Let Them Grow: Feeling Fall

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Feeling Fall

Fall is such a busy time for the valley. Apple picking, pumpkin patches, hay rides, and fall festivals. All of these adventures are well worth the visit, but you can also get your kids engaged with nature based craft and sensory activities that are easy and inexpensive. Here are a few:

Prints

You can use any fruits or veggies for prints. When doing veggie prints I find it best to use a small tray with only a dab of paint on it. Using too much will distort the prints and ink-pads can develop mold. I find that using tempera paint in small amounts is ideal. Allow your child to dab or roll the fruit and then splat it firmly onto the print paper (card stock or cardboard). I find that apple, lemon, and corn prints to be some of my favorites. I like the detailed prints that onions create, but they can really burn the eyes. Combining apples and lemons makes a wildly vibrant and vivid print.

Toddlers love industrious work. Let them enjoy the print making, but also exploring the fruit, taking out the seeds and even tasting it! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: First Day Blues

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Three years ago I wrote a post about (daycare / preschool drop-off) separation and how to make it an adventure. This year, I am the mom, not the not the teacher, and it is far from an adventure; closer to a nightmare.

My three-year-old daughter had no interest in the big adventures her new preschool had to offer. She consistently woke up in the morning adamantly protesting the plans we had made for her. In my mind, I see her sweeping into the classroom with pride and confidence, greeting her teacher and friends. Instead, I was kissing and reassuring, and then ducking through smiling faces trying to escape the sirens of my child calling for me from her teacher’s arms.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Make Camping with Toddlers Easier with these Tips

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Camping with Toddlers

We, meaning my partner, our almost three year old, and our eight month old, are on a camping adventure. This year to make our vacation easier and more enjoyable with the baby, we ditched the tents for cabins at our Berkshire getaway. Savoy State Forest and Mohawk Trail State Forest are spots places with cabins in the Hilltown. So, when I say “get away,” I mean it!

There is nothing but the lake the trees and the cabins. This are no playgrounds, camp stores, popsicle stands, or hordes of other children. It is just the four of us, surrounded by the crisp morning air, the ripples on the water, squirrels, and a camp fire.

This is what I love about camping. Checking out from the day to day and enjoying my kids and my partner, one on one. While there are no distractions, full-day or multi-day outings can be stressful adventures with toddlers if you are not prepared, relaxed, and ready for the adventure! I love these types of outings and find a sense of pride when I actually have a moment to sit back and watch the kids play engaged and happy without constantly tending to them. What’s my secret? Here are my secret tips for camping with toddler:

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Two Simple Craft Projects for Toddlers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

My Pop Rocks

Dad, Aba, Pappa, Baba, Daddy, Pop… Yesterday was Father’s Day and like any teacher or mother I was racking my brain to find the most unique way to help my toddler say “I love you.” We like to find clever ways to tell the father figures in our lives that they are appreciated, needed, and most importantly, loved. Here are two fun gifts we whip up that you can do any time with your toddler and preschooler to make that special person feel even more special!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Games and Practices for Naming and Identifying Family

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Family: A Name Game

Mother’s Day is every day for your toddler and preschooler. The love our children have for us is immeasurable.  A toddler is just beginning to express this love. “ I lobe you so much” I hear each night from my own toddler. I “lobe” her back, but she isn’t aware, or even capable for that matter, to being to understand how that love encompasses me as a mother.  It is even more unfathomable for her to begin to understand how terrified I am of anything bad ever happening to her. Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what unconditional love looks.  It is a time for

Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what authentic love looks.  It is a time for a family to talk about what it means to be united as a community. What it means to be together and help to keep each other safe. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Dirt Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Dirt is Some Thing

Spring has arrived here in Western MA, which means we can now move our creative play outdoors! Toddlers can make the best of anything… especially dirt! Children love playing with dirt. It is soft and malleable; cool and versatile. Children can make anything with dirt! Just recently I was served a dirt grill cheese and a side of fries. As the adults, we have to be willing to provide the dirt and the place to play. We have to be willing to see the benefits behind the mess.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Anatomy Canvas for Preschoolers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Our Paintable Body

Kids especially toddlers like repetition.  They like knowing the outcome, they like knowing the answer.  Most toddlers I know love themed based curriculums because it allows them to master a topic. It seems that every week there is a new theme in my life. Not a theme I would personally choose to embrace like types of orchids or sheet composting. Things the children in my life are interested in learning are less complicated and blatantly much more fun.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Arts & Crafts for Presidents’ Day

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Presidents’ Day

Certain holidays are hard for small children to grasp. A great example of this is Presidents’ Day. It’s a vague concept for young preschoolers and toddlers to understand there is a hierarchy in government. Instead, I have found that by focusing on a theme in the holiday children can learn and explore the idea open ended. Collages are a fun way to explore art with limited restrictions and open a dialog about complex concepts.  Here are two fun President-themed activities. 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’ 9th 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 Them Grow: Ice Transforms the World Around Us!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Amazing Ice

It’s snowing here as I write this, and it maybe snowing where you are as you read this. It is winter in the Valley and the Hilltowns are beautiful, the river still flowing, glazed like pottery with ice. My toddler watches hypnotically as the water runs in and under and around. Clear blue water meets white ice; it’s fascinating. Getting too close to ice and water in the winter does not sound like fun with a toddler.  So I decided to come up with some creative ways to experiment with ice.

Read the rest of this entry »

9th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap for Western MA Families

Hilltown Families 9th Annual
Community Handmade Valentine Swap

It’s that time of the year again! For the past nine 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 your 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 Wednesday, February 1st. On Friday (2/3/17), 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.

If interested in participating this year, the information below must be filled out and submitted by Wednesday, February 1st, 2017.  Participation is free and open to all residents living in the four counties of Western MA, including Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire & Hampden counties.

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: The Gift of Warm-Heartedness

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Gift of Warm-Heartedness

Photo courtesy of Dylan

During this season of giving, it may be hard to help young children fully enjoy giving to others. They can’t empathize fully with others yet, so why share? As we joke, “If I touched it, it’s mine.” Toddlers are inherently greedy; they can’t help it. It’s a learning phase and they will grow more caring and kind because of it. By making giving gifts a fun and engaging activity, we can help teach our children that sharing, giving, and going out of our way for others can be rewarding and enjoyable. Read the rest of this entry »

DIY Holiday Gifts Promote Creative Free Play and Non-Commercial Holiday Celebrations

DIY Holiday Gifts Promote Creative Free Play and Non-Commercial Holiday Celebrations

Allowing for lots of creative free play and gift-giving that comes from the heart, handmade gifts get at the heart of the season! Families can engage in DIY projects at home, attend upcoming workshops, or utilize resources offered by local arts organizations to craft handmade gifts with love.

The holidays are upon us, and with the approach of a season of light, kindness, and appreciation of one another comes the need for giving – the sharing of gifts of all sizes serving as representation for our love and gratitude for each other. With the holidays comes an onslaught of commercialism, encouraging us to buy gifts rather than create them with love. In order to celebrate a non-commercial holiday season, families can commit to sharing appreciation for others during the holiday season by making handmade items for loved ones. Handmade gifts not only reflect the emotions behind them, but allow young creators to engage in creative free play, and provide an alternative to consumption by creating opportunities for creative reuse of items!

Gift-givers of all ages can find a treasure trove of DIY gift ideas in our archives, covering everything from scented ornaments and cards to planters and terrariums – even giftwrap is included! Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Maps and Paths

Maps and Paths

Cool, crisp wind tickles our faces and delights our nose with the scents that remind me of fond childhood memories. Our bare feet relish the cool, soft dirt path that follows the stream. We walk along silently as we carefully step over the few fallen leaves that dot the path. Birds sing a different song now as they are busy preparing for what is to come and we hear the scrambling feet of small creatures foraging for food and climbing up tree trunks for safety as we approach. A few of the leaves on the underside of the poplars are starting to turn, the first of the new season (though not the first sign for those who have been observing with all our senses).

This is home.

What story do children come to know about home? We are story-making, storytelling and story-craving creatures. Stories, at least those that are remembered, are not for the mundane. The stories we continue to believe and tell is our living tradition of our time and place. It is our mythology. Mythology from our ancestors that trill the listener still today is anything but mundane. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Art Abandonment Supports Acts of Kindness Through Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Abandoned Art

Recently my brother got into painting rocks and leaving them for strangers to find. Art abandonment he calls it. I hadn’t heard of it, but now that I have, I thought this is a perfect way for a toddler to spread love, gain empathy and become more generous.  Not to mention a great way to brighten up the landscapes around town.

Toddlers have very little sense that they do not own the world; that every does NOT belong to them. Preschoolers are relinquishing this concept, but it’s never too early to start giving.  The concept is simple; paint rocks and leave them in areas where you know members of your child’s community can find them.  You can attach a little note or write on the back:

  • “You found free art, share it”
  • “Love is colorful”
  • “Generosity is learned”
  • “Share”
  • “Spread art, spread joy”

Or just put them out there as is. My brother chooses the dot pointillism approach. This is a great technique for the older toddler or preschooler to learn. By adding a single-color at a time in the form of a single dot can help a child experience art with extreme intention. They can focus on one color or a series of colors.

One child will group like colors together and others may create an image from multiple colors.  Some may choose to paint the rocks a solid color and that’s fine. You don’t have to restrict your child into a particular technique, instead encourage them to be as creative as they would like. Offer several different colors of paint and a bunch of different shape and size of rocks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Summer Creativity Challenge

Summer Creativity Challenge

Each year my family and I do a Summer Creativity Challenge. The goal of this playful challenge is to celebrate creativity, inquisitiveness and innovation. We explore local natural resources, as well as dig through our recycling bin and challenge ourselves to design and build anything that can be imagined. Yes, it can be that simple, but we try to take it further by inviting family, friends and neighbors over to build, play, laugh, learn and strengthen community throughout the summer and beyond.

Where did the idea for our Summer Creativity Challenge come from? It was inspired and grew out of something we learned about three years ago called the Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge was inspired by a 9-year-old boy named Caine who designed an entire cardboard arcade business. Now playful building with recyclable materials (aka Cardboard Challenge) is an annual, global event presented by Imagination Foundation. However, by extending the time we dedicate to the challenge we are able to slow down, integrate more of the natural resources in abundance in our area and cultivate on-going community connections.

In September the Imagination Foundation encourages kids of all ages, all over the world to design and build anything they can dream up using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Then the designers (aka the children) who worked all September invite others from their community to get together on a specified date in October to share, play and celebrate creativity knowing that other children in other communities all over the world are celebrating in play that same day.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Painting With Nature

We have talked a lot about engaging children in nature-based art. It is a fun and easy way to get outside, have fun and expose your child to the process of art. We love taking the children out and collecting bits and pieces that can be used in the process. Spring is a great time for it. But, lately in the Valley and Hilltowns the weather has been unpredictable- making it tough to plan a full day outside. It has been cold and windy in the morning and warm and sunny in the afternoon. For toddlers, it can be tough to spend a long time outdoors, so we have found that we can break projects up into two parts: Collecting and then Doing, to make it more toddler friendly. Read the rest of this entry »

Building Fairy Houses Promotes Learning, Creative-Free Play & Citizen Science

Building Fairy Houses Promotes Learning, Creative-Free Play & Citizen Science

By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust

A few weeks ago kids gathered at Hilltown Land Trust’s Bradley Sanctuary in Williamsburg to explore the woods and build fairy houses for future trail visitors to see.

The task was simple: head out into the woods, collect items, choose a spot and start building.  Two hours later, the entrance to Bradley’s woods featured creative structures leaning against tree trunks, hiding behind rocks, or settled right on the trail.  Each house was unique and showed an innovative use of materials: sticks, acorn caps, fallen leaves, moss, lichen, birch bark and more.  While we were out collecting materials, we came across salamanders, heard birds, and observed the different textures and colors nature offered to help us create our little structures.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and wonderful activity that fosters skills such as teambuilding, creative play, engineering, design and citizen science. Hilltown Land Trust’s Bradley Sanctuary is open to the public and available for you and your family to build your own simple fairy houses! Read the rest of this entry »

The Empathic Impact of Art Celebrated in a Community Comic Jam!

Comic Jam: An Intergenerational Spontaneous Cartooning Event in the Berkshires

What is a Comic Jam? It is a collaborative storytelling adventure for cartoonists of all ages and abilities. Each artist will contribute to one another’s comics, creating unexpected and exciting stories! This project encourages creativity, working together, critical thinking and storytelling.

Various scientific research studies in the last several years have explored the neurological impact of reading in general and reading fiction in particular. A psychologist from York University in Canada found a connection between reading fiction and the ability to empathize.

Fictional stories are highly focused around people, describing their feelings, desires, and actions. When narration includes a character’s thoughts, the reader knows exactly how that character feels, and the reader sympathizes with these emotions. When characters thoughts are not revealed, readers have to think about the possible emotions and thoughts which lead to the character’s actions. This is the same kind of skill we use every day when interacting with people in our lives.

Storytelling is an even more involved empathetic process. When you combine the creative empathy involved in storytelling, with the therapeutic effects of expressing yourself through pictures, the activity has a profound impact. Comic books and graphic novels do just this- they encourage artists and writers to think about people’s emotions, and the social impact of character’s actions on each other. Plus, when a shared interest brings together community through the lens of creativity, it establishes a shared history that ties neighbors across generations, strengthening their sense of place.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Re-Framing Creativity

Re-Framing Creativity

For a long time psychologists, educators and parents alike have assumed that imaginative play was most useful for learning when set in as realistic a situation as possible. However, is “real” always better than “imaginative” when it comes to the learning landscape?

Many have a fear that learning about, or at the very least not clearly distinguishing between, fantasy and reality can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions. This assumption underestimates the importance and value of the childhood and nature design principle of “Imagination and Fantasy” as termed by David Sobel, director of Teacher Certification Programs in the Department of Education and director of the Center for Place-based Education at Antioch University New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Spring Craft Idea

Contact paper is a dream tool of mine. I find that children love tactical experiences and using contact paper is an easy way to offer this experience without getting messy.  Springtime is a fun time to create beautiful masterpieces that can hang in the window and catch the early light of the summer on the horizon.

My favorite thing to do is collect early spring flower pedals and let them dry for use on the contact paper. Daffodils, crocuses, dandelions, daffodils, early mint leaves are all out now and ready for picking. Dry your pedals out so they stick well. Make this a learning experience, identify the flowers and prepare them flat to make you sun catcher, place mat or art piece with contact paper. Read the rest of this entry »

Intergenerational Drawing Events Support Creative Free Play & Community Connections

Community Drawing Events Inspire Creative Free Play and Self Expression

Creative free play and artistic expression are the focus of two very unique upcoming community events. Using drawing as a central element, these events illuminate the versatility and expressive potential of the art form. Accessible to self-identified artists, reluctant creators, and everyone in between, spring’s artistic opportunities offer rich community-based learning opportunities relating to creativity and self-expression.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Creative-Free Play with Kitchen Scrapes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Compost to Good Use

Spring in western MA!  Now is a time where I always like to move toward more nature-based art.  Using natural object as a medium allows us to make the connection between the land and art.  I have many favorite nature-based art projects, but my all time favorite is vegetable stamping. It’s an engaging and simple activity for even the youngest artist to participate in. All children love doing this activity, most will even eat vegetables during it! This idea is simple; use vegetables to create beautiful prints that will be worth saving and worth doing again.  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: Playing Sick

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Playing Sick

This has been the worst season for sickness. Well for me anyway, a first time mom with a toddler in daycare! It seems toddlers are the best and worst patients. They can ride out colds for months, in a steady stream of mucus. Or they can go under in a hail of fevers and vomit. Either way it is no fun for anyone.

After experiencing my own sick toddler, I began to think about how to smooth out the rivers of sickness that flood though our kids and find was to play sick.  Here are a few fun ways to pass the sick days away… Read the rest of this entry »

Art, Music, Engineering & Science Through the Lens of Creative Free Play

10 Days of Play Blends Art, Music, Engineering, and Science Through Creative Free Play

Play in any form is good for the human brain, and the Berkshire Museum is offering a week and a half of play-based learning during the 4th annual Ten Days of Play event! Blending hands-on activities and play-based learning with musical performances, gallery shows, zoology, engineering, architecture, and fine art, this exciting event offers a myriad of exciting opportunities to engage in creative free play and the meaningful learning that such activities promote.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Snow in the Kitchen

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Snow Where There is None

Looking for ways to “make” snow at home? Check the kitchen pantry! Shredded coconut. Potato flakes. Flour. All are great for inspiring creative-free play during a snowless winter!

Winter is here. But without snow in New England it feels a little different. I am not complaining, because it is nice to take the children out without the gamut of snow gear, however it does feeling like something is missing; SNOW!

Often winter indoor activities are quiet, clean and predictable. I have found that by creating toddler friendly sensory activities help these cold winter days just melt by. Here are a few fun snow related activities that can be adjusted for even the littlest toddler.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Handmade Valentine Swap

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: January Segment
Handmade Valentine Swap Filled with Values & Learning

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, January 25th, 2016 with Sienna and Ashley talking about Hilltown Families upcoming Handmade Valentine Swap and how it can support community values and learning:

Sign your family up for the 8th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap by Jan 30, 2016 and get ready to make and receive 10 handmade valentines with families from around the region.  Read the rest of this entry »

8th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap for Western MA Families

Hilltown Families 8th Annual
Community Handmade Valentine Swap

Hilltown Families 8th Annual Community Handmade Valentine Swap! Free to sign up and open to all in Western MA. Deadline to sign up: Jan 30th. Join us!

It’s that time of the year again! For the past eight 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 Saturday, January 30th. On Monday (2/1/16), 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.

If interested in participating, the information below must be filled out and submitted by Saturday, January 30th.  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: Making Words a Gift

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Words a Gift

Every month we take preschoolers to the Calvin Coolidge Nursing Home to visits whom we call, the Grandmas and the Grandpas. We have been doing this for a few years now and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how impacting it is on both generations.  It wasn’t until one of them put a call in on a banana to one of the Grandmas and told her he was coming soon and he missed her. He missed her and this is the way a 3-year-old says he cares. He missed her and he was thinking about her. What could be better than that?

The visit itself to the nursing home is an amazing gift for both the children and the residents there. The children are the center of attention (which they love), laughter fills the room and the residents are happy and engaged. Often they reminisce about the past and their children, whom are grown and grandparents themselves. They gently sweep the faces of the children and they both smile. A priceless gift!

Here are a couple of gifts that integrate creative-free play with thoughtful ways children can reciprocate their love and caring of the elders in their life… Read the rest of this entry »

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