Let Them Grow: Three Edible Creative Free-Play Recipes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Eat What You Play!

Now that my newborn is becoming a toddler overnight, I have begun to include her in toddler–esque art projects. This is exciting in so many ways. As all kids, she explores, experiments and creates every waking moment. Like every one-year-old she loves sensory exposure at its best- mostly by mouth. So, the question became how do I include her without poisoning her, letting her choke, or dumbing down toddler activities? Because she mouths everything and taste it just the same, I decided to create a few sensory activities that would be safe and fun for both infants and toddlers. And what do they both love? Food! Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play?: 25 Undone Family Summer Fun Ideas

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Family Assignment—Have Fun!

We are in the home stretch. I can’t believe school vacation is coming to an end. Our summer went too fast!

We say those words every year so in the spring we made a list of summer ideas. Many we did not get to. Friends popped over. Sleepovers were planned last minute. Some days we just needed to be lazy. Visitors arrived. What to do in the little time we have left? Fun without forcing it. I think we will aim for one thing a day but if we decide to read for hours in the shade or host a sleepover—a different play happens and that is okay too.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Supporting Literacy & Creative-Free Play with Sock Puppets!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Can a Moose Play Sock Puppets Without Thumbs?

Take a break from the heat and sun to make your own sock puppets. Make some scary ones for fire side ghost stories. Make some super cute to entertain the wee ones. Make some completely goofy. Have the older kids make a fancy, detailed version. If you are looking to fill a rainy day at home, make a stage with background murals!

I have a great nephew! He is super cute and reminds me so much of my niece, Jessica, (his mom) and my nephew, his Uncle Andrew. Being the youngest of five children, I was very lucky and became an aunt at age 10 and again at 12 and it kept going until I was in college. Then there was a slow down until by brother, closer in age to myself, and I started families. So now I have this crazy family dynamic where I am 43, a great aunt to my 31 year old niece’s new baby and I have a 9 year old daughter. My oldest sister is a grandma but I have more gray hair than she does?! My daughter still gets mixed up trying to keep it all straight. Her new second cousin in closer in age than her first cousin that seems more like an aunt. Family.

That confusing round-about background leads me into my lazy days of summer play idea. Andrew (now an uncle and accomplished police officer) loved the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when he was in preK. He had a tiny stuffed Cookie Mouse that went everywhere he did. It was VERY well loved and cared for. So when I think about selecting books I would like to give to my new great nephew, I must include the Cookie Mouse… which leads me into the entire series written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. My daughter’s favorite was If You Give a Pig a Pancake. And I always loved If You Give a Moose a Muffin. That moose is hilarious with his mural painting, muffin eating and sock puppets. He rocks that tiny sweater. My daughter always questioned it as my favorite. “Can a moose play sock puppets without thumbs?” Her logic. That little pig she loved played dress up and built a tree house but it seemed impossible for a moose to play sock puppets. So fun to remember the favorites of my kiddo, the nieces and the nephews.

MYO Sock Puppets

Take a break from the heat and sun to make your own sock puppets. Make some scary ones for fire side ghost stories. Make some super cute to entertain the wee ones. Make some completely goofy. Have the older kids make a fancy, detailed version. If you are looking to fill a rainy day at home, make a stage with background murals like the Moose did! Or go simple with a couple of socks with marker faces to keep the back seat riders busy on the way to the beach.

Don’t forget to check out a copy of If You Give a Moose a Muffin at your local library during the summer reading programs. Fun reading to spark some free play this summer. And look for the Treasury version of Numeroff’s books. There is an excellent recipe for Chocolate Mud Muffins (moose approved). During the summer, we go all out and coordinate books, projects, play and snacks.

Materials

  • old, clean socks
  • markers
  • tacky glue
  • needle and thread, if the kids sew
  • buttons
  • fabric, yarn
  • scissors

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 Them Grow: Nature-Based Art

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Nature-Based Art

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It is summer, it’s warm and the season is the child’s pallet. Summer time water play is always a go to and there are many amazing outdoor nature-based art projects for toddlers that will keep them engaged and involved at home. Nature-based art is not only fun and beautiful but it is also a free and open ended way for your child to explore art in a natural way.  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 »

Let’s Play: Getting Creative in the Cleanup

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Combining Play and Cleanup

Many parents know someone who loves to build with those brightly colored, interlocking building blocks. It starts as a toddler with the bigger, chunkier version and continues up into the tween to teen years for some kids with the 2,000+ piece master builder sets that take hours and hours to complete. There can be some tiny and unusual parts. We always seem to have a few extra odds and ends after a big build. Do you have extra people heads or arms or a single square of floor tile?

While in search of a fun way to organize these bits and pieces, we came across an easy project that clearly connects the contents of the containers to the supplies inside. No need to label. Kids can have a creative-free play activity while helping you save the dog or the vacuum from sucking up little bricks and plastic body parts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Getting Engaged Through Blowing Bubbles

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Giant Bubble Day

Bubbles are so much fun for everyone, they are strange and exciting and have the characteristics of a liquid, soil and air all at once. Infant and toddlers will want to explore all areas of the bubbles. Making giant bubbles is so much fun for adults as well. Try to encourage the toddler not to eat them or get them in their eyes. Otherwise let them play. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Helping Your Local Animal Shelter Through Creative-Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play and Community Service

Adopting, fostering, and pet taxing are a few ways families can help local animal shelters. Making toys for animals while waiting to be adopted is yet another way to support shelters while encouraging creative-free play at home. This month in “What to Play: Play Ideas for Family & Community,” Carrie shares several DIY projects families can do together to support our furry friends and the agencies that care for them.

It is the beginning of kitten season at the local animal shelters. From spring into summer the shelters are inundated with kittens! They are dropped off in boxes left at entrances overnight. Many are brought in because families are overcome with the work and dedication needed to take care of a litter of tiny babies. Some arrive with their mother or when a soon to deliver mother is surrendered. The main cause is lack of spaying. Many are so small they are not healthy or strong enough to be adopted out. Those tiny ones might spend time in a kitten ICU or go to live with caring foster families while they gain strength and put on weight.

This year we are not able to foster. We are missing the experience. The tiny kittens have so much love, cuddles and silly play to share. It is a great experience to watch them grow, to teach them to eat solids and even to figure out the best way to provide needed medications. Kittens do not like medications. We failed as fosters last year by adopting a “tuxedo” from the last batch of siblings we had in May. Many foster families fail and joke about this. We get attached to the tiny ones and adopt. Our two furry boys have taken over so we no longer have the spare room to devote to fosters. Adopting from our last foster group was a bonus for our family in many ways. My daughter has the lap cat she has been hoping to have for years. They are inseparable. He cries in her room when she has a sleepover or play date and does not come home at the end of the day. He watches her brush her teeth. She has trained him to use a leash and play fetch. A perfect match. I have to say it is nice to have him in our family. Oh, and he has a safe home to call his own forever and a big orange brother to sleep with.

One day we will foster again. We want to help those tiny babies get a great start on life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Getting Ready to Travel

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Getting Organized for Travel is Key to A Successful Trip

Fruit kebabs. Organize a bento box with a lot of different fruits and little wooden skewers – Include a pattern sheet that your child can try to match: apple, grape, apple, strawberry . This is a fun brain game!

As Spring rolls in, many of us will roll out. The travel bug may bite you too! The idea of free play while traveling in airports and on planes can seem nearly impossible for you and your toddler. However, by planning appropriately and creatively, you can make travel with your toddler a great adventure and a great memory for the whole family. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Overflowing Recycling Bins is an Opportunity for Creativity

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

More Collections

Try saving some items with no set goal then leave a bin of this and that out on a rainy April afternoon. All sorts of things have potential for free play and new ideas. See what happens.

“Mom, the recycling bin is overflowing. Why do you keep all those cardboard rolls?”

I just do. I also save all the colorful, plastic, rectangle do-dads that tie off bread bags and the white pull tabs from inside the 1/2 gallon milk carton caps. Those bits and pieces might be the perfect addition to a project one day. The plastic, mesh bags from fruits and veggies could be a great background or texture during a kid collage afternoon.

She should not be surprised at the saving at this point but she is, if it gets in her way—when the cardboard rolls tumble out the of the recycling. It is not that extreme yet. These little items all have bins they get tossed in. I make quality control decisions when saving. There is criteria for potential usability. I don’t save the extra sheets of twist ties from boxes of garbage bags. I have no use for those. Yogurt cups and tubs instantly go out on recycling pick up day. There are things we would never reuse, things we hope to reuse and things we actually reuse.

But, the kiddo is correct, the amount of empty TP rolls has grown too large. So here is the response she gets:

“Make something with them.”

After 30 minutes of free time with those rolls, I was envisioning TP roll sculpture, maybe painted or turned into an animal.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Draw-Around Unleashes Creative Free-Play!

Interactive Event & Workshops Invites Community to Make its Mark

Draw all over the walls (and the floor and the tables) at the Art Garden’s first annual 12-hour Hilltown Draw Around! Creative types of all ages are invited to participate in art making, community-building, and creative free play all day long!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to draw all over a room? The Art Garden is offering families exactly that opportunity! The first annual Hilltown Draw Around is a 12-hour interactive community art-making extravaganza held in a paper-covered gymnasium. Families can drop by between 12noon and midnight on Saturday, April 11th for a day filled with drawing workshops, community building, creative free play, and endless opportunities to draw anything and everything. And it’s not just for self-proclaimed artists – anyone and everyone is welcome to come and explore the creative materials available and make their own mark on the event.

A variety of volunteer-lead workshops throughout the day offer participants opportunities to learn new drawing-related skills or to participate in special projects – and many workshops use drawing as an entry point for interdisciplinary learning. A mathematical drawing workshop will teach participants about fractals, geometry, and the Golden Ratio, while a synesthesia-based drawing experience will help participants make connections between spoken language, color, and art, as well as teaching about the cognitive phenomenon that is synesthesia. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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