books and furniture to make her room “just perfect.” The bed goes up so she has a nook below. The bed goes back down. Other times the bed needs a tent over it to hide in. I indulge this. I see no good reason not to. She is making her space her own.

Six years ago we moved and I brought her tricycle into the completely empty living room so she could ride around and around while I cleaned kitchen cabinets and scrubbed bathroom tiles. I placed a large sketch pad, pencils, markers and books in the empty playroom. She rode in circles. She drew piles of pictures to decorate her new room. She flipped thru her favorite picture books over and over. I did a lot of cleaning without interruption. Preparing the house for our move-in was the beginning of her free play in empty rooms and spaces as part of the re-arranging addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

November is Family Literacy Month

Springfield City Library Supports Literacy through Creative-Free Play in November

Celebrate Family Literacy Month at the Springfield City Library by bringing your children, age birth-5 years old, to Make, Take, Play: Easy Homemade Toys!

Libraries are not just places to borrow books – they are places for play and learning for all ages, even babies. With winter just around the corner come in and explore what Springfield City Library has to offer to help those long days become short and full of fun!

Celebrate Family Literacy Month at the library by bringing your children, age birth-5 years old, to Make, Take, Play: Easy Homemade Toys! Play with their toys, make some of your own to take home, and learn how you can create even more simple, inexpensive toys. Stop by to enjoy playing, singing, talking, and more!

Did you know that in 1985, Becoming a Nation of Readers reported that the “single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children [and that this] practice should continue throughout the grades.”  Since 1985, technology has forever transformed the way we live, but one thing has not changed at all: reading test scores. Sadly, reading successes have not increased because technology has improved. So what does this mean? Families are the most important ingredient in growing a reader!

Stop in to any of their branch libraries with your little ones and join the fun with their program, Make, Take, Play: Easy Homemade Toys!: Read the rest of this entry »

Gingerbread Houses: Edible Architecture Brings Families Together

Holiday Tradition of Building Gingerbread Houses
Stimulates Creative Free Play!

Building a gingerbread house is a fantastic way to include creative folks of all ages in creating a delicious, well-engineered work of art, along with skills in architectural design, engineering, communication, and collaboration.

It may seem as if the holiday season is far away in the distance, but now that Halloween has come and gone, preparations are beginning for holiday celebrations in western Massachusetts! One of the most important parts of any community celebration of a holiday (winter or otherwise) is the food. An important part of every culture, the food associated with a specific event plays an important role in its celebration and says a lot about those who celebrate. The preparation of specific traditional dishes often brings families together, and creates a tradition that can be a part of each holiday for years to come.

One of the most iconic food-related ways to celebrate early winter’s holidays is by making a gingerbread house. Constructed out of delicious (and also sturdy and long-lasting) spicy gingerbread, festive gingerbread houses represent not only the role of food in holiday celebrations, but also the importance of creativity and intergenerational collaboration. Building a gingerbread house is a fantastic way to include creative folks of all ages in creating a delicious, well-engineered work of art, and skills in architectural design, engineering, communication, and collaboration will all come into play during such an activity. And speaking of play – play you shall! Even if the family gingerbread masterpiece isn’t an architectural wonder, the process of decorating it is a fantastic opportunity to participate in creative free play together! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Messy Process of Creating Art Brings Creative Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Convenience of Crazy

Paint brushes

Bringing a bit of order to creative free play.

Well, I am officially a mother now. Not just a care provider from 8-5, I am a Mama. I can’t send my daughter home after I have cleaned up and waved goodbye to all the other children. She stays – always.

I have historically been enthusiastic advocate for the arts and as my Bio states: “I revel in hands on messy projects.” But now, I see why some parents avoid it. The ‘messies’ are not convenient. Messy projects do not fit neatly into the nightly routine, the bath, the story and bedtime. It throws a big greasy wrench into the nice white mix of the night and clunks around in there distracting you. It distracts us from the dishes, the laundry and that book that you have really wanted to start. So how do we as parents, balance those projects with the rest of our lives? Read the rest of this entry »

Cardboard Challenge Unleashes Creative Free Play

Kids Can Grasp the Spirit of Community Collaboration Through Creativity & Recycled Art

The Cardboard Challenge makes a great intergenerational project for families and community organizations to participate in, combining creative free play with recycling and design skills!

Have you heard of Caine’s Arcade? The spirit of Caine’s creative genius comes to communities worldwide through the Global Cardboard Challenge! An event that combines creative free play with recycling and design skills, the Cardboard Challenge welcomes folks of all ages to exercise their own Caine-like creative genius to make masterpieces of all shapes and sizes using recycled materials – specifically, cardboard!

Though the Cardboard Challenge is technically an event, it’s one with lots of flexibility. The challenge begins in September (so it has already started!) and comes to a close on October 11th. Participation is simple – gather up some cardboard, bring along some cutting and sticking supplies, bring some creative friends, and build away! The Cardboard Challenge makes a great family project – simply raid your recycling bin and see what it turns into. Teachers, youth groups, and community organizations can easily participate in the creativity-filled event – simply organize a date, time, and place (perhaps on October 11th to match up with the event’s official closing), and bring enthusiastic folks together to build. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Bonding Through Art Bombing

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Free Play, After School

We’ve all heard of Yarn Bombing… how about Art Bombing? Read on for Carrie’s Art Bomb idea, a fall version of her Play Bombs spread throughout the community in the spring.

We made the switch again. Library Monday. Music Tuesday. PE shoes needed Wednesday and Thursday. Art Friday. Nightly reading. Pack the lunch. We are in the school routine but missing something.

Third grade could not come quick enough for an 8 year old at our house. Third grade means being on the top floor with the big kids, having the teacher she wanted and more freedom and responsibility for herself and her school work. Third graders earn a second grade buddy in the spring. She is even excited about the tests in March and April. The school makes a big fuss over the third through fifth graders during testing. She wants the fuss. Curious.

“Mom, can I add blank paper to my backpack tomorrow?”

“Mom, can we just play after school today?”

“Mom, can we just draw all day Saturday? Both of us at the kitchen table?”

The answers are, “YES!”

I see what is missing. I realize the social and academic bonuses to school but September always leaves me with the feeling that the hours of 8:50am to 3pm are an obstacle to my fun time with my kiddo. I grow accustomed by October. September is my transition month as the mom with a kid growing up, quickly. We will transition together. Read the rest of this entry »

11 Ideas for Creative Free Play

Creative Free Play Encourages Child’s Development

Puppetry can be the first step in a child developing story-telling skills. 

For many of us, our memories of childhood are filled with mud pies, wooden block castles, and games of house, and hide-and-seek. At the core of these common childhood activities is creativity and freedom – the elements of play that transforms it from a time-filler and kid-quietener into an opportunity for learning and discovery that knows no bounds. Creative free play is quite the opposite of the structured and prescriptive play afforded to children in certain settings and with defined materials. Generally sparked by a play environment filled with loose and/or adaptable materials, creative free play is both developmentally beneficial (for all ages) and incredibly engaging and exciting.

With the final weeks of summer upon us, families still have time to take advantage of school-free days stretched out before us. Summer, by August, may no longer be such a novelty to kiddos and enjoying its warmth and sunny days is now a matter of course rather than a treat. However, filling some of the summer’s last few days with opportunities for creative free play as a family will stimulate your collective creativity, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Of course, the nature of creative free play is such that the possibilities for engaging in it are completely endless. It can be nice, though, to have some suggestions and gentle guidance, and for this families need look no further than Hilltown Families contributing writer Carrie St. John’s monthly column, What to Play? Play Ideas for Family and Community. Read the rest of this entry »

Journal-Making: Creative Outlet for Bringing Family Together

Journal-Making: Inspiration for Writing & Drawing

Sharpen your pencils. Journaling is key to bringing ideas to life.

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 project to do as a family to encourage kids’ writing and drawing skills is journal-making.. Read the rest of this entry »

Explore & Connect to Where You Live through Nature Bingo & BioBlitz

Creative Nature Scavenger Hunt Stimulates Nature Education & Strengthens a Sense of Place

Outdoor adventures with kids have a way of turning into loosely-structured scavenger hunts. Woodland trails are littered with interesting treasures, beaches wash up endless items of interest, and the tall grasses of meadows reveal new treats wherever you part the seas of green. Supporting children’s interest in looking closely at nature and discovering treasures is easy enough to do. While unstructured, free play and exploration can uncover lots of natural wonders big and small, adding just a little bit of structure can help children lead themselves to certain discoveries or a specific learning goal, and will support learners of all ages develop useful skills that can be applied in many different educational and real-life contexts.

While we’ve covered the basics of nature scavenger hunts in an archived post, there are more possibilities for learning via nature exploration than we could ever list! The simplest way to open your family’s eyes to nature using a game-like structure is to use bingo-style cards to track your discoveries. Online resources for nature bingo abound, including boards filled with variations on camping bingo and MassAudubon’s nature bingo, which offers four different cards (one to match each season) that help to open players’ eyes to the interesting and exciting natural occurrences, connecting them to the seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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